Arriving six minutes late for the media interaction at Newlands in Cape Town, Sir Alex Ferguson sought to put the lid on Cristiano Ronaldo's future only to have Real Madrid reaffirm that they are assiduously pursuing the Portuguese star.
"I can say that he will be a Manchester United player next season," Ferguson, with skipper Gary Neville by his side, told journalists, which included those here on an invitation from South Africa Tourism to follow the three-team Vodacom Challenge and get a first-hand feel of South Africa's preparations for 2010.
Having broken his silence on Ronaldo, Ferguson also confirmed that he had spoken to the 23-year-old star but added that "what I said to him will remain private." On his third visit to South Africa and still seeking his first title here (Manchester United lost to South Africa's Kaiser Chiefs, their first opponents this time, on penalties in 2006), the coach said they hadn't spoken earlier because "I didn't want to interrupt my holiday."
"For the moment, we are saying nothing because he is still a contracted player with Manchester United. Ronaldo will be out for three months and like with everyone else, we will continue to monitor his rehabilitation programme to ensure that he comes back 100 per cent. There will be no risks taken on that, we never do," said Sir Alex.
So far so good. Hours after they had trained and gone from Newlands, Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon asked his board members to relax "because he (Ronaldo) won't say no now," according to reports from Spain. "In 10 or 15 days, he will arrive," Calderon was quoted as saying, fuelling rumours of an 85 million euros offer which could make Ronaldo trade Old Trafford for the Bernabeau.
So try as he might, Ferguson couldn't ensure that the last has been heard on this. Like Edwin van der Saar, Nani, Anderson, Owen Hargreaves and Patrice Evra, Ronaldo isn't here but rarely has someone been this conspicuous by his absence.
Even Stevens at Newlands
After nine minutes of first-team action last season, Neville got a run out on Saturday and stayed on the Newlands park for 65 minutes. There was little else to cheer though for Ferguson and his famous band of footballers in the city within a shout from the Cape of Good Hope.
At a sold out stadium packed with red shirts, Wayne Rooney was cheered when he came on but booed when he left in the 73rd minute, being substituted by Jon Evans. United trailed for 21 minutes after John O'Shea felled Kaizer Cheifs's Siphiwe Tshabala and central defender Jonathan Quartey converted the 39th minute penalty for the home team.
Chris Eagle levelled scores with a 61st minute header after getting to the end of a super ball from Carlos Tevez from the right but the "unfinished business" Ferguson mentioned at Friday's media conference stayed, well, unfinished. Manc U next play Orlando Pirates on Tuesday in Durban.