Ferguson denies grooming Keane to be next manager

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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday insisted he would have no say in the selection of his eventual successor, despite reports claiming the Manchester United manager has already earmarked Roy Keane, the club captain, as the man to take over his role when he leaves Old Trafford.

Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday insisted he would have no say in the selection of his eventual successor, despite reports claiming the Manchester United manager has already earmarked Roy Keane, the club captain, as the man to take over his role when he leaves Old Trafford.

Successive Premiership defeats to Norwich City and Everton have brought into focus the failings that have dogged United's season, and raised the question of whether the manager's 19-year reign is approaching it's end. A clearly frustrated Ferguson, however, was anxious to stamp on any debate surrounding his position by dismissing suggestions that he is grooming Keane as his heir.

"It's nonsense. I wouldn't presume to have the authority to make these decisions," Ferguson said.

"What I said - as I have always said - is that Roy Keane has got the potential to be a manager if that is what he wanted to be. He is taking his badges and it all seems quite straightforward. But as usual everything has been spun out of all proportion. These were comments made eight weeks ago. He is our captain and he plays - that is his job."

Tellingly, United's dismal recent run - marked by the failure to muster more than a solitary goal in the last five Premiership games, their worst run since Ferguson's position last came under serious scrutiny in 1989 - has handed Arsenal a four-point advantage in the battle to be runners-up to Chelsea and avoid the indignity of having to qualify for the Champions' League group stage.

Four games to go and relying on an unlikely sequence of results to finish second tells its own story, and if wounded pride cannot coax an upturn in form, Ferguson - who also dismissed reports the club is "touting" the striker Ruud van Nistelrooy around Europe's biggest clubs - is hoping the penalties imposed on his players' pockets and the prospect of a curtailed summer break will inspire a late flourish.

"Second place is now a difficult task," he added. "We have to depend on Arsenal dropping five points because their goal difference is so superior. I shouldn't need to impress upon the players how important it is to finish in second place - they have a bonus structure that applies for second place as opposed to third spot. They know the difference all right. I don't need to spell it out.

"But they have all been aware of that for a while, by the way. We've had a bad spell in the last three League games. We lost to Norwich, we drew with Blackburn and we lost at Everton without scoring a goal. And that is the strange part. That is the worst goalscoring performance by us for years and yet in the FA Cup we have been scoring well, so it is strange situation. It is unusual."

With the first leg of the Champions' League qualifying round scheduled for early August, Ferguson warned of major changes to the club's pre-season preparations.

"We will be planning differently," he said. "We will be back in training earlier, much earlier. Certainly more than a than a couple of weeks earlier."

Ryan Giggs is expected to return for Sunday's home match against Newcastle after missing the midweek rip to Goodison Park with a hamstring problem. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes are both suspended.

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