Five ways Alex Ferguson can reclaim his city for Manchester United

Vilified for his tactics and in danger of losing the title, but there is still hope for Sir Alex in the short and long term. Ian Herbert explains why

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The Independent Online

Manchester City sense a shifting in the balance of power. "Last year we won the FA Cup and qualified for the Champions League," David Silva said yesterday. "This year we are challenging for the title. Let's see. Hopefully, we can win the title. Then next year we can challenge for the Champions League." Sir Alex Ferguson is in a difficult place, though football has defied those who try to make bold pronouncements about the established order this season. But there are ways for Ferguson to prevent Roberto Mancini changing the guard in the city United have called their own. Here are five of them...

1. Be patient...

Ferguson has become messianic about bequeathing his successor a new generation of players. Or a "foundation", as he put it to Fabien Barthez, in his most revealing interview of the past few years – "a collection of players who stay for a long time, understand each other and are friends, because that is what time does – it builds friendships". That all sounds rosy in theory but some potentially very fine young players are the victims of the ethos because they are being cast into the furnace too soon, in the clamour to demonstrate that United stand for youthful idealism – in juxtaposition to City's brutal spending. Witness Phil Jones on Monday, blasting a cross high over the defence when allotted several yards of second-half space in the box; allowing a ball to loop beyond the dead-ball line on another occasion rather than take it on. Tom Cleverley – not even in Monday's squad – has never played more than four consecutive games, Danny Welbeck never more than three. Yet they are respectively being described as world-class, and England internationals. They need to grow and learn among seasoned players, free of the weight of this responsibility being thrust upon them...

2. Be a big spender...

... all of which means that Ferguson needs to spend this summer. You wondered, when Manchester was awash with blue-and-white scarves on the Metrolink and the school runs yesterday, whether there might be an immediate spending announcement – something, even, on the intended partial flotation of the club on the Singapore Stock Exchange, which would have been timely. The Glazer family have had hopes of raising £600m from the Initial Public Offering (IPO) but that could be on hold until the autumn, to the potential detriment of the transfer kitty. Ferguson now needs to see the colour of the Glazers' money to spend on players who can deliver the moment next season starts. He was outbid by City last summer for Samir Nasri, Mancini's standout player on Monday, and could not meet Wesley Sneijder's demands. The signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Hoffenheim attacking midfielder flourishing on loan at Swansea City, would give him another £10m bracket player. But it is by meeting the £30m that Lille will ask for Eden Hazard, whom Ferguson sees in a possible central role, that United will find a game-changer. Patrice Evra did not remove the question marks about himself on Monday and his position is one where Ferguson has nothing in reserve.

3. Think midfield

"I think people are too obsessed with the idea of a replacement [for me]," Paul Scholes said recently. But United are in a very difficult place with the midfield area where Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-sung and Scholes – combined age 136 – were eclipsed by the natural force of Yaya Touré at the Etihad. Park, who had not played a minute of first-team football since 15 March, feels like a player on the way out of Old Trafford at 31. Significantly, Ferguson recently acknowledged publicly that 24-year-old Anderson has yet to reach his potential, five years after United signed him. Darren Fletcher's future is also entirely unclear, though he hopes to have recovered from a bowel condition to play for United again. Scholes indicated on Sunday that he wants another year but he cannot go on indefinitely. United may win a 20th Premier League yet, allowing Ferguson some self-satisfaction when those questioning his side now are sitting before him. But even a title won't obviate the need to strengthen.

4. Be Manchester United

While David Silva proclaims today that his side have crossed a psychological Rubicon, his opposite number, Nani, is silent. The Portuguese winger withdrew yesterday morning from a sponsors' appearance scheduled for 5pm last night. That seemed rather symbolic, though, for all the confidence Silva's words ooze, Monday night's game was one that United surrendered, as was their eight-point lead, not necessarily something that City have gained. City's key match-winning tactic was a very prosaic one: billeting Carlos Tevez in the six-yard box to prevent David de Gea leaving his line to meet crosses. This strategy was repeated three times, on one of which Vincent Kompany applied the decisive header. Losing because you got your tactics wrong – United staked everything on their ability to shut City down, isolated Wayne Rooney and did not use arguably their player of the season, Antonia Valencia – is a different proposition to being outplayed. That's why the title is most certainly not over and the revised view of Roberto Mancini handling pressure like a God may be a touch premature. Beating Norwich City, West Bromwich and Wolves – the opposition in City's so-called return from the dead – is one thing. St James' Park on Sunday is another.

5. Be selfish

The Glazers have found a remarkably loyal servant in Ferguson, an individual who, at every turn, has praised the independence they afford him and who has insisted, in the teeth of every question on the subject, that the money to spend is there if he wants it. His biggest outlay on a player was £30m on Dimitar Berbatov, four years ago. That United should have retained their position at the pinnacle of the English game is a testament to his own powers of management, as we head into the penultimate weekend of another campaign. Though some may question his defensive strategy at the Etihad, it revealed a manager who has long since had to discard the notion of United being a team of invincibles, who can only play to win. As time runs out on his Old Trafford career, Ferguson does not have the time to build a new side from scratch, and if he does not make a further substantive launch into the market for players of the same calibre as Yaya Touré, Sergio Aguero and David Silva, he risks the epitaph to a golden quarter century being that he was the manager with whom City caught up in the end.

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