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Sunday 22 January 2017

Ferguson tips Rooney to take on leadership role

MARK OGDEN

Published 24/07/2011 | 05:00

As Alex Ferguson held court in an imposing boardroom inside Chicago's opulent Four Seasons Hotel, high-powered executives rushing about their business in the lobby typified just why the capital of America's Midwest is billed as an 'alpha world city' and 'The City of Big Shoulders'.

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Appropriately, the central theme of Ferguson's thoughts on Manchester United's plans for the new season centred on the big shoulders he has lost from his Old Trafford squad since the end of last season.

Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Edwin van der Sar, three of United's alpha males, have meandered into retirement, leaving Ferguson approaching his 70th birthday in December with a new-look squad and one which, suddenly, appears top-heavy with youthful promise rather than experience.

Ryan Giggs, at 37, and the 32-year-old Rio Ferdinand now stand out as Ferguson's senior servants, but the core of his players still seemingly have their best days ahead of them.

And Wayne Rooney, now 25, is no longer the boy wonder surrounded by wise old heads. Last season's problems, on and off the pitch, suggested that he has yet to iron out the flaws in his temperament and judgment that have dogged him in the past, but with Scholes, Neville and Van der Sar no longer around, Ferguson admits he is looking for Rooney to emerge as one of United's new leaders.

"Yes -- particularly Rooney." Ferguson said. "I can see Wayne accepting that role, definitely. He doesn't worry about that [responsibility] too much and he has great energy. He has been doing really well in training here in America, really working his b***s off. He'll want to get last season out of the way, but he is one of our more experienced players now.

"We have lost three players with great experience in Neville, Scholes and Van der Sar, so that is where the expectation may bother us this season. Losing three at once is hard. Maybe there's a bit of evolution going on."

Rooney has shone on United's tour of the United States, scoring a hat-trick and looking sharp in last Wednesday's 7-0 defeat of Seattle Sounders.

With Nani and Anderson also impressing, as well as a bright start by pounds £15m summer signing Ashley Young, Ferguson's evolution appears on schedule, but there are clouds over the elder statesmen.

While Ferguson hopes that the "respect" for Giggs from rival supporters will ensure that the Welshman will not be targeted for abuse following allegations about his private life, he admits that Ferdinand will have to adjust to not playing every week in order to prevent further injury problems.

Ferguson said: "Rio will have to stay fit. That's the key for him, but as he gets older he won't play all the time and we won't attempt use him in all the games. Rio knows he has to protect himself.

"We have come to grips with that and we just hope he doesn't get any more of the back injuries that kept him out for six or seven weeks last season."

With Van der Sar having retired and concerns over Ferdinand's long-term fitness, the gamble of spending pounds £18.3m on De Gea is a real one.

But despite De Gea's inexperience, slender frame and language difficulties, Ferguson insists United have signed the right man to replace Van der Sar.

"The only problem at the moment is that he doesn't speak English," Ferguson said. "But he is working on certain calls and shouts with the defenders.

"At the moment he hasn't got a great physique. He's tall and wiry, but we will work on that. He will definitely play in the Community Shield and that will be a test but in the long term he'll be fine.

"I'm not worried about his age. I looked at Petr Cech at Rennes. He was 19 and we dismissed him because of that and he went to Chelsea for £3m. We made a mistake there."

With Ferguson identifying Chelsea as United's main threat for the title due to the battle-hardened experience of Andre Villas-Boas's squad, he also accepts an emerging threat from Manchester City and the renewal of an old one from Liverpool. The unknown factor comes with Arsenal, and Ferguson believes that Arsene Wenger has an unenviable task in dealing with the futures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.

"They have to replace Nasri and Fabregas because it looks certain that they are going to move." Ferguson said. "You don't want to [keep unhappy players] really.

"Cristiano Ronaldo was never unhappy at United, but he always had a thing about playing for Real Madrid and I believed him. We did well to have him for six years and getting that final year was a bonus because he was disheartened the previous summer. It could have affected him at the time, but we did well to keep him for an extra year and we got top money for him.

"But it's usually the foreign players who want to get back to their nest."

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