LONDON — Imagine if the boot was on the other foot — and in this case the phrase could hardly be more appropriate.

Christopher Davies

David Beckham comes into the dressing room after Manchester United’s 2-0 F.A. Cup defeat by Arsenal, questions his manager’s tactics and is so angry he kicks a football boot in frustration. The boot hits Sir Alex Ferguson just above his left eye and the wound requires treatment.

“It was one of those freak accidents of nature,” says Beckham by way of an excuse. “It happens in dressing rooms. It’s over and it will never happen again.”

Would Ferguson accept that excuse readily and forgive his player? “It’s OK David, these things happen all the time. I know you didn’t mean it, no worries, no problem.”

It is hard to imagine Ferguson being so understanding yet the “it happens” reasoning was the United manager’s take on the incident after his temper got the better of him last Saturday and he booted the boot at Beckham.

Will United discipline its manager? If a player inflicted such an injury on Ferguson or a teammate in this manner it is difficult to imagine United not fining the culprit but perhaps taking action against the manager is another matter.

Had the incident happened in a pub, legal experts say Ferguson could have been charged with actual bodily harm.

It started when Arsenal’s Ashley Cole went to the United dressing room after the game to have a few words with his England colleagues.

Ferguson, pointing at Cole, apparently said to Beckham: “What a **** he made of you this afternoon.” To which Beckham retorted: “Not as big an *** as Arsene Wenger made of you.”

Cue boot — the most famous boot in English football at the moment — what price would that particular piece of footwear bring at an auction?

While there is no suggestion the manager intended to hurt anyone, the boot hit Beckham just over his left eye and the player reeled back saying: “My face is covered in blood.”

Eyewitnesses claim Ferguson told the club physiotherapist to “just patch him up.”

Beckham is alleged to have spat at Ferguson, hitting his jacket while other players stepped in to prevent the incident from turning into a brawl.

In Ferguson’s explanation there was a worrying lack of sorrow — no apology, just a “these things happen” reasoning.

The Scot is not a person to say “I’m sorry” but was it really beyond him to do so after leaving Beckham with a wound that there but for the grace of God could have been far worse? Obviously.

Ferguson insisted there was “no problem” in the United camp despite the injury to Beckham.

And the cow jumped over the moon.

“Contrary to reports David Beckham did not have two stitches,” said Ferguson, almost as if that made the whole think OK. “It was a graze that was dealt with by the doctor.

“First and foremost I have to stress in 29 years as a manager and coach, whatever happens in the dressing room remains sacrosanct.

“I would never betray the trust of the players however much benefit there may be. Loyalty is 100 percent.

“It was a freakish incident. If I tried it 100 or a million times it would never happen again.

“There is no problem, we move on, that is all there is to say.”

In fact, there will be plenty more to say about the incident even if an “I’m sorry” from Ferguson is not included.

HAS NOT been a good week for Sir Alex Ferguson’s credibility. Immediately after the defeat by Arsenal he criticized the Gunners’ players for trying to “intimidate” his team with “roughhouse tactics.”

Ferguson seemed blind to the early tackles by Ruud van Nistelrooy and Paul Scholes that most referees would have punished with a red card.

The Scot continued: “The Arsenal players bullied the referee. To surround the referee in numbers as they did only creates mayhem, havoc. Manchester United players didn’t do that.”

Ferguson seems to suffer from SMS (selective memory syndrome), a condition which affects most managers.

Does he forget one of the most vivid images of recent years when a Roy Keane-led gang of United players rounded on referee Andy D’Urso after he had awarded a penalty to Middlesbrough in 2000-01?

Photographs captured Keane’s vein-popping anger at D’Urso who, if he could live his life again, would no doubt have handled the situation stronger rather than retreat as the United mob did the game a huge disservice with such an open display of dissent.

Back to the boot . . . and how did the story find its way into last Monday’s Sun?

Word is that it was leaked (sold) to the newspaper by someone (an agent) who heard about it from an Arsenal source (player).

Ferguson and Beckham have had run-ins before.

Beckham was fined after being seen at a party in London three years ago before a European tie against Sturm Graz. The England captain was then dropped from the side to play Leeds in February 2000 when he missed training, claiming his son Brooklyn was ill.

Beckham has never indicated that he wants to leave United — he loves the club and has supported it all his life. Yet this observer hears that Real Madrid has earmarked Beckham to succeed Luis Figo in 2004 in the European Champions’ “Dream Team,” and what Real wants, Real usually gets.

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