MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, November 6 – Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated his 25th anniversary as manager of Manchester United with a 1-0 victory over Sunderland before admitting that he had been moved by the club’s decision to name a stand in his honour.
The North Stand, the largest of the four at Old Trafford, is now titled “The Sir Alex Ferguson Stand,” while United chief executive David Gill also confirmed that a statue of the veteran Scottish manager will be unveiled there before the start of next season.
“I was really emotional. I couldn’t believe and I didn’t expect that,” said Ferguson who was clearly moved when Gill revealed the tribute on the pitch before kick-off.
“I have to thank the club for that because it is fantastic of them to do that. I am really proud of this moment.
“I never knew a thing about it. (Assistant manager) Mike Phelan knew about it and he never told me, so he’s sacked. But I had absolutely no idea and neither had my family. I don’t think they did anyway.
“I am glad it’s all over, though. We can kick on now.”
United needed an own goal from their former defender Wes Brown deep in first-half injury-time to be sure of the three points and, while they recorded a fourth consecutive clean sheet since the humiliation of the 6-1 home loss to Manchester City, it was hardly a vintage United display.
“I’d have been quite happy to blow the whistle when we went 1-0 up and finish the game,” said Ferguson.
“It was an anxious day for the players and I think they showed that today. They improved in the second-half, but the last 15 minutes was torture.
“Possibly, yes, the occasion got to the players. The players wanted to do well for me, I think that was obvious, but these occasions can be a bit like that.
“I remember when we commemorated the 50th anniversary of Munich against City and that certainly got through to the players that day, no question. Maybe a little bit today.”
Anders Lindegaard, handed a start in favour of David de Gea in the United goal, disagreed with his manager’s claim that the sense of occasion affected them but he was quick to pay his own tribute to 69-year-old Ferguson.
“Definitely not,” said Lindegaard when asked if the anniversary occasion had been a problem. “Some of the wisest words I have learned since I came here came from the manager who said, Play the game, not the occasion.
“We tend to slow down our pace when we are playing opponents in a lower gear than ourselves. We have to be able to keep our highest gear even if we are playing opponents not playing that quick. We have to do that better.
“Naming a stand after the manager says it all. He’s got he biggest stand, one of the biggest stands in the world, is called the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. I’d be thrilled to have one seat named the Anders Lindegaard seat!”
Lindegaard and Ferguson both benefited from the return of central defensive partnership Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand who have given United a far more solid appearance through the middle.
“My take on that is that, when I saw how they would play Connor Wickham and Nicklas Bendtner, two powerful lads up front, I thought we needed experience today,” said Ferguson.
“Jonny Evans has been fantastic and he is the long-term solution, but today it was Ferdinand and Vidic’s day.”
To make defeat worse for Sunderland’s manager Steve Bruce, a former United player of course, the Wearside club fear their impressive young forward Connor Wickham may be out for a long period after injuring knee ligaments.
“That’s the biggest disappointment,” said Bruce. “We think it’s a serious knee ligament injury and that is seven in 12 months we have had, I have never known anything like it.
“We will not know for certain until he has had scans but it does not look good.”
Bruce, however, was not slow in adding his voice to the Ferguson tributes. “I’ve just had a glass of wine with him,” said Bruce of his former manager. “He welcomed me in with a great bottle of wine but that is 18 times (in which Bruce has not beaten Ferguson). I’ll be his age before I get a win against him.
“Naming the stand after him is a fitting tribute and thoroughly deserved. I have never known anyone at Man United keep a secret so that is even more remarkable!”