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United's stars shine for their Ulster fans

By Lesley-Anne Henry

They had been hoping to see Ronaldo - and were initially disappointed that the brilliant Portuguese winger hadn't made it to Belfast.

But despite the absence of the 22-year old Portuguese pin-up and other major Manchester United stars such as Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes, the bumper Oval crowd had plenty of world class footballers to admire during last night's glamour friendly against Glentoran.

United may have split their squad in two in order to honour their commitments to both the Glens and Scottish club Dunfermline, but the Premiership champions still called on players which cost the Old Trafford club a staggering £100m-plus in the transfer market. Indeed, the team that took to the field last night was probably the most expensively-assembled side ever to play in Northern Ireland.

England international Rio Ferdinand is the world's most expensive defender, weighing in at a staggering £31m.

And midfielder Michael Carrick, also an England regular, commanded a fee of around £18m when he joined the club from Tottenham last year.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who missed last night's games because he was moving house, has never been afraid to spend big money on players.

The likes of Ferdinand and Carrick are tried and tested, but Fergie also shelled out £35m for exciting youngsters Nani and Anderson this summer.

Defenders Namanja Vidic - who has become a big favourite with United fans - and Patrice Evra commanded a combined fee of £12.5m two years ago, and all those big-name players were there to delight the crowd.

Ronaldo, who was last in Belfast for a World Cup qualifier with Portugal nearly two years ago, missed last night's encounter because of injury, while Argentinian superstar Carlos Tevez stayed behind in Manchester to complete his controversial, complicated loan transfer from West Ham.

Sir Alex said the game was a thank-you to the thousands of Ulster-based Manchester United fans who have given the club such staunch support for half a century, and of course a tribute to the Glens who were celebrating their 125th anniversary.

Glaswegian Ferguson has close family ties to the east Belfast club; after all, his father - also called Alex - played for them in the post-War years. And among the part-time Glentoran squad was a road worker, sales rep and a quantity surveyor.

Glens boss Alan McDonald said it was a "very exciting" game. " Our fans are over the moon with the players we got here. I forget how much they are worth but its in the region of about £150m - I wish I had that sort of money to spend," he said.

Glentoran director, Belfast Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers, said the night would go down among the best in the club's history.

Belfast Telegraph


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