At West Brom on Sunday, Ferguson’s 1500th and final game as Manchester United boss will bring down the curtain on the most remarkable career in British football history. With 49 trophies, it is by far the most successful, ensuring the 71-year-old will go down in the history books, never to be removed. And as he prepared for the end, Ferguson could not help recalling where it all began, at Firs Park in Falkirk, home of East Stirling. He said: “I have had 39 years as a manager. On that day in 1974 when I started at East Stirling, I had eight players and no goalkeeper. Today I have six goalkeepers and about 100 players.” As Sir Alex Ferguson prepared to end his magnificent managerial career he cast his mind back 39 years to the start – at East Stirling, with eight players and no goalkeeper. He added: “I remember the old chairman Willie Muirhead, he was a great chain smoker. When I asked him for a list of players he started to shake. His cigarette was going 100 miles an hour. “I had to remind him a couple of days later. He gave me a list of eight players and no goalkeeper. I said ‘you know it is advisable to start with a keeper, are you aware of that?’.” And so Ferguson began building the first of so many squads he has assembled during his time in the game. And he did it on a shoestring. “My first signing was a lad from Partick Thistle called Tom Gourlay,” he added. “He was big. My god he was big. I paid £1,000 for him. All the rest were £100 signing on fees and free transfers.” Glamorous it was not. Yet as Ferguson sees it, the lessons learned in those early days, sweating for a living in the lower reaches of Scottish League Division Two, provided an invaluable education for what was to follow, first at Aberdeen and, for the last quarter of a century, Old Trafford. “It is an education for anybody,” he said. “In management, anybody should start out in that kind of way. I spent £2,000 on five players.” Major interest around his last game concerns whether Wayne Rooney will be recalled after the England forward’s recent transfer request. Ferguson has already confirmed Anders Lindegaard will start in goal, with Jonny Evans and Phil Jones due to be partnered in central defence as the outgoing boss retains an eye on the future David Moyes will inherit when he takes over in the summer. Press Association
Press Association Aston Villa have confirmed they are close to signing Danish striker Nicklas Helenius from Aalborg. The 22-year-old, who has been capped twice by Denmark, came through the youth ranks at Aalborg and was the second highest scorer in the Danish league last season with 16 goals. A statement on the Villa website said: “Aston Villa can confirm that the club are in negotiations with Aalborg BK for the transfer of Danish forward Nicklas Helenius. The club expects to conclude the deal, subject to a medical and personal terms, in the next 10 days.” Confirmation that 6ft 5in Helenius is close to a move to the midlands comes a day after 21-year-old striker Andreas Weimann signed a new three-year deal with Villa. Manager Paul Lambert relied on the club’s youngsters to keep Villa in the Barclays Premier League last season, and Weimann was one of those who shone. Lambert will now hope he can persuade Christian Benteke, who did more than anything to ensure Villa’s survival in the top flight, to follow suit and sign a new deal.
The UCI was implicated in the Lance Armstrong doping scandal by the US Anti-Doping Agency and was criticised by the World Anti-Doping Agency when an independent panel it established to examine its own alleged complicity was disbanded before it could report. That has led to strong criticism of McQuaid, but his compatriot Kelly thinks the critics have been too harsh on the 63-year-old, who has been president since 2006. “It was a real difficult time for cycling. These were bad years for cycling and McQuaid has suffered because of that. But we must also remember the good things he has done. He has managed to improve the image of cycling in the last few years with the introduction of the biological passport. “That has been working very well. It has taken a lot of riders out of the sport and I think the sport is better for it at the moment. When we look at the way cycling is going at the moment he has done a good job in the latter years.” All eyes will be on Team Sky’s Chris Froome in France after defending champion Sir Bradley Wiggins had to pull out of the race due to injury and illness. Froome has spent much of his recent career in Wiggins’ shadow, but Kelly thinks the Kenya-born 28-year-old can make the step up and challenge for the Tour. “He has proven he can cope with the pressure,” Kelly added. “He has beaten some very good racers who he will be facing on the Tour de France, so there’s no reason why he can’t do it again.” Cycling Ireland’s clubs will decide whether the federation should nominate McQuaid to stand for re-election as Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) president at an extraordinary general meeting in Dublin on Saturday. “I definitely think Pat McQuaid does not get enough credit for what he has done,” said Kelly, a four-time green jersey winner at the Tour de France. Sean Kelly has hit out at Pat McQuaid’s critics as the Irish cycling chief prepares for a crucial vote that could determine whether he stays on as UCI president. Press Association
Press Association Paolo Di Canio has warned his Sunderland players there is plenty of hard work ahead as they prepare for the new Barclays Premier League season. He added: “We have to integrate the new players into the team, continue to build and develop our squad and complete our pre-season training. “There is a lot of hard work but we are ready for it.” Nineteen-year-old IFK Gothenburg midfielder Karlsson is one of a series of young players to have been recruited by Di Canio so far, with Altrincham striker Duncan Watmore and Le Havre’s El-Hadji Ba having also joined the club’s development squad. In addition, senior men Valentin Roberge, Cabral and Modibo Diakite will become Black Cats when their respective deals at Maritimo, Basle and Lazio expire at the end of the month. The Italian is currently in the process of overhauling the squad which only just survived in the top flight last season, having added teenage Swedish winger David Moberg Karlsson to the mix last night. However, while revealing his excitement after seeing the fixtures for his first full campaign unveiled, he admitted there is much to be done before the Black Cats kick off at home to Fulham on August 17. Di Canio told the club’s official website, www.safc.com: “I’m very excited and of course it’s fantastic to start at home in front of our own fans. But there is a lot of work to do between now and Fulham. There are many steps.”
