Sir Alex Ferguson revealed last night that he had told his young goalkeeper David de Gea: "Welcome to England" after his second calamitous error in as many games raised new doubts about the man signed as Edwin van der Sar's successor.
The Manchester United manager admitted that the 20-year-old Spaniard's failure to collect a relatively innocuous 12-yard shot from West Bromwich Albion's Shane Long was a "slack" piece of goalkeeping, but he also condemned the "abuse" he claims De Gea came in for during a second-half "aerial assault" during a 2-1 win at The Hawthorns from the home side which left him flat out on the pitch.
The Premier League champions were immediately handed defensive concerns last night when it emerged that Rio Ferdinand is facing six weeks out with a hamstring injury which will see him miss England's Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales next month and makes him a serious doubt for the potentially critical match in Montenegro on 7 October. If Ferguson's prognosis is right, Ferdinand – who has lost the England captaincy having been plagued by persistent injury for three seasons – will only be back in action a week before Fabio Capello's squad for the Montenegro match is named.
Nemanja Vidic sustained an injury to a nerve yesterday and will be out for two weeks, with Rafael da Silva out for 10 weeks after a dislocated shoulder sustained in training which will require an operation.
De Gea is the prime concern, even though United's opening half-hour of their victory yesterday suggests that Ferguson's investment in youth has been deeply vindicated. Ferguson admitted it was proving a struggle for the £18.3m signing from Atletico Madrid to acclimatise but insisted that Peter Schmeichel had the same problem, after arriving from Danish side Brondby in 1991. "My recollection of goalkeepers coming from Europe is that it is difficult for them," Ferguson said. "Peter Schmeichel made his debut away to Wimbledon on a Wednesday night and then gave a bad goal away to Leeds the following weekend. He went on to become the best goalkeeper in our history in my opinion. [De Gea] is 20 years of age. We expect a learning curve and for it to be a work in progress. I gave him a pat on the head [at the end]. I said to him: 'Welcome to England'."
Ferguson, who hopes to have Patrice Evra back to face Tottenham Hotspur a week tonight, now has to decide whether to stick with the Spaniard or to turn to 27-year-old Anders Lindegaard, who was signed from Aalesund for £3.5m as his first choice while De Gea adapts.
The Albion manager, Roy Hodgson, said there had been no movement regarding the prospect of former United midfielder Owen Hargreaves arriving at The Hawthorns: "There's nothing. He is communicating with [sporting and technical director] Dan Ashworth." Hodgson declared that Wigan had made a bid – believed to be no more than £4m – for his striker Peter Odemwingie, but that the player would not be sold.
"Peter is not for sale and if you had seen the size of the bid you would be laughing all the way here," Hodgson said. "I don't know know what provokes teams to put in a bid which is so ludicrously low. I could put in a bid for Wayne Rooney!"
Ferguson claimed West Bromwich had deliberately targeted De Gea in the second half. "David's concentration cost him the goal," Ferguson said. "It was a slack goal to lose. But it is an experience for the lad. You saw the abuse he got in the second half. I could not believe he never got a free-kick. The aerial assault on him was ridiculous. They gave him a torrid time and in the second half he was targeted a bit: not necessarily physically but there were a lot of challenges that should have been free-kicks but the referee decided to play on. But he is young. He will learn. He will come through."
Hodgson concluded: "United started like a house of fire. You are very concerned with the quality of players they have but had the game finished 1-1 I don't think we would have had to make any apologies."
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