Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson wants his side to ‘gain parity’ with the Champions League’s biggest names – beginning this season.United have reached the European Cup final on four occasions – winning three times – but other powerhouses across the continent easily eclipse the Red Devils for their number of final appearances, namely Real Madrid (12), AC Milan (11), Bayern Munich (eight) and Liverpool (seven).
The boys from Old Trafford take on Schalke in the first-leg of their semi-final on Tuesday and Ferguson believes it was time his side stood up to convert their final-four showing – United’s 12th time at the competition’s stage – into a final berth.
“This is where we should be (in the final). The expectation has always been high with regard to the European scene and you do get envious of other clubs’ great record in Europe,” Ferguson said.
“We are trying to gain parity with that. You look at Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Ajax and Liverpool.”
“We really need to progress quickly to get to that level and the present group have enough experience in Europe now.”
United’s trip to Gelsenkirchen will see the return of striker Wayne Rooney to the arena at which he was dismissed in the 2006 World Cup, but Ferguson said the 25-year-old was capable of putting the memory behind him.
“You have to put bad moments behind you. That is normal for any footballer,” he said.
“But good players create their own platforms in the sense of the importance of their performance.”
“Wayne, more than anyone, realises that performances are the thing that he will always be judged on.”
Ferguson said it was hard not to be nervous heading into the final-four stage of European football’s most illustrious competition.
“You always get apprehensive at this stage of the competition. Semi-finals are never easy,” he said.
“We had the same situation in 1999 when we played our semi-final against Juventus.”
“There was an apprehension in our first game at home that we released in the second leg.”
“When we played Barcelona in the first leg (three years ago) we got the result we wanted. But the last 20 minutes of the second leg were absolute agony.”