As Manchester United FC prepare for their 66th and final match of a mammoth and potentially momentous campaign in Rome, Sir Alex Ferguson has called for one more performance of "determination and courage".
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As Manchester United FC prepare for their 66th and final match of a mammoth and potentially momentous campaign, Sir Alex Ferguson has called for one more performance of "determination and courage" from a squad which has risen to every challenge this season.
A far cry from the razzamatazz of Rome and a UEFA Champions League final against FC Barcelona, Sir Alex pointed to United's win at Stoke City FC on 26 December – which came after travelling back from their FIFA Club World Cup triumph in Yokohama – as a match which "showed the true character of the team". He said: "The team elevated themselves in accepting the challenge of going to Japan which was a big test for us. Everybody found it difficult sleeping over there and to come back and beat Stoke on Boxing Day was a fantastic win. When you have a bunch of players who are talented and don't want to lose, then that's special."
Recent performances in Europe have also given Sir Alex renewed hope that United can become the first team in the UEFA Champions League era to win successive titles. "When the chips were down in Porto we rose to that, it was a fantastic performance," said the Scot of their last-eight decider in Portugal, adding of the semi-final: "In the second leg at Arsenal the team showed their capabilities again. They didn't play beyond themselves but to their capabilities and when they do that they're a very good team. What you see over the last year is maturity; we've won the league again and have a fantastic squad."
The squad may be the most talented ever assembled at Old Trafford, yet it is the manager who continues to drive them to greatness. Before the 1999 final victory against FC Bayern München at the Camp Nou, Sir Alex told his players that they would always regret it if they were able to get up close to the famous trophy without actually getting their hands on it. Rather than being carefully scripted, however, the 67-year-old revealed on the eve of the game that he had not "thought about one word" of what he would say before sending his players out at the Stadio Olimpico. "These things usually happen to me about three in the morning when I am trying to get some inspiration from the deep chambers of my tiny little brain," he said, "but at the moment nothing is coming out."
Inspiration is not something United have been short of, yet the manager knows "a bit of luck" could be equally important if the English champions are to get the better of their Spanish counterparts in the Eternal City. "Certain things will be important such as concentration and the bit of luck that teams get in a certain moments which can decide or turn a game," he added. "It will be a game in which both teams won't want to give the ball away; what we do with it as opposed to them will be the deciding factor. The heat won't affect preparations but if it's uncomfortable we'll have to rely on the determination and courage of our players and that's something I'll be looking for."