Sir Alex Ferguson will be sweating on today’s Champions League draw in the knowledge that his side could land Cristiano Ronaldo and his new Real Madrid team-mates.
The Spanish giants might have smashed the world transfer record with the £80million acquisition of Ronaldo, not to mention £56m Kaka and a string of other big-money signings, but they go into Thursday afternoon’s draw here in Monaco among the eight second seeds.
That actually means any one of the four English clubs in the draw could find themselves in a group with Madrid because Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal — who secured their place in the draw with victory over Celtic at the Emirates on Wednesday — are all top seeds.
For new Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti there is a scenario he will dread even more than Madrid — two group stage encounters with Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan.
Judging by Ancelotti’s recently published autobiography, he is not a huge fan of the man who previously occupied the Stamford Bridge hot seat — he openly mocks him for the ‘special’ way he refers to himself — and the idea of meeting Mourinho in two competitive games so early in his own tenure after switching from AC Milan is unlikely to be something he relishes.
A group including Juventus, another of his former employers, might also be something Ancelotti would be keen to avoid. Such is the seeding this year one English team could find themselves in a particularly tricky group.
As well as three giants of the European game in the second pot, there are some highly-rated sides among the third and fourth seeded teams. Two sides will qualify from each group but that might not be easy for the English quartet should one of them find they also have Atletico Madrid or Stuttgart in their group as a third seeded team — or possibly even a fourth seeded team in German champions Wolfsburg.
For Ferguson, however, a meeting with Ronaldo could prove particularly painful. His side might have impressed against Wigan last weekend but their performances against Burnley and Birmingham demonstrated how much of a void has been left by the departure of the world’s best player.
Especially when spending the money United received for the Portugal winger has proved so difficult to spend. In part that is because Ronaldo’s transfer has so inflated the market other clubs are demanding crazy amounts for players Ferguson, and indeed other top managers, no longer considers value for money.
United and Chelsea have both expressed an interest in Franck Ribery but not at £65m — the price that has been quoted by Bayern Munich all summer.