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Manchester United topping Premier League at the turn of the year will be the perfect 70th birthday present for Sir Alex Ferguson

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BY JOHN GUBBA

When Manchester United  crashed out of the Champions League at the end of the first week of December and trailed rivals City by five points in the Premier League, critics were lining up to declare this was the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s dominance of English football.

How many times have we heard the prophets of doom circle round Old Trafford like vultures celebrating the fall of the emperor and hungry to feast on the demise of the greatest club in the world? But maybe this really was the end? With Fergie reaching his 70th birthday on New Year’s Eve, the critics said, the master had finally reached his ‘sell-by’ date and untold riches from the Middle East made it inevitable that the fat cats across the City were destined to take United’s crown.

Cocky City fans were strutting around like they owned the place in the illusion that one trophy in 35 years and a freak 6-1 win at Old Trafford suddenly made them the kings of the castle. Blues fans were queuing up to tell radio phone-ins that ‘this is their time’ and ‘United are a spent force who have reached the end of the road’.

For 25 years Sir Alex Ferguson has thrived on new challenges

For 25 years Sir Alex Ferguson has thrived on new challenges

But hang on a minute. This is no ordinary man we are talking about, and this is no ordinary football club. Over the past 25 years, every challenge has spurred Fergie’s Manchester United to fight back. Whether that means re-building or reaching another level, the Red machine has always delivered and each success has been more glorious than the one before.

Ever since Fergie’s men have emerged from the shadow of Liverpool’s incredible dynasty, United have found the answer to every challenge to their supremacy. Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea were the biggest threats that forced United to step up, and now it is the irresistible force of Roberto Mancini’s Arab backed City.

To achieve the seemingly impossible is the greatest incentive there is for a club like Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson is just as hungry for success as he was when he first walked into Old Trafford 25 years ago. This is why United will not roll over and die like some would like.

Anything other than defeat against Blackburn Rovers on New Year’s Eve will take United clear at the top of the Premier League, just three weeks after trailing City by five points and an avalanche of a goal difference. A win will put United three points in front and a repeat of the 5-0 scoreline in their last two wins against Fulham and Wigan will cut City’s goal advantage to zero.

United's quest to win a record 20th League title is all the motivation they need to deny City

United's quest to win a record 20th League title is all the motivation they need to deny City

The fact that City don’t travel to Sunderland until New Year’s Day and United play first on Fergie’s 70th birthday is the perfect scenario for the red half of Manchester. For Steve Kean’s battle-weary Rovers entering Old Trafford in these circumstances could be like being fed to the lions. All this in the face of a horrific catalogue of injuries that has tested United’s resources to the limit in the month of December.

Whatever happens next, just don’t make the mistake of writing off United because when the going gets tough the tough get going and Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams have shown time and time again that they know how to deliver in  the second half of the season.

Fergie admitted for the first time this week that City are favourites to win the title. And the great man knows overhauling the noisy neighbours who have grown into the biggest threat yet to his all-conquering empire represents arguably his biggest ever challenge.

But that in a nutshell is all the motivation United need to win a record breaking 20th league title.

PS: Do not be surprised if Dimitar Berbatov comes back stronger than ever and bags a hatful of goals in the second half of the season. He’s already scored more goals in six days – with four against Fulham and Wigan – than Fernando Torres has scored in the Premier League since he signed for Chelsea last season.

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Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25 years at Manchester United prove he is greatest football manager of all time – just ask Wayne Rooney

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Old Trafford's North Stand was offcially re-named the Sir Alex ferguson Stand before the 1-0 win against Sunderland

Old Trafford's North Stand has been re-named the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand to mark the manager's unique achievements - and the new sign was unveiled before the 1-0 win against Sunderland

BY JOHN GUBBA

On the weekend that Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates his 25th year at Manchester United the world of football is rightly paying homage to the greatest manager who ever lived. And among the many tributes the words of Wayne Rooney sum up my feelings entirely.

United’s talisman, who was just one year old when Fergie was appointed manager on 6 November 1986, said: “What he has done not just for Manchester United but the game of football is amazing. In my estimation he is the best of the lot.”
Just why Rooney believes the Scot cannot be equalled and will never be surpassed is explained by a fascinating insight from the England star who says: “Some of his team talks . . . you walk out on the pitch and you say to each other ‘How good was that?’ For the British players who understand him it is incredible. It’s more difficult for the foreign lads to understand. But it gets you right up for the game and I don’t really think it is something that can ever be replaced.”
Thank you from the fans: The Stretford End pays it's own unique tribute

Thank you from the fans: The Stretford End pays it's own unique tribute

The fans have also had their say, with Manchester United unveiling a giant banner paying tribute to Sir Alex’s 25th anniversary at Old Trafford. The banner, covering the entire length of the Stretford End stand, will have pride of place at Saturday’s home match with Sunderland – just 24 hours bfeore the boss completes his historic milestone.

The 72-metre long banner cost £3,600 to make and was funded by donations from United fans through the Stretford End Flags organisation. Supporters were offered two designs and asked to vote for their favourite.

The winning design is themed ‘The Impossible Dream…Made Possible’ and depicts Ferguson and the 37 major trophies he has won during his remarkable quarter of a century reign at United.

It continues a long tradition of celebratory banners unveiled at Old Trafford, including tributes to the victims of the 1958 Munich air disaster and heroes such as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ryan Giggs and George Best.

For the best tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson watch MUTV on Sunday night

For the best tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson watch MUTV on Sunday night

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