Is it a pity Gerrard hasn't won title? You're joking, says Ferguson

 

It is almost half a century since a player was allowed to move directly between Manchester United and Liverpool, and when the Argentinian defender Gabriel Heinze thought he might break the tradition in the summer of 2007 he was swiftly disillusioned. A request to move up the M62 to Merseyside after falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson was dismissed, and instead he ended up with a not-unwelcome transfer to Real Madrid.

Any suggestion that such a switch between the North-west's two great clubs would be easier now that Liverpool are in a trough gave Ferguson a perfect exit line at his media conference on Friday when the topic was offered up for consideration. "Some question, that. What do you think?" he almost snorted before making his way off to training with a broad smile.

Until then United's manager, 71 a fortnight ago, had been in fine form in reflecting on the transformation in fortunes of the two clubs since he arrived at Old Trafford in the autumn of 1986, with United in the relegation zone and their greatest rivals having won eight of the previous 11 League titles.

"I knew the challenge when I came here," he said. "At one of my early press conferences we said we couldn't afford to go 25 years without winning the title. It was 26! They had fantastic teams, they had a good management structure, two great managers in a row.

"Bill Shankly created it and Bob Paisley carried it on. It was a tragedy for Bill to quit and then they go and win three European titles with Bob. Shankly deserved one of those. That period of great teams, great players, they were the dominant team, no question."

If Arsenal, Chelsea and now Manchester City have in turn become the real threat to United's annual ambition of winning the Premier League, the rivalry with Liverpool endures as intensely as ever. Ferguson traces it back to socio-economic roots and the building of the Manchester Ship Canal in the 1890s, taking trade inland from Merseyside.

"From that day on the rivalry was big. It's not just football, geographically there is fantastic competition between the two clubs. Of course, being the two most successful, that has intensified over the years and that won't change. If we were bottom of the League or in the second division it would be the same." Having finished a remarkable 37 points ahead of Liverpool last season, United already lead them by 21 this time. Yet the gap in recent matches has rarely been more than a single goal. In September at Anfield, Robin van Persie's late penalty won it, against the balance of play; in three bitter meetings last season United drew away in the League with another late goal and lost 2-1 in the FA Cup before winning by the same score at Old Trafford, when Ferguson raged that Luis Suarez "should never play for them again" after refusing to shake Patrice Evra's hand.

The September meeting, coming a few days after the Hillsborough Independent Panel had handed down their damning judgment, also had a tense build-up, with both captains appealing publicly to supporters to desist from inflammatory chants. In the end, balloons were released, hands shaken and the headlines were monopolised by the referee, Mark Halsey.

This time Ferguson was even prepared to admit to a grudging admiration for Suarez: "I read one report saying they might play Suarez wide right, Brendan Rodgers was quoted. I hope he does. I think he should play right-back!"

There was acknowledgement, too, for Steven Gerrard's extraordinary record of not having missed a minute in the League this season. "Him and [Graeme] Souness were probably the best midfield players they've had." This being Liverpool, however, there are of course limits, which were apparent when he was asked if it was a shame Gerrard had never won the League. "I don't think it's a pity. You're joking."

Liverpool v Manchester United is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London