Football: Squad power and the glory

Strength in depth is again the key to United success.
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The Independent Online
IN SEEMINGLY the most obvious and predictable remark after Manchester United's dismissal of Newcastle's flimsy Wembley challenge yesterday, Ryan Giggs said that although the early loss of captain Roy Keane was a "disappointment", the outcome was assured because "it's a squad game".

Newcastle's side reflected the comparative inadequacy of their resources. Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, emphasised the difference by saying: "We had to reorganise after the injury to Keane but it was a squad effort. They were marvellous, but Teddy Sheringham was the decisive factor."

Ruud Gullit, Ferguson's Newcastle counterpart, admitted: "We gave them far too much space. All the time we let them get to the ball first." He acknowledged that the lack of depth in his squad had not only led to a one-sided final but been a problem all season. "We have already signed two players [for next season]," he said afterwards. As to the day itself, he said: "For a time it could have gone either way. Then we gave it away. When Duncan Ferguson came on we were in control in midfield but you can't give the ball away the way we did. Overall, though, it's been a positive year for us."

But will he be at Newcastle next season? Rumour has it he is being tempted to leave for Italy but he was adamant: "I haven't signed my new contract yet - that's in the hands of the lawyers and I have a good one - but I will sign."

After that he acknowledges for next season his priority must be "to stop giving away the stupid goals". He added: "That made all the difference, it's been happening all season. We've got to get the players to stop that going on. United have the quality to take advantage. They punish you immediately for your mistakes."

Ferguson and Gullit acknowledged that it was far from a fine final, but Ferguson said: "I thought we had a great second half." Unusually, he gave individual praise. As well as stressing Sheringham's contribution, he said David Beckham had been "absolutely magnificent".

He said the midfielder had "responded ever so well to the reorganisation. I knew he wouldn't let us down." Also, Keane's injury came "not from a bad tackle but a reckless one". He added: "I had to consider what was the best substitution. I considered Jesper Blomqvist. Then I felt we should have the three strikers on the field. So [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer was not in his natural position but he worked his socks off - everyone made a good contribution."

Asked if he had been tempted to send out a reduced team to keep United's powder dry for the European Cup final against Bayern Munich on Wednesday, he said: "I think that over the past five or six weeks I've spread the squad as best I can. We go to Barcelona very confident. I've rested Andy Cole quite a lot and Dwight Yorke today because he has done fantastically. The one who has played all through that period, though, is Beckham. But knowing the nature of him and what he's made of I knew he had the best stamina of all of them. I think we've done well to pick the team we did and keep the appropriate selection for Wednesday. The confidence now is even higher."

For many United fans the only disappointment was seeing the last performance in Britain of the goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, who left the field in delight but not sufficiently so to give even a hint of a change of mind over his decision to end his United career after Wednesday's final.