Manchester United can win the title on Monday night but Sir Alex Ferguson cares little about where and when, with the manager recalling how previous championships have been claimed when he was in the gym, watching snooker or playing golf.
United's lead over Manchester City is now 13 points after Roberto Mancini's side lost at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. With five games remaining, if United beat Aston Villa they will win the title. If they lose, victory at Arsenal on Sunday would still secure the championship and a 13th triumph for Ferguson.
Yet the manager would feel no frustration if United were handed the title when not on the pitch. "Not for me. I'm happy for it to happen like that. It has happened a few times," he said. "When Oldham beat Villa at Villa Park [in 1993] I was on the golf course and when Liverpool and Newcastle [each] drew in London on the same night , I was in the gym at Mottram Hall. There was another occasion, when Coventry beat Blackburn in a Monday night game , I was watching the snooker – the world championship final was on. Then there was a Leeds game when Peter Reid was in charge [at Arsenal, in 2003] when [Mark] Viduka scored a couple and they beat them."
When the title is finally won, Ferguson is unsure where it will rank personally. "No more proud than I was with the previous 12. It is not an easy league to win. The first one was the one that really opened the door for us, though," he said.
Despite United's canter to the title, some critics believe this is not a vintage Ferguson team. How does he rate it? "If we win the league, the team has to be considered in terms of other teams," he said, before suggesting that, if the last five games are won, to beat Chelsea's record total of 95 points by one would elevate the side's stature. "It's not beyond the team at all. If you are asking if Manchester United can win five games in a row, well how many times have we done that? So it's not beyond us. What may create more awareness of the side we have this year is how many points we get. We won the league in 1993 with something like 84 points. We have also won leagues with 91 points and been second with 91 points, to Chelsea. That has to be considered in terms of judgment against other teams, but it doesn't bother me, really.
"But the way we approach it is quite good and the response on Wednesday [to draw 2-2 with West Ham, when twice behind] was fantastic, at a ground that is a difficult place to go to and with the way they play and put you under pressure with set pieces. I think we're proud of the players coming out of that and there won't be any slacking off by the players. There is a resilience, the consistency has been good and like all the previous teams, they never give in and that's a fact. The history of the club, more than anything, is what the players who have been here for two or three years buy into and do well. I think that these are the qualities that have helped them to be where they are right now."
Regarding the possibility of Rio Ferdinand signing a new contract as his current deal ends this summer, Ferguson said: "I have spoken to him and obviously at this moment in time, he is more concerned about getting an opponent for his testimonial game. He is working on that, but we want him to stay and obviously I am sure his representatives will be discussing things with David [Gill, the chief executive]. I would imagine that [staying] would be the best thing for him."
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image: © Andrea Sartorati