It was, as you said, strange. When you consider that 80,000 fans packed the Bernabeu last week to watch Cristiano Ronaldo’s unveiling at Real Madrid, this was about as low-key as it gets. Almost the first thing Ferguson said was that there would be no more spending this summer – that he was happy with Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan – which led you to wonder why, having sold Ronaldo for £80 million, United would restrict their summer spending to just £20 million. He said it was a “difficult” summer in the transfer market, presumably with the way the market has been inflated (wage-wise as well as fee-wise) by Real and Manchester City.
Do you believe Ferguson when he says that his spending is over?
Of course not. By his own admission, he likes to tell porkies in press conferences. But there is a large element of truth when he says that, because of the way the transfer market has been inflated, much of the Ronaldo money will remain unspent. United have already been in contact with Gremio over a deal for Douglas Costa, the latest “new Ronaldinho”, and are looking at a few other Brazilian and Italian teenagers, but I don’t think they’ll be spending big, big money. Ferguson cited the example of Karim Benzema. He wanted to sign Benzema, but he said Lyons’ valuation was too high and that he wouldn’t pay it. He said United were being “sensible”, although that moral judgement must have been easier once they realised that Benzema preferred to join Madrid.
Two other points. Ferguson insisted it was his decision not to spend heavily – nothing to do with the huge debts incurred by the club’s American owners. And when he says that fees for other players have gone crazy - £35 million-plus for Benzema and Bayern Munich’s demand for £60 million for Franck Ribery – it should be pointed out that those figures have been set against a benchmark of United’s £80 million for Ronaldo.
So what about Michael Owen? Did it seem odd to see him in a Manchester United shirt?
We’ve had a bit more time to get used to the idea of him as a United player now. He seemed comfortable in his surroundings, but he was quite chippy, particularly with regard to his injury record. He is right to point out that he missed relatively few games for Newcastle United over the past two seasons – he said that such talk about his “constant” injury problems irritates him – but the danger in talking up his fitness over that time is, of course, that people ask why the goals dried up.
Do you think the Owen transfer will work out?
Yes, I do. Ferguson said very pointedly that Owen “will score goals for Manchester United” and I’m certain he will. I just wonder whether it’s enough, having lost Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, to replace them with Owen, Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan. In goalscoring terms, it puts a lot of pressure on Owen, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov because Ronaldo scored such a huge portion of United’s goals over the past three seasons.
Did Ronaldo’s name crop up?
Of course. Ferguson was again very kind in the way he spoke about him. There is still something strange about that to me, given how much umbrage he has taken in the past with players who have wanted to leave United, whether it was Gabriel Heinze, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Paul Ince or Gordon Strachan. He was less gushing about Tevez, suggesting that a deal to join Manchester City had been done behind United’s back several months ago. For the record, I don’t believe that is the case.
Any other business?
Gabriel Obertan and Antonio Valencia attracted a combined total of two questions – and only then after questions were demanded by a member of United’s communications staff. Interestingly, Ferguson said that Owen would take over the No 7 shirt from Ronaldo. He said so with a laugh, so don’t rush out and buy your “Owen 7” shirt just yet, United fans ... .