Fergie: United still FA Cup's main draw

Sir Alex Ferguson still believes in the romance of the FA Cup - and feels Manchester United are the hottest date of all.

A simple finish from the Dutchman...

Saturday's third round tie at West Ham will be the 37th consecutive time United have been televised in the competition.

Not since their home game with then non-league Exeter in 2005 has a Red Devils FA Cup match failed to be screened live.

And given amongst that fixture list are three meetings with Liverpool and Arsenal, two apiece with Everton, Tottenham and Manchester City, plus encounters with Newcastle, Chelsea and Leeds, Ferguson feels sufficiently emboldened to indulge in a little mischief making.

"The FA Cup is still the best domestic tournament in the world," he said.

"The Champions League is a bigger challenge. We are playing Real Madrid and there is an FA Cup round either side of that.

"Let's be honest, where would you prefer to be West Ham or Real Madrid?

"But even though I don't believe the semi-finals should be played at Wembley, the FA Cup still has the romance about it. You are waiting for that draw. And we are a hot ball at the moment.

"You think we are kidding?

"Over the last two or three years we have had some hard games.

"Everybody wants us in the first round. The sponsors are delighted."

Yet for all the attraction, and United's status as record 11 times winners, they have not actually lifted the trophy since 2004.

And as Rio Ferdinand sat out that Millennium Stadium victory over Millwall as he served an eight-month suspension for missing a drugs test, it means only Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher of Ferguson's present squad have winners' medals.

"Rio mentioned it in the dressing room last season," he said.

"He has never won it. It means a lot to someone like that, who has been in the game for such a long time."

It means this could be Ferdinand's last chance given his United contract expires at the end of the season and there is interest in the 34-year-old from the United States and Far East.

"We are not panicking about that," said Ferguson.

"I don't think Rio wants to leave and, as I have said before, he can play on.

"I don't think he has the same issue with his back that he had a couple of years ago. It is manageable now.

"There is no way you would be expecting him to play every four days right through a season anyway.

"Getting rest at the right time definitely helps him and he does a lot of work on his pre-match preparation now, with yoga and a lot of other things to help him sustain his playing time."

As skipper Nemanja Vidic is, like Ferdinand, presently restricted to one game a week as he eases himself back to full fitness after a nightmare 16 months, Ferguson could be excused a few concerns.

The fact he has none owes much to the form of Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans, who has played more often than either of his more experienced team-mates this term.

"I agree," said Ferguson, when asked if Evans was one of the most improved players at Old Trafford.

"He is the future. Nemanja and Rio know that. His form is improving all the time. As he matures and gets experience year by year he is getting better.

"There is no end to his improvement, which is a great sign."

However, with Vidic needing a game and both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones available after their own injury problems, it might be time to give Evans a short break from a tournament that provides Ferguson with so many memories, not least those awful white suits Liverpool sported before the 1996 final, which they lost thanks to Eric Cantona's late volley.

"I thought that was a 1-0 victory for us right away when I saw those suits," said Ferguson.

"I saw Roy Evans' face. In his black suit and nice red tie, he was looking round and the bakers XI came out. I think Roy was mortified."



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