Saturday 24 March 2018

Fergie likens on-fire Rooney to 'white Pele'

Mark Ogden, in Lisbon

Wayne Rooney emerged with a broken metatarsal and a reputation as the most exciting talent in world football the first time he graced Lisbon's Estadio da Luz. Tonight, he returns with Alex Ferguson comparing the Manchester United forward to Pele.

Ferguson is not one for hyperbole or trivial compliments, but as United take the first step on their road to Champions League redemption in Lisbon this evening, Rooney's incredible start to the season -- 10 goals in six games for club and country -- has even prompted the United manager to hitch himself to the Rooney bandwagon.

With Rooney having been described as "more Argentinian or Brazilian than British" by Benfica coach Jorge Jesus, Ferguson responded by claiming he now sees similarities between the 25-year-old and Brazilian great Pele.


"In terms of a Brazilian, if you look at Pele, he was a very aggressive attacker who could also look after himself and so can Rooney," Ferguson said. "They have similarities that way: strength, speed, determination.

"But he's white," Ferguson joked. "Completely white!"

Rooney has long been serenaded by a Stretford End chant billing him as the "white Pele", yet Ferguson has often been coy when asked to compare players of different generations.

But with Rooney proving the focal point for his blossoming new team at United, the one which must bridge the gap between last season's incarnation and European champions Barcelona, Ferguson insists his peerless form since the start of this campaign merits comparison to the greats.

"He's a typical British player, but there have been British players over the last few years, maybe the last decades, who have similar great qualities that make them great players," Ferguson said.

"Whether it's a George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law -- the similarities are that the boy (Rooney) has great courage, he wants to play all the time and he has incredible stamina. These are added extras to the talent he has.

"(His best goalscoring season) I'm sure is a target for him, but I don't think that matters for him at the moment. If the season progresses like it did two years ago, when the target was to get over 30 and he reached it very quickly, he ended the season with 34 goals.

"With Chicharito's ability to score, we could have two goalscorers above 25."

Judging by Barcelona's mesmeric performance against United when winning the European Cup at Wembley last May, Rooney might need to perform like Pele, Best and Charlton combined to overcome the Spaniards and lead his team to Champions League glory in Munich this season.

While Real Madrid remain a threat, and with the new power of Manchester City also offering a challenge at home and in Europe, Barcelona continue to cast a shadow over United, having beaten them in two finals in three years.

Turning the tables is Ferguson's goal, but he has warned against judging United's prospects so early in the season.

"It's our first (Champions League) game, so give us chance to catch our breath," Ferguson said. "There is a long way to go. It's always the challenge for us and we're coming closer all the time to getting another (Champions League) trophy.

"It's different winning the Champions League today than it was 30 years ago, because all the best teams are in it now -- Real Madrid, Barcelona, all the English teams. It's a very difficult tournament to win now, that's why I'm pleased with the progress of the team because consistency has been a real hallmark of our game in the last few years."

United, without the rested Rio Ferdinand and captain Nemanja Vidic, who remains two weeks from fitness according to Ferguson, are undoubtedly irked by the stalking horse of Barcelona. But midfielder Ryan Giggs claims that there will be no fear factor if United encounter Lionel Messi and co against this season.

"It is difficult as they're such a good team, but it's not impossible (to beat them)," Giggs said. "Teams have beaten them and we beat them three years ago when they were not too different back then.

"What they've got now is more experience and confidence from winning things that they didn't have back then but we've got to overcome that if we come up against them again." (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Benfica v Man Utd,

Live, RTE2/UTV, 7.45

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport