Football: Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson admitted today that his side will be the laughing stock of English football if they flop in the Champions League this season.
The Red Devils, three times winners of European club football’s elite competition, crashed out of the first round last season, finishing behind FC Basel and Benfica in what was a major embarrassment for the Old Trafford club.
Last season’s Premier League runners-up, who start their Champions League campaign tomorrow night at home against Turkish side Galatasaray, should have more than enough quality to escape a group also comprising Portugal’s Braga and Romania’s Cluj.
Nonetheless, Ferguson is warning his charges against complacency. “If we don’t go through, we will be criticised and pilloried for it and quite rightly,” Ferguson said.
“We’ve had our warning and I don’t anticipate going out this time. Certainly, we’ll do better than last year — no question about that.”
Wayne Rooney, who is still recovering from a gashed leg, is out, but United can still call on Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez.
Van Persie was on the bench against Wigan, but is likely to be recalled following last term’s group stage flop.
Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia are also expected to be return, along with Patrice Evra, who has recovered from a minor knock.
Perhaps Ferguson’s biggest challenge will be keeping his players’ minds focused on their Turkish opponents rather than Liverpool, who they face at Anfield on Sunday.
The match comes soon after the releasing of the Hillsborough report, which laid the blame for the tragedy at the door of the South Yorkshire Police.
United’s win over Wigan was marred by anti-Liverpool chants from some home fans at Old Trafford. Ferguson has already appealed for calm and has said United stand in solidarity with their old rivals over the findings of the report.
“It is going to be a very emotional day on Sunday and we will support them in every way we can,” said Ferguson.
“As a club we are totally supportive of Liverpool in the situation they are in. We understand what those families must have felt when they got that report.
“I didn’t hear it (on Saturday), but others did, particularly in the directors’ box. (chief executive) David Gill was disappointed.”
Some fans have sought to defend the chant — “Always the victim, never your fault” — arguing that it was only sung in the immediate aftermath of Luis Suarez’s racism spat with Patrice Evra.
Ferguson added: “I was disappointed to hear it. It is a minority. But in society there is a minority wanting to be heard.”
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