John O'Shea Backs Michael Owen To Deliver For Manchester United

Manchester United utility man John O'Shea has backed Michael Owen to score plenty of goals for the Premier League Champions.

Owen joined United on a free transfer this summer and came on as a second half substitute during yesterday's 1-0 victory at home to Birmingham City, but the 29-year-old striker was guilty of wasting a glorious opportunity to score.

The former Liverpool and Newcastle United striker was denied by Birmingham goalkeeper Joe Hart after being released by Wayne Rooney, but O'Shea, who captained United in the absence of Rio Ferdinand, is sure his new team-mate will be amongst the goals in the very near future.

The Ireland international told The Daily Telegraph, "Michael was unlucky with a couple of chances, but I'm sure he'll get off the mark soon.

"I think he'll be like Wayne Rooney in that he'll get his goals in runs. The sooner the first one comes, the better.

"As for Wayne, I think pre-season was so important for him to get that sharpness he needs. Once he gets that, he's so hard to stop.

"His goal against Birmingham will give him a lot of confidence, and it's only going to benefit us in the games to come."

Manchester United Must Use Victory To Build Momentum - John O'Shea

John O'Shea wore the captain's armband for Manchester United today as they opened their Premier League campaign with a 1-0 win over Birmingham City at Old Trafford today, and the Irishman, deployed at centre-back in the absence of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, feels that it is imperative his side maintain their good form.

"You don't want to be playing catch-up, even after only one game. Other teams are looking stronger now so it's important we stamp our authority early on in the season," the utility man told United's official website.

"We've opened the last two league seasons with draws (against Reading and Newcastle) so we're happy to have picked up three points against Birmingham. Now we move on with a tough game at Burnley to look forward to."

United face the short trip to Turf Moor in midweek, and if asked to skipper the side again, O'Shea will relish the experience, just as he did in providing guidance for the relatively inexperienced back four deployed alongside him today.

"It was very special. I've done it in friendly matches which is also nice, but to do it in a Premier League game when it really matters, for the manager to have faith in me like that, is something special and something I'll always cherish," he added.

"I enjoyed playing alongside Jonny Evans at centre-back, we know each other very well as we're good friends off the pitch. So there wasn't going to be a problem there and behind us Ben Foster showed he's going to be a special keeper as well."

Wayne Rooney scored the decisive goal today, in a game that was also marked by the second-half appearance from the bench of Michael Owen, who had one effort ruled out for offside and another saved by Blues keeper Joe Hart.

O'Shea feels sure that both Rooney and Owen will go on to score many vital goals over the course of the coming campaign, and more will soon follow once Owen breaks his duck.

"Michael Owen was unlucky with a couple of chances but I'm sure he'll get off the mark soon. I think he'll be like Wayne in that he'll get his goals in runs. The sooner the first one comes, the better," the Irishman continued.

"As for Wayne, I think pre-season was so important, for him to get that sharpness he needs. Once he gets that, he's so hard to stop. I think that goal today will give him a lot of confidence and it's only going to benefit us in the games to come."

Although United never looked uncomfortable, their inability to find a second goal meant that Ben Foster's late save from Christian Benitez was perhaps more significant than it should have been, and O'Shea felt that another goal would have made things more comfortable for the Mancunians.

"It would have been nice to get the second goal, particularly in the first half because I think then you would have seen a more confident second-half performance from us," he affirmed.

"I think we let the edginess creep into our game in the second half and that gave Birmingham encouragement."

Great stuff, Arsenal - but Manchester United will give you a special answer!

So Arsenal are not a threat to Manchester United's Premier League crown? Everton 1 Arsenal 6. Think again, people!

Manchester City showed they definitely have to be taken seriously and money is going to talk again, like it has done with Chelsea.

But just wait until Manchester United underline that they are the team everyone else has to beat. A thrashing of Birmingham City at Old Trafford in their opening game of the 2009-10 campaign will show what they have got in the tank this season.

Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia and the rest are all capable of ripping teams apart, and last Sunday's poor performance against Chelsea will be put firmly in the bin as they set about retaining the title.

