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  1. #1
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    Apr 2009


    Question Man United to Pay a Price for Alex Ferguson's Puzzling Transfer Policy

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    Credit Sir Alex Ferguson, if you wish, for refusing to become a player in an increasingly insane transfer market but, as Manchester United's season stutters into the new year, the question has to be asked whether his refusal to spend his employers' money will come back to bite him.

    United have announced an annual profit of 48.2m, an impressive figure but one wholly inflated by the inclusion of the 80m sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid and the fact that Ferguson has stubbornly refused to spend much of that windfall on a replacement.

    Karim Benzema, who eventually moved for 35m from Lyon to Real Madrid in the summer, Sergio Aguero at Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery and David Villa at Valencia are all players linked with Ferguson and United - and all players who, reading between the lines of what the manager is saying, he has ruled out because of the vast sums being demanded for them.

    "Fans' concerns are down to the fact that I haven't moved in the transfer market," said Ferguson on Friday, three days before the Glazer family announced the financial figures. "But that's nothing to do with the Glazers or with (chief executive) David Gill, it's simply because I am not going to pay 50m for a striker who is not worth it."

    Which begs the simple question: Why not?

    Ferguson's position is as illogical as it is stubborn. Is this Ferguson's own personal money he is protecting? No, of course not. Will Ferguson who, one assumes, is entering the last handful of seasons of his illustrious career, be remembered for his fiscal caution or for winning trophies? The latter is clearly the answer and his refusal to spend that money damages his chance of collecting more honours.

    Of course the aforementioned players are not worth 50m but then Ronaldo was not worth 80m. Does Ferguson expect us to believe that selling Ronaldo and replacing him with Benzema and 45m cash would not be perceived as good business?

    Admirable as his position may be, Ferguson should be more acutely aware than anyone that the current transfer market has been inflated beyond all belief by Manchester City and their ridiculous valuation of players such as Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure. If he wants to compete with the likes of his "noisy neighbours" then he will have to pay those sort of prices because the alternative is to leave his eventual successor with a mediocre Premiership squad.

    Naturally, Ferguson's position has fuelled speculation that he is being denied funds. Are his hands being tied by owners who, today's figures reported, paid 41.9m in interest last year on the 509.5m loan that was used to purchase the club? The Glazers' plans to raise 500m in bonds are addressing the long-term financial stability of the club but, as long as Ferguson keeps their cheque book in his pocket, fans will assume the worst.

    And what is the worst? Ferguson himself admitted on Friday that injury to Wayne Rooney, who has single-handedly been carrying United's attack for weeks if not months, could amount to disaster.

    "Yes, that is a possibility," said Ferguson. "It's true that we don't have great options, if Rooney were to get injured, in the sense that we don't have top quality like Ronaldo, who could play anywhere, of course. But, still, we're not too bad. And I think everyone is missing the point, anyway, because the most important thing for this club is to get our centre-backs fit again. That is without a doubt."

    Ferguson is missing the point. United have dropped many league points this season - the latest in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Birmingham - with performances that were crying out for an injection of Ronaldo's genius. Time and time again over the past two or three seasons, the Portuguese winger rescued his team from difficult situations. Now, there is nobody to provide that spark of quality in the final third.

    Rooney is not injured presently but the current uncertainty surrounding the status of Dimitar Berbatov, who was close to having an exploratory operation on a knee recently, missed the Birmingham draw and is clearly well below full match fitness, does leave United in a serious bind.

    It also begs the question as to what exactly is happening with Michael Owen? Ferguson never wastes a chance to talk up the former England forward's ability and recovery from injury this season and he also never wastes an opportunity to leave him on the bench. Owen has started four league games this season and would appear, from Ferguson's tone, to have fallen behind newcomer Mame Biram Diouf in the manager's plans.

    Ferguson cannot, and will not, be expected to splash out in the January transfer window, bearing in mind the lack of quality usually available at mid-season, but the veteran manager has had since the summer to find an adequate replacement for Ronaldo and, if we take his words at face value, the main reason for that is his refusal to pay what he considers inflated sums.

    If Ferguson carries that attitude into the summer's transfer market, United may be facing a frustrating, and unproductive, period in their history.

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