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Wednesday May 8 2013
Sir Alex Ferguson versus Serie A

Giancarlo Rinaldi looks at how the Manchester United legend got to grips with Italian opposition.

“When an Italian tells me it’s pasta on the plate, I check under the sauce to make sure. They are the inventors of the smokescreen.”

“They come out with the ‘English are so strong, we’re terrible in the air, we can’t do this, we can’t do that’. Then they beat you 3-0.”

Thus spake Sir Alex Ferguson in his assessment of Italian football. It is a judgement based on experience of taking on Serie A sides numerous times during his reign at Old Trafford. They may appear, at first glance, to be a bit insulting. But if you push the sauce to one side – to pinch his own analogy – there is surely a Parmesan-like sprinkling of respect.

That’s because it took him some time to get a handle on how to beat sides from the peninsula. Now that his managerial career is drawing to a close, the statistics show he eventually got to grips with the challenge. But, at least at the outset, it was definitely a struggle.

It was Marcello Lippi’s Juventus who gave him his first harsh lessons in how Serie A sides operate. Between a cigar and a glass of red wine or two the silver-haired tactician from Viareggio beat the Red Devils home and away in the group stage of the 1996-97 Champions League. The following year the English side won 3-2 at Old Trafford against the Bianconeri but lost the group game in Italy thanks to that man who was “born offside”, Pippo Inzaghi.

It would be the 1998-99 edition which would really see the Scotsman graduate with honours in terms of seeing off Italian opponents. Inter were eliminated 3-1 on aggregate at the quarter final stage before his old adversary, La Vecchia Signora, stood on his path to the Final. That semi-final produced two matches which underlined the feeling – which proved to be true – that United’s name was on the cup.

A 1-1 draw in Manchester – courtesy of current Juve boss Antonio Conte and the eternal Ryan Giggs – gave the Bianconeri the advantage. When Inzaghi struck twice in the opening dozen minutes of the return match it should have been game over. Instead, Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole turned the tie on its head. From that point on, any psychological advantage Serie A sides had previously enjoyed had been entirely banished.

Fiorentina enjoyed a famous win over the English side in 1999 thanks to Gabriel Batistuta and Abel Balbo, but were vanquished 3-1 at Old Trafford after a Batigol beauty had given the Viola the lead. But home and away wins over Juve in 2003 underlined just how much the club had progressed. At least until a new adversary emerged.

Another bon viveur, Carlo Ancelotti, proved a tough nut to crack with his Milan side. Hernan Crespo gave the Rossoneri home and away wins over Sir Alex’s side in the Champions League in 2005. Things were more expansive a couple of years later when the Milanese giants overturned a 3-2 deficit in the semi-final first leg with a 3-0 triumph at the San Siro courtesy of Kaka, Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino. Prior to that game, however, the Manchester side had dished out their heaviest ever hammering to an Italian side with the 7-1 destruction of Roma.

As the fortunes of Serie A have slumped in Europe, Manchester United have stayed strong. They defeated and drew with Roma in the 2007-08 Champions League group games and then beat them home and away in the quarter-finals. A year later, Inter were their second round victims after a goalless draw in Milan and 2-0 home victory.

The last chapter in the Fergie versus the Italians story came three years ago and it emphasised how far he had come. Milan were defeated 3-2 on their own turf and then dismantled 4-0 at Old Trafford. If he had once had trouble getting at his pasta, he could now pretty much dine on the Italian delicacy whenever he pleased.

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Have your say...
Alan Robertson, English teams could compete by a small margin? You mean all those consecutive all English semi finals and final appearences were a small margin?

Italian teams have been knocked out and humiliated by English teams by and large for 10 years.

The rest of Europe should bow down to Barcelona and Milan, those two teams single handedly stopped a complete year on year whitewash by English teams in Europe the past 10 years.

