Aaron Ramsey is regarded as the outstanding talent of his generation and last night Sir Alex Ferguson was left counting the cost of not personally meeting the 17-year-old after he opted to join Arsenal instead. The Manchester United manager has lost the first major transfer battle of the summer to Arsène Wenger, whose meeting with Ramsey swung the £5m deal in Arsenal's favour.
Ferguson was the only one of the three managers in serious pursuit of Ramsey – the other being Everton's David Moyes – who did not break off from his summer holidays to meet the Cardiff City player, instead delegating the meeting to a member of his staff. Ferguson is usually such a brilliant recruiter of young players – his trips to meet parents have so often proved the clincher in deals – but it was Wenger who gave Arsenal's interest the personal touch by inviting Ramsey out on a private jet to Switzerland, where he is working as a television pundit at Euro 2008.
Despite late attempts by United to swing the deal in their favour, the player completed his contract negotiations and medical with Arsenal yesterday. United had also assumed the player would be happy with an arrangement in which he would be loaned back to Cardiff for part of the next season. Wenger, as he did with Theo Walcott when he joined from Southampton two years ago, promised the player on Saturday that he would be developed at Arsenal.
While Wenger met Ramsey and his family in Basle, neither Ferguson nor his assistant Carlos Queiroz, who are both out of the country, were at Old Trafford when the Welsh teenager visited the stadium last week. It was the readiness of Arsenal to make such an effort for the young player that made the difference, as both clubs offered personal terms that were very similar.
Moyes is understood to have made an impression on Ramsey but, against Wenger's reputation for developing young players, the Everton manager was always likely to finish second best.
United also prematurely announced on their website last week that they had agreed the transfer fee with Cardiff and would sign Ramsey, subject to a medical and personal terms. The implied message was that the deal was as good as done, but Ramsey had not even met with Wenger by then. United believed they were the favourites because the Cardiff chairman, Peter Ridsdale, was behind Ferguson's plan to loan Ramsey back to the club next season.
Ramsey made his professional debut for Cardiff at the age of 16. He has been capped seven times for the Wales Under-21 team, so it is not inconceivable that he will get an early chance to make his Arsenal first-team debut.
Wenger's record with young British players has been patchy – Walcott is an undoubted talent, although at 19 is still developing; but Francis Jeffers and Richard Wright both fell well short of the required standard. Nevertheless, Wenger's academy has some of the most promising young English players in the country, including the midfielder Jack Wilshere who, at 16, is rated as the best young English prospect the club have had in years.
Ferguson's main transfer targets this summer did not include a midfielder, which perhaps accounts for United being slow off the mark in chasing Ramsey. With the priority a striker – Spurs' Dimitar Berbatov and Roque Santa Cruz, of Blackburn, top the list – and a right-back – possibly Bayern Munich's Philipp Lahm – he is blessed with a number of central midfielders. However, as when Ferguson signed Wayne Rooney in 2004, it is not often that a talent such as Ramsey is available on the market.
The teenager is the second of Cardiff's recent group of bright young players to leave for the Premier League. The right-back Chris Gunther signed for Tottenham for £2m in January, and Ridsdale said that he wanted Ramsey back on loan. "The only deal with a loan-back option was with Manchester United," Ridsdale said, "but ultimately it is up to the player to decide where he wants to go."
Arsenal have yet to tie up a deal with Marseilles' Samir Nasri. The attacking midfielder had been granted permission to leave the France camp at Euro 2008 to travel to England, but did not make the trip. The 20-year-old is rated at around £11m. While Wenger works for French television in Switzerland, the club's acting managing director, Ken Friar, is taking care of negotiations for new players.Reuse content