Ronaldo 'best of my era,' says Ferguson

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The Independent Football

The subject of greatest squads and players has been preoccupying Sir Alex Ferguson lately as he completes 21 years at Old Trafford.

Which of them had he most enjoyed watching, Ferguson was recently asked. "[Eric] Cantona," he replied. "I love Cantona. He was a marvellous player." But too much talent can play tricks on you. Introducing a recent DVD on the life of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferguson suggested that it was the winger who excited more than any other. "I've had some great players here over the years Bryan Robson and Roy Keane," he said. "But in terms of sheer ability and imagination, Cristiano is, without doubt, looking the best now."

The two No 7s are men of contrasts. While Cantona arrived at Old Trafford in 1992 with such a reputation for rebellion that the United manager actually relaxed the club's strict dress code for the him, Ronaldo is the epitome of a compliant young professional.

But Ronaldo's current contribution, more than his swagger, begs comparison with Cantona, who walked into Old Trafford 15 years ago on Tuesday. Ferguson famously described him as "the can-opener" in acknowledgement of the penetration he provided and the same must now be said of Ronaldo, a player who was United's main supply line against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League on Tuesday before the injury-time winner which Cantona would have been proud of.

There is a sense of mutual appreciation between the two players. "Cantona was a great player, a fantastic player," Ronaldo said yesterday. "I know what he meant to United and what he helped achieve in his time at the club."

Wayne Rooney's expected return to action against Fulham on Monday will be of relief to a manager who continues to stand by the indifferent Louis Saha. With Rooney and Ronaldo in tandem, Europe has something to fear come February.