Liverpool - Milan x2
Man utd - Barcelona x3
Arsenal Barcelona
on the 16th May, 2013 at 12:04am
it's hardly "poor" at worst they were the 4th best team in the europe over his reign, and arguably 3rd, when english teams could realistically compete. even then by a small margin. barcelona, despite being considered the best team in history, have shown it's impossible to dominate in europe.

real madrid and barcelona have all spent much more. man u aren't even the biggest spenders in england, let alone the world. over the last 10 years there net spend is 5th. rich yes, abnormally so, no.
on the 13th May, 2013 at 1:38am
Fergie has an impressive domestic record and has dominated English football for a long while. In Europe his record is very poor. In a quarter of a century he has won two European Cups / Champions Leagues (and squeaked through both finals)And this was in an era when Man Utd were the richest club in the world - or second to Madrid. Man Utd never dominated Europe in the way that Barcelona did, or Milan did or Bayern are set to.
on the 11th May, 2013 at 12:45pm
What manager would not want to be at the same club for over 20 years with a cheque book in hand? Its like a job for public servants with no outside challenge. Now tell me. is he as good as the media has tried to make us believe? Obviously many of you have been sucked in. Its the old everything British is the best. You people don't understand football.
on the 11th May, 2013 at 8:50am
A at, when ancellotti lost kaka, AC Milan never recovered. When Man U lost Ronaldo they got into a cl final and still won the league. Don't compare ancellotti with mourinho, he only won at Milan and has done nothing ever since. Mourinho is probably the best as he is entertaining as well as good, he is to football what flopd mayweather is to boxing. Ferguson and ancellotti r good, but not elite.
on the 11th May, 2013 at 8:18am
What is this "comfort zone"? Alex Ferguson had to reinvent his team numerous times over the years, making critical and difficult decisons along the way. None of the managers mentioned here as having challenged themselves or whatever, EVER had that challenge. Getting rid of Beckham,Ronaldo, Staam, Keane, Cole, these are the types of difficult decisions NONE of the other managers mentioned had to do. Ferguson rebuilt Man U numerous times. He was brilliant. It's a lot easier jumping ship to ship
on the 11th May, 2013 at 6:53am
To me Ferguson will always be as people have said below,just a bit better than a local manager. I'd say take a look at Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho, who have both won domestic titles and two Champions Leagues in less time than Fergy to won his. Also look at how both Ancelotti and Mourinho have sought out new and difficult challenges and have come out on top. I won't take anything away from Fergy but he seems like a Moggi like character in an easy league. He lacked international dominance.
on the 10th May, 2013 at 9:49pm
As others have said, no mention of the Italian side that beat Fergie and Utd in a Final???? LAZIO.
on the 10th May, 2013 at 5:58am
Everyone who is saying I dont respect fergie shows me how really ignorant and childish they are. I am a huge milan fan and i know my football. Arrigo sacchi has been top of the world with his famous milan side for only a short period he then said himself i couldnt do it anymore because he didnt have new ideas. What makes fergie the best in history is that generation after generation he stays the top. He brings the best out of his players. No manager could ever do this for 26 years
on the 9th May, 2013 at 4:49pm
I have to totally agree with Jeff. Ferguson is only a local hero & he never did prove himself outside his comfort zone. He was king at MU for far too many years & we can only imagine what he would have been like if he went anywhere else to be really tested. Your wrong Giancalo, he has no respect for Italian football because he is so pompous. Don't forget they only knight people in the UK & having said that they do it on a regular basis. He aint getting any respect from me.
on the 9th May, 2013 at 12:47pm
whilst i dont think ferguson's trophy haulage is overly impressive given his length of service, i will comment on his success against italian teams.

I think when man u battered roma into complete submission was the most humiliating loss ever for a team. i saythat because cristiano ronaldo came out afterwards declaring how roma players begged him for mercy. No roma player ever denied this.
on the 9th May, 2013 at 12:24pm
All we can give to this guy is a huge respect for his long coaching career and to stay hungry and find the motivation to continue at your work under a huge pressure ,it is not a matter of numbers or statistics .
on the 9th May, 2013 at 5:02am
Fergie is a legend in the UK and did great things at club level for Aberdeen and Man U. The black mark against his name was that he didn't do much with Scotland at Mexico 86.

As for the Fergie v Italians debate, who could forget the 7-1 thrashing Man U gave to Roma in '07? It's a lesson to Italian teams: never take your foot off the pedal!
on the 9th May, 2013 at 2:40am
@ Juve are the best

are you serious!!!

you give Juventini a bad name

j Lippi LOST 3 out of 4 UCL finals never won the italian cup, or the uefa cup, When he returned to the Helm as CT of Italia he talked the talk but forgot to reinvigorate his squad trusting weary old legs and having a nation scorned.
Pradelli has done well to overturn the 2nd Lippi era stigma.

Please he carved his name out of the squad given to him by L'avvocato and his Triade.

