Ferguson goes on the offensive over Rooney

Player 'rushed in' rashly after agent Stretford pushed move, says United manager
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Sir Alex ferguson has waded back into the row over Wayne Rooney's contract stand-off with a renewed attack on the player's agent, Paul Stretford, whom he described witheringly yesterday as "not the most popular man in the world".

The Manchester United manager used a conference at the elite Qatari sporting centre Aspire4Sport to re-assert himself in last month's dispute between Rooney and the club, which was eventually resolved with the player signing a new contract. Again identifying Stretford as the prime mover behind Rooney's threats not to re-sign, Ferguson made it clear that he had not forgotten those events.

On Rooney, Ferguson said: "You don't necessarily have to heed advice after listening to it. Some young people take bad advice. He has an agent who is not the most popular man in the world and he obviously sold it to Wayne to ask away [from United]. The boy rushed in.

"But the minute he heard the response of the public and our supporters, he changed his mind. He knew he'd made a mistake. There's nothing wrong with that as long as you recognise it."

Ferguson added: "He immediately apologised and agreed a new contract within a couple of hours. It [the stand-off] wasn't done to get the contract, I don't think that for a minute. But maybe he should have listened to better advice."

Judging by Ferguson's willingness to revisit the issue, he must feel he has comprehensively won the argument with Rooney. However, he has clearly not forgiven Stretford, whose clients he has signed in the past – notably Andy Cole – and it seems as if Ferguson is still determined to drive a wedge between agent and player.

The threat hanging over United was that Rooney could have secured a much more lucrative contract at Manchester City. That possibility was seen off by a United contract that will earn the player as much as £200,000 a week including bonuses, which still represents by far the biggest pay deal the club have ever agreed. Rooney, still recovering from an ankle injury, returned from his stay in Oregon in the United States on Saturday.

"We want to get Wayne back to his best," Ferguson said. "He's had a good week in the States and we've got him to the point where we want him to be in terms of accelerating his fitness. Is he ready to get into the first team? We'll have to assess that when I get back."

Speaking openly, Ferguson complained about the "tattoos and earrings" of modern players and how they have become much more sensitive to tough criticism than those of an earlier era. "I've mellowed a great deal," Ferguson said. "The world has changed and so have players' attitudes.

"I'm dealing with more fragile human beings than I used to be. They are cocooned by modern parents, agents, even their own image at times. They need to be seen with their tattoos and earrings. It's a different world for me so I have had to adapt.

"There is nothing wrong with losing your temper if it's for the right reasons. But I never leave it until the next day. I don't believe in that. Some managers wait until Monday when they say things are calmer but I want to let it go after the game because I am already planning for the next one. Once I let it go, it's finished, and I don't bring it up again. I don't wait until tomorrow."

Echoing the United chief executive David Gill's comments a day earlier, that the manager's retirement seems further away than ever, Ferguson, who turns 69 on New Year's Eve, said that "retirement is for young people". He said: "I'm too old to retire. I would have nothing to do. As long as my health is good I will carry on."

He also defended the Glazer family, as he has done in the five and a half years since they bought United. Standing up for the unpopular Americans, who use the club's profits to finance the £500m bond that underpins their ownership, has become an article of faith for Ferguson. He said: "They have never bothered me or interfered with my job. I'm probably in a privileged position. Some owners are hands-on because they've invested a lot of money, not just foreign owners. I've heard stories of owners texting managers during training sessions, English owners. Just because people are successful in business, it doesn't mean they will be successful at a football club."