Saturday, January 2, 2010

Maldini's respect for Man Utd

Revered AC Milan captain Paolo Maldini believes Manchester United have one of the best strike forces in Europe - with or without Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Maldini is unconcerned whether van Nistelrooy returns to the Red Devils line-up at Old Trafford tonight, even though the Dutchman's 36 goals in 37 European appearances for United marks him out as an extreme threat to Milan's hopes of progressing to the Champions League quarter-finals.

If Sir Alex Ferguson decides against pitching van Nistelrooy into battle after a three-month absence, Maldini knows he will still end up defending against Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes - with the possibility of Louis Saha and Alan Smith also appearing on the horizon.

"Given the players they have, there is no doubt Manchester United are among the best attackers in Europe," said Maldini, who is celebrating an incredible 20 years with the Rossoneri.

"I don't know how often they have all played together, or whether they will do against us - but it is obviously one of the major weapons they have at their disposal.

"So while it might be good news for us if van Nistelrooy does not play, we can't get too excited about it because they have someone highly capable to bring in instead."

With four Champions League triumphs among a monumental collection of trophies, Maldini has already etched his name in footballing folklore and earned the tag 'history maker' when he captained Milan to their 2003 penalty shoot-out final victory over Juventus on his last visit to this ground.

"The memory of that night gave me a nice feeling when I turned up for training last night," he said.

"You look in the training rooms for the place where you sat, and it is only natural to talk about what happened.

"But this visit will be a totally different experience for us. For a start, we will not have half the stadium cheering for us - so in that sense it will be even more difficult."

The encounter will also provide a mix of emotions for Jaap Stam, the Dutch defender who was such an integral part of United's own 1999 Champions League triumph but then found himself unceremoniously booted out of Old Trafford by Ferguson two years later.

Stam's departure was so quick he never had the chance to say goodbye to the fans who adored him - and while he is happy now with life in Italy, the 32-year-old insists United know they blundered by letting him go.

"Manchester United know they made a mistake in selling me," Stam told the official UEFA Champions League magazine.

"There have been opportunities to confront them, but I have turned them down. What would be the point? I know I made a mistake, and they do too.

"I was very settled at Manchester United. I had even just ordered a new kitchen, but if a club wants to sell you there is nothing you can do. You can be sold like cattle.

"In what other industry can a good employee be ushered out of the door against their wishes?"