The Football Association will consider today whether to bill Manchester United for damage to their Wembley dressing room which took place in the aftermath of Saturday's FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City.
The dressing room was used by Stoke City the following day but not before staff at Wembley had to fix a wall that had been damaged on Saturday evening. United have made it clear that they will pay for the damage and have indicated that none of their players were involved in the incident.
The FA carries out minor repairs to the dressing room as a matter of course over FA Cup semi-final weekend after they are cleaned. However, if the damage is assessed to have been sufficiently bad – it is understood that a hole was kicked in the wall – they may decide that United should foot the bill.
The incident caps a bad four days for Manchester United, who play Newcastle United at St James' Park tonight in what will prove a pivotal game in the title race. If they win, United will go nine points ahead of second place Arsenal who play Tottenham at White Hart Lane tomorrow.
Sir Alex Ferguson said yesterday that he would not shy away from the tough decisions needed this summer to maintain the club's dominance.
The preparations for next season have already begun. Ferguson dispatched his brother, Martin, to Spain to scout the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper David De Gea, who is a prime candidate to replace Edwin van der Sar when the Dutchman retires next month. The close season at Manchester United is expected to be a busy one with the future of players such as Owen Hargreaves, Wes Brown, Michael Owen, Tomasz Kuszczak and even Dimitar Berbatov uncertain. Ferguson told The Manager, the magazine of the League Managers Association, that he was not afraid to bring a player's career to an end.
"It is a horrible thing to say but you cannot be sentimental in this job," the 69-year-old said. "I love the players that I've had and I've been very, very fortunate to have had great players who have come through my career with me.
"All of the players I have had here have played a part in my success so when I see something happening – as in the cases of Nicky Butt and Phil Neville – I have had to release them to other opportunities.
"It was getting to the stage where I was terrified of talking to them and telling them they weren't playing. It wasn't fair to them because they had played a big part in the resurrection of Manchester United. When the time came for me to let them go, I knew I
was cutting really important, loyal strings and I didn't enjoy it.
"My job is to manage United and to produce results and I am no different to any other manager. I will not be regarded in the same way if I am not successful. Everything to do with me is black and white. If it's on the football field and I see something that I feel is a retrograde step for the club, I have to act and make decisions.
"I can make quick decisions and I am lucky that way. In management, you have to be able to make decisions and sometimes you are not right, but that doesn't concern me too much because the important thing is being able to do it."
That Manchester United are perhaps three games away from recapturing a championship lost to a resurgent Chelsea 11 months ago is one of Ferguson's many great achievements. United's football may have lacked the magic of previous campaigns but they have forged a consistency that in a wildly unpredictable Premier League should prove decisive. Nevertheless, Manchester City's victory in Saturday's FA Cup semi-final was, said City defender Joleon Lescott, a shape of things to come. "I know United are top of the league and will probably go on to win the league but I think they are looking over their shoulders now and thinking about the way we are progressing," he said.
"In the next couple of years we are going to be getting to semi-finals and finals a lot more. We'll meet them more and more. Manchester City winning a trophy would be huge. I don't think there is a deadline or a need to win by a certain date. It would be great to win any silverware but the FA Cup is a bit different."
Berbatov, who on Sunday night was named in the Team of the Year voted for by the Professional Footballers' Association and is still the Premier League's leading goalscorer, is likely to begin tonight's game at Newcastle on the bench, just as he did when United and Chelsea locked horns for a place in the semi-finals of the European Cup.
Berbatov, given an opportunity on the grand stage, squandered two early chances in the Wembley semi-final against City, moments that in a bland post-match interview Ferguson singled out as decisive.
As Ferguson proved when getting rid of Dwight Yorke and Ruud van Nistelrooy, the manager has a keen sense of when a striker is past his peak. Berbatov's contract expires in 14 months' time and Manchester United have a unilateral option to extend it an extra year – another of the big decisions Ferguson will have to take in the summer.