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Exclusive: Ahead of title D‑Day, striking great reveals his admiration for City boss and why he could not talk to Ferguson after that 6-1 derby humbling

You won’t hear Denis Law belittling Roberto Mancini if Manchester City’s dreams of a first title since 1968 are shattered this season. Some supporters may not be so kind to the Italian, given that he has spent £210million on players in two years and that failure for City would mean United celebrating their 20th championship.

The Premier League’s top two meet at the Etihad on Monday night, a match Sir Alex Ferguson has described as the biggest derby of his 26-year Old Trafford career with City just three points adrift of their rivals and with three games remaining.

Law, of course, has a foot in both camps, given that his glorious United career was book-ended with two seasons at City: 1960-61 and 1973-74.

The 72-year-old has lived longer in Manchester than in his home town of Aberdeen and when I ask him where his heart will be on Monday, he says: “With Aberdeen. I want both Manchester teams to do well. Football now is a global game and it’s really good for the city of Manchester to be shown throughout the world: two fantastic stadiums, two very good football teams.

“We’re back to the sixties when it was City and United. For the next few years, they will be the two teams that the rest of the country will have to beat if they want to win titles. Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs, possibly, will have to be really good to beat the two Manchester teams.”

And while he will not favour either Manchester club, Law does reveal his admiration for Mancini.

Level-headed: Denis Law has been 'really impressed' with Roberto Mancini, image courtesy of the Evening Standard

Sitting in an Old Trafford suite, not far from where there is a statue honouring the ‘King of the Stretford End’, he tells me: “I met the guy a few times. He’s very good, very nice. I was really impressed with his interview after they won the game here 6-1. It was some result. They don’t get that very often. They could have won by more.

“He just behaved impeccably. He was so calm, didn’t go over the top. He just accepted that they had won the game. I’ve watched a lot of City and they have two or three players who really look good: David Silva, Sergio Aguero.”

Law did not speak to Ferguson after City claimed the biggest win at Old Trafford in 56 years and opened up a five-point lead over their rivals.

“You’d have to be extremely brave to talk to him after that defeat,” says Law, but he did not need to be told that Ferguson would bounce back.

“Everybody’s going, ‘Oh, that’s the end of Fergie.’ No, no, no, I never thought that. If he gets a bad result, he’ll just battle on. This team have not played well this season. But when you don’t play well and get a result, that’s when you win titles. Sir Alex is special, he’s just been phenomenal. There hasn’t been a manager like him.”

Then, realising this puts Ferguson even ahead of his own manager, Sir Matt Busby, he quickly adds: “Busby probably was the nearest to Alex. Busby did the same as Alex has been doing, building teams. When one team goes, another team comes in. Busby built a team in ’48 which I didn’t see. He built the ’58 team and, of course, lost half of them in the Munich disaster and he built the ’68 team.”

Law then pinpoints the difference between Busby and Ferguson.

He says: “When United lost a bit of their status in the seventies, Sir Matt didn’t have the squad of players. That doesn’t happen with Alex. He’s got a squad and some young players are always coming through.”

This season the United revival, after the 6-1 rout, has not been through the kids but the return of Paul Scholes. The 37-year-old midfielder ended his playing days last May but Ferguson persuaded him to reverse that decision in January to help the club out of an injury crisis.

Scholes has since scored three times and given the team a new impetus. Law says: “Scholes should never have retired. I thought he’d another season in front of him. He’s still, even now, one of the best players.”

When I ask who is the best player of all time, he cannot decide between Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, both legends of the Real Madrid team that ruled Europe in the late fifties and early sixties.

He then adds: “Without a doubt Lionel Messi could be the best player ever. He’s only 24 and has broken the goalscoring record already for Barcelona. The beauty about Messi is he gets on with the game.

“Some of the players just dive and roll about in agony. I didn’t dive because I didn’t want to show the opposition that I was hurt. But, in my days, every team was the same.”

Law’s 237 goals make him United’s second-highest scorer after Sir Bobby Charlton (249) but he expects Wayne Rooney to overtake them both given that the striker’s double against Everton on Sunday took him to 180.

Despite Rooney’s exploits, Law picks Jimmy Greaves as his favourite English player of all time.

“Jimmy Greaves was not the greatest player but certainly the greatest goal scorer I’ve seen,” he says.

“You can see players get in the box and you think they’re not going to score. When we played against Tottenham and Jimmy Greaves had a ball inside that box, then it was in the back of the net.”

Aside from football, Law’s other focus at the moment is on helping promote two night-time walking marathons in aid of Cancer Research UK.

It is a cause close to Law’s heart as he  was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003 but, luckily, it was caught in time and he has not had a recurrence.

“When you hear those dreaded words, ‘You’ve got cancer,’ you think it’s the end of the world and that your life is no good any more,” he says.  “But it’s not like that at all because there’s hope.”

Denis is supporting Cancer Research UK’s night-time walking marathons, Shine 2012 in Manchester on September 8 and London on September 29. The aim is to recruit 15,000 people and raise £3.5m. For details visit shinewalk.org

      

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