olympique de marseille's gabriel heinze spoke highly of sir alex ferguson and "three great years" with manchester united fc, visitors to the stade vélodrome in the last 16 on wednesday.
gabriel heinze has praised sir alex ferguson for the role the manchester united fc manager played in shaping his career as the defender looked ahead to facing his former mentor when olympique de marseille welcome the english club in the uefa champions league round of 16 first leg.
heinze arrived at old trafford from marseille's fierce domestic rivals, paris saint-germain fc, in summer 2004, and made an instant impact by scoring on his debut in a 2-2 draw at bolton wanderers fc. though his second season was largely written off by a knee injury, heinze recovered to play his part in the red devils' 2006/07 premier league title-winning campaign before departing for real madrid cf a few months later.
"i spent three great years in manchester, i learned a lot and i have a lot of good memories at such a big club," said the left-back. "the coach is still there and so is the winning culture. [sir alex] ferguson gave me that winning mentality and he did everything so that i felt at home.
"he made me grow up as a man too," continued the 32-year-old. "my last month over there was difficult, and i regret it, but marseille gave me a lot because the fans have supported me a lot since i arrived."
with marseille on a six-match unbeaten run and up to third in ligue 1 − three points behind leaders losc lille métropole − heinze is confident of a positive result against an injury-hit united squad missing rio ferdinand, ryan giggs, anderson and jonny evans. "om can produce something against united," he explained.
"we are men like them. there is a lot of quality in their squad but we will be very motivated. we will try and give everything to win. i hope that tomorrow will be our night. everybody knows the significance of this match; we know the quality of this team. there is no need to motivate us − we can count on the advice of our coach."
neither side were able to fashion a breakthrough in a tight encounter at the stade vélodrome to leave the tie finely poised ahead of the second leg.
olympique de marseille failed to find a way through manchester united fc's resolute defence as two former uefa champions league winners cancelled each other out in a tactical contest in southern france.
with both teams missing key men through injury, this eagerly-anticipated contest struggled to live up to the pre-match hype, although there were positives for both sides ahead of the second leg at old trafford on 15 march. despite the absence of striker andré-pierre gignac, marseille posed frequent problems through their lively wingers andré ayew and loïc rémy yet rarely tested edwin van der sar. sir alex ferguson, meanwhile, will have been pleased with the way chris smalling performed in the absence of rio ferdinand, the young defender impressively neutralising the threat of brandão.
competing in a uefa champions league knockout tie for the first time since 1993, the year they won the trophy, the ligue 1 titleholders were quickly on the attack, ayew surging down the left inside the first minute and crossing for rémy who shot wildly into the stands. yet the visitors, who had won nine of their last ten european away games, soon steadied the ship and began posing a threat of their own through nani.
the portuguese winger twice got in behind former united defender gabriel heinze before drawing a foul from stéphane mbia on the edge of the box on nine minutes. from the resulting free-kick darren fletcher drew a sharp, low save from steve mandanda after nani's centre had only been half-cleared.
nani's frequent incursions seemed to concern the mediterranean outfit and they began to play with more caution, ayew dropping deeper to protect heinze as edouard cissé and charles kaboré patrolled in front of the centre-backs. with united also struggling to find their rhythm, the goalkeepers were spectators for much of the first half. van der sar did, however, need to react swiftly to prevent ayew's inswinging corner creeping inside his near post four minutes before the break.
om were chasing a fifth straight win in this season's competition, having beaten another english side chelsea fc in their last outing, and they began asking more serious questions of united in the second period. after brandão had looped a header into van der sar's arms, ayew almost sent lucho gonzález clear with a superb diagonal pass from the left that was fractionally over-hit. there was suddenly real verve about the hosts and they went close again on 62 minutes, ayew's cross-shot flashing in front of an unmarked brandão at the far post.
they got no reward for their efforts, however, and as didier deschamps' charges began to tire it was united who finished on top. souleymane diawara needed to make a superb block to keep out dimitar berbatov's goalbound effort, and mandanda was also alert on 82 minutes, sprinting off his line to smother the ball at nani's feet. ultimately, though, both defences proved too strong, the goalless stalemate ensuring the tie remains wide open.
man. united: edwin van der sar (gk), patrice evra, dimitar berbatov, wayne rooney, chris smalling, nemanja vidić (c), michael carrick, nani, john o'shea, darren fletcher, darron gibson (dk. 73 paul scholes)
yedekler: tomasz kuszczak (gk), wes brown, javier hernández, fabio, rafael, gabriel obertan