AC Milan v Manchester United: Beckham in the background as Rooney takes over
As Manchester United prepare to meet up again with old-time Old Trafford hero David Beckham, Sir Alex Ferguson has declared world-class Wayne Rooney king of the current breed.
United's encounter with Beckham's AC Milan has been built to such a degree that Ferguson timed the first question about the former England skipper at “three seconds” when he offered his opinions at the obligatory pre-match press conference.
Although he offered some platitudes to his former player and has healed the rift that caused them to part in 2003, Ferguson is clearly happier talking about others, in particular Rooney, whose 23 goals this season are largely responsible for United being just a point adrift of Chelsea in this season's Barclays Premier League title race.
“Manchester United builds up heroes very quickly,” said Ferguson. “We are peculiar because the players, like Beckham, who come through the ranks are always viewed as better than those you buy.
“But Rooney is also regarded as that kind of player. Although he came from Everton, the fans will always look at him as one of the players who has grown up with us.
“He has been fantastic this season and, without doubt, his form this season has brought him to the high point of his career.
“World-class is a misused term, but with Rooney, you have to say he is getting to the point where he is now one of the best players in the world.”
The question that ultimately led to that response was which club, Milan or United, had suffered the most from losing Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid after the Spanish giants' mega-swoop last summer.
It was a question Ferguson felt was impossible to answer. Yet he did confirm Ronaldo, in his opinion, is the best player in the world at present.
“Marvellous,” was his actual description.
That statement in itself told a story about Ferguson's opinions about Beckham.
While there could never be any criticism about the player's industry, or his desire to succeed at Old Trafford, his manager felt the image surrounding him had grown out of control.
Ferguson was uncomfortable feeding it and that stance persists to this day given his reaction to the prospect of facing Beckham for the first time tonight.
“David left seven years ago,” he stated. “You move on in life. That is what happens. This is a different team and different players.
“David has experience. He has over 100 caps for England and has played for Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United.
“It is the same experience as the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi and Clarence Seedorf. They all have that experience that Milan bring and I hope he is not celebrating at the end.”
Ferguson finds it far easier concentrating on one of his more favourite themes, what went wrong when the two sides last met three years ago.
On that occasion United led
from the home leg, only to see their hopes of booking a final meeting with Liverpool dashed by a rampant Milan outfit that scored three times without reply to consign the Red Devils to their fourth straight defeat at the hands of the Italian giants.
“In the last game, the physical part was the real reason for our performance,” said Ferguson. “We had to play against Everton on the Saturday while Milan rested a lot of players and they were fresh. We are fresh this time and that can make a difference.”
There is more to it than that though.
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extra quality. But it was maturity Ferguson felt was missing.
“Over the last two years there is a maturity about us away from home,” he said. “There is a distinct change from when we were here last.”
And that, really, should be the difference, once you consider United have started to click into top gear again.
“They accept there is a big challenge,” said Ferguson. “And these lads are big game players.”