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James Lawton: Ferguson blinded by his Euro vision


Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson didn't get to be where he is today by living in the clouds. However, at least one of his pronouncements this week was maybe more than a little fluffy at the edges.

It was his suggestion that the Premier League is on the point of re-asserting its dominance over the rest of European football.

There are two problems with his declaration. One is that despite their mishap at the Emirates the other night Barcelona remain, for impeccable reasons, rock-hard favourites in front of Real Madrid to win their third Champions League title in six years.

The other is that the re-conquest of Europe is shot through with an irreparable flaw. It never happened in the first place.

Yes, the Premier League crowded the later stages of recent tournaments and, certainly, the new empire looked formidably placed when United beat Chelsea in a final of compelling power in Moscow in 2008. But what happened to the extended subjection of Europe?

It sort of went away, and to an extent which surely demands caution over the thrilling performances of Spurs and Arsenal last week and signs of improvement in Chelsea.

United, who did most to establish the myth of English ascendency with their triumphs in Barcelona in 1999 and at the Luzhniki stadium, with an appearance in the Rome final a year later, are now mere fourth favourites behind Chelsea (9-2) at 7-1 and plainly in need of a major overhaul in midfield.

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The recent report of an optimistic move for Tottenham's Luka Modric can only brush the extent of their needs.

With Paul Scholes doubting his ability to march on much longer, United contemplate for the first time since the advent of Bryan Robson a midfield denuded of a major presence.

That was the harsh message from the Stade de Velodrome — and a desperately humdrum draw with Marseille this week — or, more accurately, a crushing confirmation of a growing reality.

It means that whether or not financial heavyweights like the Qatar Royal family buy out the Glaziers it is obvious United must push for major refurbishment in the engine room of the game — just as Chelsea need to with the inevitable ebbing of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien.

Arsenal, who are rated no better than 16-1 shots to preserve their advantage over Barca and go on to win their first European crown, are best served in this area with Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and, not least Jack Wilshere, but with Fabregas pining for his Catalan roots some disruption in the near future seems inevitable.

Against these realities, Ferguson's claim can only be sustained in the middle term by a fresh bout of massive spending.

If, for example, you awarded two points to every Champions League winner and one to the runner up, the league table since the inception of the Premier League would read like this: Serie A 16 points, La Liga 13, Premier League 10, Bundisliga (the junior spender by some distance) 7, the Dutch and French leagues 3 and the Portuguese league one.

We know well enough the virtues and the vices of the Premier League; we know the spectacle and, on the other side of the coin, the defensive frailty.

We know, too, the competitive character of Manchester United. None of it, though, justifies occupancy of cloud eleven — and least of all by someone as knowing as Sir Alex Ferguson.