The depth of disquiet at Manchester United over Real Madrid's blatant courtship of Cristiano Ronaldo became apparent last night when the Portuguese winger admitted he has been banned from mentioning the Bernabeu by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Real have employed their customary transfer tactics with the 21-year-old in the past week, as the club's contacts in the Spanish press have reported that both sporting director, Predrag Mijatovic, and president, Ramon Calderon, have identified Ronaldo as the talent to revive Madrid fortunes and that a £35m bid will be making its way to Old Trafford this summer.
United, for their part, have orchestrated a swift and defiant response, with Ferguson and the club's chief executive, David Gill, declaring the winger is not for sale at any price. Mindful of how receptive Ronaldo appeared to Real's interest during the World Cup last summer, however, the United hierarchy also spoke with the player on his return from a week's holiday in Dubai at the weekend and instructed him not to encourage interest from Real.
Reporters from the Spanish sports paper AS tracked down the winger at his Manchester home on Sunday and were told: "I am aware of Real Madrid's interest in me, although I can't say anything about it." He added: "I had two conversations on Saturday, with Carlos Queiroz and Alex Ferguson, and they banned me from talking about Real. I don't want to have any problems at United. I know that Ronaldo has left Real to join Milan, but I really can't say much about them."
Last Friday, Ferguson insisted he was accustomed to Madrid methods since the departure of David Beckham in 2003, but added: "We only sell the players we want to sell and there is absolutely no way Ronaldo is leaving."
Gill added: "The big clubs may talk in the papers but they fully understand our position. They know we are not selling our prize assets so there is no way that will be sanctioned."
Having convinced Ronaldo to ride out his World Cup controversy and remain at Old Trafford last summer, United believe Madrid are destined for another futile pursuit but are understood to be offering Ronaldo a lucrative new contract.
Ronaldo signed a new deal committing himself to United until 2010 only 14 months ago, estimated to be worth £70,000 a week, but United are now prepared to bring him into line with their highest earners, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand, on £100,000 a week.
Ferguson has confirmed that the goalkeeper Ben Foster will return to United in the summer after spending a second year at Watford. Although the 23-year-old, who will not be able to play against United on Wednesday, signed for United 18 months ago, he has yet to make a senior appearance for them, having been sent to Vicarage Road by Ferguson in an attempt to further his experience.
"Ben will come back here," Ferguson said. "All we have done in terms of the goalkeeping situation is identify good talent and secure their future. He is doing well at Watford. I believe him to be England's best young goalkeeper."
* Milan and Real resume talks today after failing to reach an agreement on the striker Ronaldo after a meeting in Madrid yesterday. MilanÕs vice-president, Adriano Galliani, said: "We have offered €7m [£4.6m] and Real want €8m."Reuse content