Man United’s Sir Alex light-years ahead of Mancini in psychological stakes
Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson gives his rival Roberto Mancini a masterclass in media management, says Kieran Beckles
With the Premier League taking a backseat this weekend, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson still managed to get one over his Manchester City adversary, Roberto Mancini.
The wily Scot was talking up his side’s chances of completing a second treble in 14 years, insisting his current squad is better than the collection of players at his disposal in United’s treble-winning season in 1999.
“We have a stronger squad now,” Ferguson said. “When we went to the [Champions League] final, [Roy] Keane and [Paul] Scholes were suspended but Henning Berg was the only injury.”
Perhaps Ferguson’s comments were prompted by the sheer jubilation of holding free-scoring Real Madrid to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
United have extraordinary firepower, with Robin van Persie already bagging 19 Premier League goals, Wayne Rooney currently enjoying one of his trademark purple patches, and Javier Hernández and Danny Welbeck proving more than capable understudies to the aforementioned pair.
But don’t be fooled by Ferguson’s superb media and player management – his class of 1999 were still a much-better side. The 71-year-old had the formidable foursome of David Beckham, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs – the strongest midfield of his 26-year United reign.
Jaap Staam, Denis Irwin and Gary Neville offered top-class protection fo arguably the club’s greatest-ever goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, with a front-line of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke which scored for fun, plus Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solsjaer in reserve.
Wes Brown, Ronny Johnsen and Henning Berg to provide back-four cover, with Nicky Butt and Jesper Blomqvist featuring regularly en route to winning the league, cup and Champions League title.
So, in truth, Ferguson’s comments were nothing more than excellent man management, uttered to inject confidence into his squad – particularly for the fringe players – ahead of a treble tilt which will require the United boss to squeeze the very best out of his team – judging by their 2-1 victory over Reading, it’s already working.
Just a short trek across Manchester, Mancini has spent the majority of the weekend defending his record at the Eastlands outfit since replacing Mark Hughes in December 2009.
With mounting speculation the Italian could be replaced in the summer following a 3-1 loss to Southampton, the 47-year-old brazenly declared if he received the sack, the rest of the Premier League’s managers deserved it too.
It was Mancini at his defiant – and deluded – best. City have struggled to perform under the pressure of being defending league champions, failing to produce the same high levels which saw them win their first top-flight crown since 1968 in May.
The Eastlands outfit were just as poor in Europe this season, limping out of the competition in the group stage following a string of abject performances at the Etihad Stadium, while also failing to win on their travels.
Even City’s 4-0 victory over Leeds United on Sunday in the FA Cup fifth round failed to improve Mancini’s mood, with the former Internazionale manager slipping further into paranoia and producing another sound bite to prompt further derision.
“In the last 15 months I am the best manager in England,” Mancini claimed on Monday.
Undoubtedly, the likes of David Moyes, Tony Pulis – and of course Ferguson – would counter such a claim with Everton, Stoke City and United all impressing over the past season-and-a-half.
Ferguson, like Madird’s Jose Mourinho, has been fond of creating an ‘it’s us against them’ mentality at United over the course of his decorated spell at the club, and the veteran boss’ tactics rarely backfired.
In fact, he rarely puts a foot wrong when it comes to man management and utilising the media to serve his own cause. Kevin Keegan’s famous rant on Sky in 1995 as the title race reached its climax just highlights the powerful effect Ferguson’s mind games can have – the Red Devils were crowned champions come May.
While Ferguson’s remarks usually centre on his squad as a whole, cultivating a belief and spirit among his players, Mancini’s impassioned defence of his own credentials simply prompts further doubt and criticism of the City boss.
Where the former Inter Milan manager slammed Joe Hart and eight of his other players for failing to turn up against Southampton, Ferguson has tended to deflect the spotlight away from his side by accepting blame or pointing an accusatory finger to the official – like his memorable rant at the referee after a 1-0 loss to Swansea.
So with United leading City by 12 points, with the squad showing their experience in title run-ins, Ferguson is also edging Mancini in the psychology stakes. Barring disaster, the 71-year-old should be lifting his 13th Premier League title come May.