Sir Alex Ferguson kept open the possibility of Manchester United signing the 21-year-old German World Cup star Mesut Ozil last night, after his side signalled their intent to win back the Premier League title from Chelsea with a convincing win in the Community Shield.
Ferguson offered an ambiguous explanation of why he was at Craven Cottage on Saturday to see Fulham's match with Werder Bremen, who are keen to sell their €16m (£13.2m) prodigy Ozil now, rather than lose his value when he falls out of contract in a year's time. Ferguson initially sought a diversion tactic when the issue of his presence at Fulham came up, joking, "Yes, I was there; there were photographs." But after saying that "a lot of clubs are interested in Ozil", he was asked whether United were one and then looked flustered. "I didn't say that. I don't know," he said – and left the room.
Although Ozil would rather stay in Bremen for another year, the German club are anxious to get their return on a player who, in contract, would be worth closer to £30m. The Premier League certainly looks the most likely destination because discussions between his representatives and both Real Madrid and Barcelona have failed to secure assurances that Ozil would get the regular first-team football he wants. The picture is complicated because the Germans were also handed a difficult Champions League qualifying round draw on Friday, which sees them play Sampdoria later this month. If they leave Ozil out and preserve his value, they risk a failure to qualify which would wipe out any income from selling him.
Echoing comments made last Friday, Ferguson said: "I trust the players I've got." But a midfield playmaker looks to be United's greatest need and given that, in the past month, Ferguson has made pronouncements about Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick which were contradicted by events just 24 hours later, it is difficult to assess his interest in Ozil.
In their 3-1 win over Chelsea, with goals from Antonio Valencia, Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov, United certainly suggested they have the strength to take the title back off Chelsea, as they did in storming to victory in 2006-07. While Carlo Ancelotti played a first XI, with Didier Drogba unexpectedly arriving from the bench in his first appearance since groin surgery, Ferguson used the afternoon as a practice match, exercising all six outfield substitutes.
Ancelotti put his own side's anaemic display down to the fact eight of them only arrived back for training on 26 July. "They played better than us and they deserved to win. We knew they could play a good game. They did and they deserve it. I think in two weeks, the players who came back will be 100 per cent," he said.
Drogba looked well off the pace and Ashley Cole was unrecognisable from the player Ancelotti says he will not allow to leave the club. Photographs of Cole stepping up to receive his losers' medal appeared to show him failing to shake hands with Fabio Capello, who has included him in the England squad for Wednesday's friendly with Hungary here. But sources close to the player said last night that Cole had stumbled while mounting the Wembley steps and did not recover by the time he reached Capello.
The after-effects of the World Cup were felt by the England contingent, with Cole, Wayne Rooney and John Terry among those roundly booed by their opposition fans. Ferguson – who had only five players returning from World Cup duty, to Chelsea's 11 – gave Rooney and Michael Owen 45 minutes each but saw Hernandez score his third goal in three United games, including the one he scored for old club Chivas against United two weeks ago.
The Mexican fired the ball in off his own head. "He'll not try it again!" Ferguson said. "It was a peculiar goal but he is always in the penalty box, he's quick to get there, that's the important thing about the lad and he's a really good finisher."
Nemanja Vidic, United's skipper, said they could take more trophies t