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Ferguson delighted to pick brains of 'clever' Cleverley


The talk behind the scenes at Old Trafford yesterday was of sustainability. The stadium is the first of its size in Britain to be awarded an environmental quality mark, though that did not feature in Sir Alex Ferguson's discussion of where English sides now feature in the continental pecking order.

The young domestic talent at the manager's disposal suggests that United do possess greater sustainability than the London clubs whose threat to their hegemony has been fended off, but Ferguson said the Premier League was not "on the slide" because of the calamities which have befallen Arsenal and Chelsea in Italy.

"I don't see [English dominance of the Champions League] subsiding, to be honest with you," the United manager said. "It's maybe a disappointing season but not really to my mind definite that we're on the slide."

It has not been a vintage United season either, though Ferguson's is a young squad. In the shape of Tom Cleverley, likely to start his first game at Old Trafford since the 8-2 demolition of Arsenal in August against Ajax tonight, he has an important component of his team's sustainability.

Ferguson's paean for the 22-year-old sitting to his right said it all: "He is a very clever footballer. He has got a quick brain in terms of appreciation of passing. He gives us more ammunition in midfield, which a few months ago everyone was starting to worry about."

Those worries are certainly easing, with the return of Paul Scholes, Anderson and a reinvigorated Michael Carrick. The only setback tonight is the absence of Wayne Rooney. A sore throat has worsened. The aim is to have him fit for Norwich on Sunday.

If Ryan Giggs, probably from the bench, makes his 900th appearance, he could join a player – Cleverley – who was one and a half years old when he made his United debut.

"I can't remember [his debut] exactly," Cleverley said. "But I remember pretending to be him in the back garden."

Ferguson imparted the view that Giggs, the man he has told confidants should be his successor, is the best British player of all time.

"Playing in the Premier League as long as he has..." he said. "I don't think another player will do it."