Ferguson: This beats World Cup
The only unscripted event for Alex Ferguson yesterday was being asked to remove his shoes by Manchester Airport security staff, though suggestions that the journey to the remote footballing territory of north west Turkey proved the dull predictability of the group stage were dispelled here in memorable style by the Manchester United manager last night.
Ferguson was fielding the usual questions about his interest in the host country's players ("none") and praising tonight's opponents Bursaspor, who have no points and no goals from their three Group C games, when he pounced on suggestions that a tournament shake-up was required, with UEFA president Michel Platini's pursuit of wider European representation making this stage less competitive.
The "fantastic" Champions League was "better than the World Cup", Ferguson replied, and when challenged on this eye-catching assertion, he retorted: "Have you seen the last six World Cups? Christ! It's better than going to the dentist I suppose.
"It is a natural thing. If you look at the great teams in the European Cup now and think of the Premier League, you are not going to get the same crowd for Arsenal playing a lower team in the league, or the same tension and drama as you would Arsenal against Manchester United.
"It is the same in the Champions League. Inter Milan playing one of the smaller teams will not get the same crowd. The important thing is the Champions League has proved itself since its inception. It is better than the World Cup. It is unbelievable. There are some fantastic games. Yes, you have to get through the group stages before you get to the really exciting stage but it is a fantastic tournament."
Ferguson declared earlier this season that the World Cup is over-hyped and there has not seen a good one since 1986 -- coincidentally the year he took Scotland to Mexico -- but tonight matters. Victory taking United to the 10-point mark Ferguson always judges to be the group stage finishing tape would enable them to set about that five-point deficit with Chelsea in the league. "We're playing catch-up with Chelsea," he said.
The petrol blue suits worn yesterday by assistant manager Mike Phelan and others among the United contingent, after their own were ruined by the dressing-room pipe bursting at Sunderland, are not of a shade that United personnel will care to take to Eastlands a week tomorrow. But while City circled their wagons amid claims of dressing-room unrest yesterday, Ferguson was able to reflect on how United's renegade Wayne Rooney may actually have helped his club's pursuit of Carlo Ancelotti's side.
For all the drama of the contract saga, United are 22 games unbeaten in all competitions and Ferguson said: "This (the Rooney affair) could have exactly the galvanising effect we need, that pulls everyone together. I think all the players are pleased and we've got to kick on from here. This is a great starting point."
He also feels supporters' reactions, which included around 30 gathering at Rooney's home, informed the striker's decision. "He won't have enjoyed that. Nobody enjoys that sort of attention."
United could virtually book their passage to the knock-out phase if results fall their way tonight, which would be welcome as they seek to capitalise on an easier five weeks than Chelsea's and prepare for a spell which really could affect the title outcome. United entertain Arsenal and visit Stamford Bridge inside six days during December.
Bursaspor can't be entirely dismissed, while top of their domestic league. Ferguson's squad is depleted by a virus which has left Darron Gibson, Federico Macheda, Jonny Evans and Anderson all back at home. The manager said his weekend observations of Rooney have persuaded him to revise down the five-week estimate of the recovery time needed for his latest ankle injury to about three weeks and said that Ryan Giggs, who started physio work last Thursday on his hamstring, may be fit for the trip to Eastlands.
Rio Ferdinand has also been left behind, though the centre-back strenuously denied on his Twitter feed any suggestion that this was due to recurring back problems. It means Chris Smalling may get another chance tonight. (© Independent News Service)
Bursaspor v Manchester Utd
Live, TV3 / Sky Sports 3, 7.45