Bebe left out due to fitness not ability, says angry Ferguson

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday mounted a fierce defence of his most controversial recent signing, arguing that Bebe had been omitted from Manchester United's reserve side through lack of fitness rather than lack of ability.

The decision to sign the 20-year-old product of a homeless shelter in Lisbon was unusual. Manchester United already had plenty of strikers. Bebe had played his football in the Portuguese third division and although he had just signed for a top-flight side, Vitoria de Guimaraes, he had not kicked a ball for them competitively when United intervened with a £7.4m offer.

Most surprisingly of all, Ferguson, who historically has studied his transfer targets microscopically, admitted he had never seen Bebe play even on video – relying instead on a recommendation from his former assistant, the Portugal manager, Carlos Queiroz, and United's Portuguese scout.

However, he described reports that the club's reserve team coach, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, had omitted Bebe from his 16-man squad for the derby with Manchester City because he was not good enough as "vicious", adding the reasons were more prosaic.

"Bebe is in a programme of endurance work because his fitness is nowhere near the levels we are at," he said. "Other than that, he has done well but he was never going to play in the reserves [against City].

"The boy didn't deserve these attacks. He is a young man just trying to make his way in football. Ability-wise, he is a terrific finisher.

"We have not done any serious work on his fitness levels yet because we are still doing tests on him – there are one or two areas we need to work on in terms of his fitness."

Ferguson added that Rio Ferdinand, who has not played since sustaining a cruciate ligament injury on the opening day of England's World Cup campaign, is recovering quickly and may be fit enough to return for United's game at Everton on 11 September or against Liverpool eight days later.

"Rio has trained this week and done fantastically well," Ferguson said. "We will just have to think when we can get a game for him in the next two weeks. He is that close."