Reminders of Cantona affair

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson says there have been no plans made as to how Rio Ferdinand will be kept mentally and physically fit when the ban begins but he will continue to be involved in squad activities at Carrington.

During Eric Cantona's eight-month suspension, which began nine years ago, Manchester United attempted to arrange private friendlies with Oldham and Rochdale to keep the Frenchman's spirits and sharpness up, until the FA intervened to stop them. "I have not addressed that situation because it has not yet arisen," Ferguson said yesterday. "We will have to assess what the boy wants to do and his views are very important on this."

Whether or not any appeal is successful, Ferguson's experience of the Cantona affair could prove extremely useful in ensuring Ferdinand's sentence is served with the minimum possible disruption. Ferdinand, like Cantona, will be allowed to train, although any attempt to arrange private matches will be prohibited.

Intense though the media pressure is on Ferdinand, it is nothing like that which enveloped Manchester United following Cantona's assault on a Crystal Palace fan in January 1995, which led to criminal charges. Cantona exploded in fury when he and his wife, who was six months pregnant, were confronted by television cameras while on holiday, which led to a threat to retire from football.

Ferdinand is much more comfortable with the media, has used his contract with the Sun to pursue his case vigorously and has nothing like the Frenchman's volatility. Manchester United have stated that Ferdinand will be paid in full during the ban and will be given all the support at the club's disposal.

Ferguson genuinely feared that Cantona would carry out his threat to leave Manchester United during the ban and went to great lengths to persuade him otherwise, riding clandestinely through the streets of Paris on the back of a Harley-Davidson to meet him in a restaurant. Though stating that "no man is unbreakable", the Manchester United manager regards Ferdinand as "mentally strong" and unlikely to do anything rash. This includes taking up an acting career.