Alex Ferguson insisted yesterday that Manchester United's American owners have provided a sizeable war chest for new signings, but he will not be using it because the transfer market offers "no value".
In a frank discussion about the club's mounting debts, widely reported to be in the region of £700m, the United manager did concede, though, that his failure to replace Cristiano Ronaldo has left United one injury away from serious problems in the forward positions.
Supporters have expressed concern that the Glazer family's attempts to restructure the club's spiralling debts have tied Ferguson's hands in respect of player recruitment, a suggestion emphatically denied by the Scot.
Ferguson claimed that the £80m banked from the sale of Ronaldo to Real Madrid is at his disposal but that he would not waste it by paying inflated prices. "I don't have any concerns about the financial situation," Ferguson said. "It is absolutely no issue. There is debt but it has never interrupted my plans for the team. I could easily have spent the Ronaldo money but I couldn't see any value in the market. I can spend the money. Believe me, there is no impact."
United have been linked in recent months with players such as Karim Benzema, who moved for £35m from Lyons to Real Madrid in the summer, Sergio Agüero at Atlético Madrid, Franck Ribéry, of Bayern Munich, and David Villa at Valencia.
Yet with the transfer market inflated, in no small part by United's sale of Ronaldo and the actions of Manchester City, Ferguson will not pay what he considers to be unreasonable fees.
"Fans' concerns are down to the fact that I haven't moved in the transfer market," he said. "But that's nothing to do with the Glazers or with David Gill (the chief executive), it's simply because I am not going to pay £50m for a striker who is not worth it."
Ferguson's position has one potentially damaging consequence for the Premier League champions. The squad numbers vacated by Ronaldo and Carlos Tévez last summer have been filled by Michael Owen, whom Ferguson has trusted to start only four league games this season, and Mame Biram Diouf, the Senegal forward who could experience his first taste of English football away to Birmingham City this evening.
Given Wayne Rooney's importance and lack of depth beneath him, Ferguson was asked if an injury to the England forward would leave United as exposed as appears to be the case.
"Yes, that is a possibility," Ferguson said. "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. But we're not too bad. And everyone is missing the point because the most important thing for this club is to get our centre backs fit again."
As far as that is concerned, Wes Brown and Jonny Evans are available to start today, but Rio Ferdinand is two weeks away from full training and Nemanja Vidic, who pulled out of the FA Cup third-round defeat by Leeds United on Sunday after suffering a nerve problem in a leg during the warm-up, will be out for 10 days.
The most intriguing piece of team selection today could revolve around Diouf, who signed from Molde of Norway in May but received work-permit clearance only this month. "We're looking to involve him and I think it's a good time to do it," Ferguson said.
© The Times, London