The Harry Harris Column

Don't expect to hear Fergie criticising Rooney

September 6, 2009
By Harry Harris

Sir Alex Ferguson is the winner of the first managerial "Foot In Mouth Award" of the 2009-10 season.

England v Slovenia
GettyImagesRooney and England were awarded a penalty after an altercation with Bostjan Cesar

To be fair, it was a close-run opening prize. There have been quite a few candidates already. But you just knew that as soon as Sir Alex - someone I have immense respect and admiration for - opened his mouth on the Eduardo diving affair, it would rebound on him. No-one could imagined it would have been so soon.

So, Sir Alex, you wouldn't tolerate diving, feigning a fall, or anything like the tricks those jolly old foreigners specialise in. Of course not.

I cannot wait for the Manchester United manager's take on the Wayne Rooney controversy at Wembley while playing in an England shirt. But don't hold your breath. I shall explain why.

Let's have a look at the early-season banter between Fergie and that front man for SpecSavers, Arsene Wenger.

Sir Alex was quick to condemn his old mind-game foe Arsene on the Eduardo affair. Remember what he had to say just days ago? Ferguson staunchly defended UEFA's decision to ban Eduardo da Silva for two matches for diving only days after Wenger reignited their longstanding rivalry by claiming that the champions went out to systematically foul his players at Old Trafford.

Fergie responded by claiming that the Arsenal forward's behaviour in the Champions League play-off tie against Celtic at the Emirates Stadium was "not acceptable" and warranted punishment. "Quite rightly something should be done," Ferguson said. "You hope that message gets across."

Having spoken respectfully of Wenger in the build-up to United's 2-1 league victory last Saturday, Ferguson's tune changed after the Arsenal manager accused his team of "anti-football" tactics. Wenger singled out Darren Fletcher, who was not punished for what he felt were deliberate and persistent fouls.

Ferguson and Wenger subsequently spent part of the week at UEFA's elite club coaches' forum in Switzerland, but while the United manager supported his rival's decision to back Eduardo publicly, the Scot insisted that the authorities need to take firm action to eradicate diving from the game.

"I would not have been pleased if it was my player that did that," Ferguson said of Eduardo's dive to win a penalty. "I wouldn't say it publicly but I wouldn't be pleased. Not one coach is proud of the fact that they have players who simulate to get decisions. Coaches can't be proud if they have won the game that way."

However, Ferguson added: "When you make a public criticism of your players you are in danger of losing the morale of the dressing room. Your job is to protect the dressing room and keep it solid. You become insular and protective of your own players in your team. We're all selfish that way."

So, no forthcoming comment about Rooney, one suspects. Here's the moral of this tale - managers, like anyone else, should think very carefully before they speak and that's hardly something they are renowned for.

Fleet Street veteran Harry Harris has twice won the British Sports Journalist of the Year award.