Football: Ferguson faces Uefa censure as Irwin misses six weeks

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The Independent Online
Alex Ferguson's fury at the rugged tactics of Feyenoord on Wednesday is unlikely to subside in the light of news that Uefa could investigate the Manchester United manager's touchline confrontation with his Dutch counterpart on Wednesday. Guy Hodgson reports.

Anyone who has seen Alex Ferguson's anger take full flight will testify it is not a comfortable experience. Ruddy with rage, he will put his face close to his target and vent his emotions with an explosion of words.

Geert Meijer, the caretaker coach of Feyenoord, would have got Ferguson on full power on Wednesday but for the intervention of United's assistant manager, Brian Kidd, who held his boss back from a potentially damaging confrontation.

Even with Kidd's moderating influence, Meijer appeared to spit his chewing gum at the United manager while Ferguson was furious at Feyenoord's vindictiveness which culminated in Denis Irwin being carried off with a knee injury eight minutes from the end of the English champions' 3-1 win. Insinuating that Meijer lacked "principles", he described his thinking as "insane".

Irwin will be out for six weeks after Paul Bosvelt's tackle. The full- back had an X-ray on his left knee yesterday and will undergo further tests to assess the full extent of the damage and determine whether there is ligament damage.

Ferguson stopped his players exchanging shirts at the end of the match and condemned several other harsh challenges that included Gary Neville and Henning Berg being elbowed in the face. "The referee was in a very lenient mood," he said. "I think he could have given a couple of red cards."

All of which will be of interest to Uefa. But European football's governing body is bound to study reports from the referee, Hungary's Sandor Puhl, Uefa delegate Herman Selbherr, referee's observer Kare Inge Linboe and the fourth official, Attila Hanacsek, before considering action. "Once we have seen them," a Uefa official confirmed, "we can decide whether there is anything we need to look at further."

What needed no confirmation was Ferguson's rage to succeed. At 56 (his birthday is New Year's Eve) and already certain of a listing among the great managers, some men would be seeking a quieter life. Not him. His will is the reason why his team get better. No player will get complacent while he can still be genuinely frightened by the anger of the man who picks the team.

And at the moment there seems to be little argument that United are getting better. Last season there was a feeling they won the Premiership almost by default, profiting from the failings of others, but this time they have struck the domestic front early, and are the only team in the Champions' League with a 100 per cent record.

When Ferguson did calm down enough to allow himself quiet satisfaction, he saw ample evidence in Rotterdam of improvement. The tempo of the team was not to his liking at the start but they upped a gear at his behest and, hey presto, they were three goals in front. "Maybe that's part of the learning process," he said, "handling matches that have a slow pace to them." He will have been happy, too, that only Paul Scholes lost his composure amid the flying Dutchmen to get a yellow card.

No one has improved more dramatically than Andy Cole, although his machine- gun burst probably owes more to forgetfulness than learning. He has been shackled by a fear of failure, but stumbling upon some confidence has helped him accrue eight goals in three matches. The man who found every way to miss suddenly does not know how to.

"We were a bit fortunate with the first goal," Ferguson said, "although it was a marvellous pass and Andy Cole's pace made it. He troubled them all night. He was always a threat."

As Cole is able to keep a striker of such rich promise as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the substitutes' bench, yesterday's reports that United had inquired about the asking price of Dynamo Kiev's Andrei Shevchenko was just that - an idle inquiry. He could not play in the Champions' League this season anyway and only an incorrigible gambler would pay pounds 12m for a relatively untried striker, notwithstanding his hat-trick against Barcelona on Wednesday.

If Cole is becoming the fully-valued pounds 7m man, then Ferguson has strength in depth in that department, just as he has an embarrassment of quality full-backs. Irwin, whose injury is less serious than was first feared, will miss United's match at Highbury on Sunday but his deputy is England's Phil Neville, while John Curtis and Michael Clegg are next in the queue.

Arsenal, United's nearest rivals but stuttering without Dennis Bergkamp, can only look and weep.