I write from Yokohama, Japan, where I'm covering Manchester United in the World Club Cup. I have been here for four days and have seen the United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and the club's chief executive David Gill every day. The only time I've heard Cristiano Ronaldo's name mentioned by anyone associated with United was when Ferguson confirmed that he would play in last night's semi-final against Gamba Osaka.
At breakfast yesterday I bumped into some of the British journalists covering the tournament. "Have you heard the Ronaldo stuff?" asked one wearily. "A story has broken in Spain. Real Madrid are saying that they have done a secret deal with United to sign Ronaldo in the summer." The source of the story was "a friend" of Madrid director Pedro Trapote. Talk about tenuous. He was reported as saying to said friend: "If you are asking me what we are going to do now then I would tell you we have already signed the best player for the summer."
The friend replied: "Are you talking about Cristiano?" Trapote responded: "The best of the best. It is Cristiano, there is no other. "It is best to not say anything because there are some clauses that prevent us from announcing it now. For us it would be a good time, but we should not do that. But it is not bad, eh?" Ferguson and Gill have always maintained there is no covert arrangement to sell Ronaldo in the summer. I believe them. I spoke to another journalist who breakfasted with Gill, literally 100 metres from where I wrote these words.
"He knew nothing about it and neither does Ferguson," stated the journalist. "It's a pack of lies." Now if United's chief executive and manager don't know of any such deal, I wonder if Ronaldo himself knows.What the British journalists are not versed in are the internal mechanisms of Real and the reasons why a story like this was allowed to break. Their directors are under huge pressure. Results are dreadful, the injury list is substantial, they've slipped to sixth in the league and lost to arch-rivals Barcelona at the weekend.
Potential presidential candidates are using these problems to undermine the current directors. They are briefing journalists saying that this would never happen if they were in charge, cosying up to former players and influential supporters to build an election platform. So Madrid's directors need to deliver good news, even if they don't have it. There could not be any better news than Ronaldo signing and so the "news" is delivered by a source close to the club.
Madrid, whose president Ramon Calderon has seen his reputation damaged by speculating too much and not delivering, don't have to confirm or deny it because it hasn't come directly from the club. The whole Ronaldo to Real story has become so tiresome that United have all but switched off about it. It irritates Sir Alex Ferguson, hence his outspoken comments about Madrid - after the win over Gamba yesterday, he said he "wouldn't sell Madrid a virus" - and the club's puppet publication Marca.
I received a call from an editor of Marca last week. He asked if I could help set up an interview with Ferguson. The United manager is usually amenable to interviews with the respected European football media. He loves in-depth interviews, especially with French publications like L'Equipe or France Football, but I told Marca there was more chance of Madrid winning the Spanish league this year with Ronaldo as their star player. I think he got the message.