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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for and and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


Ferguson Stays Young At Heart

Written by on August 7, 2011 | 16 Comments »
Posted in Manchester City, Manchester United

“Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on Earth
To be young at heart
For as rich as you are it’s much better by far
To be young at heart”

“Young at Heart” – Music by Johnny Richards, Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and made popular by Frank Sinatra.

It is often said that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. So it was back in 1989 for the then Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.

It had been almost three years since United, impressed by the success of Aberdeen both domestically and in Europe, had convinced Ferguson to move south to Old Trafford.

Ferguson inherited a club that had not won a league title since 1967 and that had survived on a few FA Cup wins and a healthy dose of false-dawns.

United fans were generally willing to cut Ferguson some slack as long as progress was being made and a second place finish in 1988 reinforced the notion that the club was moving in the right direction.

However, things went into reverse during the 1988/89 season and there were murmurs of discontent amongst many United fans as the side slipped to a mid-table finish.

But worse was to come at the start of the next season and a 5-1 thrashing from newly promoted Manchester City (together with a run of other poor results) had many fans and media calling for Ferguson to be sacked.

Of course we know that Ferguson survived…. not only survived but prospered…..and United have been the dominant team in English football for close to the last two decades.

Now 22 years on from that disastrous derby result and as the Ferguson era draws to a close – as it surely must – Manchester City again looks set to play a pivotal role in Ferguson’s soccer drama.

Just over three years ago any suggestion that City could threaten United’s position would have been considered preposterous. But that was before the game changer that was the purchase of City in August 2008 by the Abu Dhabi United Group.

On Sunday at Wembley Stadium it may have only been the Community Shield but, as with almost every other derby, there is no such thing as a meaningless one.

At 2-0 up at half-time Manchester City looked to be well on the way to consolidating the semi-final win over United in the FA Cup at Wembley just three months ago.

In years to come would we look back at this match and see it as the point when power shifted City’s way?

As the broadcast returned to Wembley Stadium just as the teams came out for the second half many United fans must have wondered what Ferguson was up to.

Three of his most experienced players in Vidic, Ferdinand and Carrick were to be withdrawn and replaced by a largely inexperienced trio of Cleverley, Jones and Jonny Evans.

The explanation that jumped readily to mind was that Ferguson had given up on this one and instead it was a case of giving his younger players a sense of playing at Wembley before a big crowd.

Instead his counter-intuitive move had everything to do with first turning the game and then winning the game. United played with more verve and energy in the second half with the midfield offering more close support while their passing was crisper and more decisive.

It proved to be a recipe that the heavy-legged City could not deal with.

Ferguson has never shied away from trusting young players. He made his mark in Scotland with a young St. Mirren team captained by a 17-year-old Tony Fitzpatrick and that included other teenagers such as Frank McGarvey and Billy Stark.

He followed largely the same formula with Aberdeen while building the side into a domestic and European champion and in the 90s youth was again the answer for Manchester United. It has worked before and this time it looks as if Ferguson’s counter to City’s wealth is going to be young legs, desire and spirit.

The loss to City in 1989 has been regarded as the darkest moment of Ferguson’s time at Old Trafford. Now as his career draws to an end Ferguson is going to make sure that City – despite their wealth – are not going to taint his legacy.

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16 responses to “Ferguson Stays Young At Heart”

  1. Roberto Manita says:

    The game was almost lost when Jonny Evans gave the ball away and should have been punished for it. Had that have been Tevez or Aguero and not Dzeko picking off that erant pass from Evans this outcome could have been an entirely different story.

    I thought there was a big difference between the physical conditioning between the two teams at this point of the season. Not quite sure how Mancini has been training these fellas in the preseason. And not using Aguero? I guess Kun has bigger blister problems than were let on. Otherwise that’s a real head scratcher for me. The only positive thing Dzeko did all game was the goal of his. He left Smalling unmarked for ManU’s first goal and was pretty awful with his passing and movement. Glad to see Mancini is finally starting Barry on the bench (where he should be). Clichy contributed to the gift ManC gave to Nani for their third goal (maybe he’s brought over the Arsenal defense virus over to Eastland’s?).

