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Man Utd´s Ferguson defends Saudi trip that will honour Al Jaber

20 January 2008 17:18

RIYADH (AFP) - Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has defended the club's mid-season break to Saudi Arabia by claiming that the four-day trip will hand his players a priceless warm-weather training base.

The Premiership champions are in Riyadh to provide the opposition for Saudi legend Sami Al Jaber's testimonial game and will face Al Hilal in front of 65,000 fans in the King Fahd Stadium on Monday.

However the club have been subjected to accusations of greed, with an estimated one million pounds (two million dollars) being paid into the Old Trafford coffers by the Saudis to entice United to the Middle East.

United's global popularity ensures they are a huge draw for local supporters wherever the play, and the club have stressed their determination in the past to visit their far-flung fan-base and play 'in the flesh'.

But with an FA Cup tie against Spurs at Old Trafford to play next Sunday, manager Ferguson insisted that the Saudi trip will boost their on-field preparations first and foremost.

"We will have two good training sessions out here on Wednesday and Thursday in good, warm conditions, so that will definitely be an advantage to us before we go back to Manchester and we have made a decision to come out here which we hope will prove right," said Ferguson.

"We have gone away before in mid-season and it has worked well for us. We went to Dubai a couple of years ago and we won the FA Cup at the end of that season.

"Obviously, if we go back home and get a bad result, then people will say that we shouldn't have come here, but I'm sure that being here won't do us any harm at all.

"We are delighted to be here and I just hope that the sun gets even warmer over the next few days! We get back to Manchester on Thursday, so that will give us three days to prepare for the Spurs on the Sunday.

"It's a terrific tie for us and hopefully this trip will help us."

United have flown a full-strength squad out to the Saudi capital, with only the injured trio of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Louis Saha left behind to undergo treatment at Old Trafford.

And Ferguson admits that he will honour Al Jaber, a player who has played in four World Cups and scored in three of them for Saudi Arabia, by fielding his strongest side on Monday.

He said: "All of the players will play some part and I will start with my strongest team, so the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez will all be involved.

"We have brought 21 players with us, though, so it's a chance for the likes of Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea to get some time on the pitch and we have also brought a young player called Danny Welbeck.

"We think he has a real chance and this is his first chance with the first-team, so it's an important game for him. But we hope that people will look back on this game in years to come as the day that he made his debut."

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