Ronaldo ready as United begin Champions defence

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson is determined Manchester United will become the first club to defend the Champions League title successfully, which makes the likely return this week of Cristiano Ronaldo after ankle surgery all the more timely at the start of the group stage.

The Portugal winger, who scored 42 goals last season but had to have ankle surgery in July, is set to return to action against Villarreal tomorrow, as United try to wipe out memories of Saturday's first Premier League loss at Liverpool in seven years. "You have to recover, that's the name of the game," Ferguson said yesterday. "It's the Champions League and we are in a good group and I think we have a good chance of qualifying."

The former United striker Giuseppe Rossi missed Villarreal's opening league games with a sprained left ankle and is doubtful for the return to Old Trafford. Group E also includes Celtic and the Danish side Aalborg. "The way I look at the Champions League is to get to 10 points," Ferguson said. "If you get that, you know you have qualified."

United's reserve goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak has signed a two-year contract extension which will keep him at the club until at least 2012. The 26-year-old, who moved to Old Trafford from West Bromwich on a permanent deal last year, still had two years of his contract left to run. "We always like to sit down with all our young players as we want to look ahead and protect our future," Ferguson said.

United could end up as winners even if their shirt sponsors, AIG, go bust, according to football finance experts. AIG, the biggest insurance company in the US, is facing an uncertain future after its share value fell by 40 per cent on the New York stock exchange. United are privately confident that their record £56.5m shirt sponsorship deal, which has two years left to run, will be unaffected by the turmoil.

But Simon Chadwick, professor of sports business strategy at Coventry University, believes the club could even benefit if they have to find a new sponsor. "Shirt sponsorship values appear to be holding their own well in the Premier League and also in Germany," Chadwick said. "It may be an issue outside the Premier League, but if United do have to find a new sponsor, they would almost certainly pay as much and quite probably more. United are European champions and Premier League champions, so could not be in a better position."

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