Sir Alex Ferguson was remembering 1947, the year the River Clyde last froze over, prompting someone to suggest that he really has walked on water. The Manchester United manager might well need that kind of quality given that the fallibilities exposed by his side's FA Cup humiliation by Leeds United six days ago have not persuaded him to venture into the transfer market this month.
Ferguson agreed yesterday that he was taking a gamble on Wayne Rooney's continued fitness by not spending this winter. "Yes, that is a possibility," he said. "It's true that we don't have great options, if Rooney were to get injured, in the sense that we don't have top quality like [Cristiano] Ronaldo, who could play anywhere, of course."
Rooney's 15 goals to date are more than double the next best United player (Michael Owen, on seven) and Ferguson's indication that he will involve his new Senegalese striker Mame Biram Diouf, 22, signed from the Norwegian club Molde, at Birmingham today will not provide much succour to those supporters who view the club's first third-round exit since 1984 as evidence that the squad is packed with far fewer champions, while those still there – Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar – are on borrowed time.
The temptation to conclude that United cannot, rather than will not, go into the market waving that £80m Real Madrid cheque, is all the greater given the Glazer family's staggering interest payments, which have led them to try once again to refinance through bank bonds the £700m debts which their 2005 takeover has imposed. But Ferguson was at his most insistent on this point yesterday – reasserting, at the end of the week in which Manchester City's debt has been effectively wiped out by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, that he has not become a poor man among managers and that any failure to deliver is to be laid on his shoulders, not the Glazers. "Believe me, there is no impact," he said.
"I don't have any concerns about the financial situation. I am really confident about that. There has been talk about a bond issue and I think that's a good thing; anything that helps with the repayment of the debt is a good thing. There is debt there but it has never interrupted my plans. I could easily have spent the Ronaldo money but I didn't want to because I couldn't see diamonds or any value in the market. I am not going to pay £50m for a striker who is not worth it. That is the kind of money they are talking for the best strikers who are around."
Ferguson's mantra about progression at United has always been about players not growing old at the same time and he admitted that he might ultimately have to spend to replace Giggs and Scholes, but maintains that the young players he is introducing are the face of the future, despite the general sense that the club – with five league defeats already this season before the challenge of Birmingham – are not, as Fabio Capello has told it, the same "war machine".
The manager's insistence that he will not be bounced into spending was supplemented by the suggestion that "everyone is missing the point" on United's troubles – that point being the procession of defenders into the treatment room, which worries him. Ferguson, who said no decision had been taken on Gary Neville's future beyond the summer, shed more light on the injury sustained in last Sunday's warm up by Nemanja Vidic, which prompted his own chilly response in the aftermath of defeat. The Serbian felt the recurrence of a problem with a nerve in the right side of his leg which has been troubling him and will be missing for 10 days.
Rio Ferdinand, who has not played since the league defeat at Anfield on 25 October, will be available in two weeks' time according to the manager, following an injection on his back problem. Wes Brown and Jonny Evans should be available for central defence today, though Van der Sar remains in the Netherlands with his wife Annemarie, who is recovering from a severe stroke.
Ferguson never did walk across the frozen Clyde, incidentally, though those icy Glasgow winters have clearly built an inner strength . "I swam it," he grinned. "We were tougher in Govan than you're used to."
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