x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Sir Alex Ferguson is still the right man for Manchester United

Calls for the manager to step aside after exit are premature but defeat to Basel had echoes of defeats to Dortmund and Monaco.

The columnist is confident Sir Alex Ferguson will make the necessary changes after United's shock exit.
The columnist is confident Sir Alex Ferguson will make the necessary changes after United's shock exit.

Some supporters have asked me if Sir Alex Ferguson is still the right man to take Manchester United forward. He is.

They ask if he is getting too old, but the manager I see now has as much energy, drive and passion as the manager I played under a decade ago.

After 25 years at the club, he remains the right man, and I honestly think he will make the changes to get United succeeding again in Europe after they were knocked out of the Champions League by the Swiss side Basel on Wednesday. A team of United's stature should not be getting eliminated in the group stage.

I have been in the same position as those defeated United players and know how they will be feeling.

I played in a team which got knocked out by Borussia Dortmund in 1997, and then Monaco a year later at Old Trafford. It was awful.

Ferguson told us that we had not been good enough. He didn't say specifically, but we knew there would be changes, and there was.

In 1998, United went out and bought Jaap Stam and Dwight Yorke. We won the treble a year later. Nobody could have foreseen that a year earlier, but that shows the fine line between success and failure.

I have heard all the criticisms of the current United team, seen the views of fans with their remedies and lists of dream players. It is not quite so simple.

When I saw a Champions League group which contained Benfica, Basel and the Romanian minnows Oletul Galati, I couldn't believe how easy it was compared with Manchester City's group or Real Madrid's group.

City did not get through the group stage, and I still feel that Europe is a learning curve for them. And they were unlucky not to progress with 10 points.

But the better comparisons are with the front-runners. Real Madrid got 18 points in their group, twice as many as United. Barcelona got 16 points.

They are the sort of totals United should be getting, but you can't come close when you win just two of your games, against the weakest team in the group.

United have not played well in Europe this season and it's impossible to pretend otherwise. Even if United had beaten Basel, they would have finished second in the group and faced a difficult draw against a top team. It's not good enough and the manager knows that better than anyone.

So now United are in the Europa League. I am not a fan of the tournament, although I must confess that I don't watch it until the final. I find it hard to get excited watching teams I have never heard of, playing too many games in half-empty stadiums.

Ferguson called the Europa League a "penalty" for failing to progress in the Champions League.

That may seem disrespectful to some, but it's true. United should not be playing in the Europa League.

What City do will now have a major bearing on United's season. United will switch attention to the league where City are their main rivals and enjoy a five-point lead. And then there's the FA Cup, where United have drawn City away.

Win the league and the cup and people will soon forget about a terrible night in Basel, but such happy prospects seemed a long way away as I looked at the glum faces of my fellow passengers on the flight back to Manchester.


Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten