SIR ALEX FERGUSON says victory in the Champions League final will put his current Manchester United crop among the list of all-time greats.
United lock horns with Spanish giants Barcelona in Rome tonight, looking to become the first team ever to successfully defend the Champions League trophy following their dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea 12 months ago.
“This is an opportunity for us to be put alongside a lot of the great teams of Europe,” Ferguson said.
“If you look back, sides like Ajax, AC Milan and Bayern Munich regularly won it on consecutive seasons.
“There have been times when we should have done better in Europe and this is an opportunity for us to get that victory which would put us alongside the great teams of Europe.
“I think this particular team has that kind of future. Hopefully tomorrow we can endorse that.”
Ferguson is now setting his sights on following the likes of the great AC Milan in twice defending the trophy between 1989 and 91, albeit in the old format. In the longer term, the United boss also dreams of matching the feats of Real Madrid’s five consecutive European Cups in the 1950s, and Ajax’s domination in the early 1970s – all that starting with victory over Barcelona tonight. “There have been a lot of unlucky teams in world football but when you look at the pantheon of great teams you need to have won the European Cup to have that tag,” Ferguson added. “It has always been that way. Teams like Manchester United and Barcelona have to win the trophy to be regarded in that respect.
“It is unusual that no one has done it (defended the trophy) since the Champions League started, but we are good at doing things first and this is our opportunity. Great teams used to do it but not now. We have an opportunity and hopefully it is something we can tick off.”
Ferguson has great respect for opposite number Pep Guardiola and his stylish Premira Liga champions, and accepts his team have a tough 90 minutes ahead if they are to fulfil their European dreams.
“We know both teams can keep it well and what we can do with the ball will decide the game. What we can create and how long we can keep it will crucial. We will have to play well to win, that goes without saying. Certain things will be important like concentration and luck. That can decide a game.”
Rookie Guardiola has steered the Catalans side to Rome in his first season in charge and is under no illusion as to the task that awaits as he looks to become the third man to win the European Cup as a player and a manager. “Manchester United have lots of virtues,” he replied gracefully. “If we are not strong in defence they will attack and it is a team that attacks well. If it has to defend, it defends with humility and if it has to counter-attack, they are deadly.”