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News & Comment

Ferguson hits 50 with 'no regrets'

The United manager is still obsessive about the game half a century after his professional debut

Fifty years on from the day when the whole football imbroglio began for him in the hoops of Queen's Park, a reminder yesterday from a one-time wiry striker turned knight of the realm of how he once so nearly took himself and his combustible nature off to a new life in Canada. "I was a fully qualified tradesman and the incentives of going to Canada were obvious," Sir Alex Ferguson said. "There was a good trade there."

He did not mention the other reason why emigration appealed to him at a time, in 1963, when he was juggling his toolmaker's job at Glasgow's Remington shavers factory with a part-time forward's role at St Johnstone. His endless disputes and transfer demands at the club had left him languishing in the reserves, played out of position at wing-half which meant lowly Third Lanark did not get the chance to scout him.

A turning point was around the corner, just as it has been so often during Ferguson's periodic low ebbs in the game. Recalled to the side by Saints manager Bobby Brown he scored the hat-trick, still legendary in Scotland, which defeated Rangers at Ibrox and would ultimately see him signed by the side he had humbled; to this day, his hat-trick is the only one scored by a Saints player against the Glasgow side. Ferguson was also protesting, at that time, against the £3,000 fee his club had put on his head so the world had turned in so many ways yesterday when he moved on to discuss present issues: the £32m deal to make Carlos Tevez's move permanent and the pay demands of Cristiano Ronaldo's representatives.

Ronaldo, Ferguson suggested, is already paid "very well" by United and has three and a half years left on his contract. "We are happy with that. I don't know what other clubs pay their players," he added. In Robinho's case £160,000; £10,000 a week more than Ronaldo. So though Ferguson seemed to be sticking to his chief executive David Gill's line that there will be no new offer, do not bet against it. Ronaldo has scored more goals already this season than he had at the same stage last and Ferguson will want him to pick a path through Tony Pulis's obdurate Stoke side at Old Trafford this afternoon. He also hopes Tevez will heed the advice of his old striker Andy Cole, who said this week that he still regrets leaving Old Trafford in search of more starts. "He will play plenty of football and he knows that."

The prospects of a sixth start of the season for Tevez are marginally increased by the fact that Wayne Rooney has been suffering from a chest infection during the week and has trained less but his kind of fighting qualities are what Ferguson was alluding to a fortnight ago when he said you needed "tin hats" to play Stoke.

Though he does not seem to adhere to the idea that his side should avoid conceding throw-ins within hurling range of Rory Delap, United have certainly been watching DVDs of his missiles this week.

"I remember once saying to my players against a team we were playing against, 'Don't give corner kicks away' and they got a corner kick in the first minute and scored," he said. "So it's no good saying try to stop throw-ins because it is impossible. We will just have to deal with them the best we can." As much a football obsessive now as 50 years ago, he reeled off the names of some long-throw specialists and though he believes Dave Challinor hurled the ball further for Tranmere Rovers (a world record 46.34 metres to be precise), he has pointed out to his players that Delap's flat trajectory makes him difficult. The slope at the side of the Old Trafford pitch may certainly work to the detriment of the former Republic of Ireland international.

"Stoke are a competitive team," Ferguson added. "Tony Pulis teams have always been like that. They say teams reflect their manager and Tony is very competitive. But they are not a dirty team." Challenges to the very end, then, including his belief that while United's performance levels are better than last season, their finishing must improve. "Fifty years is a long time," Ferguson concluded. "Half a century but no regrets."

1958 and all that: Way back when

*A 16-year old Alex Ferguson made his debut for Queen's Park on 15 November 1958, scoring in a 2-1 defeat at Stranraer. Also in 1958:

*Manchester United finished runners-up to Wolves in the First Division.

*On the day of Ferguson's debut for Queen's Park, United lost 6-3 at Bolton.

*Bolton won the FA Cup while Brazil won the World Cup.

*Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) made its debut – the Queen making the first STD phone call, allowing calls without operator assistance.

*The UK's first ever motorway, the Preston bypass, was opened.

*NASA was formed.

*Elvis Presley inducted into the army.

n "Bridge on the River Kwai" won the Oscar for Best Picture.

*Mr What won the Grand National.