Sir Alex Ferguson was in New York to promote Manchester United’s summer tour of the United States, but he also gave his opinion on the potential of Major League Soccer and America’s chances at the World Cup.
Arguably the greatest manager of all time entered the press conference in New York’s W Hotel to a rousing applause from the assorted media. His opening statement highlighted the potential of America.
"You have so many kids playing and being coached all over the country,” Ferguson said. “There has to be somewhere they have to go to when they reach that point or even college, and a lot of them do find themselves going to Europe."
He qualified that later by stating that he believed that Major League Soccer has progressed to the point where it can provide for those players.
The most interesting statements from the long-time Manchester United Manager came when he was asked about the potential of the MLS. He started with the present.
“There are some very good players now joining in America - Ljundberg, Thierry Henry joining the Red Bulls, and, of course, David Beckham,” the Scotsman said.
He then focused on the future in a way that showed he had given it considerable thought.
“The difficulty for soccer in the United States is this: they can’t join the South American Cup against the best Brazilian teams, the best Argentinean clubs; they can’t join the European championships. . . . So they’re isolated in that respect,” Ferguson said about MLS clubs. “Which is why a lot of the players really have to move to Europe to progress their own careers, which makes it difficult for American soccer to get to the very top.”
Ferguson explained that despite Major League Soccer facing inherent limitations, he sees the litmus test of progress differently.
“What does happen, and you’ve seen it over the last few years, the national team does very well because most of the players are playing in Europe,” Ferguson explained. “And because they are naturally athletic individuals and apply themselves very well, and they have good organizational abilities, they’re always very difficult to play against. That’s where I see the measure of the progress.”
Sir Alex Ferguson sees that progress in England and he was not afraid to express his views on American players. He spoke highly of Landon Donovan in particular, after the playmaker spent three months on loan with Everton, even helping orchestrate a win over Ferguson's Manchester United.
“[He] did very well in his spell with Everton,” Ferguson said. “I think they wanted him to stay with them, but the agreement was that he had to go back.”
When describing the progress of American players he was quick to refer to Clint Dempsey, stating, “Dempsey had a great season in England this year.” He did not forget about his former players either, referencing Jonathon Spector’s time at Manchester United’s academy and his current place in the West Ham first team.
But the focus of his longest praise for an American player was centered on former Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard.
“He was a great athlete, Tim Howard, a terrific athlete,” Ferguson reminisced. “Tim was a bit unlucky with one bad spell with United and his confidence went a little bit and it was very difficult on him. But now he has matured, he’s experienced, he’s doing fantastic with Everton, and it’s a great boost to your soccer in America that four of your goalkeepers are playing in England alone.”
The United States and the World Cup
That progress and European experience will translate into success on the world stage this summer, according to the 68-year-old. Ferguson was clear that he expects the United States to advance out of their group at the World Cup.
The United States kicks off its 2010 World Cup campaign on June 12 against England.
“I think England will find it quite difficult against them,” stated Ferguson. “It’s a hard to game to start off with [for the United States]. England are very very motivated under Capello. Capello is an outstanding coach.
“If they can survive after that, in terms of the next two matches, they have a very very good chance of qualifying, in fact I think they will qualify.”
He justified this belief by referencing previous successes of individuals and the team.
“They’ve proven themselves in previous World Cups,” Ferguson said. “Donovan and Dempsey have some experience of being there before. It’s not as if it’s new to them. So I don’t think they will be overawed by the stage or the atmosphere of the World Cup, the importance of the World Cup, the intensity. I think that will be easy for them. I think they will be used to that now.”
Manchester United in America
Despite the interesting quotes above, the real purpose of the press conference was to promote Manchester United’s upcoming summer tour. In the summer of 1958 Manchester United toured the United States, arriving by boat and staying for six weeks, playing a total of twelve matches. This summer will be a little less strenuous on the Red Devils.
The tour is scheduled to start with a training camp in Chicago followed by games on July 16 against Celtic FC in Toronto, on July 21 against the Philadelphia Union, on July 25 against the Kansas City Wizards, and on July 28 against the MLS All-Star Team in Houston.
Following a World Cup many of Manchester United’s players will require additional rest before they return to preseason, but Sir Alex Ferguson specifically named Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher, Edwin van der Sar, and Dimitar Berbatov as part of the squad which will flaunt its skills Stateside.
Additionally, fans should also expect first teamers Rafael, John O’Shea, Wes Brown, Johnny Evans, Antonio Valencia, Darren Gibson, Michael Owen, and Frederico Macheda as they are all not involved in the World Cup this summer. Ferguson also stated that Mexican Chico Hernandez will be called back early despite his inclusion in Mexico’s World Cup squad. He will join the team in Philadelphia to aid his integration into the squad.
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