Lukaku scored the third goal in Sunday night’s 4-1 defeat of a Malaysia XI in Kuala Lumpur for his second goal of the club’s pre-season tour of Asia. In the absence of Fernando Torres, who is on holiday following the Confederations Cup, and with Manchester United clinging on to Wayne Rooney, Lukaku is bidding to take his Blues opportunity after a successful loan spell at West Brom. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is wary of comparing Romelu Lukaku with Didier Drogba. But despite the Belgian sharing similar traits to Ivory Coast forward Drogba, who was a key member of Mourinho’s squad first time around and who scored the Champions League-winning penalty in 2012 before leaving Stamford Bridge, the Chelsea boss was not prepared to make a direct comparison. “We have to respect Didier, because Didier’s unique in Chelsea history,” Mourinho said. “And we have to respect Lukaku and the best way to respect Lukaku is not to compare him with a legend of Chelsea Football Club. “The kid is good.” Another player keen to do well is Bertrand Traore, who is a 17-year-old Burkina Faso international, in his second six-week trial spell at Chelsea. After impressing academy coaches in 2012, Mourinho watched a DVD of the athletic midfielder before inviting him to the Asia tour. As he is not 18 until December, Chelsea and Traore must wait to sign a permanent deal. Mourinho added: “Now we want to keep him. We have to wait until he becomes 18 to try to get a permit for him to stay in England. It’s the rules and we have to accept them.” Mourinho hopes forward Kevin de Bruyne’s knee injury is not serious after the Belgian was injured in the act of scoring the second goal of the victory at the Shah Alam Stadium. Mourinho said: “When he was on the floor and asking for a change, everybody on the bench, we thought the worst. “The first assessment by the doctor was that it was not the ligaments for sure and if it is something in the meniscus, then it has to be a very small injury. “So we believe it is not an important injury and hopefully it isn’t because the kid is a fantastic player and is showing to you match after match and showing to me in training that he is going to be a key man on the pitch.” Press Association
Press Association St Nicholas Abbey is recuperating in intensive care after undergoing complex surgery on a career-ending injury to a pastern. They tweeted: “After a lengthy surgery to fuse the pastern St Nicholas Abbey is recuperating in intensive care at John Halley’s Fethard Equine Hospital. “Surgery was carried out at Fethard Equine Hospital in consultation with Dr Dean Richardson, head of surgery at New Bolton Centre Pennsylvania, along with Ger Kelly and Tom O’Brien. “St Nicholas Abbey will remain in intensive care for some time and has many bridges to cross before he is considered out of danger. This morning he is well and comfortable and back enjoying his hay. We are lucky he is so fit and has a marvellous attitude and temperament which will be vital for his long recovery.” A son of champion sire Montjeu, St Nicholas Abbey was champion two-year-old in 2009 when he crowned his season with a blistering display in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. He was a red-hot favourite for the 2000 Guineas the following year, but could only finish sixth behind Makfi, and was not seen again until the following April when he was beaten at the Curragh. He was then an easy scorer at Chester and landed Group One glory in the Coronation Cup, a race he went on to win two more times. Arguably his two greatest successes came on the world stage, however. He won the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 2011, a victory which made his jockey Joseph O’Brien the youngest winner in Breeders’ Cup history, and as recently as March he landed the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan. St Nicholas Abbey has amassed close to £5million in prize money, having won nine of his 21 races. The six-time Group One winner fractured a leg on the gallops at Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle stables on Tuesday morning in preparation for Saturday’s King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes. St Nicholas Abbey underwent an operation on Wednesday, but still has “many bridges to cross before he is considered out of danger”, according to Coolmore Stud, who represent the colt’s owners.
Press Association He signed a permanent deal at Forest last summer and impressed for much of the season and is renowned for his long-range shooting ability. Palace manager Ian Holloway, who saw his side collect their first points of the Barclays Premier League season with victory over Sunderland on Saturday, had already completed deadline day deals taking Jack Hunt, Adrian Mariappa and Barry Bannan to the club, with Cameron Jerome joining on loan from Stoke later in the evening. They join Stephen Dobbie, Dwight Gayle, Jerome Thomas, Jose Campana, Kevin Phillips, Elliot Grandin, Marouane Chamakh, Neil Alexander, Florian Marange and Jason Puncheon through the doors at Selhurst Park as Holloway looks to build a team capable of achieving Premier League survival. Crystal Palace have further strengthened their squad with the signing of midfielder Adlene Guedioura from Nottingham Forest concluding a flurry of activity in the transfer market by the Eagles. The three-year deal for the Algeria international was announced over 12 hours after the transfer window had closed but, because part of the deal was in place before the 11pm deadline on Monday night had elapsed, the move was sanctioned. Guedioura, 27, had spent a year-and-a-half at the City Ground after initially moving across the Midlands on loan from Wolves.
