Ferguson scans the market for quality imports
Earlier this week, Alex Ferguson sat in Philadelphia after his side's rousing victory over Barcelona and reflected on a perfect summer. "This has been the best pre-season preparation we have ever had," he declared happily.
A few days on and the Scot's rosy outlook is tempered; there is work to be done and he has £40 million to do it with.
As Juan Sebastian Veron left Portugal yesterday bound for medical checks and a £15 million switch to Chelsea, Ferguson was left to consider a close season which has seen the depth of his squad enhanced but its quality arguably diminished.
For all the options provided by the likes of Eric Djemba-Djemba and David Bellion - the departures of Veron and David Beckham have left a gaping hole. Additions are needed, although the priority is not to replace Veron but overwhelmingly to strengthen the defence.
"When Chelsea first came in for Seba six or seven weeks ago, I initiated interest in Kleberson because I felt he was someone who could be an outstanding player in the future for Manchester United," said Ferguson, who expects the £5.5 million signing from Atletico Paranaense to be granted a work permit on Monday.
"We had a collection of central midfielders who made my life difficult as it was, so when an offer came in for Seba we decided to take it. In terms of what we save in salary and what we receive from Chelsea, it was too interesting an offer to turn down."
The need for a defender has increased since Gary Neville pulled a hamstring in the United States, with the injured Wes Brown already ruled out until Christmas and Laurent Blanc and David May released. Ajax are braced for a formal offer for Tunisian international Hatem Trabelsi, available for around £6 million, while Ferguson is also tempted by Barcelona's versatile defender Carlos Puyol. "He's important to Barcelona and we wouldn't even consider selling him for £15 million," insisted vice-president Sandro Rosell yesterday, suggesting the African full back is the more realistic option.
Regardless, Pini Zahavi, Mr Fixit in the Stamford Bridge deals and Ferguson's favoured agent, can presumably expect a call from the Scot instructing him to turn his attentions to the champions' recruitment drive.
"We do need a couple of players, definitely a defender, but also someone who can add something up front," said Ferguson, aware he lacks quality cover for Ruud van Nistelrooy and an attacking midfielder happy to play behind him in Europe, a role in which Paul Scholes has appeared uncomfortable.
United have spent only £11m so far this summer and only last month were willing to cough up just under £20 million on Ronaldinho. One money-spinning tour of the United States later, and with a further chunk to arrive for Veron, a big-money arrival is on the cards.West Ham's Jermain Defoe is one they would be interested in. Ferguson has long admired the England under-21 international, who would surely thrive alongside van Nistelrooy.
Elsewhere, the continuing dispute between the Spanish international Joaquin and his club, Real Betis, offers hope. The 21-year-old has three years to run on a contract he signed well before the 2002 World Cup, in which he excelled. His father is currently negotiating with the Betis president Manuel Ruiz de Lopera to glean a new deal, though talks have rather stuttered of late.
"I'd like to stay, but if they don't give me what I expect financially I will look elsewhere," said Joaquin. "A footballer's career is short and you need security for the future."
United would offer him that, though Ferguson has until August 31st to register players for European competition - with Champions League qualifying games to come, Chelsea and Newcastle's deadline is today - and will consider well before recruiting.
"Clubs have had their fingers burnt in the transfer market quite severely throughout Europe recently," said Ferguson. "There's one massive buyer - Chelsea - but the rest are trying to be sensible. Even so, we're very hopeful of bringing someone in."