The pressures of the final stretch might be getting to Avram Grant but Sir Alex Ferguson, who will be within a whisker of the title if Manchester United prevail at Blackburn this evening, could reflect yesterday on the benefits of an experience the Israeli does not possess in times like this.
"I'm not going to lose my temper at this stage of the season am I?" Ferguson said, with a heavy dose of irony, but his years at the helm have taken him to places Grant has never been and the experience, as he put it, of having "knocked on that door 100 times" helps. "I am not saying it gets easier over the years but you do get accustomed to this stage of the season and what exactly it is like," Ferguson said. "There has been a lot of drama over the years at this stage of the season and there has been a lot of drama this time, too. That is when you call on your experience."
That attribute has allowed Ferguson to employ many strategies at a time like this. His inflammatory walk across to United fans at Highbury in April 2003, after the side had claimed a point crucial to them winning the title, was one of the more memorable. But rarely down the years has pent-up anger like Grant's, at Goodison Park on Thursday, been on display. If Ferguson has something on his mind, he will say it and everyone is better served.
Of course, it is easy to be relaxed when your side is as comfortably placed as his own. Win at Blackburn – hardly a happy hunting ground for United, it should be said – and a point at Stamford Bridge a week today will clinch things. Ferguson was also able to confirm yesterday that Michael Carrick, Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand have all signed new contracts.
Ferguson recalled a defeat at West Ham "many years ago" and it seemed safe to assume he was talking abut the disastrous 1-0 reverse at Upton Park which shattered his side's title hopes in April 1992, the year Leeds took the title. West Ham were virtually relegated already and a freak goal did for a nervy United who, as Ferguson recalled, "should have scored six". There is nothing like having fallen short in a title quest to put life into context at this end of the season.
The return of Nemanja Vidic at Ewood Park after a knee injury strengthens a United defence which hardly looked impregnable against Arsenal last Sunday, though Nani is only ready for a place on the bench after recovering from a thigh injury that has kept him out for five games.
Yesterday, Ferguson looked as though he could hardly believe Louis Saha had lived up to his "balsa man" tag yet again by incurring a hamstring injury that could put paid to the rest of his season. "The season is running out, that is the problem, so this is not good news," Ferguson said. But with one hand on the title and April not nearly out, he had far less to stew over than the last title challenger still standing.Reuse content