By Jake Doyle
This season, Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson have been tangled in a title race with a completely new entity as we all welcomed arch rivals Manchester City into England’s top table. This was thanks in part to Mancini’s man-management, something which ex-United boss Mark Hughes couldn’t achieve under his tenure at Eastlands, and thanks in part to the new wealth and flood of talent drafted into the blue half of Manchester.
Mancini’s club probably boasts the best side that United have had to face in a title race since the Arsenal sides manufactured by Wenger in 1998 and 2004. However, Mancini’s psychological games need a little work. The Italian provides repetitive playing down of title hopes despite the title decider on Monday night and with three points in it. In part, you could say that Mancini’s tactics have calmed City nerves down which has led to their good form as of late.
You can’t say that it has unnerved Sir Alex, not that he often is unnerved by a fellow Premier League manager. The recent dropped points by the Red Devils have been down to poor performances at the DW against a battling Wigan side and failing to hold a lead at home to Everton in an eight-goal thriller.
Even though Mancini is vastly experienced and they are pushing United right down to the wire, the Italian doesn’t compare to the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho. The competitive streak held by the aforementioned Frenchman has taken the most titles from Ferguson in the past twenty years shortly dipped into a pure hatred at the turn of the century.
Between the pizza incident, the battle of Old Trafford in 2003 and David Beckham’s cut forehead in the FA Cup fifth round, there has been almost pitched battles between Wenger and Ferguson since his appointment in 1996. There has been many tempestuous encounters between the two no more than that battle of Old Trafford.
Wenger’s mind games got to Ferguson to an extent as it made United raise their game, a match in particular in February 2005 where United beat Arsenal at Highbury 4-2 in a tense affair. A sending off and plenty of bookings along with a good old battle with Keane and Vieira in the tunnel was boiled down to months and months of media wars between the two managers.
Whilst Wenger has taken three titles off Fergie, Mourinho proved a stern test when he became Chelsea manager in 2004. The Portuguese manager had annoyed United fans before he stepped foot into Stamford Bridge when he ran the entire length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the Porto fans at Old Trafford in a Champions League tie the previous season before his first Premier League title at Chelsea.
Mourinho was famed for his antics, such as shushing Liverpool fans in the Carling Cup final of 2005 along with constantly reminding us that he is known as ‘The Special One’. Until he crumbled in the 2007/08 season he had severely threatened the United empire for the first time in decades – possibly since a certain Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed to cure to Liverpool domination.
Ferguson has had plenty of rival managers in his 26 years and Mourinho was only one of 17 Chelsea managers he has faced in his long tenure at the Theatre of Dreams.
Managers from that Anfield place never really threatened Ferguson’s Premier League domination and try as they might, the only time Kenny Dalglish ever won the Premier League was when he traded Ewood Park for Liverpool. However, since he has returned to Anfield, an angrier and less potent Dalglish has taken the place of the domineering club he used to play for.
A manager that Ferguson had definitely wound up was Rafael Benitez. In January 2009, Liverpool were top of the league heading into the business end of the season and if ever there was a self-destruct button played so well to hand over the league title to United, Benitez played it with swift effect in a press conference.
The “facts” are that United overturned the deficit which led to an enormous lead generated by the destruction Benitez caused for his own team. Although Benitez was quick to state that he wasn’t playing mind games but “stating the facts”, it was clear that Benitez was bowing to the pressure of a title race, a race that Liverpool have not since entered.
Ferguson has had the contrast of managers come close to removing him from the perch of the Premier League champions. Avram Grant, for instance, had Ferguson battling on two fronts and with the players seemingly leading the team, Grant’s mind games were never going to be impressive.
To this day, even Benitez is trumped by Kevin Keegan in terms of outbursts. Benitez’s factual press conference might have been controlled and calculated but Keegan’s interview with Sky presenters, Andy Gray and Richard Keys in the title race of 1996, the Newcastle boss’ famous outburst is still being quoted today.
I’m sure Sir Alex loves that.Tweet