Manchester United, still reeling from Cristiano Ronaldo's assertion that he is enslaved by them, finally confirmed the departure of assistant manager Carlos Queiroz last night though there is an increasing sense that a summer to forget may be kickstarted with a £20m bid for Tottenham's Dimitar Berbatov.
Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken often of his admiration for the 27-year-old Bulgaria striker and with Louis Saha likely to be heading to Roma there are reports today that the obvious missing ingredient – a strike partner, in Berbatov, to partner Wayne Rooney – might be top of his agenda. A bid would leave Tottenham with their three prime strikers – including Robbie Keane and Darren Bent – all subject of other clubs' interest.
Ferguson's appreciation of Berbatov is well known and he has seemed to be deliberately circumspect in the past six months to avoid fanning speculation about a possible bid. "He is a good player. He is a big strong, lad too. People don't realise how strong he is," he said in January. "He is well-balanced and hard to shake off the ball." Though Ferguson recently suggested United were looking to build through younger players, a proven striker seems increasingly important with Ronaldo's future looking so uncertain.
Two days after United's chief executive David Gill agreed a £1m compensation package with the Portuguese Football Federation, the club confirmed that Queiroz is to succeed Luiz Felipe Scolari as Portugal's coach.
"I am very proud and honoured to be able to go back and serve my country," the Federation quoted Queiroz as saying in a statement. "This is a very special position that any professional would want."
Needless to say, the future of Ronaldo is as unclear as ever. A renewed sense of the distance between player and club was provided yesterday when United's website reported his own claim that he will not be fit to play until early October, while insisting that the club's medical staff had not verified it. The first meaningful opportunity to glean Ferguson's views on the player will present themselves when United play a friendly against Aberdeen at Pittodrie tonight, though judging by his response when the club's television station tried him out on the subject this week – he marched out of view – the manager will be an unwilling participant.
Ferguson, who is understood to have thought hard about breaking his silence on the subject this week, may find it difficult to keep his counsel on Sepp Blatter's intervention in which the Fifa president claimed players were being subjected to "modern day slavery." It remains unclear whether Ferguson has had a chance to talk to Ronaldo, who, judging by the fact he does not expect to train with a ball for two months, is almost certain to miss United's difficult early trips to Liverpool and Chelsea – if he is still on the club's payroll by then.
David Beckham, a player Ferguson was more content to see depart for Real Madrid, gave out mixed messages on the subject of whether Ronaldo should leave. "When I left Manchester United the only other club I wanted to play for was Real Madrid," Beckham said. "Living in Madrid and playing for Madrid – there's not many better clubs than that apart from Manchester United, which is equal. But to have those two choices is good for him."
Steve Bruce, the Wigan manager, gave short shrift to the slavery comments. "I don't agree with Sepp Blatter's comments on them being slaves because I believe they have the best job in the world," Bruce said. "If they are slaves what the hell are the rest of us? They have got a good job."
United's summer troubles also included demands yesterday from the Moscow Transit Authority that they pay up £115,000 owed from buses used by their fans for the Champions League final in May. The authority pointed out that Chelsea had settled a debt for half that sum.
Ronaldo a slave? Well he is to his...
* £150,000 silver Bentley. With its red leather interior and remote control soft-top. But he will occasionally drag himself away to his newer, black Porsche. Or else the BMW he bought as a Manchester runaround for his sisters, who kept scraping his Jeep. There are other vehicles, of course. "Last year I bought a car on my birthday for myself. If I have that opportunity I should take it," he said.
* £4m mansion in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. It is equipped with its own built-in cinema, including reclining scarlet red seats, the only possible refuge from fans who recognise him in public ones in Manchester. "My belly is full and its warm," he tells a Portuguese television crew as he settles back for a film in a revealing snap-shot of life as a "modern-day slave". Watch it and weep: (www.youtube.com/ watch?v=b1uNXFvPFxE &feature=related)
*Diamond stud earrings. Which he has recently been filmed wearing while driving the Bentley around south Manchester at speed singing along to the romantic music he says is obligatory.
*Bathroom mirror. "I don't know what I was thinking when I had my hair in braids," he told a recent interviewer while examining an image of himself. "It's shameful but I have to change looks from time to time."
*Bank manager who does not keep him in the picture. "To tell you the truth I don't know [how much money I have] but it's better that way," Ronaldo said recently, sitting beneath a chandelier at his "CR7" veneered dining table in his lavish Cheshire home. "Money is not what motivates me."
*Sensitive side. "There's a lot of bad people in the world who try to put me down and say vulgar things," he said, some months before coming clean on his plight as a slave.