Sir Alex Ferguson declared yesterday that he considers an extravagantly rich Manchester City to be as far removed from his own club as ever, with their success dependent on lavish spending during a summer in which selling clubs will attempt to take them for a fortune.
Ahead of tomorrow's derby at Old Trafford, Ferguson resisted making the barbs at City which preceded his side's comfortable 1-0 win at Eastlands in November – an indication perhaps that he knows they will be more of a force in months to come. But after suggesting that there will be no Dimitar Berbatov-style, big-money purchases for United this summer – "I can honestly say there's no-one that we've actually identified that we want to bring here at the moment" – he said City faced a more arduous time.
Their getting closer to United "really depends on who they buy, no doubt about that," Ferguson said. "It's going to be a busy summer for them obviously and I think there are a lot of clubs, knowing that City have that money, who will add noughts on to every player they go for. That's the hard part for Mark [Hughes], trying to value the players he wants at a proper value – his values rather than their values."
City will not disagree. They call the inflationary tendency "the Manchester City effect" and it resulted in Valencia demanding £128m for the combined services of David Silva and David Villa in January. They are hoping that the Spanish club's financial troubles will create a more realistic price for Villa this time around but Ferguson also suggested that Hughes could find his "checklist of players reduced by 50 per cent" because some will simply refuse to sell to a prospective future rival. Heaping more pressure on a former player with whom relations are no more than cordial, Ferguson said it was for the City manager to "cope" with spending his large budget. "That will be his decision [how to buy]. It's a big decision."
Ferguson, who revealed the setback to Wes Brown's recuperation from his foot injury means he will not play again this season, can clinch a third successive title if Liverpool fail to beat West Ham today and United defeat both City tomorrow and Wigan Athletic three days later. But his thoughts are also turning to a European Cup final in Rome on 27 May.
Stepping diplomatically through the recriminations which followed Chelsea's semi-final defeat to Barcelona, Ferguson declared the encounter with the Catalans to be the final that "the public were looking at". Both clubs, he said, were "recognised for playing good football, there's a good history to both clubs and I think it'll be a great final".
The United manager has not ruled out referee Roberto Rosetti officiating in the final – "sometimes it goes that way, in recognition of where the game's actually played," – and it may have been with that in mind that he said he understood why the Italian had sent off Darren Fletcher in the semi-final, second leg against Arsenal on Tuesday, so denying the midfielder a place in the final. "I believed the referee made the right decision at the time because from his angle and certainly from where I was, I thought it was a penalty," Ferguson said. "It is only when you see the replays you see Darren got his leg round [Cesc] Fabregas and poked the ball away."
Though Uefa has declared that its control and disciplinary committee will consider Fletcher's case on Monday, there is no optimism at United of Rosetti's decision being revoked. "He's a placid lad, he's not an over-emotional boy. He accepts it," Ferguson said.
For City, their captain Richard Dunne admitted yesterday that the euphoria surrounding the Arabs' takeover has had an unsettling effect at times this season. "Maybe we were concentrating on what was said in the papers every day rather than what we were doing in training," Dunne said yesterday. "It was strange and it took a bit of getting used to, but it's gone now and everyone has grown into it."
Dunne's season has been a difficult one, with three sendings off in 12 months now and some indifferent defending, which mean the chances of Hughes replacing him this summer – Chelsea's John Terry and Arsenal's Kolo Touré are both on his radar – look substantial.
"If I lose it, I lose it," Dunne said of his place in the City side. "If the manager buys new players, which he will do, and they then take your position, there is nothing you can do other than fight for it back. I don't fear that."
The player most accustomed to red cards where Manchester derbies are concerned is Cristiano Ronaldo, dismissed in the last two fixtures and a likely threat to Dunne tomorrow. Dunne has been outspoken in the past in his belief that Chelsea's Didier Drogba goes down too easily with defenders on his shoulder and, though he clearly has more respect for Ronaldo, he suggested that the winger is capable of play-acting.
"He makes the most of the situation, I suppose," Dunne said. "Some referees give free-kicks, but some don't. But diving or not diving, he's impossible to mark when he's on form. He's similar to [Barcelona's Lionel] Messi in that, if they're on form then they are difficult to stop." Shaun Wright-Phillips is a doubt for City, which could mean a chance for Elano to start.Reuse content