Fergie dreaming of rematch with Barcelona in next year's Champions League final
Published 00:01 19/07/11 By David McDonnell in Seattle
There is one significant date and venue Sir Alex Ferguson already has ringed in his diary for next season.
The date is Saturday May 19 2012, the location Munich’s Allianz Arena.
The prize at stake the Champions League and the chance to be recognised as the best team in Europe.
It is a measure of Ferguson’s burning desire to erase the memory of Manchester United’s chastening 3-1 defeat to Barcelona in last season’s final that he already knows precisely when that chance could come.
Despite being in the middle of a hectic three-week pre-season tour of the US, with so many commitments and obligations to fulfil, as well as preparing his squad for the new season, Ferguson is unequivocal about next season’s goal.
“The target is to be in Munich in May next year,” said the Scot, as he held court in the bar of Seattle’s Four Seasons hotel during a break from the tour.
“Only then, if it’s Barcelona again, can we assess if we’ve been able to cope with that challenge.
“We tried to win the European Cup our way, but we were outplayed by Barcelona.
“They’re just in a great cycle at the moment. They’re an exceptionally good team. But that doesn’t mean to say it [beating them] can never be achieved.
“I’ve got young players coming into the club that I hope will take inspiration from what we experienced in the final and make sure we’re the challengers to Barcelona.”
Looking back, would Ferguson have done things differently at Wembley?
“There’s no point going into that now,” said the United boss. “We’ve done our assessment, looked at the game a million times and it’s just one of those things, you know. You have to move on.”
While the pain of the defeat to Barcelona may still be raw, Ferguson must put any lingering disappointment to one side and focus on the challenge presented by the new campaign.
With five players having left United, this summer represents arguably the biggest change at the club since 1995, when Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrey Kanchelskis left and a new generation stepped up to the plate.
There is a sense of the dawning of another new era at United with the arrivals of David De Gea, Phil Jones and Ashley Young, while Ferguson is still hopeful of adding Wesley Sneijder if an agreement can be reached with Inter Milan over his fee.
For now, though, a deal for Sneijder remains some way off, according to Ferguson.
“There’s nothing on the horizon at the moment, so we carry on with the players we’ve got,” said the United boss.
“I’m not going to talk about that [Sneijder], it’s not an issue. It’s just difficult.
“We lost five experienced players in the summer. Five players who gave the club great service - Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville.
“At the time, you think it’s a big slice out of the cake, but we have replaced them by adding De Gea, Jones and Young, and also bringing back Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, who were on loan [at Sunderland and Wigan respectively].
“We’ve actually got 12 players aged 22 or under with us now, so it could be an emerging team again.
“There are also some experienced players who are maturing and will carry the responsibility of performance - Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand have responsible roles, as do Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and Michael Owen.
“These are experienced players we’ve got, and the young players will be desperate to get in their positions, so I think it’s a healthy situation we’re in.”
“The only area where we may have to be patient is in the goalkeeping position.
"De Gea is only 20, he’s young. He’s played in the Spanish league for a couple of years, but it’s not the English league.
“I think he’ll need time to settle in, but the potential is enormous. It’s absolutely unbelievable, the potential the boy has got.
“We’ve also got Anders Lindegaard, so we may get a challenge [for the No.1 spot] for them both to accept, but in time the boy De Gea will make it his position, there’s no doubt about that.”
As for United’s title challengers next season, Ferguson identified Chelsea and Manchester City as the main threats, and hinted it would be hard for Arsenal and Liverpool to last the pace.
Despite Liverpool’s revival in the second half of last season under Kenny Dalglish, and the significant funds they have spent this year, Ferguson was skeptical about their chances of winning a first title for 20 years.
“I don’t know [about Liverpool],” he said. “I think there will definitely be a big improvement, obviously, but it’s a hard league, you know? It’s a difficult league to win.”
As for Arsenal, without a trophy for six years and with the prospect of losing their two best players in Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, Ferguson admitted the pressure was on his opposite number, Arsene Wenger.
“Of course, Arsenal not winning a trophy for six years has also put pressure on them,” said Fergie. “You thought they were going to have a real chance last season. They got to the very brink.
“But it’s not easy to win the league - we waited 26 years at one point, it’s 20 years since Liverpool last won it. It happens sometimes. It’s not an easy league to win."
While the European Cup remains Ferguson’s personal holy grail, the Premier League trophy is not something he is keen to relinquish after steering United to a record 19th triumph.
