Ferguson revels in another Premier League success
Sir Alex Ferguson is delighted to have presided over Manchester United's 18th league title - but number 19 is the one he really wants.
After vowing to "knock Liverpool off their perch'' when he first headed south from Aberdeen in 1986, Ferguson is now just one league championship away from doing just that.
A goalless draw with Arsenal today was enough to ensure United completed a hat-trick of Premier League title triumphs.
Yet the champagne corks had not stopped popping in an ecstatic home dressing room when their notoriously driven manager delivered his ominous warning to Liverpool counterpart Rafael Benitez.
"The great challenge now is to try to win it next year because that would be something special,'' he said. "It would be a 19th league and give us a special place in the club's history.
"I am already thinking about next year. You have to do it here. There is nothing else for it. You just drive on.''
Not that Ferguson is completely dismissing the impact of championship number 18 - and an 11th for him personally.
"I do take a lot of pride from equalling Liverpool,'' he said. "When I came down here they were the top guns. My job was to try to change that.
"But I never thought we could get 11 titles - never in a million years.''
In truth, this was not one of United's better efforts in another stellar campaign. Yet Ferguson could point out it did not have to be given a draw was the only requirement to hold off Liverpool's challenge.
That is why the Red Devils chief took off Carlos Tevez midway through the second half, replacing him with a more defensively aware player in Park Ji-sung.
The move did not seem to meet with Tevez's approval, the Argentina star offering a little shake of the head before waving to all four sides of the ground as if to say goodbye.
"It's emotional,'' said Tevez. "I like Manchester and I like the fans. But maybe it is goodbye. It is very difficult.''
Neither Ferguson, nor United's fans, are ready to give up just yet.
Indeed, the Red Devils chief viewed the tears that welled up in Tevez's eyes at the end as a positive sign.
"If that was the case it is a good thing,'' said Ferguson. "We want him to stay. The only reason I substituted him was that he was playing up front on his own and he was tired.''
It now seems almost certain Ferguson will elect to rest all his star men for next Sunday's trip to Hull, which could have a huge impact on the battle to avoid relegation.
Not that Ferguson can worry too much about that with a Champions League final against Barcelona four days later to worry about.
"Now we have won the league we are bouncing into the final,'' he said. "The players and fans are up. It is a very positive note we are striking at the moment.''
When the analysis of the championship race as a whole is done this summer, Ferguson will point to two moments as being particularly significant.
The first came at Stoke on Boxing Day, three days after the return from Club World Cup duty in Japan, when Tevez's late winner set United on the road to 11 successive victories.
The second arrived in the form of unknown teenager Federico Macheda, whose injury-time strike against Aston Villa at Old Trafford enabled United to win again after successive defeats to Liverpool and Fulham which threatened to turn into a major problem.
"We have shown fantastic consistency,'' he said. "But the important game was Stoke. We had to get a result and we churned one out. It gave us a kick-start and we attacked every game after that.
"Then Macheda's effort was the catalyst for winning the league. If we had drawn or lost that game Liverpool would have had the scent.
"The players had just come back from international duty and we had to win.''
Ferguson admitted he never loses the addiction to success, which is why he has no intention of giving up the management game just yet, even though he will celebrate his 68th birthday on the last day of 2009.
"You get that same wonderful feeling when you win a trophy,'' he said. "When you see the fans celebrating at the end of the game, all the hard work and the pain is worth it.
"I am not contemplating retirement at all. I am going to stay as a manager and until my health tells me when to quit.''
Arsene Wenger offered his congratulations to Manchester United but warned that Arsenal will offer a much sterner test next term.
"Deep down I wish it was us not Manchester United,'' he said of the title party going on within earshot. "But that is sport. They were the better team this year, so congratulations to them.
"We have to make sure that it is on our side next year. Things can change quickly but what we have seen today shows we have the quality to be up there. We have to keep believing in these players and work hard.
"They have learned a lot this year.''
So committed to the Arsenal cause is Wenger that he is believed to have turned down the chance to coach Bayern Munich before Louis van Gaal was appointed at the Allianz Arena this week.
Wenger refused to answer directly when asked about the issue, preferring instead to focus on Arsenal's exploits in a season he does not feel was quite the disaster many made it out to be.
"We were not that far off,'' he said. "Since November we have lost one game and that was after the disappointment of losing to Manchester United in the Champions League.
"We were close in the Champions League and close in the FA Cup and have been remarkably consistent since November. At the moment the team is not getting the credit it deserves but it is down to us to come back next year and show the same consistency.''