Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag “can’t be bothered” with criticism of the job he is doing at Old Trafford and claims he has only been able to pick his strongest team once in 18 months.

The Dutchman delivered an encouraging first season, winning the League Cup and finishing in the top four, but this campaign has been far more difficult.

They were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage and are in a battle to finish in the top six in the Premier League, with his position coming under scrutiny following Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s minority purchase and takeover of the football operations.

United can salvage their season by winning the FA Cup and they aim to reach a second successive final when they host Championship Coventry on Sunday.

Ten Hag insists he shuts out the noise when it comes to speculation on his future.

“I don’t put energy into this, if I’m judged fairly or not,” he said. “I know what we are doing here, why I’m here, to bring trophies, to also create economic value, so we are working on those and in a process you have setbacks.

“I look at this and can see it realistically, so I see the nuance, some comments miss that, but I can’t be bothered about it, can’t go into emotions.

“I see it realistic, rationale, and I’m only focussing on my team, to improve the team and individuals. That’s what I’m here for.”

United have had injury problems to deal with and the Dutchman says the home win over Manchester City last year was the only time he had a full squad to choose from.

“I don’t have any concern about what is said on the outside,” he said. “What concerns me is that in 18 months I have never had my favourite team on the pitch in 18 months.

“That concerns me. Because the players are injured. One time (I could pick my strongest XI) was against City last season in the home game.

“That was the only time where we had a full squad, where I can pick my team and in all the other games there was always an injury aspect where we have to deal with.

“That is normal in football but not so many as we have had. And I know when we have so many injuries as we have had and on crucial key positions, you can’t deliver the results you want to bring and that is OK.

“But that is my truth. And others can have a different truth. But I can’t put energy in that.”

The man in the opposite dugout should provide a timely reminder to Ten Hag that fortunes in football can change in an instant.

Sky Blues boss Mark Robins is widely acknowledged to be the man who saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s job in 1990 when his third-round goal against Nottingham Forest ended a run of 11 games without a win.

United went on to win the FA Cup that year and the rest is history.

“Yes, I know (the story). In football, it’s sometimes like this, that a shot on the post or in the net makes a huge difference,” Ten Hag said.

“See 1966, eh? Only one time but it made them (England) world champions.”

Mark Robins insists his FA Cup reunion with Manchester United should not distract from his Coventry side’s own dreams of Wembley glory.

Robins was a predecessor to the fabled ‘Class of 92’ at Old Trafford, but the glory years of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville may have looked a lot different were it not for his efforts.

His match-winning goal in the third-round match against Nottingham Forest in 1990 is widely credited with keeping Sir Alex Ferguson in a job, and he was a late substitute as the Red Devils beat Crystal Palace in the final to kick off a trophy-laden golden era.

On Sunday he finds himself back at the national stadium in an FA Cup semi-final, with the fate of another United manager – the under-pressure Erik ten Hag – potentially in his hands.

Yet the 54-year-old has been happy to leave the past in the past and has not been bending his squad’s ears with tales of times gone by.

“Absolutely not. They were all born after 1990, so none of them (know about it),” he said on the eve of the game.

“I don’t speak about things like that. It doesn’t matter what I did, I just talk about them. This is totally different and management is totally different to playing.

“It’s not about me, it’s all about the players and the preparation and how they can execute against a top, top team.

“These players have got an aspiration to play in the Premier League so for me, for them, it’s a chance to see how they perform, regardless of anything else around the game.”

Robins lays no claim to the disputed version of events that paints him as the reason for sparing the most dominant manager of his generation the sack, but can still be tempted into some mild nostalgia.

“In fairness I was substitute in a cup final 34 years ago, a brilliant occasion for us as Manchester United. It was fantastic,” he said.

“There were only two substitutes in those days so to get on the bench in the first place, when there was a lot of talented individuals who didn’t make it, puts it into perspective. I’d just broken into the squad and played a part in the run up to the final.

“It’s part of my experience, it’s part of my footballing background, but it was a long, long time ago.”

