United do not hound refs, says Ferguson

Ahead of the kind of high octane weekend Sir Alex Ferguson can expect, it sounds dangerously like tempting fate but the Manchester United manager has waded into the debate on protection of referees by claiming that his side affords them a respect which is lacking at Arsenal and Chelsea.

Ferguson did not allude directly to his prime challengers in the Premier League race, nor to Ashley Cole's midweek conduct, in his response to the suggestion that the two London clubs' players are intemperate by comparison with his own and Liverpool's. But he argued, with some volition, that things have been different at United – on the pitch at least – since the episode eight years ago in which Andy D'Urso was virtually chased towards the corner flag after awarding Middlesbrough a penalty at Old Trafford. "That was a pivotal moment," Ferguson said. "I think the haranguing of referees is absolutely ridiculous and it's not right. We tell [players] to shake the hand of the referee at the end of the game. The other night I saw one of our players swapping shirts with a Bolton player who'd fouled him about 10 times. I thought that was good. Life moves on."

Judging by his own response to defeat at the Reebok and the FA Cup defeat by Portsmouth, Ferguson's comments may raise as many eyebrows as Roy Keane did when he insisted earlier this season that "referees get scrutinised left and right and players aren't helping them." It was he who led the charge against D'Urso that day. "We wouldn't have chased him if he hadn't backed away so far," he said afterwards.

There will certainly be few greater tests of Ferguson's principles than Liverpool's arrival at Old Trafford for a match refereed by Steve Bennett – the man once accused by Ferguson of revelling in the dismissal of Cristiano Ronaldo, whom the United manager claims to be in need of more protection.

Ronaldo does not always live up to his billing on these fiercely intense occasions, but Ferguson also provided an intriguing insight yesterday into the asset which has done most to help the Portuguese prosper. Speed with the ball at his feet – a quality which invites comparison with Maradona, Ferguson suggested – is the cause of defenders' problems. "That's the thing that bemuses defenders," he said. "He's probably just as quick running with the ball as he is without it. There have been a few players like that in the past."

To that point, Ferguson might have added Ronaldo's ability to morph between the role of left and right winger. "I'd not thought of that," he said when it was put to him that neither his right nor left foot is the weaker and Ferguson also had to confess that the player's drift from flank to flank was not managed. "I have absolutely no control over that, none at all," he said. "That's the great thing about expression and individuality. If he's taking a corner from the left-hand side or maybe takes a run in the centre or towards the penalty box and the game breaks down, he sometimes just carries on wandering to the left-hand side."

Tomorrow's match – as critical for United in their bid to maintain a three-point lead over Arsenal which Ferguson believes counts for very little, as it is for Liverpool in their quest for fourth – pitches Ronaldo among equals for once in a while and in Fernando Torres – the country's top striker on current form – a player more likely to deliver on the big occasion. But the enigma is Wayne Rooney, who is languishing in 17th on the league top scorers' list with just eight and none at Old Trafford since October and who will surely fail to build on that extraordinary record he has of always equalling or bettering his previous season's goal tally (The record since he burst onto the scene at Everton six years ago reads 8,9, 17, 17, 19, 23).

His tally this season is 13, though Ferguson believes he will at least make it up to 20. "The season's not finished yet," he said. "All strikers, particularly younger ones, when they're not scoring they start to wonder where their next goal is coming from. Wayne's no different."

Ferguson, for whom Wes Brown seems likely to stand in for Rio Ferdinand thus making way for John O'Shea at right back – while Edwin Van der Sar may have recovered from a groin injury – maintains that it is the role of lesser clubs in stealing points from the title challengers which will still define the title race. "If we win and Chelsea and Arsenal lose it will be a big day," he quipped. But should United and Chelsea both prevail, the grounds for arguments – with referees or otherwise – would be considerably reduced.

News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us