“You have to combine the two,” he said. “The Premier League is such a tribal confrontation between different parts of the country that you’re forced into trying to beat them all the time.
“You can’t get away from that, I’m sorry, you can’t. We play every seven days, so you’re forced to go for the Premier League.
“AC Milan did that [prioritised the Champions League] and Real Madrid still try to do that.
"I’ve absolutely no doubt Real Madrid would give up anything to win the European Cup. Our mentality is different. I’ve got to try to show that we’re challenging for the league all the time, and hopefully have the bonus of winning the European Cup.
“We’ve only won it twice in my time, so that shows it’s not easy to combine the two.”
FERGIE ON... CHICHARITO: When it comes to ruthless finishing inside the box, Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed Javier Hernandez as the best striker he has ever managed.
Hernandez scored 20 goals in his debut season for United last term and Fergie said: “He’s as good a player as I have ever dealt with in the penalty box, in terms of movement, space and decision making.
“He’s brilliant with those qualities. He might even improve on that next season, but where he does need to improve is in the technical bit. He’s doing that all the time, though.
“When I watched him play for Mexico in the Gold Cup, the change in him was fantastic in terms of how he was linking play, spinning his defender.
“One of the goals he scored, the centre-back went to check him, but Chicharito stepped away from him, went round the back and he was in - brilliant.
“His decision-making is brilliant in that respect, but I’m sure he’ll go on to improve his intuition and make himself an even better player. Defenders will definitely know more about him next season.”
FERGIE ON… REPLACING SCHOLES: Wayne Rooney is not the solution to replacing Paul Scholes in the Old Trafford side says manager Alex Ferguson - even if the newly-retired United legend thinks he could be!
Scholes suggested Rooney could evolve from a striker into an attacking midfielder, but Ferguson said Scholes was doing himself a disservice.
“Scholesy is being very generous there,” said Ferguson. “He’s underestimating himself and the value he had to us.
“Wayne could play centre-midfield, but not the way that Scholesy played it. They’re too different.
“The way Wayne would play as opposed to Scholesy is that he would be more dynamic and all over the place, using his energy to run everywhere, challenge and hit those cross-field passes that he’s terrific at.
“Scholes was more calculated. He always had that control about him, controlling the speed and pace of a game, which is pretty difficult to do. He was an absolute one-off.
“You can’t replace players like that. You hope you can get something approaching it, but you’ll never replace Scholes.
“We’re all searching for that. Everybody is searching for the special player who makes the difference to his team.”
FERGIE ON... CHELSEA'S NEW BOSS: Chelsea have made a “bold” decision in appointing 33-year-old Andre Villas-Boas as manager, says Sir Alex Ferguson.
“It’s a bold one, but I think Roman Abramovich likes to do that,” said Fergie. “He [Abramovich] had Jose Mourinho and maybe he’s trying to go back to that. It was a surprise because he’s just a young lad. I started in management at 32, but all I had was a physio.
“The difference is that he can choose whatever staff he wants. That will help him, plus he’s got a lot of experienced players.
“Chelsea have got the most experienced side in the league with the number of older players they have got like Didier Drogba, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Ashley Cole.
“Jose was young when he took the Chelsea job. He wasn’t 33, but he was still young.
“You never knew whether Jose could do it at the time, but he proved a man of his time really, didn’t he? He [Villas-Boas] can bring in a good assistant with great experience and good coaches with experience.”
FERGIE ON.. DARRON GIBSON: Sunderland have reneged on an initial agreement with the Manchester United midfielder, according to Sir Alex Ferguson, leaving Gibson in limbo.
With his move to Sunderland supposedly imminent, Gibson stayed behind in England while United left for their pre-season tour of the US.
But Fergie has claimed the Wearsiders changed the terms of their proposed offer to Gibson, leaving the 23-year-old’s future up in the air.
“Darron was on the point of going to Sunderland and somewhere along the line I think Sunderland moved the goalposts,” said Ferguson.
“I suppose their job is to try to save money.
"From what I can gather, they gave Darron an offer and then changed it. That annoyed Darron and I think he’s quite right. If you can’t trust them on day one then why wait until day two?
“Darron was undecided about what to do when we made the group up to come here, and we both felt he’d be better staying back.
"If it changed, he would be there, whereas if he came to America and then had to go back it wasn’t the same thing. He seems to be in limbo at the moment.”