Byline: JEFF POWELL
LOOKING For Mr Bad Manager. . . Desperately Seeking Something Flawed In Fergie...Another Messed-Up Day In Paradise.
The amateur scriptwriters were sharpening their pencils on Saturday, the Alex Ferguson begrudgers to the forefront.
The cynical wisdom at Old Trafford whispered that Ferguson was throwing another glorious season straight out of the dressing-room window by resting part of his dream team four days before Manchester United's big night in Europe.
Until they beat Southampton, of course.
Until they stayed four points clear at the top of the Premiership with only 10 games to go and with everybody fit to face Inter Milan in the Champions League quarter final this Wednesday.
Until the gambling man landed another win double.
And even then a few of the anti-Fergies were still muttering.
What did he think he was playing at, tinkering with a winning team at a time like this?
How does he imagine they are going to beat the Italians playing like that?
The difference is that they won't be playing the way they did at the weekend.
Not that everybody followed the plot, the visiting manager included. David Jones, who disported an attitude way above Southampton's lowly position, complained about the closeness of the game being attributed to United's unwillingness to do anything more than was necessary just to win.
'Give us our credit,' Jones bleated.
Well, Mr Jones, try bringing your team back to Old Trafford the day after tomorrow, kitting them out in Inter Milan shirts and seeing how they get on against a Manchester United team fired up by their manager to go flat out for European glory.
If United do happen to fail against the Italians it will not be because Ferguson fielded an alternative team full of international players against Southampton, preferring to rest Jaap Stam after his groin injury and keeping Roy Keane and Andy Cole benched until just in time to clinch three points.
If English football, Manchester pride and Ferguson's loftiest ambition are all to be frustrated yet again, it will be because the Continental divide is still wide enough to keep a team which is toiling in the Italian League above Britain's finest.
Inter are listing in Serie Aand are riven by dissension between their multinational stars and their Romanian manager.
Still, they will resist Cole and Dwight Yorke with their limpet-like defending while probing United's lapse-prone defence with their typical counterattacks.
Beyond all the Premiership propaganda, Italy lays higher claim to the world's best league.
So this will not be easy. Nor was Saturday the day for assessing the probabilities.
As Ferguson remarked, his spies saw no more of the real Inter in their goalless draw against Juventus than the man from Milan saw of the real United in Saturday's minimal win over Southampton. …