Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Ferguson plays down growing pitch concerns (SN)

Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson played down concerns over the pitch for Wednesday's Champions League final as a key groundsman said he was “totally disappointed” with the new grass surface.

UEFA, European football's governing body, will not be pleased if their showpiece match at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow is ruined by a bad pitch.

The turf on which English Premier League champions United will do battle with runners-up Chelsea was recently relaid for a second time.

British groundsman Matthew Frost, who has been overseeing the project to replace the regular artificial surface, said he was downbeat about the new pitch, while the first grass surface would have been a “catastrophe”.

But Ferguson said he would have no complaints about the pitch, joking that it could not be any worse than the surface at United's Old Trafford home in mid-winter.

“I've no concerns about it,” the Scot said.

“UEFA have done their best and the fact that it has been relaid from astroturf to turf is a great delight to me.

“We're happy about that. You have to remind yourself that Old Trafford in January and February is not the best and sometimes the worst in the league.”

Rio Ferdinand, a member of the England team beaten on the Luzhniki's artificial surface in a crucial 2008 European Championships qualifier in October, echoed Ferguson's comments.

“You have got to play with what is put in front of you,” the centre-half said.

After installing the first grass pitch, experts decided it was too bumpy and ordered it to be dug up and replaced with a second one, imported from Slovakia.

Groundsmen have been working night and day to improve the surface ahead of the Champions League final.

The pitch has several bare patches and is very bumpy, while blocks of frozen grass have not bedded down as hoped.

“I'm totally disappointed with the whole project and what we're presenting for the final,” Frost told BBC radio.

“It's acceptable but it's a big personal disappointment for me and the project as a whole because things haven't gone very well from the start.

“That's Russia, I'm afraid. It's not a perfect world.”

He said he finally managed to persuade the Russian authorities to put down a new pitch, which was laid just over a fortnight ago.

“If I hadn't persuaded them and used the old one it would have been a catastrophe,” he said, adding that the main problem now was how the pitch looked and the consistency of the “ball roll”.

UEFA had to “do things earlier and crack the whip a bit more,” he said.

Asked what he would do if Ferguson approached him and said “What's going on?” the groundsman replied: “I think I'll just pretend I'm Russian and I don't speak English.”

Meanwhile a reporter from London's Evening Standard newspaper, bearing no accreditation, said he and a photographer were allowed to walk into and around the Luzhniki unchallenged.

Pictures showed him sat in the presidential box chatting on his mobile phone, stood on the edge of the pitch and posing with soldiers on a substitutes' bench.

He said his rucksack was not searched and guards waved him through.


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