- Premier League
Fergie slams sympathy-chasing Mancini
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has hit back at rival Roberto Mancini's claims that teams are scared of the Red Devils by suggesting the Manchester City boss is looking for "self-sympathy".
City's defence of their Premier League crown looks likely to end in failure with the side 12 points behind their arch rivals with only seven games to play in the season. United will be hoping to extend that gap when they travel to Stoke on Sunday while City's attention turns to a FA Cup semi-final showdown with Chelsea.
United's surge to their 20th league title prompted Mancini to lament that too many Premier League teams "play with fear" against Ferguson's men. However, a bullish Ferguson dismissed the Italian's remarks, believing it inconceivable that any team would roll over against his team.
"That's absolute nonsense," he said. "He was maybe looking for a bit of self-sympathy or something like that. We all recognise the English game is the most honest in the world and has been for many years.
"At Norwich this season the energy their two wide players expended was phenomenal. They ran 100 miles. That's an example of the Premier League. And the Reading game, when it went to 3-2, I thought we were going to lose.
"There are a lot of games I've watched this season, when I've said to myself 'are they trying?' - of course they're trying.
"These teams have 3,000 fans following them away from home. There is no way they could come to Old Trafford and not do their best. That also applies itself to the Etihad, Stamford Bridge, the Emirates or Anfield.
"That is the nature of the English game."
And the 71-year-old is expecting no easy ride when United travel to the Britannia Stadium, nor from any of the other seven teams they have to face before the close of the season.
"It's always a difficult place to go to," he said. "Ask any manager or player, you know you have to perform to get a result there. You have to stand up to the mark because they do present a challenge.
"They are strong physically, their set-piece play is good, their long throw-ins are legendary, and I don't think you can quieten that crowd, it is probably one of the noisiest in the league. That is what we will face on Sunday and we have to deal with it.
"We shouldn't look at our position in terms of being 12 points clear. What matters is looking at the next game. There are only seven left and we'll whittle the game down. The challenge at the start of the season was to win the league back and at this moment in time our consistency has been brilliant."
But despite the growing angst between the rival coaches, the two men have both aired similar views over City and Chelsea's two-game post-season trip to America. The fixtures in St Louis and New York are set to conflict with the England national team's friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and Brazil.
"I was surprised to see they were playing two games," Ferguson said. "It can only be because of whatever financial gains they're getting out of it. They're the two richest clubs too. They must need the money.
"I wouldn't do it, I must admit. Players need to get their rest at the end of the season."
Mancini added: "Usually I don't like this because when we finish the season it is finished. The players need to go home for one week because afterwards they should go with national team.
"It is not for me. We go to play two games for the club because it is important - but I don't like to go [on tour] after the championship."
However, Ferguson has questioned scheduling friendlies and international tournaments, especially youth tournaments, in the off-season, believing it hinders the development of young players. The Scot used former England striker Michael Owen as a prime example.
"I always think, with young players, the best chance for them to develop physically is in the summer, when the sun comes out," he said. "It's an actual fact that the main growth spurts of young people are always in the summer.
"But a lot of these international tournaments, Under-17s and Under-18s, Under-19s and Under-21s, always seem to be in the summer.
"I always thought if Michael Owen had got the proper development, he would have been an absolute world-class player. But he had a youth tournament in 1997 in Malaysia for a month.
"We had two players in it and gave them a month off when they came back. Michael came back and was in the Liverpool team the next week, then played in the World Cup the following summer. You have to develop players physically as well as technically and these tournaments don't always fit."