Ferguson in the mood for looking forward
Group H: SC Braga V Manchester United: Estádio Municipal , 7.45, Setanta Ireland, Sky Sports 2:Chris Smalling has a chance of playing in Portugal tonight as Manchester United try to seal Champions League qualification with four straight wins for the first time since they won the competition in 2008.
The defender has not played since injuring a metatarsal in pre-season training, but Sir Alex Ferguson has promised he will be involved.
Phil Jones is also ready to start training next week so United’s injury problems in defence are beginning to clear, so much so that Ferguson could be tempted to rest senior defenders such as Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra. Paul Scholes, 38, has stayed at home.
“We want to keep him fresh for later in the season. At his age he can’t play all the time, so we are just taking care of an old man,” said Ferguson who is pleased to see light on the defensive front.
“Since the start of the season we’ve been operating on the borderline in that area, playing Michael Carrick at centre-half and so on, so it’s good to get back up to strength. We will be stronger as a unit with Smalling and Jones back.
“I misread the group stage last season but have been picking stronger teams this time, because you must reach the next stage,” Ferguson said.
“Most people will have Barcelona and Real Madrid among their favourites but I have also been impressed with Borussia Dortmund. Those three teams have outstanding chances, and I hope we can join them.”
When Uefa began tinkering with their major tournament in Ferguson’s first decade he was not happy, believing extra teams and extra games made it harder to succeed in Europe if you still wanted to win your domestic title. Now clubs have acquired squads big enough to cope with the extra demands, Ferguson is a complete convert: “It is a fantastic tournament now, the opportunity to regularly play against the best has made it better.”
On on the day of his 26th anniversary as Manchester United manager Fergsuon stressed he is firmly focused on the future.
The 70-year-old Scot has plenty to look back on from his time in charge of United, including 12 Premier League titles and two European Cups.
But with his side currently leading the English top flight and Champions League Group H, he has emphasised he is in no mood for reflection.
Asked at last night’s pre-match press conference for his thoughts on yesterday reaching 26 years as boss at United – who announced t they will be unveiling a statue of him at Old Trafford at the end of the month – Ferguson said: “It is difficult to keep going on about these things.
“It is not a big issue for me. I just have to carry on with my job – there is no point in eulogising about it or regretting anything.
“Looking back is never an issue – looking forward is the thing, and I’m at the right club, which has the expectation of looking forward and achieving as much as we can. That is the way we are.”
Braga coach Jose Peseiro congratulated Ferguson on his anniversary – but is confident there will be little for the Scot to celebrate tonight. Peseiro has nothing but admiration for Ferguson and readily acknowledged the landmark his counterpart has reached.
The Portuguese was keen to stress, though, that there would be no presents from his side tonight, warning they were ready to spoil Ferguson’s party.
Peseiro said: “I would like to stay with one team for that amount of time, although it is impossible – I am 52 years old and I don’t think a team will take me for that many more years! But my team do not want to give anything to Sir Alex Ferguson.”
United currently lead Group H on nine points after three rounds of games, with Braga third on three points.
Just a draw against Braga may be enough for United to secure qualification to the knockout rounds, depending on the outcome of the other Group H clash between Cluj and Galatasaray also being played tonight.