End feud, Tevez and Neville told

FA issues ultimatum for Carling Cup second leg as Ferdinand makes come-back
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Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, may have refused to become embroiled in the unseemly feud between his former striker Carlos Tevez and current defender Gary Neville, but last night the Football Association took steps to stop the two players squabbling.

Having earlier confirmed it will take no action against the two in the wake of this week's Carling Cup semi-final first leg at Eastlands, the FA contacted their clubs to pass on a final warning to the pair. Tevez, who goaded his former team-mate after scoring in Manchester City's 2-1 win over United, and Neville, whose initial statements about Tevez sparked that response, have been informed that further comments by either of them ahead of Wednesday's second leg at Old Trafford will result in FA charges that could bring a fine or even suspension.

Neville, who responded to Tevez's provocation with a one-fingered insult at City, was warned about his future conduct following the league derby at Old Trafford in September when he appeared to gesture at opposition supporters after a dramatic late United winner. Tevez, for his part this week, heaped abuse on Neville in a radio interview in his native Argentina.

Yesterday, however, Ferguson was in no mood to add his voice to the growing condemnation about the behaviour of two of the English game's most high-profile players. "I'm not interested," said Ferguson when asked about Tevez. "He's not our player any more. I've nothing to say about it at all. Players argue with each other and have a go at each other time and time again, it's not an issue for us."

Asked whether he was disappointed in Neville's conduct, Ferguson replied: "No. What conduct? I didn't see that at all."

Ferguson's refusal to discuss the issue comes in the wake of the FA writing to the Manchester clubs with a warning about their behaviour ahead of the Carling Cup return. Would Ferguson be talking to his players ahead of the Old Trafford meeting? "We are used to big games," snapped Ferguson, with the unavoidable inference that his neighbours are not.

Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand returns to the United side for the first time in three months this afternoon, a development which Ferguson hopes will give his defending champions an important edge at the most crucial stage of this season's title race.

The England central defender, 30, has finally recovered from the effects of a long-term back problem collected against Liverpool in October and is expected to start as United compete in the day's only Premier League game, at home to Hull.

Victory will return United to the top of the table, a timely possible development for Ferguson given his team must visit current leaders Arsenal next Sunday, ahead of Arsène Wenger's side then facing Chelsea a week later.

"If we can put our foot down now there's no question that bringing back our defenders will be our biggest advantage," said Ferguson who, at one stage this season, had eight senior defenders and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar out injured. "That will give us stability at the back and it's stability that will give confidence to everybody at the front.

"Van der Sar's performance against Burnley last week, that composure, that experience, is vital. So, with Rio back, it's looking much better for us now.

"The title race is looking more complicated this season," Ferguson added. "I think it's going to be the lowest points total to win the title for a while. Maybe 82 will do it, whereas we won it with 90 last season. It's going to be a tough race."

Another source of good news for United has come with the apparent success of their efforts to raise £504m through a bond issue, a step which will afford the club's owners the opportunity to pay off nearly all the £509m currently owed to international banks and, therefore, offer them greater flexibility in managing their debt.

The bond sale comes after figures showed that debts of the club's parent company, Red Football Joint Venture, currently stand at £716.5m and an announcement was expected in New York yesterday confirming the bond issue has been fully subscribed.