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Sir Alex Ferguson: 'This is the derby game of all derby games'

A weekend of worrying and hoping, time-killing and nerve-shredding unfolds for the followers of Manchester United and Manchester City as they await anxiously and impatiently for the mother, father and sainted aunt of all derbies, for the title showdown.

"Going in to work next Tuesday morning will be the most important day of their lives for both sets of supporters,'' said Alex Ferguson, the United manager.

Passion for the clubs runs deep.

"People have been brought up through their grandfathers, great-grandfathers, grandmothers to be what they are,'' Ferguson said.

"You can't change a family's traits. That's what supporters are. It's steeped in the blood of these supporters. I know lots of our supporters who would give everything to win this game on Monday."

It means so much to Manchester. "For the city? Whoooh! There will be more interviews done on the streets of Manchester than there will be at the football clubs! It means everything to the supporters. This is the derby game of all derby games. They are our city rivals and it makes everybody step up a notch in terms of anticipation.''

Recent derbies have resonated loudly. City have ripped up United's copyright on bragging rights. They are wealthy, well managed and with a team of undeniable individual quality showing increasing collectivity.

"I made my mind up about that when the money came to the club,'' Ferguson continued.


"You say to yourself that there is no question they are going to buy the best and most experienced players they can. That's what they have gone and done.

"They have a bunch of very experienced players who have done it with other clubs and therefore we have to get used to this. We are going to be playing each other in a lot of big games: Cup finals, league deciders."

Roberto Mancini has made his mark.

"He is second top of the league with a league decider on Monday,'' Ferguson said. "That's great progress. That's a step forward for them. That's the only way you can measure it.''

So holding off the challenge of their noisy neighbours, reaching out for a 20th title, would be particularly sweet for United. "Fans would look upon it as a special one because it's against their most bitter rivals."

For the runner-up, there is only dismay and the feeling of throwing it away.

City were top of the table for 28 games. United then went eight points clear.

"Whoever loses will be tinged with regret simply because it's a derby thing. But then you look at the points totals that both teams will probably amass and it's championship form from both teams."

Sensing the gathering storm rolling in from the Etihad last season, Ferguson responded in the summer. He would have carried on strengthening the team, but City's threat was clear.

"We did what we had to do last summer," he said, as they brought in goalkeeper David de Gea to replace Edwin van der Sar, and Ashley Young, "who can play several positions and has experience in terms of his time at Aston Villa.

"We brought in a potentially tremendous young player in Phil Jones.

"Going into the beginning of the season I was confident we had the nucleus of a very good team. Then we got hit with injury -- plagued almost -- for four months. Now they are back fit it's given me that terrible headache of picking players and not knowing who to leave out. There's the making of a good team, there's a lot of youth that will get better and better."

Ferguson is the master at playing the regeneration game.

"We have been doing it for so long. After the spell of domination when we won the Treble and the two leagues following that with big points margins, the team was coming to an end.

"Denis Irwin got older. Ronny Johnsen had some injuries. Peter Schmeichel decided to leave. There was a transition when we tried to rebuild a new team with young players like Rooney and Ronaldo.

"One or two of our own players are starting to come through now."

He agrees with Uefa's financial fair play rules (FFP) which encourage clubs to balance books through, among other factors, player development.

"The focus on producing your own players is healthy. But I don't know how you police these things. There are always ways round things. What's to say (clubs won't be) providing player houses in Abu Dhabi or Dubai?''

While others juggle FFP, Ferguson focuses on nurturing local prospects such as Danny Welbeck, who dovetailed so well with Rooney during the 4-4 draw with Everton. "Last week we saw something really special."

He said there were similarities to the Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole "thing", adding: "Welbeck's movement was fantastic. Wayne is 26 now and Danny is 21." He says that maybe "over the next few years" the partnership "can only get better".

"We will have to be a threat on Monday," Ferguson said.

"You have got an interesting combination of two teams: the team with the best home record in the country and the team with the best away record. It's a shoot-out." (© Daily Telegraph, London).

Irish Independent