Tosic close to debut, hints Ferguson

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A lack of natural wingers led Manchester United to sign 21-year-old Serbian Zoran Tosic, who could play a part in the season's closing stages, Sir Alex Ferguson said yesterday.

The search for a natural successor to Ryan Giggs led Ferguson to sign Nani from Sporting Lisbon the summer before last, but the Portuguese may justifiably see the Serbia international's arrival as a threat, having found the net only four times for United in the league and showing indifferent form this season.

Tosic's ability with a dead ball and his favoured box-to-box role invites comparisons with David Beckham but Ferguson said United, who still resort to deploying Wayne Rooney on the left wing, had been looking for more wide options.

"Ronaldo and Nani [are] the two more natural wingers at the club, but we don't really have a great depth there at the moment," Ferguson said. "When you see opportunities and someone with potential in that position you have to be interested."

Tosic, whose former Partizan Belgrade team-mate Adem Ljajic is expected to follow him to Old Trafford in the summer, will need a six-week settling-in period before he is ready for the rigours of United's season.

"Ronaldo has fantastic ability to dribble but Zoran is more straightforward. He is intelligent, a great deliverer of the ball with good energies," Ferguson added.

United head into tonight's league encounter with Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford minus both Rio Ferdinand, whose back spasms will keep him out of the side until Saturday week, and Patrice Evra, who has damaged ligaments in the bottom of his foot and will be out for three or four weeks.

Ferdinand's back scan on Monday revealed no serious damage, and he will embark on a new exercise regime to resolve a problem which has seen him missing from domestic action since United's encounter with Tottenham Hotspur on 13 December.

Ferguson is likely to bring Michael Carrick in for Ryan Giggs and may opt for Nani over Park Ji-Sung tonight.

How Celtic inspired Fergie

Little wonder the Manchester United manager was frustrated by Howard Webb's decision to disallow the Cristiano Ronaldo goal which came from Wayne Rooney's corner kick stunt with Ryan Giggs on Sunday. He first saw Celtic try it 42 years ago and is still waiting for a side of his own to find the net from such a move.

It was in the 1967 European Cup semi-final between Celtic and Dukla Prague that Ferguson first saw the trick, in which one player walks to the corner flag, discreetly touches the ball into play, freeing another to run in towards goal with it unhindered to cross or shoot. Bobby Lennox and Jimmy Johnstone were unsuccessful that night, and so were Ferguson's Aberdeen side when they tried it several times.

Ferguson rejected a suggestion that the idea surfaced as a result of a Sunday news paper featuring it in a "You are the Ref" column two weeks back.

"I always hoped to use it," he said "And then, would you believe it, it got chalked off. All you can do from free-kicks is hit the target, get the ball in the box and make the goalkeeper work. What it does is cause confusion."

Ian Herbert