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Heinze inspired by United experience

Gabriel Heinze spoke highly of Sir Alex Ferguson and "great years" with the Manchester United FC team who visit his Olympique de Marseille side in the last 16 on Wednesday.

Gabriel Heinze was a United player between 2004 and 2007
Gabriel Heinze was a United player between 2004 and 2007 ©Getty Images

Gabriel Heinze has praised Sir Alex Ferguson for the role the Manchester United FC manager played in shaping his career as the defender looked ahead to facing his former mentor when Olympique de Marseille welcome the English club in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg.

Heinze arrived at Old Trafford from Marseille's fierce domestic rivals, Paris Saint-Germain FC, in summer 2004, and made an instant impact by scoring on his debut in a 2-2 draw at Bolton Wanderers FC. Though his second season was largely written off by a knee injury, Heinze recovered to play his part in the Red Devils' 2006/07 Premier League title-winning campaign before departing for Real Madrid CF a few months later.

"I spent three great years in Manchester, I learned a lot and I have a lot of good memories at such a big club," said the left-back. "The coach is still there and so is the winning culture. [Sir Alex] Ferguson gave me that winning mentality and he did everything so that I felt at home.

"He made me grow up as a man too," continued the 32-year-old. "My last month over there was difficult, and I regret it, but Marseille gave me a lot because the fans have supported me a lot since I arrived."

With Marseille on a six-match unbeaten run and up to third in Ligue 1 − three points behind leaders LOSC Lille Métropole − Heinze is confident of a positive result against an injury-hit United squad missing Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Anderson and Jonny Evans. "OM can produce something against United," he explained.

"We are men like them. There is a lot of quality in their squad but we will be very motivated. We will try and give everything to win. I hope that tomorrow will be our night. Everybody knows the significance of this match; we know the quality of this team. There is no need to motivate us − we can count on the advice of our coach."