Van Nistelrooy rallies behind Keane as United crisis deepens

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The Independent Football

The United manager, Keane and the United players he criticised were at United's training complex at Carrington yesterday for the first time since Keane's banned interview with the club's television channel, which was then followed by the Champions' League defeat to Lille that compounded the sense of crisis at Old Trafford and threatened qualification for the knock-out phase.

Ferguson, who along with the chief executive, David Gill, took the decision to silence the 34-year-old, believes Keane went too far in his personal attack on the club's younger players and calls for a January clear-out, though he still sanctioned a one-month loan move to Leeds yesterday for the castigated Liam Miller amid reports that Gill is personally conducting an enquiry into the whereabouts of the MUTV videotape.

Van Nistelrooy was not among those the former Republic of Ireland international accused of failing to meet Old Trafford standards, but the most senior outfield player on show at the Stade de France believes Keane was within his rights as club captain to air his concerns in public.

"It's good to have people who say what they feel because they care about the club, and it is important that we keep doing that," said the Dutch striker. "When criticism is there, as a player, you can either be angry or you can think about it and hold it before yourself to see whether it is true or not. If you can take something good out of it, then it can only help us."

Van Nistelrooy was captain for the night in Paris and though he became embroiled in a furious exchange with Efstathios Tavlaridis on the final whistle, the 29-year-old, who accused the Lille defender of a deliberate elbow, accepted the responsibility of the armband by apologising to disgruntled United supporters after the 1-0 defeat. Van Nistelrooy was applauded for approaching the away section after the game, in contrast to those team-mates who left the pitch to V-signs from the United support, though his frustration was symptomatic of a side in turmoil.

He admitted: "When I came here four and a half years ago, we were unbeatable. Now we are not playing well. We have difficulties keeping the ball. It is not fluent that the ball goes from player to player and we have fluent attacks. We don't play in the opponents' half, with crosses coming in and winning second balls and again pressure. Our confidence seems to be down. Things are different now. I remember games when I was having four or five chances, constant service and attack, which is great. I enjoy that. But now it's different and I have to give my all in this situation. There's nothing I can do about that."

Though Van Nistelrooy also gave an admission that United are no longer a by-word for adventure - "we have to go for it against Villarreal, sometimes we hold back but now we can only go for it" - the often isolated striker insists he has no intention of leaving the club in their current malaise.

"This must be the most difficult time," he added. "But I've committed myself to the club and also now, in bad times, I want to give it my all and my best to get United back where everybody wants to see us. I'm not off. Over the coming years it's personal to me to bring the club back to where I want to see it. The fans had come a long way to see us [in Paris] and this is a difficult time we're going through with the club right now. They feel that and I feel that, the same as they do."

Van Nistelrooy denied that inexperience is at the root of United's slide - the average age of Wednesday's starting line-up was 25 - and echoed Keane's sentiments that the club has many issues to address before it can reclaim a position of pre-eminence. "The question is how are we going to do it?" he said. "We need to look at the squad, look at the individuals, look at everything. Each of us knows within ourselves what needs to be done. We miss Heinze, Neville, Keano and Giggsy but that is not an excuse."

The United manager's stance has strengthened suspicions within the Keane camp that he will not be offered the contract he is seeking to extend his 12-year association with the club beyond next summer. However, the immediate dilemma facing Ferguson - how to handle his volatile captain whilst retaining the trust of his squad - has been complicated by evidence that senior players are not recoiling at Keane's remarks but accepting the need for change.

Ferdinand 'hurt' by slump

Rio Ferdinand's brother Anton says the Manchester United defender is suffering as a result of his current slump in formand is aware that his England place is in jeopardy, but insists his sibling will come back stronger.

"It's hurting him," said Anton, who at 20 is six years younger than Rio. "He sets himself such a high standard. Everyone's going to have dips, but he's got the mental strength to block the critics out.

"People forget that when he was at the World Cup, he was our best player. He knows what he has to do. And he knows he has to be on form for his England place.

"Rio's his biggest critic. He asks me what he's doing right or wrong and [asks] 'Am I defending this right?' And I'll tell him if I think he's not. I'm a harsh critic, as he is on me. If you don't hear the truth you don't get better. That's how we were brought up. My dad tells me if I haven't played well.

"And there's more to come. We've another little brother, Jeremiah. He's six. He's probably got more ability than we had at his age."

Anton also said that he was looking forward to facing his brother when West Ham play United on 26 November. "I can't wait to play against him. I've never played against him in a competitive match. It's gonna be one for the family. I hope I'm marking him at corners. All the family and friends want tickets. I've asked for 35. The manager says I can have six. The whole of Peckham's coming."