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Three of his most experienced players in Vidic, Ferdinand and Carrick were to be withdrawn and replaced by a largely inexperienced trio of Cleverley, Jones and Jonny Evans.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