Lee Dixon: Wearing my blazer taught me to respect the club. Sir Alex does the same at Old Trafford

The Weekend Dossier

Sunday 23 October 2011 01:43

Tomorrow's game between Arsenal and Manchester United will see Arsène Wenger face Alex Ferguson for the 45th time, in what has become the defining rivalry of the current game.

Ferguson has the edge, with 19 wins to Wenger's 14, but between them these two great managers have contributed hugely to English football over the past 15 years or so.

One thing I love about Ferguson is the way he has instilled a respect for the club into all the current players. When I was a kid I had a box that I used to keep my special things in. It was a crown green bowling box, made of really hard cardboard, that my granddad gave me. I kept a few little things in it, like a penknife, a stone from the beach, stuff like that. One of the prized possessions I kept in it was the Manchester City badge that my dad had on his blazer when he was a City player for three years in the 50s.

It was the club's coat of arms embroidered in steel thread and I loved it. When he left the club he took the badge off the blazer and gave it to me. It's still in the box now, somewhere in the loft.

When I joined Arsenal, I was given a blazer with a similar badge on it. The manager, George Graham, made us wear it for every game, with a shirt and tie, and I loved that. I thought it was very important, it was what being a professional footballer was all about.

George drilled it into us, and you can see that Ferguson still does the same. He is a very modern manager but he is very much grounded in old-school values, just like George was. Ferguson has been brilliant at doing that, at maintaining that sense of how special it is to play for Manchester United.

Those qualities, plus his own characteristic grit and bite, have been passed down through players like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, and are now being instilled into today's generation of stars like Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez. And all Ferguson's teams play with real flair, this one being no exception.

People might say they are not as creative as they used to be, but this team is top of the Premier League and is on the verge of a place in the Champions League final. And they are based on old-school values and a desire to play good football.

Arsène also holds Arsenal's philosophy and values close to his heart. That is a big part of who he is. He is, however, not as blessed as Ferguson who has an experienced core group of players that do some of his work for him in the dressing room and out on the pitch.

Wenger's philosophy is also to play attractive football. Both Ferguson and Wenger have built a number of teams that encourage the players to express themselves, and that has been a hugely positive influence that has filtered through the whole English game.

I remember when Arsène arrived at Arsenal in 1996, and he didn't say all that much about how he was planning to transform the way we played. He just told us that he wanted us to play with freedom and express ourselves as footballers. It was very liberating, but some of our success under Arsène came because we had learnt all the basics under George Graham.

Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn and myself would not have been able to grow as footballers if we had not had that grounding that George gave us. I look at Arsenal now and I can see how Arsène's team has developed out of his philosophy of giving players the freedom of expression.

In my experience when players with creative talent are given the chance to play off-the-cuff they tend to all want to move towards the goal, which perhaps explains why Arsenal teams in recent years have sometimes been guilty of playing too narrow, without the width to stretch a defence. Their game often involves playing one-twos around the edge of the opposition penalty area, probing for weaknesses with their fleet-of-foot quick-passing game. When successful it's magical to watch. When it fails it is frustrating and predictable.

United have dominated the matches with Arsenal recently with victories the last four times the teams have met. In fact, Arsenal have won just one of the last 11 meetings between these two great clubs.

One of the reasons could be the lack of experienced senior players in the team, which I have written about before. Sometimes you need someone in the dressing room who has been there in the past and can tell when something's not quite right, and knows what to do about it, to get everyone geed up.

If Wenger manages to make that small change to his squad, by bringing in some experienced players in key areas, I am sure Arsenal will return to being more competitive with Manchester United again next season.

Together Ferguson and Wenger have had a hugely positive effect on the Premier League. Other managers, such as Jose Mourinho, have been important, but none have been able to match the longevity of these old rivals.

Special One has fallen right out of step with Real principles

Love him or hate him, Jose Mourinho certainly brings something unique to football. He polarises opinion, and can do things to infuriate even his most ardent supporter.

I have total admiration for what he has achieved in the game. He takes a bunch of players and has them playing to their strengths, drills them tactically and makes them successful, which is why he gets the best jobs. His career with Porto, Chelsea, Internazionale and now Real Madrid has been fantastic.

