20 MAY 1995, Page 63


Rovers return

Frank Keating

TWO OR THREE issues ago, with jaunty confidence, this space was devoted to applause for Blackburn Rovers, evocative old-timers returning at last to the big time and winning their first League champi- onship since the season before the Great War. They were eight points clear and vic- tory parades looked in no doubt.

In the event, of course, Manchester Unit- ed compellingly hunted them down, and in the season's last games on Sunday Rovers could only afford to lose at Liverpool (which they did) if United simultaneously failed to win at West Ham. I went to the latter revels and, hanging on to my hat from the reverberating rafters of east Lon- don's Upton Park, saw Manchester United unaccountably blew it when they might have netted three or four. The sponsor who decided to take the real trophy to present at Blackburn's match, and the phoney repli- ca to United's, certainly made an inspired guess.

In the last frenzy, as the Manchester side' bore down on West Ham's goal like a massed rugby scrum, two crucial half- chances were missed by the centre-forward, Andy Cole, who had cost United £7 million earlier in the season. Had he converted just one of them, it would have, at a stroke, repaid half his fee there and then — all of it if United had won through to the latter stages of next year's European champions' cup competition for which victory would have qualified them.

Poor young Cole. Might United this sum- mer look to swop him — say for that totemic tearaway Paul Gascoigne, languish- ing in Italy and pining for a decent pint of lager in a straight glass? That would cost them even more. As long as eight years ago, before Gascoigne had even played for Eng- land, United wanted to sign him from New- castle (from which club, later, they were to buy Colt), but dropped out of the bidding when Gascoigne asked for a £200,000 house, a car then worth over £15,000, a £100,000 signing-on fee, and a four-year contract at a salary of £125,000 a year. Let alone the transfer fee to Newcastle. The youngster went to Tottenham Hotspur. The Lord knows what he would ask for now.

This Saturday at Wembley, Manchester United have another chance to qualify for European competition next season when they meet Everton in the FA Cup final. Ironically, should they win, the prize of a place in the Cup-Winners' Cup will be less lucrative than if they lose and have to play in the also-rans UEFA Cup next year for that knockout tournament provides many more matches, including a two-leg final.

Football management these days is fir more than sweating over formations of 4-4- 2 or 4-3-3, or keeping apart in an eleven the six who tolerate you and the five who hate your guts. You have to be a financier now as well, a player in the big markets, answer- ing as many questions about company investments as groin-strain injuries.

In the Scot Alex Ferguson, United have a canny one all right. He learned his trade from Scot Symon, legendary guiding light of Glasgow Rangers. If you telephoned Symon on a Saturday morning to enquire about the weather for the afternoon's game — 'Is it foggy at Ibrox?' — he would pause and consider long before coming up with, `No comment.'