sir alex ferguson interview

Fergie focused on United's next 'first'

April 3, 2009
By Soccernet staff

As the most successful manager in British football history, Sir Alex Ferguson does not feel the need to settle scores very often. However, as his Manchester United side face 2004 conquerors FC Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday night, the Scot is keen to exact revenge over the Portuguese side.

GettyImagesFerguson vents his frustration on the sidelines in 2004.

•  Watch the full video interview here

Porto, then led by Jose Mourinho, sent United crashing out of the competition after snatching a late 1-1 draw at Old Trafford [3-2 on aggregate] on their way to the title; but Ferguson is confident of success, citing Barcelona as the biggest threat to his hopes of glory this season.

Wary of the Porto's excellent home record as United head to the Estadio do Dragao for the second leg, Ferguson is fixing his sights on becoming the first side to retain the Champions League trophy in its current format, as well as winning an unprecedented quintuple.

Press Pass host and ESPN commentator Derek Rae exclusively caught up with the United boss ahead of the Red Devils' clash with Mourinho's old side in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Derek Rae: FC Porto brings back memories of 2004. You were dominant, you had a goal struck off, but it just wasn't to be - there's a bit a score to settle here is there not?

Sir Alex Ferguson: Well, there's always a score to settle. It's just a reminder of how fragile the game of football can be. As you pointed out, we had a goal wrongly chopped off in the first half, we weren't pleased with the performance of the referee in the game and they scored in injury time in a game in which, as you said, we dominated, and we were bitterly disappointed with that.

DR: It's a different side now of course - what have you observed doing your homework on Porto?

AF: I've been watching the videos for the last couple of weeks and they're very difficult to play against in their own ground - they have a terrific record there. It goes down to the first leg. Looking at their home record and how difficult they are to play against there, I think we're going to need a two-goal lead.

''Hulk played in both games I saw - on the right hand side the first time and through the middle in the second. He is a left-footed player, a big powerful lad with good pace and very, very strong. I think he and Lisandro the centre forward are both very important players.''

DR: You've placed the emphasis again on the Champions League this season, but how hard is it to win the competition in back-to-back years. The last team to do it in the old European Cup format, was AC Milan way back in '89 & '90

AF: Well that tells you everything I suppose. Hopefully we can defend it, we'd be the first to do it in the UCL and to be fair to our club, we're good at doing 'firsts'. We were the first team to win the South American European Cup [Intercontinental Cup] against Palmeiras in '99 and we were the first British team to win the Club World Championship in Tokyo this year, so therefore we're good at doing 'firsts' and hopefully this is going to be another first, to defend a title which no one has done.

DR: Similarly another first, the quintuple - certainly in the media we're all talking about it, but do you allow yourself to think about it?

AF: Well no, I don't. I think it's a media thing and what we have to do at this club is take each hurdle, and take each competition, as it comes along.

GettyImagesMourinho won the UCL with Porto, but not with Chelsea.

DR: I was with an old friend of yours in Boston, Jose Mourinho. He was getting ready for Inter's summer tour of the United States and he sends his regards. I know you saw him recently at Old Trafford after the UCL game [which United won 2-0], but I just wonder, when you look at Jose do you see a lot of similarities with maybe a younger Alex Ferguson? I'm thinking about the drive, the will to win.

AF: It's difficult going back all those years to think 'what was I like?' Because I tend not to look back that way, but I can see in Jose some qualities that I hope I had - he's very bullish, very confident and there's nothing wrong with that, but you have to deliver and in most cases he has delivered. And I've always found him really good company.

I think one of his great attributes is that he can laugh at himself and he never fails to show up after the game no matter what the result, which I think is a good quality. And he came in after the game against Inter Milan: "Here, have my food", drunk almost all my wine and was on great form. It was very good - he accepted defeat with great dignity.

DR: Are we missing his personality in English football?

AF: Yeah, I think so. I think the game has missed him, there's no doubt about that. I think he was fantastic for the press, the press loved that, but Chelsea also were a very strong team.

DR: The FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, has as one of his goals at the moment the idea that we should have '6 plus 5' as he would put it - in other words more representation of home grown players in a particular club side. How do you feel about those sentiments and how in practice can they actually work?

AF: Well, in practice, the difficulty is in operating simply because the treaty of Rome, the European Community, players can move anywhere they like as long as they're attached to the EEC. Where I think my sentiments with Sepp lie are that I do think there should be a bigger concentration in home produced players. I think we should place a big emphasis on that. And I think it would all make us sit up and concentrate really hard on producing our own young players.

DR: You've spoken about Barcelona as being the biggest threat potentially in the Champions League, what is that you see about this particular Barca side that catches the eye?

AF: Well, I think they're the biggest threat to the English clubs. I do think that an English club will win it again this year but Barcelona's form has been fantastic this year and they've got goals in their team, that's the real answer as they have [Samuel] Eto'o and [Lionel] Messi and [Thierry] Henry. They have a goal scoring operation, which does very well.

GettyImagesBerbatov: Lacksadaisical penalty singled him out for criticism.

DR: Dimitar Berbatov is in his first season with Manchester United and he's been a key figure for you. He's figured in many of your selections, but some of the Manchester United supporters are heard saying: "He's not busy enough". What is it about Berbatov specifically that you like?

AF: Well I can understand them saying that because he's a very economic player, he's like Teddy Sheringham in that way, Teddy was exactly the same. He drifts into spaces, his movement is off the ball, but when you actually do the stats he's as high as anyone in the team.

You know it's interesting - maybe what they're saying is that he's not sprinting full out 40 yards all the time all over the place in the way, say, Wayne Rooney does or Carlos Tevez does; but he's doing the yardage other players don't get to. Plus the fact I think he's got 14-15 goals this season, he's made about 14-15 goals - there's an Eric Cantona link to that. That was the sort of area that Eric always operated in: making and scoring an equal number of goals.

DR: Does it also come down to the fact that he's distinctly different in his style from the other forwards you've got?

AF: He is different from most players, yes. As I said he is very economic in his use of sprinting, but his pace is very good, he's got wonderful balance, he's got great vision. I don't know how much more we can be looking for in players. We signed him because he was different from what we had and also he had a bit more experience than the players we had up front like Rooney, Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and I think that was important because we want to move on from last season, after winning the double, to try and do better.