Stay for the big crowds, Ferguson tells Ronaldo

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson is rarely in the position of having to sell Old Trafford to one of his employees, but there was an indication of growing unease at Spanish courting of Cristiano Ronaldo yesterday when the Manchester United manager publicly appealed to the Portuguese international to consider his career before a change of climate.

The sight of Ronaldo's agent in the company of Barcelona sporting director Txiki Begiristain in midweek, following confirmation of interest in the 21-year-old from Real Madrid previously, has undermined Ferguson's customary theory that a scurrilous media is behind reports of an impending £35m bid for his prized asset. That did not deter another attempt yesterday but, while United officials are confident Ronaldo will resist La Liga and sign an improved contract at the end of this season, there was an admission from Ferguson that a man from Madeira will find the Iberian peninsula tempting.

"A better climate is always an attraction but when you think about it, look what you get from Manchester United," argued Ferguson. "We get 76,000 people in the stadium for every home game. You don't get that anywhere else. I know Barcelona, Real Madrid and AC Milan can fill their stadiums when they have big games but their stadiums are not full every week. Old Trafford is. Cristiano is at a good club and I hope he can achieve everything he wants here. I don't think there is a better player in the world at the moment."

Success in the Champions League and Premiership will strengthen Ferguson's hand, and despite a meeting between the player's agent, Pedro Mendes, and Begiristain at The Emirates Stadium, the United manager dismissed suggestions the winger - expected to recover from a cold to face Charlton - is considering pastures new.

He added: "I don't need to sit down with Cristiano because in modern-day football you have to accept speculation will be rife. Clubs have to make agents feel wonderful. I know the boy is happy here."

United continue their quest for a first League title in four years at home to Charlton this afternoon, a side they have completed the double over in each of the last four seasons, when Rio Ferdinand makes the 200th appearance of his turbulent Old Trafford career. The England international has impressed throughout this campaign, so much so that Ferguson now believes the 28-year-old is justifying the then British transfer record of £29.1m he paid to sign the defender from Leeds United in 2002.

"When I paid that kind of money for Rio we were looking for a return in terms of getting 10 years' service," admitted the United manager. "He has been here five years now. It is hard to pick a better defender in the world than Rio now."

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