The best goalscorer Manchester United legend Denis Law has ever seen is Jimmy Greaves but when he looks around the Premier League the striker he can relate to best is Wayne Rooney. Law does not watch many games these days but he did travel to Wembley in May to see the Champions League Final. Like everyone else, he was impressed with Barcelona and Lionel Messi but Rooney’s equaliser was like a ray of hope. “Rooney will probably break all goal scoring records if he keeps away from injury” Law says ”he needs to be sharp and fit. That’s the secret. You can’t teach a person to score goals. There are loads of players who get into a position and you know they are not going to score. Then there are others like Michael Owen, Messi and Ronaldo who will score. Rooney’s in that category.”
Law hates comparisons but admits that there is a link between him and United’s current superstar “I like Rooney” Law says “he’s a bit of a grafter as well. He’ll get stuck in. Greaves was different, he was a poacher. When Greaves got in or near the box you just thought ‘oh s***, no, not him’ because invariably he would score.
“But Greaves never got involved in the violence. Rooney and I share an attitude that if you want to be a goalscorer, you have got to get in there and mix it. Defenders don’t like people getting stuck in. If somebody kicks you, you have got to kick them back. Because if you don’t they will kick you again and again and again. Bill Shankly instilled that in me when I played for him at Huddersfield. I got into trouble a lot with referees but if somebody kicked me I wasn’t going to let them get away with it. I was going to kick them back. They didn’t like it and when they didn’t like it they didn’t kick you again so that was my protection really.”
Law who is now 71 occupies a special place in the rivalry between the two Manchester clubs and makes no secret of the fact that he still regrets the moment where he flicked the ball past Alex Stepney in 1974 but the subject is still painful. He is a fantastic, generous, amiable man but his smile freezes when that goal comes up.
Knowing what was at stake that day, knowing how he felt about United, was he ever tempted to ask to be left out of the game? “Next question” Law says. At least for those City and United players whose friendships cross the divide, relegating their mates is unlikely to feature prominently in their list of worries these next few years. It will be their fate to fight for titles.
“It is starting to feel like it did in the Sixties. You can feel the buzz of it. We played at a fascinating time of cultural change and Bestie was part of it. I had a lot of mates in the City team too, some of them from when I had been there earlier in my career. Mike Summerbee was a pal of Bestie and he and I became friends. Francis Lee, Mike Doyle, Joe Corrigan, they were all friends of mine. There was a rivalry between the two teams until the game was over and then that was it and we were back to being pals.”
Law then gets onto the matter of football managers and believes that Sir Alex Ferguson will continue well into his 70s, but admits that personal experience tells him it will be a dangerous period for the club when he quits. Law was at Old Trafford during the protracted departure of Sir Matt Busby who resigned in 1969 but returned to manage the side for the second half of the 1970-71 season. United fell into decline and, after Law had left, were relegated from the First Division in 1974.
“Fergie will be 95 when he retires, don’t worry about that” he predicts “but it is guaranteed it will be difficult for United when he goes. It was very difficult for United to move on after Matt and it will be after Fergie too but maybe not for as long. The financial side of the club now and the players they have got in means they are better suited to recover from his loss.
When Busby retired a lot of the players were getting old, they were not fit, and we didn’t have the back up that Alex and a lot of the top clubs have nowadays. It will be very difficult for whoever takes over from Fergie. The only one you look back on who was more successful than the guy he took over from was Bob Paisley when he succeeded Shankly.”
Law sees plenty of similarities betweenFerguson and Busby. Busby had an avuncular, kindly image but Law says he could be as ruthless as the current United boss. “Busby could be ruthless, certainly” Law says “he would let you get away with so much but then he would crack down. He looked very gentle didn’t he, smoking his pipe, but he was a tough guy as well. You had to be. Footballers can get a bit big headed. Busby and Fergie are the same. Sir Alex is an image of Busby…without his calmness.”
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