Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday dismissed suggestions that Cristiano Ronaldo is a summer target of Chelsea by revealing that the young winger is close to agreeing a new, long-term contract to stay at Manchester United and insisting the London club "can't get everybody".
The Portugal international, 20, still has three years remaining on his current contract but his progress in this, his second, season since his £12m move from Sporting Lisbon has been such that United have already begun negotiations with the youngster over an improved deal.
Ferguson insists the decision to open talks is in line with the club's established approach towards its emerging players. But any such move is inevitably given added poignancy in a transfer market distorted by the presence of Roman Abramovich's millions, particularly when the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, is an admirer of his young compatriot.
The reaction to the meeting between Rio Ferdinand and the Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, however innocent the respective parties claim it to have been, served only as a reminder that, in monetary terms at least, there is no potential transfer beyond the reach of the Stamford Bridge club. And knowing he cannot match the ability of Mourinho to enhance his squad at will and in bulk, Ferguson is now anxious to secure the youthful core of his Old Trafford squad by agreeing new deals with the likes of Ronaldo, Darren Fletcher and Tim Howard this summer.
"He [Ronaldo] has three years left on his contract and we are only doing what we do in these situations," Ferguson said. "He is happy here. He has been fantastic. The courage he has to get the ball all the time, the confidence in his ability is terrific. He's done well, the lad.
"Any good player is going to be linked with Chelsea simply because of this pot of gold. But the thing is, they can't get everybody.
"We are negotiating with a lot of players and we want to tie down our young players to the club for a long time. The Rooneys, Ronaldos, Fletchers, [John] O'Sheas and [Wes] Browns and all these young players, we want them to stay at the club and become the new Manchester United."
Ferdinand's position, meanwhile, continues to frustrate and despite issuing all the right noises about wanting to remain at the club, the England defender has yet to accept the offer of a new deal worth around £100,000 per week.
Ferguson admits to having mixed feelings towards today's visit of West Bromwich Albion to Old Trafford, knowing victory could hasten the relegation of the midlands club managed by Bryan Robson, once Ferguson's captain at United. "Bryan knows our position with Liverpool playing Arsenal on Sunday and needing to win or they will not get fourth place. So we have to do our job," Ferguson said.
Ferguson's counterpart at Arsenal, Arsène Wenger, was also busy warning off predators yesterday, telling Real Madrid to "forget" about trying to sign Jose Antonio Reyes this summer, insisting the Spaniard would be staying put.
Reyes recently admitted his long-term aim of playing for Real Madrid after being caught out by a hoax radio interviewer. Since then, Real are reported to have increased their interest in the 21-year-old, who joined Arsenal from Seville 16 months ago.
However, Wenger said: "I am not aware of Real Madrid getting in touch about Jose and I want to keep him here. In my heart of hearts, I think he will be here next season. My determination to keep Jose here is great.
"I have said many times that I do not buy a player of his age to sell him one year later. If Real Madrid wanted to buy him, they could have bought him a year ago. They can forget it."
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