LONDON -- While soccer star David Beckham has grabbed most of the headlines in recent years, it's Sir Alex Ferguson who is responsible for building Manchester United into a global power.
The Manchester United soccer manager has guided the Red Devils to eight English Premier League titles in 11 seasons and is the winningest manager in British soccer history. Manchester United begins a U.S. tour in Seattle on Tuesday.
What's driving Ferguson now is the quest for another Champions League trophy to add to the club's 1968 and 1999 titles.
``That has to be the challenge,'' Ferguson said in an interview with The Associated Press. ``For a club of our size, our tradition and our popularity, to only win it twice is not right.''
The 61-year-old Scotsman took over at Old Trafford in 1986. Knighted in 1999 by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the sport, Ferguson identifies with one of the greatest coaches in American football - Vince Lombardi.
After reading ``When Pride Still Mattered,'' David Maraniss' biography of the late Green Bay Packers coach, Ferguson said: ``I read that book and saw half of me in there - all the same sacrifice you make as a coach, the determination, the hours you put in, obsession.''
Ferguson also purchased a book of Lombardi's quotes, and used one of the phrases -- ``We didn't lose today, we just ran out of time'' -- during the team's 1999 charge to the league, FA Cup and European Cup titles.
During the 25-minute interview, Ferguson was relaxed and engaging with no sign of the testy, sour reputation he has in the English media. But he refused to talk about Beckham, who was sent last month to Real Madrid for $39.4 million.
``I wouldn't want to get into that, definitely not,'' he said.
The two were widely reported to have fallen out last season, making way for Beckham's departure.
Ferguson, who grew up in the shipyards of Glasgow, is a no-nonsense boss who runs the team as coach and general manager. He doesn't tolerate dissent - and the results speak for themselves.
With United, he's won eight league titles, four FA Cups, one League Cup, one European Champions Cup and one European Cup Winners Cup.
While he was manager of Aberdeen in Scotland, he broke up the traditional dominance of Celtic and Rangers, winning two league titles, two Scottish Cups and a Cup Winners Cup.
Ferguson has surpassed greats such as Liverpool's Bob Paisley (six league titles and four Champions Cups) and Man U's Matt Busby (five league titles, two FA Cups and one Champions Cup) in the list of all-time winners in the English game.
Ferguson had planned to retire after the 2002 season but changed his mind and signed a new contract through 2005.
``When you announce your retirement you start thinking, `What are you going to do with yourself?''' he said. ``It's a horrible feeling. I think I made the right decision to stay on. I am enjoying it, I must say.''
Manchester United is in the United States this week for a four-game preseason tour, playing against Celtic in Seattle on Tuesday, Club America in Los Angeles on July 27, Juventus in East Rutherford, N.J., on July 31, and Barcelona in Philadelphia on Aug. 3. ``It's not so much we're going out there to blaze a new trail for ourselves, it's a matter of just making some people aware soccer is the most loved game in the world,'' Ferguson said.
In 1978, when he was at Aberdeen, Ferguson traveled to the United States to assess the now defunct North American Soccer League. He concluded that it will take ``generations'' before the sport can compete with football, baseball and basketball.
But Ferguson raves about the current U.S. national team, which reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup last year. This week he signed American goalkeeper Tim Howard.
``There is without question an increase not just in the ability of American footballers but the credibility,'' Ferguson said. ``If England and Scotland were going to be playing the United States tomorrow, I wouldn't put a penny on England or Scotland. The level the United States are playing is very, very high now.''
Coming from the master, that's saying a lot.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press