Sir Alex Ferguson, Rio Ferdinand and Cristiano Ronaldo attended the Manchester United press conference ahead of our Champions League final against Barcelona. Our three representatives looked very composed but there were huge technical issues throughout. Ronaldo and Rio had a laugh about it, but the most bizarre moment came when a man gave Ronaldo a shirt to sign instead of asking a question. “How did he get in?” Ferguson asked with a chuckle.
This is you 153rd Champions League game at Manchester United and you’re going against someone in his first season. How much does experience count?
Fergie: It’s better to have it than not have it. The plus side is he’s at a great club with European history, he’s got a good record. It matters but it’s not the most important thing.
Looking at Lionel Messi, how do you stop a player who keeps the ball so close to his feet?
Rio: It’s going to be difficult for whoever plays against him because he has fantastic close control. But we’ve done it before. Patrice Evra has done very well against him and will have to do the same, if not better.
Is the ultimate test of greatness winning this trophy?
Fergie: There are times when we should have done better in Europe and it’s an opportunity for us to get that victory which would put us along a lot of the great teams in Europe. This particular team has that future. We can do well in the next few years and hopefully tomorrow we can endorse that.
People have been talking about Messi and yourself as the best players in the World. The winner of this competition has a better chance of being named as the best. Are you thinking about that?
Ronaldo: The winner will definitely have a better chance to win the honour. I don’t care about that though. What I want more is to win the Champions League.
Firstly, how’s your injury, Rio? And secondly, you care a lot about what you achieve in the game. What would it be like to win back to back league titles and Champions League trophies?
Rio: My injury is fine. I’ve been in training for the last couple of days and I feel good. I’m glad to be back. In terms of winning back to back titles, we need to achieve that, that’s what we want to do. We just want to win and then you guys [the press] can determine where that places us in football history. It’s not for us to say. We just want to win whatever competition we’re in.
What could be more difficult for Manchester United – to score or to stop Barcelona scoring?
Fergie: I think for our team there is always that opportunity for us to score because we always carry a threat in terms of goals. So hopefully we can continue that way of playing tomorrow. Of course, like every game, you have to analyse your opponents. Messi is fantastic and we know exactly how powerful he can be. We hope we can cope with that and we have the players to do that, but it won’t be easy. You have to respect great players and we will do that.
Who is best, Messi or Ronaldo?[Ferguson pauses and Ronaldo gestures for the manager to answer]
Fergie: They’re two fantastic footballers with ability and courage. No matter how many times they’re fouled they get up and they attack the ball. Both have different qualities, but both are courageous. How can you divide them? It is very difficult.
Martin Samuel wonders can a team be considered truly great without winning European Cup?
Fergie: I think in general terms, yes, you have to win this to be considered great. There have been a lot of unlucky teams. The great teams have to win the cup though, as far as I’m concerned. Unlucky as you may be in life it can’t always be that way. You have to win this trophy to be regarded as great.
Barcelona haven’t been practising penalties. Last season you missed a penalty, Ronaldo. Have you and your team mates been practising?
Ronaldo: Alot. Exactly.
These finals can be shaped by substitutes. Looking at the possible benches, do you think you’ve got more options than Barca?
Fergie: Barcelona don’t know exactly who is going to be fit, with Henry and Iniesta. We have very good subs and hopefully that can make a difference.
How will match be won tomorrow? What will be key to victory?
Fergie: We have to play well to win tomorrow. Concentration will be important and having a bit of a luck, which all teams get, at certain moments of the game can turn the game. Hopefully we get a bit of luck.
With all the pre-match talk focussing on Messi and Ronaldo, do you think they take pressure off rest of their team?
Ronaldo: It is normal that people speak about me but I’m 100% focussed on game. I know people want to know things about him and me but I am very focussed and I try to help my team, score a goal, and win the game.
What are your thoughts on making Park the first Asian player to feature in the Champions League final and what do you expect from him?
Fergie: I think it was a terrible disappointment not to include him in the squad last year, but I can assure him that he will play tomorrow. He makes an impact which is different to Ronaldo and Messi. He has a fantastic understanding of space and movement. Park doesn’t need the ball to make a difference.
In 1999 you gave a famous team talk which reminded their players that this might be their only chance to get anywhere near the European Cup. How will you address them tomorrow?
Fergie: I’ve not thought about it. These things usually happen during the night, around 3 in the morning, when I get inspiration from deep chambers of my brain! At the moment there’s nothing.
In 1991 you played in white and beat Barcelona and now we see a repeat of a white strip. I should remind you though that the last time Barcelona played a team in white they won 6-2![Ferguson laughs]
Fergie: It wasn’t just a vicotry, that was an annihilation! Why it happened is because Barcelona were drawn as the home team so they play their home strip, and we have to choose ours. Our home kit and our blue kit are too similar to theirs, so we were left with white one but we are happy at that. And we’re better than Madrid!
How much more challenging is it to retain the Champions League than to simply win it?
Fergie: Well we’ve never done it and it’s never been done. We’re good at doing things for the first time. It’s interesting, it’s unusual than nobody has defended it. In the 60’s and 70’s it was done regularly, teams winning two or three times in a row. We have an opportunity to change the record, hopefully we can take it.
Barca have evolved since you beat them in Champions League last season. How do you expect to manage their improvement?
Fergie: We didn’t play well in Barcelona last season but in the second game we did better. In the last 15 minutes we got nervous. We had to defend and we were anxious because we were so close to the final. But up until that time we played well and looked quite comfortable. At the end of the day, we were lucky that Henry headed straight in to Van der Sar’s arms in the last few minutes. Our performance in Barcelona wasn’t good enough but the second game we did well.
Have you sensed hunger to retain the trophy in this squad?
Fergie: When the chips were down in Porto they rose to that. It was a fantastic performance. In the second leg at the Emirates, and Arsenal never lost there, we showed ourselves again, our capabilities. They didn’t play beyond themselves, but to their capabilities.
Alex, you said after 1999 it would never be done again. Has this team exceeded what you imagined possible?
Fergie: Japan was a big, big test for us. Then to come back and play on Boxing Day at Stoke City, it showed you something about the character of the team. It wasn’t a great performance but we showed great character. We didn’t want to lose. When you get a bunch of players who are talented and don’t want you lose, then you’re looking at a special team.
How do you feel playing at this stadium?
Ronaldo: To be honest, this is a great stadium. I feel good to play here. I’ve played well here before and I have to play well tomorrow. I look forward to playing here and to win. It will be special.
Chelsea were criticised for playing defensively against Barcelona and Manchester United played defensively last season. What do you think of this?
Fergie: Defending is part of the game, but we are different to Chelsea. When my defenders are at the top, there is no one better. That is the foundation to win the match, but the players who score and create will win match for us.