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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

Manchester United poised for a shopping spree

The British powerhouse hasn't spent much yet but has a lot of cash on hand. Expect Sir Alex Ferguson to make a major move or two before all is said and done.

July 12, 2009|GRAHAME L. JONES

Sir Alex Ferguson and his traveling sideshow head for Asia this week, the pilgrimage to parts East intended to serve as both a jersey-selling venture and a way to knock the rust off last season.

Only one month remains before Manchester United begins its quest for a fourth consecutive Premier League title and a record 19th English championship overall.

Well, good luck with that.

The United team that will be playing friendly games in Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and China lacks a couple of the baubles that sparkled on last season's tree.

Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, has been sold to the gullible folks at Real Madrid for a whopping $131 million, most of which Ferguson has so far been unable to spend on anyone of even remotely similar quality.

Forward Carlos Tevez has left in a huff, and this week is expected to join neighbor and rival Manchester City for a tidy sum. The Argentine is supposed to link with Brazilian Robinho and Paraguayan Roque Santa Cruz in the City's All-South American attack.

Well, good luck with that too.

Meanwhile, all that Manchester United has been able to do with its pile of ready cash is to buy a couple of relative unknowns -- wingers Antonio Valencia, 23, of Ecuador and Gabriel Obertan, 20, of France.

Oh, yes, and to sign free-agent forward Michael Owen.

Owen, 29, is seventh on the all-time Premier League scoring chart with 144 goals, but in recent seasons he has had almost as many injuries as goals. He cost United nothing, though, and has been willing to take a sizable salary cut to stay relevant as a player, so it's not much of a gamble by Ferguson.

If the striker who has scored 40 goals in 89 games for England can suddenly turn 18 again, it might prove to be a shrewd move by the Scot. Even Fabio Capello, England's coach, might take note.

The summer transfer window will remain open for quite a few more weeks, and it is very likely that despite being rejected by the likes of French standouts Franck Ribery (still at Bayern Munich) and Karim Benzema (off to Real Madrid), United's manager will be making a few big-money moves before it closes.

The latest rumor circulating around Old Trafford is that United will make a play for Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o, after Manchester City's efforts to sign the Cameroon international came unstuck Friday.

Ferguson absolutely has to replace Ronaldo and Tevez, who scored one-third of United's league goals last season. If he doesn't, he can kiss his Premier League and European Champions League hopes goodbye.

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Liverpool's plight

By all rights, Liverpool should have won the Premier League title last season. Under Manager Rafael Benitez, it scored more goals (77) than any other team, had a better goal difference (50) than any other team and lost fewer games (two) than any other team.

On top of that, Liverpool defeated Manchester United twice, 2-1 at home and 4-1 in Manchester. It was clearly the better club.

Liverpool's downfall, though, came in dropping points at home to such nonentities as Stoke City, West Ham United and Hull City, teams that it should have thrashed.

Benitez would like to strengthen the squad, but all he has accomplished to date is to sign England international defender Glen Johnson for $28 million, which is more than Johnson is worth, and to lock talismanic midfielder Steven Gerrard, 29, into a four-year, $227,000-a-week contract through 2013.

Meanwhile, Benitez has been fighting off Real Madrid in its attempts to lure Spanish international midfielder Xabi Alonso away from Anfield, and European champion Barcelona in its effort to take Argentine international midfielder Javier Mascherano to Spain to join countryman Lionel Messi.

The 18-time English champion has slapped an $80-million price tag on each player, though, and so far that seems to be working.

"Right now there is an insurmountable economic barrier, but that's something that can change," Miguel Pardeza, Real Madrid's sporting director, said Friday of any Alonso deal.

How Liverpool fares in 2009-10 will ultimately depend on keeping the Spanish wolves from its door and beating the English sheep when they show up at Anfield.

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Chelsea's dilemma

Like Manchester United, Chelsea on Thursday sets off on its summer travels. Instead of Asia, though, it is heading to the U.S., for games in such scenic spots as Pasadena, Baltimore and Arlington, Texas.

The July 21 friendly against Italian champion Inter Milan at the Rose Bowl should prove especially interesting. It pits Jose Mourinho, who coached the Blues to two Premier League titles, against Carlo Ancelotti, who left AC Milan this summer to take charge of Chelsea.

"He is no friend of mine," Mourinho said last week of Ancelotti.

Of more concern to Ancelotti at the moment than trading barbs with Mourinho is holding on to England captain and Chelsea icon John Terry. Manchester City already has had a $45-million offer for the defender rejected and is now preparing a $52-million bid.

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