Fergie offers Ireland U-21 star Robbie Brady a chance to impress in Durban
HE is being touted as Ireland's next big attacking threat -- but Alex Ferguson looks set to point Robbie Brady's career in a whole new direction tonight.
The Manchester United starlet will be handed an opportunity to impress his manager at left-back in a friendly against South African side Amazulu in Durban.
Dubliner Brady has been the star of Noel King's Ireland U-21 team as they bid to qualify for next year's European Championships finals and has operated as a striker or winger on international duty. But after sending Brazilian left-back Fabio out on loan with QPR for the coming season, Ferguson has other ideas for Brady.
With Patrice Evra United's only senior option at left-back, the Red Devils have been linked with a move for Leighton Baines, but Everton's valuation appears to be higher than what United are willing to pay. Hence, Ferguson's decision to assess his options from within on the pre-season tour of South Africa.
That means 20-year-old Brady, who impressed on loan at Hull City last season, will be given a chance to show what he can do -- albeit in an unfamiliar position.
"Young Robbie Brady will be at left-back," Ferguson said. "He's actually an outside-left, but we believe there's the possibility he will develop into a left-back. He was on loan last year at Hull City and did very well.
"Left-back is an area to which we're paying attention. Patrice, in the last five years, has played an average of 45-50 games. It's a phenomenal record. I don't know if anybody else has achieved that. He's still a fit lad and has the same drive and ambition. He's a fighter."
Ferguson expects Nemanja Vidic to start the new season after returning to training following cruciate ligament surgery, but the United manager has raised the prospect of defensive reinforcements amid concerns over options at left-back.
With Vidic staying behind in Manchester to continue his training programme, doubts had been raised over the 30-year-old's ability to make the Premier League opener against Everton on August 20 following the knee injury that has sidelined him since the Champions League defeat against Basle last December.
And while Ferguson admitted that Jonny Evans was unlikely to be fit to start the season after recent foot surgery, he insisted that Vidic was on course to return to heart of United's defence.
"Vidic will start the season -- I'm sure of that," Ferguson said. "He's doing good amounts of training, but not in the competitive sense in the way the lads out here have done.
"It was pointless bringing him with us. He's back at Carrington, with the facilities and the physios, so he can get to the next level. By the time he comes back (to the squad), we hope he'll be at the competitive stage of his comeback.
"Jonny had an operation and I'm not sure he'll start the season, but he won't be far away. And Chris Smalling has actually done a bit of training, but the ruptured groin muscle he suffered needed a lot of attention. He's making progress and I expect him to start the season too."
Ferguson confirmed that United's prime objective is to wrestle the Premier League title back from neighbours Manchester City.
"Priority No 1 is to win the title back. We want to recover the title -- it's been an important part of the history of our club over the last 20 years," he said. "We have to recover, as we've done many times, and that's our target."
Rio Ferdinand, meanwhile, has raised further doubts over his England future by admitting he no longer thinks about adding to his 81 caps.
Ferdinand is set to return to action for United against Amazulu. And the 33-year-old admits that it is his United career, rather than his England ambitions, which now dominate his thoughts.
"I'm not thinking about playing international football." Ferdinand said. "Manchester United is at the forefront of my mind. It's my club and this is what I love doing. If anything else comes of it so be it."
It emerged yesterday that the central defender could be in hot water after it was revealed that a police investigation has been launched following complaints that Ashley Cole, the Chelsea full-back, was subjected to an allegedly racist comment on the social networking site Twitter.
Cole was likened in a Twitter message to a "choc ice" after giving evidence to say that John Terry was not racist in the trial over whether Terry had racially abused Anton Ferdinand, the Queens Park Rangers defender.
Terry was cleared of a racially aggravated public order offence and Rio, Anton's brother, later responded to the Twitter message by saying: "I hear you fella! Choc ice is classic hahahahahaha!!"
The 'choc ice' term is believed to mean 'black on the outside, white on the inside.'
Ferdinand later sought to clarify his comment, saying: "What I said yesterday is not a racist term. It's a type of slang/term used by many for someone who is being fake."
Meanwhile, Oxford United are set to sign United's promising young defender Sean McGinty (18) on loan until January.
The Republic of Ireland U-19 international, who can play at left-back or as a left-sided centre-half, came through the ranks at Charlton Athletic before a move to Old Trafford in 2009.
McGinty was part of the United side that won the 2010-11 FA Youth Cup and moved up to the reserve team while also going out on loan to Morecambe last season.