But when his way is not successful, it seems to lead to anger and frustration, from the manager and his players. When you consider the grand history of Real Madrid, Mourinho (above) is a manager who is out of step with their principles of how to play the game. That maybe did not matter so much when Real Madrid still had a chance of winning the Champions League, but after their 2-0 home defeat to Barcelona on Wednesday that seems impossible and he faces some difficult weeks ahead.

The Real supporters will be hugely disappointed with the way the team were so defensive and negative on Wednesday. Mourinho's talk of a conspiracy to make sure Barcelona reach the final was a load of nonsense. In all, it was a pretty poor day for the Special One. But he will bounce back, there is no doubt about that.

Five Asides

1. Points deduction seems unlikely in player row

Queen's Park Rangers face the FA inquiry over the alleged third-party ownership of Alejandro Faurlin next week, which could threaten their promotion to the Premier League. But a well-placed source tells me that talk of a large points deduction, of up to 15 points, is highly unlikely should the club be found guilty of the charges.

2. Chelsea surge could work for Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti has made his point with the way Chelsea have rallied following their Champions League elimination. A win over Spurs today may or may not be enough to keep him in his job, but if he is sacked, his team's late surge might just have earned him a top job somewhere else.

3. Why hasn't Kenny been made coach yet?

It beats me why Liverpool have not yet made Kenny Dalglish their permanent manager. It was surely top of the to-do list following the last board meeting. The failure to offer him the job leaves question marks against the new owners.

4. Run-in pressure can hurt West Ham

West Ham play Manchester City tomorrow, but it is the Hammers' other three games that will decide their fate. The players may fancy their chances of getting wins against Blackburn, Wigan and Sunderland. But the pressure of these games can sometimes get to them and they don't always come up with the goods.

5. City prove they have fight without Tevez

Manchester City have come good in recent weeks, in the absence of Carlos Tevez, and that is testament to the manager and players, and shows they have the character to respond to adversity.

Lee Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action

Blackburn Rovers vs Bolton Wanderers

Dixon’s verdict: Blackburn continue to struggle for results, now without a win in three months, while Bolton followed a fine display against Arsenal with a poor showing at Fulham. I’m going with a derby draw.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Draw

Blackpool vs Stoke City

Dixon’s verdict: Another home match for Blackpool and another great chance for Ian Holloway’s side to pull themselves out of trouble. Stoke will miss Matt Etherington but I have been impressed with them recently.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Draw

Sunderland vs Fulham

Dixon's verdict: Sunderland finally got that monkey off their back with that first win in 10 matches last week and poor travellers Fulham are perfect opponents for Steve Bruce's side to continue their revival.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win

West Bromwich Albion vs Aston Villa

Dixon's verdict: Roy Hodgson's side did superbly to come from behind and take a point at Tottenham last weekend but Villa have also improved recently, and I take them to give Gérard Houllier a welcome tonic.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Away win

Wigan Athletic vs Everton

Dixon's verdict: Everton are still pushing for an unlikely European spot and the returns of Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill to David Moyes's starting line-up could prove the difference against an inconsistent Wigan.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Away win

Chelsea vs Tottenham Hotspur

Dixon's verdict: Spurs won at Arsenal before Christmas but their record at the other big clubs remains poor, and I cannot see them winning. Fernando Torres has finally got his goal and Chelsea may run United close now.

Kick-off: Today, 5.30pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win

Birmingham City vs Wolverhampton Wanderers

Dixon's verdict: A vital Midlands derby, with both sides desperate for points. Wolves appear in greater need, but blew a great chance for a win against Fulham last week and they may come unstuck again.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, midday (Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Home win

Liverpool vs Newcastle United

Dixon's verdict: Whether or not Andy Carroll is passed fit to face his former side, I feel Liverpool will be too strong for Newcastle as they hunt a top-five finish. Kenny Dalglish has them playing with belief and confidence.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, midday (ESPN; Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Home win

Arsenal vs Manchester United

Dixon's verdict: This remains a pivotal match for United – victory could all but seal the title, while defeat could let Chelsea in ahead of next week's meeting. Arsenal won't lie down however, so a draw for me.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 2.05pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Draw

Manchester City vs West Ham United

Dixon's verdict: West Ham have a number of players missing and that will be music to the ears of Roberto Mancini as City hope to make up ground on Arsenal. Anything other than a home win will be a major surprise.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4.10pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Home win

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