Manchester derby: Sir Alex Ferguson on red alert

Fergie on red alert! We must win to stop blue wave of trophies, says United manager

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UPDATED:

21:21 GMT, 26 April 2012

'There
may be a time when we won't be able to separate City and Liverpool as
our rivals, but at the moment Liverpool are still the one. Look at the
interest, it's unparalleled.' – Sir Alex Ferguson, Jan 27, 2012

In football, things can change very
quickly. Games like the one fast approaching in east Manchester on
Monday night can re-focus the mind.

Manchester United manager Ferguson
knows this now. He has had three-and-a-half years to learn to deal with
the presence of the 'new' Manchester City. This season is City's fourth
as the richest football club in the world.

Top billing: Sir Alex Ferguson insists he is looking forward to Monday's title-deciding derby against Manchester City

Top billing: Sir Alex Ferguson insists he is looking forward to Monday's title-deciding derby against Manchester City

Up until now, though, they have
remained in their traditional place in Manchester. Noisy neighbours
banging on the window from the outside.

On Thursday at rain-soaked
Carrington, though, Ferguson looked ahead to Monday's derby at the
Etihad Stadium and acknowledged what many of his team's fans have felt
for some time.

'City are not going away,' said
Ferguson. 'They are our direct opponents now. At this moment in time
this supersedes the Liverpool games.'

Many thousands of miles away on
America's West coast, Garry Cook will perhaps read these words and
smile. City's former chief executive was the man brave enough to
decorate United's patch with 'Welcome to Manchester' posters three years
ago. He was the first man to look his neighbours in the eye.

In west
London, meanwhile, QPR manager Mark Hughes will also look on with
interest. He was the right kind of man to take City's fight to Ferguson –
on and off the field – in those early days of ambitious, brazen Abu
Dhabi ownership.

This weekend, though, it is up to current coach Roberto
Mancini to cope with the focus and the attention of what will be the
most important derby fixture of all time. Mancini had better not blink
because it's clear Ferguson is not about to.

'I'm here and I'm up for
it,' the United manager said and it was easy to believe him.

Wet and wild: Carlos Tevez and James Milner brave the Manchester rain at Carrington

Wet and wild: Carlos Tevez and James Milner brave the Manchester rain at Carrington

Since his first derby, which he won 1-0, Ferguson has suffered on
occasion, especially when a 5-1 defeat at Maine Road in 1989 prompted
him to take to his bed at home and hide.

'I was as close to putting my
head in the oven as I have ever been,' he later said. 'And I think there
would have been plenty of volunteers to turn on the gas.'

Never
before, though, has Ferguson been faced with a prospect like this. City
have irked, irritated and occasionally annoyed Ferguson since the day
they marked their takeover by attempting to hijack his purchase of
Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham on August 31, 2008.

On a mission: United were successful on their last visit to the Etihad, dumping City out of the FA Cup in January

On a mission: United were successful on their last visit to the Etihad, dumping City out of the FA Cup

Hit for six: United lost 6-1 at Old Trafford to City last October

Hit for six: United lost 6-1 at Old Trafford to City last October

But this time, the
challenge they present is more fundamental. It is a challenge to the
very dimensions of the landscape in Manchester.

Only once in Ferguson's
25 years at Old Trafford have City finished above his team in the
league. That was in 1991 when Peter Reid's City were fifth and United
sixth. The margin was just three points and City have rarely been near
their great rivals ever since.

The significance of what may happen on
Monday and over the fortnight that follows is therefore not lost on
Ferguson. At 70 and a manager for almost 40 years, he knows if City do
win the title it could mark the start of a blue wave of trophies.
Certainly that would be hard to bear, especially given the manner in
which City have gone about their pursuit of glory.

Ferguson – one senses
– finds City's wealth a little ugly. He has been known to spend heavily
on players himself, of course, but not on the scale of those across
town.

'I am prepared for (the game) and I think my players will be
prepared for it so hopefully we'll be OK,' Ferguson said.

One
suspects his message to those in red before kick-off on Monday will be a
little more forthright.