Ferguson nurses stars to avoid title 'derailment'

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The Independent Football

The margin for error is decreasing annually in the Premiership, but Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed he will start the new campaign with a depleted squad rather than risk the injury problems that he believes "derailed" Manchester United's challenge within two months of last season.

Ferguson left several key players behind in Manchester instead of fielding them in the two-match Amsterdam Tournament this weekend, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Louis Saha and Mikael Silvestre returning to pre-season training only on Monday following the World Cup, Gary Neville and Gabriel Heinze nursing slight injuries and Alan Smith plus Nemanja Vidic recovering from long-term fitness problems.

The absence of many key players coincided with United's slump in Europe and the Premiership last season and yet, despite the pressure to make a flawless start against Fulham, their manager is willing to rest all of his injury doubts if necessary in 15 days time in order to produce a sustained threat to Chelsea's domestic dominance.

"I won't take any chances at the start of this season because for the last two years we have suffered major injuries that have really set us back. By last September we had six major players out injured and that derailed us," Ferguson admitted.

"Gary Neville played with an injury in England's final game against Portugal and is still feeling that while Gabriel Heinze, although he had a fantastic tournament with Argentina, came back with a small problem regarding the strength of his knee. Hopefully Gary and Gaby should be OK for the opening game but we won't risk Silvestre, Saha and Ronaldo while Vidic and Smith will not be fit."

The United manager also revealed that his current strategy for the club is to construct a squad that can challenge for the title over several seasons rather than deliver instant success. In what could be regarded as hopes for his legacy, or a subtle swipe at Chelsea's purchase of Andrei Shevchenko and Michael Ballack, Ferguson claimed it was easier to motivate younger players than more experienced and successful stars.

"When you have an old team, maybe all the challenges have gone for them, but with younger players you have a hunger to achieve and a challenge for the next four or five years," he said. "What you have at Manchester United is a new challenge all the time. I've built several sides during my time at the club and now I'm trying to build a new team that will last for many years. I'm confident this team will stay together for a long time."

United are considering whether to make a third bid for Tomasz Kuszczak after having a £2.5m offer for the West Bromwich goalkeeper rejected on Thursday night. The club have also allowed the 19-year-old Spanish centre-half Gerard Pique to join Real Zaragoza on a season-long loan deal.

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