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Why Ferdinand is key for Man Utd beating Tottenham to Joao Moutinho

Rio Ferdinand could prove as influential as Sir Alex himself in Manchester United finally discovering Paul Scholes' long-term successor.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has decided upon Porto's 25 year-old midfielder Joao Moutinho as the man to fill Scholes' playmaking duties - and like Ferdinand, the Portuguese counts on Pini Zahavi as his agent and prime football adviser.

Competition for Moutinho is intense, with his former Porto coach, Andre Villas-Boas, wanting the midfielder to join him at Tottenham. The pull of AVB is strong, with Moutinho confessing only last week he would gladly follow his old gaffer to White Hart Lane.

"AVB is one of the best coaches I've worked with," Moutinho declared. "I'd work with him again tomorrow."

It was under AVB at Porto that Moutinho was able to get his career back on track. After seeing his then employers Sporting Lisbon reject a £12 million offer from Everton at the end of the 2008/09 season, Moutinho, by his own admission, threw a wobbler and went through the motions the following season.

With the influential Paulo Bento leaving as coach and having been overlooked for the 2010 World Cup, Moutinho's career appeared on the skids.

But in stepped Villas-Boas that summer.

A controversial deal was struck between Sporting and Porto, which saw Moutinho make the rare move between the rival pair. The transfer only happened after Sporting had forgotten to include in Moutinho's original contract a clause denying the sale to a Portuguese rival. When Sporting attempted to amend terms, they were shut down by Zahavi.

At €11 million, it was a record fee for a domestic transfer and left Sporting bitter.

"As an athlete, he has made a big impact on the field, but as a man we will not miss him," Sporting president José Eduardo Bettencourt said at the time, adding: "A rotten apple contaminates the environment."

But for Porto, the rest is history, as Moutinho inspired them to a Treble that following season, launching Villas-Boas' coaching career in the process.

If United do manage to find common ground with Porto, Moutinho's antics in those final days at Sporting are unlikely to put off Ferguson. Since posting Carlos Queiroz to see him in action for Sporting against Rangers in a UEFA Cup tie four years ago, Ferguson has followed Moutinho's career with great interest.

Even before then, he was aware of the diminutive midfielder, having come through the same Sporting youth system as Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. At 20, Moutinho was captain of the club, just months after winning his first cap.

However, as much as his move to Porto has helped Moutinho rebuild his career, the terms around the transfer could also hold him back.

United opened negotiations with Porto last week about a fee for Moutinho, while Spurs have been in regular touch since before Villas-Boas' appointment. But as both clubs are now discovering, Porto won't be taken for mugs over a price for his sale.

As frustrating as it is for United and Spurs, Porto's stand is also understandable. While the club need a big sale to balance the books this summer, cashing in on Moutinho won't produce the sort of money needed to make their accountants happy.

In allowing Moutinho to move to Porto, Sporting insisted on a massive sell-on clause. It's understood should any club even meet the player's €40 million buyout clause, only €15 million would go to Porto, with the rest being shared by Sporting and Moutinho's former junior clubs.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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