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Roy rejects mate show

Fergie friendship on hold as Hodgson lays out plans for big Old Trafford clash

Roy Hodgson hopes his long friendship with Manchester United counterpart Alex Ferguson will be tested now he is manager of Liverpool.

Predecessor Rafael Benitez's relationship with Ferguson was far from cordial but, prior to that, Gerard Houllier was well respected by the United boss and it is the same with Hodgson.

Hodgson and Ferguson face each other for the first time as managers of arch rivals at Old Trafford tomorrow, but the Englishman does not expect hostilities to be resumed.

However, he is not averse to annoying the man he considers the greatest British manager of his generation by getting one over the Scot in terms of the result.

"I certainly regard him as a friend. Whether he regards me as a friend you'd have to ask him," said the 62-year-old, who revealed he telephoned Ferguson when he took over at Liverpool. "I spoke to him in a jocular way, I asked him the question, 'Does it mean now I've taken the Liverpool job that we don't speak to each other?' -- he didn't put the phone down but he made some cutting remark.

"The friendship hasn't been affected by me becoming Liverpool manager. I'm sure he will offer me a glass of wine when I go to the game on Sunday and I'll offer him one when he comes here.

"But during the match there is no room for sentiment and I'll be hoping desperately things go our way and he'll be hoping things go his way."

After the phoney war of words between Benitez and Ferguson in recent years, Hodgson believes attention can now be focused solely on what happens on the pitch.

"The crowd turn up to watch the 22 actors on the field, not Alex or myself," he added.

"But I think Alex is the greatest of my generation, certainly within English football.

"It is always difficult to compare with foreign managers and what they have done in other countries but for me, in my working lifetime as a coach, I regard him as the greatest British manager."

Hodgson is relishing the prospect of being involved in the clash between the north-west rivals, which ranks among one of biggest fixtures in world football.

"I've been involved in some big derbies in my career and you know how much they mean to the fans," said the former Inter Milan coach.

"It compares with Inter v Juventus. The Milan derby was a big occasion but the derby d'Italia was the real killer one, as it were.

"I didn't like losing in those games, which I did quite often. I did poorly so it would be nice to change that.

"This game certainly compares with that in terms of the interest it generates not only in the two cities but in the rest of the country.

"It transcends the north-western rivalry and becomes even global because both clubs are so big outside of England."

Ferguson, meanwhile, has revealed Manchester United declined to enter the race to sign Joe Cole.

United were linked with Cole on a number of occasions before the England star eventually joined Liverpool this summer. As his contract at Chelsea wound down, it was said Ferguson viewed the midfielder as ideal back-up for Paul Scholes.

Yet the Red Devils boss has stated such a deal was never on the cards.

"We were approached by Joe Cole's agent at one point but we didn't enter into it at all," said Ferguson. "It was complicated to get involved in that."

In truth, Cole's recent injury problems have left major question marks over the former West Ham man, which England coach Fabio Capello for one is yet to answer.

One of Cole's former team-mates also has a background of injuries to contend with.

However, in Rio Ferdinand's case, the issue is not so much whether he can regain his effectiveness, more the simple matter of being available on a consistent basis.

It is something that has eluded him for the past two years, which explains why Ferguson has confirmed the captain's armband, having been removed from Gary Neville, has now been passed on to Nemanja Vidic on a permanent basis. "As I explained last week, what we wanted was someone who was consistently available for us," Ferguson said. "Everyone recognises Nemanja Vidic would always be there. He has been fit all season and you don't leave him out of the team unless you are going to rest him.

"He started the campaign as captain and it will stay that way."

It means even if Ferdinand is in the team to face Liverpool it will be as a foot soldier, which presumably raises further doubts over his position as England skipper given there was already a body of opinion that felt Steven Gerrard should keep the job he has performed so admirably at over the past few months.

Not that it will matter tomorrow as Ferdinand, one of the few players expected to retain a place after Tuesday's disappointment against Rangers, tries to help ease United past their fiercest rivals.

"I sound like a parrot but this is the fixture. There is no question about that," he said. "It doesn't change. The form fluctuates quite a bit but we won the last game so hopefully that turns it back towards us again."