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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sir Alex: We'll be fresh for final

United's FA Cup final defeat against Chelsea last season remains hurtful at Old Trafford, but Sir Alex Ferguson has promised a very different game when the teams meet in Moscow next Wednesday.

The Reds boss insists the tiredness that dogged United's performance on a dry, uncompromising Wembley pitch last May will not be a factor at the Luzhniki Stadium.

"I think it will be a British affair, but it will be different from the FA Cup final," he said. "I’m absolutely certain of that. We will be fresher, and with that being the case I expect a better performance from us."

Chelsea's approach that day was to stifle and contain United. Then boss Jose Mourinho even asked his players beforehand, 'Do you want to enjoy it during the game or after the game?' and his men chose the latter.

Their style differs very little now Avram Grant is in charge, who still applies the tight, well-organised and physical approach.

"They are the things that you have to come up against," says Ryan Giggs. "Chelsea are a big strong team. They are a hard team to play against because they are so strong defensively.

"Equally so, we're good going forward but I think we're strong in defence, we've proved that this year.

"I don't know if we're going to get an open game, but we'll go out and try to create chances and score goals like we always do."

Sir Alex feels that Grant has already started the mind games with comments in the press about refereeing decisions going United's way in the title race.

"I've been expecting it," said the United boss. "I don't think it's about last Sunday, I think it's about next Wednesday and maybe even next season. I could go on and on about decisions because they're all debatable at the end of the day, we feel we didn't get a lot of decisions this season.

“Maybe when we went to Chelsea we should have been champions before it, but with the season over we can put it on the backburner and now it's about next Wednesday and I think that's why Avram's talking that way.”

United title was a reffin’ fix

Avram Grant faces a disrepute charge after claiming ref Steve Bennett helped Manchester United win the Premier League. Bennett oversaw United’s 2-0 title clincher at Wigan on Sunday but Chelsea boss Grant said: “In England there are very good referees but some you can influence.” Ref Bennett failed to award Wigan a penalty for a Rio Ferdinand handball but later gave United a spot-kick from which they scored. He also did not send off United midfielder Paul Scholes for a second foul on Wilson Palacios. Grant raged: “I believe in the tradition of the fair English game. I will not say anything against it. But what happened is what I expected. “Paul Scholes should have been shown a red card and Wigan awarded a penalty.” Asked if he is glad an English ref will not oversee the Champions League final, Grant said: “I can say it like this – yes.”
Shaun Custis, The Sun

Ole: Dawn of a new era

The Reds are on the cusp of European dominance, according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who is calling on United’s players to believe in their potential.

The Norwegian, who fired the Reds to Champions League and Treble glory in the Nou Camp in 1999, reckons victory in Moscow next week could spark one of United’s most successful ever eras.

Solskjaer is enjoying his role coaching the current crop of United players since retiring last August, but he wants this team to win at the Luzhniki Stadium and do what the ’99 team couldn’t: repeatedly rule.

"This will hopefully be the start of something more than we achieved," he says. "The 1999 team achieved it once. It was a fantastic feeling. The memories of that night stick with you forever. I wanted to experience more of them and believed we could. Now nine years have passed before the club could get back to a final.

"This side can win it and hopefully start something bigger,” he told the Manchester Evening News. “You want the players to get the feeling that this is where we want to be every year. Hopefully it will inspire them and motivate them to believe what they really can achieve because I believe this team and these players can achieve a lot more.”

Solskjaer wants the team’s younger set of players, led by Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, to experience European glory, which will then inspire them to remain at the top level for years to come. “If you give Cristiano and Wayne, for instance, the taste of what it's like to win the Champions League, they will have the impetus to win it again and again.

"I think this team could go on to win more Champions Leagues than us in 1999 because of the talent and the age of the players.”

Ferdinand signs new deal

Rio Ferdinand has signed a new five-year deal that will keep him at Old Trafford until he is almost 35, in which time he foresees plenty of success ahead.

The centre-half has reached the zenith of his career, with performances that have been consistently outstanding throughout the season.

Ferdinand, who joined the Reds in summer 2002 from Leeds United, is excited about the future ahead.

“This is a fantastic club and I'm delighted to sign a new contract," he said on Thursday.

"It's a great honour to be part of this trophy-winning team and to share in the success, which I am sure, will continue for many seasons to come. I'd like to thank the manager, the coaching staff, the players and the fans for the tremendous support they have given me since I joined the club."

Sir Alex Ferguson was clearly delighted to safeguard the future of one of his most important players.

"Rio’s contribution this season has been a major factor in our outstanding defensive performance," said the Reds boss, who intimated that the 29-year-old is a future regular captain in the making.

"He has matured into his role at the club and has shown, when needed, what a great captain and leader he can be. I am delighted Rio has signed a new contract."

Ronaldo clinches awards treble

The individual awards keep rolling in for Cristiano Ronaldo, who has picked up the Barclays Player of the Season and Barclays Golden Boot awards to complete a sensational season.

The 23-year-old Portuguese wing wiazard also collected a merit award for reaching 30 league goals this season.

Ronaldo was pivotal in United's Barclays Premier League title success and it was no surprise that he earned the Barclays Player of the Season accolade for the second year in succession.

Whichever way you look at it, Ronaldo has been exceptional this season, and the stats back it up. His 31 goals from 34 league appearances helped see off stiff opposition for the awards from Arsenal’s Emmanuel Adebayor and Fernando Torres of Liverpool.

It's the first time a player has scored more than 30 league goals in a season since Alan Shearer’s 31-goal haul for Blackburn Rovers twelve years ago.

The merit award for reaching 30 goals will also benefit one lucky charity as Ronaldo will receive £1,000 for every goal scored to be donated to a charity of his choice.

However, for all the personal awards showered on the Madeiran magician, his sights will be firmly set on the Champions League trophy in Moscow next Wednesday.