Fergie fronts up to challenge

Fergie fronts up to challenge

Published May. 29, 2011 2:20 p.m. ET

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson insists he is not "afraid of the challenge" of trying to catch Barcelona, despite Saturday's humbling.

The challenge has been laid down - and Ferguson intends to spend his summer holidays working out what to do about it.

The Scot has never been scared of a challenge.

In the aftermath of United's record 19th league title, he spoke about his willingness to face the threat to his side's domestic supremacy posed by Manchester City.


On Saturday night at Wembley, Ferguson encountered a problem of a different kind.

In previous meetings with Barcelona there has always been an explanation.

Three years ago it was the story of United's sensational defending in keeping two clean sheets in the narrowest of semi-final wins on the way to Moscow.

Twelve months after that, Ferguson could point to his team failing to turn up in Rome.

They turned up on Saturday night. At times they implemented his game-plan to perfection. They even scored.

Ultimately though, United were reduced to chasing shadows, overwhelmed by one of the greatest sides to play the game, containing the best player in the world and two more from the top five.

"Finding a solution is not easy but that is the challenge," said Ferguson.

"You should not be afraid of the challenge.

"The one thing we have shown is that we are consistent in Europe. We have got better and better over the past few years.

"Maybe this could be the kind of stepping stone we had when we lost 4-0 (to Barcelona in 1994).

"We improved from that. We want to improve. Next season may see us improve even more."

Not that it is Ferguson's problem alone.

It has long been established Roman Abramovich views the Champions League as a Holy Grail.

If the Russian truly believes Chelsea can play the Barcelona way purely by luring Pep Guardiola to Stamford Bridge, he is deluded.

Arsene Wenger has suffered at Catalan hands two years on the trot. Real Madrid have been trampled, even if their manager, Jose Mourinho, can still crow about beating Barca with Inter Milan.

AC Milan and Bayern Munich, two more giants of the game, are staring up at a higher power.

"We all have a challenge with Barcelona, not just Manchester United," said Ferguson.

"It is not any consolation to say you are the second best team. We don't enjoy being second best.

"Any club with the history we have; Real Madrid, AC Milan, would stay the same."

There is comfort for United fans in believing their club appear to be on the brink of spending some money rather than talking about how much they have.

Yet even that brings questions.

Atletico Madrid's David De Gea is the man who looks certain to assume Edwin van der Sar's status as number one keeper.

De Gea's promise has been evident for some time.

However, at 20, he clearly has much to learn and must also cope with the physicality of the Premier League.

On the basis that Michael Owen is unlikely to get a new contract, Dimitar Berbatov's Old Trafford future must be in severe doubt.

United do have the option of adding an extra season to the single year Berbatov has remaining.

However, there appears to be little point in keeping a player who has slipped so far out of contention, especially as Ashley Young and Wesley Sneijder have both been tipped strongly for an Old Trafford move.

Paul Scholes is yet to state his intentions and Ryan Giggs looked every inch a 37-year-old as Xavi and Andres Iniesta buzzed around him like determined little bees.

It suggests at least one midfield reinforcement is required, along with the required emergence of Anderson into a genuine world-class talent.

All these conundrums will be fizzing through Ferguson's head before his team return to Wembley to face City in the Community Shield, underpinned by the realisation that even if he gets every call correct, it still might not be enough to even give Barcelona a decent game.

"Of course, where we start to find a way to do that is something we will mull over during the summer," reflected Ferguson.

"We are not lost on ideas at our club. Hopefully we come up with the right ones."