Date:Saturday January 10 2009
Oh dear. And here I was, thinking that Fergie's mind games get a little outdated now as everyone knows about them and expects them. Yet the Spanish clown fell for them so spectacularly that you couldn't have made it up.
Fergie, as you probably know, commented that Liverpool, due to lack of experience, might get nervous during the run-in and drop important points which would see United winning the league it for the third consecutive time. It is actually a compliment, well hidden, as it looks like Sir Alex considers Liverpool to be genuine title challengers.
But Rafa Benítez fell for the trap and his ego could bear no more. But, unlike Kevin Keegan, his famous predecessor, he hasn't simply lost it in front of a television camera, unable to control himself. No, he prepared a dossier and turned up at a pre-match press conference determined to turn it into a session of Fergie-bashing. A premeditated action it was - he lost the plot on the purpose.
'I was surprised by what has been said, but maybe they are nervous because we are at the top of the table.
'But I want to talk about facts. I want to be clear, I do not want to play mind games too early, although they seem to want to start.
'But I have seen some facts. On November 1, they played Hull and Mr Ferguson had a two-match touchline ban and a £10,000 fine after confronting Mike Dean, the referee, for improper conduct.
'We started the Respect campaign, and that was when Mascherano was sent off at Old Trafford.
'The referee was the referee when they played against Wigan - he could not see the handball against Wigan by Rio Ferdinand, he did not give a penalty. They won the game and they won the title in this game.
'I think it will be the same referee who will be in charge of their game in hand this season (against Wigan).
'During the Respect campaign - and this is a fact - Mr Ferguson was charged by the FA for improper conduct after comments made about Martin Atkinson and Keith Hackett.
'He was not punished. He is the only manager in the league that cannot be punished for these things.
'Then he was talking about the fixtures. Two years ago we were playing a lot of early kick-offs away on Saturdays when United were playing on Sundays. And we didn't say anything.
'Now he is complaining about everything, that everybody is against United. But the second half of the season will see them playing at home against all the teams at the top of the table, it is a fantastic advantage.
'But at Christmas, United played on the 29th and the rest of the teams played on the 28th. We were away against Newcastle two days after playing Bolton. They were playing about 40 hours later, they were not complaining then.
'And about his behaviour with referees. The Southampton manager he knows how Mr Ferguson works and how he works, he was very clear. I am not playing mind games, just facts.'
Now this is such a whole load of nonsense that anyone who is not an ABU will just laugh. I mean, he's saying Fergie can't be punished with a few sentences after confirming he was aware that Fergie had been punished after the Hull game. Or there's that Wigan game when a perfectly obvious foul on Scholes wasn't punished with a penalty... or we could mention the game against them (with the Mascherano red card) when Jamie Carragher should have been sent off in the 4th minute after fouling Rooney as a last man in the penalty area - yet no penalty was given.
As for the FA's supposed favouritism... yeah, Roy Keane's ban, Rio Ferdinand's suspension, the Amsterdam tournament in 2006 - all showed they love us? FA Cup 2000? Another instance of the FA backing United, isn't it?
No, I think it's obvious that dear old Rafa is cracking under the pressure. He knows that his team is not up to maintaining a title challenge, he knows that his captain might be in serious trouble despite the fact that throughout the country the press simply don't speak about it or if they do, they simply resort to indulgence over Saint Stevie... doesn't matter really.
I wouldn't go as far as saying that his words have already made an impact with Liverpool players, shown in their absolutely woeful display at Stoke... but the nerves Fergie spoke about are definitely jangling. An Arsenal-style collapse would be no great surprise now.
Date:Saturday January 10 2009
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