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Sheepish-looking Ferguson explains Beckham incident

HDN | 2/20/2003 12:00:00 AM |

The incident however is enough to knock a looming war with Iraq off the front pages of British newspapers James Swanwick Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is famous for his "hairdryer treatment" of players, where he stands eye-to-eye

  • The incident however is enough to knock a looming war with Iraq off the front pages of British newspapers
  • James Swanwick

    Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is famous for his "hairdryer treatment" of players, where he stands eye-to-eye and vents his anger.

    But on Tuesday, the 61-year-old Scot looked anything like the man capable of striking fear into the toughest of players.

    An unusually sheepish Ferguson faced a crowded news conference at Old Trafford to explain the most famous locker room incident in British soccer which left star player David Beckham with a cut above his left eye.

    After United was outclassed in Saturday's 2-0 defeat by archrival Arsenal, Ferguson kicked a soccer boot across the locker room. It hit and cut Beckham - the country's most popular sporting personality.

    But while Ferguson stopped short of an apology, Beckham said he had put the issue behind him.

    "I want to assure all Manchester United fans that there is complete harmony and focus as we prepare for the Juventus game (on Wednesday)," Beckham said.

    "The dressing room incident was just one of those things -- it's all in the past now."

    Ferguson did find some humor in explaining Beckham's injury.

    "The publicity it has created? The only reaction I have to that is that it was a freakish incident," he said. "If I tried it 100 or a million times it couldn't happen again. If it did I would have carried on playing."

    However, the incident was enough to knock a looming war with Iraq off the front pages of British newspapers Tuesday. Tabloids and broadsheets alike all ran a photograph of Beckham with two adhesive bandages over his eye.

    The Daily Telegraph ran the front page headline: "Sir Alex admits Beckham own-goal."

    The bustup was even a talking point for Prime Minister Tony Blair, who jokingly threatened reporters Wednesday at a news conference on Iraq with: "I've got a stack of football boots here under the table."

    Ferguson is arguably the last of the great, old-fashioned soccer managers in the mould of Jock Stein, Bill Shankly and Bill Paisley; a gruff, tough workaholic Glaswegian and former shipyard worker turned millionaire.

    "I have to stress that in 29 years as a manager and a coach, whatever happens in the dressing room remains sacrosanct," Ferguson said.

    "There is no way I would betray the trust of the players however much benefit there may be. It never works that way, loyalty is 100 percent - never any less than that."

    Ferguson said contrary to reports, Beckham did not need stitches.

    "It was a graze which was dealt with by the doctor," he said. "There is no problem and we move on. That is all there is to say."

    Beckham's management company said Manchester United's club doctor visited the player at home on Saturday night for treatment, covering the wound with thin adhesive strips.

    "David did not want stitches at first, but two hours after the game, blood was still dripping from the wound and the club doctor visited David's house and fixed two steri-strips to stop the bleeding," the spokesman said.

    Notably, Beckham had his long hair swept back off his forehead and the wound in full view of the waiting photographers Monday. Beckham, 27, usually wears a woolly hat.

    In the United States, high profile locker room bustups have often led to one party leaving the club. In Britain, bookmaker William Hill quickly released odds of 4-7 for Beckham to leave the club first and 5-4 for Ferguson.

    Beckham joined United as a trainee in 1991. But as his profile has grown - helped by his marriage to "Posh" Spice Girl Victoria Adams and the birth of two sons - the relationship with Ferguson has soured.

    Ferguson once fined Beckham for appearing at a party with his wife before a Champions League match in 1999.

    The following year, he ordered Beckham from the training ground after he missed a practice session to look after ill son Brooklyn and then dropped him from the team.

    Beckham's wife is no fan of Ferguson. In her 2001 autobiography, she described Ferguson as "vindictive" and said he "went berserk" when Beckham asked for two extra days off following their wedding.

    Some infamous U.S locker room scuffles have been in baseball. In 1977, after Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was removed from a game at Fenway Park, he had to be pulled apart from attacking Yankees manager Billy Martin in the dugout by teammates.

    A few years before that Texas Ranger infielder Lenny Randle punched manager Frank Lucchesi, breaking his jaw. Six years ago in the NBA Latrell Sprewell was originally suspended for one year for choking Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo.

    London - The Associated Press

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