Battle will be rejoined for Sir Alex Ferguson with one of his most favoured old adversaries today but the cordiality does not extend to the club Harry Redknapp currently manages, whom the Manchester United manager accused yesterday of stalling over Dimitar Berbatov's transfer out of a two-year bitterness concerning Michael Carrick's departure to Old Trafford.
Berbatov can expect a hostile welcome, Ferguson predicted, if he shakes off an Achilles problem to start the weekend's most appetising fixture at White Hart Lane and the United manager can expect something similar from a club he claimed had "milked" the Berbatov transfer this summer before receiving £31million, £11m more than United's initial offer.
"For some reason they still regret selling Michael Carrick to us – that's their biggest problem," Ferguson said. "But they wanted to sell him to us [at the time.] They can't blame us for that." Where the regret is concerned, Ferguson has a point. The 27-year-old, who had two years left on his deal at Spurs when he rejected a new contract offer amid persistent United interest, was a more important player when he left White Hart Lane than the disaffected Berbatov and the club have not found his like again for the spine of their midfield.
When United pursued Berbatov equally assiduously over two summers until the last transfer window deadline day, relations grew poisonous. "They milked it well that last day – they milked it very well and they got Fraizer Campbell into the bargain," Ferguson said, Campbell's one-year loan proving the clinching factor in Berbatov's move. "They got a good deal. They can't complain about that."
Campbell has flourished under Redknapp but Ferguson turned the knife by insisting that the striker will be back at Old Trafford when his one-year loan expires, despite Spurs' aspirations for a permanent sale. "There is no question about that. He's is coming back. He's going to be a good player," Ferguson said.
Ferguson expects a caustic reception to say the least, for Berbatov, following the open desire he expressed for a move north. "Harry has said he doesn't blame him for leaving but then he wasn't the manager at the time and he can take a separate view," Ferguson said. "I think it was because Berbatov was coming to Manchester United. If he had been going anywhere else there wouldn't have been so much of a furore."
If the last utterance sounded defensive then it contributed to the day's prevailing tone, in which Ferguson also claimed that the press were deliberately attempting to get Wayne Rooney banned from United's next venture into Europe, through coverage of his alleged stamp on Aalborg's Kasper Risgard on Wednesday night. "You're never off that phone, you're never off that phone to Uefa," he said, though his willingness to move on having being challenged on that assertion suggested that he knows Rooney has a case to answer. Ferguson's pronouncements on Rooney are unfathomable at times. It is little more than a month since he inferred the striker was getting too much adulation from the press and so refused to discuss him. The striker is suspended today along with Patrice Evra, and though Berbatov is understood to have been training since Thursday and is likely to start, a back spasm Rio Ferdinand suffered on Wednesday may keep him out of a game which United badly need to win to maintain pressure before leaving tonight for the World Club Championships in Japan.
Redknapp's tone on the Berbatov sale was immeasurably more emollient than his chairman Daniel Levy's has been. "If a player makes his mind up that he wants to leave then it's for the best. If that's the case then the best thing was to sell him," he said. "If we keep a player against their will they will get the hump – what can you do? The club got the right money for him." Redknapp saw enough of Berbatov at Fratton Park last December, when he scored the only goal in a Spurs win, to know he was in a "different class." Redknapp observed that Berbatov is "very much a big fish in a big pond" and that with Rooney and Ronaldo "he is just another of the top players" at Old Trafford.
Ledley King won't know until 2pm today whether he is fit to play – his knee was swollen again last night – and Redknapp admitted he could be damaging his health in the long term by playing once a week with his injury. "It can't be doing him any good in the long term," he said. "I have been there with my son [Jamie]. After nine operations there is nothing there to operate on, it's just bone on bone." But Redknapp said King would remain his captain "for as long as he plays."