Saturday, 4 June 2011

Decision time: Sir Alex Ferguson faces tough Manchester United call as rivals up ante for top English talent

John O'Shea and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain John O'Shea and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Sir Alex Ferguson fears Arsenal and Liverpool will force his hand over long-term targets Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jordan Henderson.

The Manchester United manager has asked to be kept informed about two of English football’s brightest prospects, but has higher priorities as he plans to overhaul his squad this summer.

His top targets include Ashley Young, Luka Modric, Wesley Sneijder and Jack Rodwell in what is expected to be his biggest spending spree since 2007.

He maintains an interest in Southampton winger Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sunderland midfielder Henderson but neither would be seen as being able to make the significant impact at United that Ferguson is looking for after Champions League final defeat to Barcelona last Saturday.

Arsene Wenger and Kenny Dalglish are aware of Ferguson’s interest and are trying to steal a march on the Premier League champions.


Wenger is ready to pay up to £10m, with add-ons, for Oxlade-Chamberlain – a player described as the new Theo Walcott – and Dalglish opened the bidding for Henderson this week, tabling a £13m offer for the England international.

United fear they could be backed into a corner if either Southampton or Sunderland decide to cash-in on their most saleable assets, when ideally they would rather wait before firming up what has so far been tentative interest.

Ferguson has more than £100m to spend in the transfer market this summer.

He will use £18m of that to secure goalkeeper David de Gea from Atletico Madrid.

Young will cost upwards of £15m from Aston Villa and United are understood to be close to securing a deal for the England winger.

Tottenham will demand £25m for Modric and will stick to their guns having already forced United to pay top-end prices for Michael Carrick in 2006 and Dimitar Berbatov two years later.

One or both of those players,  who cost £18.6m and £30.75m respectively, could yet be used as makeweights in any deal for Modric.

If successful in his pursuit of the Croatian international, it is debatable whether Ferguson would move for £30m-rated Sneijder as well – but he is determined to add more technical ability to his side after being chastened by defeat to Barcelona.

Rodwell, from Everton, remains his first choice combative midfield option – ahead of Henderson – at a price of around £15m.

Should United secure all their summer targets then it will be their busiest since signing Carlos Tevez, Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson after the 2007 title success.


As a rule, Ferguson prefers not to introduce too many players into his squad for fear of upsetting the balance too soon.

But with Paul Scholes, Edwin van der Sar and Gary Neville all retiring, as well as the expected exits of several fringe players, it will be a close-season of significant change at Old Trafford.

Loanees Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda are also due to return to the club, while members of the FA Youth Cup winning squad will push for more opportunities.

But Ferguson will also be loathe to pull out of the race for two players he has monitored for some time.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is understood to favour a move to Arsenal, following in the footsteps of another Southampton starlet, Walcott.

Ferguson missed out on him when he moved to the Emirates in 2006 and also failed to lure Gareth Bale from Southampton when the Welshman opted for Tottenham in 2007.

He won’t want to miss out for a third time, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Oxlade-Chamberlain wants to make the step up to the Premier League sooner rather than later.

Ferguson was understood to be incensed when he thought Arsenal had beaten United to Oxlade-Chamberlain during the January transfer window, which is a measure of how highly he rates the England Under-19 starlet.

There is also fierce competition between United and Arsenal when it comes to luring the best emerging talent from across the globe.

Wenger pipped Ferguson to Walcott and Aaron Ramsey in recent years, while United were successful in tempting Cristiano Ronaldo, the Da Silva twins and – most recently – Chris Smalling to Old Trafford.

Henderson is a different issue.

Although United have made Sunderland aware of their interest, at 20-years-old there will be questions over whether he can immediately establish himself at the Premier League champions.

Given the wealth of experience that has made way in the shape of Scholes, Neville, Hargreaves and Van der Sar this summer, Ferguson may not want to overload his squad with too many young heads.

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