Carlos Tevez should have been everything Sir Alex Ferguson wanted in a footballer. Tevez craved the ball, his work-rate was astonishing, he appeared to love playing for Manchester United and he had dragged himself up from a dirt-poor upbringing in the tower blocks of Buenos Aires. Even his refusal to have plastic surgery on the scars that disfigure his neck – "because they are a part of who I am" – was very Ferguson.
And yet their split has been every bit as acrimonious as the departures of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane or David Beckham. Tevez's insistence that he was ignored by Manchester United and then discarded were yesterday met by the fiercest denials.
"We made contact with Carlos," Ferguson said. "We sent him texts and spoke to him when he was in Argentina. Our chief executive, David Gill, made an offer to his agent, Kia Joorabchian, and we spoke to Tevez before we played Internazionale [in March] and told him we had spoken to Kia but we never heard back.
"In my opinion, I don't think he was worth £25m. He was popular with the supporters. The fans quite rightly have their heroes and I was happy to go along with the deal as long as it was the right one but, quite simply, he is not worth £25m."
Ferguson was irritated not just by Tevez's insinuation that he was frozen out at Old Trafford but that his move to Eastlands is for wages far beyond what United were prepared to offer. Tevez may talk about Champions League football, but Ferguson believes he is unlikely to taste it with Manchester City.
"You ask yourself what their best team is," he said. "And you ask yourself where that would take them. And you would have to think they would still struggle to get into the top four. I am not saying they won't do it. I am just saying they would find it extremely difficult. It is a tough top four that. Aston Villa almost managed to break through but they tapered off because they were worn down by having such a small squad."
That is a problem Mark Hughes, the City manager, will not encounter and Ferguson, surprisingly, said he could understand why City should want to pay up to £40m for John Terry. "It is understandable, given the money they've got. They are not stopping spending. So if I were in City's shoes, with that kind of money, I would have a go at that myself. I think it's sensible. He has experience and he is the England captain. They must have known he was interested [before they made the offer]. I am sure there would have been plenty of phone calls going on."
Manchester United have overcome clubs that have stumbled across vast fortunes before. Jack Walker's Blackburn has been seen off and Roman Abramovich's Chelsea kept at bay. "I think Chelsea had a better nucleus when they started spending," he reflected. "They bought well under Claudio Ranieri with Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Arjen Robben and so on. Terry came through the youth system and they bought Petr Cech very cheaply as it turned out, at 21. We actually watched Cech. I saw him twice myself and I thought that at 19 he was a bit young. I was looking for someone to replace Peter Schmeichel and I thought that was a big ask."
Ferguson is never naive and is not about to pretend the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo will not damage United. He has an almost paternal pride in most of his players at Old Trafford and the boy from Madeira is no different.
He may affect to despise Real Madrid, claiming during the World Club Championship in December last year that "I would not sell that mob a virus," but he has done more than £120m of business with the men from the Santiago Bernabeu, selling them Van Nistelrooy, Beckham, Gabriel Heinze and now the greatest jewel.
Ferguson said, perhaps wistfully, that he hoped Ronaldo might actually end his career at Old Trafford. "It won't be the same without Ronaldo, it can't be. Without question in my mind he is the best player in this world of ours. By absolutely miles. He is streets ahead of Lionel Messi, streets ahead of Kaka. Absolutely.
"Look at his figures. They are unbelievable. The attempts he has on goal, the attacks in the penalty box, his positions, his headers, his shots. It wasn't easy to see him go. I had a good chat with the boy about it but he had made up his mind.
"Last year, he was begging me but this was a more sensible discussion and I felt it was right. I told him we would let him go on the condition that we received the largest fee ever paid for a footballer.
"The best of him is yet to come because he is still only 24. He may come back to the club, you never know. He loved it. He loved Manchester United. He has been back to see me; we went out and had dinner somewhere private. If you look back on the six years he had with us, he never missed training. That is the one thing he had above all these other players, he was never injured. He always played. He was fantastic."