talking point

Do Pep and Klopp really need a Treble to surpass Ferguson's achievements?

Man City and Liverpool meet in the FA Cup semi-final, and it will see one club’s hopes of matching United’s historic success of 1999 come to an end.

THE RED WINE was flowing and so were the memories.

Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, and Gary and Phil Neville sat around a table to reminisce as part of their Class of 92 film, which was released in 2013, the same year Alex Ferguson retired as Manchester United manager.

The club haven’t won a Premier League title since.

Just three major trophies – Europa League, FA Cup and League – have been lifted in what’s approaching a lost decade.

As they recalled stories that played a part in shaping the success under Ferguson, the academy graduates provided an insight into his man-management techniques.

The sort of mind games that really mattered to his players.

Phil Neville talks about knowing he was about to be dropped when he would hear Ferguson’s cough outside his hotel room the night before a game.
Giggs jokes how he just wouldn’t answer the door when he heard that ominous muffling. “Can’t drop you if he can’t find you,” he reasons.

Scholes would be given a break from the starting XI if “it was too hot” for him, while Butt was often told he wasn’t starting if the pitch was in good nick because Ferguson felt the combative midfielder came into his own on heavy ground. “He said, ‘In November, you’ll be my player’,” Butt

Gary Neville had his own comical-cum-sinister explanation for getting dropped for a trip to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, when the Scot explained how the club had been informed that ‘some Combat 18 fanatics would be in the crowd’, and he felt he was too young for the hassle.

Neville also explained how Ferguson would also pin point a certain fixture two or three weeks down the line that he would eventually use him for.

“He’d say ‘I’ve just the game for you, make sure you are right for it’,” Neville smiles to the camera. “You try to work out if you have just been dropped for four games or been told you’re great and needed for on.”

Just part of the art of being a manager, the kind of rotation and squad management that Ferguson had down to a tee, and which he perfected throughout that historic Treble season in 1998/99 – 18 players playing 20 or more games, 15 featuring in 37 or more, with eight making 50 appearances or more out of a possible 63.

So rotation is a given but so, too, is relying on a dependable core – in United’s case Peter Schmeichel (56), David Beckham and Roy Keane (55), Gary Neville (54), Paul Scholes, Jaap Stam and Dwight Yorke (51) and Andy Cole (50), while Denis Irwin (48), Nicky Butt (47), Phil Neville (44) and Ryan Giggs (41) fell short of that half century mark.

United went unbeaten from 19 December in the Premier League, winning 13 of the last 19 games and clinching the title with a final day win at home to Spurs as Arsenal pushed them all the way.

That their final tally of 79 points would still not have been enough to win a championship in any of the seasons since misses the point of the endurance, mentality and quality required to stay alive on all fronts.

United had already come through their Champions League group – including Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Brondby – before the turn of the year, and in the midst of the title run overcame Inter Milan and Juventus in the quarter final and semi-final, respectively.

Ferguson’s side didn’t lose a single game in Europe and when they eventually edged past Arsenal over two gruelling games that required a replay in their FA Cup semi-final – this week 23 years ago – they had the momentum to help see them over the line. By any means necessary at this stage.

Now it is the era of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, and they will need to get their big squad calls correct, and have that little bit of luck, to come out on the right side of history for the remainder of this season.

They have a FA Cup semi-final of their own at Wembley this weekend and it will see either Manchester City or Liverpool’s hopes of matching United’s Treble come to an end – in the Anfield club’s case the Quadruple is still on the line having already lifted the League Cup.

At Old Trafford, now bereft of success, not to mention relevance among the elite, they will maintain that the Treble feat is the standard by which all other potential great sides should be judged.

Currently, it’s the only way United now even enter the same conversation with the modern day City and Liverpool – debates determining whether those setting new standards today can only have their achievements vindicated when compared to what came before.

In basic, brass (or silverware) tacks, it is of course obvious that winning the three most important trophies available in a season ranks higher than doing winning two.

That doesn’t, and shouldn’t, detract from the genius of Guardiola as a coach and manager, whose ideas have revolutionised the game. Even if he hasn’t been able to lift the Champions League since 2011, the Spaniard already has a Treble on his CV from the 2008/09 season with Barcelona.

It also doesn’t mean that Klopp will not be revered forever more on the Kop by being the man in charge to end their 30-year league title drought, doing so in a period when he also delivered a sixth European Cup and re-energised a club that had been beaten down by previous ownership, and stewardship in the dugout.

Klopp and Guardiola are two of the greats in the modern age.

And while Ferguson’s Treble success was in a different time, it is a feat yet to be matched in the English game.

Doing so now would arguably surpass it and, no doubt, be the subject of films and documentaries to be pored over with a glass of wine.

Given Klopp was on record just last week saying how he would like to meet with Guardiola in the future and sit “for hours and hours to talk football”, it will be easy to cast the two main stars.

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