Some of Manchester United’s more cynical fans let out a sigh of dismay when Cristiano Ronaldo announced that he was no longer happy at Real Madrid, after accusations of tax fraud unsettled the superstar. Few enjoy the tedium of a summer transfer saga, it creates uncertainly, and United fans have been offered false hope too often in recent years. Some fans cling to the bdlief that Ronaldo will once again grace Old Trafford; plenty felt an anxious twang of déjà vu this week.
In the cold light of Manchester United’s fateful dawn one can still feel the intoxication. Like a Saturday night drunk, stirring on Sunday morning amid the cold pizza and lager cans strewn across the wreckage once called home. Yet, United’s hangover from Cristiano Ronaldo’s wild ride still throbs, blurring clear thought and obfuscating the truth. Like so many drunks United may need to hit rock bottom before redemption calls.
Ronaldo’s was a special kind of addiction though; certainly love at first sight. The speed, turn, tricks and goals – that magical 20 minutes against Bolton Wanderers to the crowing glory in Moscow in 2008. Little wonder that the Stretford End still sings the Portuguese winger’s name, five years since he departed – on his own insistence – for Real Madrid.
In securing an £80 million fee for Ronaldo the winger also had another affect on the club. One far more damaging than enduring loyalty to a player who came to believe that he had outgrown Old Trafford. Indeed, the ‘success’ of securing such riches seemingly convinced the Glazer family, and Sir Alex Ferguson, that the equivalent of football alchemy was available at every turn – that United could invest in young players, make handsome profits in the market and run a successful team. Like some flash of magic, United’s “philosophy” of “youth” – as a recent investor presentation put it – somehow gave the club a structural advantage over competitors at home and abroad.
For the club of the Busby Babes, Fergie Fledglings and Class of ’92 it is a vision for supporters to follow – millions spent on young players that may come good is always more palatable than millions more on the finished article. Yet, like so many of the Glazer family’s polices this one has turned out to be bunk. Just one with rhetoric that is so easy to sell.
Since Ronaldo’s sale in the summer of 2009 United’s unwritten policy – broken on only a few select occasions – has been to invest in players under 26 who retain a clear resale value. More than 20 players of the ilk have passed through Old Trafford’s doors over the past five years, including Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw this summer.
Yet, during that same period it is arguable that only David de Gea’s stock has risen in Ronaldo-esque proportions. So many have crashed and burned. That is the way of youth and the failure of a policy that routinely gambled on turning lead into gold, callow youth into venerable experience, and a punt into yet more Glazer riches.
United may extract value and talent from Shaw, Herrera and Rojo. Of the three the former Southampton left-back is perhaps best placed to command an outstanding resale fee in the years ahead. He certainly has the talent to flourish at United.
Of other recent signings Marouane Fellaini certainly will not, while the jury remains out on whether Juan Mata, who was 25 on acquisition last January, will finally come good.
Two summers ago United invested more than £28 million in Shinji Kagawa, Nick Powell, Ángelo Henríquez and Alexander Büttner – and then a further £10-15 million in Wilfried Zaha the following winter. Kagawa may command a similar fee now, while Büttner was sold this summer for a small profit. Write off the money spent on Zaha, Powell and Henríquez though. More importantly, none of the quintet has proven to be value-for-money just yet, although there are special circumstances where the Japanese is concerned.
The pattern repeats. Phil Jones may yet come good, although there is little to justify the £17 million paid to Blackburn Rovers three years ago. Chris Smalling has seemingly gone backwards, while Javier Hernández’ career is at a standstill. United could take a profit on the £6.5 million fee paid for the Mexican, but probably only because a rising market tide floats all boats. The Reds certainly did not profit from the eternally embarrassing £7.75 million spent on street footballer turned Premier League punchline, Bebé.
The less said about the £25 million spent on the combined talents of Antonio Valencia, Mame Diouf and Gabriel Obertan, the better. Look further back into the Glazers ownership and there will be few whom view the investment in Nani and Anderson with pride. More than £30 million was invested in a duo that will command almost no resale fee when eachfinally, and permanently, leaves the club.
