Carroll blunder in keeping with recent history

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson never cared much for goalkeepers. As a brutally competitive centre-forward who enjoyed the nickname "Razor Elbows" they simply got in the way and were treated accordingly.

With the enormous exception of Peter Schmeichel, who with Eric Cantona and Roy Keane can vie for the title of Ferguson's finest piece of transfer business, his managerial career has been as littered with goalkeeping casualties as his playing days. As Roy Carroll left Old Trafford after his error had gifted Milan a potentially decisive advantage in their Champions' League encounter, the Ulsterman was entitled to wonder if he might be the next to fall, especially given his refusal to sign a new contract.

Ferguson's transformation of Old Trafford began with the brutal discarding of Jim Leighton before United played Crystal Palace in the 1990 FA Cup final replay. It was, said Ferguson, a piece of "animal instinct" that destroyed their friendship forever, but it helped secure his first trophy for Manchester United.

By the time Schmeichel departed, nine years later, United had won three trophies in a single season, but his exit left a void that has never been satisfactorily filled. Massimo Taibi was "not a Manchester United player" in his manager's brutally simple verdict. Mark Bosnich, having been foisted upon him by the Old Trafford board, never enjoyed his full confidence. Although Ferguson once described Fabien Barthez as a man who understood more about winning than anyone else in his dressing-room, the eccentricities eventually outweighed the excellence.

"The Tears of a Clown" was one confidence-draining headline that greeted Carroll yesterday. He is not a clown, not in the sense that Barthez's rushes of blood left him open to that kind of taunt, but he has become the victim of isolated, high-profile errors that have obscured nine clean sheets in his last 11 appearances.

It was perhaps this that led Ferguson to reject overtures made on behalf of Antti Niemi and Edwin van der Sar during last month's transfer window. Given that Carroll cannot be guaranteed to remain in Manchester, ignoring the Dutch No 1 is either commendably loyal or short-sighted. Carroll is not even a regular first choice for Northern Ireland.

It is unlikely Ferguson will discard Carroll for the return at San Siro in a fortnight's time simply because of the lack of credible replacements. Ferguson's last sight of Tim Howard, who is far more error-prone, was of him conceding five goals to Manchester City reserves. A successful week for Ricardo is making the bench.

Ferguson claimed that United's task in the second leg was no more difficult than when beating a Juventus managed by Carlo Ancelotti 3-2 in Turin to reach the European Cup final. The fact remains, however, that only once, in 1957 against Athletic Bilbao, have United lost the first leg of a European Cup tie and gone on to win the match.

Nevertheless, to their enormous cost, Milan know that Champions' League knock-out ties are not decided after a single match. In last season's quarter-finals they managed to be eliminated by Deportivo La Coruña after beating the Spanish side 4-1 in the first leg. Of their previous 21 Champions' League games at San Siro, only six times have they kept a clean sheet and, as Ferguson pointed out on Wednesday night, he always backs United to score. Whether he backs them to keep Milan out is another matter.

Kleberson's Old Trafford's career appears to be nearing its end, meanwhile, after the midfielder's agent, Marco Antonio e Silva, stated he was "99 per cent certain" that a deal would be agreed with the Brazilian side, Corinthians. A figure of around £1.6m has been discussed, which represents a substantial loss on the £5.75m United paid for him in 2003.