Tuesday Team Talk: A rare informal interview or more Ferguson mind games at play?

By Jimmy Booker

Rarely, if ever, have we seen Sir Alex Ferguson so personal, charming and friendly as he was in a recent interview with BBC Radio 5 live.

He discussed all manner of subjects; fellow managers, his players, his day-to-day routine and where his future might lie.

However, the little known and most striking point of the True Confessions of Sir Alex Ferguson was when he revealed he turned down the opportunity to sign current Manchester City and England No.1 Joe Hart for a paltry £100,000.

Hart moved to City from Shrewsbury for six times this sum in 2006 and has established himself as the England’s top goalkeeper by a country mile.

As Hart plies his trade within spitting distance of Old Trafford, Ferguson can only watch on in regret and admiration at what a fine young player he has developed into.

It was also interesting to see how Ferguson referred to his missed opportunity to sign Hart as a ‘mistake’. In my opinion, this can be taken two ways.

Firstly, and this might be reading slightly too much into it, Ferguson has subtly, whether inadvertently or intentionally, admitted that the performances of his goalkeepers, particularly summer signing David de Gea, have seen Ferguson look fondly across the city for what might have been.

Has he let his guard down in a moment of acknowledgement that City have a much better last line of defence, one that he turned down?

Perhaps, but this is debatable, as Edwin van der Sar was a fine servant to Manchester United for many years, and de Gea has shown some signs of the player that Ferguson shelled out the best part of £20million for.

Secondly, and I believe more likely, it is yet another Ferguson mind game at play as we enter the run-in for the Premier League title.

By openly declaring his admiration for Hart, Ferguson has singled out a member of a Manchester City squad that will need every ounce of their quality and a flawless team ethic to see off the title challenge of a Manchester United side who, under Ferguson, have become fearsome in the second half of seasons and masters when it comes to thriving under a pressure situation.

Ferguson singling out Hart threatens this togetherness, and firmly puts the spotlight on the young keeper for the next few games, with people looking for any signs of weakness from the usually cool-as-a-cucumber, chewing-gum chomping City stopper.

City, at this moment in time, only lead United by two points. Their run-in isn’t bad, but they face tricky away ties at Arsenal and Stoke, and host United three games from the end of the season, a fixture which could, theoretically, win the title for either team.

People might say that Ferguson was simply declaring a fondness for a player who is in tremendous form, and has been for some time, with mistakes coming rarely when Hart takes his place between the City sticks.

Pull the other one. Manchester United are involved in a tense title run in with their fiercest rivals. Everything Ferguson says, especially about City, is directed to unsettle Roberto Mancini and his men.

Ferguson is a first-rate manager with a footballing mind that is nigh-on unrivalled. He knows how to play it, what to say, and at what time to say it. These comments from such an informal atmosphere carry more weight and meaning than they first appear to.

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