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May 9, 2010

Ferguson lives in hope as Chelsea close in on title

Sir Alex Ferguson says Jose Mourinho turned the Premier League into a two-horse between Chelsea and Manchester United, but he played down suggestions the Portuguese is set to succeed him at Old Trafford.

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Should Chelsea win the title, they would become champions for the first time since Mourinho reclaimed the trophy in 2006, and Ferguson says the Blues have replaced Arsenal as United's key title rivals in recent seasons.

United, who have won the Premier League for the last three years, go into the final day a point behind Chelsea and, as they host Wigan at Stamford Bridge, Ferguson admits he is "not so sure" about the Latics' chances of causing an upset.

"We live in hope," he said in the Mail on Sunday. "There have been a lot of twists and turns. I remember when Arsene Wenger said a team could win this league with losing seven games, and I am thinking: 'This guy is crackers.' Now I hope he's right. There have been unusual points dropped by everyone.

"I think, from quite a while back, most people expected United and Chelsea to be fighting it out for the title. I know Arsenal got quite close, but we never thought they'd do it, you know.

"The last six years have been Chelsea and ourselves all the way, which is a change because, since I came to United, it was Arsenal and ourselves.

"George Graham was a fantastic manager, absolutely brilliant, when I first arrived, then Arsene Wenger came in with a different approach and way of playing - nonetheless our biggest competition.

"Then when Jose arrived at Chelsea, the whole ballpark changed. We had to look at ourselves and change the dynamics of the team, our preparation, our pre-season training, because they were getting flying starts every season.

"We were playing catch-up from the third and fourth games of the season. Before then, we'd taken our time during a campaign and built for the second part of the season. We had to change."

It has been suggested that Ferguson believes Mourinho is the manager best placed to succeed him when he eventually leaves the club.

However, stressing again that his health would be the only threat to his long-term future at the club, Ferguson has highlighted the fact that the Inter Milan coach could no longer be viewed as a successful coach by the time he steps down.

"You can talk about the successful managers right now who might be on everyone's list but, in two years, they may not be - or even next year," he said, "so it's difficult to say who would replace me when the time came.

"Manchester United would need somebody successful for that kind of job. Most clubs would look for the most successful manager on the horizon, but two years ahead, they may not be successful anymore.

"It is a horrible game, a results industry, and, as Roberto Mancini says, you can lose three games in Italy and get sacked. We're getting a little bit like that ourselves.

"You think of Peter Reid, Ruud Gullit and Bobby Robson at Newcastle, sacked just into the new season. When you stoop to that level, you have absolutely no idea how to run a football club."

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