Fergie’s Reds need to show United front

Manchester United's David de Gea stands dejected after Blackburn's third goal at Old Trafford
Manchester United's David de Gea stands dejected after Blackburn's third goal at Old Trafford

COMMENT: University has to prove it offers value for money

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Criticising a manager as successful as Sir Alex Ferguson is a bit like telling Michael Buble that he can’t sing or calling Graham Norton ‘shy.’

But is Sir Alex right to be picking a fight with his key player Wayne Rooney when Manchester United are locked in a title battle with local rivals City?

And has he dropped a clanger in signing the flimsy-looking David de Gea as his No1?

Those were the questions for those of us in the Old Trafford media room on Saturday night.

De Gea does not look physically imposing enough and was lying helplessly on the floor when Blackburn’s Grant Hanley gave his struggling side an astonishing winner at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Anders Lindegaard, who has yet to concede a goal in five Premier League games, looks the better bet for now.

Rooney was omitted from the team for the Blackburn game because, reportedly, he and his wife Colleen went for a Boxing Day meal with two other players and their partners.

Even though this was hardly a walk on the wild side and fully five days before United’s next game, it was apparently in breach of a club rule and Ferguson decided to wield the big stick.

The offence seems so trivial that it is hard to believe there is not more to it.

It may well signal a resurfacing of the tensions of last season when Rooney threatened to quit United because of a ‘lack of ambition in the transfer market’.

At the time Sir Alex patched it up but he has never been a man to forget those who challenge his authority or cross him.

Ask Roy Keane, Paul Ince, David Beckham, Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy – all huge names shown the exit door when Ferguson felt the time was right.

In Rooney’s case, it may be that the manager has detected something about his demeanour and attitude which displeases him.

Any stand-off may be damaging to United’s title hopes, especially with another key man in Nemanja Vidic out for the season and with trips to City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs still ahead.

All the evidence of Rooney’s career to date suggests he needs to be mentally right to produce his exceptional talent.

Remember how at the World Cup in South Africa – where his mind was occupied by off-pitch troubles – he played as if he had never seen a football in his life.

Of course, the 70-year-old Ferguson needs no lectures about how to handle footballers. He has been doing it with conspicuous success ever since he took the reins at East Stirling in 1974.

But a possibly avoidable confrontation which could blunt Rooney’s edge at this sensitive stage of the season carries risks.

Ferguson will hate the damaging publicity and, as ever, United will close ranks and probably be doubly dangerous at Newcastle tomorrow.

The Rooney episode and Blackburn’s astonishing win will have ensured that Sir Alex’s 70th birthday celebration on Saturday evening was either cancelled, or about as lively as a night in a graveyard.