Sir Alex Ferguson launched his most scathing attack yet on Real Madrid when he said yesterday that he would not sell the Spanish club "a virus", let alone Cristiano Ronaldo. Manchester United will also today take the fight to the Football Association, which leaked the details of Patrice Evra's ban hearing from the "Battle of Stamford Bridge" before the player had decided that he would not appeal.
Ferguson's stinging criticism of Real came in response to a claim that the club already have a contract to sign Ronaldo, 23, in the summer. "Do you think I would enter into a contract with that mob?" he said. "Absolutely no chance. I would not sell them a virus. That is a 'No' by the way. There is no agreement whatsoever between the clubs."
After he previously evoked Real's links to the fascist regime of General Franco, it now seems that Ferguson's opinion of the club, whom United could be paired with in today's Champions League draw, has fallen even further. He was responding to claims in a Spanish newspaper that the Real director Pedro Trapote had seen the details of a contract between the two clubs for Ronaldo's transfer.
Ferguson said: "I said to David Gill [Manchester United's chief executive] a year last summer when we sold Gabriel Heinze that he [Gill] could bet his life this stuff will all start up around Ronaldo in January. It will happen again this January.
"We just have to ignore it. If we keep worrying about what Real Madrid have to say, we are not concentrating on our own publicity and the programme of difficult games we have got coming up. I've got to ignore it. Sometimes it can be an angry situation and sometimes I get really annoyed with them. But we know their game. I think we should play ours and ignore it all."
The United manager spoke after his side's 5-3 victory over Gamba Osaka in the semi-final of the Fifa Club World Cup in Yokohama, Japan. It is there in the early hours of this morning that Gill will make his displeasure known to the FA chairman, Lord Triesman, about the governing body's decision to leak the full judgement over the Evra-Chelsea disciplinary hearing. As revealed in The Independent yesterday, the commission's judgement was scathing about the behaviour of United players and officials during the brawl at Stamford Bridge on 26 April. It left the club's hierarchy furious that the FA had made an example of them. It is not the usual practice of the FA to publish the full judgement of a hearing; indeed, it has done it only once in the recent past, when Luton Town were disciplined for irregular payments to agents in July.
It is understood that the FA made the content of the ruling – around 8,000 words – freely available on its website from Monday at the behest of the commission's chairman, Nicholas Stewart QC. Stewart was not available for comment yesterday to explain why he had gone to such unusual lengths to disclose the details of a hearing that made serious criticisms of senior figures at United, including the assistant manager Mike Phelan.
The FA recognises that it has made a mistake in the timing of the release of the hearing details – Evra only announced he would not be appealing on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether Triesman can patch up relations with Gill at a critical time for the governing body. Many of the FA hierarchy are in Japan for a crucial meeting today of Fifa executive committee members who will be central to the success of the 2018 World Cup bid. United's cooperation cannot be taken for granted.
"To go through what they [the FA] have said would take up too much time," Ferguson said. "As I have said before, we are disappointed. I don't think what the FA have done is very clever." It will not have escaped Ferguson's attention that his old friend David Pleat, the former Luton and Tottenham manager, was on the disciplinary commission along with the FA councillors Roy Carter and Barry Bright.
The likes of Carter and Bridge may not be sitting on commissions for much longer as professional clubs begin a push today to purge amateur representatives from those disciplinary bodies.The clubs believe that the sentences handed out to in cases such as Evra are too harsh and demonstrate a lack of understanding of the modern game.
Wayne Rooney, despite coming on with just 18 minutes to play in Yokohama, scored twice in United's win that puts them in the final against Liga de Quito tomorrow. "Wayne can be a No 9," Ferguson said, speaking about his belief Rooney can play as a classic centre-forward. "We are trying to develop him that way. We have tried to play him there for most of the season.
"His movement, strength and penetration are very good. For the third goal that really killed them he made two runs, across and back and across and behind. They were really clever. It marks out the quality he can give you in that position and he will improve from there."