Last updated : 26 January 2003 By Editor
There is an intriguing subplot to the "Michael Owen Bets Like A Tiger" tale, now enjoying an extended run in a newspaper near you. The story behind the story involves Ruud van Nistelrooy who, for no reason other than that he is Dutch, is in the middle of a theatre of war best described as club v Fleet Street.

An interview the Manchester United striker gave to Voetbal International, published in Holland, resurfaced as the final part of the betting trilogy featuring Eidur Gudjohnsen, who owned up to dropping £400,000 in a few casino sessions, Owen and the gambling schools among England's World Cup squad and Van Nistelrooy, who was credited with revelations about his United team-mates and their card-playing habits. There was even a suggestion that Sir Alex Ferguson turned a blind eye to the big-money games as long as he was winning. Or so the stories attributed to Van Nistelrooy would have it.

The fallout from the Van Nistelrooy interview has, so far, only reached simmering point, but Paddy Harverson, United's director of communications, is, er . . . in a paddy. He has, on Van Nistelrooy's behalf, claimed that parts of the translated version of the Voetbal interview are miles wide of the mark.

In a statement, Harverson said: "Ruud is wrongly reported to have described the wages of Manchester United players as 'obscene' and 'astronomical'. He said no such thing. Ruud is also reported to have said that Manchester United players play card games for money because they can afford it', and that the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, 'is fine as long as he is winning'. These words were not said by Ruud in his interview with Voetbal International, or on any other occasion. Nor did he ever say that the club's manager had been nicknamed 'The Hawk' by the players."

Van Nistelrooy has no problem with the Voetbal version of the interview, Harverson said, but his statement added: "When this interview was reproduced in a Sunday newspaper, several additional quotes appear to have been added to the translation of the article, which were never part of the original article or, indeed, the original interview. Those additional quotes were subsequently assumed to be accurate and reproduced throughout the media."

The article Harverson is questioning, in the Sunday Mirror's sports pages, did not highlight the quotes about card games. It concentrated on Van Nistelrooy's backing for Roy Keane to become Fergie's replacement as manager. So the line about "obscene" wages was there to be put up in lights and turned into back-page leads by the likes of The Sun and the Daily Express.

Harverson is mightily miffed that his statement has been ignored. Not a hint of a correction anywhere. So the "obscene" story stands. There is no suggestion that Van Nistelrooy is being economical with the truth but, historically, any number of players have told their interviewers a few tasty titbits and then denied saying them when questioned by angry managers. And more than one club official has told a porkie in a bid to kill off speculation about transfer deals or dressing-room punch-ups. So until the story is knocked down, Harverson will have to whistle for any apology.

Over at the Sunday Mirror, Steve McKenlay, the sports editor, is less than impressed at Harverson's slight on his story. He is waiting for the Dutch translator of the Voetbal article to return his calls. Their conversation may well border on the obscene if McKenlay does not get the answers he wants to hear.

By Paul Ridley who is a former sports editor of The Sun.

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