Sir Alex Ferguson voiced some confusion yesterday about precisely how much Manchester United paid out for Nemanja Vidic in a deal which saw him make his Manchester United debut five years ago this weekend.
“Pounds?” he replied with the figure of £7m was put to him. “Are you sure? I don't think so. I think euros maybe. I think it was euros actually.”
The £7m sum has always been considered accurate, though the value of the player to United has never been so clear as now.
United head into the weekend with Alex MacLeish, who brings his Birmingham City side to Old Trafford, suggesting that they can take their unbeaten first half of the season right through to May, and Vidic offers evidence of the need to persist and have patience with defenders who need time to acclimatise.
As the manager recalled yesterday, the first six months after his arrival from Spartak Moscow were as rocky as were Patrice Evra's, who arrived at the same time from Monaco.
Ferguson would not go so far as to agree that Vidic represents the best value he has found for a defender.
But he agreed that United's ascendancy — ahead of Manchester City on goal difference with two games in hand was “down to the back four” and the Serbian's display against Peter Crouch at White Hart Lane typified his contribution to that unbeaten run.
“Nemanja is a warrior,” Ferguson reflected. “He's a natural defender and he loves defending — that's the great thing about him.
“There have been a few defenders like him over the years and, when the ball comes into the penalty box, you know that the one person who wants to get it clear will be Nemanja, as he did last Sunday. He was so powerful and positive in everything he went for.”
Only three clubs in the entire Premier and football leagues have conceded fewer than United's seven at home.
Though, Ferguson may need to call on Fabio da Silva, whose twin Rafael was handed a one-match ban, fined £8,000 and warned as to his future conduct over his dismissal at Spurs, McLeish's deference for his old boss was understandable.
“I think it's ominous, the fact that they've got to this stage unbeaten and their form is probably gathering momentum,” he said. “Of course they can [go through the season unbeaten.]”
Ferguson doesn't welcome questions on this subject, simply maintaining that his side will lose, which keeps the pressure off. Ferguson is putting some of his past disputes behind him. Ruud van Nistelrooy, who left Old Trafford under a cloud in 2006 and has never been mourned by the United manager, revealed in the Dutch Voetball magazine yesterday, that he had texted Ferguson in an attempt to make his peace and found him receptive.
“I had been thinking about it for a while and talking it through with my wife,” the 34-year-old said. “She suggested I sent Ferguson a text message to see if he was willing to talk so I sent him a message asking if I could call and he replied to say OK call me at this date and time.
“I rang him and he answered and said: 'OK, go ahead.' I said I wanted to apologise for what had happened and he said 'OK, I appreciate that, when we meet again it will be OK.'”
The United supremo is surprised by Aston Villa's £24m valuation of Darren Bent.
“It's hard to work the market out nowadays,” he said.
“You have a club like Villa, who are in a precarious position, trying to protect themselves and they have gone for broke by signing Bent. Gerard [Houllier] is trying to get someone who can open the door in terms of regular goalscoring and get them away from the bottom of the league.
“The thought process is there, but the market? You will never understand it nowadays.”
Ferguson may not remember the price of some of his players but he knows it was not laid out in panic.