One of the Sky Blues players players hoping to make some cup memories of their own is 18-goal striker Ellis Simms. A childhood Manchester City fan, Simms scored twice in the dramatic quarter-final victory over Wolves including the decisive strike in the 10th minute of added time.

He confirmed Robins has kept his own playing days firmly in the background in the build-up to a match that represents a career high for many in the Coventry squad, but believes his efforts in the dugout should be receiving greater attention.

“It was obviously a few years ago, probably before my time, but I’ve heard bits of it,” Simms said of Robins’ FA Cup success.

“He’s very humble, but we know he was a top player back in the day. Now it’s about us as players but he’s going to do everything he can to help us.

“He should get more praise than he does. Getting us this far in the competition, the majority of people didn’t think we would get this far so it’s massive credit to him.”

On this day in 2018, Arsene Wenger announced he would step down as Arsenal manager at the end of the season after almost 22 years in the role.

Appointed in September 1996, the Frenchman had presided over a glittering period in the club’s history which yielded three Premier League titles, the last of them famously secured by his “Invincibles”, who went through the 2003-04 league campaign unbeaten.

In addition, former Nancy, Monaco and Grampus Eight boss Wenger guided the club to FA Cup glory on seven occasions and secured 20 successive seasons of Champions League football during a reign spanning 1,235 matches, 828 of them in the top flight.

However, his announcement came amid mounting disquiet over the club’s showing in both the Premier League and Europe, with three FA Cup successes in four years failing to placate his critics.

Wenger said: “After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season.

“I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years. I managed the club with full commitment and integrity.”

Majority owner Stan Kroenke paid tribute to the man who had gone toe-to-toe with Manchester United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson and Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho.

Kroenke said: “This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport.

“One of the main reasons we got involved with Arsenal was because of what Arsene has brought to the club on and off the pitch.

“His longevity and consistency over such a sustained period at the highest level of the game will never be matched. Arsene has unparalleled class and we will always be grateful to him.”

Wenger, described by Ferguson as “without doubt one of the greatest Premier League managers” and by former Gunners skipper Tony Adams as “the greatest Arsenal manager”, bowed out after a 1-0 final-day victory at Huddersfield on May 13, 2018.

The 68-year-old said afterwards: “I feel that I got a lot of respect not only from our fans, but from England. I would reiterate I loved English football, but I also learned to love England. You do not stay 22 years if you don’t like it.”

Spirit Dancer is set for a well-earned break after finishing lame in his bid for further international honours in Saturday’s Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan.

Richard Fahey’s charge has enjoyed a hugely productive winter on foreign soil, carrying the red and white silks of part-owner and breeder Sir Alex Ferguson to victory in the Bahrain International Trophy before claiming an even more lucrative success in the Neom Turf Cup in Riyadh.

The seven-year-old was unable to land a blow when stepped up in class on Dubai World Cup night, finishing 11th of 12 runners, but was subsequently found to have sustained an injury.

“He has a chip in his joint I’m afraid, so he did pull up lame,” Fahey said on Tuesday.

“It (injury) won’t have helped. It was a messy sort of race as he sort of dropped in and never got back into it, but that can’t have helped.

“He was due for a holiday anyway and he’ll get it now. He’s fit enough to travel and we’ll sort him out when we get him home.

“It’s been a fantastic winter with him and he’s got the money in the bank to prove it!”

While Fahey is keen to get his charge back to his North Yorkshire base before committing to future targets, there is every chance Spirit Dancer will be stamping his passport again later in the year.

The trainer added: “I’d be keen to go back there (Dubai) again next year, so all roads and plans will lead to go there.

“I’ve got Hong Kong in my mind as well, so we’ll see. He could have a couple of runs over here and then head back over there.”

Sir Alex Ferguson has said it is “an honour” to have bred a horse good enough to run in a race such as the Dubai Sheema Classic with Spirit Dancer, who is chasing an overseas treble.

