Tim Rich: This is more important than just eclipsing Liverpool
Sunday 15 May 2011
Despite the chants of "Nineteen" as Manchester United celebrated with their supporters, despite the references to his great ambition of "knocking Liverpool off their perch", Sir Alex Ferguson's gaze stretched further than the Mersey.
Their manager's cold-eyed desire was to drive United higher, to make them indisputably the greatest footballing institution the country has seen. Should they overcome Barcelona in the European Cup final at Wembley, Ferguson knows all the debate about how good this Manchester United side is will cease.
"This is not so much about surpassing Liverpool," he said. "It is more important that Manchester United are the best side in the country in terms of winning titles, just as they have won more FA Cups than anyone else. The European Cup is a competition in which we wanted to do better and which we should have won more times but we are in another final and we have got a chance. The most important thing is to be the most successful and then to keep it going.
"It has been a funny season. Our away form has not been that great and again we have had a 1-1 draw. Sometimes, away from home, you say to yourself: 'Bloody hell' but our home form has been absolutely brilliant and that has won us the title.
"To explain it, I think you have to look at the League and look how strong it is. We have lost points to West Brom, Wolves, Aston Villa, Bolton, Sunderland and Newcastle – all these teams in the middle of the League. Our rivalshave dropped unexpected points, too. It is not fair to say it is a bad Manchester United team or a bad League. This is a hard League to win."
There was a time, in the autumn, when Ferguson would remark that any team that finished above Chelsea would win the League. He said it in a manner that suggested he did not expect to and it was the seizure that affected Carlo Ancelotti's side between November and January which propelled the title towards Old Trafford. Chelsea dropped 20 points in nine games and in the eight matches Manchester United played in that period, they won six and drew two.
"You know fine well that any campaign will contain a little blip," said Ferguson. "We have had them ourselves and, when Chelsea got theirs, it coincided with one or two things that happened at the club and people drew the conclusion that this is what affectedthem and what turned it but we hit a bit of form ourselves."
Ferguson did not think the game that won the championship was especially impressive and, until Paul Robinson tangled with Javier Hernandez, he despaired of an equaliser in the away dug-out. "It has been a long day and sometimes it has been agony," he said. "It was not a particularly good game but I am not bothered by that to be honest with you.
"The only difference between this championship and some of the others has been our away form. We have been protected by our form at Old Trafford. No, it is nothing like the treble season, let us not get carried away," he said when asked to compare his feelings to the most dramatic campaign of his life a dozen years ago now. "The treble season was something special and I don't think we will see it again. When we were still in the FA Cup, people asked if I was going for the treble and as the manager of this club you have to try for that but I really didn't think that would happen. I thought somewhere along the line we would slip up and fortunately it was in the competition we would place third. At Manchester United the League and the European Cup are paramount."
Ferguson acknowledged he would field essentially a reserve team at home to Blackpool next Sunday, while pointing out he had done the same at Hull before the 2009 European Cup final against Barcelona and had still won 1-0.
"We will be fair to all of the clubs in the country who are struggling against relegation," he said. "Manchester United always play to win."
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