His side has crashed out of the Champions' League and seen its Premiership title dream all but disappear in the last seven days and yet the subsequent criticism of Sir Alex Ferguson is based upon an irrational hatred of Manchester United rather than a fair analysis of events at Old Trafford, or so the man himself claimed yesterday.
The United manager was in a genial disposition as he sat down with the written press at the club's Carrington training complex to preview tonight's game against Wigan Athletic. And no wonder. Seventy four seconds later he was gone - the task Ferguson often confronts with barely disguised contempt brought to an abrupt halt before a single question had been asked.
It was Manchester United's own supporters who booed their team from the Old Trafford pitch following Sunday's draw with Everton, a performance that Ferguson conceded was wracked by anxiety and exposed a lack of confidence amongst players who, he admitted, "need to trust themselves more" despite having finished bottom of their Champions' League group. Nevertheless, the Scot believes the sense of decline at Old Trafford is a media exaggeration, and revealed the true motivation for his brief press conference when he evoked the Millwall mantra of "No one likes us, we don't care" in a separate interview with broadcast journalists.
"They [the press] have a hatred of Manchester United," Ferguson declared. "It's always been there. That goes with the territory, I suppose, of us being such a high-profile club. I can understand that a little, but they go over the top. What they try and do is fragment the club, the players from the supporters and supporters from the players. I think our fans are aware of that and I don't think they will fall into that trap."
The issue of Ferguson's future, however, is being debated increasingly in the public houses around Old Trafford, as is the belief that United's managerial team are reluctant to address the genuine concerns of fans. Last week, journalists were told not to ask any questions about the manager's position to Carlos Queiroz, Ferguson's assistant, and the evasion continued with yesterday's performance.
"I'll be very brief," began Ferguson with honest intent, before opening and closing his preview with the following: "We'll probably only find out about Mikaël Silvestre [today], who got a further groin strain [against Everton] but should be OK. Other than that, everyone is fit. John O'Shea is fit again. He missed the game on Sunday with a toe injury, but he's fit again.
"Looking at the game, Wigan have been fantastic this season. I'm more pleased for the chairman, Dave Whelan, than anyone else at the club because he is the one who has driven that club to where they are. He's a straight-talker, he cuts away niceties very quickly, but he has a determination that has more or less forced Wigan to where they are right now and, the interesting thing is, he's had a few managers but he seems to have struck up a terrific bond with Paul Jewell, which is refreshing, and I think it's the reason why they're there. So, that's all I've got. See you later boys. I'm far too busy."
At least Ferguson's opposite number at Old Trafford tonight, Jewell, was in the mood to discuss the Scot's predicament, having witnessed Sunday's performance in his capacity as a guest summariser on BBC radio. "I didn't know they were booed off because I had my headphones on at the time," the Wigan manager said. "They are maybe going through a sticky patch, but they are still a great club and a great team and it's complete nonsense he is getting stick. He has been a top manager in this country for years, has won everything in the game, and I don't think he needs to prove anything to anybody. Anyone who has a modicum of common sense, or a modicum of football knowledge knows that."
Tonight's encounter represents United's one game in hand on Chelsea, though it is an opportunity with weakened significance now that the champions have a 12-point cushion at the top of the table.
United had won four successive league games before Everton became the fourth Premiership team to take points from Old Trafford this season but Ferguson also told the radio stations that only Jose Mourinho's side have the consistency to dominate the title race. He said: "We have all got a problem because Chelsea's consistent form makes it difficult to win the league. If you look at our present points total, it's better than four of the last six seasons at this time of year. Most of the teams below Chelsea will be thinking that in a normal season they are doing quite well. But obviously the Chelsea consistency is a problem for all of us."
Ruud Van Nistelrooy will be available to face Wigan having missed Sunday's outing through suspension.Reuse content