Pressure mounts on Ferguson to splash out
THE calls are growing for Alex Ferguson to put the Glazers' money, or at least a portion of that which they have borrowed, where his mouth is.
Two independent Manchester United supporters' groups have arranged an open meeting before this afternoon's Premier League match against Burnley at Old Trafford to voice concerns about a lack of investment in the team.
Ferguson has repeatedly claimed since the £80m sale of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer that money is there to strengthen the squad, although he has been reticent when it comes to spending it.
Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan and Michael Owen were his only signings last summer and the manager is adamant that there is no need to enter the transfer market this month.
Ferguson has claimed that it is impossible to complete good-value deals as a result of the inflationary pressure caused by Real Madrid and Manchester City -- an argument that tells only half the story. The biggest names -- Franck Ribery, Sergio Aguero and David Villa -- may be overvalued as a consequence of the Ronaldo deal and the suspicion that Real are waiting in the wings, but it does not say much for United's scouting network if they cannot give Ferguson alternatives.
Ferguson has rarely shied away from splashing out -- he is responsible for three of the top-five transfer fees in British history -- and the suspicion will remain that the funds are not available until more signings are made.
The Scot is also not usually one to hide behind the common fallacy that good players are not available in January, with two of his best recent signings arriving in this window.
Ferguson signed Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra within a week in January 2006, players who contributed more than most to United's overhauling of Chelsea in the subsequent seasons. A similarly dramatic intervention may be needed to prevent Chelsea leaving United behind.
Edwin van der Sar will make his first appearance since November against Burnley, but it could merely be the start of a long farewell.
The 39-year-old is out of contract in the summer and will soon announce his plans for the future, with his wife's brain haemorrhage last month increasing the likelihood he will retire. Ben Foster is suffering a crisis of confidence and Tomasz Kuszczak has never been viewed as a genuine No 1.
Ferguson has looked at Sebastien Frey of Fiorentina and Igor Akinfeev of CSKA Moscow, but Sergio Romero may be a better long-term option. The 22-year-old has done enough at Alkmaar to put himself in contention to be Argentina's first-choice goalkeeper at the World Cup, after which his £5m valuation is likely to rocket.
United's need for a dominant presence has been clear since Barcelona passed them to death in last season's Champions League final, but Ferguson has trusted in what he has, not least because Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Anderson do not object to squad rotation.
The aura of invincibility exuded by Roy Keane is a thing of the past, however, because the former captain was never adequately replaced, so what better than to bring in a carbon copy of the Corkman's nemesis, Patrick Vieira?
Moussa Sissoko, the 20-year-old box-to-box midfield player, has ushered Vieira towards the international wilderness with France and although Toulouse felt able to reject a £12m offer from Tottenham Hotspur last summer, double that fee from United would surely be too much for them to resist.
If Ferguson thought that replacing Ronaldo gave him a headache then the United manager will soon face an even bigger problem, because not even Ryan Giggs can go on for ever.
Angel Di Maria is closer to Ronaldo than Giggs in that he possesses electric pace and can operate on either flank, and the Argentinian may make a bigger impact than Valencia.
The 21-year-old would not come cheap, but Benfica can look forward to a huge profit on the £6m they paid Rosario Central three years ago.
Ferguson would have more money to play with had he not spent £30.75m on Dimitar Berbatov 18 months ago, a triumph for Daniel Levy, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman.
Berbatov's contribution has been so limited that he needs to be supplemented, if not replaced, as Ferguson implicitly acknowledged last summer by offering Lyons £30m for Karim Benzema.
United may attempt to sign Benzema from Real in the summer as part of the deal that is likely to take Vidic to the Bernabeu, but Nilmar would be a cheaper option. The 25-year-old Brazilian made little impact in his first spell in Europe with Lyons, but has enjoyed a new lease of life since his £10m signing for Villarreal last summer and is expected to be one of the stars of the World Cup. (© The Times, London).
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