The shocking reason Sir Alex fell out with Van Nistelrooy and turned down Ribéry

Sir Alex Ferguson sold Ruud Van Nistelrooy to Real Madrid because of disrespectful comments he made following the death of Cristiano Ronaldo’s father and turned down the chance to sign Franck Ribéry because he didn’t think he was good enough for Manchester United.

That’s according to Alistair Campbell, a close personal friend of Ferguson’s and the chief communications advisor to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose diaries covering the period 2005 to 2007 are released this week.

Van Nistelrooy scored 150 goals for United during the five seasons he spent at Old Trafford but the Dutchman’s relationship with Ferguson is understood to have become strained towards the end of the 2005/06 season. There have long been rumours that Ronaldo, whose father José died in 2005, was reduced to tears when Van Nistelrooy told him to “go crying to your daddy” during a training ground altercation – rumours Campbell’s diaries appear to confirm.

After a meeting with Ferguson in the south of France in June 2006, Campbell wrote the United boss was “not sure what was going to happen with Ruud Van Nistelrooy [Man U player]. Very self-centred. The last straw was when he told Cristiano Ronaldo he had found a new dad in Carlos [Queiroz, Ferguson’s assistant] – just after Ronaldo’s dad, who was an alcoholic, had died.

“Carlos asked him to show respect and he said he didn’t respect anyone there. He later apologised but CR was not having it. Alex sent Van Nistelrooy home when he heard about it later. He was not sure what he was going to do with him.”

A month later, Van Nistelrooy was sold to Real Madrid for €14 million.

Earlier in 2006, Campbell accompanied Ferguson to watch Bolton Wanderers play Marseille in the UEFA Cup.

Alex was watching Franck Ribéry, the Marseille winger, he wrote, but decided by half-time that he was not good enough for United.

Ribéry eventually joined Bayern Munich in June 2007 and has gone on to win seven Bundesliga titles as well as the 2013 Champions League.


Campbell’s diaries also reveal United were interested in both Villarreal’s Marcos Senna and Javier Mascherano – then of Corinthians – the summer they signed Michael Carrick from Tottenham, as well as Ferguson’s efforts to help Sam Allardyce succeed Sven-Göran Eriksson as manager of the England national team.

“Alex was a fan of Sam’s, thought he was way better than his public profile, but said he enjoyed his drink, and also that Trevor Brooking [FA director of football development] was totally against,” Campbell wrote.

“My own sense was that Sam thought he probably wouldn’t get it [the England job], but there was no harm being in the frame. In any event it was no bad thing to try and think through what he might need to get it.

“We worked up a short-term media plan for pre-shortlisting including him being the one to say it is not enough to be English then speech [sic] on the big challenge of how the next generation comes through when we have all these foreign players coming in. We agreed he would brief Oliver Kay [Times football writer] on the English plus angle. Then a speech-type event on international trends.

Sam Allardyce

“We saw Sam, who signed up to it as an overall approach. He tended to bounce around a bit from point to point, but he was bright and listened. He definitely wanted me to help him. We left things vague re any financial arrangements, but did agree it was not sensible for people to think I was involved in helping him.”

Allardyce was interviewed for the England job in 2006 but lost out to Steve McClaren.

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