Sir Alex Ferguson has acknowledged for the first time Carlos Tevez's frustration with life at Manchester United and the fact that he is looking for a new club at the end of the season.
Ferguson displayed mild indignation when Tevez's midweek comments to Argentinian radio were first raised yesterday – "Well, he's played more minutes than [Wayne] Rooney and [Dimitar] Berbatov this season," the United manager said. In fact Berbatov and Rooney have both started 32 games this season to Tevez's 31 and by any measure he has enjoyed less football – 1,591 minutes of Premier League football for instance, to Berbatov's 2,183 and – more significantly – Tevez has featured in fewer important games.
His omission for the 3-0 home win against Chelsea in January upset him more than being a bystander in Champions League football, where he has had 325 minutes of action to Rooney's 708. "I don't want him to be unhappy because he is an important player for us," Ferguson said. "The difficulty is when you have got the options I have got. I bought another striker in, with Berbatov as well as having the option of playing [Cristiano] Ronaldo as a striker – you create problems for yourself because all good players want to play in every game. But they can't in this league – it is impossible."
Ferguson, whose side play Berbatov's old club Tottenham at Old Trafford this evening, also faces the challenge of Berbatov's struggle to assert himself. There were boos in his direction at Old Trafford during Wednesday's match against Portsmouth and Ferguson said United fans must put his dreadfully tame penalty miss against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final last Sunday behind them. "It was a bad penalty and he knows that," Ferguson said. "He was disappointed in himself, don't worry about that. He is down about it."
Tevez is the more serious problem, though. His craving for regular starts makes Manchester City a far more likely English destination than any other club and Mark Hughes wore a grin yesterday. "As situations with players at other clubs develop I'm sure we'll get associated with Tevez," the City manager said.
The Independent revealed City's interest in the player four months ago. The nature of Tevez's contract at United – he is on loan from investment companies headed by Kia Joorabchian – makes him vulnerable to other clubs coming in. "That is our weakness," admitted Ferguson. He believes that Tevez's inclination only to do interviews with South American media causes him to be misquoted but that was not the case this time.
Ferguson, who may hand Ryan Giggs his 800th game for United today, said he will have Rafael da Silva in the problematic left-back slot and has Rio Ferdinand back after a rest against Portsmouth. He will know by the time the game kicks off whether Liverpool, who play at Hull, are in need of an even greater "miracle" than the one their forward Dirk Kuyt has suggested is required for United, three points clear with a game in hand, to be caught.
Ferguson did not resist another minor dig at his prime adversaries' manager Rafael Benitez. "He's definitely saying a lot," he said of the Spaniard. "I'm happy he carries on with it because I've got to trust my players." But Benitez, who will be without Steven Gerrard for a fourth successive match, rejected a report that he had further goaded Ferguson by saying Liverpool had the better team. "It was an old interview and they changed the words when it was translated," he said.
Benitez said his gesture which offended Ferguson against Blackburn was aimed at his midfielder Xabi Alonso. "We were laughing after the free-kick. That was it." But he is not laughing about Spain's likely need of Fernando Torres in the Confederations Cup in South Africa this summer to be followed by Liverpool's need of him in the pre-season tour of Thailand and Singapore. "We have five players who have to go to the Confederations Cup," said Benitez. "The idea is we will give them time but they have to be with the team during the pre-season."