Ferguson to be rewarded with cash to strengthen United squad
The Manchester United chief executive, David Gill, yesterday reflected on what last summer's £50m had delivered for the club this season and promised the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, money to build yet again.
Ferguson spent the aftermath of Sunday's Premier League title triumph at Wigan describing the agonies of selecting a team from his strongest ever squad and he said yesterday that "all but a couple" of the 26 players he took to the JJB will be around for the foreseeable future. But Gill said the challenge of competing in "the best league in the world" made further reinforcements essential for the champions, who retained their title at the weekend. "If we want to continue to be at the top we have to make sure we look at the squad and improve it," he said. "Like any club you assess what's gone well, what has not gone so well and where you feel you can improve. We will certainly be in a position where, if we can improve it, we will. Alex will never allow us to rest on our laurels."
Gill's was a materially different tone from anything emanating out of Arsenal at the moment and Liverpool, another of the clubs with pretensions to compete with United, are so cash-strapped amid the boardroom civil war which shows no sign of a conclusion that Rafael Benitez must sell before buying, with £10m Gareth Barry his most ambitious target.
But United's dearth of strikers has been apparent at times in a season when Wayne Rooney dropped to a midfield role at times and though Ferguson is quick to enthuse, as he did again on Friday, about Louis Saha's ability to score from anywhere within shooting distance, his list of injuries makes a new front man the obvious target. There is a view within football that United are the club Dimitar Berbatov most yearns to play for and Ferguson has made no secret of his respect for the 27-year-old. "People don't realise how strong he is," he said a few months ago. "He is well-balanced and hard to shake off the ball."
Another striker whose name keeps being linked with United is Ajax's Klass Jan Huntelaar and it will also be interesting to see whether United test the resolve of Karim Benzema, who scored a superb goal for Lyons against United in the Champions League. How valid the club's £45m valuation is also remains to be seen.
United deny that they had an interest in the Porto right-back Jose Bosingwa, who joined Chelsea yesterday for £16.1m. But a player whose name is back in circulation is Miguel Veloso of Sporting Lisbon, the club who sold Anderson and Nani to Ferguson last summer. Suggestions in Portugal that Sporting are already seeking a replacement for Veloso may mean that United are interested, despite the spat between Ferguson's assistant Carlos Queiroz and the Sporting president last autumn over allegations of a tap-up.
The extraordinary instant impact made by those Ferguson lavished £50m on last year can only heighten the club's inclination to spend again. Cristiano Ronaldo's 41 goals saw him sweep the board at United's Player of the Year Award ceremony on Sunday night, but Carlos Tevez has been the revelation for many, scoring 19 goals after taking a few short months to gel with Rooney. Anderson is in the same category of fast adaptors and only a lack of opportunity has left Owen Hargreaves lower down the list.
Gill recognised this yesterday. "When you make big-money signings, it is fantastic when you see them come in and do so well," he said. "That shows what this club is about. All these big stars are integrated very quickly, made to feel very welcome and, therefore, they produce the goods on the pitch."
It is a sign of Ferguson's trust in his strongest squad that he believes virtually all of them will be at the club for years. "Out of those 26 players [at Wigan], there's only a couple who you say to yourself, 'They won't be here in two or three years' time,'" he said. "They will all be maturing by that time, so all the signs are good."
But his spending may be driven by those who now move on for more regular football elsewhere. Gerard Pique is in that number and may return to Barcelona, the club whose academy nurtured his talent. John O'Shea, Darren Fletcher and Mikaël Silvestre may also feel they want more than a fringe role.
The only slot Ferguson has admitted he needs cover for is left-back. Here, United have been linked with Racing Santander's Argentine full-back Ezequiel Garay, with Real Madrid and Juventus also keen on the 21-year-old, who is valued at £10m.
For now, Ferguson says he is ready for Moscow a week tomorrow – with the squad he has got. Last Friday he said league matters could not affect the course of events in Moscow. But the picture was different yesterday. "We're bouncing all the way there now," he said. "There's a good feel about this team."
Old Trafford targets: Star strikers head Ferguson's wishlist
The Bulgarian seems certain to leave Tottenham, but will not come cheap. Sir Alex Ferguson, among many others, is a fan of the striker and the 27-year-old is said to covet a move to Old Trafford. Has scored 46 goals in 100 games for Spurs.
*Klass Jan Huntelaar
The Netherlands and Ajax striker would be a cheaper option than Berbatov or Benzema. Has Champions League experience.
The explosive 20-year-old Lyons striker has just been named France's Player of the Year.
Versatile Sporting defender who was yesterday named in Portugal's Euro 2008 squad.
21-year-old Argentine defender who plays – and scores regularly – for Racing Santander.