Ferguson backs Ronaldo to conquer world

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson is still mildly indignant about how Roy Keane fared in Fifa's World Player of the Year award of 1999. Keane came 17th in the year of his Champions League triumph. "Incredible," Sir Alex said yesterday. "I couldn't believe it at the time. He was way down in the middle of the group."

The United manager also believes that his club have never really been in the position to clinch the prize until now. Tomorrow night Cristiano Ronaldo is on the three-man shortlist with Milan's Brazilian star Kaka (the clear favourite) and Argentine Lionel Messi.

Ronaldo would be a fitting winner, according to his manager, a view which reinforces the opinion Sir Alex recently expressed, about the United star being perhaps the most exciting player of his own 21-year era at the club. "He must have some chance of winning," Ferguson said.

"It would be fantastic for him. The amount of work he puts into his practice, in his effort to be top, is justification. He tries so hard. I don't think he needs any endorsement from me. He gets all the endorsements he needs with his performances on the pitch."

United entertain Fulham at Old Trafford on Monday night. Ronaldo has the prospect of a reunion with Wayne Rooney, with Ferguson convinced that the England striker can pick up the same scoring form he was in before suffering a freak ankle injury in training.

Rooney had scored nine goals in nine games before he fell awkwardly during a head-tennis session, 24 hours before the Premier League win over Blackburn three weeks ago. In his time away, Rooney has watched England fall out of Euro 2008 and United fall three points adrift of Arsenal after an equally surprising loss at Bolton. But Rooney, who trained with the first team yesterday, is expected to start on Monday.

One man who will be particularly pleased to see Rooney back is Carlos Tevez. In eight games together, the pair scored 12 times, with Rooney just edging the personal duel by seven goals to five.

Rooney's return is imminent, but skipper Gary Neville will have to wait another 11 days. Pencilled in for a reserve-team outing on Thursday night, Neville instead opted for extra training with the senior squad, and is among those who could be involved in the Champions League "dead rubber" against Roma on 12 December.