Kleberson and Djemba-Djemba can move on, says Ferguson

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The Independent Online

Manchester United would be prepared to sell both Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba if they received serious offers for two midfielders who threaten never to make the grade at Old Trafford.

Manchester United would be prepared to sell both Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba if they received serious offers for two midfielders who threaten never to make the grade at Old Trafford.

Both have been linked with moves away from Manchester although nothing has yet come of interest in Kleberson from Benfica while the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, claimed he had no knowledge of an attempt by Birmingham to take the Cameroon international on loan. However, Ferguson did not rule out selling two players who cost nearly £10m between them when brought to United in the summer of 2003.

Kleberson, part of Luis Filipe Scolari's World Cup-winning Brazilian side, last played a Premiership match in October and has been injured since damaging ankle ligaments in the Carling Cup victory over Arsenal last month. Last night he was flown back to Brazil to see a specialist. "There has been a few enquiries for him," Ferguson said. "But that would rule him out [of a transfer] unless someone were prepared to take him on the understanding that he would only be fit in the middle or end of February.

"There have been a few enquiries for Djemba but that's all there's been. We have a strong squad and we will treat these enquiries seriously if they become firm and then we would have to put it to the player."

The exceptional Gabriel Heinze aside, Ferguson has had precious little luck with South Americans. Like Juan Sebastian Veron and Diego Forlan, Kleberson came to Old Trafford with obvious talent and a significant reputation that never threatened to reveal itself.

He and Djemba-Djemba, brought in from Nantes, were given the task of freshening up a midfield that was growing old together and providing support to Roy Keane as a ball-winner. Neither has thus far reached the levels of Nicky Butt let alone matched Keane's mastery of the midfield.

Ferguson's experiences in 2003 tend to back up the theory put forward by Jorge Valdano, Real Madrid's former manager and technical director, that two out of every three signings will fail. The one that succeeded was Cristiano Ronaldo, who Ferguson said yesterday was: "A natural for the big game".

"He showed that against Arsenal in the semi-final of the FA Cup," Ferguson added. "You see young people going on to the stage at Old Trafford and you wonder how they are going to cope, but these players don't think that way. It's the most natural thing in the world for them. Ones you bring through you always hope will cope but you have more doubts about the ones you buy, particularly Cristiano Ronaldo. We thought we'd spend a year nursing him but he shone in his very first game."

Ferguson was yesterday not quite prepared to concede that the title race was done, although he did suggest that many of the games that excited him and in which he expected United to shine would be in cup competitions; Chelsea in the Carling Cup, Middlesbrough in the FA Cup and Milan in the European Cup. There appears to be a growing realisation at Old Trafford that Chelsea, like Arsenal last season, may not suffer a blip.

Ferguson dates the transformation of Manchester United's season from the 3-1 victory over Newcastle at St James' Park in November that began a run of nine victories and two draws in 11 Premiership matches. It is the sort of run that saw them overhaul Newcastle in 1996 and Arsenal seven years later but which this year has not made so much as a dent in Chelsea's lead.

"At the moment we are in championship form in the League but, unfortunately, Chelsea are also without question in championship form," Ferguson said.