Alex Ferguson threatened to sell Ruud van Nistelrooy for swapping shirts

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Sir Alex Ferguson threatened to sell Ruud van Nistelrooy after the Manchester United striker swapped shirts with an unnamed Manchester City player, it has been revealed by Phil Neville.

The ex-United player and coach was speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live shortly after Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli was filmed swapping shirts with Real Madrid defender Pepe at half-time during Wednesday night's Champions League clash at Anfield. The Italian's actions have sparked a fierce backlash, with the Liverpool Echo even demanding a public apology from the former Man City and AC Milan star.

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Neville reveals Ferguson-Van Nistelrooy incident

However, Neville was unsurprised by the reaction, and revealed live on air that the legendary Ferguson took a similarly dim view of rival players swapping shirts.

"Van Nistelrooy exchanged shirts in a Manchester derby," Neville commented. "Fergie said: 'Do that again & you'll be out of the club.'"

Ferguson's competitive streak

That Ferguson was willing to sell one of the best strikers in the club's recent history for something seemingly so innocuous may come as a surprise to many Manchester United supporters.

But this is yet another example of the fierce competitive streak that burned through Ferguson throughout his 26-year tenure. The iconic Scot even told his squad in the hours after United's 2008 Champions League final that any player in the squad not willing to fight with all their might to defend the trophy would have their contract ripped up.

Ferguson-Van Nistelrooy rift

Van Nistelrooy would eventually leave Manchester United in 2006, after five hugely successful years, following a high-profile bust-up with the club's fiery manager. Ferguson dropped the prolific Dutch striker for the 2006 League Cup final against Wigan Athletic and their relationship was left in tatters after Van Nistelrooy reacted badly.

A five-year rift subsequently ensued - but it finally came to an overdue end in January 2011, when Van Nistelrooy apologised to his former boss.

Double standards?

The Balotelli shirt-swap issue threatens to run and run. But would it even be an issue if Liverpool's untouchable captain Steven Gerrard was the man who had swapped shirts with Pepe?

Similarly, would Ferguson have said anything to Cristiano Ronaldo - during his best years at Old Trafford - had the Portuguese star swapped his shirt with a Manchester City player?

Let us know where you stand on the shirt-swapping issue in the comments section below.

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Manchester United
Ruud van Nistelrooy
Premier League
Phil Neville
Alex Ferguson
Mario Balotelli

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