Manchester United are facing an official complaint to Uefa from the Serie A club Fiorentina after their latest move to sign young Italian talent, the national Under-16 captain Michele Fornasier.
Fornasier is 16 next week and already established at United, having played for them during the Milk Cup tournament in Northern Ireland this month. United have subsequently offered the defender a contract, much to the displeasure of Fiorentina, who, under Italian rules, are unable to sign players until their 16th birthday. It was the same loophole which enabled United to sign Federico Macheda from Lazio two years ago, incurring the wrath of the Italian side when he burst into the United first team last season.
Meanwhile, there were ominous words yesterday for Birmingham City, the side first up against the Premier League's defending champions on Sunday. The United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, served notice that his side had spent the summer stewing over the memory of the devastating 2-0 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League final in Rome in May.
"When you lose the last game of the season you have two or three months to reflect on the disappointment and we haven't enjoyed that," Ferguson said. "Adversity is always an important factor in developing and improving," Ferguson said. "I've always reacted well to adversity over the years and whenever we lose a match I tell my players that the next game is the important one – that's the match we have to focus on. That's always been the case here at this club."
Ferguson has his share of injury concerns going into the Birmingham match. Centre-back Jonny Evans left the Northern Ireland squad and returned to Manchester nursing an ankle injury yesterday. That compounds the defensive situation, with Nemanja Vidic already out with a calf injury, though Wes Brown, who sustained a thigh injury last month, may return. Gary Neville is also struggling with a groin strain.
There are suggestions Ben Foster may also be fit, despite pulling out of England's friendly in the Netherlands with a knee injury, and Nani managed a 17-minute substitute appearance for Portugal against Liechtenstein, casting aside fears he dislocated his shoulder in the Community Shield on Sunday. Michael Owen is also desperate for some involvement at Old Trafford on Sunday. "Our approach to him has been to say, 'Enjoy being here, enjoy the training' and he has not missed a single session yet," Ferguson said.