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Premier League

United manager says he will not be fined over his BBC boycott

Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday took up a defiant stance in his determination to refuse interviews with the BBC, declaring that he would not face a fine from the Premier League on the issue.

"I don't think that's the case," Ferguson said, when questioned for the first time on the issue, ahead of the Premier League board meeting at which the league will consider imposing fines for the manager's resolute refusal to speak to the corporation.

Manchester United do not believe Ferguson can be fined personally as the league can only impose financial penalties on member clubs, rather than individuals, and since they are ready to stand by the manager and pay out whatever financial penalties may come their way, Ferguson was right. Personally, he will not be fined. He has no intention of meeting the league's requests.

Ferguson also maintained a resolute outlook in the face of Chelsea's race to a position four points clear of his own side. The United manager, who revealed that his club had been approached by Joe Cole's agent this summer but that "it was maybe just complicated to get involved in that," said Carlo Ancelotti's side had benefited from a "very easy, early start to the season." Chelsea had, nonetheless, "had a good start," he added. "You can only do what you can do with the games you've got. You've got to address them. Every game in the Premier League has its own complications and difficulties and addressing them the right way is how you get the results. Our form, I think, has been very good."

Ferguson clarified a position he left unclear on Tuesday by confirming that Nemanja Vidic would replace Gary Neville as first-team captain even when Rio Ferdinand was fit.

After the internecine strife of the Rafael Benitez years, the arrival of Roy Hodgson's Liverpool delivered some unusual bonhomie to yesterday's pre-match press conference. The two men have always got on, Ferguson having first met Sunday's adversary in Malmo in 1987, when he arrived to watch the side Hodgson was then managing play Ajax in a European Cup tie. "I think on one of these trips to Malmo they aborted the game after one minute," Ferguson reflected. "It was a European tie against Ajax and he was at the game and we went to dinner after it."

There was also some ribaldry between the two when Hodgson took the Liverpool job this summer. "I spoke to him," Hodgson revealed. "In a jocular way I asked whether now that I've taken the Liverpool job that we don't speak to each other. He didn't put the phone down. He made some cutting remark but I can't remember what it was."

Hodgson said tomorrow's game compares with the Derby d'Italia, Internazionale v Juventus, which he experienced during his brief spell as Inter manager in 1999. "It was the real killer one," Hodgson reflected. "I didn't like losing, which I did quite often. We did poorly and I would like to change that, it'd be nice. Thanks for reminding me!"

Ferguson has received positive news about Owen Hargreaves, whose American surgeon Dr Richard Steadman disclosed yesterday was "close to playing fitness" following prolonged treatment in Colorado. Dr Steadman added that Hargreaves' injury was a complex and serious one, but he is pleased with the midfielder's response to treatment, and determination to strengthen himself. "The problem was with the tendon attached to the patella on each knee, which is difficult to resolve," he said. "After the surgery, the key was rest and working hard on recovery. Owen has spent a lot of time with us here and he has never given up."

Ferguson also suggested that Antonio Valencia might be back as soon as February following his surgery for an ankle break on Tuesday night.

For his part, Hodgson said he was unsure whether Liverpool fans attempting to provoke Wayne Rooney would work against his side. "They are things that football managers and coaches can do nothing about," he said. "I understand the concern but I can only work on things and deal with things which are within my grasp, and fans winding opponents up and that working against you is out of my control so I just have to wait and see what happens."