Monday 20 November 2017

Ferguson wary of being left behind in Europe

Billionaire investors making life difficult for Premier League clubs, writes Paul Wilson

Alex Ferguson believes English clubs may need to raise their game in Europe to remain competitive now that teams in many other countries are being bankrolled by billionaire investors.

An English club has featured in six of the past seven Champions League finals and four teams going through to the group stages has become the norm in the last decade. This year, however, it would be a surprise if all four make it, because Manchester City's fate is out of their hands and Manchester United and Chelsea both need a result from tricky final group games this week.

All four could still qualify, though equally Arsenal could find themselves the sole English representatives.

The United manager prefers to think that the group stages have become tougher instead of demonstrating that English football is in decline.

"There are some strong teams out there now," Ferguson said. "I think we may have to bring our game up a little bit and make sure we don't underestimate the group stages. We should have won our home game against Basel and because we didn't, we now need to go there and make sure they don't beat us. We could find our casualness in the first game costs us."

The Swiss side will not be widely expected to cause a shock, though Ferguson notes the influx of money into unlikely outposts. "You can see the amount of money that some of the Russian teams are spending and the number of Brazilians they have playing for them now," he said. "Then you notice that Apoel Nicosia have qualified already, they are funded by a wealthy guy. I think they have only three Cypriots, the rest are from other countries.

"And, of course, there's the team (Anzhi Makhachkala of Dagestan) that lives in Moscow but play a four-hour plane journey away. Their owner has just built them a new stadium, complete with all the roads leading up to it. There is certainly some money around in the game, and over time it is bound to make a difference. It represents a different challenge for teams from this country."

It could be argued that the English have no right to complain, the Premier League having introduced the world to the dubious concept of gross financial inequality and positively welcomed owners willing to sink vast amounts of their wealth into hitherto ailing clubs, though as Ferguson has been able to prove on the domestic scene instant wealth does not automatically translate into instant success. England's two richest clubs are arguably the ones most in danger of an early exit this week, not that Ferguson views his own side's task as particularly easy.

"We've got the players to get us through, no question about that, but they will have to perform," he said. "This is our last chance and it won't be an easy game. Basel do need to win though, and that might give us some sort of advantage. At some point in the game they will have to try and beat us, but I can't see them going at us straight away. I think they will try and wait as long as they can but as we know from the first leg they are capable of scoring goals."

Over at Manchester City, Roberto Mancini takes a more sanguine view of English prospects. "The Premier League is still top quality and I think at least three English teams will qualify," he said. "Of course I hope four, but we will need help, whereas I think Chelsea and United still have a big chance."

City entertain Bayern Munich on Wednesday and may be capable of beating a team that have already qualified, but must hope that pointless Villarreal can do them a favour by beating Napoli.

That's quite a slim hope and the City manager is already confronting the possibility of playing in the Europa League after Christmas. "If we end up in the Europa League we would try to reach the final and win it. We would have a good chance, and it is a trophy this club would like to win. At this moment, I think the Champions League is a little bit better than we are. We are new to the competition and if a team like Chelsea cannot win it in 10 years of trying, it must say something about the level of difficulty."


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