"Roy Keane is injured," Ferguson said tersely in Beijing yesterday. "You can't travel if you are injured. There is nothing else to say."
Angered by the coverage of his alleged training-ground confrontation with his captain, Ferguson cancelled his scheduled interview session with journalists as his players worked through a 90-minute training session in the intense morning heat at the Olympic city's 70,000 capacity Workers' Stadium, venue for tonight's game against Beijing Hyundai.
A further press conference with three United players, including the rarely heard Paul Scholes, was cancelled, although Ferguson, the club's chief executive David Gill, plus Gary Neville and Darren Fletcher, all spoke to Chinese journalists in the afternoon before a planned visit to Tiananmen Square.
Ferguson did mention Keane, though only in the context of who will eventually fill his role. "We keep talking about how we can find a replacement for Roy Keane," Ferguson said. "Of course that's impossible - there's no recipe for these types of players - but within our own squad we will look to see if there is a similar type of player. We are experimenting with Alan Smith in that role and he's done very well."
Cristiano Ronaldo joined his team-mates after staying in Portugal with his ill father. That pleased Beijing's fans, who were upset at a perceived snub by Real Madrid at the weekend when David Beckham was absent in the 3-2 win over Beijing, with Zidane, Ronaldo and Owen all substituted.
"Cristiano Ronaldo may play some part tomorrow, but no more than 20 minutes," Ferguson said. "We will play a team which is one of our strongest in relation to the European Cup game we have in August. We'll be playing with few changes so that we can get a consistency of team selection."
A stronger United side means disappointment for the locals about Dong Fangzhou, United's first-ever Chinese player who scored on his debut in United's 2-0 win over Hong Kong on Saturday. "Dong will be on the bench and will play half an hour," said Ferguson. United sent Dong on loan to Royal Antwerp, their Belgian Second Division feeder club, to gain experience and because Belgium's work permit regulations offer the quickest route to obtaining a European passport.
The press conference concluded with a lighter question: "We see the green colours of the Beijing team as the leaves and the red of Manchester United as the flowers. Do you think the leaves will outshine the flowers?" asked a Chinese journalist.
Perhaps fortuitously for the questioner, it was not directed at Ferguson.Reuse content