Last updated : 10 January 2006 By editor

From the Times:

‘David Gill, the chief executive of Manchester United, was sitting at the back of the room yesterday when Nemanja Vidic was being introduced to the media by Sir Alex Ferguson. He was there, too, when his manager started talking about the future. A future in which, Ferguson evidently believes, he will continue to play a significant part.

‘The rest of the world may have speculated about the Scotsman’s long-term prospects after their Champions League exit last month but, if Ferguson doubted his ability to carry on, I must have blinked and missed it. Nothing about his behaviour since they finished bottom of the group suggests that he has even paused to reflect on the turbulent couple of months before Christmas that appeared to signal his downfall.

‘He was certainly not talking yesterday like a man heading for retirement when he said that several years of team reconstruction was ready to bear fruit. “I don’t think there’s ever a last piece of the jigsaw, so you’re always chasing the rainbow,” he said, but he believes — or at least argues publicly — that he is close to producing another successful team. One with him in charge.

‘The defiance is not unexpected but it does pose the question of when, and how, the end will come for Ferguson. There was a week or two after the defeat away to Benfica when it all looked straightforward enough. We should have known that the Scotsman would be bloody-minded.

‘Gill and his board would never want the team to fail in order to make that decision easy for them, but had FA Cup humiliation away to Burton Albion on Sunday been heaped on top of Champions League embarrassment, they could have gone straight out and bought the carriage clock.

‘Instead, they are left with a man determined to carry on, even though, within Old Trafford, there is an acknowledgement that the end cannot be far away. “We are on the home straight,” one source said. “It’s just that no one knows when we will hit the finishing line.”

‘It has, in other words, all the makings of a messy ending. United are doing just well enough in the Barclays Premiership — ie, confident of a place in the Champions League — that there is not an unarguable case for removing Ferguson and yet they are failing to win the trophies that the manager needs to be able to bow out gracefully.

‘Supporters will interpret the board’s decision to back Ferguson’s judgment in the transfer market as a sign that they have made up their mind to give the manager another 12 months, with a midfield arrival expected on top of the purchases of Vidic and Patrice Evra.

‘The other way of looking at things is to recall the signings of Eric Djemba-Djemba, Liam Miller, David Bellion and Kléberson and conclude that, far from backing him, the board has given him more rope. At the back of the room, Gill was staying quiet.’