Magic 19 for Man United: How did it pull this off?

PARIS (AP) - In keeping with a season in which it has made an art of winning the hard way, here’s how Manchester United should collect the last point it requires Saturday to knock Liverpool off that famous perch that two decades ago looked unattainable.

United plays with half a brain for 45 minutes at Blackburn and goes two goals down. Alex Ferguson, as sharp at age 69 as freshly squeezed limes, conjures yet another cunning plan and rejigs his team in the second half (Ryan Giggs in goal, perhaps? After all, that’s one of the few positions United’s model veteran has not played this year). United scratches out the result it needs in the dying minutes, perhaps with a goal from the best bargain of the season, Javier Hernandez.

Not pretty, not terribly convincing, but so fitting.

The Premier League champions in all but name are not the most glamorous or most talented of the umpteen teams that Ferguson has barked, beaten and bullied into shape in the quarter-century that the soccer-holic Scotsman has worked week-in, week-out to overhaul Liverpool’s mark of 18 league titles. His is a single-minded pursuit that would make weaker men blanch.

Which, in a way, also makes this team one of his best. Making diamonds shine is easy. Making gems of lesser stones takes a lot more elbow grease.

When a man has collected as many trophies as Ferguson has, it would be churlish to single out one or two as his greatest achievements.

Was Ferguson’s league-FA Cup-European championship treble of 1999 more important than the 1990 FA Cup, his first trophy at United that helped him keep his job?

Were his clever buys like Cristiano Ronaldo and Hernandez more vital to United than Fergie’s many fledglings _ think Giggs, the Neville brothers, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, et cetera _ that he polished into shape?

Also awesome is the way in which Ferguson has remained contemporary in a sport that has become an unruly beast since he took over at United in 1986. United owners have come, gone and come bearing debts. The 24-hour glare of media scrutiny is more intense than ever. Matches are now faster and more physical. Players have grown quicker, stronger and ever harder to manage as wages and egos have gone nuclear, with financial reason gone AWOL.

Yet Ferguson has stayed Ferguson: charming and rude, protective and prickly, gracious and fearsome, modern and mindful of tradition, a soccer ambassador who regularly and deservedly gets punished for being dastardly toward referees, a man who keeps megarich superstars like Wayne Rooney in their place by calling them “boy” and by not standing their “nonsense.”

In short, it is the entire body of Ferguson’s career at United, not this or that particular victory, that makes him such a giant.

Still, if forced to give a ranking, then up there among Ferguson’s most impressive achievements would be making champions of this team that this season has looked as wobbly as Bambi on ice at times.

That has especially been the case outside of Fortress Old Trafford, where United is unbeaten. West Bromwich Albion, in a 2-2 draw on Oct. 16, is the only team to leave there with a point.

But this United team suffered travel-sickness easily, winning just five away games, drawing nine and losing four. If only away games counted, Arsenal would be lifting the trophy. United owes part of its 19th title to the fact that Arsenal and Chelsea played at times as if they didn’t want it and because Manchester City’s ambition has not quite matched the size of its big budget.

But how many times this season has United also been rescued by the must-have belief that Ferguson demands of all his players that they never give up before the whistle? When it was two goals down at Aston Villa on Nov. 13 but scored twice in the last 10 minutes? When Rooney scored a 15-minute hat-trick at West Ham on April 2 after United again went two goals down, forcing Ferguson into the gamble of switching Giggs to left-back, so he could bring on Hernandez? Or when United twice came from behind at Bolton on Sept. 26?

Story Continues →

View Entire Story

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Get Adobe Flash player
You Might Also Like
  • Argentina's Maxi Rodriguez, left, celebrates with goalkeeper Sergio Romero after scoring the decisive goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Argentina at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Argentina beat the Netherlands 4-2 in a penalty shootout to reach the World Cup final. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

    Argentina beats Dutch in shootout to reach World Cup final

  • Washington Redskins safety Tanard Jackson speaks during a media availability after an NFL football training camp practice at Redskins Park, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Tanard Jackson suspended indefinitely by NFL — again

  • Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) looks to pass in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Monday, April 14, 2014, in Washington. The Wizards won 114-93. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Wizards’ Otto Porter, Glen Rice Jr. hoping for big splash on small stage

  • Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) is surrounded by fans that rushed the field and security as he is escorted off the field following their 45-38 win over Oklahoma in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

    SNYDER: RG3 worth his weight in bronze to Baylor

  • Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado (13), celebrates his two-run homer with Adam Jones left, with Nick Markakis, at right, during the 11th inning of an interleague baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Monday, July 7, 2014, in Washington. The Orioles won 8-2, in 11 innings. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Accidental rivalry: Nats-Orioles doesn’t have much edge

  • Celebrities In The News
  • (Image from DeAngelo Williams' Facebook post)

    NFL star likely fooled by Marine impostor who accepted first-class plane ticket

  • ** FILE ** In this Oct. 1, 2013, file photo actor George Clooney attends the premiere of "Gravity" at the AMC Lincoln Square Theaters, in New York. George Clooney has chastised a British newspaper over an article claiming his fiancee's mother disapproves of the impending marriage for religious reasons. Clooney said that the claims about his future mother-in-law Baria Alamuddin were untrue and irresponsible. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

    Website apologizes for Clooney mother-in-law story

  • Kim Kardashian arrives at the NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment 2014 Upfront at the Javits Center on Thursday, May 15, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

    Kim Kardashian visits Jersey shore