Ferguson suspects Wenger of playing Henry mind games

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Reports of the demise of Thierry Henry may be greatly exaggerated. That, at least, was the suspicion voiced by Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday. The obituaries were written on the prospect of Arsenal's leading striker playing in Saturday's FA Cup final after Arsène Wenger ruled him out of the match on Monday but Ferguson will only believe it when he receives official confirmation.

Reports of the demise of Thierry Henry may be greatly exaggerated. That, at least, was the suspicion voiced by Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday. The obituaries were written on the prospect of Arsenal's leading striker playing in Saturday's FA Cup final after Arsène Wenger ruled him out of the match on Monday but Ferguson will only believe it when he receives official confirmation.

"I'm preparing for him playing until the team-sheets arrive," said Ferguson. The Manchester United manager, who once incurred the wrath of Uefa before a European Cup tie against Internazionale by suggesting he always looks under the sauce in Italian restaurants to check there is some pasta, added: "Perhaps that's Scottish caution." Or perhaps it is all part of the pre-match "mind games".

Henry returned from a lengthy absence through injury with an impressive 45 minutes against Everton last week but did not play against Birmingham City on Sunday. Wenger then said he had suffered an Achilles problem. Asked if he felt there was a bit of gamesmanship in Wenger's announcement, Ferguson said: "If I'm wrong, I'll have to hold up my hands and say 'don't be so distrustful, Alex, in the future'."

Not that Ferguson admitted to being worried about Henry whether he played or not. "We have the pace to handle Henry here. He's quick, but so are our defenders."

Those defenders will not, said Ferguson, include Gabriel Heinze or Gary Neville. Heinze suffered an ankle ligament injury against Newcastle three weeks ago while Neville has a groin strain.

"Gaby doesn't want to be ruled out at the moment but I do not see him playing. I think he is out," said Ferguson. "I feel for him. He's been fantastic for us and deserves to play but I do feel it's beyond him.

"Gary is a concern because he has not been training. We have got medical people working on him and we will give him every chance but it is not looking good. It is very disappointing because they are both experienced players."

Neville did then train - can Arsène trust Alex? - but did not take part in the full session. Should neither be fit for Cardiff, Mikaël Silvestre may start at left-back, with Wes Brown partnering Rio Ferdinand in the centre and Phil Neville at right-back.

Alternatively, Brown could play at right-back, Ferdinand and Silvestre in the centre, and John O'Shea or Quinton Fortune on the left. Given the penchant of Henry - and Jose Antonio Reyes, who is also said to be injured - for playing on the left flank of Arsenal's attack, their fitness - or lack of it - may well influence Ferguson's selection.

Ferguson and his captain, Roy Keane, also appealed to supporters not to disrupt the Cup final through protests aimed against the takeover of the club by Malcolm Glazer.

The American now has total control at Old Trafford after amassing a 75.7 per cent stake in the club and supporters groups - Shareholders United and the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association - have called for mass demonstrations in Cardiff. Ferguson refused to comment on the takeover, stressing he was focusing on the match and urged fans to do likewise.

"This is not the time to be answering questions about the takeover," he said. "Ever since I became manager of Manchester United, my main concern has always been the team and, when you are playing a Cup final, that focus has to be 100 per cent or we'll not do our job properly. Everything is geared to Saturday. Everything. All the rest is peripheral.

"Of course the fans are emotional. Given the loyalty they have shown over the years, it is understandable. But this is their big day as well as ours. I'm sure they won't let us down. They want us to win the Cup. It is a united front, the supporters and players together to win this match on Saturday. Nothing else matters."

Keane added his voice to the call. "Every time we play I expect the United fans to get behind us like they do every week," he said. "I'm sure that will be the case on Saturday."

Both men thought the match would grab the attention of any protesting spectator. "I think it will be feisty in the early parts," said Ferguson. "You have to remember these are human beings and it is a Cup final but once it settles down I think it should be a great game. Some finals have been disappointing, our one against Liverpool (1996) was a terribly disappointing final yet there were clever players like McManaman, Fowler, Cantona and Giggs on the pitch. But I think there are enough great players to make this a great Cup final."

Keane concurred before adding, ominously: "Some people think it will be an anticlimax but I think it will be pretty explosive."

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