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Fergie the old hand shows softer side…for a bit

August 27, 2011

By Simon Hart

For a brief moment, it seemed Sir Alex Ferguson really might be mellowing with age.

Twenty-four hours after ending his seven-year feud with the BBC, the Manchester United manager spent part of his weekly news conference on Friday defending the record of his erstwhile chief adversary Arsene Wenger, who comes to Old Trafford with Arsenal on Sunday.

Ferguson then reflected on the potential of his latest crop of young talent before a question about the possible involvement of some of these young guns in the England senior team.

“It is not a problem it is fantastic,” he began. According to reports in Friday’s newspapers, four of the United players aged 22 or under who have caught the eye in the season’s opening weeks –- Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck –- will be watched by England manager Fabio Capello on Sunday before the Italian names his squad for next month’s Euro 2012 qualifying matches.

Capello’s squad could include as many as seven United players given the presence of Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Ashley Young. Rio Ferdinand may miss out due to injury.

However, Ferguson’s “fantastic” comment came dripping in sarcasm, and he duly unleashed an angry rant against the Football Association for its treatment of his club.

A proud Scot, Ferguson used a four-letter word to describe this treatment – and it certainly wasn’t “nice”.

Ferguson said: “Maybe people will realise one day who has produced more players for their country than any other club in the world and get some joy from it … and realise how important we are to England.”

United’s famous generation of homegrown players from the early 90s –- David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers –- all won over 50 England caps except Butt with 39.

Gary Neville revealed in his autobiography, serialised in the Daily Mail last week, that he was once talked out of international retirement by Ferguson during a dispute over Rio Ferdinand’s exclusion from the squad prior to his ban for missing a drugs test.

Ferguson added that his young players “deserve to be there” with England but his belligerent tone was unmistakeable.

He may have forgiven the BBC after seven years for its insinuations about his son Jason’s work as a football agent in a documentary titled Father and Son, but he is clearly in no mood to forgive the Football Association.

It is only five months since he received a five-match touchline ban for criticising referee Martin Atkinson, and four months since Rooney collected a two-game suspension for swearing into a camera.

Ferguson has evidently not forgotten. He may turn 70 in December but his mellowing, it seems, is strictly relative.

Picture: Manchester United’s manager Alex Ferguson walks with his Tottenham Hotspur counterpart Harry Redknapp before their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England, August 22, 2011. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

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