x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sir Alex Ferguson: I would have strangled Ronaldo had he celebrated goal against United

The former manager writes of his admiration for Barcelona and disdain for Rafa Benitez. Andy Mitten reports.

Sir Alex Ferguson at the launch of his new autobiography before a news conference at the Institute of Directors in London. Luke MacGregor / Reuters
Sir Alex Ferguson at the launch of his new autobiography before a news conference at the Institute of Directors in London. Luke MacGregor / Reuters

Sir Alex Ferguson won the European Cup twice in 26 years with Manchester United. His first success, in Barcelona in 1999, was well documented in his previous autobiography.

The second time was in Moscow, in 2008, when United beat Chelsea on penalties.

“Before the Moscow Champions League final I was the reluctant holder of possibly the worst record in penalty shoot-outs,” wrote Ferguson in his new tome, Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography, which comes out today. “Six defeats and one victory was the inauspicious context to Carlos Tevez placing the ball on the spot at the start of our shoot-out with Chelsea in Roman Abramovich’s hometown.

“When Edwin Van der Sar saved from Nicolas Anelka to win the trophy for us, I hardly made it off my seat, because I could barely believe we had won. I stayed motionless for several moments. [Cristiano] Ronaldo was still lying on the turf crying because he has missed his penalty kick.

“Moscow was a relief, above all, because I always said Manchester United ought to be achieving more in Europe.”

Describing the celebrations in the Russian capital, Ferguson said: “There was no sign of Abramovich and I don’t recall any Chelsea players coming in [our dressing room].”

United returned to the final a year later, meeting Barcelona in Rome. Ferguson’s United would meet Pep Guardiola’s Catalans twice in three years. He dedicates a chapter of his book to those games entitled: Barcelona (2009-11) – Small Is Beautiful.

“At Barcelona they had these wonderful mites, 5 ft 6 ins tall with the courage of lions, to take the ball all the time and never allow themselves to be bullied,” Ferguson wrote. “The accomplishments of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta were amazing to me.

“The group of world-beaters who formed around Messi were formidable. I felt no envy towards these great sides.

“What I could never quite understand is how their players were able to play that number of games. They fielded almost the same side every time.”

United met Barcelona in the 2011 final at Wembley Stadium.

“Sometimes players play the occasion, not the game. Wayne Rooney, for example, was disappointing. For some reason, Antonio Valencia froze on the night. He was nervous as hell. We never really attacked their left-back, who had just come back from an illness and hadn’t played a lot of games.”

Valencia and Rooney were not the only culprits.

“Michael Carrick was below his best too. In the days after that loss I began taking a serious look at the coaching in our academy.”

Ferguson’s final attempt to win a third European Cup ended in March 2013 with defeat to Real Madrid. Of the away game in Madrid, Ferguson said that United “could have won by six”. In the second leg at Old Trafford, the United manager wrote: “I held no fear of facing Jose Mourinho’s team again at home. Our preparation was perfect.”

United were leading 1-0 when Nani was controversially sent off. Madrid equalised and then former United player Ronaldo got a winner.

“Cristiano declined to celebrate his goal,” Ferguson said.

“Which is just as well, because I would have strangled him. There were no issues with him at all. He’s a very nice boy.”

The defeat floored Ferguson.

“It was an absolute disaster,” Ferguson said. “I was particularly upset that night and gave the post-match press conference a miss. If we had beaten Real Madrid, there would have been every reason to imagine we’d win the competition.”

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Liverpool feature prominently in the book. Chapter 15 is entitled Liverpool – A Great Tradition. In it, Ferguson talks of his respect for the Anfield club “with their background, their heritage and their fanatical support, as well as their terrific home record, Liverpool were implacable opponents, even in their fallow years.”

Ferguson has great respect for Gerard Houllier, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rogers, though the magnanimity does not extend to Rafa Benitez.

“When a club of Liverpool’s history and tradition pull off a treble of cup wins, as they did in 2001, with the FA, League and Uefa trophies under Gerard Houllier, you are bound to feel a tremor of dread. My thought that year was, ‘Oh no, not them. Anybody but them.’

“I liked and respected Houllier … Steven Gerrard was starting to emerge as a youthful force in midfield and they could summon two sensational goalscorers in Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler.”

Of Benitez, Ferguson wrote:

“Benitez had more regard for defending and destroying a game than winning it. Benitez did score two great successes in the transfer market though: Pepe Reina and Fernando Torres.”

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