Strachan upbeat about clash with former nemesis

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The Independent Online

Gordon Strachan admitted on Friday that he felt far better about the prospect of going to Old Trafford on Wednesday night than he did a few weeks ago, and it has nothing to do with his newly restored relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson.

The man who has had more blasts of the "hairdryer" treatment than anyone else has a bald Dane and a Dutchman with a long name - not that one, Fergie - to augment a Celtic side he felt were a bit thin on quality. The Champions' League is no place for fringe acts, so Thomas Gravesen and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink will feel right at home at the Theatre of Dreams.

While his former manager at Aberdeen and Manchester United remained all quiet on the transfer front, Strachan invested almost £6 million wisely in his last two recruits just before deadline day. Vennegoor's goals almost took PSV Eindhoven to the final in 2005, while Gravesen experienced a rarified atmosphere in his time at Real Madrid.

Strachan believes that both will give the Scottish champions more gravitas. The break-up of the team he inherited from Martin O'Neill quickened when Stilian Petrov left to rejoin his mentor at Aston Villa - only four of the squad from the 2003 Uefa Cup final are still on the payroll.

"I feel better now," Strachan said as he paraded Gravesen. "I signed a lot of young players in the summer but we needed personality and experience; I've got that in Jan and Tommy. Expect-ations are as high as any club, but we now have two men who have played at the top in Europe."

Strachan was at the top in Europe 23 years ago with Ferguson as Aberdeen defeated Real Madrid to win the Cup-Winners' Cup. In his recent autobiography, Strachan says he was bullied by Fergie at Pittodrie. He left soon after to join Manchester United but his world changed when, in 1986, Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford as Ron Atkinson's replacement.

Ferguson sold Strachan to Leeds in 1989, believing he was past his best. That view backfired when Strachan inspired the Elland Road club to the English title in 1992 at 36. The pair had barely spoken since Ferguson's own autobiography seven years ago stated that Strachan "could not be trusted an inch".

Strachan's own book, published last month, laid the feud bare for all to see. "Even as a manager I have found it difficult to discount the possibility of Fergie taking a particular interest in putting one over on me," Strachan wrote in My Life In Football. "On the occasions our paths have crossed, we communicate no more than is necessary."

However, after the Champions' League draw put the two British teams together in Group F, Strachan revealed that he and Ferguson had put seven years of acrimony behind them after a pre-season friendly at Parkhead. "We met for 40 minutes, on our own, and talked about football and families and we were joking," he said. "You cannot spend more than 40 seconds with someone if you don't like them.

"I've beaten him as a manager at both Coventry City and Southampton, but he has beaten me more often. Fergie is the best manager of his generation, but it took him five years at United to get anywhere near the perfection he was looking for."

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