Beckham puts the boot into Ferguson

 

David Beckham's advisers have made it clear he expects a full apology from manager Alex Ferguson after the dressing-room clash that left the England captain needing two stitches above his left eye.

Manchester United's manager risked irreparable damage to his relationship with the midfielder after he last night dismissed the incident, in which Beckham was struck by a flying football boot, as "a freak act of nature".

Beckham feels Ferguson is "seriously out of order", according to sources.

If Beckham was incensed that Ferguson inflicted the injury, having kicked the boot in his direction while blaming the midfielder for Arsenal's second goal in United's FA Cup defeat on Saturday, his mood was exacerbated by the lack of remorse on the manager's part. Ferguson might be notoriously slow to accept when he is in the wrong, but in this instance he may have to back off.

Yesterday Ferguson tried to laugh off the reasons why Beckham arrived for training with surgical tape covering the inch-long gash. "It happens all the time in a dressing-room. You get upset," he said. "This was one of those freak acts of nature and it's over now. It was a freak occurrence that will never happen again."

Though it would be an exaggeration to say Beckham feels there are irreconcilable differences, the timing of his contretemps could hardly have been worse. United play host to Juventus in the Champions League tomorrow, and while Beckham is unlikely to play as he went off with a calf injury in the Arsenal game, today's press conference to preview that match will now be dominated by questions about the precarious relationship between the manager and his most high-profile player.

Beckham is said to have "reacted furiously" before being calmed down by his team-mates and patched up by the club doctors. Last night a United spokesman would say only "what happens in the dressing-room should remain private".

Although the club have been anxious to emphasise Ferguson did not intentionally strike Beckham, it is known the manager tore into him during an outburst after Saturday's game. Ferguson was angry with his right-sided midfielder, believing his slack marking had allowed Edu to create Sylvain Wiltord's goal. Before kicking the boot, it is claimed he shouted at the players: "You're supposed to be international footballers. You should be in a pub team."

Ferguson's temper is legendary in the game and this incident should dispel the myth that he has mellowed with age.

Tommy Docherty, a former United manager, described Ferguson as "a crackpot and a bully". He said: "Can you imagine if it had been an inch lower and Beckham had lost an eye?"