The failure is not one of trust in youth per se. This is a romantic notion that appeals in an age where superstars command incomprehensible wages and transfer fees routinely run into tens of millions. The error is in the policy’s inherent lack of balance and the concurrent inevitability of squad degradation, no matter short-term successes.
By contrast, over the same 2009 – 2014 period, United’s investment in experience runs to Michael Owen, Anders Lindegaard, Ashley Young and Robin van Persie. So few struck gold, but then the sample is only a handful.
In an era when the causal – although not perfect – relationship between transfer spending, wages and ‘success’ has been noted, United’s belief in an ability to buck the market has proven false. There is no structural advantage at Old Trafford, bar vast pools of revenue.
It is perhaps little surprise that some have called for a change in policy at a time when Louis van Gaal’s squad is dangerously short of domestic rivals. With 10 days to go until the market closes there is little guarantee that even a manager of the Dutchman’s gifts will lead United into next season’s Champions League.
“United need to arrest their decline,” said former Red Paul Scholes, writing in the Independent this week.
“I feel it is time for major change. What do United need? Five players. Not five players with potential. Five experienced players. Five proper players who can hit the ground running and turn around a situation that looks desperate.”
Five players that are unlikely to arrive before the transfer window closes on 1 September. The months ahead will determine whether it is the Glazer’s policy or Scholes that is proven right. One thing is sure: there are so few to follow Ronaldo. One a million? No, one in 80 million. Odds that look poor good either way.
Acquisitions of players under-26 since Ronaldo’s sale
Player – Acquired from – Fee (£ millions) – (age at transfer)
Luke Shaw – Southampton – £33 (18)
Ander Herrera – Athletic Club – £32 (24)
Marcos Rojo – Sporting Lisbon – £17 (24)
Vanja Milinković-Savić – Vojvodina – free (17)
Juan Mata – Chelsea – £39.5 (25)
Marouane Fellaini – Everton – £28.5 (25)
Guillermo Varela – Peñarol – £1.5 (20)
Shinji Kagawa – Borussia Dortmund – £14 (23)
Wilfried Zaha – Crystal Palace – £10.5 (20)
Nick Powell – Crewe Alexandra – Crewe – £6.5 (18)
Ángelo Henríquez – Club Universidad de Chile – £5 (18)
Alexander Büttner – Vitesse Arnham – £4.5 (23)
David de Gea – Atlético Madrid – £17.50 (20)
Phil Jones – Blackburn Rovers – £17 (19)
Frédéric Veseli – Manchester City – free (18)
Bebé – Vitória Guimarães – £7.75 (20)
Chris Smalling – Fulham – £7 (20)
Javier Hernández – Deportivo Guadalajara – £6.50 (22)
Antonio Valencia – Wigan Athletic – £16.5 (24)
Mame Diouf – Molde – £4 (21)
Gabriel Obertan – Girondins Bordeaux – £3.5 (20)
*all data from Transfermarkt (rounded)
Hand it to Cristiano Ronaldo; the Real Madrid forward certainly knows how to court public opinion in both Madrid and Manchester as the clock ticks down to United’s fixture with the Spanish giants next month. The Champions League Round of 16 tie will bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford for the first time since an £80 million June 2009 transfer to the Spanish capital – and the Portuguese forward is keen to ensure his United legacy remains intact ahead of the clash.
No surprise there, with Ronaldo holding a seemingly permanent come hither gaze over the past three years. Indeed, while the 27-year-old has scored at greater than a goal-a-game at the Bernabéu, his has not always been a positive relationship with Madrid’s supporters. By contrast, the Stretford End continues to sing songs of its former hero – like a jilted lover, longing for a partner now stepping out with a new beau.
Nostalgia is no friend of the tribal spirit, and Ronaldo is one of a very select group to actively seek a move away from United in the past two decades, but the forward is guaranteed a positive reception at Old Trafford.
