| Alex Ferguson at a press conference in Madrid Monday. (AFP)
The temperature soared in Spain’s elegant capital Monday and it was not solely the mercury spiralling upwards. Sir Alex Ferguson’s calculated, eventually retracted comments about Uefa favouring Real Madrid, Manchester United’s hosts at the Bernabeu, drew a heated response from Castillians.
‘Hooligan Ferguson’, screamed one headline.
Yet just off the sun-broiled Castellana lay an oasis of calm. Here in Real’s training ground, the players were coolly dismissive of Ferguson’s diatribe about Roberto Carlos and rigged draws. “A load of old rubbish”, was Steve McManaman’s tart verdict. Little fazes a Real dressing-room where greatness hangs from every polished peg.
Ferguson would be unamused to discover that Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and company are privately unimpressed with the technical merits of English football. On Saturday, during their afternoon meal before facing Rayo Vallecano, Real luminaries caught the first half of United’s defeat of Liverpool and failed to find their pulses racing.
“Technically, they just didn’t enjoy watching it,” McManaman said. “We watched the first half at lunch and then went to our rooms. I watched the second half with Roberto Carlos and he didn’t enjoy it.”
Blasts of excitement amid mistakes in possession is La Liga’s view of the Premiership.
Deep down, Ferguson knows Real’s quality exceeds United’s. So he resorted to comments designed to stoke the fire of his own players; his point made, Ferguson dealt with Uefa’s inevitable disapproval with a retraction of his criticisms. “I have been assured by Uefa that the draw was fair,” said Ferguson. “I take their word for it so I was wrong to say what I did.”
But the Scot’s pre-match pyrotechnics were hardly required to spark the kindling already lying in place for an encounter riddled with history and glamour.
The cameramen relaying images to all corners of the globe went dizzy, not knowing where to train their lenses. David Beckham against Roberto Carlos: free-kick specialists, stamina-rich competitors but with Real’s Brazilian comfortably ahead of United’s Englishman in head-to-heads for club and country.