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Alex Ferguson plays down significance of Champions League exit


Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is "optimistic" about his side's title chances and believes their level is not far away from that of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The champions are just two points behind Barclays Premier League leaders Manchester City and temporarily topped the table after beating Liverpool on Saturday.

Ferguson is determined to push City all the way in a season in which he endured the disappointment of an early exit from the Champions League.

The Scot told Fifa.com: "We've had our ups and downs and we've been unlucky with injuries.

"We've had a lot of them, which you don't expect, and we've got people like Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher out for the whole season.

"You can replace your best players for a game or two, but you really notice the difference over a longer period, and that's what's happened to us.

"Even so, we're fighting hard to win the Premiership again and there's a lot of merit in that. Obviously I'm optimistic about our chances."

United have reached the Champions League final three times in the past four seasons but went out at the group stage this term after two damaging results - a draw and a defeat - against Basle.

Ferguson is convinced that was merely a blip and his side can soon get back to the level of the top European sides.

He said: "I feel we had the ability to go all the way to the final.

"Luck wasn't on our side, but I think we've got the ambition to compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid, and I don't feel we're that far away from them. I'm sure we'll show that soon."

Ferguson, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday and 25 years in charge at Old Trafford, has famously built sides around graduates of his club's youth system in the past.

He accepts the homegrown production line has not been as prolific in recent times but he is confident that will change.

"A few years ago the requirement was brought in that you could only sign young players that lived within an hour-and-a-half radius of the club's headquarters.

"It wasn't like that before, which was how we were able to sign such fantastic young lads.

"As a result, we started to bring in very talented players from abroad and we've had success that way.

"But it's true, in terms of developing players from within the club, it's been a long time since we produced a player of David Beckham's calibre.

"But the legislation changed again a short while back and it'll be like it was 15 years ago once more, so I'm very optimistic we'll be able to get the production line we had in the past going again."

Ferguson, who planned to retire 10 years ago but changed his mind, has no thoughts of stepping down.

He said: "My philosophy is that, for as long as I'm enjoying my job and I'm in good health, I'm going to carry on here.

"I don't think you can set yourself limits, but nor can you plan too far ahead because you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow.

"The time will come (for me to retire), obviously, but right now it's not something I'm thinking about."