Michael Baggaley: Don't read too much into Fergie's notes
EVER since he reduced Kevin "I would love it" Keegan to a gibbering wreck, Sir Alex Ferguson has been hailed as the king of the mind games.
The problem with this is that every statement Fergie makes is now examined from all possible angles and the question asked: "Now what's the old red devil up to?"
Such was the case on Saturday when the Manchester United manager lavished praise on his former defender Ryan Shawcross in his programme notes.
The comments were pounced on by The Guardian who ran a story saying Ferguson had signalled he may make a move for the Stoke captain in January.
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I guess we'll find out after Christmas, but let's not forget that Ferguson also praised Shawcross in his notes last season and didn't immediately whisk him back to Old Trafford.
Besides, managers don't tend to reveal their transfer targets in their programme notes.
However, Stokies of a nervous disposition will have noted that Ferguson did say he wished the defender, who is under contract until the summer of 2014, was still in his squad.
He said: "I was delighted to see him called up for the England squad because he is a quality player I have wished – particularly of late – was still at Old Trafford.
"The problem was that at the time of his release we had an especially strong group of young centre-halves and it was becoming impossible to give them all games at the level their progress warranted.
"We had Jonny Evans, Gerard Pique, Ryan Shawcross, Craig Cathcart and Paul McShane, and something had to give.
"We made the right decision keeping Jonny Evans, but I'm not so sure about letting Shawcross join Stoke.
"I see he was man of the match against Liverpool in a number of papers and I just hope he is not back to make me regret our decision even more this afternoon. He is a good type though and I wish him well."
Fergie's wish came true because the Stoke defence had a rare poor game at Old Trafford, although it would be unfair to single out Shawcross.
Besides, I doubt many Stoke fans left Old Trafford too unhappy.
Many have complained the Stoke are not adventurous enough on their travels, but that certainly wasn't the case here. City were superb in an opening 27 minutes in which they took the game to United, took the lead through Wayne Rooney's 11th-minute own goal, and could easily have scored again.
Their buccaneering efforts included a dazzling move in which Jon Walters played the ball into Peter Crouch's feet on the edge of the area; he flicked it on for Michael Kightly, who back-heeled it into the path of Walters who had continued his run into the box.
If Walters's subsequent shot hadn't been just about saved by David de Gea, the goal would be recorded in the same class as Crouch's wonder-strike against Manchester City last season, Jimmy Greenhoff's volley at Birmingham in December 1974 and Peter Beagrie's solo run and strike at home to Bournemouth in October 1988.
All this away to Manchester United! It had to be seen to be believed. In fact, I'm sure many Stokies later sat their family down in front of Match of The Day and said: "You see, I told you," when commentator Simon Brotherton declared: "It's Stoke who are playing all the football here."
Unfortunately Brotherton's comment came moments before United levelled on 28 minutes when Rooney headed home Robin van Persie's stunning cross.
Stoke then contributed to their own downfall with sloppy defending for goals from Van Persie and Danny Welbeck a minute either side of the break.
Kightly's solo goal on 59 minutes put City back in it but Rooney's 65th-minute effort left Stoke cursing the fact that they could play so well for so long and yet still lose 4-2.
If City needed any more consolations then they could return to Ferguson's programme notes because the manager was effusive in his praise of Tony Pulis, the Stoke fans, and the structure of the club.
There's only one conclusion suspicious minds can draw from this: The old fox is angling for an honorary membership of the Stoke Supporters' Club to go with his knighthood.