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Ferguson given age limit on major buys

Ian Herbert
Wednesday 17 June 2009 00:00 BST
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Sir Alex Ferguson has agreed to a new Old Trafford transfer strategy under which no players aged 26 or over will be signed on major deals by Manchester United – a move which explains why Franck Ribéry and Kaka have not been on the club's radar this summer and why Lyons' Karim Benzema might be.

Ferguson and the United chief executive, David Gill, are understood to have reached an agreement with their club's owners, the Glazer family, that the poor resale value of players purchased on five-year deals in their late 20s militates in favour of buying younger. It means that the likes of last summer's £31m lay-out for the then 27-year-old Dimitar Berbatov will not occur again, in Ferguson's reign at least; that Carlos Tevez, now 25, represents the top end of the age scale; and that United are not interested in the 26-year-old Ribéry.

The model – in which age is an over-riding consideration – certainly supports the pursuit of Lyons' 21-year-old striker Benzema, who is a perfect fit: a player in his early 20s with proven pedigree at the highest level. There remain no firm indications, however, that a player Ferguson has long admired is actually one of his targets and a general feeling persists that the €50m (£42m) price tag is excessive.

Another in the same age bracket as Benzema when United hired him was Michael Carrick, who was 24 when he arrived from Tottenham Hotspur in 2006 and his development into a profoundly influential player for Ferguson is regarded by him and Gill as the model United are striving for.

The agreement between the Glazers and their two most significant employees reflects the fact that the American owners, with their £650m debt to consider, must view player acquisitions as financial investments. Ferguson remarked last season on the way that Liverpool's Rafael Benitez had outspent him on players who had come and gone from Anfield. The Glazers are understood to have a £50m sum available for Ferguson this summer though a quantity of that is for "a rainy day", as one informed source has put it.

The resale value of Cristiano Ronaldo – which brought a £68m profit to United – reflects the wisdom of buying relatively young players and means that Ferguson has less need to dip into the £50m reserve. Increasingly in the past four or five years, Ferguson has bought young. Wayne Rooney, Nani and Anderson are all also players who have emerged having been signed aged 23 or under – hence the manager's contentment with a strategy which is a reaffirmation of his work.

Wigan Athletic's Luis Antonio Valencia is another 23-year-old they have in their sights – United officials will meet the Wigan chairman, Dave Whelan later this week to discuss buying the winger, Whelan revealed yesterday. But Ribéry does not appear to be a player they are seeking as a replacement for Ronaldo, despite the oblique hint yesterday by the Bayern Munich chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, that an offer had been lodged for the midfielder. "There are clubs that have come to us with offers. Chelsea's bid has already been reported, and there's also Manchester United and Barcelona," Rummenigge said.

Chelsea do not, as yet, present a threat to United's attempts to hold onto Tevez. The west London club consider the £25.5m figure required to buy him excessive and are keener on pursuing Ribéry.

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