Alex Ferguson has turned the tables on Manchester City by accusing Roberto Mancini of desperation by bringing back Carlos Tevez.
City ambassador and former Blues midfielder Patrick Vieira used the self-same jibe earlier in the week as he assessed the reasoning behind Paul Scholes’ January retirement U-turn.
The comment stung, not least because since Scholes returned, United have won nine games out of 10 in the Premier League, claiming the leadership for the first time since October after City suffered a shock defeat at Swansea a fortnight ago.
So, when Ferguson saw former player Tevez return from six months in disgrace to play an integral role in City’s successful midweek comeback against Chelsea, the Scot felt it was time to go on the offensive.
“If it’s desperation bringing back the best midfielder in Britain for the last 20 years then I think we can accept that,” said Ferguson.
“I think he (Vieira) was programmed for that.
“Roberto had a wee dig a couple of weeks back. We’re all going to play our hand that way. There will be plenty of ammunition for that.
“If you talk about desperation, they played a player the other night who refused to go on the pitch, the manager said he’d never play again and he takes a five-month holiday in Argentina. What is that? Could that come under the description of desperation?”
It was classic Ferguson. Pre-planned, certainly judging by a private comment from one of his backroom staff later.
“He said he was going to drop a bomb,” said the chuckling source.
And now City know they are in a fight for real, with Ferguson using tactics that destroyed Kevin Keegan and Rafael Benitez and reduced Arsene Wenger to fury until the pair later made their peace, tactics learned at the feet of the Scot’s master, Jock Stein.
“He did (teach me),” said Ferguson.
“I was at Rangers, there were four games to go, and he says ‘Rangers can only throw it away’ – and we did.”
To see Ferguson in this mood is glorious theatre, totally in control of the situation, delivering a message he knows will capture worldwide attention.
Little wonder that despite passing his 70th birthday, he does not want to give up.
And, nine games wins away from a 13th league title, why would he?
Just like why would he bring Tevez back if he had been in Mancini’s shoes, a question put to him by one inquisitor.
The look on Ferguson’s face was a picture.
“Do I need to answer that? No. I don’t need to answer that,” said the United boss.
“I don’t know what it meant? I don’t know where it’s coming from. You never know whose decision it was. I’m not exactly in full knowledge about what happens at City.”
Mind games are just as much part of “squeaky bum time” as a late United winner.
Ferguson relishes the challenge.
“We can all play our hand at these kind of things,” he said.
“It doesn’t bother me. You’ll always get that kind of thing to try and unnerve the team if not the manager – that’s more to the point. It’s normal.”
A couple of months ago, it did not seem he would get the chance.
United were already trailing and faced a succession of matches against the Premier League’s big guns from which it appeared impossible to escape unscathed. Unbelievably, they dropped only two points — and that seemed like a victory given they had been three down at Chelsea before a sensational comeback.
“I was hoping City would drop something but I also knew we really had to perform well to take advantage,” he said.
“The players have really dug in. They’ve shown their resilience and produced some interesting results.
“Going down to London, playing Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea, if you take seven points from those nine it is a job well done.”
And in the thick of it all has been Scholes, whose return prompted Vieira’s attack in the first place.
It has already been suggested Scholes could be asked to come out of international retirement and play for England at Euro 2012, or failing that, the Great Britain Olympic team.
Both scenarios would indicate Scholes will extend his career by another year, although Ferguson insists that is yet to be decided.
“I’ve not approached that subject at all,” he said.
“I just know Paul can dictate the tempo and rhythm of our game very well.
“He has the experience which helps him do that and a terrific football brain.
“He wanted to retire because he wanted to play 50 games, not 25.
“I was trying to look at it in a sensible way and think what do you get out of a 37-year-old?”
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