Sir Alex expects Europa glory
Sir Alex Ferguson has left his Manchester United players in no doubt that he wants to win this year's Europa League, as he seeks to win a trophy that he is yet to collect in his silver-laden career.
Ferguson has never won the Europa League, not even when the competition used to be known as the UEFA Cup. The primary reason for that statistic is that his United side are usually in the Champions League.
The UEFA Cup does hold memories of a first-round exit at the hands of Rotor Volgograd, when even an 89th-equaliser from Peter Schmeichel could not save them. That was the last time the Red Devils played a European match away from the Champions League.
United play Ajax in Amsterdam on Thursday in the competition's last-32, and the Premier League champions have several key names missing. Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher are out long-term, but they are joined on the sidelines by Chris Smalling, Patrice Evra, Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov.
Nevertheless, Ferguson has the date of May 9 penned into his diary, representing the day of the final in Bucharest, and he expects his United side to be there.
"Players are coming back and we can combine the Premier League and Europa League with the number of players available. Winning a European trophy is significant," Ferguson stated.
"I feel good about it - it is a tournament we will try and win. There's a final in Romania. I want to be there and they (the players) want to be there and so do our supporters."
Like United, Ajax are more accustomed to the Champions League, but they are currently sixth in Eredivisie. None of that matters to Ferguson, who believes the club's history will not allow them to roll over on Thursday night.
"We must respect all our opposition, we had that lesson from Basel this season," the United boss said. "Whichever team you play in the Europa League, they are capable of producing players. I worry about Ajax's history more than I do any particular players. I respect that history."