Trained by Richard Fahey, the seven-year-old has been a real late bloomer and a plan hatched after a victory in a Group Three at York has well and truly come to fruition.

Victories in the Bahrain Trophy and the Neom Turf Cup in Saudi Arabia have propelled the Frankel gelding into the highest company and he is now taking on the likes of dual Derby and Breeders’ Cup winner Auguste Rodin and Japanese filly Liberty Island.

“He’s looking great, I think he’s enjoying it out here actually, who wouldn’t, the climate is fantastic,” Ferguson told the Dubai Racing Club.

“It’s been success all the way, there’s been improvement every race. We’re honoured to be here, the type of race he’s going to be in, it’s outstanding opposition.”

It will be Spirit Dancer’s first run over a mile and a half but it is something Fahey has been keen to try for some time.

Ferguson added: “We’re quietly confident. In fairness, Richard has said all along that he thinks he’s a mile and a half horse. His Frankel pedigree suggests he should be able to cope with it, so we’re hopeful in that respect, but we don’t know.

“It’s an honour to have a horse in a race of this magnitude that you’ve bred yourself.

“When he won at York, Richard told us we were going to Bahrain and I said ‘Bahrain! What do we want to go there for?’ – and he said there was a great race there for him, so he’s the architect and we’re not going to argue with what he’s doing.

“We’ve enjoyed it, we’ve had a few days in Bahrain, a few days in Saudi and now a week here. It’s fantastic.”

It has been one success after another for Ferguson, who as well as enjoying victories abroad with Spirit Dancer, celebrated a Cheltenham Festival double earlier this month.

Having broken his Cheltenham Festival duck with a dream double when Monmiral and Protektorat scored, Sir Alex Ferguson is chasing more glory with Spirit Dancer in the Dubai Sheema Classic on Saturday.

Bred by Ferguson himself, the Richard Fahey-trained seven-year-old has enjoyed a memorable 12 months.

He started last season in handicaps off a mark of 97, his winning spree began at York in July, was followed by a Racing League success at Windsor and he returned to the Knavesmire to claim the Group Three Strensall Stakes.

Spirit Dancer appears to love racing abroad even more, though, as in November he bagged the Bahrain Trophy and last month he won the Neom Turf Cup in Saudi Arabia, taking his career earnings to over £1.7million.

“Everything’s going great. Looking at the videos and speaking to the lad out there, I believe he’s come on in his coat and his demeanour, he’s in very good form,” said Fahey.

“He did have five weeks to acclimatise from his first run this season to the Neom Turf Cup and it’s nearly another five weeks again.

“We’re very lucky to be able to have him there because it’s more or less the same climate in the Middle East and he’s had time to settle into a good routine – he’s loving his time there. It’s an easier preparation to do it there than from here.

“It was always in the back of my mind to go to a mile and a half. You’d have every confidence that he should stay. He relaxes and in all his races he’s always finished well.

“We are in at Group One level, so it will be a huge ask, but we’ve had a nice prep and it’s always nice coming there off the back of a win. I’m really looking forward to seeing him run.”

It was deemed a “score draw” between the punters and the layers heading into the final day of the Cheltenham Festival after football encroached heavily on racing’s pitch on day three

The backers got off to a fast start when 5-2 joint -avourite Grey Dawning gave the flying Dan Skelton team victory in the Turners Novices’ Chase, but the bookmakers clawed back some momentum after Sir Alex Ferguson’s pair Monmiral (25-1) and Protektorat (17-2) gave the former Manchester United boss a thrilling day at Prestbury Park.

And although the bookies were able to cheer home Jeremy Scott’s Golden Ace later on the card, victories for well-backed favourites Teahupoo and Inothewayurthinkin ensured many a punter left the Cotswolds track with their pockets bursting at the seams.

“Grey Dawning got punters off to a great start, while Monmiral and Protektorat had their supporters – possibly Manchester United fans – as did Harry Rednkapp’s Shakem Up’Arry, and Teahupoo and Inothewayurthinkin were also very well-backed winning favourites,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

“Golden Ace was our best result of the day, beating the Irish stars in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle, but in footballing terms, it’s a score draw as we head into the biggest betting day of the week.”

