Sir Alex Ferguson has questioned why Liverpool did not appeal against Luis Suárez's ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra as the pair prepare to come face-to-face at Old Trafford for the first time since the controversy erupted four months ago.
Kenny Dalglish sought to draw a line under the Suárez affair ahead of Liverpool's second encounter with Manchester United in a fortnight, albeit the first at United and involving the Uruguay international since he completed an eight-match suspension for abusing the defender at Anfield in October. "The past is firmly behind," insisted the Liverpool manager, who kept Suárez on the bench for 66 minutes against Tottenham Hotspur on Monday night but has no reservations about starting the striker in the hostile environment of Old Trafford.
Evra will face a decision on whether to shake Suárez's hand should the Liverpool forward start the game, with the Premier League having confirmed there are no plans to cancel the pre-match routine unlike the Football Association before Queens Park Rangers met Chelsea in the FA Cup, a match featuring Anton Ferdinand and John Terry. "I haven't given any thought to the handshake," Ferguson said. "We are not bothered about it. It has never been an issue. We have been concentrating on the game itself."
The United manager did draw a contrast between the response of the two clubs to the episode, however, and queried Liverpool's reluctance to launch an appeal over the punishment given Dalglish's firm belief that Suárez should not have been banned. "It is fantastic to have him [Suárez] back," said Dalglish following Monday's draw with Spurs. "He should never have been out in the first place."
Ferguson responded: "Well, why didn't they appeal? I think we would be better putting that to bed. We have plenty of other important issues to be concentrating on, like chasing City in the league and preparing for the Europa League games."
He also said: "We'll just get on with the job and concentrate on the game. They [Liverpool] have said plenty, haven't they? But we've kept our own counsel, because we thought that was the right thing to do in these situations."
Liverpool did not appeal against the decision to serve Suárez with an eight-match ban and £40,000 fine as they accepted their prospects of overturning the punishment were remote following the publication of a 115-page document by Paul Goulding QC, who led the three-man Independent Regulatory Commission appointed by the FA. Any appeal would also have been heard by another three-man commission appointed by the FA and dragged the controversy further into the season.
Dalglish is adamant that Suárez, who told a Uruguayan radio station this week that criticism from the United fans on Saturday would spur him on, has the mental strength to handle what awaits at Old Trafford. "If we had any problems whatsoever with any of our players then they wouldn't be in the squad. They are all in the squad," he said. "They will be able to look after themselves. They will all be able to handle a game at Old Trafford."
The Liverpool manager accepts, however, that Suárez faces a period of increased scrutiny, as was apparent at Anfield on Monday when he was surrounded by cameras as soon as he appeared for the warm-up. Dalglish added: "I would have thought that being as successful as he was with Uruguay in the summer, winning the Copa América, it wasn't the first time he's had three cameras in his face. He's a top-class player. He will understand what top-class players are up against and how newsworthy they are. I am sure he will be able to handle it.
"He doesn't like the glare of publicity, he prefers to go to work, play football and get on with it. A person of his talents isn't going to get away with it as easily as that. But he's not going to actively seek any publicity in any way, shape or form. It's just unfortunate for Luis that he's fantastically talented and successful at the job he has decided to take on. I'm sure he will be able to handle that as well as he handles stuff on the pitch."
The Liverpool manager would not be drawn on whether he has decided to start Suárez against the reigning champions. "We will manage Luis in the same way as we manage the other players," he said. "We've got to look after them. If you had been out injured for six or seven weeks and came straight back in, you would be looking to be broken back in gently. Different people have different needs. Some other players might not have got 20 minutes or half an hour against Tottenham. We will have a look and see what we've got. At least he is fit and available."