Everton and David Moyes have nowhere to go now after his embarrassing tirade aimed at Mark Hughes and City.

If he thinks he controls things at Goodison, he is sadly deluded. The bankers and accountants are in control along with the biggest shareholders.

Burnley to hammer out deal with Manchester United for Richard Eckersley

Burnley will try to sort out a price with Manchester United for right-back Richard Eckersley – before the two sides meet this week.

Clarets supremo Brendan Flood and United's chief executive David Gill will re-open talks on valuations to avoid a tribunal if they can.

Eckersley quit Old Trafford to join the Premier League new boys at the end of his contract, but there will have to be a compensation fee because of his age.

Burnley boss Owen Coyle is hoping to snap up Eckersley for around £250,000 but United chief Sir Alex Ferguson is looking for a massive £2 million - which is testing relations between the clubs.

Manchester United 1 Birmingham 0: Wayne Rooney shows Old Trafford there is life after Cristiano Ronaldo

Rather like Sir Alex Ferguson's programme notes, Manchester United were less than convincing yesterday.

Ferguson did his best to reassure supporters that there would be life after Cristiano Ronaldo. 'They are concerned because they can't quite work out how we are going to compensate for all the goals Cristiano used to get for us,' he wrote before insisting that his side remained 'on the threshold of a very exciting era'.

Rooney celebrates his goal for United

Slideshow: brilliant Rooney celebrates his goal for United

But the supporters will judge for themselves and, while they have long learned to trust the finest manager in the game, this slightly stuttering performance is unlikely to ease the sense of anxiety, even if there were also key players missing, Rio Ferdinand chief among them, with injury.

There were reasons to be cheerful, and not just the three points. Wayne Rooney is thriving now that the more central role he so long craved is his. He followed a super equaliser against Chelsea at Wembley last weekend with the decisive goal here, in addition to delivering another first-class display.

But this was far from a stroll against newly promoted opposition, far from the one-sided encounter that was widely anticipated when Alex McLeish's team landed this as their opening fixture.

 Antonio Valencia

Quiet debut: Antonio Valencia

Had it not been for a more encouraging contribution from goalkeeper Ben Foster and a wonderful goal-line clearance from the outstanding Patrice Evra, Birmingham could have embarrassed the champions at Old Trafford.

They were pretty good, players like James McFadden, Lee Carsley and Joe Hart impressing enough to suggest they might not be the certainties for relegation some would have us think. Ferguson quite rightly acknowledged their efforts, which was more than he did for his own team.

His new boys did not exactly shine, Antonio Valencia giving a nervous performance that served only to highlight the loss of Ronaldo even more. He cost less than a quarter of what Real Madrid paid United for the Portugal winger but on this evidence, anyway, he looked like a quarter of the player.

Unlike Valencia, Michael Owen was not included in the starting line-up. He had to wait, instead, until the 74th minute to get on but a move that started with a long ball forward from Foster suddenly presented him with an opportunity to start the campaign in style.

He had only Hart to beat, but slightly snatched at a shot that was diverted wide by the young goalkeeper's outstretched left leg.


Killer blow: Rooney rams home his first of the season

In Rooney, however, United might now have one of the most influential players in the Barclays Premier League: a player who will relish the chance to step out of Ronaldo's shadow and become the talisman of this team - it was a little surprising he was not given the captain's armband yesterday, the honour instead going to John O'Shea - and guide them to an unprecedented fourth consecutive title.

Yesterday McLeish likened him to Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini and, while the comparisons might not be totally justified, you can see his point. 'He is fast approaching real maturity,' said Ferguson of Rooney, which is good news for England as well as United.

He was terrific against Birmingham, forcing a fine save from Hart in the opening few minutes with a long-range lob and threatening again when Fabio Da Silva made a darting run down the right flank.

 Michael Owen

Foiled: Michael Owen was denied a goal by Joe Hart

He is, as McLeish explained, immensely difficult to defend against, the range of skills as well as the unpredictability of his game making him dangerous in a variety of ways.

