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Friday, July 18, 2008

Nev ready to make his mark

Gary Neville looks to have put his injury nightmares behind him after Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed his skipper is back in contention for regular first team football.

The 33-year-old, who was part of the travelling squad to South Africa, made just one substitute appearance last season after being plagued by knocks after his long term recovery from ankle ligament damage.

Wes Brown's imperious form in Neville's absence helped the Reds to domestic and European glory, but the United captain is now ready to step up his bid to regain his place in the side.

"It’s going to be a significant trip for Gary," insisted Sir Alex, ahead of the Reds' pre-season visit to South Africa and Nigeria.

"He had his 45 minutes last weekend against Aberdeen and came through that fine. The important thing about Gary is that he’s not missed a training session since he came back in April and played [as a sub] against Roma.

"We could have played him at the end of last season but Wes Brown’s form was just too good. We stuck with Wes, but it’s a new season now and Gary will have his chance to impress in South Africa."

Another player who will be given his chance to shine is goalkeeper Ben Foster.

The 25-year-old England international has made just one competitive appearance for the Reds since his arrival in the summer of 2005, having spent the rest of his time gaining experience out on loan.

Sir Alex has high hopes for the young stopper, who spent much of last season recovering from a cruciate ligament injury, and will ensure he gets some minutes on the clock in South Africa.

"Ben is fit," declared the boss. "He had his sister’s wedding last Saturday so he couldn’t play against Aberdeen, but he’s ready to go.

"He and Tomasz will share the responsibilites in South Africa. I think Ben’s a fantastic talent."

Owen stays behind

Owen Hargreaves did not travel to South Africa with the rest of the squad as he is again suffering from the tendinitis problem that plagued the start of his Reds career.

Hargreaves was sporadically involved at the start of the 2007/08 campaign, and the knee complaint flared up again when the 27-year-old reported back for pre-season training.

"Owen has a tendonitis problem in his knee again – the same as he had at beginning of last season,” said Sir Alex. "He’s had a series of injections on it with the specialist and he's training at the moment, it’s just the matches he's not involved in just yet.

“Some people are more susceptible [to this kind of injury]. Norman Whiteside used to have trouble with his knees in pre-season. Owen has started training again after a few weeks off, the ground is firm at the moment and that maybe brought it on.”

It’s frustrating for Owen and United, but Sir Alex doesn’t expect the problem to last into the start of the season. “We’re trying to correct it with injections," he added. "We did it last November and it worked, so hopefully it will again. By the time we return from South Africa he should be okay. I’m sure he’ll be fit for the start of the season.”

Boss: Ronaldo's staying put

Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed he met with Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal last week to discuss the player's future and insists the winger will not be sold to Real Madrid.

The 23-year-old has been openly coveted by Real Madrid over the last few months with the player himself reported to be keen on a switch to the Bernabeu.

However, at a press conference in South Africa to mark the start of United's pre-season trip, the Reds' boss reiterated the club's stance that Ronaldo is going nowhere.

"The meeting went well - I think we both put across our points of view - where we stand and where the player stands," explained Sir Alex.

"I can say he'll be a Manchester United player next season. That's our stance - he won't be sold."

Many of the tabloids had speculated that comments attributed to Ronaldo over his desire to move to Madrid may have put a strain on his relationship with his manager. But Sir Alex says that has never been the case.

"It’s not a difficult position. I was on my holiday and I was not going to interrupt my holiday, believe me," he insisted after being asked why he had not commented on the matter up to this point.

"I wasn’t panicked because the player is under contract so the strength and the rights are with Manchester United.

"What we have done well is to say nothing. We’ve kept quiet on this matter and kept it private and what I said to Cristiano remains private. I did go and see him last week in Portugal and it was very amicable – there were no problems. That’s where we are and we carry on."

The winger is currently recovering from ankle surgery and Sir Alex confirmed Ronaldo is unlikely to be back in action until October.

"He’s had an operation and he’ll be out for three months," said the manager. "He’s on crutches for the first four weeks, he’ll be in rehabilitation for the next four and then the following four he’ll be back into football training. The time mapped out is three months and we won’t bring him back a day earlier than that.

"I think when players have operations we have a responsibility that the player comes back 100 per cent and we’ll carry that out as we normally do. There’ll be no risk-taking – we never take risks. Our goal is to always make sure that the player gets back 100 per cent and that will be the same in the case of Cristiano Ronaldo."

Berba's mine!

Alex Ferguson says he is convinced Manchester United will land Dimitar Berbatov before the start of the season. The Old Trafford chief has spoken about his hunt for the Tottenham striker for the first time. He started tracking the 27-year-old Bulgarian ace seven years ago and confirmed United have made a bid. Fergie said: “We have made Tottenham an offer on Berbatov and we have good expectations that this deal will go through. “Berbatov has been impressive during a long time and would be a great addition to our attack.”
United slapped in a £22million bid but Spurs are holding out for more. Fergie ideally wanted the deal done before he left with his squad for the tour of South Africa. But he is still confident the transfer will go through despite interest from Spanish giants Barcelona. Fergie said: “I think time will work for us more than against us. “We will not stress this situation. We are hoping to have a constructive conversation with Tottenham in the near future.”
Neil Custis, The Sun