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The Manchester United players arrived back home from Japan last night with body-clocks confused but purpose clear having sealed the FIFA Club World Cup title without losing too much ground in the Premier League title race.

Rio Ferdinand promised that from now on the Premier League would "see the real Manchester United" as they resume their title defence.

United may have come home to the unfamiliar sight of Aston Villa sitting one place ahead of them in the league but they are in possession of the title of world champions, a dubious honour that nonetheless seems to have galvanised the players.

Having beaten Liga de Quito 1-0 in Yokohama on Sunday, Ferdinand was moved to proclaim the last 12 months as his "greatest year" as a footballer.

It demonstrates just what United have won -- back-to-back league titles, the Champions League and now the Club World Cup -- that Ferdinand can put aside the humiliation of England failing to qualify for Euro 2008, which he has previously described as one of his worst experiences. United resume their league progress on Friday with a visit to Stoke City.

"Without question, this has been my greatest year as a professional footballer," Ferdinand said. "To win the Champions League, the Premier League and now the Club World Cup is something very special.

"Now we want to keep on winning. We haven't started the year as well as we would have liked, so I hope this can be the kick-start that we need."


Ferdinand confirmed that manager Alex Ferguson reserved one of his most inspiring team talks for Sunday's final in Yokohama.

Ferguson wanted the trophy, because that is his nature, but he was also chasing a turning point in United's season.

"Make sure you win this because it will have a big impact on our season,'' he told a collection of talented players who had underachieved this term.

Ferdinand added: "The manager's teamtalk before the game hit the nail on the head to get into gear. That is the sign of a great manager. He went into certain points that had a good effect on us.

"One of the things said was the fact that, if we didn't win, it would have a very negative effect on our season.

"Hopefully this could be a defining point in our season. It could be a turning point making it from being quite mediocre in certain aspects and results-wise into hopefully being challenging.

"There are always times when there have been significant moments from the manager, not just team talks but at different parts of the season, either on the training field or in the changing room.

"Sometimes you need to be told the basics and reminded about what got us to where we have been last year and the year before. Great players need reminding and we have a few of them in our squad. Young players and senior players need reminding.''

So United went for Liga de Quito, winning through a Wayne Rooney goal, and delighting FIFA with their commitment levels and celebrations, on and off the pitch.

"A lot has been said about the tournament,'' added Ferdinand. "It hasn't been well received in England but you saw our reaction when we won it. I am elated.''

The Club World Cup is designed to bring clubs from across the world together, celebrating Fifa's disparate family, but it inevitably ends up highlighting the disparity between confederations.


The final was again between the champions of Europe and South America. FIFA could have retained the old Intercontinental Cup format and had the same result. Problems cling to the event from the disruption of domestic calendars, the cost to travelling fans to jet lag.

"It has been a hard trip, if I am honest, both physically and mentally adjusting to the time and all that,'' said Ferdinand.

Moving it to the UAE for the next two years will make it easier for European clubs, but the timing in the season remains an issue. Until a standardised winter break is introduced, and the Club World Cup played in that early January period, then each event will be dogged by questions.

United arrived to a host of questions about how seriously they, let alone the English public, were taking the Club World Cup. By the time United left, the enthusiasm of Ferguson's players, and the club's fans, had given a real tonic to FIFA's tournament.

Next up United is a visit to Stoke City on St Stephen's Day Day. Just to show the other Premier League fans they have been in Japan, becoming world champions, some of the 1,300 United fans who travelled to Tokyo will don the flu masks worn by Japanese people. (© Independent News Service)

- Sam Wallace
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