“Following the result of extensive medical tests, it has emerged that Ireland hooker Richardt Strauss has been diagnosed with a heart condition and will be unavailable for selection for the remainder of the season,” Leinster said, in a statement. “The management are confident that the 27-year-old, who is set to undergo surgery this week, will make a full recovery and will provide him with the best care in his recovery.” Strauss joined Leinster in 2009 and he has been an integral part of their squad since then, playing key roles in the 2010 and 2012 Heineken Cup final victories over Northampton and Ulster, respectively. Leinster, meanwhile, rate star centre Brian O’Driscoll as having a 50-50 chance of being fit for next Saturday’s Heineken opener against the Ospreys in Swansea. O’Driscoll is nursing a calf muscle strain, and Leinster say at this stage he has not been ruled out of the selection mix. South Africa international back Zane Kirchner could also be in the frame for next weekend after linking up with his new team-mates following commitments in the Rugby Championship. Strauss, 27, is set to undergo surgery this week, his provincial team Leinster announced. The South Africa-born player made his Ireland debut against the Springboks last year. He has won four caps, but missed the whole of last season’s RBS 6 Nations Championship because of an ankle ligament injury. Ireland international hooker Richardt Strauss has been diagnosed with a heart condition and he will not play again this season. Press Association
Press Association “As I’ve said repeatedly, injuries are the one area where we needed to stay fit and healthy and this one couldn’t have come at a worse time. “Allan will be a big miss for us because he has played very, very well and we wish him a speedy recovery.” Steve Harper, brought in over the summer after his contract at Newcastle expired, will deputise, starting in this weekend’s trip to Tottenham. Bruce said of the 38-year-old: “This is the reason we brought Steve in to be fair. “He’s got an abundance of Premier League experience and we’re lucky that we can call upon somebody with his experience.” Hull go into the clash at White Hart Lane in ninth place, level on points with defending champions Manchester United. McGregor has played a key role in Hull’s impressive return to the top flight but is now set for a spell on the sidelines after sustaining the problem at Everton on Saturday. “We’ve just found out this morning that Allan is going to be out for five or six weeks,” Bruce told the club’s official website. Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor has been ruled out for up to six weeks with a thigh injury, Tigers boss Steve Bruce has announced.
Only last month, Harrington’s husband, Johnny, died aged 77, and McCoy said: “It’s great for Jessie, she’s had such a great week after such a tough time recently. It was a great training performance. “To be honest, he felt better than I’ve ever felt him. Sometimes they get confidence from winning. It wasn’t ideal (making the running). He’s a tendency to jump a bit left and it’s more exaggerated when he’s in front. Today he felt like a real Champion Hurdle horse.” Harrington added: “It’s been absolutely fantastic these last two days, unbelievable. To have three winners on Thursday and then another three is beyond my wildest dreams. I think he (Johnny) is doing a lot of the pushing. All the staff in the yard have done a marvellous job. “If Jezki was beaten here people would say the Champion Hurdle was a fluke, but he came here and won again, which was fantastic. “He was very good after Cheltenham and had a good prep for this race. I was happy coming in and everything went according to plan. I just let AP do what he wanted. He’s the man in the saddle and is the best in the world, so why give him a plan. “With today being a buzzy day, with the crowd and everything, the hood definitely helped him. He’s only six, a young horse, so he’ll stay hurdling for the moment. I would imagine we’ll go the same route next year, but it’s a long way off. I’m not sure I saw much of the race, I had my eyes closed for most of it!” Successful owner JP McManus said: “He did it well, but full marks to Hurricane Fly. He has been an outstanding horse, coming here to win this for a fifth time, so we’ve a bit of catching up to do. It’s a great day and it will be memorable one.” Willie Mullins accepted the record-breaking Hurricane Fly was beaten fair and square and indicated he will now be given time off during the summer. He said: “Jezki is a worthy champion and he’s come back well from Cheltenham. Jessie’s horses are flying. We have no excuses with Hurricane Fly, that’s it for the season and he’ll go out for grass now over the summer.” Jezki stamped his authority on the Racing Post Champion Hurdle at Punchestown to confirm his Cheltenham superiority over Hurricane Fly. With only three runners going to post it was inevitably a tactical battle, with Tony McCoy setting a sedate pace on Jezki, tracked by Hurricane Fly, with the eventual winner’s stable companion Steps To Freedom in third place. The old champion Hurricane Fly threw down a determined challenge going to the final flight, but could never quite get on terms, and Jezki (4-5 favourite), something of a surprise winner at Prestbury Park, got away quickest and ran on strongly to score by three and a quarter lengths, giving Jessica Harrington another treble on the card. Press Association