On the eve of his 21st season at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson eulogised Owen Hargreaves to such an extent it seemed Manchester United were about to mark the occasion with a celebratory cake with the midfielder inside. The days when Ferguson could secure his major transfer targets without complication are over, however, as Bayern Munich illustrated last night by declaring the England international will not be sold at any price.
United had been confident a bid of £17m would prise Hargreaves from the Allianz Arena before the transfer deadline, especially given the 25-year-old's determination to move to Old Trafford. That belief was given added impetus yesterday when the United manager, rarely prone to discussing transfer business in public, spoke at length on the quality of England's player of the 2006 World Cup.
"There's no hiding the fact now that the boy would like to join United and we would like to have him," he confirmed, before revealing how United tried to exchange Ruud Van Nistelrooy for the midfielder earlier this summer only for the striker to opt for Real Madrid instead.
Amid Ferguson's tributes to the maturity of Hargreaves as a central midfielder, one who he believes could complement £18.6m Michael Carrick or Paul Scholes at Old Trafford, were admissions that United had hit "a bit of a deadlock" and "you can never be confident when you are dealing with a big club like Bayern". Though he expressed confidence in David Gill's negotiating skills and the United chief executive's strong relationship with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness, the Bayern chairman and general manager respectively, Ferguson was proved right to be cautious as the Bundesliga champions later dismissed selling a player with four years remaining on his contract.
"You can offer me €50 million for Owen Hargreaves but we will not let him go," said Hoeness, while manager Felix Magath said: "He can climb to the top of Mount Everest and say whatever he wants but a contract with Bayern is a contract. Enough!"
The Bavarian club, who lost Michael Ballack on a free transfer to Chelsea at the end of last season, issued a statement which read: "Bayern has informed the player and his agent in no uncertain terms that the contract with the club until 30 June, 2010 is to be honoured. To this day, we have not discussed a transfer with United and there will be no future talks. Bayern have informed United that they must end their advances for Owen."
Bayern's position represents another setback to Ferguson as he attempts to claim a first title in four years. United will also lose Wayne Rooney and Scholes for impending league games against Charlton, Watford and Tottenham as a result of their suspensions arising from the Amsterdam Tournament. "I am not so much disappointed as surprised," said Ferguson of their bans.
Ferguson happy to kick into touch game's cynically exploited tactics
From this season, the decision to halt play when a player collapses in apparent agony will be the sole discretion of Premiership referees, and not opponents who feel obliged to kick the ball into touch.
The cynical exploitation of a once Corinthian act was high on the agenda of the eve-of-season meeting between Premiership managers and referees this week.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, said yesterday: "We got some common sense for a change at the meeting and this season referees are going to get rid of this kicking a ball out when a player is injured. It has become another form of cheating.
"It will now be left to the referees to decide whether it's a serious injury and the game should be stopped, such as a head knock or the serious injury suffered by Alan Smith [at Liverpool] last season. It is great news."
Ferguson added: "That's one step. The second is the diving. We all agree it started when foreign players came into this country but make no mistake about it, English players do it now too.
"It has become a disease and we want to see that eradicated too."Reuse content