Manchester United have denied claims that they have granted Real Madrid permission to approach Cristiano Ronaldo or that the Portuguese winger will be sold this summer, although that resolve could be tested following the results of the presidential elections at the Bernabeu on Sunday.
Ronaldo, plus Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas and Jose Antonio Reyes, were all linked with moves to Madrid yesterday as the candidates in Real's chaotic presidential campaign made their customary transfer promises on the eve of the election. Unusually, however, the United midfielder was quoted at length in the Spanish sports newspaper with close ties to the Bernabeu hierarchy, Marca, about his desire to join Real should Juan Miguel Villar Mir win the majority support of the club's 65,000 members.
Mir, a 74-year-old lawyer, ex-finance minister and former vice-president of Madrid, then announced at a press conference yesterday that United knew of the prospective deal, a move that confirmed an orchestrated campaign to pressurise Ronaldo's employers is under way and that the midfielder is the subject of an illegal approach.
"Manchester United know that we are talking with him," Mir said. "We have gone in 'through the front door'." That drew an emphatic denial from United, who have no intention of parting with the player signed for £12.25m from Sporting Lisbon three years ago and who remains an integral part of Sir Alex Ferguson's rebuilding strategy. A club statement read: "Manchester United are astonished with Juan Miguel Villar Mir's comments. There has been no contact between Manchester United and his election team or Real Madrid, and any suggestion there has is incorrect. Cristiano Ronaldo has signed a long-term contract which runs until 2010. He will be a Manchester United player next season."
Ferguson reports back for pre-season training on Monday, along with United's non-World Cup players, and will be concerned by Ronaldo's obvious flirtation with Madrid.
"I have told my agent that I would like to leave," said the Portugal international, who remains a doubt for Saturday's World Cup quarter-final with England. "I want to do so in the best way possible. I want to play for Madrid and I dream about it. They have explained their sports project and the next step is for them to talk to United to negotiate. When they reach an agreement, then we will look at my situation and my contract."Reuse content