Vintage Ferguson puts retirement talk on hold

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The Independent Football

As though to demonstrate his determination to defy the advance of both the years and Chelsea, the Manchester United manager rose at 5am yesterday and would have been in the gym by 6.25am only for a mountain of paperwork to decree otherwise. "I saw all that I had to go through lying on my desk and bottled it," he admitted.

Ferguson "bottles" little else, however, and as the Scot repeated his intention to remain at United until his latest transitional phase is complete, he prepared for his 64th birthday by pouring scepticism on Sam Allardyce's protestation that it did not suit Bolton to postpone a game three days before today's visit to Old Trafford on account of their involvement in the Uefa Cup and the impending interruptions caused by the Africa Cup of Nations.

"I'm not convinced," said Ferguson, in response to Bolton's claim that their undersoil heating system failed on Tuesday night. "Surely there must be one electrician in Bolton who could have fixed the problem?"

Premier League officials last night confirmed they will consider whether Ferguson has broken the managers' code of conduct with his comments, although the Scot insisted it is the responsibility of the Premier League to ensure games are not postponed so easily.

"The Premier League should be more vigilant in ensuring undersoil heating systems are maintained," he said. "We asked to bring our Boxing Day game with West Brom forward to 24 December but were refused because the Premier League said it would give us an unfair advantage. Yet you can say your undersoil heating doesn't work. In Newcastle [whose home game with Charlton was called off less than an hour before kick-off], it was supposed to be dangerous for people walking to the stadium yet there were 100,000 people at the Metro Centre in Gateshead and they didn't close the shops."

Allardyce will not take kindly to Ferguson's misgivings and the United manager has also guaranteed his traditional frosty reception at Arsenal next week by rekindling the rivalry between the two clubs and criticising their former captain Patrick Vieira for labelling Ruud van Nistelrooy a "cheat and a coward" in his recent autobiography.

"It depends what you call a coward and a cheat. Some people would call it spitting in another player's face," said Ferguson, a reference to the six-match ban and £45,000 fine Vieira received for spitting at West Ham's Neil Ruddock in October 1999. "That was not a very brave thing to do. I guess we all have different ways of looking at these things."

United travel to Highbury on Tuesday for a contest that has lost its bearing on the title race with the visitors now 11 points adrift of Chelsea and Arsenal 20 points behind in sixth. However, even without the departed Vieira and Roy Keane, the fixture's most volatile pairing in recent years, Ferguson expects the animosity to continue. "The rivalry became very intense when George Graham was at Arsenal and it has not altered since, although I would still argue the games against Liverpool are bigger, both from a historical and geographical perspective," Ferguson said.

"But the major difference is that the Liverpool matches, while very competitive, have traditionally been well behaved, whereas the Arsenal games have had those flashpoints which have been unsavoury at times."

Ferguson's birthday celebrations will give fresh impetus to the debate on how long he has left at Old Trafford, though he declared that, at 64, he still had the stomach for the task of threatening Chelsea's dominance and of putting United "back on track".

"You have to enjoy your job and I feel good, very good," he said. "Despite people suggesting my time is up as manager of Manchester United, I am determined to carry on."