Ferguson acclaims the 'brilliance' of Smith

It was in the space of two frenetic summer months at Old Trafford that Alan Smith went from a rank of second to third behind Wayne Rooney in Manchester United's hierarchy of strikers. But six months on he is not just Sir Alex Ferguson's first-choice striker: he is also his only choice.

The Manchester United manager enthused about the "absolutely brilliant" Smith this week, as he faced up to Rooney's three-match ban and the injuries to Ruud van Nistelrooy and Louis Saha. But it will be of interest to the £7.05m man to see what becomes of his first-team place when the Dutch striker comes back for the Champions' League on 23 February.

"He didn't wait to settle in," Ferguson said. "He'd been to a European Cup semi-final with Leeds, he'd had great spells there and played under pressure because their fans are as demanding as they are at Manchester United. He's played for his country and he hit the ground running.

"He's a man. I've told him a couple of times he's done fantastic and he said, 'You don't need to explain to me, I know I've done well. I'll be the first to say it if I've disappointed myself because I know my own expectations.' He said to me, 'I'm delighted, I'm loving it here every minute.' And that was good to hear because sometimes you talk to players who you have reluctantly had to leave out, the likes of Phil Neville, and it's very, very difficult."

Against Middlesbrough this evening, Smith is likely to be paired with Ryan Giggs in the United attack. When the transfer window opens, United will keep an eye on the situation of Thomas Gravesen, out of contract in the summer, who could be allowed to leave if David Moyes signs Robbie Savage. The Dane, 28, has also attracted interest from AC Milan, but could go to United in a player exchange.

Nine points ahead of United, Jose Mourinho will come face-to-face with Steven Gerrard, the only English player to resist the lure of Roman Abramovich's payroll, when his side visit Liverpool today. The Chelsea manager has never denied that he will try to sign the midfielder again this summer, but said this week that Frank Lampard was the better of the two players.

Qualifying that with the rider that Lampard was "better because he's mine", Mourinho said that the best outcome for Chelsea would be that "there's a big fluke and Steven Gerrard can't play against us". But having announced that his players no longer needed the psychological support of their driven manager, Mourinho said that he thought John Terry has developed into the "best central defender in the world".

"I know Sir Alex would say Rio Ferdinand. I know Carlo Ancelotti will say Alessandro Nesta - for me it's John Terry," he said. "Since the first minute I arrived here he's played at the same level. Not up and down, no mistakes. Not more committed against Man United and less concentration against West Bromwich. It's not like he prefers to play against tall and strong strikers or he finds it difficult against fast ones. For him every game is the same, every opponent is the same, the level of his performance is the same.

"He leads the team. He is an important voice on the pitch, where I'm not. I think he's absolutely amazing. I saw him play also in the national team, so not just with us when is the skipper, and has other responsibilities, and the level is the same. So for me he's the most complete one and the best."

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn