Rooney ready to bring United up to strength

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The Independent Online

The waiting and the excuses are almost over for Manchester United. On Tuesday night Wayne Rooney should take his place on the bench for the match against Fenerbahce in the Champions' League.

The waiting and the excuses are almost over for Manchester United. On Tuesday night Wayne Rooney should take his place on the bench for the match against Fenerbahce in the Champions' League.

Then Sir Alex Ferguson will have his full squad available for the first time. Having started without Ruud van Nistelrooy, Rio Ferdinand, Rooney and Louis Saha, who between them cost more than Arsenal's starting line-up against Bolton last Saturday, United will be up and running seven weeks into the season. Gary Neville and Quinton Fortune, injured since the start, are almost ready to return.

Rooney, who has not played a competitive game since breaking his foot in the European Championship quarter-final with Portugal on 24 June, was given the all-clear on Thursday. However, he is not in the squad for this afternoon's game at Tottenham.

Admitting Rooney is likely to make his first start against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford on 3 October, Ferguson said the striker would be involved against the Turkish champions. He would therefore be available for England's World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Azerbaijan.

"Rooney has been training full out for the last week," said the United manager yesterday. "And if he gets another three sessions, hard sessions, in then realistically, he could be on the bench at least against Fenerbahce." It is the "at least" part of Ferguson's reply that is intriguing. As with Ferdinand's return from an eight-month ban and Van Nistelrooy's from a hernia, Ferguson may yet choose to put him straight in the starting line-up.

Overseeing Rooney's training has, it seems, genuinely excited the Manchester United manager. "He's got fantastic potential, he's two-footed, brave, quick and a surprisingly good header of a ball. And for a young boy he's got quite good maturity; that is the one thing that amazes you, he's got an old head. He's got composure when he needs it and speed when he needs it."

Ferguson gently suggested that the comments made by Tottenham's defender Nourredine Naybet that Manchester United's years of dominance are over were of little concern. Ferguson knows the seven-point gap between United and Arsenal is still manageable, especially given the superlative display delivered by his captain, Roy Keane, in Monday's win over Liverpool at Old Trafford. The previous week in Lyon the Irishman described his performance as "abysmal". This, however, was the Keane of old, before the hip operation that persuaded Ferguson to leave his captain out for too many matches last season, a policy he has since admitted did not work.

"I have to use the evidence of my own eyes and the football field and on Monday night there was not much wrong with him," Ferguson said. "Monday was his best performance of the season; he played with great intelligence. There were other candidates for man of the match - Mikaël Silvestre, Rio Ferdinand - but, for my money, Keane was magnificent."

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