Just thought i'd share this excellent article with you all, I think Rob Smyth has got this spot on and deserves credit for an accurate analysis.
How Fergie got his devil back
Three months ago, Sir Alex Ferguson looked finished. Now he may be on the verge of his greatest triumph, writes Rob Smyth
Thursday The Guardian February 10, 2005
As Sir Alex Ferguson prepared for his 1,000th game in charge of Manchester United, against Lyon in November, the tributes read like an obituary. The prose could barely fail to patronise: a ragged United had won only five out of 13 league games; Ferguson's triumphs were all in the past; the dinosaur was on its last legs. Now, however, the greatest achievement of all could be just around the corner.
The change has taken less than three months. As United's storming run of Premiership form - 10 wins and two draws from 12 - unfolded, it looked to be nothing more than admirably vain as Chelsea matched them stride for remorseless stride. But now with Chelsea's legs wearying, Arjen Robben's foot broken and - just maybe - Jose Mourinho's shield of imperiousness starting to crack, there is suddenly a sniff about the title race where, ten days ago, there was only the unsavoury whiff of envy at Chelsea's resources. If Mourinho's men fail to beat Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday, United will go into the Manchester derby on Sunday knowing they can trim the gap to six or seven points. Then it really will be game on.
So how has Ferguson turned things round? Undoubtedly, the challenge of not having the biggest purse in English football, not to mention knocking Arsenal off their perch, has once again stirred his primordial will to win - by any means necessary - which had lay dormant during three years of dodgy signings and dodgier tinkering. No surprise, then, that his three major purchases last summer (Gabriel Heinze, Alan Smith and Wayne Rooney) have one thing in common, and it's not a feminine side. Ferguson can tolerate many things in his teams - frothing foul-mouths, wobbly-kneed Dutchmen, even Ralph Milne - but, as his crowing comments in the aftermath of last week's victory at Highbury showed, he won't tolerate wimps.
Yet the truth is United had gone soft. As last season unravelled dramatically, they had a spine made up of nice guys: Tim Howard in goal, Wes Brown and Mikaël Silvestre at the back, Louis Saha up front; even Roy Keane seemed to have mellowed. And if they didn't finish last, third place felt like it. Not now. Roy Carroll bristles with intent, Rio Ferdinand has emerged as Keane's spiritual successor in word and deed, while Rooney and Smith speak for themselves in every sense. And as Keane showed so memorably at Highbury last week, his juices are flowing again.
United's rugged outmuscling (and eventual outclassing) of Arsenal was the ultimate affirmation of Ferguson's renewed faith in the best of British. He tried to move with the times, but South American fancydans were never going to be for him. Ferguson has always preferred to be at the wheel of a home-grown vehicle, and it is notable that his best XI has seven players of British and Irish origin, compared to Chelsea's three and Arsenal's two. His men may not always move as smoothly through the gears as their big rivals, but they are more intimate with the contours of the English game, and Ferguson knows they are much less likely to splutter to a halt on the final lap.
That is truest of all in the engine room: Indian summers are being experienced all across the centre of the Old Trafford pitch. Most crucial has been the restoration of Paul Scholes to his natural habitat. No Englishman can match Scholes's range of passing, particularly one-touch, and his pre-Christmas burst of seven goals in six Premiership games really kick-started United's revival.
The distribution of United's goals, in the prolonged absence of Ruud van Nistelrooy, has been helped by the perpetual switching of Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo from flank to flank. Having Giggs on the right looks wrong on paper, but this season it has felt right on the pitch. At Highbury, in particular, it was a masterstroke: after running him into the ground for the first hour of the Euro 2004 quarter-final, Ronaldo has had an increasing mental block with Ashley Cole. Giggs, by contrast, had a bit too much nous for him, and Ronaldo had far too much electricity for Lauren.
Indeed, all five of Ronaldo's goals this season have come from the left side of the pitch, and seven of Giggs's eight from the right. Ferguson's bet - that Ronaldo will not score 10 goals this season - was also clever: a gentle goading of a young man eager to please and feel part of the family. Ronaldo's smiling reaction when he scored against Exeter and Aston Villa showed that he has it in mind.
Flexibility within a loose 4-3-3 frame, based around the movement of Ronaldo and Giggs and the passing of Scholes and Rooney, has given United an attacking fluidity they have lacked since Dwight Yorke's hubris went off the scale. And Ferguson's use of carrot and stick to resuscitate Giggs and Ronaldo, who both looked like busted flushes at the back end of last year, showed a subtlety with which he is rarely credited.
Ronaldo was given a timely Christmas break after the Fulham game, when he reputedly had a bust-up with Alan Smith. He has returned refreshed and hungry to resume, after some increasingly spiteful murmurings about where he could take his stepovers, his rightful place as the darling of Old Trafford. Yet if Ronaldo needed an arm round the shoulder then Giggs, after at least two years of coasting, needed a kick up the backside: he got it when, following United's abject surrender at Portsmouth, he was left out of the next three games. His pride stung, Giggs returned with a goal against Charlton and has been playing his best football for three seasons since.
He's not the only one. You suspect that not even Ferguson thought his favourite son Keane could again reach such glorious heights. Or, perhaps, that he himself could. But Ferguson, so visibly fatigued by the McManus/Magnier saga last season, has a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step once more, best exemplified by his mischievous dangling of bait that Arsène Wenger could not resist. The moment Wenger took it, doing a passable impersonation of Kevin Keegan after defeat at Bolton, it was game, set and match Ferguson.
True, United's revival remains skin-deep - they still have to replace Giggs, Scholes and Keane sooner rather than later, after all. And even the most die-hard Red would admit that Chelsea should still win the title, even if fatigue is starting to grip Mourinho's men, who have not been rotated as much as their rivals. But for now the present is all that matters. If United were to triumph, it would be Ferguson's greatest title victory, bar none. Come Sunday evening, we will have a decent idea what the chances are.