Ferguson confident of matching off-field growth on pitch

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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson has no problem handling the burden of expectation that comes with Manchester United's ever-growing list of sponsors.

Since they adopted a new "territory-based" marketing plan, United's group of partners has expanded rapidly. Commercial revenues contributed £81.4m to United's overall turnover of £286m in the results that were published in October. And there is no sign of that growth slowing.

The latest seven-figure deal was unveiled at Old Trafford yesterday – a four-year partnership with leading global telecommunications company Bharti Airtel covering 11 countries within Africa – which further increases the demand for continued success.

As he stands on the brink of eclipsing Sir Matt Busby as the longest serving manager in United history, Ferguson could be forgiven for thinking it is all too much for a man who will celebrate his 69th birthday on New Year's Eve. Instead, he relishes the challenge.

"I never even think about not being successful. It never crosses my mind," he said. "I am always positive about the future of this club. It has been that way for a long time. Unless the sky is going to fall down on top of us, we will remain the way we are. It is our expectation I am concerned about. We are all united in that sense.

"We are well aware that when we lose a game it is back page and sometimes front page depending on who has managed to beat us. That is the expectation. We have no problem with that. It is a great thing for my players, all my staff and supporters." United claim a significant proportion of an estimated 333 million worldwide fan base is from the African continent and two recent tours to South Africa, and a whistle-stop visit to Nigeria, proved how popular the Red Devils are.

Much of that immense support base has been achieved thanks to the work of Ferguson, whose 11 Premier League titles and two European Cups have confirmed him as one of the greatest British managers of all time.

His thirst for success remains unquestioned, as does his capacity to regenerate teams, the current process beginning after United missed out on a significant piece of history last term.

"The cycle of success in football only lasts four years at the very most," he said. "We were almost within that grasp last year, losing the title by one point. That would have made history. But four years is the type of time-span you have in terms of success. Then you need to think about how you regenerate."

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