Another bunch of animated gifs for ya, I grabbed some from the Chelsea away game and some from the controvesy ridden Liverpool home game in February 2012. Plenty of animated gifs goals and celebrations. including Patrice Evra and his celebrations that were criticised for being distasteful. This due to the proximity of one Luis Suarez, Man United soon-to-be-legend Patrice was going crazy after the game. He looked so emotional and I felt the same. After Luis Suarez refused to shake the hand of Evra the tone was set for a passionate game and that is exactly what we got!
I wish we had pressed Liverpool harder towards the end of the game, it would have given me some more animated gifs to make but as it happens there wasn't much of note in the game. There were only 2 bookings and only Glen Johnson forced Man United keeper David De Gea to make a save, one which he tipped over the bar but I'm not sure was going in anyway. Never mind, I shall be making some more videos or animated gifs or both from the next game: Ajax in the Europa League tie to be played in Amsterdam. I'm pretty gutted I cancelled this trip now but nevermind, I'll be back at the aways soon.
There was a recent interview with Sir Alex Ferguson posted on the webs recently, it's from FIFA.com and is very interesting. It's always great to hear SAF in interviews outside of MUTV. He always has insightful views and I am always impressed by just how little he seems to stand still. He really does know how to move with the times and remain at the head of the pack.
Sir Alex, how do you think your team’s been performing this season?
We’ve had our ups and downs and we’ve been unlucky with injuries. We’ve had a lot of them, which you don’t expect, and we’ve got people like Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher out for the whole season. You can replace your best players for a game or two, but you really notice the difference over a longer period, and that’s what’s happened to us. Even so, we’re fighting hard to win the Premiership again and there’s a lot of merit in that. Obviously I’m optimistic about our chances.
Has the team suffered because you’ve not been able to rotate players?
These days it’s very, very hard to use the same players for every match. The game’s so fast now that players suffer a lot more muscle fatigue and need more rest. You’re talking about players who run 13 or 14 kilometres every game – a lot more than in the past – and you have to keep your whole squad in the best possible shape.
There are two new title challengers in England this season. Do you think the Premier League is more competitive now?
There’s always been competition. The difference now is that instead of a big four, with us, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool a little further back, we’ve got a big six, with Tottenham, who’ve finally become competitive, and Manchester City, who’ve spent a lot of money. That’s made the path to the title a lot tougher.
Does Manchester United’s surprise UEFA Champions League exit still hurt?
It was a massive disappointment because my feeling is that if we’d gone through, we would have gone on to the final. For me the problem was the home game against Basel. We were 2-0 up and then missed four or five clear-cut chances. We ended up losing our concentration and though we managed to salvage a draw, it was a bad result for us. It left us having to go and get at least a point in the return game. And though we dominated the match, we didn’t score, and when that happens you don’t deserve to win.
Basel did cause you problems, though...
Yes, they did. The thing is you’ve always got to dictate the pace when you’re a big team like us. The sides competing in the Champions League now are much better on the break than they used to be. A few years back opponents would send two or three players into our half whenever they got on the ball, but now it’s five or six, and at pace too. I think that’s one of the biggest overall improvements we’ve seen in the game recently.
You came off second best in last year’s final against Barcelona. Is there anything you could have done differently that night?
I don’t regret anything we did because they were the better side. The first two goals were entirely avoidable and maybe with a bit of luck we could have won the game, but when the other team’s that bit better than you, then there’s not much you can do about it.
Do you think that Barcelona and Real Madrid are ahead of everyone at the moment?
I still think Barcelona are the best team in Europe, although Real Madrid are closing the gap on them. The lead they’ve got in the league shows that. They might be on the same level as them soon, but for the moment Barça have still got that magical ability to play a game that’s beyond everyone else. When [Lionel] Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta are on song, they’re just unstoppable.
Your club has this remarkable ability to stay at the top despite spending very little on transfers. Is that a deliberate strategy?
We decided a few years ago to create a structure with young players, like Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Anderson, and we also knew we had some talented youngsters coming through the academy, like Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley. All we’ve had to do since then is just build things around a few young players. With that as our strategy we’ve not had to spend huge amounts of money to stay competitive because we’ve already got the talent at home.
Do you feel then that despite the setback in Basel, Manchester United are still able to compete with the European elite?
