James Lawton: Loony-bin logic of Ferguson and Wenger

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The Independent Football

How neat, how easy, for Arsène Wenger to say that his war of words with Sir Alex Ferguson is finished. It is not, and until both grow up in a hurry, it will never be. In the meantime only the most gullible will grant the Arsenal manager the moral high ground as his bitter rival rages on with charges that both Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp committed fouls at least as heinous as his own Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Here we have the problem isolated in all its on-going horror. Neither of our two most successful managers appears capable of taking a critical look at themselves or their teams.

Wenger called Wayne Rooney a cheat despite his own record of ignoring appalling examples of diving by his own players (for the benefit of Arsenal's less objective followers, Pires against Portsmouth, Keown against Roma) and Ferguson seeks to deflect attention from Van Nistelrooy's terrible offence.

Instead of grimly extending the controversy, Ferguson should simply deal with that which is in his control. He should look at the Van Nistelrooy tackle on Ashley Cole and see that it might have come from the dark age of over-the-ball specialisation, when a collision between the likes of Johnny Giles and "Chopper" Harris made the strongest man's blood run cold.

In the Sixties it was an unspoken code of living by the sword and Giles long ago uttered his own mea culpa. "It was something you did then because you thought it was the only way to survive, to create an aura around yourself, and this was especially true if you were a little fella who was there to play creatively. Deep down you knew it was bad, but it was only later that you saw quite how wrong it was."

That was half a lifetime ago and it is stunning that someone as successful, and as honoured, as Ferguson cannot look at the Van Nistelrooy offence and not recoil in disgust. It is partisanship from the loony-bin, as is Wenger's failure to acknowledge that some of his own players have been guilty of similar outrages.

This general point has been made here several times in the last week or so but there are no apologies for returning to the issue. Ferguson won't let it go and Wenger is guilty of hypocrisy when he gets out the Pontius Pilate kit. They are doing more than calling into question the repute of their game. They are casting doubt about the balance of their minds.