Manchester United on tour: Sir Alex Ferguson still loves to learn

12 July 2011 04:41
Sportsmail's team of reporters will take you behind the scenes of what life is like on pre-season tour with the Barclays Premier League clubs travelling the globe this summer.Here, Chris Wheeler offers his insight into Manchester United's early experience of America.

.Little more than six weeks on from Wembley and that chastening Champions League lesson at the hands of Barcelona, Sir Alex Ferguson and his players prepared for their return to action at another centre of learning.

Manchester United's appearance at Harvard University may have been a publicity exercise for their opening match against New England Revolution on Wednesday, but there is no doubt this tour kicks off what will be a hugely significant season for the Premier League champions.

Off and running: Ryan Giggs (left), Michael Carrick and Gabriel Obertan (right) training at Harvard University

Not since the summer of 1995, after United surrendered the title to Blackburn and the FA Cup to Everton, has Ferguson overseen such a radical turnover of key personnel.

The retirement of Paul Scholes, Edwin van der Sar and Gary Neville may have been largely expected, but they are big shoes to fill.

Add to that the sale of John O'Shea and Wes Brown, and the possibility of other departures in the coming weeks, and it will be a new-look squad that assembles for the start of the new season next month.

Too good: Lionel Messi and Barcelona gave Manchester United the runaround at Wembley in May

United regained the title from Chelsea and reached the Champions League final while rarely producing the kind of form that has become their hallmark under Ferguson, but it was a second comprehensive defeat in the space of three years to Barcelona that best emphasised the margin of improvement needed to put them in a position to lift the trophy Ferguson craves most of all.

Can United do it? Touching the left foot on the statue of John Harvard, as they did here, is meant to bring good luck but the Old Trafford boss knows he will need more than that.

In excess of ?50million has already been spent on Ashley Young, David De Gea and Phil Jones, while another significant sum has been put aside for Samir Nasri or Wesley Sneijder.

Ferguson said this week that he feels Nasri is destined to move elsewhere, but United are believed to be closing in on Sneijder even though they insist no formal bid has yet been made for the ?35m-rated Inter Milan star.

United front: Patrice Evra (right) takes on Ryan Giggs (left) as Dimitar Berbatov looks on in training at Harvard

Either way, Ferguson's success in blending the old with the new over the next couple of years will be crucial in determining whether he can close the gap on a supreme Barcelona side for whom longevity and consistency are but two advantages.

It will not happen overnight, nor will Ferguson try to rush the process.

Chris Smalling and Jones will not easily usurp Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand at the heart of defence.

Promising youngsters like Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Federico Macheda - all out on loan last season - will still find first-team football hard to come by.

Asked if this was the dawn of a new era, it was notable that Ferguson replied: 'Not next season. We try to look ahead and make sure we have an influx of young players coming in to replace the older players.

New boy: Ashley Young (centre) joins in with the United squad at Harvard University in Massachusetts

'It's obvious that for the last three years that we were well aware of the need to replace Ryan Giggs - fortunately he's managed to play on and perform the way he does - Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, and Edwin Van der Sar.

'The work has been trying to make sure we still have the quality in the squad to carry on the success.'

Ferguson was in relaxed mood at United's hotel in downtown Boston, appearing at a press conference straight from arriving at Logan International Airport where the team's Turkish Airlines flight had touched down 20 minutes late on Monday afternoon.

If his advancing years or a seven-hour trip had dimmed his enthusiasm, the 69-year-old certainly wasn't showing it.

At one point he even answered a question directed at Rio Ferdinand, sat to his left on the podium. Ferdinand kept a respectful silence but smiled while the manager spoke about his previous experiences in Boston, before pointing out his error.

Stiff test: Sir Alex Ferguson will send his United team out to face Steve Nicol's New England Revolution

'You only get one question when you come up here with the boss and he tries to nick it!,' joked Ferdinand.

The England defender admitted that United's latest new signings are vital to take the club forward, even though it could affect his own future at Old Trafford.

'It's just what the club needs,' he added. 'Three of the most experienced players have just retired so the manager has reinforced in some positions.

'This is a club that always evolves. I've been a part of that, and that's what you aim to do as a player - it's not about you as an individual or your personal feelings. It's about the club becoming more stable and improving.

Positive sign: Rio Ferdinand arrives in Boston

'It's great to see young players coming through, and when the manager adds players of quality like Phil Jones, David De Gea and Ashley Young it can only improve the squad and continue the success.'

Wednesday's game against the Revolution kicks off the 2011 Herbalife World Football Challenge, a tournament involving 13 teams of whom United will play only three - New England, Chicago Fire and, finally, Barcelona although that last game in Washington DC will have decidedly less at stake than when the two clubs last met.

United's other two fixtures are against Seattle Sounders and the MLS All-Stars in New Jersey.

It is the second year they have spent the pre-season in the US and it is clear Ferguson prefers it here to touring other continents.

'We saw the rise in US soccer last season and all the games were really tough,' he said. 'The US teams have advanced their game because their coaching and sports science are first-class. We noticed that last year when we played Philadelphia and Kansas.

'That's put them on a different level in terms of my appreciation of them. You're not going to get an easy game against them now.

'We have to work hard and if you don't then sometimes you can be embarrassed because the Revolution will be ahead of us in terms of fitness. We experienced that last year when Kansas beat us 2-1. It was a reminder that you can lose a game if you don't prepare properly and have the right attitude.'

Ferguson will be up against Revolution coach Steve Nicol, who played under him for Scotland at the 1986 World Cup having once rejected the chance to become a record ?200,000 signing for Ferguson at Aberdeen and joined Liverpool from Ayr United instead.

'For some reason he turned us down for another small club!' joked Ferguson. 'We respect the Revolution and the job Steve has done. It's difficult for us to play friendly games because of the expectation.

'If you lose a friendly there's always criticism even from your own fans and staff. We can't go into any game not wanting to win. That will be the case against the Revolution.'

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Source: Daily_Mail

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