Cristiano Ronaldo still harbours long-term thoughts of life on the Iberian peninsular but Sir Alex Ferguson – who made it quite clear yesterday that he had laid down the law to his prodigal player – believes he may sign a new contract and even settle down to an entire career at Manchester United.
Shortly after welcoming Ronaldo back to the club yesterday morning, Ferguson cited Rio Ferdinand as an example of the kind of player who had found Manchester an alien environment – "Rio comes from another country. He comes from London," he said with a grin – and yet settled down to it. Of the contract Ronaldo signed last April, Ferguson said: "Hopefully, at some point, we would like to extend it. That's where we are."
Ronaldo, right, might be only 23 but Ferguson seems to have a vision of the player, who has helped the likes of Anderson and Nani to settle, becoming one of Old Trafford's statesmen; like Ryan Giggs, through whom the club's culture runs. "It's not easy for young people to come to our country, it doesn't matter where they go, they have to settle in, get used to the culture, get used to the dressing room and then you can see their development and feel for the place," Ferguson said. The United manager quoted the case of Nemanja Vidic, who took a long time to adjust to Manchester after arriving from Russia with his wife, Ana, expecting their son, Luka. "Things don't happen overnight, it's done by time and we hope that all the players we have settle here to have great careers at the club," Ferguson said.
The chances of persuading Ronaldo to stay beyond next May do not look too great and he will need to be talked into a new contract fast. If the Portuguese does not sign an extension next summer then he will be free to leave a year after that under the Webster ruling, by paying £12.4m to buy himself out.
In the meantime, Ronaldo's importance to the club – if only for one more season – was evidently at the front of Ferguson's mind when he went to Lisbon to talk to him three weeks ago. "I can't deny it was an important issue to keep him here," said the United manager, whose side's season begins with the Community Shield encounter with Portsmouth at Wembley tomorrow.
Ferguson made it clear that he called the shots with Ronaldo in Lisbon. "I explained the situation and what we expect of players from Manchester United," he revealed, and he rejected any suggestion that Ronaldo might be allowed extra time off to see more of his mother, whose proximity to Madrid he cited this week as one of the reasons for Real being such a temptation. "With the [Club] World Championship [in Japan] in December, and the [European Super Cup in] Monaco, we have got two [league] games to make up somewhere in the calendar," Ferguson said. "There's no plan for any player to be given time off."
The United manager is clearly still keen on Dimitar Berbatov. Though he suggested earlier this week that United may not buy again this summer, he offered a statement of intent yesterday. Asked if United may still buy he replied: "Yes. We are looking at some options at the moment, three or four different options about the striking department which I hope will come to a happy conclusion."
The other options could include Blackburn Rovers' Roque Santa Cruz or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, though Ajax manager Marco van Basten has warned against attempts to poach his new captain. Spurs, who are demanding £30m for Berbatov, accept that United may come back but their struggle to deal with Zenit St Petersburg over the purchase of Andrei Arshavin, conceivably a replacement, makes the prospect of a deal some distance off yet.
With the prospect of further improvement from Anderson and Nani this season and Wayne Rooney back in training – there is a chance he may not miss the first league match, against Newcastle United a week today, after all – Ferguson had reasons to be buoyant. "The Racing Post said [Luiz Felipe] Scolari is more experienced than me! I don't know what the hell I've been doing the last 34 years. I must have missed something and gone to sleep somewhere! They're saying that, because of his experience, that Chelsea are going to win the league. But there is a lot of experience at this club, so I've got to be confident."