‘We now want to win the Europa League’: Champions League flops United
ALEX Ferguson insists Manchester United will be going all out to win the Europa League.
In the immediate aftermath of United's Champions League exit in Basle on Wednesday, Ferguson claimed being dumped into UEFA's secondary club competition was a "punishment".
This reaction did not go down well with UEFA president Michel Platini, who would presumably be even less pleased to learn that Patrice Evra had called it "an embarrassment" and Rio Ferdinand said it had left United open to "ridicule".
Ferguson, who had to be informed that United and Manchester City will not be allowed to play at home on the same night, was anxious to clarify his comments.
He is determined that his players will be fully focused on lifting the only European trophy - it remains the old UEFA Cup - they have never won.
"The Europa League is a good competition and a strong competition," he said. "You only need to look at the teams left in it.
"I made the point the other night that it's a punishment for us to be in the Europa League.
"What I mean by that is for 20 years this club has only thought about the Champions League. We've only thought about winning that European Cup.
"That's the punishment in terms of the disappointment of not being able to challenge for it this year, especially having been in three finals in the last four years.
"It's not a slight against the Europa League - it's a competition we want to win. We're in it and we'll try to win it."
Platini had launched a defence of the Europa League following Ferguson's initial comments.
He said "the world does not revolve around England" and "you shouldn't criticise the Europa League just because you've played in three Champions League finals".
Platini, speaking yesterday at the UEFA executive committee meeting in Venice, added: "The Europa League is a brilliant competition. It's amazing. I know Mr Ferguson would have preferred to be in the Champions League, but so would many clubs who don't have that possibility."
In addition to City and holders Porto, who have both fallen in through the Champions League trapdoor, Atletico Madrid, who defeated Fulham in the 2010 final, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Schalke, whom United defeated in the Champions League semi-final last season, will also be involved in the knockout stages.
Stoke are already through and Fulham are fancied to join them to swell the Premier League representation.
Ferguson has already raised the issue of playing on Thursday evenings and then on a Sunday, and he also realises Europa League participants can be asked to play in the Premier League on a Monday before the competition.
"According to some of the information we've got today because there are two teams from one city, one may need to play on a Tuesday," he said.
"I don't know the full impact of that. We'll need to wait and see how that pans out.
"It does make a change - there's no doubt about that. If it works out that we have a long run it could mean eight Thursdays and Sundays.
"But even in the Champions League the TV people let you down sometimes - we had to play in Barcelona (in 2008) and then had a lunchtime game against Chelsea, which we lost. That could have easily have cost us the league.
"I always think when you're playing in Europe you want that three-day break because it does take it out of you, especially if you're travelling."