Lawrence Lyons, spokesperson for BoyleSports, added: “We were on a rollercoaster ride on Thursday with some big results going in our favour, but Gordon Elliott got in on the act and the favourite in the last race also gave punters plenty to cheer about ahead of a decisive day.

“It’s 2-1 to the punters at this stage, but it’s all to play for on Gold Cup Friday.”  

One football-loving racing fan was in clover on St Patrick’s Thursday as their £5 multiple on three horses owned by famous footballing names returned a whopping £16,195.

After Ferguson’s Monmiral and Protektorat had found the target to kick off the hat-trick bid it was Redknapp’s Shakem Up’Arry who sealed the 3,239-1 treble for the lucky punter.

Betfair’s Barry Orr said: “The punter must not only be a racing fan, but also a big football fan.

“The two ex-bosses are massive racing enthusiasts and Cheltenham is the Champions League of the horseracing world, so for both to score on the biggest stage is a great result.”

Sir Alex Ferguson had the upper hand when meeting Harry Redknapp’s teams on the football pitch and he outscored his old rival two winners to one on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival.

The big meeting was in danger of becoming more than a bit predictable with Willie Mullins recording a double on each of the first two days – but it was livened in some style up by wins for a couple of celebrity owners.

Ferguson, the former Aberdeen and Manchester United manager, has thrown himself into racing ownership since his retirement and has recently been enjoying great success with a horse he bred himself, Spirit Dancer, winning valuable prizes in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia recently.

He has owned horses for a long time with friends Ged Mason and John Hales, and while they have had very good horses and won a host of good races, together they had failed to scale the Cheltenham Festival heights.

That all changed in a magical 40-minute spell on Thursday when first the Paul Nicholls-trained Monmiral caused a big shock in the Pertemps Final and then Protektorat, third in the Gold Cup a few years ago, returned to his best to win the Ryanair Chase on an equally special day for Dan Skelton.

Ferguson – who together with Hales, Mason and Peter Done paid a record €740,000 for Caldwell Potter at the sales in February – said: “I’ve finally had a winner here. Two in 40 minutes! It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? It’s a special place.

“It has been probably 20 years that I’ve wanted to have a winner here, as when I first started I just had Flat horses and no National Hunt ones.

“I got interested in the jumps with Ged and John. It 100 per cent makes it more enjoyable having a winner with friends. Everyone looks forward to Cheltenham, while on the Flat you have the Derby. These two events are unsurpassed.

“It’s special here, it’s like the Derby or the FA Cup final and I’ve waited a while to experience this. A lot of people who buy horses have never had a winner, never mind here. It’s a feeling of elation.

“Of course it’s not the same as winning at football, that was my life, I was immersed in that, this is what I do for pleasure so it’s a different feeling. I don’t have to worry about it, I leave that to the trainer.”

Redknapp echoed Ferguson’s sentiment as he also celebrated his first Festival success after years of trying.

His Shakem Up’Arry, who won the TrustATrader Plate Handicap Chase, got his name from Redknapp’s time at West Ham when a fan used to sit behind him and shout ‘shake ’em up, Arry’.

Redknapp said: “I can’t believe we’ve done it. He travelled so well and jumped the last and I thought ‘please, don’t stop now’. People were saying ‘Go on Harry, he’s won’ and I thought ‘no he ain’t!’.

“Racing has been a big part of my life. I grew up at West Ham as a player where we had a team of punters, that’s how it was back in those days. We all loved a bet, we all loved racing.

“I’ve been lucky to have got into racing as an owner and when you buy horses you dream of having a winner at Cheltenham.”

He went on: “My old nan was a bookie’s runner down our street in the east end and she used to get locked up every day for taking bets! To be here now in this position is incredible.

“My main worry is that they get round safe, I jump every jump with them and think ‘please don’t fall or get hurt’. When they come back safe and sound, especially in front, it’s all the better.

