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La Liga

Heinze's Ferguson regret

Gabriel Heinze had admitted his fall out with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is one of the biggest regrets of his career as he prepares to renew acquaintances with his former boss in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Heinze had established himself as a leading light of United's defensive line before he attempted to force through a contentious transfer to Liverpool in the summer of 2007. Ferguson, though, refused to do business with his fierce local rivals, choosing to offload the defender to Real Madrid instead.

The Argentinean's moderate success at the Bernabeu was in contrast to United's consistent triumphs since his departure, but he now has the opportunity to square off against his former employers as his Mars eille side attempt to upset Ferguson's Premier League stars in the last-16 of the Champions League.

With the dust now settled on their public bust-up, Heinze is keen to try and end his feud with Ferguson as he claims this tie is setting his pulse racing like few he has been a part of in his lengthy career.

"I don't have many regrets from my career as a footballer, but that episode with Ferguson [has] to be one of them," said Heinze. "I'm impulsive and strong-willed and this has got me into trouble at times, which was the case at the time when I left United.

"On reflection, it is easy to see that Ferguson was a major influence on my career, in a positive way. I thought my mind was set to be a winner before moving to United, but I had only completed part of the journey. Sir Alex makes every player he comes into contact with so much more driven and committed. He demands that his players dig as deep for the cause and I'm sorry that we fell out in the final days because I still have so much respect for him."

Ferguson claimed Heinze and his agent were itching for a move away from United less than a year after he signed on at Old Trafford, as he believed the player and his advisor placed their desire to make a fast buck ahead of sporting ambition.

Four years on and the 32-year-old Heinze appreciates that he turned his back on a special club, with his affection for United apparently running deep. "I cannot wait for the chance to go back onto the pitch at Old Trafford because this is the most special club of all, and I include Real Madrid in this list," he said. ''United is a club built on success. It has heritage, legends and trophies, but for me Old Trafford is also a very human and warm place.

"To get my point across I usually tell people about Sir Bobby Charlton. This man is an icon, a sporting god, but also a simple and sincere gentleman. As one of the survivors of the Munich air crash, he wasn't too comfortable on planes, but when he heard that I was also a poor flyer, he sat next to me during a trip abroad and did his best to keep my mind off my fears. What a special person.

"I have an affinity for United, but I have to make sure I don't allow sentiment to upset me in these two games. With a place in the quarter-final of the Champions League at stake, there's no chance of anyone in our team taking a step back. Marseille lives for football, just like Manchester, and I certainly wouldn't write off our chances of winning this tie."

Heinze's optimism does not appear to be shared by Marseille boss Didier Deschamps, who is playing a well-used card to ease the pressure on his side by writing off their chances against United before a ball has been kicked.

Suggesting that this is a nightmare draw for his team, the 1998 French World Cup-winning captain believes only three teams have a realistic chance of lifting the Champions League trophy this season, picking out United, Barcelona and Real Madrid as the favourites to claim glory at Wembley in May.

"United were one of the teams we needed to avoid in this draw, but we have to accept our fate and try to believe something amazing can happen," said Deschamps. ''I respect the other English sides and there are some strong contenders in this Champions League, but Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid are the three teams that have the biggest chance to be champions. For me, the winner comes from those three.

"Bearing in mind Marseille hadn't reached the last-16 of the Champions League for over a decade, our initial target to come through the group is already something to be proud of, so anything more from here would be a massive bonus. I don't want to say my team have no chance in this tie as our fans have every right to dream of winning this competition or beating a top side like United, but you have to tell it as it is."

While there are few more intimidating caldrons than their 60,000 capacity Stade Velodrome on a big European night, United's team of experienced European competitors have seen it all before and Deschamps believes they offer a much bigger threat than the Chelsea side Marseille beat on home soil in the Champions League a couple of months ago

"You cannot say everything has been perfect for United this season and yet they find themselves top of the Premier League," he said. "The mark of a good side is to find a way to win when you are not at your best and United have done this all season. I put this down to the mentality of the club and especially the manager, who for me is the greatest coach in football.

"Alex Ferguson is the prototype of a winner and this is the manager I will try to emulate in my coaching career, even though I know this ambition is impossible as no manager will ever again remain at the top of a major club for so long.

"You don't pile up the trophies Ferguson has by accident. He has been leading Manchester United for over a quarter of a century and yet his hunger never fades. He has made United in his image. They are never satisfied and will always looking forward to the next challenge.

"Sir Alex is a great host when you meet him away from a big game and this is the way I like to spend time with him. When he is plotting the downfall of your team on the touchline, this is not a good position to be in."

Marseille's Champions League adventure will end in predictable fashion unless they turn on the style in the first leg at their Stade Velodrome amphitheatre this week, so Deschamps has to hope his negativity does not rub off on his players when United come to town.


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