Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ferguson's fear factor pushed Manchester United to a 19th title

Andy Hunter of the Guardian writes of how Manchester United's 1-1 draw last weekend versus Blackburn proved to be the clincher for United's 19th championship, but it was the fear of failure and demands placed on the players by Sir Alex Ferguson that drove the champs to the title.

The point that ensured United became the most decorated champions in English football arrived from a performance that encapsulated not only much of their season but Ferguson's reign. They failed to capitalise on early dominance, survived several scares and rarely troubled Paul Robinson on a day when anxiety accompanied the touch of Tomasz Kuszczak, Nani and Javier Hernández. But of course they found a way.

When the Mexican revelation was caught by the Rovers goalkeeper Paul Robinson inside the area, albeit no longer in possession of the ball, it fell to a "terrified" Evertonian, Rooney, to apply the final push to Liverpool's shared place on the perch from the penalty spot. The winning mentality that Ferguson has ingrained in the club and is unsurpassed in the Premier League had pulled through once more.

"This is special, really special," said Patrice Evra, the United defender. "The manager put really big pressure on us. I remember after the defeat at Arsenal he said, 'Do you really not want to win the 19th title? Are you crazy? Now you've got to win it. How many titles are you going to throw away?' It was very important to win it here otherwise someone would have got the hairdryer."

Instead, we had the familiar sight of Ferguson leaping into the arms of his backroom team on the final whistle, embracing Ryan Giggs on his 12th championship winner's medal plus the rarity of a post-match press conference from the United manager. Tie loosened, arms stretched out wide, he made particular mention of the young players he has blooded this season who have now tasted a first title triumph. In 2005‑06 a period of transition saw United offer a tame challenge to Chelsea in the Premier League and finish bottom of their Champions League group. The contrast five seasons on should not go unnoticed.

"You can see he's like a kid," said Evra. "It's like he's just won the league for the first time. He's given that winning mentality to everyone, that hunger to try to win, that's Sir Alex Ferguson."

Eight minutes after Rooney had equalised Brett Emerton's close‑range finish, the United manager introduced Dimitar Berbatov. He had already replaced his right back, Fabio Da Silva, with Paul Scholes and shifted Antonio Valencia into defence and was about to do the same on the left, Jonny Evans off, Michael Owen on and Giggs to full‑back, when the Welshman sprayed the pass that resulted in United's penalty.

Ferguson's opposite number, Steve Kean, bemoaned his battling side's inability to produce a second goal after bringing on three midfielders rather than his three strikers from the bench. The contest ended with Scholes and Ferdinand playing keep-ball while Kean urged his relegation-threatened team to stay back, lest they be caught on the counter and finish with nothing. Blackburn head to a resurgent Wolverhampton Wanderers on the final day one point above the relegation zone. "If we play the way we have been then we will get at least a point," Kean said.

Ferdinand said: "This club will never sit and rest on its laurels, especially with the manager we've got. The manager is a winner and everything stems from him really. To win this league you have to be mentally strong. I think this season, more than any other that I've been involved in since I came here, we've dragged games back from the dead. That's the sign of a team with great resilience and character."

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