Whether we win or lose the title, I'm not walking away from United


Last updated at 22:29 10 May 2008

Sir Alex Ferguson heads into as

big an end game to a season as even he

has known in his silver-strewn time as

manager of Manchester United with a

warning to those airing the possibility

that he could be less than a fortnight

away from quitting. "I've got a bit of damage

left to do yet," he insists.

Dave Whelan, chairman of Wigan Athletic,

United's opponents this afternoon, was among

those wondering aloud last week if Ferguson

might quit at the top should United clinch the

Premier League title — a nice round 10 under

him — at the JJB Stadium today, then a second

European Cup, and a third for the Old

Trafford museum to display, by beating

Chelsea in Moscow a week on Wednesday.

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Time to celebrate: Sir Alex Ferguson savours victory over Barcelona

But as he surveyed his kingdom from

United's now beautifully appointed Carrington

training ground, Ferguson looked

and sounded as if a farewell to arms was

the last thing on his mind, however. He

remembers the feeling of staring into the

void six years ago when he contemplated

retirement and did not like what he saw.

Now he surveys the landscape and loves

what he sees.

"The future of the club is good," he said.

"They will keep on winning titles. The structure

of the club is great, the training ground,

everything is in place. The youth development

is strong. It's a young club."

As a student of the game, he will be keenly

aware that there is a balance to be struck

between the twin sadnesses of Bill Shankly

feeling he had left Liverpool too soon and

having to be requested politely not to keep

appearing at the training ground, and of Brian

Clough clinging on, with the resultant denting

of his reputation.

But whether Ferguson wins or loses these

last two games, he knows he would be daft to

walk away now.

He has, after all, developed another great

side who are not yet at their peak. Cristiano

Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Nani

and Anderson are still young. Others such as

Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Michael

Carrick are in their prime, while Paul

Scholes and Ryan Giggs offer experience.

And although 66, the manager

remains hungry to stretch his

record of trophies. Who wouldn't be,

given such components? And having

built such a side, who could

leave it before fruition? Watching it flower in

someone else's hands could

drive a man crazy.


could imagine Ferguson

feeling like Geoffrey Boycott

— with whom he

shares character traits of singlemindedness,

dedication and sheer

stubbornness — having been run out

by Ian Botham, then watching the

all-rounder compile a century and

lamenting: "Them's my bloody runs

he's scoring."

In addition, Ferguson knows that

Manchester United can overhaul Liverpool's

record of 18 English titles on

his watch in the near future; some

incentive for the club and their fans.

"You can only judge a team when

they win and we are conscious of

that," he says. "That's the great drive

and expectation we have for ourselves.

We want to win the league

first of all, then we can look to

Moscow. Sunday is the biggest game.

"If we win it, that's 10 Premier

League titles and that's an amazing

achievement. It will be our 17th in

all, one behind Liverpool. We are getting

closer. We are coming up on the

stand rails. It'll happen, hopefully in

my time."

Ferguson has been in expansive

mood these past few days, running

through his repertoire. It has demonstrated

his experience of such

scenarios, his knowledge of how to send out the messages

he wants



and relieved


the 1-0

win over


— a pivotal


when it

looked as if

United's season



after draws at


and Blackburn and defeat at Chelsea

— he has been purring about his

players, bolstering Bolton for their

trip to Chelsea and pillorying the

Press for questioning Wigan's commitment

under Ferguson's former United captain, Steve Bruce.

Actually, if there are thanks to

be given this evening, it will be

to Wigan for their recent

draw at Chelsea, and to crucial

events of United's own making,

such as late Tevez equalisers at Tottenham

and Blackburn.

"The most important thing going

into this game is the performance

against Barcelona, the concentration,

matching the intensity. Those

are the big issues in that type of

game," said Ferguson.

In best elder statesman mode, he

also analysed the Premier League

and the greater degree of difficulty

in winning it since the last season in

which United were so embroiled in

the biggest prizes, that epic treble of

1999. "It's harder now, no question

about that," he said. "You see the

squad Chelsea have got, the number

of players, the experience. It's obviously

harder. And Arsenal have

fantastic quality but haven't won.

That's a measure of the league."

Asked if it feels strange for United

to be the popular choice to win the

title this year, with Chelsea assuming

the role of the unloved, he bit

back. "I think the Press are with

Chelsea," he insisted.

It is nonsense, of course, designed

to foster the us-against-the-world

siege mentality that has served

United so well in the past. While

many might have liked Arsenal to be

champions given the beautiful

purity of their best football, it has

come to be recognised how mentally

flawed they ultimately were.

With Chelsea, there is admiration

for their resilience and professionalism

but still they are short of the

charismatic ability to elevate the game consistently with fluency and

fantasy. Roman Abramovich, the

owner, remains aware of this, which

is why Avram Grant is not assured

of the manager's job next season.

Ferguson was asked if the United

players see themselves as the best

team. "In the way they have performed,

yes," he replied, before modifying

it so that his team do not

believe the title is theirs as if by right.

"Not necessarily the best in the country,"

he added. "But they are confident

in their abilities and in themselves as

a football team, in terms of the team

spirit. They trust each other. These

are good signs to have."

United's combination of steel

and style, defensive solidity and

attacking inventiveness, has

made them favourites with

neutrals and bookmakers.

It is to the credit of

Chelsea's doggedness

that it has gone this

far but, should the title

be decided on goal difference,

it will be an

indication of a superiority

at both ends of the


And both should win

today. There will be

nerves, not least due to the

absence of Rooney, and

United's patchy recent away

form will be tested. In six

meetings with Wigan, yielding

20 goals and giving up only

three, they have yet to drop a

point, however.

As Ferguson will attest,

perhaps even instruct: there

is damage left to do yet.

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