YOKOHAMA // No sooner had he landed in Japan hoping to win the 2008 Club World Cup, than Sir Alex Ferguson started talking of Manchester United's hopes of making qualifying for the tournament next year, when it is to be held in Abu Dhabi. Of course, that would mean retaining the more prestigious prize of the Champions League, but Ferguson is not taking the competition in Tokyo lightly.
Speaking in Yokohama ahead of United's two-game assault on the Club World Cup, Ferguson emphasised how highly he values the tournament, despite its interference with United's Premier League calendar. "We can win the Club World Cup in December but we cannot win the Premier League in December," said Ferguson. "The competition is a little handicap for the Premier League, but that is what happens when you are successful. I hope we are in Abu Dhabi next year because it will mean that we have won the European Cup. The incentives outweigh whatever happens in the league."
The United manager admitted that his players were jet-lagged, adding: "The most difficult part of the trip is to change the body clock in such a short space of time. We had the players up at seven o'clock on Sunday morning and made sure they didn't sleep until they were on the plane at night time. "We will then change back towards British time on Thursday. We'll be at a disadvantage but it is the best way we can work it. Our plans are organised by our medical staff and will give us the proper chance to acclimatise here immediately and then to revert back for the match against Stoke City."
United return to England on Dec 22 ahead of the game at Stoke on Dec 26, but Ferguson's current priorities are in Japan. "In 30 years' time, you might look back and say Manchester United World Champions 2008," he said. "That is what our club is about. That is why I want to win it. We were the first British team to win it in 1999 and we took great pleasure in it. "These tournaments add prestige to the football club and this is important for us. I look at the teams and I think it is very difficult. There are some very good ones here."
Ferguson has brought a full United squad ahead of tomorrow's semi-final against Asian champions Gamba Osaka. "The format of the competition has changed, but the world has grown and countries like Japan, Korea and China are developing their football strongly," added Ferguson. "There had to be a better balance of teams involved and the prestige attached to the tournament now is greater than when it was a two-legged one-off tie."
The United manager also made his views clear on the spectre of a 39th Premier League game being played outside England. "I don't think there will ever be one," he stated bluntly. "I'm not in favour of it. If you look at our domestic league programme allied to the domestic competitions, I think it is impossible." firstname.lastname@example.org