'Scoring in the derby is better than sex'

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The Independent Online

Stuart Pearce had just issued an appeal for players to remain detached from the incendiary atmosphere of a local derby when his Manchester-born, City-raised winger Trevor Sinclair presented his own perspective on a confrontation that reaches chapter 145 today. "Scoring in the derby is better than sex," said the former England international, and is it any wonder they also drive managers to despair?

Both Pearce and his opposite number Sir Alex Ferguson need the therapeutic effect of a derby victory at the City of Manchester Stadium this afternoon, where the home manager and his players were jeered following their last performance in the Premiership and the United manager faces his own support for the first time since openly embracing Malcolm Glazer's controversial takeover: "It is a much better situation than when we were a plc," he said yesterday.

The added ingredient in this Manchester derby has come from Europe rather than America, however, with the blue half keen to revel in United's Champions' League exit while under rare pressure to take not only local pride, but three points that would revive Uefa Cup qualification hopes. City, who have won two of the last three derbies on home soil, were above their illustrious neighbours when they travelled to Old Trafford for a 1-1 draw in September but are now 17 points adrift having claimed two victories from their past 10 league games.

"There are no laws to a derby," warned Ferguson, no doubt mindful of past experiences, and indeed when the topic of Wayne Rooney's enduring excellence arose yesterday it was Pearce who ignored local rivalry and paid the fullest tribute to a player he believes has already eclipsed the impact of the last English genius, Paul Gascoigne.

The City manager, who attempted to chaperone Gascoigne at the 1990 World Cup, declared: "Gazza made his name in world football when he got to the World Cup whereas this boy has made his already. He is slightly ahead of Gazza in his development. Myself and a lot of England supporters are hoping he delivers and comes back from this World Cup with his reputation enhanced and I expect that to happen. He is the one player who can win you a World Cup.

"This kid has been on the block since he was 16 and I don't think that was the case with Gazza, then again the media spotlight has changed. Twenty years ago no-one would have heard of Theo Walcott, for example, he is just a baby who has played a couple of games. Because of the position he plays Rooney can have more of an effect than Gazza did. He is not an out-and-out goalscorer. You look at Wayne and you know he could do a decent job at right-back, he's probably a good goalkeeper as well. He is a good footballer full stop. He is a playground footballer, one who chases everything."

Rooney has been rested from only one Premiership fixture when he has been available this season, a sign of United's increasing reliance on the 20-year-old. "He's a fit lad and he's only young, at that age you think you can run forever," the United manager explained. "In the past we have protected players like Ryan Giggs, who was a scrawny lad, but you only have to look at the physique of Wayne to know he is different."

Albert Riera, City's on-loan signing from Espanyol, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra could all make their debuts today, although United's new Serbian centre-half is short of match fitness. One notable absentee will be Paul Scholes, who is still suffering from blurred vision sustained as a result of a collision at Birmingham on 28 December, and though Ferguson insists the problem is not serious, it could be another fortnight before he is fit to return. "He still has blurred vision and until that clears he cannot play. It may take another couple of weeks, we don't know," the Scot revealed.

Having described the Glazers' stewardship of United as "excellent" on Thursday, a claim that sparked an angry response from the Manchester United Supporters Trust, Ferguson yesterday dismissed concerns about the club's rising debt. "I have to look at things from my perspective," he said; "They have supported me 100 per cent. I have never had a problem with them. They have given me the money I wanted, so what should I do? Tell lies?

"It is much better than when we were a plc. We would have to go through all the plc board meetings, football club board meetings and informing the Stock Exchange about certain things." When asked if he was perturbed by United's potential long-term debt, he replied: "Why should I worry?"