Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed that Raúl González could have been on Manchester United's side in this week's semi-final, having held talks with the player's agent last summer. The all-time leading goalscorer in the Champions League finally opted to sign for Schalke when his illustrious Real Madrid career ended a year ago but Ferguson considered bringing him in despite his club's preference for signing younger players with a longer shelf-life.

"We do prefer to sign young players as a rule but when you get an opportunity to sign experience like that you've got to have a look at it," Ferguson said. Raúl is 33 and has managed 18 goals in his first season in Germany, five of them in Europe, before yesterday's game against Kaiserslautern.

"You can make exceptions for certain players, because experience is so valuable," Ferguson said. "We thought the same when we signed Michael Owen, who has been a terrific professional for us, and bringing in Raúl would have been similar to when we managed to get Henrik Larsson for a short time a few years ago. It was obvious his time at Real Madrid had come to an end, and he certainly wasn't too old to be effective, as he has been showing in Germany. We spoke to his agent about a possible move but we already had Javier Hernández by then and, with Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen available, we thought we could afford to let the chance pass. If we hadn't had Michael at the club at the time I might well have signed him."

Raúl said yesterday there were "a couple of possibilities [from England] and United was one". "I love the footballing culture there, the respect for the game, the atmosphere, the intensity," he said. "I've been at Old Trafford, Arsenal, at Liverpool watching Fernando Morientes and it's special."

A three-times Champions League winner with Real Madrid, Raúl boasts 71 goals in 142 Champions League appearances. "He's got loads of goals all over the place and I'm sure there's more in him," Ferguson said. "He deserves the Champions League record because he's out on his own. I just hope it still stands at 71 goals after the next two games."