Not least after Ronaldo admitted this week that he still holds a candle for the old flame.
“I still have a great feeling of friendship and love for them, they are a team that have done a lot for my career,” said Ronaldo, who is yet to sign a new contract at the Bernabéu.
“The fans know me well and I have a lot of friends there that I keep close to my heart. But now I’m defending Real Madrid’s colours. It’s a bit of a sad feeling I guess. But I want to score, and for us to win, and that would make everything better.”
How fitting that United travel to Madrid for Ronaldo’s rendezvous with his former team-mates the day before Valentines. The return in Manchester will come a long three weeks later. It promises to be the tie of the tournament to date, with Madrid odds-on with the bookies to triumph over two legs.
Either way, Ronaldo can hardly fail.
Yet, the Portuguese has endured a difficult relationship with Madridistas since he gained the “dream” move to the Spanish capital three years ago – the faithful not always appreciating Ronaldo’s self-assuredness despite brilliance on the pitch.
Nor, indeed, Ronaldo’s apparent obfuscation over a new contract – an issue that has brewed for six months. The forward admitted last September that he was “sad”, amid speculation that Madrid is seeking to cut back on the player’s huge net wages.
Ronaldo earns around €12 million per season before tax – up to €10.5 million net under the current Spanish tax regime. Yet, with the ‘Beckham Law’ now defunct for new contracts Madrid may need to double its gross outlay to keep Roanldo’s take-home pay on an even keel.
The eye-watering numbers put into perspective unrealistic media speculation about a potential transfer back to to Old Trafford, despite the “pact” the player reportedly made with Sir Alex Ferguson over a return to Manchester should he ever leave Real.
“I won’t talk about my contract renewal any more, it’s not important,” adds Ronaldo, who has scored 170 goals in 169 appearances for Los Merengues.
“The most important thing is winning our next matches. We are contesting La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League and it’s important that we all stick together.
“Right now I’m feeling more comfortable with the fans – not just at the Bernabéu, where I’ve always felt good, but outside too. They’ve shown me a lot of love. I want to pay them back in the best way possible, which is playing well, giving my all and helping Madrid to the top.”
Still, with Madrid 16 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, and José Mourinho seemingly on his way out of Real in the summer, upheaval is inevitable at Real. Should the Portuguese remain uncommitted come June, the Madrid club may yet face a dilemma amid the furor of a summer Presidential election.
After all, with just 12 months left on the player’s deal, the asset value may begin to depreciate if a deal remains on the table, unsigned. It is a scenario that might bring Manchester City to the negotiating table and test Ronaldo’s enduring “love” for everything Red.
In the meantime Old Trafford awaits Ronaldo’s return, and manager Sir Alex Ferguson will lionise a player whom he has always offered a sympathetic ear. United’s ability to massage a delicate ego more sensitively than the political bear-bit of Madrid has not been forgotten.
“We had the privilege of him for six years and he will go down as one of the best players this club has ever had,” said Ferguson recently.
“It will be fantastic to have him back. When he comes on to the pitch at Old Trafford he will get a great reception, quite rightly. He came here at 17 and developed himself into a great footballer. We are proud of the part we played in his career.”
Whether that pride will continue through a United victory over Madrid is yet to be determined. Certainly the Reds’ form has peaked at the right time, although with Real so far adrift in the league Mourinho may do well to prioritise European success.
After all, it is the Champions League that is most desired at Bernabéu – not least because Barcelona has secured the trophy three times since Los Merengues last claimed to be champions of Europe.
Victory, if it comes, first over United and in then in the tournament itself, may yet be Cristiano’s finest moment. United supporters will probably love him no less.
“I’m sad, when I don’t celebrate goals it’s because I’m not happy,” said Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring a brace in Real Madrid’s 3-0 defeat of Granada a week last Sunday. “It’s a professional thing. Real Madrid know why I’m not happy.”
