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Thursday, November 22, 2012
It’s not often you hear Sir Alex Ferguson say that an opposing team deserved to beat Manchester United.
That is mainly because they do not usually lose but on the odd occasion they do get beaten Ferguson tends to come out with his much fabled hair dryer on full blast.
In 26 all-conquering years as United manager he has mastered the art of taking the attention and pressure off his players after a loss. His old standards include highlighting a poor refereeing decision, a complaint about not enough injury time being added on or questioning the tactics of the other side. It all serves to stir up controversy and get people to talk about anything other than a substandard performance from his side. It’s clever management born from an absolute hatred of losing.
When Sir Alex appeared on the Carrow Road touchline midway through the second half on Saturday he looked angry and I could tell that even though I was sitting behind him.
The Ferguson jaw was going ten to the dozen as he took out his frustrations on another stick of chewing gum. He has probably kept Wrigleys in business single-handedly over the past two and a half decades and the faster he’s chewing the more cross he is.
Yet after the game there were no complaints. All he could do was hold his hands up and praise the performance produced by Norwich City on the night.
The sheer determination, work rate and no little skill which saw the Canaries to the most deserved and satisfying of victories will have been admired by a man who has managed some of the Premier League’s most flamboyant stars over the years, Rooney, Ronaldo and Cantona to name but three, and never let any of them get away without the basic requirement of hard work.
It was a remarkable win for Norwich, the magnitude of which will not have been lost on the man who stood just a few yards along the touchline from Ferguson.
Chris Hughton would have been close enough to hear every chew had the Carrow Road crowd not been in such good voice. A 5.30pm kick-off on a Saturday evening may not be in tune with the traditions of the English game but there is something very special about the Canaries’ home under the floodlights as Arsenal already knew and United found out on Saturday.
Hughton’s start as Paul Lambert’s successor was as tough as they come yet his manor never changed even in the wake of five-goal humblings by Fulham and Liverpool and a comprehensive outplaying at Chelsea all before he had got his first league win on the board. Saturday was the first time I had heard Carrow Road chant his name. The Norwich manager even found time, in the heat of Premier League competition, to return the applause.
It felt like a big moment. Fans don’t sing a manager’s name lightly. They sit back, arms folded, for a few weeks before deciding whether the new man in charge is worthy of having his name added to the start of the traditional ’so and so’s green and yellow army’ song.
Hughton has that honour and deservedly so after such impressive Carrow Road triumphs over Arsenal, Stoke, Tottenham and Manchester United.
Anyone who had suggested a month ago that Norwich were about to embark on a run of four straight home wins might have got used to people slowly backing away from them and twirling their index fingers by the side of their temples but City have been well worth each and every one of those victories.
The fact that Sir Alex Ferguson took the result in his stride speaks volumes for the way Norwich played but maybe we should not have been so surprised.
Ferguson’s second ever game as United manager way back in November 1986 was a 0-0 draw at Carrow Road.
Since then he has led his team to seven away wins at Norwich but has also been on the wrong end of six defeats in Norfolk.
There can’t be many grounds around the country where he has lost with the Red Devils nearly as often as he’s won.
• ENGLAND IN THE SAFEST HANDS UNDER HODGSON
I spent an enjoyable evening on Friday in the company of the England manager Roy Hodgson.
Don’t panic, I am not being lined up as the long term replacement for Steven Gerrard, things will never be that desperate.
He was the guest of honour at a Carrow Road do and I had the task of putting questions thought up by a 200-strong audience to him.
Coming just 48 hours after England’s defeat in Sweden, the event brought with it a serious dilemma; how to handle Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s wonder goal.
Zlatan’s long range acrobatics looked like something out of the Moscow State Circus and had most people who saw it gasping but would it seem like such a moment to savour for the England boss who had been on the wrong end of it? Hodgson’s men had seemed destined for victory before Ibrahimovic struck three times in the final 13 minutes to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 victory.
I gulped before broaching the subject and then asked, as politely as possible, what the first thing Hodgson had said when the ball sailed over the head of the stranded goalkeeper Joe Hart and into the net was. There was a long pause and I was worried. Had I managed to upset one of the most affable international managers in the game?
“Let’s just say I don’t always speak quite as freely as I am this evening” came the reply, complete with a wry smile which suggested he had failed to appreciate the momentousness of Zlatan’s goal when it happened set against the frustration of squandering such a promising position in the game. It is much more difficult to appreciate a piece of footballing brilliance when your team is on the receiving end.
Hodgson went on to point out that, as it was a friendly, he was more than happy to allow Zlatan to score four times in that setting if it was a choice between then and the countries’ previous meeting when England ran out 3-2 winners in the more meaningful context of the Euro 2012 group stages.
That pragmatic thought process sums Hodgson up. All of his answers were considered, honest and, at times, thought provoking as he pontificated on subjects ranging from Grant Holt’s hopes of an England call-up to the number of foreign players in the Premier League and why we, as a nation, can’t do penalty shoot-outs.
There was even an attempt from one guest to offer him a job coaching an under 7’s team somewhere in Norfolk.
I left feeling that the England team is in better hands than it has been for many years.
That experience and presence in the dressing room may just be what is needed.
That line about ’thirty years of hurt’ in the anthemic Three Lions songs seems like small beer when you consider that half as much time has elapsed again since that song was written and there’s still been nothing to celebrate.