I respect his results, but Ferguson is Better
on the 8th May, 2013 at 9:45pm
@jeff

Are you serious?
on the 8th May, 2013 at 9:18pm
@jeff

Are you serious?
on the 8th May, 2013 at 9:14pm
What was really great about him? the fact that he decided to stay comfortable in one place and become in total control of the place with a free hand? or the fact that he didnt get tired of winning the same thing and seek a new challenge like Pep, Mou, Paul LeGuen have done in recent times???? I dont understand the hype...Leaving Pep at Barca for 26 years he would have won maybe 20 La Liga titles wit La Masia boys probably 7 UCL...Opinion is mine. Thanks.2/2
on the 8th May, 2013 at 7:26pm
For me Ferguson is nothing more than a "Local Great". I really dont understand all these bandwagon encomiums being showered on him. In 26 years he could win 13 EPL titles but only a paltry UCL cups??? to put this in perspective, Pep won 2 in 4 years at Barca while Carletto won 2 in 6 years at Milan. Both would have won more given the level of squads United have worked with. He wasnt an innovator in the mould of Saachi, Pep or Cruyff. What was really great about him? 1/2
on the 8th May, 2013 at 7:20pm
@anonymous

Complete wrong Ac Milan beated them twice, one for CL title.
on the 8th May, 2013 at 6:50pm
@Juve the best

You don't consider fergie a legend? Are you crazy?? The man has brought more titles then any other coach. Do your research instead of being a biased juve fan.
on the 8th May, 2013 at 6:49pm
Greatest club manager of all time. Lot of respect for sir Alex ferguson. Man utd will continue to be strong regardless who's manager.I see Antonio conte as another manager similar to ferguson, burning desire, passion to win and the club at heart. Hopefully he can win a lot of Trophies for juve like ferguson did at utd.
on the 8th May, 2013 at 6:15pm
Out of all the games mentioned I cannot believe that you forgot to mention the only Italian to beat them in a final....Lazio! Unbelievable...
on the 8th May, 2013 at 4:59pm
In 2002-2003 Utd did beat Juve home and away somehow. I went to Old Trafford where we were beaten 2-1 but Juve tried to get the game rescheduled as 90% of the first team had the flu and we were still better than Utd even with the team all sick. Then they may have won 0-3 in Turin but we were already through and all their goals were on the counter. And we got to the final where we played Milan if you remember and would have won had Nedved played and it wasn't for that stupid McManaman dive!
on the 8th May, 2013 at 4:48pm
You forgot to mention that he was beaten by Lazio in European Super Cup!
on the 8th May, 2013 at 3:59pm
juve glory days.......i still believe italians team put fear in english teams. are we giong to see manchester united changing managers every two years now as the other english teams do. time will tell. as for alex fergusen i personally don't see him as a legend because he hasn't managed a national team. lippi is legend considering he has won everything trophy wise.

forza juve
on the 8th May, 2013 at 3:48pm
Living Legend
on the 8th May, 2013 at 2:54pm
As a milan fan i have the 2007 tie engraved into my brain as somewhat of a last hurrah of ageing giant. The 2 legs were both brilliant the effort and class that milan side side put in was just breathtaking worth remembering especially since milan will be unlikely that kind of occasion any time soon. I would like to salute Alex Ferguson for a long successful career at the top of football and some great memories.
on the 8th May, 2013 at 2:51pm
I remember Kaka in 2007 making the Man United defenders look silly at Old Trafford. Ah the glory days!
on the 8th May, 2013 at 2:16pm
Having watched all those game i must admit it was always an exciting affair to see Ferguson lead Man U. vs. Italian clubs. However my all time favorite game was the 1999 CL final between Man U. and Bayern Munchen. The man is a genius and a legend. and probably the only person to throw a shoe at David Beckham. Man U. won't be the same without him, with his new role at the club i have a feeling he will be at the center of any decision the new coach makes.

Good Luck Fergie!
on the 8th May, 2013 at 1:58pm
I remember seeing the Juventus game in 1996-97 and thinking how superior Serie A was in terms of technique and tactics and also physicality. Such a contrast to today. Ancelotti managed to return Serie A to those heights briefly for some of the Man U encounters but Liverpool did the unthinkable to an Italian side and the Roma game was just embarrassing.
on the 8th May, 2013 at 12:49pm

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