This is a drama that has dominated the Spanish press for more than a week now, with the former Manchester United forward seemingly wanting more money, additional limelight, or his ego stroking depending on the source. Probably all three. Pundits across the country have lined up to offer their tuppence worth, while Madrid’s players have – to a man it seems – proclaimed that Ronaldo is far from suicidal.
Whatever the truth, there is no doubt the Portuguese is enjoying the attention; the man who “can’t walk past a mirror without checking himself,” as former team-mate Wayne Rooney put it this week.
“I’m sad, when I don’t celebrate goals it’s because I’m not happy,” said Ronaldo last Sunday.
“It’s a professional thing. Real Madrid know why I’m not happy. That I am feeling sad and have expressed this sadness has created a huge stir. I am accused of wanting more money, but one day it will be shown that this is not the case.
“At this point, I just want to guarantee to the Real Madrid fans that my motivation, dedication, commitment and desire to win all competitions will not be affected. I have too much respect for myself and for Real Madrid to ever give less to the club than all I am capable of.”
Not that United has been left out of the fun, with the Mirror reporting that Reds manager Sir Alex Ferguson has demanded the Glazers ‘bring Ronaldo home’ – whatever the astronomical cost. Adding to the intrigue, there is little secret that Ronaldo is in regular communication with both Ferguson and United’s players; a superstar whose dream in Madrid turned out to be less than fluffy clouds of eternal bliss, despite 151 goals in 150 appearances for Los Merengues. Ronaldo has found fortune in Madrid, but not the unsated adoration he apparently craves.
Yet, it takes not a cynic to dismiss any notion of Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford any time soon, even if the Portuguese forward’s unhappiness is not solely about leveraging his status as Madrid’s finest to secure a lucrative pay rise on a contract that runs to 2015.
Few, including leading Madrid-based sports daily Diario AS, believe the 27-year-old player is after anything but a new contract. But even in the highly unlikely event that all the stars aligned there is little possibility of United financing a deal for the world’s second best player. After all Ronaldo earns around €12 million per season before tax – up to €10.5 million net, according to some analysts, thanks to Spain’s formerly lax tax rules for super-rich imported footballers, which still apply to the player’s contract before renewal.
That prodigious salary works out at an income somewhere north of €200,000 per week – or an equivalent gross weekly salary in the UK far in excess of £250,000. Whatever the figure, it exceeds by some distance the new contract handed to Rooney in October 2010. All of that says nothing of Ronaldo’s €1 billion buy-out clause or, more realistically, of the €100 million fee Madrid will reportedly demand of any suitors.
In reality – as ever in football – it all comes down to money and ego. And here’s the rub, with Spain’s tax laws having changed any new contract signed by Ronaldo in Madrid will benefit not from the ‘Beckham Law,’ but a 52 per cent higher rate tax imposed by Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba’s Socialist Workers’ Party. Somebody will have to pay the difference, and Ronaldo doesn’t intend it to be him.
“He wants more money,” claimed Alfredo Relano, editor Madrid-based sports newspaper Diario AS, to underline the point.
“A while ago he was talking about a contract for life. But the price of a superstar has gone up after all the goals he has scored and after all Madrid have won.”
But there is no obvious remedy, if indeed it is a new contract Ronaldo is really seeking. After all, the new tax rate places Madrid under pressure to significantly raise the gross salary in any new deal. Moreover, should Madrid wish to bring Ronaldo’s salary in line with some of the best-paid players on the planet – Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, and Darío Conca for example – the gross sum will stretch even the Madrista’s deep pockets.
There seems little doubt Ronaldo’s ego demands not the money per se, but the status of being one of the world’s best paid players. How it must have hurt for his team-mates to campaign not for the Portuguese to be named European Footballer of the Year, but Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Yet, such is Ronaldo’s dive-esque need to create drama that the player may well yet find his va va voom in Madrid. He probably just needs Sir Alex’ arm around his broad shoulders, which some may say just goes to prove that the player should probably never have left Old Trafford no matter the ‘dream’.
