Ferguson shrugs off sniping to focus on 20th title

AP, Thursday 4 Aug 2011

Even a record-breaking 19th English title failed to silence the critics from claiming the Manchester United players could not hold a torch to previous trophy-winning sides


An overwhelming loss to Barcelona in the Champions League final only seemed to strengthen their case.

But as befits a manager with 25 years experience at United, Alex Ferguson has shut out such detractors, avoiding wholesale offseason changes to the playing staff and quietly plotting a 20th title during the tour of the United States.

“Our present squad is as good as any we have had and I say that despite a certain amount of sniping that our latest champions lack the flair and excitement of old,” Ferguson said. “You play as well as the opposition allow you and, in my book, there is a strength in depth in the Premier League that limits the number of occasions when you can cut loose, and if you like, put on the style.

“It’s a very tough and unrelenting league, but we must have been doing something right because we dropped only two points on our own ground.”

There is no complacency after overhauling Liverpool’s title record by delivering United a 12th championship crown in 19 years, but success has bred confidence at Old Trafford.

“The pressure is not overwhelming,” defender Rio Ferdinand said. “It is part of being a Manchester United player. You have to deal with all that stuff.

“It represents the difference between adapting to life at United and not because it is never going to change.”

The main offseason signings were forced on Ferguson by veterans retiring. Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, defender Gary Neville and midfielder Paul Scholes have all gone, with goalkeeper David De Gea, defender Phil Jones and winger Ashley Young the new arrivals.

“A new team is emerging but I view it as an evolution,” Ferguson said. “For the last three years we were well aware of the need to replace Ryan Giggs. Fortunately, he is carrying on but Gary Neville left, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar retired.

“The work over the last two or three years has been about replacing them and trying to make sure there is enough quality in the squad to carry on our success.”

Replacing Scholes, though is proving tougher, with a deal for Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder long-discussed but yet to be clinched.

“Scholes was something else. Scoring goals, creating them, retaining possession, launching long passes like a quarterback,” Ferdinand said. “You can’t replace players like that.”

While the owning Glazer family insist the cash would be made available to sign such players, even they do not have the spending power enjoyed across Manchester.

Ferguson’s big challenge now is seeing off the threat posed by Manchester City, the long-dormant neighbor emboldened with Gulf wealth and a first trophy in 35 years after winning the FA Cup in May.

“There was a period not so long ago when they were actually in the second division—they were never a thorn in our flesh,” Ferguson said ahead of the new season. “(Success) takes the pressure off the manager and gives confidence to the players.

“We have experienced that ourselves and we expect them (City) to be challengers next year. Winning a trophy does a power of good.”

One trophy Ferguson believes United should have won more often is the European Cup.

Even in an official Premier League book ahead of the new season, Ferguson states categorically: “The UEFA Champions League Final is the pinnacle of the game.”

But Ferguson will have to ensure he is not distracted by the quest to avenge last season’s 3-1 Champions League final loss to Barcelona and deliver the club’s fourth European title.

Barcelona, he accepts, “are the team of the moment.”

“They can dominate any game,” he added. “Everyone says what a great final it was, that Barcelona were fantastic and we were disappointing.

“It is not the kind of thing that makes you think, ‘Let’s not bother with European football any more, we are never going to beat Barcelona.’ Manchester United are bigger than that. We have a better philosophy than that. The challenge will be ‘Can we improve enough to get to the final next season and win?”’

One thing seems certain this season: Ferguson will not spend long dwelling on two personal milestones. November will be 25 years since United gambled by appointing the Scot; and in December he turns 70.

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