After a trip to Saudi Arabia which did not deliver his side back to Manchester Airport until 8pm on Thursday, Sir Alex Ferguson could have wished for opponents other than Tottenham in one of the FA Cup weekend's most interesting ties tomorrow.
Spurs have scored 73 goals in all competitions this season – 12 more than United – and Ferguson was reflecting yesterday on the dual threat presented by Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov. Ferguson has known Keane, who scored his 100th goal last Saturday, since the Irishman's days at Wolves coincided with his own son, Darren. "I remember Darren telling me about this young kid called Robbie so we know all about him," Ferguson said. "He's a terrific record considering Spurs have not really been that successful over the last few years."
Ferguson's appreciation of Berbatov is even better known and the circumspection he showed yesterday about a player many believe he will try to sign this summer suggested that he did not want to fan too many flames. "He is a good player. He is a big strong, lad too. People don't realise how strong he is," was all he would say. "He is well-balanced and hard to shake off the ball."
After the 5-1 demolition of Arsenal in midweek, Spurs also arrive at the perfect time in their season and Ferguson is aware that Juande Ramos' approach to life at White Hart Lane is beginning to have an effect. "Obviously, their new manager will now be feeling he has got the understanding of the team and they will be understanding his way of playing," he said.
But Ferguson has more grounds than ever to feel optimistic. United have not lost at home to Tottenham since 1989 and at the start of a week which should finally see Paul Scholes return to action – against Portsmouth on Wednesday – after the knee surgery which has kept him out since October, the strength his players are demonstrating, particularly late in games, is beginning to look formidable. Ferguson cites the Reading game, a gruelling one for his side, though the way United overcame Aston Villa in the last 20 minutes, in the third round, demonstrated more of the same.
Ferguson also insisted the Saudi trip had not taken any toll. "To travel six hours out and then have a longer trip back wasn't the best – but that is a mere bagatelle in relation to the experience of going to Saudi, which was a great cultural experience for everyone," he said.
Ramos, who revealed yesterday that his club's three-man transfer committee had turned down "six to eight" players during his reign as Tottenham head coach so far, has a side who are far more of a work in progress.
He is believed to be interested in bringing in Tiago of Juventus, with talks under way with the Middlesbrough defender Jonathan Woodgate. But he was relaxed about the task ahead. "I'll take a bottle and if we win, I'll open it and if we lose, I won't," he said yesterday.Reuse content