Fergie: The price is right
IN the week that Sir Alex Ferguson declared Carlos Tevez overpriced at £25m, the United manager might have been well-advised not to highlight a clutch of his own expensive recruits who have yet to live up to their hefty price tags. Outlining how his Premier League champions will adjust to life without Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferguson pointed the finger at four players for whom the jury is still out. Ferguson is convinced Dimitar Berbatov, Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and Nani will step up to the plate in the absence of the world and European Footballer of the Year. While his faith is admirable, none of that quartet has managed to produce the consistency of performance that their price tags demand. Be it through injury or form, each one of them has flattered to deceive at Old Trafford. And at a combined cost of more than £80m, Ferguson now expects them to deliver. The Scot has so far been cagey in his spending this summer - with the £16m for Antonio Valencia his only major outlay in terms of money spent. But in the cases of Anderson and Nani in particular, the investment made two years ago to bring them from Porto and Sporting Lisbon respectively was always intended to bear fruit at a later date. As for Berbatov and Hargreaves, he has every right to have expected more from players he signed to make an immediate impact. "Owen Hargreaves will come back," said Ferguson of the midfielder who has undergone career-saving operations on both knees. Anderson will improve, Nani will improve, and Wayne Rooney will improve. "I think they've got to improve, the young players, and we expect them to improve. I think Dimitar Berbatov will have a terrific season, too." Potential Time will tell if Anderson and Nani can fulfil their considerable potential - but just as Ferguson was rewarded for showing faith in frustrating teenage Ronaldo, he hopes for much of the same with his current duo. Anderson was sold to him as a player with the potential to become the best in the world one day, but rarely has he shown that in the red of United. Ferguson has described him as the future of the club - a natural successor to the likes of Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Bryan Robson. And while he has acquitted himself well in one-off games against Steven Gerrard and Cesc Fabregas, such displays have been all too infrequent. His failure to score in 74 appearances raises further questions about his genuine credentials to succeed Scholes, particularly with the former England international likely to be used increasingly sparingly next season. There are much deeper misgivings about Nani, who many expected to be on his way out of United this summer. The Portuguese international suffered an alarming case of "second season syndrome" last term, featuring in only 13 league games. Still he was United's second leading scorer from midfield behind Ronaldo with six goals, though five of those came in cup competition. Berbatov will not be afforded such time to convince his critics that he is little more than a £30.75m flop. But without Ronaldo, Berbatov will have the opportunity to take on an increasingly pivotal role. Ferguson has already revealed United will play a more compact system that may enable the mercurial striker to be the link between midfield and attack in the same manner as Cantona and Teddy Sheringham after him. As for Hargreaves, the former Bayern Munich midfielder simply has to prove his fitness. Tendonitis has plagued his first two years at United, though he has impressed during his fleeting appearances in the first team. He is due to return in September and how Ferguson has missed him. While Ferguson is confident he already has the players at the club to make the seamless transition to life without Ronaldo, he also believes he has been savvy in the transfer market. Valencia is proven in the Premier League and a player he believes can develop into a genuinely world-class winger. Obertan is a bundle of excitement and raw ability just as Ronaldo was when he first arrived in 2003 - while free signing Michael Owen could prove the shrewdest acquisition anywhere this summer. "He is worth the risk," said Ferguson. "Sometimes you have a punt, a bet or a gamble. You just start to think, `These bloody transfers, we can carry that, we can carry Michael Owen'. "I won't ask him to play every four days. I might ask him to play every 10 days." Who will be United's key players this season? Have your say.
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