ENGLAND - In this month's celebratory issue of Inside United, Rio Ferdinand looks back over another memorable and successful campaign...
How does it feel to have won a hat-trick of league titles?
It’s a phenomenal achievement and it feels unbelievable to have done it. There were a lot of big games during the last few weeks of the season and we kept getting closer with every match. But until you get your hands on the trophy, it’s never completely over. Thankfully it is now and we’re champions again which is a great feeling.
Was there an extra edge to the title race because Liverpool were in the hunt?
Yes, it’s been a bit more intense because it’s a lot closer to home than when it’s Chelsea or Arsenal; suddenly everywhere you go there’s a Liverpool fan! You get a bit of respite when it’s one of the London clubs, but because we’re such close neighbours up here there’s always something being said. And, of course, the rivalry between the clubs goes back a long way.
United got off to a mixed start to the season with just two wins from the first five games. Why was that?
I don’t know to be honest, it’s a strange one. It just took us a while to get going. Sometimes you can’t put your finger on why you have periods like that but at some point in the season you’re going to have a low point and we had one at the start.
The victories at Man City and at home to Sunderland before you went to Japan were big as they kept you in touch with the leaders...
Yeah they were very important because making sure we were still close to them before we went to Japan was a big priority of ours. If we hadn’t have won those games it would have been very tough. We wanted to make sure we left ourselves in the best possible position so that if anyone slipped up while we were away we could come back and strike, and that’s exactly what we did.
After winning the Club World Cup you said"people would now see the real United". Did that victory kick-start the season?
It was definitely a big turning point. When you’re really in the thick of the English season playing two games a week, week in, week out you sometimes can’t focus properly or see where you’re aiming for.
Going to Japan allowed us to take a step back and refocus and, by coming home with the trophy, we got that winning feeling back which was important. Being called a world champion is a great feeling and it’s an achievement we’re very proud of. The fact that other teams hadn’t really taken advantage of us being away was another incentive to make sure we went on a good run and thankfully we did.
You returned with a hard-fought victory at Stoke City on Boxing Day which the manager singled out as a massive result...
Yeah definitely. It proved to be a hard place to go for everyone and to get a result there in our first game back really was the kick-start to our great run.
As well as being a winning run, it was also a record-breaking steak in terms of clean sheets - how big an achievement was that for the defence?
It was a very proud one, particularly when you consider the defence changed so much over those couple of months. It wasn’t just the full-back positions that changed, the centre-back pairings did as well. The young lads like Rafael and Jonny [Evans] came in and never let us down. To come in and play such important, tough games and look so unfazed was testament to them. The manager showed great faith in them and they repaid that.
Nemanja Vidic admitted after the Liverpool defeat that maybe the team had unconsciously relaxed a bit...
Maybe, I’m not sure. It was just a bad day and bad result, but sometimes you get those during the season. The quicker you get yourself out of that situation the better. Obviously we didn’t perform at Fulham the following week which was disappointing. But as I said things happen during the season, you can’t win every game you play. There’s going to be a point when you lose a couple of matches. You just have to make sure you get back on track as soon as possible and thankfully we did that.
Was Federico Macheda's winner against Villa the key moment of the season this side of Christmas?
That was a massive, massive goal and an unbelievable moment – I was going bananas in the stands! You went through all the emotions in that game. At one point they looked like they could score more goals, then we looked like doing the same. Ronny got us back into it and then Macheda came out of nowhere to smash home the winner. The way that game finished just typified the Manchester United spirit – we never ever give up.
You proved that against Spurs, coming from 2-0 down to seal a superb 5-2 win...
Yeah, definitely – we’re never out of a game until the final whistle goes. I remember in the tunnel at half-time hearing a couple of the Spurs lads say to each other "this game isn’t over yet". People know that if they want to beat us they’ve got to play for 90 minutes. We’ve proved in the past that we can come back and we’ll always have chances to do that because we have top players who can score goals. Some of the attacking play in that game was fantastic – a joy to watch. When you concede two goals in the sloppy way we did you’re just so thankful to be alongside players who are capable of performing and scoring goals when we need them to. It’s a real pleasure to play alongside every one of them.
Did the experience of the last two title wins help with securing a third?
It’s unconsciously there. You don’t really think about it but in certain situations during games you draw on that experience without really knowing. When you’ve been there and done it before you’re familiar with certain situations and your reactions become instinctive because of the experience you have. The more you play in high-pressure situations and experience winning trophies, the more you know what to do at the right times.
Finally, how big a part have the fans played this season?
Their support is so important. They travel far and wide and spend a lot of money watching us, and for a lot of them it’s what they live for. We’re very appreciative and it’s only right we say thank you because without them the club wouldn’t survive. And it really is a genuine thank you. The fans support us home and away in all conditions and sing their hearts out which is always great for us to hear.
[Distributed with the permission of Manchester United - Originally published on the Manchester United Official Website.]