“It’s great for Sir Alex to have a winner as well, we had some great days. Going into his office at Old Trafford at quarter past two when the teams were out and we’d watch a bit of racing for 15 minutes and then we’d go out and I’d do my best to try and pull off a miracle and get a result!

“We both loved the racing and we both loved the football. For him to get two winners today is great and for me to get a winner is fantastic.”

One lucky Betfair punter put all three horses in a £5 accumulator they were calling ‘The Gaffers Treble’. It returned £16,195.

Betfair spokesperson Barry Orr said: “The punter must not only be a racing fan, but also a big football fan. The two ex-bosses are massive racing enthusiasts and Cheltenham is the Champions League of the horseracing world, so for both to score on the biggest stage is a great result.”

Harry Redknapp enjoyed a first Cheltenham Festival winner as Shakem Up’Arry found the scoresheet on a football-orientated day three of the Cheltenham Festival.

Having watched his former managerial rival Sir Alex Ferguson notch a double earlier on the card, it was soon the turn of the former West Ham, Portsmouth and Tottenham boss to return to the Prestbury Park winner’s enclosure with his course specialist – who supplemented his New Year’s Day triumph here in great style.

Sent off at 8-1 for the TrustATrader Plate Handicap Chase, the Ben Pauling-trained 10-year-old travelled supremely in the hands of Ben Jones and having jumped the last already looking the winner, he stuck his head down and galloped all the way to the line.

The victory continued Pauling’s fine run of recent form, with the Naunton Downs handler registering a fourth Festival success. However, it was a first victory for 24-year-old Jones at the meeting having only once previously enjoyed success at the Cotswolds track – aboard Shakem Up’Arry on the duo’s previous start.

Protektorat proved dropping back in trip was no issue when producing a brilliant display to claim the Ryanair Chase for the red-hot Dan Skelton team at the Cheltenham Festival.

A Grade One winner over three miles, he was third and fifth when tried in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the past two years and connections resisted taking a third crack at the blue riband to revert to one of the day three features

There was plenty of pace on show with Stage Star and Ahoy Senor leading the field along, with Protektorat among those right on that duo’s tail in the hands of Harry Skelton.

Having travelled menacingly into contention it appeared 9-4 favourite and defending champion Envoi Allen was the one the front-runners had to worry about heading into the straight, but neither Stage Star or Protektorat were ready to give up the fight and although Stage Star faded after two out there was still plenty of fight left in Protektorat.

There was little to separate Protektorat and Henry de Bromhead’s charge jumping the final fence, but it was Protektorat’s stamina reserves which then came to the fore late in the day as the 17-2 chance stormed up the Cheltenham hill to victory.

It was Skelton’s fourth victory at this year’s Festival, and also the second in the space of 40 minutes for the collective of owners that include Sir Alex Ferguson and John Hales – whose famous yellow colours Skelton donned in the saddle.

Kalif Du Berlais maintained his unbeaten record but he was made to pull out all the stops by Givemefive in the Coral Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton.

Trained by Paul Nicholls and part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, Kalif Du Berlais created a huge impression on his UK debut over the same course and distance and he was sent off the 10-11 favourite to follow up.

The Harry Derham-trained Givemefive had won each of his two starts though, and with Irish Derby fourth Peking Opera and the well-backed Captain Marvellous also running, it looked a deep race.

The two who fought it out pulled a long way clear, however, and it was the superior stamina of Kalif Du Berlais which saw him prevail by three-quarters of a length under Harry Cobden and meant the major golf champion, Graeme McDowell, had to settle for second with his horse.

“He took a bit of time to get going. We went an even gallop, I didn’t feel like we were going mad but I didn’t feel like he was going that easy jumping the last down the back and took a little bit of cajoling,” Cobden told ITV Racing.

“He jumped the second last well and winged the last. He’s still a big baby and was hanging up the run in, so there’s lots of improvement to come.

