THE treble proved elusive, but Manchester United are prepared for one

final effort this afternoon to secure the championship and FA Cup double

at Wembley, an appropriate platform not only for a collection of the

finest footballing talents in Britain but also for an extraordinary


That steely determination, inbred from uncompromising environments

like his own Govan learning ground, has driven Alex Ferguson to

greatness in his managerial career. Beating Chelsea and winning the FA

Cup would be another just reward to add to yesterday's announcement

that, for the second successive season, he has been named Carling

manager of the year.

Ferguson has become more than a manager, and even though there are

occasional flashes of the rage within, he is much more statesmanlike in

his approach. Football is still everything, but nothing without the

performers. Ferguson realises this and treats his players properly.

Like all of Scotland's greats, Shankly, Busby, Stein, the former St

Mirren and Aberdeen manager is in possession of the secret which escapes

many. He knows how to bring the best out of footballers, -- the

enigmatic Eric Cantona is an example -- and he rewards their efforts and

their loyalty.

For instance, at many other top clubs, someone like Brian McClair, who

spent a large part of his career labouring in the shadows of more

flamboyant performers, sacrificing some of his own attributes for the

common good, might have been considered surplus to requirements by now

and moved on, but Ferguson doesn't forget.

The Scottish internationalist will be at Wembley today, probably as a

substitute. ''Brian McClair is a man of substance,'' Ferguson said on

one of those small hours of the morning occasions when people are prone

to profound reflections.

Many of the players with whom Ferguson has worked at Pittodrie and Old

Trafford are surviving now because of the humanitarian qualities which

rubbed off, and one of them, Mark McGhee, who has just managed Reading

to the second division championship, believes his former master to be an

exceptional individual.

''He is a born winner,'' said McGhee, who was ninth in a recent poll

which had Ferguson as Britain's top manager (Walter Smith was fifth).

''Only last week I was playing in a charity match and after having

scored two good goals, our manager, who was Fergie, took me off and gave

me a terrible row because of my performance. And he meant it. It was

like old times''

Ironically, at least two other Scots, Stevie Clarke and Craig Burley,

will be striving to prevent Ferguson from winning the trophy and already

this season their Stamford Bridge side have beaten United twice -- 1-0

both times with Mark Stein, who learned much from Lou Macari when both

were at Stoke -- in the league. Chelsea are confident, but few outside

their camp believe they could defeat United three times in the same


Clarke has been given a lift because he was included in Craig Brown's

Scotland squad for the game against Holland later this month in

Amsterdam, and the former St Mirren player could cause United some

serious problems if he is allowed to motor up and down the right flank.

However, his desire to push forward is bound to be curbed by Ryan Giggs,

who is capable of sublime brilliance.

On the opposite side, Andrei Kanchelskis, who signed a new contract,

is likely to keep Frank Sinclair occupied with his speed, and since pace

also is an asset of Sinclair, their contest will be intriguing.

Burley, who operates on the right side of the midfield, will have to

put his tackling prowess to effective use, and he also manages to get

forward quickly often providing a physical edge to what can sometimes be

a lightweight Chelsea attack.

Player-manager Glenn Hoddle must hope that Gavin Peacock, who runs

between midfield and attack, is in the mood, because he can be a

difficult player for defenders to track, and there is a tendency for

United's back line to appear slightly ponderous. Steve Bruce and co, you

may remember, were unable to cope with the incisive runs of Dalian

Atkinson in the Coca Cola Cup final won by Aston Villa.

They are also vulnerable against a powerful aerial player, and believe

it or not -- Celtic's supporters certainly won't -- Tony Cascarino,

probably a substitute, might be thrown on to test United.

There is a chance, though, that Chelsea will begin with a diminutive

attack of Stein and former Rangers striker John Spencer, neither of whom

stand taller than 5ft 6in. The darting runs of these two could unnerve

any defence.

Hoddle, if he recovers in time from injury, might allow himself a seat

on the subs' bench.