Sir Alex Ferguson returns to Old Trafford urgently needing to find a new striker
A mere 32 days have passed since United relinquished their grip on the European Cup against Barcelona in Rome, but Ferguson has lost much more than football's premier trophy in that short time. Cristiano Ronaldo has been allowed to head through the Old Trafford exit door for Real Madrid – albeit for a world record £80 million – and Carlos Tevez has rejected a five-year contract worth £110,000 a week in order to move to Manchester City, a transfer which is likely to be rubber-stamped on July 1. Ronaldo and Tevez delivered 41 goals between them last season and, despite a long-standing interest in the £25 million-rated Lyon forward Karim Benzema, Ferguson has yet to lure a proven goalscorer to Old Trafford to fill the void. In contrast, Mark Hughes has been steadily ticking the boxes in the blue half of Manchester with a £12 million move for Gareth Barry and last week's £17 million acquisition of Roque Santa Cruz bolstering City's squad. Barring an unlikely about-turn by Tevez, the Argentine is set to be the next man in at Eastlands, and City are confident of adding Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o and Everton defender Joleon Lescott before the season begins on Aug 15. Ferguson had warned Hughes prior to last month's Manchester derby at Old Trafford that City's new-found wealth, courtesy of owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, would only make it more difficult for the club to sign the players required at Eastlands. The reality appears somewhat different. City's ability to outbid and outpay their rivals has given them a huge advantage in this summer's transfer market. While United and Chelsea remain determined only to do deals that make financial sense, City are able to take risks. It is difficult to imagine another club sanctioning a £17 million move for Santa Cruz, a 27-year-old with a chequered injury record, but City, who require a raft of top quality signings simply to close the gap of the Big Four, have the finance. United are due to receive the £80 million Ronaldo fee in one payment from Madrid once the deal is completed this week, but do not expect Ferguson to spend the money as quickly as it is deposited into the club's account. With City and Real inflating the market this summer, and the United hierarchy still of the belief that Dimitar Berbatov's £30.75 million transfer fee last September was a classic case of football's distorted economics, moves for Benzema and Wigan's Antonio Valencia will only be done at realistic levels. Wigan expect Ecuador winger Valencia, who returned from his summer holiday on Saturday, to complete a £17 million transfer to United this week. Snaring Benzema will prove more problematic now that Real are in the running to sign the Frenchman after giving up on Valencia's David Villa. The lack of proven goalscorers who are both available and affordable is another problem facing Ferguson. The £25.5 million set aside to complete a deal for Tevez remains available, but the United manager will do well to recruit an A-list striker for that money. The options are thin on the ground. Villa has made it clear that he does not want to leave Spain, while Eto'o's likely departure for six weeks of African Cup of Nations duty with Cameroon in January renders him a non-starter. Real have already secured Kaka, so that leaves Fernando Torres, but Ferguson could offer the Ronaldo money and the deeds to Old Trafford for the Liverpool striker and still be laughed out of Anfield by Rafael Benitez.
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