“He’s massive – he’s a big chasing type. I’d probably favour Aintree if it was left up to me but Paul knows what he’s doing.”

Nicholls said: “He’s shown he can tough it out, he’s given them all weight but whether we rode him right, I don’t know – I’ll see what Harry says.

“He’s very much a horse for the future and we’ll look after him at the minute, I’m thrilled with that.

“He’s had a hard race today, so I’d say he won’t run in the Triumph. Aintree is a possibility I suppose, if we’re happy, but if he didn’t run again (this season) it wouldn’t matter.

“As a chaser he’d be one of the most exciting prospects I’ve had for a long time, he’s got size and scope. To win three as a juvenile at his size is impressive.

“Harry is riding at the top of his game and let’s hope he can keep going until the end of the season like that.”

Derham may also look away from Cheltenham with Givemefive, who McDowell owns in partnership with multiple major winner Brooks Koepka.

“He’s run a brilliant race,” said Derham.

“Paul (O’Brien, jockey) and I spoke about it last night and the plan went perfectly and we just said if Cobden gets by us after the last, then so be it.

“I’m extremely proud of my horse’s run and he did everything right but just came second.

“Maybe (we’ll go to Cheltenham) but there’s a Grade Two at Fairyhouse two weeks later that makes appeal to me. There’s loads of options for him.

“I know that horse and he’s very genuine. I imagine he’ll be very tired and the lads can’t go to Cheltenham. There will be loads of very fresh and well-handicapped horses in the Fred Winter and he won’t be fresh and he won’t be well handicapped, so we might swerve that and go elsewhere.

“He’s a horse with a bright future and we’re looking forward to what’s to come.”

Pep Guardiola has bluntly responded to Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s aim to knock Manchester City “off their perch” by pointing out he speaks “the truth”.

Ratcliffe completed his purchase of a 27.7 per cent in Manchester United this week and immediately set out his ambitions to restore the club to the top of the English and European game.

He did this by reprising the language of Sir Alex Ferguson, who similarly pledged to rein in Liverpool in his early days as manager at Old Trafford.

United have won just one trophy compared to City’s 14 in the past six seasons and Guardiola feels Ratcliffe’s acceptance of the Blues’ current pre-eminent status is the Red Devils’ first step towards a fightback.

The City manager said: “It’s the truth! As (soon) as the teams admit it, they will be closer to us.

“If they want to deny it for things that are not the reality then it’s their problem. It’s not our problem.

“When I’ve been below teams I’ve always admired them and thought about what we need to do to be close, to challenge them.

“If they want to be judged on things they are comfortable with for one day they will not arrive where we are now.

“When we were below and United were winning, we were watching them, admiring them. We wanted to learn from them.

“The period of Sir Alex Ferguson – the generation with Roy Keane, David Beckham, Gary Neville – and all those big, big players, Rio Ferdinand – I’m pretty sure City admired and thought ‘we want to be there’. Now we are there.

“That’s why, for these type of comments, that I have the feeling that they will be back.”

While Guardiola now expects United to improve under the guidance of Ratcliffe, who has taken control of footballing operations at Old Trafford, he insisted it was not something that concerned him.

The Spaniard said: “It’s not about (being) worried. I’m pretty sure with Sir Jim Ratcliffe and the other people that United are going to take a step forwards.

“I feel that they know exactly what they have to do, appoint the people they need to appoint with their experience in the business world to make projects better.

“But that is normal. It’s not just United. All the teams want it. We want to be there and as long as I’m here, we will try to be there again.

“What I want is Man City, my team, being there. The rest, I don’t care.”

Second-placed City travel to Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday with a chance to cut the gap to leaders Liverpool to one point in what is their game in hand.

Playmaker Kevin De Bruyne was not risked in the midweek win over Brentford due to what Guardiola described as “niggles”.

He would not confirm if he would return this weekend but said he was “pretty sure he will travel”.

Guardiola said: “He’s good. He’s not injured. He’s better but I don’t know if he’s 100 per cent. I think we took a good decision not to take a risk.”

