Ferguson ducks the issue with the R-word off limits

It was a little like being told not to mention the war to the "typical Germans" as Sir Alex Ferguson faced the press yesterday with the subject of Wayne Rooney strictly off limits. Hours after reports began circulating that Rooney could leave Old Trafford as soon as January after telling the club he does not want to extend his contract beyond the end of next season, Ferguson was scheduled to appear at the announcement of a new scheme with Unicef.

Ferguson has rarely spoken to the media over the past few weeks and as he strode onto the platform with David Gill, Ryan Giggs and two Unicef executives and tapped his microphone into life, he appeared totally relaxed. Smiling, he knew he was not going to be pressed on Rooney's future even before the compère reminded us that it was to be strictly questions on United's partnership with the charity only.

However admirable the new commitment to raise £1m over the next three years or United's previous charity work is, it was some way behind Rooney on the conversation topics in the pubs of Stretford last night. The presentation over, Ferguson answered two questions on the partnership and then he was off for a quick photocall on the pitch.

The subject of the world's vulnerable children puts the issue of where Rooney will play his football in the future into perspective and while it was not the subject many wanted to hear him discuss, Ferguson spoke with passion, and perhaps pointedly. "Our work with Unicef has made some of our players, particularly the younger ones, realise what the real world is like," he said. "It's been an eye-opener and a real education for them. It's taught them to understand how lucky they are, being in the environment they've been brought up in and the cocooned life they've got, in terms of their wealth and things like that."

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