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By ESPN Staff

Ferguson speaks up for under-fire McClaren

Sir Alex Ferguson has leapt to the defence of beleaguered England boss Steve McClaren and warned a demanding public they will regret it if they drive his former assistant out of a job.

McClaren has been lambasted in the wake of Wednesday's dismal friendly defeat to Spain, with many pundits claiming he will be axed should the the national team suffer another failure in their next Euro 2008 qualifier in Israel next month.

Although McClaren has continued to insist he is the right man for the job, the boos ringing around Old Trafford as he headed down the tunnel suggest not many supporters share his belief.

Ferguson, who worked with McClaren for two and a half years after luring him to the Red Devils from Derby during the 1999 treble-winning campaign, has no doubt about the former Middlesbrough manager's capacity to deliver.

However, he is concerned media pressure and the weight of public opinion could drive him from office before McClaren has a chance to realise his full potential on the international stage.

'Steve won't be enjoying what is happening to him because nobody enjoys being criticised,' said Ferguson.

'But I have no doubts about his ability, absolutely none.

'The FA have given the job to a man with great potential and he should be supported because it would be a shame if that potential was not realised.

'The way the media in particular are reacting has created a situation where the England players are fearing bad performances. That in itself has a detrimental effect.

'Steve does not have a great deal of experience in terms of top management. But he has the experience of being Sven-Goran Eriksson's assistant and he also has fantastic potential.

'I don't see any how the way the media are handling this situation can elicit any kind of positive response. But you might regret it 10 years time because Steve could go back into club football and do exceptionally well because he will have more experience.'

In launching his own defence of McClaren, Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson claimed England were being let down by its top clubs, Arsenal and Liverpool in particular, because of their failure to give young home-grown talent a chance.

Ferguson though feels the problem goes much deeper, and yet again pointed the finger at the FA's academy system and the lack of players produced since its inception eight years ago.

'I really believe it must be a worry that the FA started the academy system eight years ago and there are no signs of anything,' he reflected.