Ferguson tells Hughes to 'accept criticism'

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The Independent Football

Hughes was deeply hurt by the Scot's analysis of United's 4-3 defeat at Ewood Park, in which he reopened the debate about Rovers' combative approach, to the extent that "his comments took the shine off the game completely". Ferguson made no mention of his displeasure when he entered Hughes' office after the game and though he felt some guilt for discrediting Rovers' performance on television, the United manager insisted, somewhat patronisingly, that his former striker could have a bright future at the highest level if only he listened to advice.

"I hated doing that because he was one of my great players. I loved him, and he's done a great job as a manager but he's got to take a look at himself," said Ferguson. "There were 15 fouls given against his team in the first half alone, at home, and he was out there contesting every one. He must think that is right and that is a problem. I hope he can accept criticism because it has been coming in all directions about their physical play, and not just from me, but I hope he listens to me because he could be a good manager."

Blackburn have collected more yellow cards than any other Premiership team this season but their performances - and results - have shown a marked improvement on last term. Ironically, Ferguson will be without the suspended Rio Ferdinand against Fulham this evening on account of the dismissal he received on Wednesday, when United, according to Ferguson, only failed to retrieve a 4-1 deficit because "Blackburn just cleared the ball into the corners and we lost a lot of energy having to go back and rebuild all the time".

United's defeat ensured they again failed to capitalise on a rare Premiership slip by Chelsea, who have a 15-point lead over their nearest rivals and entertain third-placed Liverpool at Stamford Bridge tomorrow. Ferguson added: "I hope Liverpool win because you never know what can happen in football. It could have an impact on Chelsea if they lose. I've seen it happen before, it has happened to us, and if it can happen to a great club like United it can happen to a lesser great club like Chelsea."

The United manager also insisted that John Obi Mikel, currently impressing for Nigeria in the African Nations' Cup, would prefer to commence his Premiership career at Old Trafford rather than Stamford Bridge, despite appeals to the contrary from the player himself this week. "I think if you sat that boy down, away from all the pressure and all the supposed threats he is under, and asked him who he wanted to play for, the answer would be Manchester United. I really do believe that," Ferguson said, before conceding that it was "worrying" that Fifa has not made a decision on the unseemly transfer dispute between United and Chelsea. "Fifa said they'd rely on the court decision and that went in our favour so it is a concern we've heard nothing," he said.

European football's governing body, Uefa, yesterday handed Cristiano Ronaldo a one-match ban for gesturing towards the Benfica fans during United's Champions' League exit in December.