Sunday 22 October 2017

Rio Ferdinand holds firm over storm in a T-shirt

Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand (centre) during the warm up as his teammates Wayne Rooney (right) and Oliveira Anderson (left) wear Kick It Out anti-racism campaign t-shirts during the Barclays Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Photo: PA
Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand (centre) during the warm up as his teammates Wayne Rooney (right) and Oliveira Anderson (left) wear Kick It Out anti-racism campaign t-shirts during the Barclays Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Photo: PA

Martin Hardy

ALEX FERGUSON has moved to avoid a breakdown in his relationship with Rio Ferdinand by holding talks in which he accepted that the defender will not apologise for refusing to wear a 'Kick It Out' T-shirt.

The two met after Ferdinand had arrived for a training session and the United manager explained that it was the lack of advance notice from the player of his intention to boycott the anti-racism campaign -- in contravention of Ferguson's orders -- which had angered him.

The 33-year-old has apologised to Ferguson for that but has not voiced any contrition for the act itself.

The outcome of the meeting, at the club's Carrington training ground, allows both men to save face and appears to have taken some of the sting out of the issue, though Ferguson's tendency to allow things to fester when a player pulls rank does store up trouble for the future.

Ferdinand will be severely indignant if he finds himself fined two weeks' wages -- £220,000 -- by Ferguson when plenty of Premier League players have been given the freedom of choice in the matter by their managers. A fine seems unlikely, however, and Ferguson will be wise not to impose one, having boxed himself into a corner over the issue by first criticising Reading's Jason Roberts for his boycott and then declaring, after Saturday's home with Stoke City, that Ferdinand's actions were "embarrassing".

Visibly angry, Ferguson said that the player would be "dealt with". However, the Professional Footballers' Association has backed the player's stance and Ferdinand would be likely to appeal any fine.

Ferdinand's boycott was not taken lightly and he was deeply undecided throughout Friday about the merits of rejecting a T-shirt.

Indignation

It is understood that his boycott was substantially motivated by the personal indignation he felt about comments made by the chairman of Kick It Out, Herman Ouseley, who told the BBC that he had "no intention of speaking for black footballers who are very wealthy and earning a lot of money" who "have to be organised and speak for themselves."

Ferdinand does not feel that after his tough upbringing in Peckham that he needs to be told by anyone how he should be dealing with racism in the game. He already has grounds to feel that his England career has been ended because of the John Terry affair and a club fine now over this, of all issues, would certainly be very hard for the player to take.

With only a year left on his contract it could potentially drive him towards one of the many lucrative offers which would come his way from the United States -- where the Chicago Fire would relish the chance of signing him -- China or Russia.

Ferguson is sure to take all of this into consideration as he ponders his next move. But, regardless of Ferdinand's motives, the Scot was deeply unhappy over his defender's actions.

Ever since as an apprentice toolmaker he joined the Amalgamated Engineering Union, Ferguson has embraced the concept of 'one out, all out'. Like many of his values, it has stuck with him for life.

When he said he wanted every member of his team to support the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign, the Manchester United manager meant exactly what he said. Ferdinand, like Ferguson an intelligent man whose hinterland of interests stretches far beyond football, would have known precisely what the consequences would be for defying such a request.

In 1960, when as a teenager at the Remington Rand plant in Glasgow Ferguson joined the future Labour minister Gus Macdonald and the young Billy Connolly in strike action, a film was released.

It starred Spencer Tracy, like John Wayne one of the Hollywood heroes whom he would see in the cinemas of Sauchiehall Street, and its title was based on the Biblical quotation: "He that divides his own house shall inherit the wind."

It is a principle Ferguson has lived by. It sums up why he almost never criticises his players by name and why he regards any cracks in the club's facade as potentially lethal.

His concluding comment in his post-match television interview, "He will be dealt with, don't you worry," would have struck fear into most footballers. Ferdinand's first manager, Harry Redknapp, said he would have allowed a man who is 33 to make his own choices. Had Ferguson done the same, there would be no story. That, however, is to ignore the tale of a man who, according to Gordon Strachan, once threatened to fine any player who laughed on the team bus after Aberdeen's 4-0 loss at Liverpool.

Ferguson may be one of the largest private donors to the Labour Party but he did not achieve greatness through being a democrat.

He had no hesitation in dropping Rooney last year after an unauthorised night out on St Stephen's Day. United lost the next game at home to Blackburn. To drop Ferdinand from Sunday's fixture at Chelsea would be a big call from a man who has spent a lifetime making them.

And yet there is a higher principle involved than solidarity. Spencer Tracy's key speech in 'Inherit the Wind', about an American schoolteacher put on trial for denying the world was created in seven days, says that what distinguishes man from every other animal is his ability to think. "The elephant is larger, the horse stronger and swifter, the butterfly more beautiful, even the sponge is more durable..."

There is no contract enforceable at United or anywhere else that can tell a man what to think.

There is a requirement to work for the Manchester United Foundation and I have seen Ferdinand doing so in a school in Salford, throwing himself into coaching sessions that went on far longer and contained far more laughter than anyone anticipated.

In similar circumstances, Cristiano Ronaldo would spend a lot of time glancing at his watch.

Ferdinand has campaigned long and hard on the consequences of young black men, particularly in his native south London, carrying knives.

He has thought long and hard about the consequences of the man alongside whom he played in England's defence calling his brother a "f****** black c***" and whether Kick it Out is simply too close to the football establishment. He has earned the right to think. (© Independent News Service)

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