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Ferguson defuses row over Rio fashion statement

ALEX Ferguson moved to avoid a breakdown in his relationship with Rio Ferdinand yesterday 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 yesterday, when 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 yesterday morning allows both men to save face and appears to have taken 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 freedom of choice in the matter by their managers.

Ferdinand 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.

A fine seems unlikely and Ferguson would 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 game with Stoke City, that Ferdinand's actions were "embarrassing".

Visibly angry, Ferguson said that the player would be "dealt with".

The Professional Footballers' Association backed the player's stance yesterday and Ferdinand would be likely to appeal against any fine.

With only a year left on his contract, it could drive him towards one of the many lucrative offers which would come his way from the United States, China or Russia.