Football: Ferguson will wait to find his man

THE FORMER Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Stepney believes Alex Ferguson must now dig deep into the Old Trafford coffers to replace Peter Schmeichel, after the Dane announced yesterday that he would be leaving United at the end of this season after eight glittering years at the club.

Stepney, who won the European Cup with United in 1968, has warned that the club do not appear to have a ready-made replacement. "Raimond van der Gouw is now 35 and I can't really see anybody coming through at the moment ready to go straight into the side," Stepney said. "So it looks as though Alex Ferguson will have to go out and buy."

Stepney is now goalkeeping coach at United's neighbours City, but he still believes Schmeichel can help the team to repeat his feats of 30 years ago. "He has brought a lot of success to United and, at the end of the day, his ambition is to win the Champions' League. I just hope it happens for him," Stepney said. "It is the only competition he hasn't won with the club and it would be a great goodbye present for the United fans."

However Stepney is still reeling from the shock of Schmeichel's announcement which took the whole football world by surprise. Schmeichel has struggled with a persistent back injury throughout his Old Trafford career and has been known to have the occasional rush of blood - as he did most recently against Bayern Munich in the Champions' League game which cost United all three points in Germany - but Stepney insists that the Dane's ability behind the United defence will always ensure legendary status and a warm welcome whenever he returns to Old Trafford.

"It is a bit of a shock but it is one of those things," Stepney said. "He has done unbelievably well with the club and I am sure all Manchester United supporters will wish him well wherever he goes from now on."

Ferguson has until the start of next season to find a replacement for the Danish international goalkeeper, who will quit United in May, and will not be rushed in his search to find a successor.

"We've got until next August to sign someone so we have got time on our side," said Ferguson. "We are looking at things and we will be sending people abroad and assessing a lot of things."

United have been strongly linked with Aston Villa's Mark Bosnich, who started his career at Old Trafford and made three league appearances before he left because of work permit problems. The Australian looks certain to move from Villa Park at the end of the season, but Roma are also known to be interested. Schmeichel has suggested the French international Fabien Barthez as a possible successor.