Sir Alex Ferguson admitted yesterday that Wayne Rooney had made a mistake in slapping Bolton's Tal Ben Haim but, although the Manchester United manager has warned his striker about his conduct, he said he had no intention of taking "the devil" out of the 19-year-old's game.
After Monday's rage against all those who sought to criticise Rooney, yesterday saw Ferguson, who is 63 today, back to his truculent, competitive best. Today, his teenage striker will be given a three-match ban by the Football Association for violent conduct but the governing body will do so with Ferguson's devastating critique of their disciplinary system ringing in their ears.
"We know he [Rooney] shouldn't raise his hand and I've spoken to him about that," Ferguson said. "But he doesn't need that. The profile he gets in normal life is unusual for a 19-year-old, so therefore we have got to get him to act like a 30-year-old even though he is still 19.
"Young boys do have an adventure to them that older players don't have. Experience teaches them many things and unfortunately you can't put the clock forward for a boy of 19. But he is going to have to accept the responsibility of being the most talked about player in Britain and this is a definite lesson for him.
"We don't really have any players who had a serious discipline problem or anything like that. But from time to time, because of the number of games that we play and the competitive level we are playing at, situations will arise and you rely on your players to handle it.
"You've got to channel aggression. But the thing is forwards are explosive players anyway and you don't want them to lose that explosive nature because that's what makes them. Even Pele had that, the great players show that spark. Maradona got sent off in a World Cup. If you take that devil out of them, if you take that heart out of them, you don't have the same player."
Ferguson went on to launch an attack on a FA system that he described as "flawed and immoral". Rooney might have been wrong by the letter of the law, but the United manager questioned a ruling that equated the teenager's gentle shove on Ben Haim with violent conduct.
"It looks as if they intended to do Wayne Rooney with violent conduct whatever," he said. "Every man and his dog could see that was not a violent conduct charge. It may have been a bit silly of the boy to put his hand in his face but he never swung a fist, he just pushed him away because everybody is giving him a bit of verbals."
United last night formally admitted the charge against Rooney, although, under the new fast-track rules, which give them no right of representation at today's commission, they have little choice.
The defining element of Rooney's transgression, the United manager argued, was that Ben Haim drew attention to it. Ferguson also wondered aloud why Robin van Persie was allowed to get away with swinging an elbow at Kieran Richardson during United's Carling Cup defeat of Arsenal. "You wonder what are the referees' views nowadays if one doesn't think Van Persie's is a violent conduct charge and another says he would have sent Rooney off for violent conduct," he said.
Ferguson was in agreement with the Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce, when asking what kind of system allowed for the victim of "violent conduct" to be charged with exaggerating the effects of that attack.
"Bolton are appealing and I can understand why they are doing that because if Wayne Rooney is being done for violent conduct why is Tal Ben Haim charged?" Ferguson said.
Rooney's club captain Roy Keane also sprang to his defence, saying: "There are a lot of cases where players are reacting and trying to get fellow professionals into trouble," he said. "It is disgraceful. It needs to stop... You see it every weekend. When players get touched, they are going down. They are trying to con the referee, con their fellow players and con the crowd. It is driving me crazy seeing them trying to get players in trouble."
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