ALEX FERGUSON’S low opinion of “moral-less” Real Madrid is likely to sink still further after coach Bernd Schuster confirmed yesterday Cristiano Ronaldo is his club’s number one summer transfer target.
United came out with all guns blazing last night, threatening to report Real Madrid to FIFA over their public pursuit of the Portugal star.
The Premier League and European champions issued a statement describing their “growing irritation” at continuing comments seemingly emerging from the Spanish club concerning their interest in Ronaldo.
The statement said: “The facts are: the player is on a long-term contract and his registration is held by Manchester United; The player is not for sale. The club will have no alternative but to report Real Madrid to the world governing body, FIFA, if it continues to behave in this totally unacceptable fashion. These public attempts to unsettle the player are completely against the regulations and the club will not tolerate them any longer.
“In addition, the club is certain that they are a distraction for the Portuguese national squad as they prepare for the European Championships. No one should be in any doubt that Manchester United will do everything in its power to keep its best players.”
Ferguson already voiced his dislike of Madrid touting for Ronaldo, pointing out their major rivals, Barcelona, refrain from public expressions of admiration for other clubs’ players.
That tactic has worked for Barca in securing United’s Spanish-born defender Gerard Pique on a four-year contract yesterday. But with any softly-softly approach for Ronaldo almost certain to meet with failure, Real have come out all guns blazing.
And Ferguson is sure to be infuriated by Schuster referring to the 23-year-old in a manner that would suggest the signing has virtually been completed.
“There are other players we have been looking at but everything has slowed down a little due to all this Cristiano Ronaldo business, seeing as he is the big priority for the club,” said Schuster.
“The English way has been a perfect education for a player with such exceptional individual talent.
“There he has learned to enjoy his football as a complete professional. This means we would get a Cristiano who would arrive here with his lessons learned.”
Given such a statement, Ferguson is probably glad he is due to embark on his annual summer holiday next week, thus avoiding what is sure to be a regular stream of stories linking Ronaldo with a move to Madrid.
For his part, the United boss is adamant Ronaldo neither wants to, nor will be, leaving Old Trafford this summer, claiming last week the acid test of the relationship between player and club will not be faced for another two years. By that time, Ferguson expects his team to have added at least one more European Cup to a tally they took to three with their penalty shoot-out win over Chelsea in Moscow last week.
In addition, they could have overtaken Liverpool’s record of 18 English titles; United moving to within one with their latest success, the 10th of Ferguson’s 23-year stint as boss.
Not that Real are likely to be dissuaded by history.
Although they, like United, have won back-to-back titles, European success has remained frustratingly out of reach since 2002 for the nine-time winners, a record Schuster is determined to put right, with Ronaldo leading the charge.
“Cristiano would help us in a lot of ways, without a doubt, but we can’t stop with just him,” he explained. “He’ll be expensive and we’ll have to pay a lot of money, but we need more players because he won’t be enough.
“For a few months now we have had a plan and we know what we want, but now Alexander Hleb has been added to that plan. We didn’t know he would be able to leave Arsenal, but now it seems he will.
“In this Madrid side, the kid (Ronaldo) wouldn’t create any problems,” he said. “For the fans this signing would be an amazing explosion similar to what happened when Beckham arrived. This isn’t England, and that change will affect him. We have to be clever about this and sort this problem out for the kid.”
Meanwhile Pique described his return to Barcelona from Manchester United as a “dream come true”. The 21-year-old rejoined the Catalan giants after agreeing a four-year deal with the club he left in 2004 at the age of 17 to join United.
“When I left, I thought it would be very difficult to come back and now my dream has come true.”
Pique arrives at the Nou Camp as a European champion after his club won the Champions League last week, and the young Catalan is keen to repeat his success with the club he supported since childhood: “With Manchester United we won the Champions League, which is an unforgettable experience and one which I would like to repeat in a Barca shirt.”
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