    Let’s not call Fergie’s halftime moves a masterstroke now. If this was a league match, an FA Cup match, or a UCL match do you really believe he would take off Rio and Vidic and replace them with Jones and Jonny and expect to get a positive result? Looks like ManU’s good fortunes from last year have carried on to this campaign. Nobody would have thought that ManC 2-0 up at HT would have folded like a cheap suitcase before the final whistle. After all, this is conservative side that plays with two holding MFs and are led by an Italian. I’m more disappointed in a ManC side that switched off at HT and thought they had things won than I am impressed by ManU.

    I will give credit to ManU for outshooting ManC 22-8 and having greater energy, fitness, spirit, and mental strength than ManC. However, don’t expect ManU to overachieve like last year playing with central MFs like Carrick, Anderson, and a 38yr old Giggs (Cleverley has played well this preseason though but I doubt he’s going to be the answer they really need). ManU is still relatively weak in the central MF for where I stand. At one point ManU was playing with a very inexperienced back four of Smalling, Jones, Evans, and Rafael. Was this really a Fergie masterstroke or the product of treating the match as a friendly at that moment in time and getting some more good fortune come his way?

    Interesting to see that Berbatov got but a couple of minutes. I think that is very telling and he may be gone before the window closes.

    Just think. A Mancini team up 2-0 at halftime and losing the game outright before the final whistle. That is shocking!

  2. Erik says:

    I think we saw why United will win the League this season – or rather why City WON’T!

    After the NBA Houston Rockets won B2B Titles in 1994 and 1995 then Head Coach Rudy Tomjanovich uttered one of the most classic – and true line EVER

    “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion!”

    We saw that so many times last season – even though United wasn’t the (defending) Champion. We saw Sunday why United wins – they NEVER give up. We saw why City will contend – but not win the league – they just don’t have the heart of a champion

    Bobby – one request, please: This week on the FSR you are continuing to break down the 20 EPL teams and my guess is Thursday or Friday you will do T5 and Relegated 3. My guess is you and Eion might do the same for the Podcast as well. My request is in addition to T5 and Relegated 3 can you also say the 3 sides you think will be Promoted to the EPL for next season. Unlike most I do not think West Ham is a dead mortal lock to come back and while many like Leicester – to semi-quote Rudy Tomjanovich one more time: “Don’t ever underestimate the (lack of a) heart of a (NON) champion!” I think Sven finds a way to “mess” things up and keep Leicester from coming up by overmanaging – something he is (in)famous for

  3. Erik says:

    Roberto – tell me about it. I had City +110 to hoist the Shield and after 45 I felt great about my chances. But that is why they play the entire game…..for me – sadly

  4. Roberto Manita says:

    And for a while Mancini had it right. Barry on the bench, Silva as the AM with Yaya and DeJong as the holding MFs. When Aguero is available, that means either Balotelli or Milner can have a sit.

    I’m probably in the minority, but you add both Aguero and Tevez to this team, and up their fitness a little bit and this is the year the Noisy Neighbours surpass those damned red Mancs! Plus, there’s still time to do some wheeling and dealing before this window closes. After all, we’re talking about oil barons here — not Arsenal 😉

    I still can’t believe those damn Red Mancs came back. Just like so many times last year. Everybody highlights their never say die attitude but never questions putting themselves in such positions in the first place. Nor their ugly footy loaded with warts for such a large portion of the last campaign. I find that quite odd. As the pit bosses in LV know all too well, good fortune only lasts so long and midnight tolls for all Cinderellas.

    Today’s match was more about ManC blowing it than ManU coming up cardiac kids yet again. I can see Blackpool losing a two goal lead to the Red Mancs but not ManC. I’m still in shock and pinching myself 🙁

    Honestly people. Who out there believes that if ManU’s central MF remains unchanged they will repeat their over-achievement from last season (winning the EPL and UCL finalists)? Not me. Had they been matched up with Real Madrid in the QFs they would have been saying adiós amigos to their UCL run last year?

