Sir Alex Ferguson demanded his Manchester United side give Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea a guard of honour in 2005 because he wanted his players to feel the true pain of missing out on the Premier League title, Phil Neville has revealed.
Mourinho’s arrival at Chelsea in 2004 was the biggest test to United’s Premier League dominance that Ferguson experienced during his 26 years at Old Trafford.
Though Arsenal won three league titles between 1998 and 2004, no side had hit the heights Chelsea reached in 2005 and 2006 before and Ferguson admitted the Portuguese’s methods forced him to reassess his own principles at the Theatre of Dreams.
Mourinho’s side made a habit of hitting the ground running in the Premier League, making a mockery of Ferguson’s belief that his United side only needed to be within touching distance of first place going into the home stretch to stand a chance of winning the title.
Ferguson on how Mourinho forced him to change his methods
‘Psychologically that was a big moment for Chelsea [winning the first title]. They had won the League for the first time in half a century and could see themselves in another light. A lesson we took on board was that slow starts could no longer be tolerated if we were to face Chelsea, our big new challengers.‘
However, Chelsea’s sensational start meant they were home and dry by April and they amassed a record 95 points, finishing a lofty 18 points above the Red Devils.
It was Chelsea’s first title in half a century and their first away game after they won the title against Bolton at the Reebok Stadium was at Old Trafford.
United were therefore forced to give Mourinho’s side a guard of honour, in what would was being touted as a symbolic symbol of the shift in power from Old Trafford to Stamford Bridge.
When, on May 10, 2005, we assembled a guard of honour for Chelsea, the new champions, at our ground, I had no intention of surrendering to Abramovich’s wealth in the months to come – Sir Alex Ferguson
Much was made about whether United would go through with the guard of honour but Phil Neville says Ferguson was determined for his side to do so because he ‘enjoyed’ making them suffer for the fact that they had relinquished their grip on the title.
‘I remember at Old Trafford we had to do a guard of honour on our own patch for Chelsea and it was almost like Sir Alex enjoyed it,’ Neville told Premier League Productions.
‘It was like “This is going to hurt you this, seeing a team that has got your title come out at your stadium and you have to applaud them”‘.
‘It was almost like a motivation [tactic] for the season after to make sure that it didn’t happen again. That’s how we used it.
‘Ultimately you’ve got to give respect to the best team in the league with the best manager and the best players by giving them that guard of honour. I think it’s something that should just be done out of respect for the team that won the league.’
Chelsea ran out comprehensive 3-1 winners on the night, further asserting their dominance over Ferguson’s United side with an emphatic display.
United were in transition at the time with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo still years away from their peak, while previously influential players like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane were past theirs.
If Ferguson was using the guard of honour as a means of motivating his side in seasons to come then it certainly worked, as the Scot developed his fourth great side at the Theatre of Dreams to win the title for the first time in four years in 2007.
Ironically, it was Chelsea that were then forced to give United a guard of honour at Stamofrd Bridge at the end of that campaign.
Ferguson’s side had already wrapped up the title and had an FA Cup final against the Blues to prepare for, so Chelsea gave a guard of honour to a much-weakened United side that included the likes of Chris Eagles, Dong Fangzhuo and Kieran Lee.
Manchester City are set to give champions Liverpool a guard of honour when the Reds arrive at the Etihad as Premier League title winners for the first time on Thursday.
Jurgen Klopp insisted this week that City do not ‘need’ to give Liverpool a guard of honour but Neville insists it’s a mark of respect.
‘I think it should happen. It’s a sign of respect for a team that’s been fantastic’ said Neville.