His goal was pure predator, the manner in which he directed O'Shea's long ball forward out wide before then darting in to meet Nani's cross with a header that struck a post before he then seized on the rebound.

Birmingham then had their moments. Cameron Jerome sent a shot just inches wide and Franck Queudrue would have scored had Evra not been perfectly positioned to head the clearance away.

McFadden then forced a save from Foster, who did even better to deny Christian Benitez. After a nervous display, particularly with his feet, last week and his absence from England's friendly in midweek with injury, Foster will be heartened by his contribution on this occasion.

Wayne Rooney

Off the mark: Rooney wheels away after his goal

Michael Owen almost makes it 2-0 in the dying moments but Hart denies him with a fine save

Ryan Giggs leaves Sebastian Larsson in his wake during a vintage second-half run

Antonio Valencia takes on the Birmingham defence during a decent league debut for the Reds

Wayne Rooney celebrates after scoring the winning goal past Birmingham's Joe Hart

On his Barclays Premier League debut, Birmingham's Roger Johnson moves in on Dimitar Berbatov

Dimitar Berbatov is challenged by Birmingham's Lee Carsley

Wayne Rooney celebrates his 99th goal for Manchester United

Wayne Rooney scores the only goal of the match against Birmingham City

Birmingham's Stephen Carr battles for the ball with Dimitar Berbatov of Manchester United

Antonio Valencia : Manchester United 1 - 0 Birmingham City

O'Shea gots an elbow from the back : Manchester United 1 - 0 Birmingham City

Berbatov on the Move : Manchester United 1 - 0 Birmingham City

OWEN looks tired : Manchester United 1 - 0 Birmingham City

NOt Enough time for Owen to Shine : Manchester United 1 - 0 Birmingham City

One Goal, Three Points : Manchester United 1 - 0 Birmingham City

Rooooo-naldo! : Manchester United 1 - 0 Birmingham City

Wayne Rooney The New United Hero: Manchester United 1 - 0 Birmingham City

Manchester United 1 - 0 Birmingham City

Sir Alex Ferguson believes it would be "foolish" to ignore the threat posed by Manchester City this season

Ferguson's Manchester United side opened their bid for a record fourth consecutive league title by beating Birmingham 1-0 at Old Trafford yesterday.

Wayne Rooney's first-half effort proved enough to give United maximum points, even if their dominance should have ensured a more comfortable scoreline.

At least it allowed the Red Devils to keep pace with Arsenal and Chelsea, who both started with victories, along with City, who have been the talk of the summer.

"It would be foolish to ignore developments at Eastlands," said Ferguson.

"Manchester City do pose a new threat. We have only to look at how well Chelsea did with back-to-back championships after a massive injection of Russian cash to know money can talk.

"All the leading clubs are looking with interest to see how Mark Hughes handles the situation and whether he can make it work.

"We are all looking over our shoulders, though as far as Manchester United are concerned, it is not in fear."

Indeed, Ferguson feels United will become a more rounded team without Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese world player of the year was certainly missed yesterday, although only due to the quality of his finishing given United carved out a stack of chances.

Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen were both unfortunate not to join Rooney on the scoresheet, with Darren Fletcher also guilty of one poor miss just before the break.

Rooney is the man most Red Devils supporters are looking to fill the gap Ronaldo has left behind.

And Ferguson is confident his star striker can contribute at least 20 goals to the United cause.

"If you have two or three strikers who can get you 20 it stands you in good stead." said Ferguson.

"Wayne Rooney is well capable of that."

There was no argument from Alex McLeish, whose team turned in a creditable performance, without ever quite getting to grips with Rooney's threat.

"We have seen so many natural footballers over the years, people like Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo, they are difficult to coach.

"You can do one or two things in terms of the shape of the team but when he drops into those little pockets, he is hard to pin down."

Ferguson does have injury problems ahead of Wednesday night's trip to newly-promoted Burnley.

Rio Ferdinand has been ruled out for a fortnight with a thigh injury, Nemanja Vidic is also sidelined, while Jonny Evans is also a major doubt for the trip to Turf Moor after aggravating an ankle injury.