Sir Alex Ferguson “never dreamed” that he would have a horse good enough to take on the best in the world on the international stage. But in Spirit Dancer – a horse he bred – that is exactly what he is doing.

The former Manchester United manager has become immersed in the racing world since his retirement, enjoying several high-profile victories in the National Hunt sphere.

To date, his Flat exploits had not reached the same heights. But the Richard Fahey-trained seven-year-old Spirit Dancer has started to change all that.

Winning the Strensall Stakes at York last summer earned him an invite for the Bahrain International Trophy, which he won, and he was last seen finishing a respectable fourth in the Group One Jebel Hatta at Meydan in Dubai.

He now runs in the Howden Neom Turf Cup on Saturday in Riyadh, a race worth almost £1million to the winner.

“One of the great advantages of having a really good horse is international racing. We never dreamed, when I bred Spirit Dancer, that he would end up getting as far as this,” Ferguson told The Saudi Cup.

“We’re so excited about it and after Bahrain we are quite optimistic.

“He had a little problem when he was three years of age, he got over that and he’s just got better and better. He’s not had a lot of racing. That’s what Richard keeps saying, that he can race a lot more than he’s been doing. So we’re getting the benefit.

“The international element is something we didn’t expect. I’d been to Dubai some years back and I was saying to myself I wonder what it’s like to have a horse involved in it – now we’ve got one, I’m enjoying it.

“Competing with the likes of Aidan O’Brien and the Japanese, you know you are up against the best, and we’re enjoying it.”

Ferguson’s racing interests stretch back almost 30 years now, and it is fair to say he is more involved than at any time in his life.

“It was round about 1995 that I remember my wife saying I was going to kill myself because my whole day was absorbed with the (football) club,” he explained.

“One day, I said to my wife ‘shall we go to the races?’. She asked where that had come from and I told her it was her who said I needed to start doing something else.

“We were at the races one day when I met John Mulhern and Dessie Scahill and I got hooked. She once said ‘you want to buy all the right horses’, well, I’m trying!

“I got into breeding by accident, I was in Germany visiting Andreas Wohler and he put the idea in my mind, I bought a horse from him, the mare Queen’s Dream (Spirit Dancer’s dam).

“A friend of mine then put the idea in my head about buying the stud in Hemel Hempstead. I said we’d have a go and it’s been great. They are fantastic people there, we had a foal there last week by Stradivarius, so it’s great.”

It is Ferguson’s second trip to Saudi Arabia, the first was in 2008 when Manchester United played in a testimonial to honour local player Sam Al Jaber, who played over 150 times for his country.

“We came to Saudi about 15 years ago to play in a game to celebrate a famous player who had 150 international caps. The King bought 80,000 tickets and gave them all away to the people and it was fantastic,” said Ferguson.

Spirit Dancer is co-owned by bookmaker Fred Done and Ferguson’s big friend, Ged Mason, with whom he is involved with most of his horses – and who initiated a rather painful celebration in Bahrain.

“Ged broke my rib celebrating in Bahrain, I won’t mind him breaking another if it means we win!” said Ferguson.

Mason is loving being involved in the ride and is thrilled at the enjoyment Ferguson is getting from the game.

“When he came round the bend at Bahrain, it was a fantastic sight and the way he pulled away was a pinch yourself moment, to be honest,” said Mason.

“He got the invite to Bahrain because he’d produced the goodies at York. I’m so proud for Sir Alex because he bred him and he’s out of Frankel.

“I think our first venture into ownership was What A Friend and what a friend he was to us, he got our appetite for winning. Clan Des Obeaux won King Georges and Irish Gold Cups, it’s been a fantastic journey and we don’t want it to stop.”

Sir Alex Ferguson will have the chance to secure further international honours after Richard Fahey confirmed his Spirit Dancer is on course for the Neom Turf Cup in Saudi Arabia later this month.

The former Manchester United manager was no stranger to glory overseas during his time in the dugout and alongside co-owners Peter Done and Ged Mason saw Spirit Dancer collect £500,000 when victorious in the Bahrain International Trophy in November.

