Ferguson to go with tried and tested against Gamba

Club World Cup

Ferguson to go with tried and tested against Gamba.

Fifa Club World Cup

YOKOHAMA - A day before Manchester United's Club World Cup semifinal showdown with Japan’s Gamba Osaka, Sir Alex Ferguson was playing his cards close to his chest regarding his starting XI. He did say, however, that he intended to rely on three of his most experienced players—Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville—to see his club into the final. Following are excerpts from a press conference prior to training at Yokohama Stadium on Wednesday:

Q: Who will you play against Gamba?

A: Well, it's a complex situation. No one's asked me for that information yet, all they've asked me is what I think about the tournament.
I will say this: Berbatov won't play tomorrow. He's been in bed since we arrived. He's picked up a virus. He's not very well at the moment.
Wayne Rooney was injured in training yesterday but hopefully he'll be OK tomorrow. Other than that, everyone is fit.
I can say that we will play some of our really experienced players like Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. It's a big-game situation and I think their experience will be important tomorrow. Other than that, I've got to decide the rest of the team. But it will be a strong team.

Q: Scholes has recently come back from injury. How important is it for you to have him back in the squad?
A: I think he brings an order to our game at times. We saw that in the second half against Aalborg (in the Champions League last week). He helped us get us back in the match and to gain control of the match. He's been a fantastic player for us, it's hard to measure it other than to say he's always been good for us.
When he was a younger player he used to get us 12 to 15 goals a season, but he can't do that now. And we don't ask him to. But he brings other things to our team-his experience, his ability to keep possession, to control a match. It's a fundamental part of our game. His intelligence on the football field is tremendous.
Over the years when Paul has had injury problems, and he's had a few, he has come back very well. And we've seen in training that he's back to normal. He showed that against Aalborg and we're confident of that. He hasn't lost anything.

Cristiano Ronaldo.
Cristiano Ronaldo

Q: Will Ronaldo play tomorrow?

A: Ronaldo will play tomorrow.

Q: What do you think of the timing of this tournament?
A: In football you don't get a choice. The dates are there and we accept that. There has been some cynicism back home abut this tournament, with some saying we're doing it only for the money (the winner pockets 5 million USD) to play here, which is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life. We're here because we've been invited here as winners of the European Cup. It's a FIFA-recognized tournament and there's no way we can get out of it. So the criticism is unfortunate. The most important thing about being here is that it's a chance to win something in December. To be world champions in December is a fantastic middle-of-the season boost to everyone and that's the way we look at it.

Q: Do you think you'll ever see players in the vein of Scholes, Giggs and Neville play for a club at such a high level for as long as they have?
A: I think it's unlikely. I think we're a very fortunate club. We're the only club who can do that. Ryan has done 21 years, Gary 19 and Paul Scholes 19 years. And that is exceptional, absolutely exceptional. We hope we can get players who can do that for us on a regular basis but in modern terms and through contracts, I think it's unlikely.

Q: Do you think you've ever had such depth in a squad during your 22 years managing United?
A: No, I think this is our best squad in my time. We've got 23 players here and the only one who lacks any experience at all is our backup goalkeeper Ben Amos, but he's replacing our other goalkeeper Ben Foster who’s broken a finger in training. All the rest are of a high quality and most are internationals. I think it’s only Rafael Da Silva who is not an international.
And there is difficulty in that, of course, because it’s difficult to manage such players. And it becomes a disappointment because you can't play everyone. Here we can have 12 players on the bench but in England it’s only improved this season to seven substitutes. You have no idea how much that helps the coach. I don’t know why, perhaps the structure of the benches and dugouts in England limit the number of subs but to have as many subs as you want at your disposal … You know, to put an international in the stands is in some ways an insult to him. And it’s a problem for me because you feel embarrassed to ask a top player to not be involved in an actual game. They expect to play; they all want to play. I have the best squad I’ve had since I came to the club, but it does create certain management issues.

Q: If Gamba were playing in England, would you say they would be in the Premiership, Championship or some other division?
A: I can answer that tomorrow. Football is that kind of game. I would say Gamba ... the improvement in Japanese football is there for everybody to see. The great advantage is the facilities. The facilities are very good. And there is a genuine enthusiasm among the people, which generates fervor in the country and I think that is the strongest part of the game here.
Watching the video, they have some talented players, there's no question about it. And if you look at Shunsuke Nakamura at Celtic—we’ve played him three times now in the last two or three years—he is proof of the overall quality of Japanese football.

Q: How long can Scholes continue playing at the level he has been?
A: He's not going to improve much now, is he? He's 34 and had some injuries over the years. We hope he can maintain the level he’s been at, a great level, for another year or two. It's tough for players who get injured in their 30s. For Paul, he'll continue to do what he does. I don't see any negatives about his game, so hopefully he can keep it going for a long time.

Q: Do you have any message to the fans who have made the expensive trip here from Manchester?
A: It's something that always amazes me about this club, especially at this time of year. As everyone knows, some families are not in the best financial situation back home but they make the sacrifice. I have great admiration for them. To come this far to watch a football team shows you how much they regard us. And it also tells you something about our football club. I hope they think it's worthwhile.

Q: Do you think Neville has what it takes to regain his spot on the national team?
Q: I think he and Wes Brown are the best right fullbacks. Wes is out at the moment. Gary and Wes both have the problem now that Da Silva has just taken off. But all the players, Gary included, think he is fantastic. In my experience at this club, for a right back to come in and make such an impact is incredible. Gary did the same when he was a youngster, he was part of a group who came in and they were sort of a band of brothers. Da Silva has come in from Brazil, doesn’t speak the language that well, but understands football very well.
So Gary and Wes have a similar problem. If they're not getting regular games from me it makes it difficult for (England manager) Fabio Capello to pick them. I would. I have no problem with it, but Fabio doesn’t know them as well as I do.

Q: Are you looking ahead to the final at the expense of Gamba?
A: We want to win it and I hope I play the right team tomorrow. Sometimes you have to look a game ahead. I want to play a team that can beat Gamba Osaka, and then Sunday, if we’re in the final, I have different ideas.

Q: The No. 7 jersey has been a significant number at United over the years. What was the thought process behind giving it to Cristiano after the departure of David Beckham?
A: Well, No. 7 has been a special number at our club for many years. When Cristiano joined us, Beckham had just joined Madrid. There was an issue of who should get the No. 7 jersey, but I thought a young kid should get it, given that Beckham was a youngster who came through our system. We thought it would be more comfortable for a younger player to take the No. 7 jersey.
But I don’t think Cristiano would have considered it an advantage when he joined us. But over the five years he’s been with us, I’ve seen him develop into the player he is today. But he’s always had certain attributes that have pointed him towards greatness--his amazing skill factor, his speed and his courage.
And in the time he’s been with us, he’s developed what he needed to develop most: his decision-making.
He used to play center forward. And people in Portugal used to tell us he was a great goal scorer. When he first came to us we couldn’t see that. And all of a sudden he just blossomed. In the first season with us I think he scored 9 goals, the next season it was 13 or 14 and the next season it was 20. Then last year it was 42. And that is a testament to a young person who wants to do well. He improves himself by his own determination and ambition and by practicing all the time.

Copyright © C.G. Williams & Soccerphile.com

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