Still, after drawing their last two opening fixtures against teams - Reading and Newcastle - who subsequently got relegated, at least United have three points on the board for what their manager thinks will be the start of an exciting new era.

"I know some of our supporters are still worried that I have not bought a megastar to replace Cristiano," he said.

"They are concerned because they can't quite work out how we are going to compensate for all the goals Cristiano used to get for us.

"But I am more than happy with our squad and although we have lost a major player, I believe we are on the threshold of a very exciting era for Manchester United."

Sir Alex Ferguson estimates Rio Ferdinand will be out for two weeks after missing Manchester United's win over Birmingham

Ferdinand was forced to pull out with a thigh injury, with Ferguson claiming before the game that his £29.1million defender will be going for a scan in the morning.

However, the United boss has now put a timescale on the problem, which would make the 30-year-old a doubt for England's World Cup qualifier with Croatia on September 9.

"I would imagine Rio will be out for two weeks," said Ferguson.

Without Ferdinand, United opened their Premier League title defence by beating Birmingham 1-0 courtesy of a first-half goal from Wayne Rooney.

Wayne Rooney scored the only goal of the game to give Manchester United their first win of the season against Birmingham.

Sir Alex Ferguson has repeatedly claimed this summer that United will prosper without the world's best player, sold to Real Madrid for a world record £80million.

For that to happen, Rooney must become United's main man.

And, after playing second fiddle for so long, and spending too much time on the wing for his liking, Rooney returned to centre stage in every sense, rising to meet Nani's cross, then tapping home when his 34th-minute header bounced back off a post.

The sense of change around Old Trafford was made even more obvious by the absence of Rio Ferdinand with a thigh injury, meaning a first Premier League start for Fabio and the captain's armband for John O'Shea.

It seemed a strange decision by Sir Alex Ferguson, who in the past has extolled Rooney's leadership virtues.

Maybe the United boss felt on such a big day for the England man, it was unnecessary to give him the added burden of leading his team. And, in fairness, as skipper or not, Rooney was at the centre of his side's most inventive moments.

Ronaldo's absence will be felt for some time. There was none of that magical trickery the Portugal superstar has provided for the Old Trafford faithful for six stellar years and none of that edge-of-your-seat anticipation either.

Yet in terms of chances, the hosts created plenty, fuelling a belief that they will be a more rounded team.

Nani in particular looks to have been injected with a fresh dose of confidence. The winger was not quite as effective as he was during last week's Community Shield encounter with Chelsea but his direct running caused Birmingham problems, as did Antonio Valencia on his debut as he drifted in from the other flank.

If the Portugal international had got his shooting boots on, United would have been in front before Rooney struck.

As it was Nani scooped a disappointing shot over from Patrice Evra's cut-back and set the stage for Rooney to make his mark.

The striker was involved in the build-up, as he linked up with Dimitar Berbatov to release Nani down the left.

Rooney climbed above Franck Queudrue to reach the teasing cross and although his header bounced back off the post, he was perfectly positioned to tap home the rebound.

Birmingham's response was spirited and after Cameron Jerome's shot had flicked off Paul Scholes, Gregory Vignal thought he had equalised from the corner, only for Evra to nod his header off the line.

It was a sporadic flurry of attacking play from the visitors, who were thankful not to be further behind at the break given Evra set up Fletcher with a clear chance in stoppage time, only for the new Scotland skipper to steer his shot wide when it looked easier to score.

Having come so close in the final seconds of one half, United nearly doubled their lead in the opening moments of the next.

When the ball bounced invitingly 30 yards out, Rooney could not resist the temptation to let fly, drawing another good save out of Hart.

United's first decent post-Ronaldo free-kick was taken by Ryan Giggs after Vignal had caught Rooney late on the edge of the area.

The veteran's effort would not have been far off either if it had not flicked wide off Jerome, who had worked tirelessly as a lone striker at the other end without threatening.

A similar statement could not be made about his replacement Christian Benitez, who found himself streaking down the left with 13 minutes to go and, after stepping inside Wes Brown, with a clear sight of goal.

