Fergie rules out retirement
Staying at Old Trafford (File)
Manchester - During his early barren years as manager of Manchester United, when even winning one championship seemed a huge challenge, Alex Ferguson could never have imagined Saturday's feat of matching Liverpool's record haul of 18 titles.
When Liverpool won the league for the last time in 1990, the title gap between the two clubs stood at 18-7 and just reducing it seemed a tough enough mission for Ferguson, who was then in the fourth year of his reign at Old Trafford.
But after sticking with the Scot through seven years without an English championship - a degree of patience that would seem implausible in today's game - he duly repaid United's faith. And how.
Despite taking until 1993 to deliver the club's first title since 1967, the success rate has been unrelenting since.
The 11 English championships, two Champions League triumphs and five FA Cups - among his 25 major trophies - have made Ferguson the most successful manager in British football history.
But while he was so determined to knock Liverpool "off their perch" when he arrived south from Aberdeen, the 67-year-old Scot is not one to dwell on personal achievements.
Asked ahead of Saturday's game if he had reached a level of success that would never be matched, Ferguson quickly responded with a smile: "Is the world coming to an end?"
Clearly not - and neither is Ferguson's tenacious drive for success.
The manager indicated a year ago that next season would be his swansong before retirement, but after seeing a fresh crop of the young players he has nurtured break into the first team, he now can't think about leaving until they have established themselves.
"I'm definitely not contemplating it - I'll carry on," Ferguson said. "I'm going to stay as a manager and my health will tell me when to quit. Let's pray my health will give me five more years."
Just like the "Fergie's Fledglings" blueprint that produced the likes of David Beckham, now with AC Milan and the Los Angeles Galaxy, and Ryan Giggs, who captained the side Saturday 18 years after his debut, exciting new players are still emerging at Old Trafford.
A fresh-faced striker he unearthed in Italy has been credited with keeping United's title defense on track this season when it seemed most in danger of succumbing to a resurgent Liverpool.
The Red Devils were heading for a third consecutive loss in March as they trailed 2-1 to Aston Villa, only for Ferguson to make an inspired substitution by sending on Federico Macheda to make his debut. Cristiano Ronaldo equalized and the 17-year-old Italian promptly popped up with a 90th minute winner.
A week later, the former Lazio trainee was responsible for rescuing another two points by scoring a second-half winner at Sunderland.
"We have a lot of young players in the squad now and that's the healthy part," Ferguson said on the eve of Saturday's game. "We obviously still have the dinosaurs like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. We hope they can last another two years because the younger players will really benefit from that.
"It's a very young squad and I'm quite excited by that. You can only try to think of what Giggs, Scholes and Neville were like at that age and they were still learning."
Ferguson looks back nostalgically on the treble winning season of 1998-9, whose high point was the Champions League triumph against Bayern Munich, secured with two goals in stoppage time.
"Happy days, so many memories made up of glorious bits of magic accompanied by heart-stopping anxiety," Ferguson recalled in Saturday's matchday programme, decade after the feat. "Our treble was a remarkable achievement, which I still believe will not be repeated in my lifetime."