Sir Alex Ferguson will have around £100 million to spend this summer after the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid yesterday. The board is likely to hand him the entire £80 million fee to spend on replacements, plus money already earmarked for ongoing strengthening. But Ferguson’s challenge is not an easy one. In looking to replace Ronaldo, Sir Alex will need to sign two players in one – a great goalscorer and a great winger. Rant looks at the possible targets.
Antonio Valencia, 23, Wigan Athletic, £17m
The deal for Valencia was done in principal months ago and the Ecuadorian player will join United in the next few days for a compromise fee of £17 million plus bonuses. The speedy wide-man has excellent dribbling skills and a real eye for goal from distance, which mark him out as potential star. But no matter the Wigan player’s form in the Premiership over the past two seasons, stepping up to the big stage at United and performing with the pressure on is something that Valencia is yet to have demonstrated. As such his signing will still be a risk. Moreover, Valencia is very much a winger in the old fashioned mould – he simply won’t deliver the number of goals that Ronaldo produced in recent seasons.
Franc Ribéry, 25, Bayern Munich, £40m – £45m
The French winger-cum-midfielder is better known for his silky skills in wide areas but has been operating through the middle for Bayern Munich this season. Like Ronaldo, Ribéry loves the ball at his feat and is as happy taking on defenders as he is playing a defence splitting pass. His ratio of 14 goals in 32 appearances for Bayern this season is decent, although there’s always a feeling that he has flattered to deceive on the really big stage. At more than £40 million Ribéry is significantly over-priced but Chelsea and Real Madrid’s genuine interest in the Frenchman will guarantee an auction for his services.
Karim Benzema, 21, Olympique Lyonnais, £25m – £30m
Sir Alex has been a big admirer of the brilliant Frenchman for a number of years, and broke usual protocol by singling out the player in the press last season. Although dubbed the ‘new Zidane’ in his homeland, Benzema is more of a hybrid between the (Brazilian) Ronaldo and the French legend. His ability to run at speed from deep with the ball suggests that Benzema has the talent to be France’s leading striker for the next decade. But the Lyon player has many admirers elsewhere, with Barcelona long believed to covet the player. This almost guarantees that stubborn Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas will get his wish for a multi-club auction, despite denials the player will leave.
Alexis Sánchez, 20, Udinese, £10 – £12m
The diminutive Chilean has been a real hit in Serie A despite what on paper appears to a limited record of three goals and two assits in more than 30 games for Udinese. Despite this El Niño Maravilla has been earning rave reviews for his old fashioned trickery down the wing. It would be a gamble by Sir Alex to bring Sánchez to Old Trafford – a Chilean has never made a successful career in England – but few had heard of Ronaldo before he hit Old Trafford either.
Goalkeeper: With Edwin van der Sar begining to show his age United must decide soon if Ben Foster really has the talent, temprament and injury-record to be United’s new long term ‘keeper. If not then Ferguson could use some of the Ronaldo cash to bring in a top-class replacement. There has been speculation in recent days of a bid for Le Mans giant goalkeeper Yohann Pele.
Right-back: With Gary Neville’s career as good as over, Wes Brown almost permanently injured and Rafael da Silva still a callow youth, Ferguson may decide to invest in defensive reinforcements. Could Sir Alex hijack Chelsea’s bid for their former player Glenn Johnson? The Portsmouth defender’s strength is in supporting the attack, but he has improved his defensive abilities in recent seasons.
Defensive midfielder: Rumours have been circulating for a while that the gaffer has Barcelona’s man-mountain of a midfielder Yaya Touré in his sights, following news that Owen Hargreaves will not now return from injury until 2010. Touré has recently rejected a new contract at Camp Nou and would be available for a reasonable price.
Forwards: There’s always the Carlos Tevez conundrum. United may now up their offer for the little Argentinian, who has been such a hit with the fans, if not always on the pitch. But a fair price is a fair price. If Ferguson and the board didn’t believe that an additional £25.5 million on top of the £10 million they have already spent on Tevez represented value for money then why should it now?
United could go shopping at Real Madrid for Jan Klass Huntelaar, the Dutch forward recruited for around £18 million by Los Merengues last summer. The former Ajax hitman was long rumoured to be a target for United anyway, and with Madrid’s Galaticos Mark II policy in full swing, Huntelaar could find himself out in the cold at Santiago Bernabeu.