Some pundits wonder why Fabio Capello keeps faith in Ben Foster given the number of times he has been unavailable for England duty. In a split-second he provided the answer.

As Benitez opened out his body out and went for the far corner, Foster flung himself in the same direction, flicking the ball away to let United breathe again.

Substitute Michael Owen did have the ball in the net once, only to be flagged offside. He was most certainly on when he raced onto Rooney's chested through ball in stoppage time

Sir Alex Ferguson backed Wayne Rooney to top 20 goals in the league this season after he scored against Birmingham.

Rooney tapped home on 34 minutes to give United a winning start to the season after his header had hit a post.

And the United boss told Sky Sports: "We had some good opportunities and played some good football and in general I am satisfied with the result.

"Is Rooney capable of 20 plus Premier League goals? He is capable of that without question.

"You always need two or three of your strikers to get over the 20 goal mark.

"It has always been an advantage over the years for us and Wayne is capable of doing that."

Meanwhile, Ferguson confirmed Michael Owen will have chances to start for United in the coming weeks.

Owen came off the bench in the second half and only a fine save by Blues keeper Joe Hart denied him his first league goal for the Red Devils.

"Owen made a great run and the keeper made a great save. But he will get his goals, no question about that," said Ferguson.

"I started with Rooney and Berbatov today quite simply because they were at the club last season and were regular players and you've got to give them an opportunity.

"Michael will get his chances. There is no question about that. There are plenty of games coming up in the next few weeks to give him his opportunity and he will take them."

Watch SC Right Now: Man United in crisis?

Rooney was also pleased to make a winning start, saying: "I thought at times we played some good stuff. Birmingham sat back in the first half and made it difficult for us but we created enough chances to win the game.

"We couldn't get that second goal. They defended well. The second goal would have killed the game off but at 1-0 there is always a chance of the other team getting a result."

Despite the narrow defeat, Birmingham manager Alex McLeish took plenty of positives from his side's performance against the defending champions.

He said: "On another day we may have taken something from the game.

"I know United had a couple of chances and Sir Alex will be talking about the ones they missed.

"But it is the most we have created here, certainly from my experiences here. I was disappointed we didn't quite nail one of the chances.

"We worked hard and the organisation of the team was great and they applied themselves brilliantly within the system.

"They showed they are a team that never gives up."

Ferguson launches blast at footballing fakers

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson insists players who pretend to be injured in order to cause stoppages in play are "killing the game".

Ferguson's men were involved in a controversial incident during last Sunday's Community Shield at Wembley when defender Patrice Evra went down injured but Chelsea played on and scored, with referee Chris Foy playing the advantage.

The Scot claims referees are finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate between genuine instances when the game needs to be stopped to treat injuries and when players are trying to trick them into blowing the whistle.

A further complication is that the decision to stop play is not entirely in the official's hands, with some players still opting to abide by what Ferguson calls the "unwritten rule" to kick the ball into touch when a player goes down, injured or otherwise.

Ferguson feels if players only went to ground when genuinely injured, the referee's job would be much easier.

"This unwritten rule has come into the game and opportunist players have just overdone it. They have overcooked the whole thing," he said.

"Last week Evra was through and into the last third of the pitch, the referee stops it and (Michael) Ballack gets up. It could have been a serious problem so he stopped the game.

"Then when Evra is fouled, Chelsea don't kick the ball out, the referee plays on and we lose a goal.

"It is a grey area and something has to be done about it.

"The players are killing the game. The players' unprofessionalism is killing the game. Not the referees. The problem is how much the referee can tolerate when the players lie down pretending to be injured.

"There is no doubt that this unwritten rule about players kicking the ball into touch has been exploited to ridiculous degrees now."

Ferguson added: "I spoke to my players about it and told them not to kick the ball out, that they should let the referee decide when to stop the game.

"But the players wouldn't do it. If players don't put the ball out they get stick off opposing players and opposing fans.

"If a referee stops the game twice when players go down and on the third occasion he decides to play on, he makes a rod for his own back.

