Ferguson backs Spurs as contenders for title

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Sir Alex Ferguson has declared that Tottenham Hotspur can win the Premier League, such is the threat now posed by clubs who are investing heavily to shatter the hegemony of the old guard.

Though Manchester City's bid to ascend to the top of the Premier League last night revealed the size of the challenge from all quarters, Ferguson believes that it is not just contained to them and supports Harry Redknapp's recent contention that his own side are title contenders. "It is a tough league," Ferguson said. "Do you want United and Chelsea or Arsenal to steamroller the league every season? I think the public like what they're seeing now, all of us dropping points. You have got the rise of Spurs – they have been fantastic since Harry went there. There's been a real improvement by them. As Harry says, why can't they win the league, and that is getting through to his players."

Redknapp, whose side are seven points behind United with a game more played, has repeatedly claimed that Spurs can win the league and has started focusing on that subject in the dressing room, as part of his strategy to make his players believe they can beat anybody. The comments Ferguson alluded to highlighted United's own vulnerabilities, though Ferguson is obviously more willing to take that from Spurs than Manchester City, whose board have their own conviction that the title is within their grasp this season.

"Chelsea aren't as good as they were, Man United aren't as good as they were three or four years ago. They're still excellent teams but they're not the force they were. They were almost invincible, the pair of them," Redknapp said recently. "I think Tottenham are now getting closer and the championship is wide open. I said that to the players on Friday morning. 'Why can't you win the championship? Who says you can't?" Ferguson's conviction about Spurs' potential is borne of the fact that clubs are investing television money more heavily than in the past.

Ferguson now considers Chelsea to be the most significant opposition and there was disappointment that the cancellation of Sunday's match at Stamford Bridge prevented United playing Carlo Ancelotti's side when they were at their most vulnerable.

Ferguson, who is 69 on New Year's Day, has also reiterated that he has shelved all thoughts of retirement, nine years since his famously premature decision to do so. "The older you get the more worried you are about retiring," he said. "You start to realise that whilst you have got your health and good fitness, you should carry on in your job. All thoughts of retirement are in the back of my mind.

"It [saying he was going to go] was a mistake. At the time there were some reasons for it. It was one of those things."

The United manager has also insisted he was right to leave the striker Dimitar Berbatov out of the side, with a five-man midfield, which beat Arsenal last week.

"Management is about making decisions," he said. "We made the decision the other night to leave Berbatov out of the team. It was not an easy one and was very difficult to explain. The only way I could do that was by saying I felt it was going to win us the match. Although it was proved right you are never sure."