The bitter memory of last year’s Champions League exit to Bayern Munich is driving Sir Alex Ferguson as Manchester United launch their latest quest for European silverware against Rangers at Old Trafford today.
Despite already guiding United to two Champions League triumphs, Ferguson remains unshaken in his belief that the English giants could and should have had more to show for their efforts in Europe during his 24-year reign.
And nothing rankles Ferguson more than the manner of last season’s defeat to Bayern, when United raced into a 3-0 lead in the second leg before the Germans scored twice to advance on away goals.
Ferguson is convinced that the quarter-final loss deprived United of the opportunity of adding to the club’s haul of Champions League crowns, believing they would have proved more of a match for eventual winners Inter in the final.
“We’ve only won it three times, which is not enough for this club, and we’ve been unlucky a lot of times. Other times we’ve just ballsed it up,” Ferguson said. “The reality is we could have won it another two or three years.”
“Last year still plays on my mind, that Bayern Munich game. Christ, I’m still not sleeping after that! I keep thinking about that game and keep getting angry about the way we lost it. If we’d got past Bayern Munich I think we would have reached the final last year and I’d have fancied us against Inter Milan,” Ferguson told the People newspaper.
Today’s Group C encounter pits Ferguson against the club he supported as a boy and played for between 1967 and 1969.
It also sees him renew his rivalry with close friend Walter Smith, the Rangers boss whose career included a brief stint as Ferguson’s assistant at United during the 2003-2004 season. Smith was also part of Ferguson’s coaching staff during Scotland’s 1986 World Cup campaign.
Despite a record against Scottish clubs in Europe that suggests a winning start for United today, Ferguson has warned his players against complacency.
“You’ve got to respect Rangers and with their history you can’t take them for granted,” Ferguson said. “I know Walter Smith well and just how organized and difficult to beat his side will be.”
Ferguson has confirmed Wayne Rooney will be available for selection. Captain Rio Ferdinand is also expected to return from injury.
The last time United faced Rangers in the Champions League, Ferguson’s men prevailed in both games, winning 3-0 in Manchester and 1-0 at Ibrox.
Smith meanwhile acknowledges the Glasgow giants could be in for a difficult evening.
“It doesn’t matter how much money Chelsea or any of the rest of them have got, they will never get what Manchester United have got; that certain aura around them,” Smith said. “The top Italian teams can always reach it at different times, but I think there is just something about Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United.”