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Cristiano’s courage

Fulham v Man Utd, FA Cup quarter-final, Craven Cottage (Today 5.15pm)

The purposeful way that Sir Alex Ferguson is trying to tone down the old adversarial persona in his weekly press briefings and instead ease unobtrusively towards Manchester United's 19th title has been absorbing to behold in recent weeks.

But it was with a barely concealed sense of glee yesterday that he was able to seize on Arsene Wenger's claims that Cristiano Ronaldo displays a “provocative” type of “arrogance” and agree with every word the Frenchman said.

Ferguson redefined the quality as a “nice arrogance” - an footballing oxymoron if ever there were one, but a mark of greatness, according to Ferguson, and symptomatic of those legends of the game who simply have “belief in themselves.”

The Manchester United manager raised his eyes to the ceiling and laughed when it was put to him that he might seek to limit that arrogant quality in the player.

“I don't see why I should restrain him,” he said. “That is the way he plays. I enjoyed watching that. Christ, I paid £10 million to watch that.”

Many will agree. Others might reasonably argue that Ronaldo's arrogance is as evident when he does not have the ball at his feet - niggling opponents and officials and indulging in the histrionics which have made him as much a source of frustration as delight this season - as when he does.

It certainly might be easier to view Ronaldo's tunnel spat with Stephen Taylor at St James' Park last Wednesday with a little more sympathy had it not come in a season when the Portugal winger squared up to Emanuel Pogatetz in similar environs during United's 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough in December and had he not been fortunate to avoid censure for kicking out at Celtic's Scott Brown, Tottenham Hotspur defender Michael Dawson and Andy Wilkinson, of Stoke City.

Other football people have different words for the characteristics which can earn Ronaldo a rough time. The Villarreal manager Manuel Pellegrini used the Spanish use (ital)encarar(close), which translates as challenging "face on", as the reason why so many of his players fouled him in the club's El Madrigal stadium in November, though the winger dished out some putulence that night, too.

The debate will rage for as long as the player is plying his trade but Ferguson, who includes Ronaldo in the 20-man squad he takes to Fulham the FA Cup today, says the player's assuredness puts him in the hallowed company of George Best and Johan Cruyff.

“All the great players have the courage to want the ball and express themselves,” Ferguson said.

“It didn't matter who they were playing against they wanted the ball and they wanted to play. That is a vein that courses through all the great players you can name. And they get treatment from defenders. George Best got it. Cruyff, too, if you remember the tackles the Brazilian defenders gave him in the 1974 World Cup. Maradona and Pele had it.

“That's what great players do, they express themselves and that frustrates defenders. Defenders don't enjoy it. You can also understand him lashing out when he keeps getting kicked and nothing happens. If you are not getting the protection sometimes you can lose your temper.”

After playing in 13 of United's last 14 games, Ronaldo looks due a break, with Ferguson openly admitting that, in a week which he believes could define United's season.

Ferguson may find starting places for Carlos Tevez, Nani, Anderson, as well as Jonny Evans or Darron Gibson, though Gary Neville will not be back in training until next week.

Belfast Telegraph


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