Fighting talk from Fergie in red corner

Manchester United manager dismisses City as 'small club with a small mentality'
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The Independent Football

You do not manage Manchester United for 23 years without making enemies and you do not survive unless you face them down.

In his time at Old Trafford Sir Alex Ferguson has, to use his own phrase, "knocked Liverpool off their perch", seen off Jack Walker's attempt to turn Blackburn into a major force and kept at bay an even more serious attempt by the Chelsea of Roman Abramovich to do the same. The battles with Arsène Wenger are now consigned to nostalgic stories about the days when Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira squared up in the tunnel at Highbury.

Now the enemies are closer to home. Nothing so encapsulated the mood of confidence at Manchester City as their billboard of Carlos Tevez. With a slogan of 'Welcome to Manchester', it dominates the city's main throughfare, Deansgate, and it has irritated Ferguson beyond measure.

"It's City, isn't it?" he said. "They are a small club with a small mentality. All they can talk about is Manchester United, they can't get away from it. That is stupid doing that. That arrogance will be rewarded. It is a go at us, that's the one thing it is. They think taking Tevez away from Manchester United is a triumph. It is poor stuff."

Despite the spending orchestrated by his protégé, Mark Hughes, he does not consider the club as serious rivals, claiming their spending is less focused than the vast outlay authorised by Abramovich when he took over at the Bridge on the day David Beckham signed for Real Madrid.

"Do you know what City's biggest triumph is? It's getting those players there. I don't know if they will do anything. It is not easy to get in that top four so the biggest success of all is to just get the players there. They might not get beyond that.

"They have come because of the money. That is the big attraction to people nowadays. That is the reason they have gone there. At the last minute, from what I can gather, Emmanuel Adebayor (pictured left) or his agent phoned us after he had agreed a deal with City and then he did the same to Chelsea. You ask why is he going to Manchester City and it can only be for one reason. He was desperate to get to Chelsea and he was desperate to get to us.

"Of course, it will be difficult for City to break into the top four. You don't expect Liverpool or Chelsea to die. The one who has the challenge is Arsène Wenger. He has a big challenge at Arsenal because he doesn't have the money and how he uses that £25 million will be very, very interesting. They have a test coming up but it might not come from Manchester City. It might come from Everton or Aston Villa.

"Manchester City's spending is demoralising only if you panic about the buying. It will not be easy for City and, to me, they don't even come into the equation. I don't look upon City as my biggest challenge. For all the buying they have done, they still have to pick a team with balance. That won't be easy for Mark. What's he got, 10 strikers? So if he picks a squad to go to Chelsea he has to leave seven behind, or five at least."

If Liverpool are to be "knocked off their perch" then overtaking their record of 18 titles would be a good way to do it. Unlike Wenger, whom he has warmed to, there is no sign of a détente with Rafael Benitez, whose public complaints about the Manchester United manager undermined the picture of Benitez as someone famed for his reserve and coolness under fire.

"I have no tension with him," said Ferguson. "I never said a word. The only time I responded to him was that time when he made the gesture with Sam Allardyce. There is no doubt he was doing that [signalling that the game was over when Liverpool went 2-0 up]. Liverpool were too quick to come out and respond by saying he was signalling that they should take a free-kick a different way. Bollocks, absolute bollocks."

Ferguson concedes that Liverpool and Chelsea will both consider the champions have weakened themselves by the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo and the failure to properly replace him. Even Rio Ferdinand admitted that, while on holiday, he wondered why his club was not matching the spending in Madrid and east Manchester.

As it turned out United, keen to keep their wage bill at around 50 per cent of their turnover, were barely at the auctions. They did offer Lyon £35m for Karim Benzema but once the bidding went beyond that, Ferguson turned his attention to Michael Owen, a free transfer from the wreckage that is Newcastle United – another one-time challenger he has outlasted.

"I think it has been a crazy summer," he said. "If you got the value, I would be interested but not when they are talking £50m for [David] Villa or £55m for [Sergio] Aguero. That does not seem sensible. Maybe the Ronaldo transfer and Kaka's move to Madrid for £56m sparked something off. Then you had Benzema for £42m. That is Madrid, that is their culture, that is the way they do it.

"But we are still strong. Ourselves, Liverpool and Chelsea will be very close together. They will be encouraged because we have sold Ronaldo. The direction of our game will change because of that but we will still be very difficult to beat. Wayne Rooney will go through the middle.

"You have to utilise what you have available. Some games Rooney did play wide left and in some matches it worked but in others it was not a good position for him to be in. We will change that. He wants to play – he sometimes thinks he is a centre-half. Have I toyed with the idea of making him skipper? Toyed is a good word. I don't think he is ready."