Ferguson: The price of success
© AFP

The FIFA Club World Cup might be coming at a crucial stage of the English Premier League season, but Manchester United are determined to come back to Europe with the prestige of being crowned world champions of club football for 2008.

An indication of how seriously the Red Devils are taking the FIFA Club World Cup can be found in Sir Alex Ferguson's 23-man squad. While other managers may have considered resting some of their stars for a gruelling domestic and European campaign, all of Ferguson's big names have been included, with the exception of the injured Owen Hargreaves.

Therefore fans in Japan can expect to see Edwin van der Sar in goal, a defence marshalled by Rio Ferdinand, a midfield containing the irrepressible Cristiano Ronaldo and a strikeforce including arguably the finest English talent of the moment, Wayne Rooney. Dimitar Berbatov, Paul Scholes and Carlos Tevez are all potential matchwinners as well, and will be central to United's fortunes in Japan.

Ferguson knows what it takes to be successful in this type of competition. Back in 1999 he masterminded a win over Brazil's Palmeiras in Japan to scoop the old Intercontinental Cup, but the current tournament - a variation on the theme - sees an extra game and four more teams in the running.

"We're delighted to be going to Japan," the United manager told FIFA.com at United's Trafford Training Centre in Carrington. "We're going there because we've won the Champions League and I hope we'll be playing in this [the FIFA Club World Cup] for the next five years. It's an achievement to just be involved. We're the only British team to have won it - and I consider that to be one of the club's greatest achievements.

"There's now a different focus on the tournament and it's good that teams from Africa, Asia and elsewhere have a chance to take part," Ferguson went on. "You can't stop progress and this is a progressive step. The quality of the game has improved tremendously all over the world. It means an extra game to what the club has had in the past, but I think that's important."

Tight schedule
United have four more fixtures in three different competitions before travelling to the Far East. They take on Blackburn in the League Cup on Wednesday, before meeting Sunderland in the Premier League on Saturday. Their third home game in succession sees them entertain Aalborg in the UEFA Champions League on 10 December before a trip to Tottenham three days later. Five days after that, they are due to play a semi-final match in Yokohama's International Stadium.

Their opponents are not yet known, but it will be the winner of the Adelaide/Waitakere-Gamba Osaka match. Given the result in the AFC Champions League final, Gamba are expected to be the opposition and Ferguson knows that his side will be given a stern examination of their credentials.

"We played Urawa Reds in the summer of 2007 and it was a really difficult game," continued Ferguson. "The J.League is a tremendous competition, with a number of the world's top coaches involved, and the investment it has had is paying off. Whenever we go there for a friendly tournament or whenever we face Japanese opposition, I know we'll be given a test.

"We're going to come up against different styles and different mentalities," the United boss added. "Throughout the world, teams defend differently and they create chances differently. I know that Liga de Quito are a very good team, they're very quick and aggressive. You have to be a good team to win the Copa Libertadores, so we know that if we play them, they will give us a good game."

The global appeal of Manchester United means that Ferguson knows that his side will be well backed during their time in Japan and he's hoping to give the fans over there something to cheer.

"We first went to Japan and Thailand in 1989 and we had fantastic support there," Ferguson said. "That's going back almost 20 years ago and the passion of our fans over there never ceases to amaze me. It's grown and grown, and it's part of the legend that is Manchester United. We play entertaining football, we have entertaining players and I think it attracts people from all walks of life. I'm hoping our fans over there are going to see us at our peak. I'm sure they will."