What was that Sir Alex said about cows and fields? Ronaldo’s team-mate-cum-nemesis, Rooney, might have something to add to the debate.
Cristiano in Numbers
Ronaldo’s gross salary is €12,000,000 million per annum or €230,769 weekly, before bonuses and any commercial income. Under the Beckham Law and various tax avoidance schemes Ronaldo’s net salary is between €9,150,000 and €10,500,000 per annum, or €175,000 to €200,000 weekly. To put that in some kind of perspective, Ronaldo’s gross is £9,605,369 per annum, or just shy of £185,000 per week before bonuses.
Net of tax Ronaldo would earn an equivalent of £92,500 per week in England, but the Beckham Law ensures Ronaldo pays far less tax than a higher rate earner in the UK – an equivalent gross salary somewhere in excess of £250,000 per week.
Sporting CP: 2002/3 – 31 appearances, 5 goals
Manchester United: 2003–9 – 292 appearances, 118 goals
Real Madrid: 2009 – 149 appearances, 151 goals
Portugal: 2003 – 97 appearances, 37 goals
Look behind the headlines – you know, the spin-driven articles pronouncing yet another quarter of glorious revenue growth – and Manchester United’s Q2/H1 financial statement once again paints a gaudy picture of the Glazer family’s ownership. It is a picture of a still heavily indebted club spending its profits buying back debt at an inflated prices, while struggling to compete in an increasingly hostile market.
United’s is a story of unfettered waste – millions lost on financing costs, interest and debt repayments; money that could otherwise have been spent in the transfer market, or on reducing ticket prices. It is an account of a club sprinting to stand still; an institution squeezing every last dime out of the market simply to keep the wolves at bay.
The good, the only news United releases and far too many media outlets lap up without question, is that revenues continue to rise – up to £175 million for the past six months, from £156.5 million a year ago – driven largely by increasing in media and commercial income, including the new training kit deal with DHL.
Elsewhere the picture is far from rosy. Operating costs rose to £110 million for the six months, from £96.9 million, as the club struggles to keep wages under control despite multiple summer departures. Wages increased by 17.3 per cent year-on-year, to £38 million during the final quarter of 2011.
Then there is the huge reduction in available cash, down from £150.6 million to £50.9 million, after a net £47 million spend on transfers last summer and further bond buy back.
Indeed, United has now spent more than £90 million on buying back bond debt since launching the £500 million notes in January 2010. That’s the infamous ‘Ronaldo Money’ and more. Season ticket sales this summer will bolster Old Trafford’s coffers, but history says that income may well be used to buy back bonds on the market.
The absurdity of the Glazers’ financial engineering is only truly understood when viewed in the full context of the Glazer family’s time in charge. Bought with debt, the family first loaded millions on to the clubs accounts, only to swap bank debt for – significantly more expensive – bonds in 2010. Now the family is embarking on a campaign to reduce bond debt, buying them back at a premium over the issue price using cash in the club’s bank account.
“Manchester United revenues continue to grow strongly although costs are increasing just as quickly so pretty much negating that growth,” said the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust.
“However the key figures of interest to supporters show the Glazers have now spent every penny of the money received from the sale of Ronaldo, and more. That’s now £92.8 million spent on buying back their own bond debt that they loaded onto our club. So statements at the time that all of the Ronaldo money would be made available for reinvestment were clearly just spin.
“Since the sale of Ronaldo net transfers have totalled just £90 million while they have taken out of the club £225 million to cover their debt payments and interest. What could the club have done with that extra £225m? Cheaper tickets for loyal fans, investing massively in the squad and stadium, developing and retaining the best youth players, competing on an equal basis with the very best teams in Europe. This is the true cost to Manchester United of the Glazers ownership.”
Yet, anger among the United fan base has waned, with too many happy to bury their collective heads in the sand and deny that any of the fundamentals underpinning United are in ill health. After all, Sir Alex Ferguson continues to work miracles even with his hands firmly tied behind his back. Almost inconceivably, United is still in the Premier League title race despite Manchester City’s vast sovereign wealth.
