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Thursday, 6 January, 2000, 16:51 GMT
Ferguson losing patience with UK press

Sir Alex Ferguson cradles the 1999 European Cup Ferguson is growing tired of questions about the tournament's organisation and value


Manchester United may be one of the world's richest clubs, but their media relations skills would surely not be acceptable in the world of big business.

This has been most obvious in the long-running controversy over the World Club Championships

The club has sent out confusing signals ever since it was first suggested it may have to pull out of the FA Cup in order to take part in Fifa's inaugural event.

Nine months later it is still unclear who was to blame for the impasse.

United point the finger at those behind the World Cup 2006 bid and the then-sports minister Tony Banks.

Fifa insist they placed no pressure on Man Utd and in fact have urged the club to defend its FA Cup title, publicly at least.


Man United's players attract huge crowds wherever they go
Since arriving in Brazil, the confusion and criticism has continued.

Plc chairman Martin Edwards told reporters the club would rather be playing in this weekend's FA Cup fourth round.

At the same time manager Sir Alex Ferguson was insisting the sacrifices made in pursuit of the World Club Championship were worthwhile.

Were United a high street retailer depending on a more transitory customer than the devoted football fan, it is likely such mixed messages would swiftly dent its profits.

But these days, the world's top football clubs play for such high stakes amid such public adoration, a blanket of secrecy bordering on paranoia is seen as a prerequisite.

In times gone by, the relationship between newspaper sports writers and the managers of the clubs they covered was a mutually beneficial one.

The clubs relied on the newspapers not just to sell tickets and print match information, but to reflect their successes.

But that is now changing.


Ferguson has never enjoyed talking to the press
Clubs listed on the Stock Exchange such as Manchester United arguably only pay attention to what is written about them on the business pages, not the sport pages.

And increasingly the richest clubs are using their own independent forms of communication to reach their global fan-base.

Manchester United has its own television channel, MUTV, and like nearly all other Premiership clubs, its own website.

The day cannot be far off when the majority of Manchester United fans do not live in the UK.

Regional and national newspapers are no longer the sole outlet for clubs' activities and the need to maintain good relations with them is therefore diminishing.

Television, and the instant and direct mass market it delivers, is the only god clubs like Manchester United recognise.


Ferguson and his assistant Steve McLaren oversee training at the Maracana Stadium


The team and its entourage have been variously described as "sulky", "snobbish" and "aloof" by the newspaper journalists covering their efforts in Brazil.

Ferguson has a particularly uneasy relationship with the press.

He has delivered only one press conference since arriving in Rio de Janeiro and makes no attempt to hide his belief that talking to the press is a necessary evil.

"I don't think it's important to me. I don't think it's important to the club either," he insists.

"They'll always write about Manchester United, it's not necessary always for the manager to talk about it.

War of words

"From the club's supporters' point of view, that's the only thing that concerns me. They do need to be informed, that's important."

At his first and so far only press conference in Brazil, the United boss attacked the British press.

Reporters were accused of making up stories claiming Ferguson is unhappy with the conditions at the Maracana Stadium, where United play their opening match.

While teams such as Real Madrid have conducted daily press conferences, allowing journalists open access to high-profile stars such as Nicolas Anelka and Steve McManaman, Ferguson has kept the press at arms length.

That is in part to do with the different relationship between football clubs and the media in continental Europe.

The football-mad Italian press will print the most trivial stories about their big-name players but are generally far less interested in their off-pitch activities than in the UK.

The front-page headlines made by Victoria Beckham's joking revelation about her husband David's penchant for wearing certain items of her clothing, serve only to widen that gulf still further.

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World Club Championship tables
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World Club Championship results