By Marc Padgett
Sunday, 2 March 2008
Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed he will pick Paul Scholes in his team for "sentimental" reasons if Manchester United go on to reach the Champions' League final this season.
Scholes suffered the heartache of missing United's dramatic 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich in the 1999 European Cup final through suspension, and Ferguson says the midfielder will definitely be in the starting XI should United make it to Moscow in May, 50 years after the Munichair disaster and 40 years after United's first European Cup triumph over Benfica.
United drew 1-1 in Lyon in the first leg of their last-16 tie and are strong favourites to reach the quarter-finals on Tuesday. Ferguson said: "Hopefully if we get to the final this year he will get his opportunity. I'm not a sentimental man, my job is to manage the club, but I'd be sentimental on that one [picking him]."
Reflecting on Scholes missing the 1999 final, when Roy Keane was also suspended, Ferguson said: "There must have been disappointment. Players of that calibre, with his record in football, he would have missed that just the same as Roy. To miss the biggest club game in the world must have an impact. But he [Scholes] wouldn't have let it destroy him either, because he has achieved so much."
Ferguson said the 33-year-old's role at Old Trafford is changing as the years progress: "He may have to define his role a bit. We can't expect 15 goals a season but Anderson can eventually replace him. [Anderson] is not so much a goal threat at the moment but he has the ability to open up the game the way Scholes could, the confidence to take the ball in tight situations which Scholes is terrific at, that great arrogance Scholes has got, flicking the ball away from defenders, hitting the long pass after the short pass. Scholes has always been good at all that, and Anderson is showinggood signs."
The clock appears to be ticking for Scholes and his evergreen colleague Ryan Giggs, but Ferguson insists the pair still have plenty left in the tank. "Scholes has just come back [from injury] and his first game back was terrific. When you're out three-and- a-half months, sometimes adrenalin helps you, but I've seen him in training and he's flying. Giggs has a little niggle but we want him 100 per cent for Tuesday."
Looking ahead to Lyon, Ferguson was quick to pinpoint the quality of their striker Karim Benzema, who scored in the 1-1 draw last month and has been linked with a summer move to Old Trafford for a fantastical figure of about Â£45 million.
Ferguson added: "He's the goalscorer in the team, him and Juninho from set-pieces. They are a 100 per cent threat to us and we have to be aware of that. Benzema plays as a lone striker and he's a goal threat. The manner Benzema took his chance tells you he can score out of nothing, and you worry about playerswho score out of nothing."
The England manager, Fabio Capello, believes United's away goal will prove crucial, enabling them to pick off Lyon on the counterattack. "Lyon need to get a goal quickly, but if they come to attack, it will present a problem. I remember last season when Roma attacked while United went on the counterattack. We all saw what happened then," he said of United's 7-1 victory.