In a week which has seen Liverpool get the spark to possibly set their season alight and Manchester United ominously close the points gap with championship rivals Manchester City, Sir Alex Ferguson has been caught in a war of words over the quality of football being played by Manchester United, with TV pundit, Daily Telegraph columnist and former Liverpool captain Alan Hansen.
So who is correct?
The answer is not as simple as one over the other and goes beyond the quality of football issue that is seemingly the bitter point of contention. Before we analyse the probable cause of Sir Alex's ire, let us recap what has been widely reported as being said by Messrs Hansen and Ferguson.
After the Red Devils' recent 2-1 win at Arsenal, Hansen apparently said on BBC's Match of the Day that Manchester United had not been playing to the level people expected and had been "woeful" for the past 18 months.
Sir Alex hit back in the match programme ahead of Manchester United's 2-0 home win against Stoke by saying, "I noticed Alan Hansen was at it again, saying we had not played well for one and a half years...I reckon that comment goes alongside his claim a few years ago that you don't win anything with youngsters." He further goes on to say, "Maybe he was just trying to rattle us on the eve of going to play his old club at Anfield in the FA Cup."
Hansen responded on Wednesday by saying, "I really don't know where that has come from, I never said that at any stage. What I said was that, over a period of 18 months, they haven't been as good as they have been in the past. I have also said that if you take the three teams at the top, Manchester United have consistently played worse than Tottenham and Manchester City. But it is to their credit that they are where they are and they will be the team to beat."
So there you have it. Much like the Evra vs. Suarez saga, people will draw their own conclusions as to who is right and who is wrong, and these views will obviously be heavily biased by team affiliation. And like the aforementioned case, the situation is not exactly black and white.
What is evident, though, is that Ferguson cannot seem to accept criticism of late and overreacts to the slightest negative comment about his team.
Let us remember the press conference after Manchester United's 2-2 Champions League home draw with Benfica. A reporter innocently stated that United seemed to be "struggling" in Europe. So disgusted was Ferguson with this comment that he got up and walked out. And not long after, Manchester United failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition.
This is where the real issue probably lies. Hansen stated that Manchester United have not been playing well over the last 18 months. I would say he was being conservative. Though Manchester United have been winning games as usual over the last couple of years, I think even the most die-hard United fans would agree that they have not been playing to the same level since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure at the end of the 2008-09 campaign.
After Ronaldo's move to Real Madrid, Manchester United lost the title to Chelsea, only to regain it last season with the lowest points tally in over a decade. One could argue that a number of teams are getting better thus making the Premier League a much more difficult competition to win, yet in terms of why Sir Alex is reacting so badly to the criticism, this would make the argument against him.
Nobody likes negative criticism. But the matter here goes beyond a natural reaction to bad press. Sir Alex Ferguson knows that his teams stranglehold on the domestic front is nearing its end. More and more teams are less and less afraid of going to Old Trafford or playing them at home, believing that they can get a point, and even perhaps all three.
Manchester United's psychological dominance over teams is wearing thin and Sir Alex, king of the psychological mind games, certainly does not want this to be said aloud. Hence his reactions of late.
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