Football: Internazionale pursue 'pounds 40m' Ronaldo deal

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As Ronaldo, his extravagantly gifted Brazilian, was being linked to a pounds 40m deal with Internazionale yesterday, Bobby Robson must have taken consolation from his own words earlier this season.

In reference to an attempt to buy Christian Karembeu from Sampdoria, the Barcelona manager said: "Transfers don't seem as simple as they used to be."

A few weeks after he said that, Ronaldo, still just 20, was linked with clubs from Manchester United and Arsenal to Lazio and Milan. Coincidentally, Ronaldo's advisers then renegotiated his six-month-old contract upwards to pounds 2.5m a year.

That is the context of yesterday's Italian newspaper reports of Ronaldo signing for Inter. These were denied by Massimo Moratti, president of Inter, but he did admit negotiations were proceeding and he hoped they would succeed. It then emerged that Parma were also interested.

This could be newspaper talk - the speculative nature of the Italian press makes our tabloids look like Hansard - or it could be part of a scheme to increase Ronaldo's wages yet again.

The tale could even have come from Moratti in an attempt to increase his popularity among the club's supporters, or it could have come from those elements at Barcelona who are anxious to unseat Robson. Of course, it could also be true.

What it underlines is that post-Bosman, players have become the masters of the football universe. Inter's reported offer consists of pounds 3m a year for Ronaldo (pounds 60,000 a week) until 2005 and a new world-record fee of pounds 20m-plus, which would includes buying out his current eight-year deal.

The Bosman ruling was supposed to stop these spiralling fees, but instead it merely means players sign ever-longer contracts ensuring their security, but not their loyalty.

Since Spanish football is closely followed in Brazil, and he is already with the largest club in the world, one wonders why Ronaldo would want to leave. This season has already brought success in the European Cup- Winners' Cup and Spanish Super Cup, with the Spanish Cup final to follow. Barcelona remain in contention for the Spanish title and - unlike Inter - are almost certain to be in next season's Champions' League.

It could be money, but he is already massively rewarded. Ronaldo, whose life began in poverty in Rio de Janeiro, was by all accounts a remarkably level-headed 19-year-old when Robson signed him for pounds 13m from PSV Eindhoven in the summer. One wonders if he is still quite so sensible - Robson has already had to discipline him once with extra training after he arrived back late from a trip to Brazil.

It could be a rift with Robson, but in that case it would be worth waiting to see whether he, or Louis van Gaal, will be in control next season. Of course, the more often Ronaldo and similar players move, the more money their "advisers" make. They are the other beneficiaries of the modern transfer system which not so much a merry-go-round as a gravy train.

Incidentally, in other reports, Fiorentina's Gabriel Batistuta was linked with Inter and Manchester United, Roberto Baggio was linked with Marseilles and United, Juninho was still linked with Atletico Madrid and United, Christian Vieri of Juventus was linked with Atletico, Paolo Maldini was again linked with Chelsea and Alessandro Del Piero was linked with a London restaurant.

Despite the success of Gordon Ramsey, the former Rangers defender, at Aub-ergine, this presumably was meant to indicate that Del Piero was moving to a London football club, not that he was becoming a celebrity chef.