We’ve seen it many times before: Alex Ferguson beaming from ear to ear while walking on to the football pitch after the final whistle of a momentous victory, applauding his players and giving them encouraging pats on the back.
Yet, after one of the most unlikely victories he will achieve in his career, Ferguson seemed determined not to smile after their 3-2 FA Cup victory over bitter rivals Manchester City.
Instead of congratulating his players, he immediately barked at them to go applaud the away end of the Etihad stadium where their fans were in absolute delirium.
It was almost as if he was trying to make a point – the fans deserve more props than you lot for almost throwing that game away.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I’ve seen Ferguson celebrate results like that countless times. I’ve even seen him applauding players after drawing at home! This was clearly not one of those occasions, and his post-match comments indicated as much.
He lamented United’s “carelessness” in the second half, but secretly, he must be alarmed by the level of commitment and endeavour City’s 10 men showed compared to his 11.
United were disappointing, and lucky. This was no occasion for over-the-top celebrations any more than the 3-0 defeat to Newcastle was cause for panic.
Vincent Kompany’s sending-off was a lucky break. His two-footed lunge was reckless, but he won the ball, and there was minimal contact with Nani. Of course you could also argue that a red card was necessary to prevent tackles like that in the future where someone could actually end up getting hurt. It was a decision that really could have gone either way.
City struggled to regroup themselves in the first half after that setback. However, after the break, they responded with the kind of calm, patient and disciplined approach that Ferguson would have been proud of.
Mancini’s tactical switch to a 5-2-1-1 formation with two flying wingbacks worked brilliantly, while Ferguson was left to call on Paul Scholes and Anderson to help keep the ball and pack the midfield.
Mancini’s actions on the touchline spoke volumes too. He was urging his players to not get over-excited as City started to attack. “Don’t make a mistake at the back, and you’ll get your chances against this United side” was probably the idea.
And he was right. Add another 10 minutes to that game and City would probably have won it.
Mancini was moaning a couple of weeks ago about how he doesn’t have enough players, and how the club needs to spend more.
His excuses included Yaya Toure’s departure for the African Nations Cup and injuries to Samir Nasri, Mario Balotelli and – who would have thought? – Owen Hargreaves.
Yet his starting midfield (an area he’s complained constantly about) against United boasted David Silva, £25mil (RM125mil); James Milner, £26mil (RM130mil); Samir Nasri, £22mil (RM110mil); and Nigel de Jong, £18mil (RM90mil).
The most expensive United midfielder on show that day? Michael Carrick, £18mil, though his transfer fee was really £14mil (RM70mil) plus bonuses.
For a manager of a club that has spent an estimated £500mil (RM2.5bil) on players in under four years to complain like that is just disgusting.
He’s been dropping not-so-subtle hints to his club owners through the press: “This month we are losing two players. If we lose another then we will need more players.”
He could lose three players? Oh the horror!
“I think it’s better that we sell first. Maybe then we can take in other players. This is the problem,” he was quoted as saying.
Problem? That’s life, at least in the real world. There are plenty of managers who would loveto have players like Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz and even Carlos Tevez sitting on the shelves waiting to either be played or sold.
“We are not United. United and Chelsea have won trophies for many years, they understand that they can play without pressure. For us, it’s different. This could be the first championship for many years and we need to do everything we can to win it.”
Everybody does everything they can to win. United and Chelsea are no different. The only difference is Mancini seems to think he is entitled to ask for more money just because he wants to win.
Old is gold
Back in the real world, managers like Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have preferred to turn to some trusted old players instead of spending a fortune in a market single-handedly inflated by Manchester City.
With Mancini seemingly intent on setting up another spending spree, who’s going to sell you a player for anything less than too much?
Wenger, too, will lose two players to the African Nations Cup, including summer signing Gervinho. But instead of shamelessly asking for more money like a spoilt brat, he’s engineered a clever loan-deal for Thierry Henry.
The French genius can definitely still play at the highest level. I recently saw him play for the New York Red Bulls during a pre-season friendly, and he was absolute class.
He wasn’t sprinting away from the last defender at will like he used to do, but he was still very effective in a deeper role, using his exceptional touch and skill to set up play for others much like his old strike partner Dennis Bergkamp used to.
Ferguson has done almost the exact same thing for United’s midfield. While Mancini hopes to pay his way out of his injury “crisis”, Ferguson has sensationally brought Scholes back to plug the gap left by Darren Fletcher’s indefinite absence, and injuries to early-season first choice midfield pairing Tom Cleverley and Anderson.
The problem with Mancini’s approach is that it leads to player unrest. So he buys someone in January to play in Toure’s position. Toure will be back after four games – what happens then?
The new player sits and sulks on the bench, has a falling out with the manager, refuses to come on as a substitute, goes AWOL in his home country and plays golf on Saturdays, before finally sealing a cut-price deal away from City, leaving Mancini to curse his luck as if he’d been done a grave injustice by a spoilt brat of a player. Sound familiar?
Racism rumbles on
A Liverpool fan was arrested for using derogatory and racist terms on Oldham player Tom Adeyemi.
This was right after the club said they wanted to hold peace talks with United to diffuse the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra race row, after which their former player Alan Hansen wrote in his newspaper column that Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish need to issue a joint statement to draw a line under the incident. Coincidence?
If you asked me, Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish have made enough daft statements over this whole affair. Now this noble appeal for peace, of extending an olive branch to United, just reeks of a desperate attempt to gain some positive publicity.
“It is nice of them to do it through the press,” noted Ferguson. “You would have thought they would come to Manchester United first.
“I do not see why there is any need for it. But I have nothing to say about it.”
After all, this unholy mess is all Liverpool’s own doing, from Suarez’s “misunderstanding” of the cultural significance of calling a black person “negro”, to that scumbag fan who reduced Adeyemi to tears with his senseless taunts.
United’s dignified silence, on the other hand, has served them well so far, so they really have no need to make any statements.
It was Dalglish who first insisted there was no racism in English football, labelling Evra an “accuser”, and refusing to contemplate even for a second that a player whom he had only known for not more than a year could actually have made a misstep in the heat of the moment.
And then there was that whole T-shirt business, which was made all the worse with Suarez grinning like an idiot while his buddies took part in that garish show of “support”.
Dalglish is a footballing great, and Liverpool FC is a fantastic institution with a wonderful tradition. However, the blind faith they’ve shown towards Suarez will remain a huge blot on their legacy.