"Last Sunday, Chelsea had plenty of time to kick the ball out when Patrice Evra was injured after being fouled by Michael Ballack."

Success Doesn't Make Me Bullet-Proof – Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United Boss

Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed that a fear of failure still motivates him, despite his enormous success within the game.

Speaking to The Observer, the Manchester United manager also revealed that he did not feel “bullet-proof” even though he has guided the club to 11 Premier League titles.

“I never regard myself as bullet-proof,” the Scot explained.

“I might be bullet-proof at this very moment, before a ball has been kicked, but I have always worked under a fear of failure.

“I think every manager would say the same. Failure for Manchester United might be a poor performance against Birmingham in the first game.

“What you have won before counts for nothing, in that respect, because the most important thing is keeping a winning mentality going from day to day.”

The 67-year-old also admitted that he had tunnel vision when it came to winning and that results are all that matter.

“I've just got something in me that doesn't think about anything else but winning. You try to transmit that mentality to the players – that winning is what matters and losing matters even more,” said Sir Alex.

“Every manager is under pressure from bad results. It's a results-based industry, a must-win industry, and I don't see any way of getting away from that.”

Ferguson begins another Premier League season this afternoon with the visit of newly promoted Birmingham City, and the Scot insisted he still believed the Premier League was as competitive as any other in the world.

“This is the most competitive league in the world: some of the top players might have gone to Spain, but I don't agree that their league is any harder than ours,” he added.

“The Premier League is hard work every week and, if the results don't happen, the manager carries the can.”

Premier League coaches are ready for close-ups

The curtain went up in England on Saturday and onto the stage strode the Scot, the Spaniard, the Frenchman, the Italian and the Welshman.

For the next nine months, while the 38-act drama that is the English Premier League unfolds, it is their voices that the world will be listening to, their opinions that will count, their ranting and raving that will either delight or infuriate fans.

That's because talking the talk is everything in the Premier League. The games might be played on England's manicured fields, but they are won and lost just as much in front of England's ever-present media microphones.

To manage a team at the very top end of the top flight requires not only a keen soccer brain but a solid grasp of psychology. The ability to elevate your players while undermining the opposition is essential.

It is mental warfare on a weekly or even daily basis and it is captivating and addictive for the tens of millions who from now until May will follow every move in the world's most popular sports league.

The past-master of all this, of course, is Alex Ferguson, the florid-faced Scot who is the most successful manager in English soccer history. The Manchester United mentor began lobbing verbal grenades in the direction of his challengers long before the first ball was kicked in anger on Saturday.

For instance, when Argentine star Carlos Tevez rejected an offer to stay at United and signed instead for rival Manchester City, the latter club erected a huge billboard in the city center welcoming the forward to Manchester.

It was a dig at Manchester United, whose stadium is not within Manchester's city limits but in suburban Trafford. Ferguson was furious.

"That arrogance will be rewarded in the right way," he said. "They are a small club with a small mentality. All they can talk about is Manchester United. That's all they've ever done and they can't get away from it."

Earlier, Ferguson dismissed Liverpool, which finished second behind United last season, as a threat this time around.

"Liverpool have just had probably their best season for 20 years, finished up with 86 points and still finished four adrift," Ferguson said. "It will be hard for them to match that, let alone improve. Other teams will read Liverpool better."

Rafael Benitez, Liverpool's Spanish manager, defeated Manchester United twice last season and has signaled his intent to exploit the rift between United and City.

"We can always talk about the top four, but Manchester City are doing a very good job and have bought some excellent players," Benitez said. "I can understand why Mr. Ferguson at Manchester United is a little bit worried."

United is seeking a record fourth consecutive Premier League title, with the teams that finished second, third and fourth last time around -- Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal -- intent on stopping it and Manchester City, which has spent $165 million on new players, intent on cracking the top four.

"There is a lot of interest in us," said Mark Hughes, Manchester City's Welsh manager.

"There are a lot of people who want us to succeed and just as many who want us to fail.

People who maybe have a negative slant on what we are trying to do sometimes have the loudest voices and are given more platforms.

