Football: Barthez Blunders to Prove Test of Ferguson's Faith ; CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE United Goalkeeper's Mistakes May Prove Costly for the English Champions While Scottish Contenders Face an Uphill Struggle
Rich, Tim, The Independent (London, England)
THERE IS supposedly the thinnest line between genius and madness and it is one that Fabien Barthez is prone to cross too often for Sir Alex Ferguson's comfort.
When he embarked upon his final Champions' League campaign, Ferguson was far more preoccupied with how his attack should be reshaped. Ditching Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, the men whose goals took him to the European Cup final, in favour of using the relatively untried Ruud van Nistelrooy as a lone striker was far more of a gamble than putting his back four in the hands of a man who has won World and European medals with France.
The irony was that just as Van Nistelrooy was displaying his credentials with two splendidly-taken goals against Deportivo La Coruna, so Barthez was screwing up the whole game plan; first colliding with Wes Brown to allow Sergio to virtually walk the ball into the net and then mistiming a tackle way outside his area to permit Diego Tristan to do virtually the same.
The hamstring injury to Ronnie Johnsen, which forced the United manager to use the more talented but more error-prone Wes Brown at centre half, and news that Roy Keane struggled through the match with a knee injury and is unlikely to face Olympiakos will only deepen the uncertainties surrounding United's defence.
Ferguson did not permit a debate about his goalkeeper's qualities in the post-match press conference. He is usually protective towards his players but on Wednesday night, he was fiercely so, not even bothering to point out that but for Barthez's three high-class saves, United would have been humiliated at Old Trafford as seldom before. Nevertheless, Van Nistelrooy's belief that the way United conceded the goals was not important "because they came from personal mistakes and were not down to tactics," will not wash.
However, unlike Sander Westerveld, who having allowed Dean Holdsworth's tame shot to dribble under his body was told by Gerard Houllier he would never play for Liverpool again, Barthez's future is absolutely secure.
Ferguson knows the Frenchman is in an entirely different class to Massimo Taibi, who in September 1999 allowed a scuffed shot from Southampton's Matt Le Tissier to slither through his legs, conceded five at Chelsea and was discarded forever. …