herald

Sunday 19 August 2018

RONNIE WHELAN: Fergie’s rising to his greatest challenge yet

IF you asked Alex Ferguson why it is that his team has begun this Premier League campaign better than any other season, I'm sure he wouldn't be able to tell you.

No doubt he would talk about momentum, squad unity and the ultra-professional nature of the players he has brought to his club.

Ferguson would also refer to the ongoing policy of renewal he has fostered at Old Trafford and the fact that he has reinvigorated his squad throughout the years he's been the main man.

But he's had great squads before and plenty of youthful |exuberance around the place so what is it about this bunch of lads which has delivered his best ever start to a season?

If the starting point came in the losing dressing room after Manchester United had been handed a Champions League and football lesson by Barcelona in Wembley in late May, Ferguson had a long way to go.

For most managers and players, it would take time to recover from what was a beating which must have undermined their self-belief as footballers.

No matter what Manchester United did that day, Barcelona were, man for man, better and this was blatantly obvious to everyone. Imagine what it must have felt like to be a Manchester United player in those circumstances.

Yet here we are, a few months into the new Premier League |season and Ferguson is already wearing a wide grin.

His desire to assemble a team which can take on and beat Barcelona has found a fantastic response from his players.

Arsenal were put to the sword in no uncertain terms and now Chelsea. Youthful talent is always unpredictable but Ferguson has given his trust freely to young footballers and he has been well rewarded over the years.

I sense that he has found a really good one in Phil Jones, a player who will do all the things John O'Shea could do as a utility man but probably do them better.

I feel that Ferguson will, however, find a permanent role for Jones and it won't be at full-back. He looks good enough to anchor midfield at some point in the future and that will give even more weight to recent suggestions that he is a modern day Duncan Edwards.

Edwards was a big man and could play virtually anywhere with equal skill and ability. I'm not saying Jones is of his class but he's multi-talented, very young and has plenty of time to grow.

Arsenal are heading towards mid-table mediocrity with players like Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny guarding their penalty area.

I must say, It was unthinkable just a short time ago that Wenger would leave Arsenal but I think he is now on spiral which is very dangerous indeed for manager and club.

For those who criticise Wenger for not spending money, the example of Leeds United's fall from grace is the perfect answer. That will never happen Arsenal on his watch. But there has to be a happy medium and no successful club has ever held the high ground with spending big money to stay there.

I would note again that there isn't a peep out of any of the Arsenal directors or the owners about whether he has money to spend or not and I think that issue will become a huge one as we head towards the long days of winter.

Arsenal fans have been patient and understanding up to now but if they, like me, are baffled by Wenger's transfer policy, the club will have to make a serious statement of intent in the January window or even diehards will want to know what is going on in the background at the Emirates.

Catch the highlights of United's 3-2 victory here...

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