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ManU can’t afford to take a friendly approach

Shalrie Joseph (left) and Steve Nicol of the Revolution and Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and defender Rio Ferdinand meet with the media to discuss their game tomorrow night in Foxborough. Shalrie Joseph (left) and Steve Nicol of the Revolution and Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and defender Rio Ferdinand meet with the media to discuss their game tomorrow night in Foxborough. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / July 12, 2011

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Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has a good grasp of soccer in the United States, having monitored the sport in the country since the 1970s. But Ferguson yesterday left little doubt about his strongest impression of the current state of the game.

Last July, United lost a preseason friendly encounter in Kansas City to the Wizards, 2-1. Ferguson’s team played with a man advantage for more than half the game. And, though United was missing several players because of international duty, Ferguson was accepting no excuses.

Ferguson used that defeat as an example of what might happen when Manchester United meets the Revolution tomorrow night, the opener of a five-game US tour that concludes July 30 against Barcelona at FedEx Field.

“I think you probably understand that it’s difficult for us to play friendly games because of our expectations,’’ Ferguson said after arriving yesterday. “Even losing a friendly game, there’s always the criticism, not only from the press, but from the fans and from our own staff. We can’t go into any game not wanting to win. That will be the case against the Revolution.’’

Manchester United has not played since a May 28 Champions League final loss to Barcelona. The Revolution should be in midseason form, but have not won since May 14.

But Ferguson is not likely to tell his players about the Revolution’s recent failings. Ferguson guided Manchester United to its 12th Premier League title last season and is a master at player selection, tactics, and motivation.

In fact, Ferguson’s pregame and halftime speeches are legendary for their intensity. Ferguson, like many Scottish managers, can use words to inspire or intimidate, praise or punish. One of the few times Ferguson was at a loss for words, he fired a shoe at David Beckham to get his attention.

And Ferguson’s locker room talks are also known for getting directly to the point. According to a source, before the MLS All-Star Game last season, Ferguson limited himself to a nine-word pregame talk. That was enough. Manchester United scored in the opening minute and won the game, 5-2.

Revolution coach Steve Nicol experienced Ferguson’s motivational methods as a member of the Scottish national team in the 1986 World Cup.

“It’s all about getting to the point,’’ Nicol said. “Everybody needs to know what’s expected. Obviously, there’s ways of doing it, and it’s hard to explain his particular way. But all I can tell you is you know exactly what he’s looking for.

“Obviously, with Alex, you don’t win what he’s won without his own touch. And, every game’s different. Preseason, you generally just want to make sure people work hard, do the basics right. Again, fitness is what preseason’s for. You want to win games, as well.

“I’m sure he’ll remind them [they are] Manchester United. But, the way Alex is, he wants to win every game, anyway. He has high expectations for his teams, his players and, bottom line is, he wants everybody to do well, and if he can make that happen then he’ll do it, whatever it is.’’

Most of Manchester United’s top players - defenders Rio Ferdinand and captain Nemaja Vidic, midfielders Ryan Giggs and Nani, forward Wayne Rooney - are scheduled to play tomorrow.

Ferguson expressed concern with attempting to replace Paul Scholes, who retired after last season, and attempting to transition as players such as Giggs near retirement.

“We’ve talked about the use of possession of the ball, which is one of the main pieces of having our fitness,’’ Ferguson said. “They have to work hard. If they don’t work hard, then sometimes, you get embarrassed.

“I think the Revolution will be ahead of us on fitness. We experienced it last year when we had a really difficult game in Kansas, and they beat us. It was a reminder that no matter what game you go into, you can lose a game of football if you don’t prepare properly and you don’t have the right attitude and the right approach to things. It can happen.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at

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