The mind games in the Premier League title raced kicked off in recent days. Sir Alex responded to Patrick Vieira’s claims that the return of Paul Scholes was “desperation” by saying he had “plenty of ammunition” on City. It was a bit of a surprise so when Fergie cooled the sniping soon after by throwing his local rivals an apparently genuine and not sarcastic bone. “You’ve got to admire City. They’ve done exceptionally well,” he said, not even adding a Wayne’s World-esque ‘NOT!’
Mind games were immediately brought up when Roberto Mancini’s side could only manage a draw with Stoke at the Britannia Stadium. Of course it was the gentle ribbing emerging from a Sir Alex press conference that the Manchester City players may or may not have heard. It had nothing to do with a level of organisation and work ethic from Stoke that would make a German car factory look like a lazy picnic. City simply didn’t have the nous to unlock the Potters’ defence and Fergie’s words were about as effective asking Mario Balotelli to rein in the mental.
Sir Alex is often credited with being the master of the psychological exchanges. The man identifies the great Jock Stein as the source of his Jedi mind tricks. “I was at Rangers, there were four games to go, and he says ‘Rangers can only throw it away’ – and we did,” he recalled. It clearly had a lasting effect on Ferguson, but was it really those six words that induced a panicked paralysis amongst the Rangers team? Or was it simply a top class choke and a lack of ability under pressure? But attributing the mind games with the success is like crediting the milkman with making the sun rise. Yes, you often see the two at around the same time, but there’s absolutely no correlation between them.
The reason his teams have won so many titles is down to their unrelenting will to win, something Fergie clearly instils in his players, footballing generation after footballing generation. The comments emerging from the ‘mind games’ make us chuckle and give the newspapers an excuse to turn the hype-machine all the way up to 11. If Sir Alex is in anyone’s head, it’s in those of his own players. They know how to grind it out in the run-in and that’s not a skill many of the City players have mastered. It’s a skill Mancini will be desperate for his players to acquire.