Ferguson: Young players will bounce back
Sir Alex Ferguson has thrown a cloak of protection around his young players, insisting they will not be "hounded out" of Manchester United despite their UEFA Champions League exit on Wednesday.
A major review is already underway at Old Trafford as they adapt to a post-Christmas expedition into the UEFA Europa League in the wake of Wednesday's 2-1 defeat in Basel that could cost the club £20m.
Given that United bounced back from a similarly disastrous situation that was compounded by significant off-field turbulence, including the loss of a major sponsor, in 2005 by registering three straight Premier League title triumphs and enjoying one of their most prolific spells in Europe, few are willing to write Ferguson off just yet.
However, former skipper Roy Keane has discussed the over-inflated reputations of young players.
Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Nani, Ashley Young and David de Gea were all in Ferguson's midweek starting line-up, with Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda introduced later on, all to no avail.
Yet, rather than allow such a negative experience to crush them, Ferguson insists he retains total trust in their talent and expects them to be the bedrock of a new team, just as Cristiano Ronaldo led the last one out of the mire.
"We've experienced this many times over the years, going back to when (Ryan) Giggs and the other young lads came in to the side," he said.
"They came in for criticism, particularly against Aston Villa [in 1995]. It has happened more recently with Wes Brown, John O'Shea and Darren Fletcher. They have all become the foundation of the club and that's what will happen with these young players.
"They have achieved many great things so far. Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck have played for their country. They had a nasty experience on Wednesday but they have the trust of myself and my coaches.
"They will not be hounded because of one bad performance. Time will prove us right."
All three are being asked to play far more significant roles than they might have imagined due to the large number of injuries throughout the United squad. The same demands would have been placed on Tom Cleverley had he not been one of the players affected.
As expected, Ferguson confirmed the unhappy postscript to Wednesday was the loss of skipper Nemanja Vidic for the remainder of the season after scans revealed the Serbian ruptured cruciate knee ligaments during a first-half tangle with Marco Streller.
"Nemanja is out for the season," confirmed Ferguson. "It is bad news. He sees the specialist on Monday to map out the progress of when he has the operation. It won't be immediate because we have to let the swelling come down. It is a bit of a blow."
If there is a silver lining to such a dark cloud it is that Jones may now get a chance to occupy his favourite position in central defence. Smalling and Evans may also be selected for the game against Wolverhampton Wanderers tomorrow, particularly as Rio Ferdinand, who has played in the last two games, tends to be spared the huge fixture demands that United's presence in the Europa League has only increased.
Ferguson, in spite of the long injury list, seemed optimistic about the rest of the season.
"We had a fantastic start to the season then we started getting quite a few injuries. That can destabilise you," he said. "The balance goes a little bit but the quality is there. Our club can have bad results just like everyone else.
"We all get them. The important part is how you recover."