Sir Alex Ferguson controversially claimed last night that overseas players are more likely to dive than those from Britain, as he responded to complaints from Manchester City's Sergio Aguero that foreign imports have a tougher time with referees in the Premier League.
The Manchester United manager admitted on Saturday that Luis Nani had "made a meal" of a fall under a challenge from Tottenham Hotspur's Jan Vertonghen – theatricality which saw him denied a penalty – and that the Portuguese player "didn't need to do that". After City's Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta were also denied penalties on the same afternoon, at Fulham, Aguero said that there was "a little bit of privilege" being afforded to English players.
But Ferguson said, after arriving in Romania's second city for tonight's Champions League tie, that diving had been more prevalent from foreign players for years.
"Nani is not the type to dive, I know that," he said. "It was a penalty kick on Saturday. It's not worth going into that subject because down the years there have been plenty of players diving, and you have to say particularly foreign players."
There will be few more uncomfortable occasions for Jonny Evans to sit next to his manager at a Champions League press conference than last night and Ferguson was equally unflinching when he implicated the 24-year-old in the club's unconvincing start to the season. "After the first half on Saturday, I had plenty of concerns," Ferguson said of the calamitous defensive display, with Evans at fault as much as Rio Ferdinand, in the 3-2 defeat to Tottenham.
They say Ferguson has been in a black mood since that loss and there was menace in his voice when he volunteered the observation that United had developed a habit of poor first-half performances, with Tottenham the latest. "It's not planned," he said. "But it will be the last."
United have fallen behind in every Premier League match except when they played Wigan, against whom they took 50 minutes to score, and tonight they face the Romanian champions without Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs – left at home with a virus – and Paul Scholes, tired and showing signs of the same illness.
The CFR Cluj captain, Cadu, said United had a 90 per cent chance of winning. But this strong counter-attacking team twice defeated Basle, who eliminated United from last season's tournament, to progress through the competition's qualifying round.