Like I said, I feel we had the ability to go all the way to the final. Luck wasn’t on our side, but I think we’ve got the ambition to compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid, and I don’t feel we’re that far away from them. I’m sure we’ll show that soon.
Sir Alex, you’ve been at Manchester United for 25 years now, which makes you the club’s longest-serving manager. What’s been the key to your success?
It has a lot to do with the club. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a more long-term view and change direction towards where I think it should go. I can plan two or three years ahead, which is something that doesn’t happen hardly anywhere else. This is a results industry and if a manager loses four or five games in a row then his job is under threat. But at United that scenario simply isn’t possible. I’m in charge of all footballing matters, including our scouting network and youth teams. In that sense I’m very fortunate, because I can make quick decisions on who to bring in next to strengthen the squad and where to get them from.
A few years ago United’s success was based around players brought through the club’s youth system, whereas nowadays few make that leap. What has changed?
It has to do with a change in the legislation. A few years ago the requirement was brought in that you could only sign young players that lived within an hour-and-a-half radius of the club’s headquarters. It wasn’t like that before, which was how we were able to sign such fantastic young lads. But since it became physically impossible to find six or seven players a year so close by, we decided to change the priorities of our scouting system. As a result, we started to bring in very talented players from abroad and we’ve had success that way. But it’s true, in terms of developing players from within the club, it’s been a long time since we produced a player of David Beckham’s calibre. But the legislation changed again a short while back and it’ll be like it was 15 year ago once more, so I’m very optimistic we’ll be able to get the production line we had in the past going again.
What part do you play in signing players from abroad?
Let me use Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez as an example. Our chief scout had a contact in Mexico who mentioned the lad’s name, which was the first step. He got hold of some videos of Chivas' matches and showed me them. When we watched them we thought, “This lad’s got promise”, but you can’t decide to sign someone just by watching them on a screen. So I sent my chief scout over to Mexico for a month, with a view to seeing what the player was like on and off the pitch. And that’s how we discovered that his father and his grandfather had both played at World Cups and that the lad was on the verge of national-team selection. After all that, it was a pretty easy decision. We carried out all the necessary steps and managed to sign him before South Africa 2010, which was important as his value would have increased afterwards.
How much do you think football has changed over the time you’ve spent in the game?
Enormously. To begin with, when I first started out in management 37 years ago there were no agents. Imagine that! There was no freedom of contract either, so players were totally tied to their clubs. A change in that sense was inevitable, though I think that now the scales tipped completely in the other direction and I’m not sure it’s good for the game. Of course the way the media works has changed too, there’s a lot of pressure on journalists to publish huge news stories – not just about sport but about everything – and that’s had an impact on us, no doubt about it.
And how about the players and what happens out on the pitch?
In that sense, I think the biggest change over the last decade has been the improvement in playing surfaces. They’re fantastic now and, given the technological advances in that area, playing on a poor pitch has become very unusual. And the other big change has been in sports science, which has progressed at an astonishing rate. For example, when I started out at Manchester United my entire coaching staff consisted of just eight people, and that included my assistant coaches, fitness trainers and scouts. Now I’ve got ten sport scientists! It’s a radical change.
Do you think that the pace of the game has become quicker as a result?
That’s inevitable, as progress and increased speed go hand-in-hand. Cars are faster now, trains are faster, everyday life moves faster, and players in other sports are also quicker now. And well, given all that speed, it’s only logical that the pace of the game of football also increases. That’s also meant an equivalent increase in the risk of serious injuries. For example, 30 years ago we’d never see cruciate knee ligament injuries and now they’re very common.
If you could pick just one moment from your long and illustrious career, what would it be?
Winning that Champions League final against Bayern Munich in Barcelona [in 1999], no doubt about it. It was a feat I’d never achieved before personally and the last time the club had done it was in 1968, so it really was long overdue. Nor must we forget, of course, that it was a brilliant game!
Finally, having already changed your mind once about retirement, how long do you see yourself continuing in the game?
My philosophy is that, for as long as I’m enjoying my job and I’m in good health, I’m going to carry on here. I don’t think you can set yourself limits, but nor can you plan too far ahead because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. The time will come [for me to retire], obviously, but right now it’s not something I’m thinking about.