Ferguson demonstrates the value of trust

Old Trafford manager's rotation policy justified by emphatic victory as nearest summit rivals are overcome by sense of inferiority
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The Independent Football

The idea that Sir Alex Ferguson might be persuaded to exchange his plush Old Trafford office for a bed of nails in the Football Association's new Soho Square quarters was never a strong runner. Now it appeared to be going backwards.

The idea that Sir Alex Ferguson might be persuaded to exchange his plush Old Trafford office for a bed of nails in the Football Association's new Soho Square quarters was never a strong runner. Now it appeared to be going backwards.

There are many self-destructive impulses involved in visits to Soho, but Saturday said that for Ferguson none would be as unnecessarily hazardous as taking over England.

At Leicester his United team - which lacked Beckham, Scholes, Stam, Cole, the Neville brothers and, as a starter, Giggs - rearranged a temporary blip in the measurement of domestic football power so effortlessly that the England option was made to seem like an invitation to professional suicide.

Managing England, you had to believe, would be a betrayal both of Ferguson's blood and his sanity, not to mention his basic working principle that if you have the opposition on the run it is best to skewer them into the ground. It follows that if you've been as prepared to fight as hard as Ferguson for a place in the sun, you simply don't abandon a position of strength built up, uniquely, over 14 years.

On a day when the club-or-country issue most preoccupied his rival at Leicester, Peter Taylor, the Scotsman's position of ascendancy in the English game could scarcely have been more emphatically underlined. Or the reasons why the embattled FA, lumbered with the task of filling a job which in terms of difficulty you are to be excused for thinking is roughly akin to brokering peace in the Middle East, would cheerfully make the master of Old Trafford the world's best-rewarded football management employee.

Ferguson, who saw his half-strength team strip down the transient Premiership leaders so easily they might have been Ferrari mechanics changing the settings on Michael Schumacher's car, glowed with the satisfaction which comes to him like a rosy sunset when he senses new possibilities of pillage. He said he was happy the quality of United's performance had wiped out the prospect of more of the criticism of his selection policy which accompanied the recent defeat in the Champions' League in Eindhoven. "I had 10 internationals on the field," Ferguson said. "You have to trust that."

Trust. It was a word which didn't get a lot of play in the days of Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan, when tactics and personnel came on and off the stage with dizzying frequency, but, if Ferguson is not always the most equable of men, he knows about the value of trust once he believes it has been earned. His trust, for example, in the enduring football intelligence of Teddy Sheringham brought the major bonus here. Sheringham scored twice and looked so relaxed he might have been walking a dog. In Helsinki for England, he left the field racked with frustration; out of position, out of trust, he was pulled from Howard Wilkinson's rapidly congealing stew without ceremony or, it seemed, no more reason than his appearance in the first place on the right wing.

Ferguson was euphoric about Sheringham's Indian summer, which has now brought seven goals in the early going, and also the spring of Wes Brown.

The young utility defender showed no ill effects from his Helsinki experience, when he came on as a substitute, and Ferguson talked of the arrival of a significant player. Among other cautions against Ferguson taking the England job would be the experience of Don Revie, whose reaction to his first squad session as national manager was outright panic. Suddenly, he realised how many good players he had left behind at Elland Road.

For the moment at least, there would be no similar risk for Peter Taylor if he got the England call, possibly in tandem with the veteran Bobby Robson.

Indeed, Taylor might be privately cursing the trick of the fixture computer which gave his modestly talented team the chance to make Leicester's first appearance at the top of the League in 37 years, and thus create wildly unrealistic expectations locally. He said that there were no excuses, Leicester had been beaten by a better team, but if he had any regrets it was that his team had not moved the ball forward more quickly. That was probably Taylor's least uplifting remark in a week in which he had handled himself quite beautifully. If United's game had proved anything, it was that how quickly you move the ball forward is rather less important than the degree of purpose you bring to the process.

United were in no particular hurry until Sheringham, twice, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got clear chances to put the ball beyond Tim Flowers. They operated with the luxury of time - and trust in their abilityultimately to shape the game.

For Taylor, who has said that he must earn his place as an England contender by schooling himself against the pressures at the top of the game, the lessons were surely strewn across Filbert Street. Ferguson is not where he is today, which, if the whim overcame him, is one telephone call away from becoming England manager, because of some blinding tactical vision. One such didn't come to him on his long journey through the game for the very good reason there isn't one. What there is is a set of values which, if enforced long enough and consistently enough, tends to leave you either near or on top of the pile.

The win at Leicester provided classic evidence in support of the argument. Tactics and personnel are interchangeable at Old United. Whatever the circumstances, the script never demands more than the merest tweak. It is the same with all the winning teams, international or club. Ferguson needs England like the Stock Exchange needs a Black Monday.