Sir Alex Ferguson has assured his squad they all have a part to play in what could be a “big year” for Manchester United.
With a second leg against Real Madrid at Old Trafford on Tuesday, Ferguson must get his selection right if United are to reach the Champions League quarter-finals. That is bound to mean disappointment for some, as it did in the Bernabeu a fortnight ago. On that occasion, skipper Nemanja Vidic headed a list of high-profile omissions, with neither Ashley Young nor Nani included either.
Ferguson watched Real beat Barcelona in the Nou Camp on Tuesday in the first of back-to-back “El Clasicos” prior to Jose Mourinho’s men heading to Manchester.
And for those who miss out against Real, the United boss can show that it does not necessarily mean they won’t have an impact.
“In 1999 I left Paul Scholes out of the quarter-final against Inter Milan yet he was the one who scored the goal that got us through,” Ferguson told MUTV. “I left him out of the semi-final because I couldn’t risk him and Roy Keane together as they were both on yellow cards. He accepted it graciously, came on, got booked and missed the final anyway. He didn’t let it affect him. He went on to become one of the greatest players this club has ever had.
“The players sense it could be a big year for them but, at this club in this situation, anything can happen on the run-in. Players can all of a sudden find themselves playing in a final or an important league game because that is the kind of squad I have.”
The first guide to Ferguson’s thinking will come with his team selection for Saturday’s Barclays Premier League encounter with Norwich. Neither Vidic nor Rio Ferdinand are being trusted to play more than a game a week just now, so selection for either man may be telling.
The same is true of Ryan Giggs, whilst Mexican Javier Hernandez, whilst much younger, may view getting picked as a signal he will not start against Real, particularly if Robin van Persie overcomes a hip injury.
Yet Ferguson has warned his players not to treat selection for a more mundane domestic fixture as second best.
“It is very difficult to rotate the squad at the moment,” he said. “They all wanted to play against Real Madrid and there were a lot of disappointed players. That was fantastic. It is a measure of their own confidence in themselves. But we had a chat. I said ‘look, don’t think for a minute losing a game for Manchester United is a trivial matter’. It is a serious matter.”
And, with a run of four successive home games, United can boost their chances of repeating their 1999 Treble, especially as the Old Trafford pitch, which Ferguson said had “collapsed” after Christmas, has recovered.