Rafa Benitez, the Liverpool manager, looks to have won his battle to keep Xabi Alonso after Real Madrid's sporting director Jorge Valdano suggested the club were being priced out of signing the Spain international midfielder.
With Madrid still gripped by Ronaldomania and sales of the player's No 9 shirt set to break all records, Valdano gave the strongest indication yet that Real will not be prepared to meet Liverpool's valuation for Alonso. He said: "Alonso is our priority, if he fits with our budget, and this does not seem to be the case. We are very far away from Liverpool's figures.
"Liverpool have adopted a position that is making it very difficult for us and right now we can see ourselves distancing ourselves from the player.
"There are people who are a little bit mistaken when they speak with Real Madrid. When we ask after a player they think it's a great economic opportunity and they go beyond what is reasonable. We are looking at alternatives to Xabi – players who have a lot in common with him."
Real are understood to have reached an agreement with Franck Ribéry that they will sign him next summer. Using a tactic that worked last year with Cristiano Ronaldo, it seems the Bayern Munich midfielder is being lined up as a 2010 galactico.
Valdano said: "After the three massive players we have signed we can afford to wait. Ribéry is right to commit himself to the club where he has a contract, but let us see how his career develops. Everyone knows that Real Madrid are interested in him. But life is long and if it does not happen this season it can happen next season."
The suggestion that the astronomical spending may now have to stop will do little to dampen the euphoria of Real fans who yesterday cleaned the club out of Ronaldo replica shirts. Almost 3,000 were sold in the first two hours of business and stocks had run dry by closing time last night. But not everyone paid the €85 (£69) price, with around 300 stolen within hours of them going on sale at the stadium shop.
The demand for Ronaldo shirts has so far out-stripped those for fellow new signing Kaka, who sold around 600 on the first day. David Beckham famously sold a million shirts in his first six months at the club but Ronaldo looks set to top that if the differences in the two players' presentations are any indication. Beckham filled the club's 5,000 capacity basketball arena back in 2003 when he was presented to supporters. Ronaldo managed to fill the 80,000-seat Bernabeu stadium.
The Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, was hailed almost as enthusiastically as Ronaldo by supporters but he may yet face a fan backlash for failing to land any top Spanish talent this summer. Alonso was most supporters' choice to be Real's next big signing because he is one of the heroes from last year's European Championship triumph.
Only two of the team that conquered Europe play for Real and, after missing out on David Villa, fans are desperate for Alonso to sign. But Valdano admitted: "It is proving much more difficult to sign the top Spanish players than the top international stars."
Despite the club distancing themselves from any more big-money acquisitions, additional signings have not been ruled out. Valdano said: "If we signed two or a maximum of three more then we would be covered."
He also admitted his delight at having beaten Manchester United to the signing of Lyons striker Karim Benzema. Valdano said: "We are glad to have got him. He is just 21 years old and he has a great future. He is powerful, two-footed and he has all the desire that a young player should have."
It now seems that the only way Alonso will leave Liverpool is if Real can include players in the deal to bring the price down, but Valdano admitted the club were struggling to off-load surplus squad members because of their reluctance to leave.
He added: "Despite the fact that the market is slightly depressed we have had a lot of offers for our players but in a lot of cases it is difficult to persuade players that they should leave."
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