Fergie tips O'Neill to bounce back

Sir Alex Ferguson and Martin O'Neill have mutual respect for each other
Sir Alex Ferguson and Martin O'Neill have mutual respect for each other Photo: PA

Sir Alex Ferguson has side-stepped the fascism row that has enveloped Paolo di Canio's first few days at Sunderland - preferring instead to focus on the tough job ahead of the Italian.

Ferguson has never made any secret of his own political views, sticking to the Labour roots he inherited from his parents glowing up in Glasgow.

He has never been embroiled in anything like Di Canio, who was yesterday forced to release a statement denying he was a fascist, even though he has previously admitted as much, after three days of negative headlines following David Miliband's resignation from the Sunderland board.

Wisely, Ferguson skirted around the entire issue when quizzed about it this lunchtime.

"The only thing I am focusing on is how Sunderland are going to do in their next few games," he said.

"It is a challenge for Paolo, there is no doubt about that, because their programme is not an easy one.

"It is not easy for any team trying to gather points at this stage of the season when you are down there scrapping for survival, no matter who they play or where they are playing."

Ferguson tried to make contact with Martin O'Neill following his dismissal on Sunday but has so far not managed to.

The United boss spent half an hour in O'Neill's company after his side's victory at the Stadium of Light on Saturday and gained no inkling owner Ellis Short was about the inflict the first sacking of the Irishman's impressive career.

"I have not had a chance to speak to Martin," said Ferguson.

"I did try him on the phone the other day but he didn't answer.

"He was fine when he came into the room (on Saturday). He was very generous and gracious as he always is.

"You could sense he was disappointed. He was a little bit down.

"I was with him for 30 minutes or so and we had a small chat. He did get better but here was no indication anything was going to happen.

"I had no idea until Sunday evening, when I got the news."

Ferguson now expects O'Neill to take a brief break to recharge his batteries before heading back into the managerial fray.

"It will be disappointing for him," said Ferguson.

"He has a lot of pride in himself and has never been sacked before.

"He has had a long career as a manager but he has lost his job now.

"I think he will take a rest and come back in."