Ferguson rues the week United let their season's hopes slip away

Manager is downbeat about his chances of snatching the title away from Chelsea

Sir Alex Ferguson looked even less optimistic about a fourth successive title yesterday than a Scottish political leader, whose virtues he has been extolling in recent days, probably felt about a fourth successive term in office.

Ferguson has seen some writing on the wall about tomorrow afternoon and his thoughts already seem to have drifted way beyond the occasion, to what may be his most important summer of rebuilding for some years. He hinted at a squad "freshening up" during his club's awards ceremony on Wednesday night – "it's not a desire to do it; it's a need to do it," were his words – and his reluctance to take a question on that point yesterday bore out the impression that plans are afoot. "I'm not dealing with anything about that now. We will look at things," he said.

Though the United manager also reflected in midweek that there was no point torturing himself over the might-have-beens which leave his fragile title hopes resting on the highly unfeasible scenario of Chelsea dropping points at home to Wigan, he clearly can't stop himself. The nine-day period last month, in which United were eliminated from the Champions League by Bayern Munich and so buffeted by the first-leg defeat that they failed to turn up in the home defeat against Chelsea, is gnawing away at him. "The one bad week in the season that is maybe going to cost us everything," he declared gloomily. "It's not easy to overcome these things."

Those nine days laid bare United's unhealthy over-dependence on Wayne Rooney, though Ferguson believes United were damned by a series of factors outside his own control. Defeat to those "typical Germans" was a scandal, he maintains. "It's an absolute travesty we're not in the final; an absolute travesty. We were the best team." The Chelsea defeat was at least partly the product of officiating. "The refereeing decision against Chelsea influenced the destiny of the title, I think," he said. "You can agonise on these things but it doesn't do any good."

But United's destiny has been in their hands in a way that it will not be tomorrow, when Stoke arrive for the last fixture of the season at Old Trafford. Truth is, they have not looked like champions often enough and have perhaps overachieved even to make it to the last Sunday in contention, given the cavernous hole left by Cristiano Ronaldo and Michael Owen's failure to be anything like a replacement for Carlos Tevez. Ferguson played down the notion that United probably dared not hope to be where they stand today but it is a testament to his powers of alchemy that they do.

The "freshening" he spoke of may be in the goalscoring and midfield departments and a new goalkeeper is a possibility. For the first time, Ferguson did not dismiss Ben Foster's call for a move elsewhere to resurrect his career. "I've had a chat with Ben about that. I can understand his dilemma, there is nothing you can do about that, to be honest with you. We'll just see what the future brings for the boy." He also reflected yesterday that next season could conceivably be the last one for that old band of brothers Giggs, Scholes and Neville.

The fact that Roberto Martinez's Wigan might just help turn tomorrow afternoon into Ferguson's most extraordinary title party yet was almost an oversight. "It's pointless going into the game expecting anything from Chelsea in our favour. In a way that helps us because we can express ourselves," reflected Ferguson, whose winger Antonio Valencia has kicked his last ball of the season because of an ankle injury.

Ferguson is preparing himself for the extraordinary occasion these last-day events can be, expecting to know exactly what's going at Stamford Bridge, for instance. "There are TV people in front of you, crowd reactions sometimes tell you. Sometimes it's false. They try to boost the team by cheering when there's nothing really happening in the other game." It is the fifth time in his spell at United he has been involved in a final-day title decider, though in keeping with the glum countenance, he was remembering only 1995 when Liverpool did United a favour by beating Blackburn, only for his own side to draw at West Ham. "We couldn't get the ball past their big goalkeeper," he said, recalling Ludek Miklosko's performance, if not his name.

It's never quite over until the end, though – and Manchester City's injury-time experiences against Ferguson this season attest to the folly of ruling out an upset when United are around. "If it goes to the last game of the season, as it's done five times here – yeah, so what?" was as cheerful as the manager got. "It's not a problem for us. You don't mind winning anything with the last kick of the ball."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high