Sir Alex Ferguson says the goal is simple for Manchester United - the target is to reclaim the Premier League title and nothing else will do.
Premier League: Sir Alex Ferguson targets quick return to the top
Sir Alex Ferguson has digested the loss of the Premier League to Manchester City and placed it in psychological context. Last season, he says, was a "disappointment", yet nothing his Manchester United teams have not recovered from before.
As United prepared for their first fixture of the 2012/13 campaign in Durban, South Africa this evening, Ferguson compared the season's challenge to those he faced upon ceding the English title to Arsene Wenger's Arsenal in 1998 and Jose Mourinho's Chelsea in 2005.
Back then, Ferguson focused United's rehabilitation on reclaiming the Premier League.
This season, the method is to be the same.
"We want to recover the title," said Ferguson. "That's an important part of the history of our club over the last 20 years - we either win the title or come second. You have to recover, as we've done many times, and that's our target this year. Priority No 1: to win the title back.
"I think if you look back over different periods of recovery, when Arsenal won the title from us in 1998 we went and won the treble the next year. So we accepted that challenge and did something about it.
"Then when Chelsea came along, and the first two years got off to real flyers in the league, we had to change our preseason a little bit to make sure we got off to quick starts. And that allowed us to get the title back.
"That's happened three times in the last 14, 15 years. Recovery is so important and exactly the same applies this season. There's no any difference. It will be special, but no any more special than in the previous years."
It may be no coincidence that United are in South Africa to play Amazulu FC tonight and Ajax Cape Town on Saturday. Ferguson smiled knowingly when the tour promoter pointed out that United's three previous preseason visits to the country were all followed by Premier League titles.
The first fixture has been organised to celebrate Nelson Mandela Day and will feature a half-strength United squad minus the club's European Championship players and rehabilitating defenders Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans.
Ferguson promised to start all his experienced tourists against Amazulu with the notable exception of Dimitar Berbatov, who this week stated that it would be "better for everyone" if he was allowed to leave Old Trafford. New signing Shinji Kagawa will start in attack with Javier Hernandez in the Bulgarian's stead.
United will also experiment with two young left backs as they seek a backup to Patrice Evra. Robbie Brady, an Ireland Under 21 midfielder, who spent last season on loan at Hull City, will be given the opportunity to establish himself as a defender. Tyler Blackett, the club's Scholar of the Year, is also to be given playing time.
"Left-back is an area which we're paying attention to in that sense that Patrice, in the last five years, has played an average of 45 to 50 games," Ferguson said. "It's phenomenal for anyone in the Premier Division, I don't know if any player has achieved that, but he has. But he's still a fit lad and he still has the same drive and ambition; he's a fighter.
"But we have to look at [the position]. With Fabio away to Queens Park Rangers for a year [on loan] we're just a little bit short in that department. That's why we're trying Robert Brady as a left-back. We also have a young boy from the youth team with us, Tyler Blackett. A big strong boy, quick going forward. But he's only just turned 18. He has time on his side, but he's here for the experience and he may surprise us."
Ferguson said he expected Vidic and Smalling to have recovered from ruptured knee and groin ligaments in time for United's opening Premier League fixture at Everton on August 20.
Johnny Evans "won't be far away" following ankle surgery. Rio Ferdinand, who will captain his club in South Africa, again distanced himself from questions about the England team.
"I'm not thinking about playing international football," Ferdinand said. "Manchester United is at the forefront of my mind; it's my club and this is what I love doing. If anything else comes of that so be it, but I don't think about anything else except for playing for Manchester United on a weekend and hopefully winning back the league."
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