Sport Soccer

Monday 23 April 2018

Ferguson fights rearguard action over youth policy

Paul Wilson

Dismayed as he was at the gulf between Scottish and English football exposed by Tottenham's 5-0 demolition of Hearts at Tynecastle, Alex Ferguson could not help noticing that apart from not playing Luka Modric, Harry Redknapp had named two goalkeepers on the bench. "I think that's his way of sending Daniel Levy a message," the United manager said. "Harry seems to be hinting he needs a few more players."

United hardly need more bodies after spending big on Ashley Young, Phil Jones and David de Gea in the summer, though Ferguson could not have predicted the last two would be thrust into the spotlight so soon. Jones is a certain starter against Spurs at Old Trafford tomorrow after Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand picked up injuries in the opening game, and while the manager insists he has every confidence in his £18.3 million goalkeeper, De Gea's uncertainty in his first two matches has been the biggest talking point in spite of United recording two wins.

There is no chance of Ferguson putting two goalkeepers on the bench against Spurs, though every possibility of Anders Lindegaard getting a look-in if De Gea suffers any more nervous moments. United followers are reassured that at least Ferguson had the foresight to provide back-up for what has proved a problematic position over the years, with outstanding performers such as Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar setting the bar at a challenging height for their replacements.

What Ferguson remembers all too clearly, however, is that even Schmeichel took time to settle in, and he is sure De Gea will be more comfortable with a few more games under his belt. "Coming into English football from overseas is never going to be easy for a goalkeeper, particularly if he doesn't get any protection from the referee," the United manager said. "I remember Schmeichel screaming like a pig for more protection when we played Wimbledon when he first came here. He had players like [Vinnie] Jones, [Alan] Cork and [John] Fashanu all piling into him and he just wasn't used to it. It's disappointing when referees let that happen, and that's all that happened in the last game at West Brom. David can cope with crosses no problem, but elbows in the face are something else.

The last time Spurs won at Manchester United in the league, Gary Lineker scored the winner, and Ferguson was still awaiting his first trophy, though the sharpness Redknapp's team showed in Edinburgh must be a worry for a home side with a goalkeeper under pressure and inexperienced defenders in front of him. When Ferguson talks of protection for De Gea, he is mainly appealing to the referee, but he also needs his new centre-half pairing of Jones and Jonny Evans to form a quick understanding and provide the sort of defensive screen Vidic and Ferdinand can offer.

"Injuries are going to happen, and then you are looking to your younger players to meet the challenge, show their courage and fulfil their potential," Ferguson said. "I don't have any particular worries on that score. Jones had a great season for Blackburn last year and is a player I have been trying to sign since last November. We made an inquiry for him in the January transfer window but the club wouldn't sell him.

"I didn't sign him because I thought we were vulnerable at centre-back, I signed him because he was just too good to miss. Once in a while a player like that comes along, and Jones has got all the parts. He's got real desire, great determination and he's a good trainer."

The reason Ferguson can date his interest in Jones so accurately is simple and rather surprising. On November 27 last year, in what was to prove one of Sam Allardyce's last games in charge, Rovers were beaten 7-1 at Old Trafford, with Dimitar Berbatov helping himself to five goals. "For me Jones stood out in that game," Ferguson said.

"I particularly remember him when the fifth goal went in. Most of the Blackburn players were beginning to let their heads drop but he was running everywhere, giving them all stick for not trying hard enough. He was only 18, too. I was impressed, and took a close interest from that point."

Yet these are challenging times in Manchester, and Ferguson is as aware as everyone else that City's £35m Sergio Aguero seems destined to make the sort of impact to blow everything else out of the water.

"We looked at Aguero but didn't come close to signing him," he said. "But City are spending money as though it doesn't mean anything. They are going to end up with a massive squad, but that's what you need if you are going to win things."


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