Sir Alex jumps to the defence of Ronaldo
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has defended Cristiano Ronaldo to the hilt in his relationship with rival supporters.
The winger was pictured reacting angrily at Aston Villa on Saturday as he left the field after the Premier League game.
Portuguese international Ronaldo picked up a leg injury in the 0-0 draw and was the subject of taunts from the crowd.
That led to suggestions he was struggling to come to terms with his status as the best player in the world - but Ferguson scoffed at that idea.
Speaking ahead of the Champions League match against Villarreal tomorrow, the Scot said: "It depends on what side of the fence you are on really. There has been some criticism today of Ronaldo that he couldn't take it on Saturday.
"I wonder how many people take it when you are walking down the street and so many people hit you over the head with a baton? How many times can you take it? Tell me someone who likes getting abused? Will you please point them out to me.
"I thought he showed admirable courage on taking the ball on Saturday. He always does. He was tackled many, many times, most of the time fairly but there were a few occasions when he didn't get the right decisions.
"That is the mantle you carry when you are a great player. He knows that so he has to get on with it. He is a great player and he is a target for fans. But it is not a problem.''
Ronaldo has pleaded to play against the Spanish side - but Ferguson has his doubts about that.
He said: "Cristiano got a lot of whacks on Saturday. He got a few cuts but nothing serious. He wants to play and that is a problem. I would rather leave him out. When players show that enthusiasm to play you don't deter them you encourage it.''
United have one foot in the next stage and a score draw against Villarreal would see them secure top spot in Group E on head-to-head record should both sides finish level after next month's final round of group matches.
Ferguson believes his squad are better equipped to try and retain crown than they were in 1999. They go into the match on the back of a 17-match unbeaten run.
He said: "We were very naive the next season. I think teams having watched us the previous season worked us out tactically. That took us by surprise. We should have changed but we did not and suffered.
"This season I think we have a better team and a better squad. So we can make changes tactically. I think we have improved on that score. Players grow up in Europe and become familiar with the change in the way the game is played.''
Apart from Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, Ferguson is convinced Barcelona will provide the main danger.
He said: "I place them alongside the English teams as possible winners. They have to be the big threat to everyone. Our experience of playing against them last season, they are a very difficult team to play against. They have changed their format this season.
"The English teams have established themselves as a consistent threat to all of the teams but Barcelona are a dangerous side.''
Ferguson confirmed goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak will replace Edwin Van der Sar between the posts as the Dutch veteran is being rested.
"We are giving another goalkeeper an opportunity and experience, '' said the United boss. "There is no better experience than a European tie away from home.
"It is a matter of judging the right time to introduce other players like the goalkeepers for instance. That is a prime example. The rest is down to injuries when circumstances dictate.''
Ferguson expects another tough match after the Spanish side drew 0-0 at Old Trafford.
He said: "Villarreal have shown over the years they are a tremendous side. They have been second in La Liga twice now in the last five years.
"To do that with the resources they have in a small town - they don't have anywhere near the resources of Real Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia - is remarkable.
"They are a fantastically consistent team. We are playing a really good organised side.''