Cristiano Ronaldo yesterday ended speculation about his future by declaring 'Manchester United are the biggest club in the world, and are the only team I will ever play for'.
In a dramatic turnaround following comments last week from the player that 'Madrid has always been in my heart', the Portuguese superstar pledged the rest of his career to United at a hastily arranged press conference at Old Trafford.
Ferguson looked relaxed, maybe even a little smug, and laughed and joked with reporters, saying he'd 'looked into the crystal ball' and seen Ronaldo's future with the reigning European Champions.
"I wasnae concerned, no even fer a second," he insisted. "I always knew Ronnie would see sense and realise this is the best place fer him." Digging the winger sharply in the ribs he added; "Eh, Ronnie?"
A miserable looking Ronaldo pushed his shoulders back and beamed on cue, muttering hastily:
"Of course. Always not a question that I stay."
When asked why he'd made comments only four days previously hinting heavily that he would make the move to Spain, he fixed his gaze on the table for a minute and, under the watchful eye of Ferguson, said in halting English:
"My comments were taken out of co-co-con….." Breaking off he glanced to Ferguson, who leant closer, looked to the table where Ronaldo was pointing, and whispered in his ear. "Context. Yes, the press have caused a lot of problems with the reports. Also, Real Madrid has behaved in a very underhand manner. I am very disappointed in them."
"Are you reading from a script Cristiano?" one hack called cheekily.
Again, Ronaldo laughed somewhat nervously and shook his head emphatically.
"Of course not. Is all the words I say in the day to day living."
"So we shouldn't take them out of context then?"
Ronaldo looked baffled, and at this point Ferguson took charge once more, inviting more questions with a cheery 'I'm always so happy to talk to you guys, you know that'. He was questioned about the heavy security presence - twenty armed guards stood at various points on the stage, and more roamed the perimeter of the room. A helicopter could also be heard circling nearby.
"The lad will receive threats, I've nae doubt," the United boss said sagely. "And there is always the kidnap threat from Real. They'd do anything, you know, to get Ronnie."
When asked about rumours that Ronaldo was effectively on house arrest, having his shopping delivered, being driven to and from training in an armoured car, he waved his hand dismissively, and explained that as a caring employer, Manchester United was trialling this new way of ensuring optimum performance by removing the everyday stresses of life, adding the club were so pleased with the results they would be extending the scheme to include all first team players.
Astonishingly, Ferguson later revealed that, at the club's expense, a nightclub had been built in the grounds of Ronaldo's Cheshire home, along with a fully functioning corner shop, library, barbers and franchises of the Blockbuster and Starbucks chains. The canny Scot emphasised how important it is to ensure players kept their feet on the ground and maintained 'a sense of normality'. Would this happen for every player, he was asked. He paused for a second, pursed his lips and shrugged, murmuring 'we'll see'.
Towards the end of the press conference, Ronaldo was asked if, now his futures was secured, he was looking forward to relaxing at the forthcoming wedding of Wayne Rooney and Colleen McLoughlin. He raised his hands and said mournfully:
"I have not the passport. Not a plane to Italy for me."
His remark caused a scene that could easily be described as panic amongst the gathered United officials. Ferguson signalled hastily to the press officer to end the session before forcing a smile to his face and grabbing hold of Ronaldo's arm.
"Ha ha! These young 'uns, you know what they're like - can't trust 'em with a daily newspaper let alone a passport!" He laughed sharply, all the while tightening his grip on a clearly uncomfortable Ronaldo. "No, the lads passport remains in the club safe, and he is, of course, free to collect it when he next goes on holiday. But right now I think he's just having too much fun with all the new facilities at his home to be worried about gallivanting half way across Europe for a poxy wedding that he can read about in the papers anyway."
With that they collectively stood up and, flanked by a security guard and grim-faced Ferguson, Ronaldo was escorted from the stage. Just before they disappeared behind the scenes, Ferguson turned Ronaldo round to face the cameras with the air of a trainer presenting his champion stallion.
"Look at him, guys! He's having the time of his life with United. I mean, does he look unhappy to you?!"
With that they proceeded through the double doors. Sounds not dissimilar to sobs were heard echoing down the corridor, although an Old Trafford official later explained them away as a noises from a dodgy boiler.