There is no talk about the ‘Ronaldo Money’ now of course – not with it having been spent largely on debt buy-back. Meanwhile, the new signings offer varying degrees of Sir Alex’ favourite quality: value.
But fans should be angry about the close to £500 million squandered by the Glazer regime since 2005, let alone the two hundred million since Cristiano Ronaldo was sold to Real Madrid in summer 2009.
Indeed, buried inside Old Trafford’s second quarter report, under the headline “Further development of the playing squad,” is the telling line: “New contract signed with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes re-joins the playing staff.” Much as those two legends remain a joy to watch, how Sir Alex must look with envious eyes at the midfield riches across town.
Yet, there is little sense in which United is still competing, as MUST might put it, on a equal basis with the continent’s finest. Financial Fair Play is yet to fully bite, but few expect the Reds to play at the top of the market come the summer. Indeed, word on the street suggests quite the opposite, especially with the Glazers’ long mooted IPO on permanent hiatus.
Moreover, with United out of the Champions League, and knocked out early in both FA and Carling Cups, headline revenue growth is likely to stall. Football remains a lumpy business no matter the club’s urgent efforts to drive income away from the staple of playing matches and selling television rights. United may lose, or rather, not profit, to the tune of £3 million per round in prize money alone from competing in the Europa League. Extra games are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
There is little cushion now either, with the stockpile of cash gained from Ronaldo’s sale and AON’s pre-payment on a four year shirt sponsorship deal, back to historical levels. This alone may indicate Ferguson’s priorities in the coming summer – a break in which ‘value’ is unlikely to be seen and Ronaldo may well star at Euro 2012.
Valencia’s Las Fallas ‘torch’ festival ended Thursday with the ritual bonfire, la cremà, of giant papier maché statues. For those familiar with Spain, the figures are common at Easter, although Valencia’s festival is an ancient pagan event. This year’s ‘participants’ included a giant Cristiano Ronaldo, complete with mirror.
Got Ronaldo spot on though…
Manchester United confirmed last night what many fans have suspected – money the club made from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid is earmarked for debt. Buried within the club’s Prospectus, promoting the Glazer family’s £500 million debt swap, is the revelation that £70 million of United’s cash will be set aside for debt repayment.
United has £116.6 million in available cash, says the Prospectus, which is used for ongoing operations, tax, interest and repayments on the club’s £500 million senior loan. But in refinancing, the club intends the release £70 million – the bulk of the Ronaldo cash – to Red Football Joint Venture Limited, United’s parent company.
Reading between the lines, £70 million will pay down some of the Glazers’ Payment in Kind (PIK) debt, which is attracting 14.25 per cent annual interest. A further £75 million is being borrowed as an ongoing credit facility – essentially to pay interest on United’s loans, which will grow substantially as a result of the bond issue.
The next time the Glazers says there’s money for transfers – ask where its from. Because the only available source will be debt.
Cristiano Ronaldo believes that compatriot Nani is the heir to his Old Trafford throne and has backed the United winger to become one of the world’s best in the coming years. Nani, who signed for United from Ronaldo’s old club Sporting Lisbon in an £17 million deal two years ago, started the games against Chelsea, Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Arsenal, Besiktas and Wolverhampton Wanderers this season.
“I’ve seen that Nani is playing much more than he was last season when I was there. That’s good for him and he will benefit from that,” said Ronaldo, who has scored in each of Real Madrid’s games this season.
“Now he has more opportunities to play, he will be able to show the fans just how a great player he is.
“We still speak regularly on the phone. And it’s good to see United’s fans are starting to appreciate him more and have been happy with his form up until now.
“Nani is an excellent player. There’s a lot more to come from him and I’m sure that in a few years he will be amongst the best players in the world,” he told The Mirror.
The former United winger has also admitted to being an armchair red, despite his £80 million move to Spanish giants Real Madrid this summer.
“Every time I can I try to watch United’s games on television. I still like to know what’s happening at Old Trafford. And despite now being at Real, I’m always happy when I know when United have won.”
