Window closes on Ferguson's search for new Keane

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson spoke of the ongoing evolution of Manchester United as he unveiled the club's new £7.2m defender Nemanja Vidic to the world's media yesterday, although that process will continue without a bona fide replacement for Roy Keane for at least another six months after it was confirmed that Malcolm Glazer's spending for this transfer window is over.

United's American owners have demonstrated their faith in the club's 64-year-old manager to the sum of £11.7m in the past fortnight, the amount spent on Spartak Moscow's uncompromising centre-half and the Monaco left back Patrice Evra, who is due to complete his medical and a £4.5m move to Old Trafford today.

Though few would dispute the need for defensive reinforcement at Old Trafford, the overriding priority for Ferguson, one that was again exposed in the goalless draw with Burton Albion in the FA Cup third round on Sunday, is a midfielder with the presence, influence and ability of the departed Keane. While the manager toyed with the prospect of further incomings before the end of January - "I'll let you know as soon as anything happens," he teased - it was later confirmed from within the club that there would be no more purchases until summer.

Ferguson's black humour continued as he announced that "the only thing to come out of the Burton game is the chance to look at Nemanja in the replay", with the Serbian international currently undergoing a pre-season fitness programme having not played a competitive game since 22 November. Yet it is the painful exit from all European competition before Christmas and the 13-point distance between United and Chelsea that has benefited Ferguson in relation to his exhaustive search for a world-class midfielder, in that it has alleviated the pressure to buy now when the market is smaller and more expensive than it will be in the summer.

"I have been trying to change things for the last two years," the United manager said as he sat alongside Vidic yesterday. "When you have a group of players who have grown up with you and you see them getting older, it is not easy. But it is evolution, it happens. No football team stays together forever. Age catches up with everyone. I am very happy with the squad now, it is a terrific age, and the intention is to get this team to grow together as others have done in the past."

Michael Ballack was Ferguson's preferred choice until Real Madrid entered the race for Germany's captain, and though he is yet to sign a pre-contract agreement with the Spaniards, his age, 30, and lucrative demands on a four-year contract appear to have ended United's interest.

Ferguson added: "In football, there is never the last piece of the jigsaw. You are always chasing the rainbow, no matter how successful you are. We may do things differently to other clubs but one great thing I have always had is the backing to take a long-term view."

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