Rio Ferdinand issues bold challenge to Sir Alex Ferguson's core values
Ever since as an apprentice toolmaker he joined the Amalgamated Engineering Union, Sir Alex Ferguson has embraced the concept of "one out, all out". Like many of his values, it has stuck with him for life.
When he said he wanted every member of his team to support the Kick it Out anti-racism campaign on Saturday, the Manchester United manager meant exactly what he said.
Rio Ferdinand, like Ferguson an intelligent man whose hinterland of interests stretches far beyond football, would have known precisely what the consequences would be for defying such a request.
In 1960, when as a teenager at the Remington Rand plant in Glasgow Ferguson joined the future Labour minister Gus Macdonald and the young Billy Connolly in strike action, a film was released. It starred Spencer Tracy, like John Wayne one of the Hollywood heroes whom he would see in the cinemas of Sauchiehall Street, and its title was based on the Biblical quotation: "He that divides his own house shall inherit the wind."
It is a principle Ferguson has lived by. It sums up why he almost never criticises his players by name and why he regards any cracks in the club's façade as potentially lethal. His concluding comment in his post-match television interview: "He will be dealt with, don't you worry," would have struck fear into most footballers.
Ferdinand's first manager, Harry Redknapp, said he would have allowed a man who is 33 to make his own choices. Had Ferguson done the same, there would be no story. That, however, is to ignore the tale of a man who, according to Gordon Strachan, once threatened to fine any player who laughed on the team bus after Aberdeen's 4-0 defeat at Liverpool. Ferguson may be one of the largest private donors to the Labour Party but he did not achieve greatness through being a democrat.
He had no hesitation in dropping Wayne Rooney last year after an unauthorised night out on Boxing Day. United lost the next game at home to Blackburn. To drop Ferdinand from Sunday's fixture at Chelsea would be a very big call from a man who has spent a lifetime making them.
The key word in Ferguson's comments was that he was "embarrassed" by Ferdinand's actions. On Friday, he criticised the Reading striker, Jason Roberts, for "standing on a pedestal of his own making" by refusing to wear Kick it Out's T-shirt on the grounds the organisation had done too little to combat the disease of racism.
If he had said this without checking that Ferdinand would wear the shirt, Ferguson was digging an elephant trap for himself. If Ferdinand had given him assurances he would, just as Luis Suarez informed Kenny Dalglish he would shake Patrice Evra's hand last season, the anger is understandable.
The fact that Kick it Out's chairman, Lord Herman Ouseley, is on the board of the Manchester United Foundation would not ease Ferguson's embarrassment. And yet there is a higher principle involved than solidarity. Spencer Tracy's key speech in Inherit the Wind, about an American schoolteacher put on trial for denying the world was created in seven days, says that what distinguishes man from every other animal is his ability to think. "The elephant is larger, the horse stronger and swifter, the butterfly more beautiful, even the sponge is more durable. . ." There is no contract enforceable at United or anywhere else that can tell a man what to think.
There is a requirement to work for the Manchester United Foundation and I have seen Ferdinand doing so in a school in Salford, throwing himself into coaching sessions that went on far longer and contained far more laughter than anyone anticipated. In similar circumstances, Cristiano Ronaldo would spend a lot of time glancing at his watch.
Ferdinand has campaigned long and hard on the consequences of young black men, particularly in his native south London, carrying knives. He has thought long and hard about the consequences of the man alongside whom he played in England's defence calling his brother a "f****** black c***" and whether Kick it Out is simply too close to the football establishment. He has earned the right to think.
Who snubbed shirt?
Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
Joleon Lescott (Manchester City)
Micah Richards (Man City)
Jason Roberts (Reading)
Fabian Delph (Aston Villa)
Anton Ferdinand (QPR)
Nedum Onuoha (QPR)
Junior Hoilett (QPR)
Djibril Cissé (QPR)
Shaun Wright-Phillips (QPR)
Steven Pienaar (Everton)
Victor Anichebe (Everton)
Sylvain Distin (Everton)
Kenwyne Jones (Stoke City)
Ryan Shawcross (Stoke)
Entire Swansea City and Wigan Athletic squads.
Reading took their shirts off and gave them to the crowd in support of team-mate Roberts.