Rio Ferdinand knows the pressure starts tonight against United’s Champions League final conquerors Barcelona.
Less than three months after lifting the Premier League trophy, United are bidding to do it again with title number 20 – and also go one better in Europe.
Ferdinand, 32 who has a personal battle to keep his regular place with the Reds signing Phil Jones from Blackburn for £16m, said: “The pressure is not overwhelming... it is part of being a Manchester United player.
“You have to deal with all that stuff. It represents the difference between adapting to life at United and not because it is never going to change.”
With huge changes to Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad, Ferdinand accepts some players are easier to replace than others.
He said: “I have always said it, Paul Scholes is my favourite player.
“He is one of the top two players I have ever played with. It is his decision to stop and you have to respect that.
“When Roy Keane and Ruud van Nistelrooy left for instance, we didn't get like-for-like replacements.
“We got different players who had a great impact.”
With Fergie reaching his 25 years at OT milestone in November, Ryan Giggs spoke for the dressing room when he said: “He’s probably the greatest manager that’s ever lived... but it is more than that. If we were winning things and not playing attractive football, the fans wouldn’t stand for it.”
Ferguson has made a subtle shift in his philosophy with Gary Neville, Edwin van der Sar and of course Scholes all retired, Owen Hargreaves has been released and both Wes Brown and John O’Shea have moved to Sunderland.
All six had passed 30, only Hargreaves lacking significant United experience, and that was entirely due to his many fitness problems.
As two of the three new players Ferguson snapped up within weeks of that record 19th title being celebrated are not 21 yet – Ashley Young was the exception – and development is anticipated from a Youth Cup-winning team of whom Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison were a significant part, it is the start of a new era.
Fergie’s next challenge – in all probability his last great challenge – is to find a way of overcoming a Barcelona side who were so superior in the Champions League final at Wembley in May.
Typically, Ferguson cannot wait to get started.
“Barcelona could probably have done that to any team,” he reflected. “They are the team of the moment.
“It is the same players who have been there for a while now; Messi, Xavi, Iniesta. They can dominate any game.
“Everyone says what a great final it was, that Barcelona were fantastic and we were disappointing.
“It is not the kind of thing that makes you think ‘let’s not bother with European football any more, we are never going to beat Barcelona’.
“Manchester United are bigger than that. We have a better philosophy than that.
“The challenge will be ‘can we improve enough to get to the final next season and win?’”
One player up against the Reds in tonight’s Washington friendly is Barca’s Gerard Pique who admits he is flabbergasted at how long Sir Alex has remained at the top with United.
Pique spent four seasons at United, having been snapped up from Barcelona as a 17-year-old and made 20 appearances before returning to Catalonia.
“I have never seen anything like this in Spain,” he said. “He is a great coach but he also treats the players really well.
“No matter what it is, he will be there for you.”