Sir Alex Ferguson underlined the way that Rafael Benitez has emerged as a potential nemesis yesterday by pulling apart the Spaniard's characterisation of Liverpool as a "little club" and accusing him of flawed mathematics in his claim that United had spent £100m more on players in his era at Anfield. "I was amazed when I saw that," Ferguson said of Benitez's claims, made after Liverpool's 4-1 win at Old Trafford. "I talked to some of the people in the sports technology department and said: 'Check that out'. I am sure I have not spent that much."
Ferguson has a point. The substantial question mark about Benitez surrounds his turnover of players and he has actually spent over £170m gross on players since he arrived at Anfield in 2004, against the £164m Ferguson has laid out on his 18 acquisitions.
Cutting straight to a perceived weakness in Benitez, he ridiculed the number of players the Spaniard has brought in – "The most amazing fact about them is that they have used 60 players in the reserves this season," he said and threw in another grenade on the issue of Benitez's foreign contingent and the absence of players developed by Liverpool's Academy.
"We have signed 18 players in the last five years. Eight of them are young players," Ferguson said. "We like to do develop our young players but other clubs are maybe different. Rafa has a different philosophy from me about producing players. But I worked out that in the last five years Liverpool have spent £24m more than Manchester United." Ferguson's attempt to deconstruct the idea of Liverpool as the poor relation included this prediction: "You will see Rafa produce an incredible spending spree – that is an absolute certainty now he has signed a new contract. They talk of a recession but there will not be one at Liverpool. He is well ahead of us in spending in the last five years. You can expect a big spending splurge at Liverpool."
That seems highly unlikely. Liverpool's owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks face uncertainty over whether the loans they took out to buy the club will be refinanced in July. Benitez might have spent more to date but the events of last summer – United laying out £30m on Dimitar Berbatov without needing to recoup cash from players' sales; Benitez having to offload players like John Arne Riise and Peter Crouch in order to purchase Robbie Keane – showed a gulf. It may be much the same this summer.
United travel today to play Fulham a side they have twice annihilated in the past month, racking up a 7-0 aggregate score in the process, while Liverpool face the tough prospect of Aston Villa. Ferguson will have Gary Neville, missing from the side since January, back in his squad.
Ferguson revealed that a virus picked up by Darren Fletcher on the morning of the Liverpool game had prevented his deployment last Saturday in place of Michael Carrick – who needed a break, said the manager.
Where the money went
X Alonso (R Sociedad, £10.5m)
Peter Crouch (Southampton, £7m)
Dirk Kuyt (Feyenoord, £9m)
(Atletico Madrid, right, £26.5m)
Robbie Keane (Spurs, £20.3m)
TOTAL SPEND: £170.25m
*Manchester United spending
Wayne Rooney (Everton, £20m)
Nemanja Vidic (S Moscow, £7m)
Michael Carrick (Spurs, £18.6m)
Carlos Tevez (loan fees, £8m)
Dimitar Berbatov (Spurs, £30.75m)
TOTAL SPEND £111.85mReuse content