Ferguson silent over England job as United lose
Sir Alex Ferguson saw his Manchester United team suffer a 3-2 home defeat in their UEFA Europa League meeting with Athletic Bilbao and then revealed he had received a warning from the Premier League not to discuss the vacant England manager's position.
The veteran Scottish boss, who has insisted he doesn't want the job himself, is one of numerous leading figures in English football who have backed Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp to replace Fabio Capello.
But Ferguson revealed he had received an astonishing instruction warning him not to discuss his favoured candidates for the most high-profile job in English football.
"I got a letter from the Premier League telling me not to discuss the England manager's job ... can you believe that?" said Ferguson.
"I have absolutely no idea why but I am not allowed to discuss the England manager's job. So I'm out of the running."
The Premier League later confirmed that, at Tottenham's request, they'd written to the managers of the other 19 clubs in the division ordering them not to talk about a manager already under contract to another side in relation to the vacant England position. Such comments, claim Tottenham, contravene Premier League guidelines.
Although Ferguson made light of the exchange, he was clearly left stunned by the missive, just as he had been by his team's performance in their last 16 first leg defeat by Bilbao at Old Trafford here on Thursday.
However, Ferguson admitted United were struggling to cope with juggling the commitments of the Premier League and Europa League and he will be forced to make changes for Sunday's league game with West Brom, with an eye on the European tie in Spain next week.
"I think we're now starting to get players back to marry the two together successfully but I think we need the full squad," Ferguson said.
United's defence was certainly an issue against Bilbao and Ferguson added: "Rio Ferdinand, for example, is such a great player and with his experience away from home, it's a possibility (I will rest him) on Sunday for instance.
"It really depends how Chris Smalling is. His stitches (in a head injury suffered playing for England last week) came open in the first half and we thought we had patched it up at half-time but it came open again in the second half."
Next week's second leg will see United enter as underdogs after goals from Fernando Llorente, Oscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain gave Bilbao a deserved win. But with Wayne Rooney scoring the first and last goals of the evening - his second a 91st minute penalty - United still have a shot of advancing into the quarter-finals.
"It's a fight for us," said Ferguson. "The question is can we win the match? I think we can win the match over there.
"Maybe we are finding it difficult to marry the two competitions together, Thursday-Sunday. It's more difficult than the normal Champions League. But I think we can win the game okay."
Ferguson conceded Bilbao were by far the better side but did have complaints over their second goal - scored by de Marcos - which he claimed was offside and the third from Muniain which came from a Bilbao free-kick awarded after United defender Patrice Evra kicked a ball bare-foot, having lost his boot.
"At the end of the day Bilbao were the better team. Our goalkeeper (David de Gea) made four or five terrific saves in the game so really it was not the worst result for us."
Meanwhile, Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa warned his side against complacency ahead of the second leg. "We cannot forget that there is one game to go, that's the most important thing to remember. All the positives and success we have achieved tonight will be wasted if we don't take care next Thursday."