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Monday, July 28, 2008

Blatter's slave remark 'unfortunate' - Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson has hit out at Sepp Blatter's claim that Manchester United are treating Cristiano Ronaldo like a slave.

The FIFA president caused outrage with his comments, likening Ronaldo - who only signed a five-year contract with United 12 months ago - to a serf in feudal times.

Pictures of the Portugal winger sunning himself in Los Angeles this week certainly did not fit that description, although Ronaldo did agree when quizzed about Blatter's comments.

However, Ferguson takes a different view.

And, as he seems increasingly likely to stave off Real Madrid's continued attempts to sign the 23-year-old, he chose to admonish Blatter ahead of his side's 2-1 pre-season friendly win over Portsmouth in Nigeria last night.

'It was an unfortunate statement from someone in such a position,' Ferguson told a pre-match press conference.

'Slavery was abolished many years ago. These days footballers can earn five or six million pounds a year.

'I do not want to dignify this kind of statement with a response but when you consider the history of slavery, it was a very unfortunate statement.'

Ronaldo is not due back in action until October following a recent ankle operation but could return to United's training HQ at Carrington at the end of next month to step up his recovery programme.

Meanwhile, United took the honours in the first of three meetings in a month with Portsmouth.

Chris Eagles and Carlos Tevez did the damage for the English and European champions in last night's friendly against the FA Cup winners.

Both sides will expect improvement when they meet again in the Community Shield on August 10 and, more importantly still, the Barclays Premier League two weeks after that.

Should the Premier League ever manage to force through their badly-received plan for a 39th game on tour, it is to be hoped they keep ticket prices at a reasonable level.

For, while Nigeria as a whole and Abuja in particular are viewed as teeming with United supporters, the national stadium was sparsely populated last night, lending a further air of unreality to an already surreal occasion.

Ole backed to succeed

Working closely with Sir Alex Ferguson can make Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a success in management, according to Norway coach Age Hareide.

Although only three games into his fledgling managerial career, Ole has made a promising start to his new role at the Reserves helm and Hareide - who coached Solskjaer for Molde and Norway - expects that upward curve to continue.

"I think Ole has what it takes be a good manager," Hareide told "He has a lot of experience and he's certainly been under a manager who has shown how management should be done.

"Alex Ferguson knows the game and how to handle people, and Ole is a very quick learner and he picks up bits and pieces from everyone. If he can pick up some bits and pieces from Alex Ferguson then I think he could be a very good manager."

Hareide will be at Old Trafford this weekend as Ole celebrates his United playing career with a testimonial against Espanyol. Having played a pivotal role in Solskjaer's career by taking him to Molde, selling him to United and coaching him internationally, Hareide beams with pride at the striker's subsequent achievements.

"When you're a coach you always wish your players well and hope they succeed in life," he said. "Ole was very special because we built up a great relationship over the years and we still talk a lot. He's someone I'm very fond of; a special person in many ways."

Rio: I'll be fit for title defence

Rio Ferdinand has brushed off any doubts about his fitness and is certain he will be fully fit for the start of United's Premier League title defence.

Ferdinand has missed much of United's pre-season campaign so far. He has been limited to just one outing - the full 90 minutes against Orlando Pirates in South Africa.

A back strain kept him out of the first match against Kaizer Chiefs, and he did not play in either of this weekends games against Kaizer Chiefs and Portsmouth as he had flown home to be with his partner who is expecting their second child.

But Ferdinand is unperturbed by his lack of playing time so far this summer.

"I don't see it as a problem," he said. "There's enough games to get under my belt before the start of the season.

"Fingers crossed I'll be fit for those. I did ground work before going out to South Africa and I'll do a lot of work in training back at home."

Euro crown tough to retain

United face a tough task retaining the Champions League crown the Reds won so dramatically in Moscow, according to Owen Hargreaves. But he says Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad certainly have the talent to be among the main contenders.

AC Milan were the last team to win back-to-back European Cup titles in 1989 and 1990. But it would seem that long gone are the days when, between 1971-1980, the trophy changed hands just four times. Ajax won it three times between 1971-73, Bayern Munich held the title between 1974-76, Liverpool won it twice in a row in 1977-78, and Nottingham Forrest clinched successive crowns in 1979 and 1980.

“It is not impossible to retain the Champions League but it is going to be difficult,” said Hargreaves. “Barcelona have signed the right players, Real Madrid look good, and Chelsea have improved dramatically.

"It’s going to be tough and it’s a big ask. But we are very capable of doing it again.”

Hargreaves knows precisely how tough it can be. Having won the trophy in his first season with Bayern Munich in 2000/01, the Germans then surrendered the crown the following year, losing to eventual winners Real Madrid in the quarter finals.

“It is getting harder and harder to win the Champions League,” Hargreaves added. “The most important thing is to peak at the right moments. You need to get through the groups and put yourself in a position where you have the home leg second like we did last season.

"Everything fell for us at the right time. Our form was good all season, and in the decisive games it was even better. We did a good job of peaking at the right time and it’s something we will have to do again this year.”

United’s advantage is the age of some of the players in the squad, who will only have benefited from last season’s experience. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it has provided the team with a solid foundation and Hargreaves expects the Reds to push on this term.

“I think we can get better,” he says. “I definitely believe that. Cristiano is injured and Anderson will be away at the Olympics, so we will miss them early on. But apart from that the squad looks good. Even the younger players. Wayne is only 22 so he will improve.

"These players have been together for another year and I am looking forward to seeing how they do together. Gary Neville is also back, so it’s looking good for us.”

Saha heading for PSG

United are ready to sell Louis Saha to big-spending Paris St Germain to raise money for new arrivals. The injury-jinxed French striker, 29, is wanted by PSG who have signed Chelsea veteran Claude Makelele and is interested in going home if a fee and personal terms can be agreed. United have rejected several bids from clubs who want Saha on loan and PSG would have to buy the hitman and then be able to take on his stunning £4million-ayear salary. Sir Alex Ferguson has grown fed up with Saha's inability to be a significant part of his squad and the money from shifting him could help in his bid for a fit goalscorer. Saha should know his PSG fate shortly.
Alan Nixon, Daily Mirror