"I think there are just as many people excited and wondering what we are going to do, whether we have the means to do it and whether we are going to shake up the status quo.

"We have to live with that and deal with that."

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal's French manager, has set a target this season, but he might be aiming too low.

Manchester United are believed to be lining up a £30 million bid for Athletico Madrid superstar Sergio Aguero.

The Red Devils have been monitoring Aguero for some time, and their scouts saw the frontman score in Argentina's 3-2 victory in Russia.

Sir Alex Ferguson had previously stated that his summer business was over, but the Old Trafford side will struggle to cover the goals of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez without the addition of another striker the calibre of Aguero.

Athletico are believed to want around £45 million for the striker, a probable stumbling block for the 21-year-old striker who scored 17 goals in La Liga last year.

United don't have an issue with cash however, after the £80 million sale of Ronaldo earlier in the summer. Chelsea, Juventus and Inter Milan are also interested in the player known as 'Kun' Aguero.

So angry is the Scot, that he's told his players not to boot the ball out of play when opponents go down...

Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has expressed his fury at players who go to ground specifically to halt an opposition attack.

"It's absolutely ridiculous and something has to be done about it," he said in the News of the World.

"Players are getting stick and kicking the ball out, and the fans are whistling because people stop playing. The other players are as guilty as the guy lying down.

"They have no idea what is wrong with the guy lying down. Most of the time there is nothing wrong with him at all.

"The problem is how much the referee can tolerate when the players go down.

"There is no doubt it has been exploited to ridiculous degrees now. I don't know how to stop it."

Still fuming over the controversial incident between Michael Ballack and Patrice Evra that led to Chelsea's second goal in the Community Shield, Ferguson said he'd tried to instruct his men to keep playing whenever an opponent goes down.

"Referees' chief Keith Hackett said three years ago the players were being instructed not to kick the ball out," he continued.

"I spoke to the players here and told them not to kick the ball out, to let the ref decide. For instance, a head injury could happen and we let the referee stop the game. That is the criteria we are working on, but the players wouldn't do it.

"If the players don't put the ball out they get stick off the opposing players and opposing fans, so they kick it out.

"It's so stupid. You could be attacking the last third and you put the ball out and it ends up back with your goalkeeper when they kick the ball back. We have just overdone it, overcooked the whole thing."

Man United kick off their Premier League campaign with a home game against Birmingham City on Sunday.

Manchester United challenge Liverpool with plan to lure Ryan Shawcross back to Old Trafford

Sir Alex Ferguson could thwart Liverpool's interest in former Manchester United central defender Ryan Shawcross by taking him back to Old Trafford.

The United manager is aware Liverpool have been in contact with Stoke City about the 21-year-old Chester-born six-footer and is keeping a close watch on developments.

But the Merseysiders'hopes of signing Shawcross were dashed when they discovered United had retained first refusal on any possible future deal involving the player, who first joined Stoke on a six-month loan in August 2007.

The deal was made permanent in the following January when Stoke agreed to pay £1million with a further million if they achieved promotion.

Since then Shawcross's value has soared after impressive performances helped them consolidate their Premier League status last season.

Takeover talk but McLeish aims to turn tables

If the bookmakers are right, and Alex McLeish does become the first managerial casualty of the new Premier League campaign, perhaps he should consider turning his hand to diplomacy next. After all, the Birmingham City manager may well be responsible for bringing together Messrs Ferguson and Benitez in an enthusiastic embrace at Old Trafford today.

True, it will be his principal summer signings for promoted Birmingham – Barry Ferguson, the disgraced former Scotland captain from Rangers, and Christian Benitez, a 23-year-old Ecuadorian striker – rather than those psychological warriors Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez. But McLeish has shown himself adept at keeping a cool head while all around him panic, the latest example being his phlegmatic response to reports that Hong Kong businessman and chief shareholder Carson Yeung wants to buy control of the club, probably with damaging consequences for the former Scotland coach's employment prospects.

