Twice he qualified his remarks by saying: 'If I had an open team.' He is close to knowing the XI that will take the field against Torpedo this afternoon. Lee Martin has a flu virus, which all but rules him out, and the probability is now that Mike Phelan and Denis Irwin will be the full-backs.
He has reluctantly omitted his Ukrainian flyer, Andrei Kanchelskis, in order to play Peter Schmeichel, Mark Hughes and Brian McClair as his three permitted foreigners. This means Danny Wallace will play and the last midfield place will go to Neil Webb or Bryan Robson, a duty they will probably share. 'Andrei was desperately keen to play in Moscow to impress a Russian crowd, but he understands the situation.'
The option of playing Kanchelskis and Gary Walsh, the latter in goal, has been discarded because Ferguson now believes that Torpedo, reported to be the youngest team in European competition, will play in a similar style to that which brought them a 0-0 draw in the first leg.
The tie might have to be resolved by penalties, an eventuality that makes Schmeichel an automatic selection. Apart from his penalty saves for Denmark, he has also saved one on Torpedo's ground while playing for his Danish club, Brondby.
'Probably the best in Europe,' Ferguson said when asked about his goalkeeper's ranking in one poll as the world's No 1. 'He's impetuous, but that is part of his nature. He'll go for things no keeper has a right to go for and will get them. He'll make errors, but I can live with that. He forces forwards to make up their minds very quickly.'
He recalled Schmeichel's early experience in England against Wimbledon: 'He was like a man collecting washing off the line that day. They kept on whacking him and he kept shouting at the referee: 'This is not football'. After that he felt like going straight back home again, but he has learned, and quickly.'
Ferguson then turned to what he admits would be an extreme gamble in recalling Robson. 'He hasn't played a competitive match since April, but he is such a determined bugger that if I asked him to play he would do so. If I asked him if he was OK to play he would say: 'Yes'. It's a very big pitch with a bumpy but well-grassed surface and if Robbo did play, it would have to be in a position where we didn't tax him too much.'
The implication is that if Robson does appear it will be as a midfield sweeper just in front of the defence. No one, not even his manager, could shackle Robson in this manner.
Ferguson was open about his tactics today: 'We need a goal to force them out. I'll be on to the lads about keeping the ball, because if they lose it they won't get it back in a hurry. Torpedo won
2-3 on Sunday, so we know that they can attack, but my impression is that they will not expose their young defence unless they are forced to do so. We could be looking at another 0-0 and extra time, which would suit us.'
United's players went for their mandatory team picture in Red Square with the Kremlin in the background yesterday morning. Jimmy Armfield, the former England captain and now a BBC radio commentator and part-time church organist, denies he was asked to play in St Basil's Cathedral ('Do the choir know 'Rock of Ages', Jim?'). The touts are offering the usual army caps, fur and peaked, watches and Bolshoi tickets.Reuse content