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Last Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005, 12:31 GMT
Has Ferguson bought a crisis?
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Sir Alex Ferguson's crowning glory at Manchester United was the 1999 Champions League triumph - 13 years in the making and won in two dramatic injury-time minutes against Bayern Munich in Barcelona.

It was also the climax for United's "golden generation" of youngsters that produced David Beckham, Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs.

Ferguson now faces his biggest challenge in recent history as he prepares to face Chelsea, the new supreme power on and off the pitch and with United's hopes of Champions League glory in the balance after defeat against Lille.

Beckham's departure for Real Madrid in summer 2003 marked a watershed for Manchester United and Ferguson - they have not won the Premiership since he left and the manager's buying policy is under harsh scrutiny.

So could Ferguson be the architect of his own downfall with a flawed transfer policy?

ERIC DJEMBA-DJEMBA - 3.5M NANTES JULY 2003

Eric Djemba-Djemba

THE HYPE: Sir Alex Ferguson: "He's quick, aggressive and a good passer of the ball and is exactly the kind of athletic footballer we are looking for. He looks like a Manchester United player in every sense."

THE REALITY: Pedestrian, off the pace and soon shipped off to Aston Villa. He may have looked like a Manchester United player - but no-one could remember which one.

THE VERDICT: Failure.

TIM HOWARD - 2.3M NEW YORK METRO STARS JULY 2003

THE HYPE: Sir Alex Ferguson said: "Everything we have seen has been impressive. He has real presence."

THE REALITY: No longer has real presence in Ferguson's first-team plans. Impressive start faltered amid mistakes, the most costly of which led to a Champions League exit against Jose Mourinho's Porto. Now very much a deputy to Edwin van der Sar.

THE VERDICT: Failure.

KLEBERSON - 6M ATLETICO PARANAENSE AUGUST 2003

THE HYPE: Sir Alex Ferguson said: "I think Kleberson won the World Cup for Brazil. I think he was vital to them."

THE REALITY: And there was the rest of the world thinking Ronaldo's goals won the World Cup for Brazil in 2002. Never made an impact, unsuited to the Premiership and looked out of his depth. Sold to Besiktas for 2.5m in August 2005.

THE VERDICT: Failure.

CRISTIANO RONALDO - 12.2M SPORTING LISBON AUGUST 2003

THE HYPE: Sir Alex Ferguson said: "He's a young lad who is going to get better and better. Hopefully he is going to be at this club a long time."

THE REALITY: Dazzling skills and rich potential, but end product still unpredictable. Struggled badly this season.

THE VERDICT: Erratic - but still time to be a success.

LIAM MILLER - FREE TRANSFER CELTIC JANUARY 2004

THE HYPE: Sir Alex Ferguson said: "We recognise his potential. He is very much part of our progressive thinking of developing a young team over the next few years."

THE REALITY: More like Liam Lucan - disappeared without trace at Old Trafford. Looked slow and unsuited to the top-flight. Allowed to join Leeds on loan.

THE VERDICT: Failure.

LOUIS SAHA - 12.8M FULHAM JANUARY 2004

THE HYPE: Sir Alex Ferguson said: "We have got a young and gifted centre-forward. Louis is an exciting talent who has made incredible progress. To have finally secured this deal is fantastic."

THE REALITY: Talented no doubt, but seemingly injured on a permanent basis and has started just 16 games.

THE VERDICT: Failure.

ALAN SMITH - 6M LEEDS MAY 2004

THE HYPE: Sir Alex Ferguson said: "I have never been more impressed with a young player. Certain young people come along with a special determination and after speaking to him I expect that from Alan Smith."

THE REALITY: Started brilliantly then sidelined by the arrival of Wayne Rooney. Ferguson apparently now sees him as a potential midfield successor to Roy Keane. Not one of his better ideas.

THE VERDICT: Success when played in his right position - failure in midfield.

GABRIEL HEINZE - 6.9M PARIS ST GERMAIN JUNE 2004

THE HYPE: Sir Alex Ferguson said: "A great acquisition. Strength, speed and excellent technical ability.

THE REALITY: All of the above and will be desperately missed after being ruled out for months with a knee injury.

THE VERDICT: Success.

WAYNE ROONEY - 27M EVERTON AUGUST 2004

THE HYPE: Sir Alex Ferguson said: "We have got the best young player this country has seen in the past 30 years."

THE REALITY: Manchester United have got the best young player this country has seen in the past 30 years.

THE VERDICT: Success - but faces huge burden of responsibility.

EDWIN VAN DER SAR - 2M FULHAM JUNE 2005

THE HYPE: Sir Alex Ferguson said: "Edwin's a very experienced keeper who has played at the highest level and we are delighted to have got him."

THE REALITY: Has been outstanding until his error at Middlesbrough - the hyper-criticial may question why Ferguson did not sign him years ago.

THE VERDICT: Success.

JI-SUNG PARK - 4M PSV EINDHOVEN JULY 2005

THE HYPE: Sir Alex Ferguson said: "The boy is coming on in terrific style. His movement off the ball and his awareness of space is exceptional for such a young man."

THE REALITY: One for the future, but cannot be expected to pull United out of crisis.

THE VERDICT: Promising but unspectacular.


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