"What happens happens," the 50-year-old McLeish says, declining the opportunity to use the takeover talk as an excuse for whatever fate may befall Birmingham against Manchester United. "We've just got to get on with it. Steve Bruce was at the helm the last time [when Yeung previously tried to buy Birmingham] and the situation dragged on and became a distraction. Nobody's distracted me at all."

McLeish (pictured right) was a teenaged reserve at Aberdeen, where he eventually became captain of the club towards the end of Ferguson's trophy-laden era, when Birmingham last won at United all of 31 years ago. It was also the last occasion they scored from open play at the so-called Theatre of Dreams, Trevor Francis collecting the winner.

"On paper they should beat us every game," he said. "If we get a result against them it'll be a surprise. But some day a Birmingham team will get a result at Old Trafford. So why can't it be this one? That's my belief."

Does his close professional relationship with Sir Alex, which has burgeoned into an enduring friendship, give him any insight into the tactics and team selection the United manager may favour against Birmingham? "I wouldn't even attempt to second-guess him," McLeish said. "In terms of his team he has a squad full of superstars to choose from. He should be able to pick any team to hold their own against any other side in the Premier League."

Even the high-profile defections to Real Madrid and Manchester City will not, he suspects, weaken the champions unduly. "There's no Cristiano Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez, but when we look at the team-sheet we'll see names like Rooney, Berbatov and Carrick, so there won't be a massive difference. Ronaldo has been the one with the goal returns these past few years but you can see someone else taking on the mantle. We've got to be organised and difficult to penetrate."

Birmingham demonstrated both characteristics in finishing runners-up to Wolves in the Championship, without exciting their followers with a flood of goals. McLeish, who has added another of his Rangers side to the St Andrew's squad in French left-back Grégory Vignal, appears happier to be swimming with the big fish rather than being snapped at by lower-league minnows.

"Expectation levels last season were as tough as I've ever had. I don't know what they are this time, but the Blues fans will be expecting a lot. I always expect a lot of myself but you have to be realistic in terms of resources. I look at Wolves – they've maybe spent as much as much as us, with [chief executive] Jez Moxey saying there's more to come. By rights we aren't able to compete with others financially. But we've seen before that less well-off clubs have been able to survive in the Premier League, while expensive teams have been relegated."

Barry Ferguson's playmaking ability and Benitez's impressive strike-rate in Ecuador and Mexico, together with the £5m acquisition of centre-back Roger Johnson from Cardiff and the season-long loan of Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart, encourage McLeish's optimism. "It excites me," he said, referring to Old Trafford, though he may just as well have been assessing the season ahead. "We've got nothing to lose."

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson claims 'cheats' are killing the game

Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of champions Manchester United, has warned that the growing tactic of players feigning injury so they can disrupt an opposition attack is 'killing the game'.

Ferguson, whose team start their bid for a fourth consecutive Premier League title at home to Birmingham City, is furious that referees are being put under pressure by what he regards as cheating.

And he has ordered his own players not to kick the ball out of play when an opponent appears to be injured because the game's etiquette is being abused.

Ferguson's outburst follows last week's Community Shield game against Chelsea, when United felt they were 'conned' by Michael Ballack. Referee Chris Foy stopped a United attack to allow Ballack treatment, but did not do so when Patrice Evra was elbowed by the German and Chelsea went on to score.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson does not blame the officials, claiming they are being placed in a situation where they cannot tell if a player is genuinely hurt.

'Players who cheat are killing the game, not the referees,' said Ferguson. 'Something has got to be done about it. 'The game is meant to be stopped or the ball kicked out if there is a head injury, but the whole thing is overcooked now.

'Referees have a problem in deciding how much they can tolerate when a player goes down. It's a grey area.'

Ferguson says the only solution is to give complete control to the referee, rather than rely on players deciding whether or not to kick the ball out of play.

'We have to give the responsibility to the referee,' said Ferguson. 'They can then decide whether to stop the game or not. That would do the game a huge favour.' But he admitted that his own players may ignore his instructions.

'I have told the players not to kick the ball out and to let the referees decide. But they don't always listen,' he said. 'During a match, they think they will get stick off the opposing players and fans and so they kick it out.'