A fallen Knight
Peter Fraser watched as Sir Alex Ferguson represented a man betrayed by Wayne Rooney.
Last Updated: 20/10/10 6:43am
For a Knight of the Realm, there is an honour and code of conduct to be adhered to in battle. Integrity, loyalty, faith and respect were a part of life as contests took place on the field of war in the Middle Ages. Times, though, have changed.
Fights have long been transferred to a different stage since the days when knighthoods were first awarded, but Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has perhaps been introduced for the first time to the painfully cold-hearted attitude of the 21st Century.
In the legend of King Arthur and his roundtable, swords, steeds and jousts were the weapons of choice to strike misery into the hearts of others. In the current climate of Premier League boardrooms, agents, BlackBerrys and iPhones are very much more deadly than forged metal.
Ferguson has been left crushed as a result of Wayne Rooney's intimation that he wants to end his six-year association with United. As Sir Alex confirmed his worst fears to the media on Tuesday afternoon, he appeared a broken man, a fallen Knight.
The 68-year-old is normally a fearsome individual, a tower of character strength, known for his hairdryer ability to reduce grown men to quivering wrecks. But when addressing a press conference shortly after 2pm he was a shadow of his usual self.
From a man hardened on the streets of Govan in the southwest outskirts of Glasgow city centre, emotion is normally in short supply. However, as a visibly hurt Ferguson spoke at the front of a crowded assembly, you could have been forgiven for thinking that you spotted a tear.
What happened to the man who ruthlessly shed the likes of Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy and David Beckham after a difference of opinion? As Ferguson sat at a microphone-covered desk and flashbulbs clicked, the Old Trafford boss meekly unfolded a piece of paper and slumped with sunken shoulders and arms folded on top of the table. There was no need for experts in body language.
Ahead of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League match against Bursaspor, Ferguson was expected to snap back at any journalist who dared to question the subject of the out-of-form Rooney. But instead he appeared heartbroken, devastated and betrayed as he delivered a five-minute speech on the situation.
"There could be a million questions on the subject. I can't answer. I can't give an opinion..." opened the Scotsman before going on to deliver a mixture of sighs, half-hearted hand gestures and lengthy stares at the ground. He progressed to say that Rooney was not fit to face Bursaspor as a result of his ongoing ankle injury, but the truth seems different.
Paul Stretford, Rooney's representative, had informed United's chief executive, David Gill, who went on to tell Ferguson, in August that his client had no intention of signing a new contract at Old Trafford, where he has become a worldwide star since arriving from Everton in 2004.
United's manager is therefore having to deal with a situation which is emerging as the most bitter, turbulent and sensational transfer saga in recent memory. In his own words, he has no answer.
Finance or football
Whether motivated by finance or football, Rooney, who Everton fans still label as Judas for his 'once a blue, always a blue' affiliation, appears to have grown disillusioned by debt-ridden United's failure to chase big-money signings and expand amid a global recession.
Unthinkably for those in red who have already watched Carlos Tevez move across town, the billionaires at Manchester City will already be making enquiries as a January transfer window exit now seems a certainty. Real Madrid and Barcelona will also be paying attention.
Ferguson thinks that he has invested in Rooney, helped his development into an icon and has stood by the 24-year-old throughout injury problems and scandals surrounding his personal life. There has apparently been no argument between player and boss, but to not receive mutual appreciation comes as a truly overwhelming setback.
Was it all an act from Ferguson, a master of mind games? If so, he deserves an Academy Award. Is pressure being applied from above? Time will tell. But for United's manager, there appears to be a definite feeling of astonishment.
The Knight of the Realm spoke of the need for Rooney to respect their club's heritage and tradition, but his appearance suggested that his vertebrae have been separated by a joust.