Salute to an ageless dictator

2009-05-18 00:00

WELL, it all ended in the most un-United of ways — with a rather desperate draw — but Manchester United had done more than enough in the previous 36 games to earn a day off on their way to a third straight league title.

There were cheers when it ended, tears when Carlos Tevez departed and most certainly beers upon the champions’ return to the change rooms.

And they earned it. In every way, United have shown to be the best in the land. Again. From the back, with the most clean sheets, to the middle where they host the most form-idable collection of grafters in the league, and up front, with the contrasting styles of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Tevez and even Dimitar Berbatov when he feels like it, this team has it all.

But it all starts in the dugout, where a feisty old Scot watches over all the mayhem and glory, further etching his name into the record books as the finest manager in the history of certainly the British game, and ever increasingly in world club football.

Sure, there are the swaggering pretenders, the José Mourinhos, the Frank Rijkaards, the Pep Guardiolas even. But most have come and gone, while the Govan pensioner keeps churning out champion side after champion side.

It is staggering really, but in his 23 years at the helm, Sir Alex Ferguson has now rustled up over 30 trophies.

His longevity alone is remarkable, in a field that is not so much impatient as it is ruthless and purely success-driven.

He has had his scraps, churned out the odd controversy and made more than his fair share of enemies. But, truth be told, that is the price one pays for sustained success.

Everyone loves a new winner, freshly bathing in the fruits of their labour. But the problem with Fergie is that he is positively drowning in medals, trophies and plaudits.

That creates envy, and the burning desire to “knock one off his perch”. He famously stated that that was his intention when he started out at Old Trafford.

Before the million-pound wage packets, before the television deals and before the influx of foreign stars.

He said he wanted to knock Liverpool off their perch as England’s finest side. Well, he has matched them, and it is very likely that he will soon usurp them for the most titles.

From a starting point of seven compared to Anfield’s 18, Fergie has chipped away while Liverpool suffered a drought more readily associated with the Kalahari than the Kop.

And the scarcely believable part of Fergie’s era is that he has always had a distinctly British core in all his sides.

Browse through United’s rivals and you will see a representation that would make the United Nations proud. For crying out loud, Arsenal can almost be called a French province, while the Liverpool end-of-year dinner is more likely to include paella instead of mushy peas, such is the Spanish stronghold that Rafa Benitez has created.

As for Chelsea, the net has gone far and wide in the search for talent. From the depths of Africa to the corners of Brazil and back to the remote parts of Eastern Europe, the Bridge boys must need a translator at every three-man conversation on the team bus.

And what of United?

Yes, they have Tevez, and the commercially motivated Park ji Sung, but they also have a fistful of Englishmen — and a few Scots, of course — to give the side the backbone it has.

Most of them have been there all their lives, while the latecomers like Rio Ferdinand (30 million), Rooney (30 m), Michael Carrick (18 m) have all quickly bought into the ethos.

So often we hear of Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard having a go at one of their foreign team-mates for fading away aand not having that fighting spirit when it matters.

It seems there is no such need for all that at Old Trafford, because if Shrek does not get to you first, Rio would have had a word or even Ryan Giggs may have said something to put you back in line.

Therein, perhaps, lies the secret to all the success under Fergie; a distinctly British feel.

It is, after all, the English Premiership.

Now there is just the small matter of a kick about with some friends from Barcelona before Fergie’s class of 2009 go on their school holidays.

Lungani Zama

The Armchair Expert

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