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.
Cristiano Ronaldo will finally move to Real Madrid after Manchester United’s board accepted a phenomenal £80 million bid for the player today. The offer from Madrid, which United claim is unconditional, will be the second time the Spanish side have set the world-record for a transfer fee this summer after Kaká moved to Santiago Bernabeau for £59 million earlier this week.
In a statement Manchester United said that they had accepted the offer at “Cristiano’s request” because the player had “again expressed his desire to leave, and after discussion with the player’s representatives, United have agreed to give Real Madrid permission to talk to the player. Matters are expected to be concluded by 30 June.”
Real Madrid confirmed only that they are trying to buy the rights to Ronaldo and that they “hope to reach an agreement with the player in the next few days.”
United finally accepted the bid for Ronaldo today after fighting off Madrid’s aggressive advances for the player over the past three years, and in particular the previous 12 months. So angry were Sir Alex Ferguson and the Manchester United board that they complained to FIFA about an illegal approach by the Spanish side last summer. Ferguson went so far as to say he wouldn’t “sell Madrid a virus,” let alone Ronaldo.
Clearly the situation has changed this summer, enabling Madrid to pounce and bring Ronaldo to the Spanish capital. The player, who has repeatedly said that he wants to stay at Old Trafford in recent weeks, has kept his council better than last summer, inflaming the club’s hierachy less than in the past. But Ronaldo’s much stated “dream” that that he wants to play in Spain, and specifically with Real Madrid, has apparently never gone away. This much is clear if he has asked for the transfer, as is hinted at in United’s statement.
The change in Presidency at Real Madrid has also made a huge difference and enabled the transfer to go ahead. Not only is new Madrid President Florentino Peréz an operator at the highest level but he has a strong relationship with Manchester United’s Managing Director David Gill, with the pair having encountered each other frequently in work for UEFA. Peréz’ predecessor Ramon Calederon was far less subtle, infuriating Manchester United’s board and manager along the way with his open courting of Ronaldo, even after the club had said no time and again. Peréz’ re-election has also enabled Madrid to open a line of credit with the banks, which will be used to finance the deals for Kaká and Ronaldo.
Ferguson – in hindsight – have also been preparing for life without Ronaldo. The manager has adapted the team’s tactics over the past year. United have moved from a 4-3-3 in 2007-8 to something closer to a 4-2-3-1 over the past season, with Ronaldo (save for a few games towards the end of the campaign when he played centrally) used in a more conventional wide-right role. In part this was to accommodate Dimitar Berbatov as the team’s attacking pivot. As a consequence United can plan for next season without altering their tactics. Berbatov will be shadowed by Wayne Rooney – a move that will surely liberate the player to perform at the level he has with England this season – with Antonio Valencia due to come into the side on the right wing. Nani, Zoran Tosic, Ji-Sung Park and potentially a big name new summer signing will fight it out for the other wide spot.
Whatever Ferguson decides to do with his £80 million plus summer transfer fund, he will need to re-inject some pace and verve into the attacking unit without Ronaldo and – almost certainly – Carlos Tevez. Names such as the aforementioned Valencia alongside Franc Ribéry and the phenomenally talented Karim Benzema will surely be front of Sir Alex’.
The fans meanwhile will mourn the loss of Ronaldo’s incredible contribution to the team but perhaps not the man. While many consider Barcelona’s Lionel Messi to be the more technically gifted player, there has rarely been a footballer with more destructive talents than Ronaldo. His pace, even when running with the ball, shooting from distance, positional play that enable him to score so many goals from a wide start, and ability in the air mark him out as irreplaceable.
However, few fans will shed a tear for Ronaldo, the man, after he leaves Old Trafford for the last time. His histrionics on the field, ego within the dressing room and open courting of personal publicity off the pitch have often bordered on the unacceptable. After all United, even following multi-million pound takeovers and massive commercialisation, are still a fans’ club. And Ronaldo has little in common with the fans.