This is an unusual time in the life of Sir Alex Ferguson. The approach to his 20th anniversary at Manchester United has attracted almost universal eulogies from peers and the media he detests, but rather than bask in popular acclaim yesterday he marked the occasion as only he possibly could: by railing against those who dare to suggest he should retire and dwelling more on Government policy towards pensioners than his own outstanding achievements at Old Trafford.
In a performance that stirred echoes of his reaction to Aberdeen's defeat of Rangers in the 1983 Scottish Cup final, when he slammed their victorious performance live on television, and will disappoint those who have sought to delve beyond the public image of a genuine firebrand, Ferguson was in no mood to celebrate his milestone as he looked ahead to today's visit of Portsmouth and Monday's anniversary.
"I'll just carry on," he said in response to suggestions from Gary Neville and Roy Keane that the Scot will still be in residence at Old Trafford when he is 74. "I enjoy working and that is the most important thing." Pause, then: "I think it is scandalous that some people think I should retire - it is none of their bloody business." The assembled media fall silent as they await an anticipated quip. Instead, he continued: "I've every right to work hard. Some people in this life don't want to work, and I don't think you should decry anyone who wants to work. It disgusts me that people think in that way, but anyway, the laws are changing soon and I am going to continue working.
"There has been criticism from yourselves [the media] and people saying 'Hang up your boots' and I don't think you have a right to do that. People should be entitled to work. Some people don't like work, but I want to work and I will continue."
From Premiership champion to champion of pensioner rights, and Ferguson's appetite for argument and for the game itself are not the only traits undiminished by the years. As an assessment of the recent Age Discrimination Regulations illustrated, his political zeal remains intact too.
"I think the new legislation is right," he continued. "I know there are reasons behind it, such as the state of pensions, but in America there is no retirement age. We have it with referees too. They have to retire at 48 when some of them are as fit as a fiddle. You should look at each individual situation. If someone feels fit to work they should work."
This was evidently not a time for handing out carriage clocks. Asked whether he ever wondered what path he might have taken had the United board bowed to public pressure and sacked him in 1990, Ferguson simply replied: "No".
Though he did admit his longevity, which will be honoured on Monday's anniversary by a dinner featuring all northern-based Premiership managers, several former United captains and many established figures in the game, was a cause for satisfaction.
"I do feel proud," revealed Ferguson, who may have Louis Saha, Ryan Giggs and Neville back from injury this afternoon. "It has been an incredible spell and hopefully we are going to win more things at this club. First of all, you are judged by trophies, and if I hadn't won anything I wouldn't be here 20 years that's for sure. But the second part [of feeling proud] is that the way we have done it has been good. It has been the right way, the Manchester United way and we have not changed in that respect.
"Sometimes we get carried away with our attacking instincts but you might as well die in a glorious way than not."Reuse content