Fergie holds keys of city
Experience of big occasion gives United boss edge over Mancini in showdown
It was the story of Alex Ferguson's days running a pub on the Govan Road in Glasgow which most absorbed Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook when the two men found themselves seated together at a dinner, a few years back.
The freedom of Manchester was being bestowed upon Bobby Charlton at the town hall that night and the United manager's tales of community and domestic strife he had found himself policing in the mid-1970s, at the pub he renamed "Fergie's", told Cook this was a man who had lived life in the raw. You just can't buy that kind of experience.
Cook might have expected his club to have come rather closer to Manchester supremacy by now than the solitary win in eight matches since entering Abu Dhabi ownership. Ferguson's experience is the principal reason why they have not, and it was an asset the Scot last night declared could send his players beyond their 10th FA Cup semi-final of his United career.
It was "possible" that City's desperation to win their first FA Cup semi-final in 20 years may play into United's hands, said Ferguson. But United, he confidently declared, have been here before. They would not freeze.
"I know my own players and, obviously, they have been used to big game situations many times, so we don't have to conquer that," Ferguson said.
"(The atmosphere) is very difficult to block out, simply because sometimes the occasion overrides everything else. And Wembley is an occasion stadium.
When you go there it's for an important reason, and that can affect some players. It's a fact. But you just have to prepare the players properly, make sure the information you give them is fine. Their own temperament, and their own beliefs, then come into it of course. I don't see anything more to it than that."
Experience is certainly an asset which Ferguson will believe gives him an edge on Roberto Mancini, a manager 23 years his junior. United have won eight of those 10 semi-finals under him, while Mancini's only competitive visit to Wembley was in the losing Sampdoria side in the 1992 European Cup final against Barcelona, in the old stadium.
The respective fortunes of the clubs in their treatment rooms have also favoured United hugely, as they are missing only Darren Fletcher and the unfortunate Owen Hargreaves. City -- without Carlos Tevez -- may at least welcome back Micah Richards, who has trained for the past three days after an accelerated recovery from a hamstring injury.
And while United can take comfort from the momentum of a seven-game winning run since their league defeat at Anfield, Mancini has spent the week employing any strategy available to him to dispel the memory of Monday's 3-0 defeat at the same place. Tactics have including taking all the blame himself and not screening DVDs of the match.
"We are ready for this," said Ferguson. "The players are in great momentum. The confidence is high and we are playing well. We are fighting for every corner, which is a great attitude to have at this time of the season so we look forward to it."
Edwin van der Sar became the latest United player to cast aspersions on City, yesterday.
"Maybe for them, the game is not played with the heart quite so much and more with their quality players. We have plenty (of quality players)," said the goalkeeper.
But Ferguson was careful to avoid any sniping.
He does not feel the headlines associated with that reflect well on United and he dismissed Paul Scholes' claim of Thursday that City would not be United's genuine rivals until they have taken a trophy.
"They'll always be our rivals. It's a derby game, it's always been that way with City and that will never change," the manager said. "Everyone wants to win the derby game."
While the weight of expectation of a long-awaited trophy is for Mancini to bear, Ferguson finally fielded a question about the treble without rejecting the idea. "We are playing well and we have the great determination that has given us a good chance," he said.
Ferguson is likely to start with Javier Hernandez again, alongside Dimitar Berbatov as Wayne Rooney serves out his two-game ban. Mancini is more likely to go with one striker in Tevez's absence. Edin Dzeko, rather than Mario Balotelli, appears the front-runner, with David Silva floating in from the left and Adam Johnson on the right. City are also likely to deploy three holding midfielders again, probably Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong operating with Yaya Toure.
Richards' selection ahead of Pablo Zabaleta, who missed the Liverpool game having only two days' training after nearly three weeks' compassionate leave, will depend on how sharp he has looked these past three days. Mancini likes the attacking option he offers and will select him if he can.
Ferguson, who may also prefer Chris Smalling to Rio Ferdinand, concluded his press conference by fielding a reminder that this was the season when Rooney had questioned the quality of United's squad.
"I don't think he actually really meant that," Ferguson replied. "I think he was prompted. He probably thought he could make me angry."
The equanimity with which Ferguson entered the weekend yesterday suggested that nothing possibly could. (© Independent News Service)
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