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Breaking into the first team
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Time for Alex Ferguson to win European Cup
By Mark Hughes, Guest Columnist

Barcelona versus Manchester United is a potential Champions League classic that any fan should savour and having played for both clubs, I'm particularly looking forward to it.

The philosophy at Barcelona and United is to play attacking, attractive football but Barcelona have built such a reputation through spectacular play that the fans are extremely demanding and if they don't get quite what they expect they are quick to make their feelings known. Out come the hankies to let the players know that it's not acceptable.

It's surprising and disappointing therefore that they have each won the European Cup only twice. You would have to say the two clubs have underachieved at the highest level.

I'm sure Sir Alex would feel, given all his domestic success, he should have won the it more than once and I believe he will rectify that this time. I would suggest United are likely to go through to the final because this season they look to be more together whereas Barca, as always, have factions pulling in different directions. They have also missed key players through injury, especially Lionel Messi, and I think his return may be too late.

Sir Alex ensures his teams stay together. The key to his longevity is the fact he's never stood still. A lot of old-time managers have fallen by the wayside because they were too set in their ways but Alex has had a number of fantastic teams and I had the pleasure of playing in the 1993-94 Double-winning side. But I would have relished playing alongside Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo in this team.

Apart from those two, all the others can be replaced by players equally as good in the squad. They have so much ability they can win games when they are not at their best. They also have a solid defence, which has been a huge factor this season.

I enjoyed a lot of success at United, but I struggled in my season at Barcelona, 1986-87. I had a fantastic opportunity, under Terry Venables's management, and didn't take it. I was a young man, younger than my 22 years, on my own and found it difficult personally and professionally. The 25-yard volleys I'd been scoring at United weren't going in and my style was too aggressive for Spanish football - and Spanish referees.

The following season I went on loan to Bayern Munich and that was a great move for me. German football at the time was a halfway house between Spanish football and the really aggressive British football.

Sir Alex brought me back to United in 1988 and I was a better, more mature player. I was a married man and grown up in every way.

The United/Barca threads have run through my career. I made my European debut in a Cup-Winners' Cup tie at the Nou Camp in 1984. We lost the first leg 2-0 but won the return 3-0 on an amazing night at Old Trafford. Barcelona were also our opponents in the final of that competition in 1991. Everyone thought I wanted revenge because I'd had a bad time with them, but I just wanted to show what I could produce and I did, scoring both goals in the 2-1 win.

Mind you, Steve Bruce tried to claim one of them and I think still is. All the other players jumped on him and showered him with kisses, but I looked up at the screen and it said "Hughes" so that was good enough for me.

I'm sure all Sir Alex's former players now in management have, subconsciously at least, taken something from his way of working and I think he takes pride and satisfaction in the achievements of his old boys, although that doesn't stop him wanting to beat us. Just to keep us in our place.

That was his attitude going into United's match against my Blackburn Rovers team last night and I wouldn't have expected anything else.

It's difficult to tell whether that match will have any bearing on the trip to Barcelona. Sir Alex's teams just move on to the next match with the belief they can win.

I have been flagged up as a possible future manager of United and also Chelsea, another of my former clubs, and when people say nice things about you, it's an indication you're doing something right. But I'm focused on Blackburn.

It could have been so different ...

Sir Alex Ferguson says he might never have been given the time to build a dynasty and fulfil his ambitions had he gone to Barcelona, writes Derick Allsop.

Ferguson was approached by Barcelona when he was in charge of Aberdeen but the then manager, Terry Venables, decided to stay put. It famously took Ferguson four seasons to deliver his first trophy at Manchester United and he is all too aware that most 'big' European clubs would have sent him packing.

"I was interviewed for the Barcelona job," Ferguson said. "Terry Venables recommended me. I met the president in London. Then Terry changed his mind. I don't know what would have happened if Terry had left but they kept in touch with me for quite a while.

"But I've never been tempted or interested in any other job since I joined United. Time is the thing in these places. You don't get time in some of these places. You see them waving their white handkerchiefs in Spain."

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