Sir Alex Ferguson is too long in the tooth to lose sleep about two of his established players making public protests, albeit for different reasons, during the 2-0 derby win over Manchester City – although it is a safe football bet that his unconcerned reaction might have been different had Manchester United slipped up against their nuisance neighbours so close to the winning post.
A fit of pique from star stropper Cristiano Ronaldo when he got the hook after an hour at Old Trafford and a pointed celebration from Carlos Tevez in response to his goal on the stroke of half-time was about all the drama this insipid cross-city clash had to offer.
Ronaldo was still shaking his head long after Ferguson had hauled him off and left Old Trafford soon after the final whistle, but his manager, undaunted, argued: “You know what he’s like. He wanted to stay on.
“It’s a simple reason. He’s such a great athlete but don’t forget he’s run his socks off on Tuesday [against Arsenal]. I’ve got Wednesday’s game against Wigan and Saturday against Arsenal to think about. I’ve got to look at how we can get through these games and keep the players as fresh as I can. He’s in great form but I’ve got to look at the bigger picture.”
Cynics have suggested Ronaldo’s histrionics were a clever ploy to engineer an argument with Ferguson ahead of another anticipated close-season full of conjecture about his commitment to the world club champions.
Ferguson refused to be drawn on ongoing speculation about the future of Tevez and, in mitigation, the situation is somewhat out of his control given that he has not set the asking price of £22m for the Argentina international’s two-year loan arrangement to be made permanent.
He would also not add any more to Tevez, who went into the derby on the back of a Sunday interview reiterating his frustration about his contract impasse, running towards club officials and cupping his ears.
“The fans love a trier,” he said. “That’s the great thing about football. A lad who tries a lot can be forgiven for a lot of things.”
The Scot insisted the uncertainty was not personal and that he had no issue with Tevez going public with his grievances. “Not at all. If he keeps scoring I’ve got absolutely no problem.”
United need just four points from their three remaining fixtures to win a third successive and record-equalling 18th Premier League title.