  5. Erik

    I will be posting 1 through 20 and I will be glad to add three promoted clubs. I am hoping other readers do the same thing.

    Maybe even throw in the EPL top scorer prediction as well and golden gloves.

  6. LA says:


    I think you may have put the finger on Sir Alex’ genius. Despite years and maturity, he remains very young at heart and understands the young player very well.

    I always gave Arsene sole credit for this, but Sir Alex is better at it.

  7. Soccerlogical says:

    Some of you guys are reading waaaay too much into this final training session match as in no other real competition would Fergie make those second half subs.

    Between de Gea and the Brazilian twins getting acclimated to full time duties, this season’s EPL has as much chance ending up in Scarfini’s hands as it does Fergie’s. I’m also waiting to see Abramovich’s expression when Man City pip Chelsea to the CL title in the next few years.

  8. Roberto Manita says:

    Dzeko’s first touch is apocalytic. His first touch makes Kuyt’s look excellent. That is some feat. Dzeko = a Bosnian Bendtner 😆

  9. J says:

    Can someone tell me what Clichy is doing that close to the sideline when that ball re-enters the atmosphere in the 93rd? At the very least, wrap your arms around Nani…take the card and/or the dismissal. You’re 30 seconds from penalties…

  10. Roberto Manita says:

    What does Mancini see in Dzeko? He’s slow, can’t jump, has a poor first touch, his passing is poor, is awkward, and has a poor work rate. Sure he can shoot. That is his saving grace. But they spent some £27m on this mug? While they had a superior proven product in Adebayor??? And on top of that they issue him the #10 jersey? If Dzeko is worthy of wearing a #10 jersey for a top six club then I am the Pope. I don’t understand at all. There’s not one facet of the game Dzeko does better than Adebayor. Not one. For all the good work Mancini did last season by getting a top three spot his player selections are still quite perplexing and baffling to me. He still believes in Balotelli when it’s pretty plain to see that that leopard won’t change his spots. Ho-hum 😕

  11. CDNGooner14 says:

    J- that’s what Clichy does 🙂
    I’m not sad to see him gone from AFC, he commits about 4 of these mistakes per season, and they cost points.

  12. Rob says:

    Haha, never underestimate the heart of a champion? United supporters are funny!

    When a team plays in Wembley, they tend to be important games. So fair play to United to reaching those games.

    BUT prior to the second half kicking off, the last five halves that United had played at Wembley they had been outscored 6-1. The heart of a champion you say?

    Haha good stuff.

  13. Gus Keri says:

    The half time substitutions by SAF wasn’t about “faith in youth” and didn’t happen because it’s a friendly and he wanted as many players to play.
    It was simply a message to the three experienced players on his team: “No matter how big you are, you will be out of the game if you underperform”

    The three players and the goalkeeper shared the responsibility for the two goals scored. (both came from the center)

    The fact that the goalkeeper is new at the club and SAF didn’t want to kill any bit of self-confidence left in him, he elected not to punish him so drastically by keeping him in.

    If it was Van Der Sar there, you can bet he will be pulled out like the other experienced players.

  14. Roberto Manita says:

    CG14 – The only problem with losing Clichy to Citeh is that his old backup, Gibbs, is even worse and will raise your four mistakes per year by 50% at least (especially in the big games).

  15. Roberto Manita says:

    Gus – You make a good point but if this was an EPL or UCL match (or even a late round FA Cup match) there’s no way in hell he makes those changes at HT. None. The only change he makes is Cleverley for the pedestrian Carrick. That’s it.

    Brilliant stroke of genius my arse. Now everybody thinks that everything Fergie does will turn to gold. This report just in: sources intimate with Sir Alex confirm that he woke up this morning, went to the washroom, began urinating, and before the urine hit the basin it miraculously turned to gold 😉

  16. LA says:


    On Dzeko, agree, agree, agree!

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