Saturday 24 March 2018

Fergie stands tall as toughest test looms

Sir Alex Ferguson's public demolition of Wayne Rooney was seismic. The shock waves may even have caused the Manchester United striker to drop his cigarette - or maybe that habit is just in the close season.

Rooney's future, at Old Trafford at least, now seems certain: he will not be there long, despite what Jose Mourinho insisted last night. After Ferguson's detailed, incisive and cold-blooded verbal evisceration of his player, surely that is one bridge that cannot be rebuilt.

But what of Ferguson, and what about his future? Does this situation have any bearing on his position at the club. Is this, perhaps, the beginning of the end?

United fans should hope not because with Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez having gone and Rooney going, Ferguson remains their only hope of being able to fend off the competition from their moneybags neighbours.

The first thing to say is that Ferguson has demolished other high-profile players in public before: David Beckham, Gabriel Heinze and Ruud van Nistelrooy for example, even if was not in such incendiary fashion as he did with Rooney.

"I don't want any nonsense, respect the club," Ferguson said he told Rooney in their meeting on August 14 - the United manager being very precise about the date.

The underlying message is the same: he is in charge and no player is bigger than the club.

It is also perhaps a statement of intent by Ferguson that, 14 months short of his 70th birthday, he will not be messed around.

The second thing to point out is that Ferguson does not appear to have any problem with the owners.

United fans' groups were quick to blame the Glazers saying they were too keen to take money out of the club rather than matching Rooney's ambition, but Ferguson has never had a problem with the American family and has managed to deliver three Premier League titles since they took over in 2005.

He has also been able to splash out large sums of money that allowed United to remain competitive with Chelsea, such as the £30m signing of Dimitar Berbatov.

United chief executive David Gill has insisted that the club have £165m (€190m) in the bank and if Ferguson wants to spend a chunk of it, all he need do is ask.

That leads to the final point. The departure of Rooney - on top of Ronaldo and Tevez - will be a huge test of Ferguson's capability to build yet another title-winning side.

He has done it before, many times over. It is a different world now however, and financially United, for so long top of the spending league in England, are now back down the pecking order in third place and with a squad that appears weaker than those at Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and even Tottenham.

Ferguson resisted the temptation to bring in replacements for Ronaldo and Tevez, but he must now start the search for top-level stars to replace all three.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one star player is unfortunate, to lose two is careless, but to lose three without finding replacements of equal stature would, in the eyes of United fans at least, be unforgivable.

Press Association

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