Fergie: We're neutrals' choice to win Premiership

December 12, 2006

Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted he is taking a while to get used to the idea Manchester United are the neutrals' choice to win the Premiership this season.

With many fans becoming disillusioned with Chelsea's unmatched spending power and their perceived negative tactics, they are starting to consider the unthinkable and actually cheer on United in the two-team title race.

It is a situation Ferguson has rarely experienced during his two decades at the United helm, and not one he is entirely sure how to deal with.

'The neutrals do want us to win,' said the Scot.

'It will take me a long time to get used to that but I am working on it.'

So far, the extra support is bringing dividends, too, with United currently eight points clear of the Stamford Bridge outfit.

Chelsea can cut the gap when they host Newcastle in their game in hand tomorrow, although it appears certain United will enter the festive period with a healthy lead.

Yet Ferguson, a veteran of eight previous title-winning campaigns, is refusing to get carried away and, at the launch of the official Manchester United Opus in London yesterday, showed no inclination to rise to the bait offered by Mourinho, who has claimed the Red Devils would be 'in big trouble' if they believed the championship was won.

'We will only be in trouble if we listen to Jose too much,' said the United boss.

'I won't be letting the players fall into the trap of thinking it's won because all we have done is give ourselves a foundation. There are many hurdles to be navigated in the run-in.

'To win the league, you have to have great consistency, particularly around March and April. Historically, we have done okay at that time of the year.

'All championship races are difficult, but the real test comes on the run-in when any mistake can cost you everything.

'That will be the test for us. I am sure it will be ourselves and Chelsea but I am sure we will last the distance.'

Sat immediately on Ferguson's right as he delivered his verdict on the current state of play was Sir Bobby Charlton. Further right still was the massive 37kg Opus, which has taken two years to compile, chronicling the entire history of the club, dating right back to the early days of Newton Heath.

At a minimum of £3,000, it is more coffee table than coffee table book. But anyone prepared to invest in one of the 10,000 copies will be able to trawl through every significant moment of one of the world's true footballing giants.

For all their current financially-driven success, the Opus is not something Chelsea could emulate just now and may not be able to do so by 2014, when chief executive Peter Kenyon believes they will be the biggest club in the world.

And, while there is no immediate prospect of United being able to match Chelsea's financial flexibility, Ferguson is becoming increasingly positive about the Red Devils' hopes of matching the big-spending Londoners.

'You cannot guarantee success in the future but I feel far better today waking up looking at my team than two or three years ago when we were not winning anything,' he said.

'The nuts and bolts of the situation is this: at our club, you have to win.

'Being a good second does not come into it.

'At Manchester United, if you are not winning, you get a lot of criticism. Whether it's deserved or not, it is there.

'Nobody likes it but an element of it drives you on and increases your determination not to get criticised again.

'The only way to keep your head above water is by winning.

'The present-day team is showing signs of being a really good team but you've got to win the league, the European Cup and the FA Cup.

'Only then can you be judged as a really great team.'