Eight United strikers but 'cocky' Macheda stays

Unless he is having to be defensive, Sir Alex Ferguson rarely feels the need to spend too long talking up the possibilities of the present, even with the attacking options he now has at his disposal.

The £7.4 million arrival of Portuguese youngster Bebe last week took Ferguson's tally of senior strikers to eight, and even though Danny Welbeck and Mame Biram Diouf have been allowed out on loan, he still has a bewildering variety of possibilities to play with in his mind ahead of tomorrow night's season opener against Newcastle.

A determined Wayne Rooney, still reeling from miserable experiences with England, on his own? Or with Dimitar Berbatov? An Old Trafford debut for the promising Javier Hernandez or an appearance against his old club for Michael Owen?

Beyond that, Ferguson knows that youngster Federico Macheda is waiting for his chance, although Bebe will not be involved for some time.

Ferguson remains adamant that the 1999 vintage of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham has been his most potent group of strikers, leaving him with no need to call on the likes of Alex Notman, Erik Nevland or Phil Mulryne. But even Ferguson cannot argue that he has enjoyed such quality in depth before, particularly at a time when Europe's elite tend to employ lone forwards.

He has rejected any prospect of allowing Macheda, 18, who emerged with winners against Aston Villa and Sunderland when United won the League last year, to leave on a temporary basis. The Italian – once described by Ferguson as being built like "an American middleweight" – missed much of the last campaign through injury and, while he is highly rated by his manager, he is also being monitored closely by United staff.

"He is one we have to keep a foot on," Ferguson said. "He has got a cocky arrogance about him. He will argue with players in a training session and he will compete for his ego. But he's only 18, he's not 19 until October and we keep forgetting that. He is an exceptional talent and he is tough. He does not get bullied in games. He gives as good as he gets. Cesare Prandelli [the new Italian coach] has spoken to our staff about him so he is aware of his ability. There was no chance of us ever letting him go on loan – he stays here. We need to keep an eye on him."

The protective arm has also been placed around Rooney, who suffered a negative reaction when he was replaced in England's 2-1 friendly win over Hungary at Wembley. It follows the forward being forced to apologise for criticising fans after the goalless draw with Algeria at the World Cup.

But Ferguson is adamant that the situation will never affect Rooney's desire to play for England. "He's OK. No one likes getting booed, it's a fact of life. Maybe he didn't deserve it nor did he expect it. From what I hear he didn't play badly. But it won't affect him or his desire to want to play for England. I heard on the radio that his wave to the fans was like a valedictory. That's nonsense. Maybe he was just disappointed that people booed."

United supporters have endured another quiet summer in the transfer market, with only Hernandez, Bebe and Chris Smalling arriving.

After losing out by a point to Chelsea last season, Ferguson anticipates the London side, who United beat 3-1 in last weekend's Community Shield, offering the strongest challenge to his attempts to bring a 19th title to Old Trafford. But the manager has been astonished at some pundits predicting that United might not even qualify for the Champions' League.

"We can take encouragement from the fact that with the injuries we had to defenders last year, if we'd had them all fit we could have won the League I think," he continued.

"I'm quite content and I'm not going to get my knickers in a twist about what's happened in pre-season, with press speculation and all the rest of it. They've never been right on anything. Quite a few have not got us in the top four this year. Because we've been so successful for so many years, there's a bit of hope that if we don't get in the top four they've got something to write about.

"United not to be in the top four? You have to worry about what upbringing they had or what kind of porridge they've had."

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