No Champions League, no problem for United

Almost two decades have passed since Manchester United last missed out on a spot in Europe's top club competition.

But failure to reach next season's Uefa Champions League would not be the disaster some have made it out to be, claims former Red Devil Gary Pallister.

"It's something that all the big clubs want but it's not a must," said the ex-England centre-back yesterday.

He was speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of the launch of United's latest Trophy Tour, which will take place today at Resorts World Sentosa.

Working in tandem with logistics company DHL, the reigning English Premier League (EPL) champions are bringing the 25kg trophy and memorabilia from their Old Trafford Museum to a total of 31 destinations across the globe.

Some of the items on display are boots worn by Wayne Rooney and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and David May's shirt from the 1999 Champions League final.

The celebration of their 20th league crown is proving, however, little more than a sideshow to a disappointing current campaign.

Lying sixth in the EPL - 11 points adrift of fourth-placed Liverpool - United's only real hope of a return to Europe's top table is to win this year's Champions League.

"The odds are stacked against us (of finishing in the EPL top four)," Pallister conceded.

Indeed, even as his former club gear up for the first leg of their round-of-16 tie against Olympiakos tonight, the 48-year-old has begun looking ahead to next term.

"I see this season as a bit of a blip," he said of David Moyes' first year in charge of the club after Alex Ferguson's retirement.

"You've lost one of the all-time greats as your manager, so there's obviously going to be a different feel about the club.

"Every club goes through periods of transition and United are going through one of the biggest.

"If you expected the transition after 27 years to be seamless, you were probably kidding yourself."

He knows this better than most. After all, when he joined the club in 1989, it was 22 years since their last league success and Ferguson's reign was in question after three years in charge.

"I played at Old Trafford when there were banners asking the club to sack the manager," recalled Pallister, who went on to win four league titles and three FA Cups with the Red Devils.

"And the expectations are a lot higher now.

"But I think David Moyes has a lot of traits that Sir Alex has and once he's bedded in there, he will be a success."

Pallister also believes that the club will continue to attract world-class players - with or without the allure of top-level European competition.

"There's a vast amount of money to spend and I'm sure we'll see some marquee signings this summer," he said.

"People see United as an iconic club; they weren't playing European football when I came but when you hear the name, that they're interested in you, it sends a shiver down your spine."

Arguably the biggest indication of that, he added, has been the club's tying down of Wayne Rooney on a new deal worth £300,000 (S$632,000) a week.

"He's one of the talismanic figures for United," Pallister said of the England forward, who also believes the former Everton man is one of the club's best performers this season along with Adnan Januzaj.

"It was important that we got him to sign because it puts out the belief that as much as we're struggling this season, United are still a massive club that people want to play for."

And he fully expects Rooney to prove that he is worth every penny that United are paying him.

Calling the striker an "exceptional talent", Pallister reasoned: "Wayne can score you goals, he can make you goals, he's got an unbelievable work ethic.

"He's got that hunger back in his game that was missing a little bit last year.

"If you had asked me before if I thought a player was worth £300,000 a week, I would have said no. But that's the climate we're in.

"Am I jealous? Yes, very."

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