The seven-year-old has since tuned up for his outing in Riyadh by finishing fourth in the Jebel Hatta at Meydan and Fahey is confident that will put him spot on for the $2million event on February 24.

“I was delighted to get that run in Dubai into him,” said Fahey.

“We were pleased with the run and we were probably just drawn a little bit wide – hopefully the run will put him 100 per cent right for Saudi.

“We’re going to run in the Neom. I was keen to go for the big one there (Saudi Cup), but I just felt nine furlongs on the dirt would be sharp enough for him. He’s a horse I would probably want to go a mile and a half in Saudi rather than a sharp nine, if that makes sense.”

Spirit Dancer’s owners revelled in their Bahrain success before Christmas, with Ferguson describing it as his “best ever” victory as an owner.

All of the son of Frankel’s ownership trio appear keen on another visit to the Middle East, with Fahey predicting a strong showing from his charge in the extended 10-furlong turf contest.

“Barring problems I’m sure his owners are very keen,” continued Fahey.

“Peter Done and Ged Mason are both very keen and Sir Alex is keen as well, so it looks like they are booking and barring problems I would say they will probably be there.

“We certainly enjoyed Bahrain and anything now is a bonus, but we’re expecting him to run a big race in Saudi.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists even an unprecedented quadruple could not convince him to backtrack on his shock decision to quit at the end of the season.

The German stunned the footballing world by announcing he will depart at the end of the campaign with two years of his contract still to run, having already communicated his plans to owners Fenway Sports Group in November.

What made the news so surprising is that the club are arguably close to being back to the peak of their powers, with a five-point lead in the Premier League and a Carabao Cup final to come next month, while they have qualified for the last 16 of the Europa League and are one of the favourites for the FA Cup.

But, unlike Sir Alex Ferguson, who in the summer of 2001 announced his retirement only to backtrack at the end of the season, Klopp will not be moved from his stance, whether his team win it all or finish empty-handed.

“No! Alex Ferguson did that? I respect Alex a lot and I don’t know what drove him,” said the 56-year-old, unaware of the former Manchester United manager’s U-turn.

“I really thought a lot about it and because of our relationship – mine with the club – the situation is always clear.

“I have to make the decision at one point, because nobody else will, because of the trust and respect we have for each other and the owners knew I would take the decision.

“I don’t want to hang around and do the job somehow. I thought it through properly.

“I want everything this season, but it wouldn’t change my mind – and if we don’t win anything it wouldn’t change my mind.

“It’s a decision I made independent of any kind of results.”

Klopp has cited his waning energy to lift himself for the daily demands placed on him as the reason why he is calling it a day.

After finishing fifth the previous season, during which Klopp looked physically and emotionally drained, the Liverpool manager returned after the summer insisting he was re-energised and refreshed.

But as soon as plans started to be made for transfer targets and the next pre-season the German knew something was not right.

“My managerial skills are based on energy and emotion and that takes all of you and needs all of you. I am who I am and where I am because of how I am, with all the good and bad things, and if I cannot do it any more, stop it,” he said.

“You have to be the best version of yourself, especially for a club like Liverpool. I cannot do it on three wheels, it is not allowed, and I have never wanted to be a passenger.

“It was not my idea (to quit prematurely) when I signed a new contract, I was 100 percent convinced we would go until 2026.

“I under-estimated or judged it wrong because I thought my energy level was endless because it always was – and now it is not. Then we have to change.”

Klopp plans to take a year off and then see how he feels but has ruled out a return to management in England.

“Whatever will happen in the future I don’t know now, but no club, no country, for the next year, and no other English club ever,” he said.

“I can promise that, even if I have nothing to eat that will not happen.

Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso has emerged as the early favourite to succeed Klopp, although another former Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard, currently at Al-Ettifaq, has also been linked.

Alonso insisted on Friday his focus was solely on his current role and that he was in “the right place”.

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