EPL: Shut up, Fergie

David Moyes needs Sir Alex Ferguson right now like he needs a defeat at Sunderland tonight.

The former emperor of Old Trafford is out of sight, but not out of mind. His spirit is killing the new Manchester United manager softly.

For that reason, he must stop talking.

Ferguson means well, but every utterance, compliment and seemingly balanced opinion will be misinterpreted or misconstrued by frustrated Red Devils and an occasionally malevolent media.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. A defeat by West Brom makes the heart grow desperate. Right now, the gruff, uncompromising Scot is Martin Luther Ferguson, an unimpeachable saint and the saviour of the Manchester multitudes.

If the defeats continue to pile up - particularly if the unthinkable happens at the Stadium of Light - then Fergie's achievements will become practically mythical. No man alive could possibly live up to them.

That's why the hair dryer needs to be unplugged until Moyes finds a winning rhythm (if he doesn't, then Ferguson interviews will be the least of his problems).

Clearly, the United director is trying to support his anointed successor, but his public comments this week are acting as mischievous shovels, digging a deeper hole for Moyes. He is struggling to climb out. The air must be suffocating down there.

In an interview with American TV this week, Ferguson revealed that Roman Abramovich asked him to lead his Chelsea revolution in 2003. In fairness to the loyal Scot, he joins Pep Guardiola as possibly the only managers in world football to spurn the Russian's advances.

But why make this public now?

Save it for the second autobiography and they'll be queuing outside the Trafford Centre for signed copies. Do it when United are 12th in the Premier League table with a paltry seven points from six games and sceptics will draw conclusions faster than a kid with crayons.

One revelation underlines the unrivalled reverence reserved for Ferguson. He topped a billionaire's wish-list. The story magnifies the manager's global standing. Moyes quickly shrinks in comparison.

And comparisons were inevitably made this week as stories reiterated the 38 trophies he won at United to remind anyone who might have forgotten why Abramovich would've been interested.

Moyes' solitary Community Shield triumph didn't stack up quite as impressively.

Chelsea legend Ron Harris has already questioned the timing of Ferguson's remarks as both sides struggle for consistency. The clubs do not meet again until January at Old Trafford. The fixture is four months away but the story will resurface.

Moyes will be trapped inside Ferguson's shadow once more.

Rage

And then there's Wayne Rooney. Just when Moyes thought he had restored order, his predecessor stokes the dying embers of a fire that threatens to rage within the United striker.

Rooney never publically admitted to wanting to leave the club. Sources at United also conceded that he didn't hand in a transfer request.

The dust was beginning to settle. Like the gash on Rooney's forehead, relationships were healing. So Ferguson decides to sprinkle a little salt on the wound before it closes completely.

Rooney is clearly a coiled spring. The explosive volatility remains and Ferguson's insistence that he "asked away" will not benefit the player, his PR machine, his manager or his dressing room.

With Robin van Persie still finding his way back to fitness, a raging Rooney is hardly going to help United's cause.

Ferguson tried to soften his comments by insisting that there was no bad blood between both men, but the damage has been done. Rooney has been accused of the same "crime" twice by the same man.

He will stew on his old manager's claims. Moyes can only hope he doesn't boil over.

Ferguson reiterated his belief that his beloved club are in "good hands", but Moyes was being damned with faint praise after United's worst start to a league season in 24 hours.

Whatever his intentions, the 71-year-old managed to remind the United faithful how popular and successful he was and how much his unique attributes were coveted by rival clubs.

He succeeded in irritating one of Moyes' major rivals for silverware by mentioning - for the first time - a brief flirtation with a rich Russian a decade ago.

And, rather stubbornly, he once again tugged at the fuse of the biggest ticking time bomb at Old Trafford since Roy Keane.

The more Ferguson tries to help, the more he potentially hinders. A passionate student of the game's history, he is fully aware of the damage Sir Matt Busby's presence - both at the club and within the sports pages - did to his successors.

United will always be the great man's baby, but he must cut the umbilical cord and make a clean break, at least until Moyes finds his feet.

Ferguson ended the interview by saying he intends to savour his retirement, by attending the Kentucky Derby, the US Masters and the Melbourne Cup.

Right now, Moyes would be happy to pay for the flights.

npsports@sph.com.sg


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