Ferguson puzzled by events at Newcastle

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The Independent Online

If ever there were a contrasting tale of two clubs, then the respective preoccupations of Sir Alex Ferguson and Sam Allardyce on Thursday night revealed it. While Ferguson was meeting Israel's new ambassador to London in Manchester, considering a request that United play a match marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the nation, Allardyce was contemplating unemployment. "Sam was surprised by it all," said Ferguson, who has spoken to the deposed Newcastle manager – and is interested by the ambassador Ron Prosor's request.

Ferguson spoke of Newcastle, who play at Old Trafford today, in a way that highlighted what an unenviable task managing the side is. "It's a strange club," he said, reflecting on the suggestion that Allardyce was sacked because of the way Newcastle play. "I watched them at Stoke last week and there was no long-ball game. They played their football. If you look at the managers they have had, Gullit was a footballer, Dalglish was a footballer, Souness was a footballer. Were they not trying to play football? I'm sure they were."

Ferguson is not privy to Harry Redknapp's thoughts but he believes the disappointment of being overlooked for the England job may harden any ideas the Portsmouth manager might have on moving to St James' Park. "I think Harry is intelligent enough to know what he is doing, but it will be a difficult choice for him in a way." Ferguson said. "He has a wonderful set-up at Portsmouth, a lovely house, his wife is settled, so there is a big decision to make. But we are all vain enough to think we can do things. That's the problem in football and life in general. Whenever you have a chance of moving up the ladder, you think, 'I can do that.'"

But Redknapp's arrival would be as puzzling to Ferguson as Allardyce's departure. "The thing that amazes me is that he [Redknapp] has exactly the same CV as Sam. In terms of experience, presence and popularity and the great jobs that both had done with their clubs. The only difference is that one is Mike Ashley's appointment, the other wasn't. Harry will be his choice, not Freddie Shepherd's."

Ferguson admitted he had "no idea" whether interim manager Nigel Pearson, whose team have not won at Old Trafford since 1972, was planning any changes, although he expects old boys Nicky Butt and Alan Smith to be in the visitors' midfield. Owen Hargreaves is a major doubt after suffering a rib injury in training, while Danny Simpson or, more likely, John O'Shea will replace the suspended defender Wes Brown.

With Paul Scholes now due back "in two or three weeks" after a long-standing knee problem and Park Ji-sung earning high praise from his manager for his performance at Aston Villa last weekend only three games into a comeback from cruciate surgery, United are starting to show an ominous strength in depth.

Ferguson has confirmed Edwin van der Sar will not replace Tony Coton as United's goalkeeping coach. After two recent knee operations, Coton has been forced to end his 10-year association with the club. Although Coton is to remain on the United payroll until June, the 46-year-old is no longer able to carry out his duties, so academy coach Richard Hartis will step into the breach for the remainder of the campaign.

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