Sir Alex Ferguson has had other fish to fry these past few days, but his usual tactic in the run-up to a Manchester United v Bolton Wanderers game is to put it about that Kevin Davies, the Wanderers captain and centre-forward, is an aggressive so-and-so who needs watching as much by the officials as by the United defence.
“Two years ago it was spread all over the papers,” says Davies, with a rueful smile. “All this stuff from Fergie about me bullying and kicking. And I went there and hardly made a tackle, because I knew I'd be straight in the book. So I suppose he did his job. That's what's Fergie's good at, isn't it?”
Maybe, but if Davies is suggesting that referees subconsciously allow themselves to be primed by the United manager before matches at Old Trafford, then he and Bolton could hardly be arriving at the Theatre of Dreams at a better time, with Ferguson's stock with Premier League officialdom at an all-time low following his broadside concerning Alan Wiley's fitness, apology or no apology.
“At Old Trafford last year we had a penalty given against us that was never a penalty in a million years,” Davies adds. “Big teams so often get those decisions, don't they?
“It was 0-0 until then, and we'd been working so hard. That penalty just knocked the wind out of our sails. I don't know whether some referees are maybe initimidated by going to Old Trafford. I don't know why they should be.”
Davies gives a guileless shrug, but it occurs that perhaps he is attempting to out-Fergie Fergie: imply to the media that referees go weak-kneed in front of the Stretford End, and maybe one of them will show just how un-intimidated he is.
Whatever, we are sitting in the spacious front room of his handsome farmhouse, a good place for a poacher to turn gamekeeper.
He is an amiable, gently-spoken man, off the pitch at any rate. On the pitch, as Ferguson and all other Premier League managers know, he is nothing if not combative.
Following Bolton's creditable 2-2 draw with Tottenham two weeks ago, in which Davies scored his team's second goal, Harry Redknapp considered his potential worth as an international. “People might look at him and think he's not 'England', that's he not fashionable, but he's a proper centre-forward,” the Spurs manager said. “He's excellent, he just knows how to play, he backs into people, he uses his body.”
Such praise was typical, added Redknapp's Bolton counterpart. “Every manager, bar none, when they come in for a drink afterwards, says they are glad they don't have to face that kind of player every week,” said Gary Megson. “If Kevin Davies were in an England shirt and utilised in the right manner, he would be a huge threat.”
Well, Fabio Capello was at the Reebok that day, and indeed he selected Davies in a couple of initial England squads last season, but there was no room for the Bolton captain once they were pared down.
“There was one time when five or six strikers were out and I thought 'I've got a chance here'. But they called (Gabriel) Agbonlahor out of the under- 21s. That's when I gave up on it (an England career). I'm really pleased that (his teammate) Gary Cahill's got involved. I've watched him develop and he's come on really well. But it's just not happened for me.”
This might be England's loss, because as Redknapp and Megson implied, there are few who so embody the virtues of the old-fashioned English centre-forward, even stirring the odd memory among older Bolton fans of the 'Lion of Vienna' himself, the great Nat Lofthouse.
Moreover, Reebok regulars will tell anyone who listens that “super Kevin Davies” is not remotely the “dirty player” he is often made out to be, and yet there is a statistic that nags at his reputation and hasn't been invented by Sir Alex Ferguson: in his six years at Bolton he has committed more fouls than any other Premier League player in the same period, topping the list of most penalised players in three successive seasons.
“The way I play there are going to be fouls,” he says, equably, when I bring this up. “If you're challenging for long balls 20 or 30 times, it's inevitable. But at home against Stoke (last month) I got a yellow card from Mark Clattenburg (coincidentally in charge at Old Trafford tomorrow) for diving, and I just couldn't believe that. I was gobsmacked, to be honest with you, because he knows I'm an honest player.”
His own robust form is not the least significant factor in the steady upwards climb that has put Bolton in 13th place, and even if Fergie issues the usual warning before kick-off tomorrow, Davies intends to play with his customary muscle.
On the other hand, any striker who turns 33 next birthday must have half a mind on life after goal-scoring. Might he one day visit Old Trafford as a manager? He smiles. “Maybe. I want to stay in the game and I did a residential (coaching) course with Andy Cole, Danny Mills, and a few others. If I got the opportunity to manage, I would have to give it a go.”