Ferguson has treatment for heart problem

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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, yesterday received treatment for what his club described as a "minor heart irregularity".

The 61-year-old Ferguson entered a Manchester hospital and the routine procedure, which was also undergone by the Prime Minister Tony Blair last month, took no more than a couple of hours. He is expected back at United's Carrington training ground today to continue preparations for tomorrow's Premiership game with Aston Villa.

Manchester United said in a statement last night: "Sir Alex Ferguson received a treatment in hospital today following a routine check up several months ago which revealed a minor heart irregularity. The procedure went well and Sir Alex Ferguson is resting at home and is due in work tomorrow [today]. The treatment revealed he has no underlying heart problem."

Ferguson entered hospital just hours after returning from Birmingham where he watched a largely second-string United side suffer a surprise 2-0 Carling Cup defeat against the First Division leaders, West Bromwich Albion. On Sunday he had to watch as United lost 1-0 at Chelsea in the Premier League.

In the past few weeks, Ferguson has maintained his stance that his decision to change his mind about his retirement plans two years ago was one of the wisest moves he has ever made.

Ferguson said at the time he felt healthy and able to continue handling the pressures of management at one of the world's biggest clubs and is unlikely to let this minor setback affect his focus.

Diagnosis of the problem does vindicate the League Managers' Association insistence that their members continually monitor their health. Ferguson's initial check-up was in line with the LMA programme and while it is not known whether a failure to pick up the problem at an early stage would have led to a worsening of the situation, it proves the value of men in one of the most pressurised jobs of all paying close attention to their health.

Ferguson, who has been in charge at Manchester United since 1986 and has led them to a host of major honours, including the 1999 Champions' League, is currently negotiating a new four-year contract.

But he has run into problems in recent months. There were reports that he had hit David Beckham with a football boot that he kicked across the dressing room in anger, and left the England captain with a cut near his eye. Beckham has said that the pair have hardly spoken since he decided to leave the club and join Real Madrid.

In addition, Ferguson is facing a row with world football's governing body, Fifa, over the failure of United's £30m centre-back, Rio Ferdinand, to attend a requested random drug test in September. Ferdinand could be banned for two years, preventing him from playing for England at Euro 2004, and Fifa are unhappy that United have continued to select him since the incident. Ferdinand subsequently took and passed a drug test and United say that in playing Ferdinand they are acting within the guidelines laid down by the Football Association.

Furthermore, Ferguson has become embroiled in a dispute with the leading racehorse owner John Magnier over ownership rights to the horse Rock of Gibraltar. That issue is complicated by the fact that Magnier is one of Manchester United's biggest shareholders.

These problems have come on top of his normal high-pressure weekly schedule. Gérard Houllier, of Liverpool, and Graeme Souness, of Blackburn Rovers, have both suffered heart-related problems in the past few years but have returned to management in the Premiership after treatment.

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