Saturday, May 23, 2009

Manchester United are masters of mind over matter

If ever you wanted to understand the intrinsic reason why Manchester United are again the newly crowned Champions of England, then you only had to watch around half an hour of their game at Wigan last week.

The invaluable commodity of mind over matter underpinned United's comeback in the last half hour, from a 1-0 deficit to a crucial 2-1 win. Somehow, it perfectly epitomised their season. No matter that the rain swirled down, no matter that this was United's second game in four days, their third in a week after the drama of the Champions League semi-final 2nd leg at Arsenal.

Thus, by Saturday night by which time they had also played Arsenal and secured the single point necessary to clinch the title, Sir Alex Ferguson's men had have played four games in 12 days. Not just run of the mill matches, but every one a potential decider in either the race for Rome and the Champions League final, or the battle for the Barclay's Premier League title.

It would be easy to look at Ferguson's handsome squad and sneer about no pressure because of an excess of quality. And it is true, even their closest rivals must drool at the manner in which the £30 million man Dimitar Berbatov is omitted, rested and then brought in, as fresh as a daisy at the end of a long, gruelling season.

Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal must also drool at the manner in which Wayne Rooney, truly the Duracell bunny, has continued to run and work as though these were the early weeks of a new season, not the climax to a 10 month slog through assorted countries and climatic conditions. It is doubtful whether any player in the Premier League consistently puts in as much effort and drive as Rooney.

But there is another, key reason why Manchester United are celebrating their 18th Premier League title, the one that rivals Liverpool's record. It is their 11th Premier League title in 16 seasons, a quite extraordinary illustration of their supremely efficient consistency, not to mention quality.

The key man in that phenomenal run hasn't been Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane or any other player. It is Sir Alex Ferguson and his insatiable appetite which has delivered these King-like riches to the fawning followers of a remarkable football club.

Ferguson's attitude, his fierce will and drive, are what make Manchester United the club they are. Plenty of clubs have had plenty of fine managers down the years but none have matched the longevity of Ferguson's winning ways, nor his iron discipline. The man has a motor that simple never stops, hardly needs to pause for re-fuelling before setting off again in search of fresh achievements.

Ferguson has been the manager of this and just about every season for the last 16 because he has done what is the hardest thing of all to achieve – earn success and then repeat it, year after year after year.

What has been at the heart of his success is his ability to transmit that almost fanatical will to win, to keep on winning and keep piling up the trophies, to the minds of his players. At any other club, you would have wondered how they would react to going in at wet Wigan on Wednesday night, a goal down.

Limbs must have still ached from the Manchester derby the previous Sunday and besides, there was always the ‘insurance' policy of still having two games after the Wigan match to collect the four points they needed to be sure of the title. But that isn't Ferguson's way. True, his men left it late to clinch all three points at the JJB Stadium but they did it through Phil Carrick's goal in the 86th minute.

That meant just a point from the Arsenal game at Old Trafford on Saturday was enough and it was duly secured.

This attitude, of supreme professionalism intermingled with burning desire and a fanatical will, has again proved too potent a mix for any of United's rivals. It may well do so again next season when Manchester United set out in pursuit of a fourth successive Premier League title and, maybe, a third consecutive Champions League title.

As Ferguson has long since demonstrated, when you have a man at the helm with his driving will, simply anything is possible.

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