Sir Alex Ferguson has stated that reclaiming the Premier League title is “priority number one” for Manchester United. The club begin the challenge of overhauling Manchester City when they kick off their campaign at Everton on 20 August, and Ferguson should have his captain, Nemanja Vidic, back from serious knee injury.
United play the opening match of pre-season against AmaZulu in Durban tomorrow and Ferguson said: “After the disappointment of last year we want to recover the title. We either win the title or come second, it’s an important part of the history of our club over the last 20 years. We have to recover, as we’ve done many times. That’s our target this year. Priority number one is to win the title back. When Arsenal won the title from us in 1998 we won the treble the next year. Then Chelsea came along and got off to a flyer in the league for the first two years [in 2005 and 2006], so we changed our pre-season a little to make sure we got off to quick starts. Recovery is so important and the same applies this season.”
Ferguson is embarking on a tricky pre-season, the challenges of which include negotiating a five-nation tour that covers 22,000 miles – including South Africa, China, Norway, Sweden and Germany – and a squad that is scattered due to injury, rehabilitation and London 2012 commitments. Ryan Giggs, Tom Cleverley, David de Gea and Rafael da Silva are all involved with their respective countries at the Olympics and the manager is likely to be without Jonny Evans because of an ankle injury for the start of the league season.
Ferguson said: “I am not sure he will start the season but he won’t be far away.” While Darren Fletcher’s chronic bowel complaint has left his career in jeopardy, there is better news for Ferguson as Vidic and Chris Smalling, who is recovering from a groin problem, should be available for Everton. “Vidic will start the season, I am sure of that. By the time we get back, we hope he is at the competitive element of his comeback,,” Ferguson said. “He [Smalling] is gradually progressing and I expect him to start the season.”
Ferguson has a number of his younger players in the squad in South Africa and he compared these, who include Jesse Lingard and Robbie Brady, to United’s famous homegrown wave led by David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes: “When I first started picking the young players, we played Port Vale in a League Cup game and an MP from Stoke protested to the government, saying we were cheating the public and they wanted their money back,” said Ferguson. “Little did she know she was watching perhaps the greatest group of young players to come through at a football club in England. The same applies here.”
Despite Ferguson’s reported interest in Leighton Baines, the Everton left-back, he did not appear to hint that Patrice Evra‘s status as first choice is in doubt. “It is an area we’re paying attention to. In the last five years Patrice has played an average of 45-50 games, which is phenomenal. I don’t know if anybody else has achieved that. He’s still a fit lad. He is a fighter and has the same drive and ambition,” said Ferguson, who stated that this record led him to allow Fabio to go on loan to Queens Park Rangers. “With him at QPR for a year, we are a little bit short in that department, which is why we are trying Robbie [Brady, an 18-year-old] there because we believe there is the possibility he will develop into a left-back.”
Rio Ferdinand made 38 appearances for United last season and the defender is hopeful he can repeat that this campaign after managing to get a chronic back condition under control. “Last season, thanks to the physios and sports science team at United,, I felt I managed my back really well. Long may that continue,” he said.I would like to play a similar amount of games this season.”
He also refused to call time on his England career despite being overlooked by Roy Hodgson for Euro 2012, a decision called by Jamie Moralee as showing “a total lack of respect”. Ferdinand said: “My answer’s the same as last season. Manchester United is at the forefront of my mind. It’s my club and this is what I love doing. If anything else comes of it, so be it.ends