Fergie looks to Rooney as Rio to miss out
RIO FERDINAND is set to miss Manchester United's Carling Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester City at Old Trafford tonight because he is expected to plead guilty to an English FA charge of violent conduct.
The guilty plea, for striking the face of Hull forward Craig Fagan during last Saturday's 4-0 victory, will trigger an automatic three-match ban.
Ferdinand, who returned from a three-month back injury lay-off against Hull, is due to meet Graham Bean, the FA's former compliance officer who now advises United on disciplinary matters, at their Carrington training ground this morning to discuss the charge.
The England international must respond by 6.0 and it is understood that he will be urged to plead guilty.
United are, however, angry at what they perceive to be FA double standards in the wake of the governing body's failure to charge Liverpool's Javier Mascherano for a similar incident involving Leeds forward Jermaine Beckford during a Carling Cup tie at Elland Road last September.
But with video evidence of Ferdinand's clash with Fagan, which was missed by referee Steve Bennett, the England defender is expected to reluctantly accept a three-game suspension, which would commence with the City game, rather than risk receiving a lengthier ban if any appeal is unsuccessful.
Sunderland defender Michael Turner and Middlesbrough forward Jeremie Aliadiere have both been given extended suspensions by the FA in recent months on the basis of 'frivolous' appeals against charges of violent conduct.
By accepting the charge, Ferdinand will miss the game against City, Sunday's Premier League trip to Arsenal and the visit of Portsmouth on February 6.
Should he deny the charge, he will be free to face City before learning his fate at a regulatory commission tomorrow.
United face City needing to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit, with Ferguson expecting Wayne Rooney to play a pivotal role in achieving that aim.
Rooney's four-goal haul against Hull at Old Trafford last Saturday brought his tally for the season to 20 and confirmed Ferguson's belief that he has the finest striker in England in his team.
Ferguson muttered darkly yesterday that he believes Real Madrid are trying to inveigle their way to his signature. "I think we know where that is coming from," he said. "In fact, we are sure where it's coming from. It's not his agent. It's not Wayne. So, we'll deal with that."
The United manager will not be losing any sleep over the Madrilenos this time around because, while you always knew that Cristiano Ronaldo would head back to the sun one day, Rooney has never displayed the slightest inclination. Contract negotiations will begin this summer but you sense that Rooney is a player so wedded to his own game at periods like this that he probably does not even know that his current deal expires in two-and-a-half years' time.
If the Spanish have read about that £500m bond issue of the Glazers and gotten covetous, they've forgotten that the simmering antipathy felt towards the American owners would burst into full-blown revolt if Rooney, the heartbeat of Manchester United at the age of 24, becomes the latest to service the balance sheet.
It had always seemed that Rooney would be the major beneficiary of Ronaldo's departure last summer, freeing him as it did from the yoke created by the Portuguese's reluctance to do any heavy lifting. But the transformation from "someone who could be great" into "someone who is a great player" -- the aspiration Rooney spoke of last summer -- has been remarkable.
Last season, he would materialise on any part of the pitch and often pop up where the full-back should be. Now, he quite simply belongs in the penalty box.
Every one of the goals he has scored this season have come in that area of the field, prompting his manager to reflect yesterday that he indeed does have on his hands the first United 'fox in the box' since Ruud van Nistelrooy joined the procession to Madrid four years ago.
"I think he has become more aware of the penalty box," Ferguson said of Rooney. "Playing in that direct role has given him the appetite to be in the box more of the time. He still has moments when he goes to other areas of the pitch, but it's about choosing those moments more maturely.
"I think the main reason he is scoring more goals is because he has been in the right place at the right time. That's what goalscorers do: be in the right place at the right time."
Roberto Mancini, who is set to name Emmanuel Adebayor, and possibly Kolo Toure, on the bench tonight, will become the first City manager since John Bond in 1981 to lead the club to a major final if his team avoid defeat at Old Trafford.
Despite the burden of expectancy, the Italian insisted his players are ready to break their cup hoodoo.
"After many years (without a trophy) we want to change the history. We want to get to the final and we have a good chance. We must keep our concentration. If you can stay calm, you'll play better." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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