Ferguson's route back from Rome

Manager upbeat about prospects in Europe despite last season's final defeat
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The Independent Online

Losing, Sir Alex Ferguson declared last night, has been "a part of me for a long, long time. It's not as if I've changed because of one defeat. You know defeats because you get them. Everyone gets them."

He was reflecting on his side's loss to Barcelona in Rome's Stadio Olimpico, though, and there is no mistaking how it has punctured United and left them desperate to put things right. The wounds are more open for Rio Ferdinand, who admitted that he can still hardly bear to discuss the manner of United's 2-0 defeat. "I [now] know what it feels like [to lose] a Champions League final and it's not an easy thing to talk about," Ferdinand said. "It was sickening because we felt we were on the cusp of greatness so to lose the way we did was really difficult. The worst thing about it was that we didn't even put up a fight."

United have much distance to run before they can set the score straight. The quest to become champions of a continent once more takes the club to the borders of another – Besiktas' Inonu Stadium is the only ground in the world with a view of two continents – and with a trip back out east to Moscow before the end of October, maximum points of the frequent flyer variety are certainly guaranteed.

Europe is suddenly a land of uncertainties, too. United have played none of their Group B competitors – CSKA Moscow and German champions Wolfsburg make up the quartet – in the competition and if all can be negotiated then there is the question of Real Madrid perhaps lying in wait and what shape they might take. "I can't answer [questions about Real] because it is a new team bedding down and the coach has to make some decisions about the team," Ferguson said.

Also awaiting United, of course, are Manchester City, with nothing to do this week but settle back home and prepare how to outdo their neighbours at Old Trafford on Sunday. Ferguson bristled when that point was put to him, insisting that the real top brass of British club football were all grafting this week. "Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal are playing this week. That's the top four for the past few years and they have to cope with the same [work as us]. We have until to Sunday to prepare for the next game, that's ample time. That's why we have a squad."

Ferguson is also still indignant about Paul Scholes' dismissal at Tottenham on Saturday, his second yellow card being questionable on that occasion, and suggested that Scholes has become one of those players who is targeted by referees because he is a clumsy tackler. "The atmosphere and the Tottenham player didn't help," Ferguson said. "It's because he has that reputation [for being a bad tackler]. He does have clumsy tackles at times and that wasn't one." In public, he held a diplomatic line on Emmanuel Adebayor staying on the field, following his behaviour in City's game against Arsenal on Saturday, when Scholes did not. "I'm not getting into any incident where a player should or shouldn't have been sent off."

But United should return in good spirits, tonight's match pitching them against an unsettled side who have scored only three goals in five league games, taking just six points from them. Liverpool's defeat here two autumns back provides a salutary lesson of the cauldron United face. Followers of the Black Eagles are proud of recording football's loudest decibel level – 132 – though the energetic Brazilian striker Bobo, who terrorised Rafael Benitez's side that night, will probably be missing.

There was a reminder in an interview published yesterday with Ferguson's former charge Diego Forlan, now of Atletico Madrid, of the tempestuous individual the Scot's players have found him to be over the years. Forlan told a story of refusing to wear high studs as Ferguson had wanted on one occasion, then trying to hide the fact. "He grabbed the boots and threw them. That was my last game for United," Forlan said.

It was a tale which showed how, as philosophical about losing as the United manager might claim to be, memories of Rome will be burning in him like so much has in his footballing life.

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