Ronaldo outburst leaves Ferguson with work to do

July 9, 2006

Sir Alex Ferguson will head to South Africa this week with Manchester United's rebuilding plans in chaos and his face still ringing from the slap Cristiano Ronaldo so publicly delivered in Stuttgart on Saturday night.

Just hours after Ferguson confidently predicted he would be able to ease the tensions created by Ronaldo's controversial exploits at the World Cup, the 21-year-old exited the tournament restating his desire to quit Old Trafford, scalding his manager and chief executive David Gill in the process.

'My agent will meet with the Manchester United chief executive (David Gill),' said Ronaldo. 'I've said in the past that my desire is to play in Spain.

'Will it be Real Madrid or Barcelona? They are two clubs I like and it will be one of them. For some time I haven't had any support from my chief executive or my coach (Sir Alex Ferguson). They should have come out in my defence but no-one did.

'I am calm, I know I have done a good job and I've grown a lot in this World Cup, from a physical point of view and a mental one. In the next few seasons I will be even better.'

While few United fans would condemn Ronaldo for his part in England's downfall, in outlining his desire to leave Old Trafford, the former Sporting Lisbon star has crossed the line of loyalty and acceptability.

Considering Rio Ferdinand was booed by his own supporters last summer just for failing to sign a contract extension, a negative reception for Ronaldo is now guaranteed at Old Trafford along with every other Premiership ground in the country.

For Ferguson, it represents a nightmare scenario.

Having thrown a protective arm around Ronaldo since he moved to England as a raw teenager in 2003, guiding him through the trauma induced by the death of his father last summer, plus the unfounded rape allegations which followed a couple of months later, Ferguson has seen his kindness rejected in the most forceful manner imaginable.

Not only that, after emerging periodically from Chelsea's slipstream over the past two seasons to declare his was a team in creation, Ferguson now knows one of its central components is almost certain to start the new campaign elsewhere.

For, with talks planned between Gill and Ronaldo's agent later this week, it is difficult to see how the winger can be persuaded to stay at Old Trafford despite Ferguson's previous optimism.

'Throughout my time as a manager you are confronted with hurdles,' Ferguson told the Mail on Sunday.

'There have been many that I have crossed in the past and there will be more I will cross in the future.'

However, on this occasion, peace between United and Ronaldo would appear to be a bridge too far.

The best hope is for Real Madrid and Barcelona to make a bid quickly, pocket the cash - possibly around £20million - and allow Ferguson as much time as possible to try to rescue what is turning into a disastrous summer.

For, not only has Ronaldo's departure to be sealed, so the last rites on Ruud van Nistelrooy's Red Devils career have still to be administered.

Talks Van Nistelrooy demanded a fortnight ago in the wake of Holland's World Cup elimination are believed to be imminent, possibly early this week as Ferguson is due to depart for South Africa on Wednesday, 24 hours before the remainder of his squad.

Given the massive falling out between Van Nistelrooy and his manager at the end of last season, it seems impossible to believe the Dutchman will stay either.

The loss of two key men is hardly the backdrop Ferguson would have chosen to start United's pre-season campaign, particularly as his efforts to bring in new recruits this summer have so far yielded no reward.

That is set to change, with West Brom goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak reportedly ready to join the Red Devils as Edwin van der Sar's understudy, while the much-touted transfer of Michael Carrick from Tottenham could also be sealed.

Those deals alone will not be enough to pacify a United support getting increasingly twitchy at the chances of their side competing with Chelsea, who have brought in Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko already this summer, with the prospect of a few more before the new campaign gets under way on August 19.