"My greatest challenge is not what's happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their !@#$ perch. And you can print that."
Sir Alex Ferguson, 2002
On Sunday with victory over Chelsea, Sir Alex Ferguson moved one point closer to making his most famous quote a living, breathing reality while at the same time cementing his reputation as the greatest ever manager in any sport and in any era. There is simply no room for arguments from this point on. The case is closed!
When the Scotsman arrived at Old Trafford there were seven top-flight titles in the trophy cabinet. If he leaves at the end of the season or in a year or two there will be 19, and Liverpool's record of 18 (that was equaled in 2009) will be consigned to that of second place. The late Bill Shankly, a man who Ferguson has much in common with, had this to say on that matter: "If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing." Ferguson, a keen historian of this game, would have been acutely aware of Shankly's quote, and the thought of Liverpool being in that position now will surely bring a smile to this great competitor's face. The fact that it has only taken 25 years to overtake the Merseysiders is simply staggering when you consider the number of teams Ferguson has had to rebuild. By my reckoning this current side must be number five; however, it doesn't seem to matter who the personnel is. The results stay the same. The key to this continued success is remarkably simple and should be a model for all others who wish to follow in the great man's footsteps in football management. It's the ability to instill belief and desire, Manchester United, over the last three decades have demonstrated more of these qualities than any other club in England and that is solely down to the manager.
His other great attribute is the knack of pacing a campaign. No one does it better! We've witnessed United as dominating front runners, we've seen them come from a million miles away to reel in opponents, and we've marveled at their capacity for chasing lost causes. This season has seen an abundance of all three of those qualities as they chased down Chelsea and Arsenal. They built their lead at the top of the table while taking us on a rollercoaster journey of comebacks that at times defied the football gods, and I haven't even mentioned his rotation policy. Managing resources when challenging on four fronts is a tricky business. We've watched the Blues and Gunners fail miserably while the 'noisy neighbors' with the most resources have looked on enviously. What Ferguson has achieved with a squad that does admittedly lack the thrilling flair of 1999 he has done by keeping his eye on the prize throughout the campaign. The Wayne Rooney situation was handled with the aplomb of JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis. There was only going to be one winner, and now with Rooney back in form, it's Ferguson who looks like the genius in recapturing the England strikers form. Dimitar Berbatov was massaged, coddled and psyched into carrying the team in the early stages of the season while Javier Hernandez was learning the ropes of the Premiership. Now the roles are reversed and the Mexican is delivering in spell-binding fashion while also giving the Bulgarian a nudge that he can do better. Antonio Valencia was allowed time to recover and not rushed back like he would've been at many other clubs. He may not deliver the Hollywood stardust of a Cristiano Ronaldo but his value to the balance of the side is unmistakable.
And then there's Michael Carrick. Go to any United board and see what the fans say about the lad from Tyneside. They absolutely slate him, but watch the game. Yes, he's made some howlers but he's also the engine that keeps the team ticking over. Why does he have the will and the mental strength to do this? Ask his manager who has given him the belief to deliver in those moments when others would hide. When this season does eventually end on May 28th at Wembley Stadium, regardless of the result against Barcelona, I think that SAF will realize that this season has been his greatest ever. He might have European Cup number three on his resume, he might not, but what he will have is the satisfaction of knowing that it was him, the world's greatest ever manager that knocked Liverpool off their perch. It's the mythical title that he always wanted. Nick Webster is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the Barclay's Premier League and the English national team.