Ferguson claims top clubs were competing for Bebe's signature

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Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has suggested that both Benfica and Real Madrid provided competition for the services of the 19-year-old Portuguese striker Bebe before United moved with a £7.5m offer for a player untried at a significant level.

The signing last month has been characterised as impetuous, particularly since Bebe's former agent has suggested the player could have been signed for as little as €150,000 (£125,00) had United moved six weeks earlier before his move from near bankrupt third-tier club Estrela da Amadora to Portuguese top-flight side Vitoria Guimaraes. But Ferguson implied that United had seen him at Estrela and that only a "complication in his contract" had prompted the move to Guimaraes, which saw his value go up so dramatically. "It was one of those instinctive things, you have a smell about something and you take it," the United manager said of the gamble on Bebe.

His explanation of the purchase, in an interview with CNN, suggested some confusion on his part about the level of football the young striker has proved himself at. He suggested Estrela, for whom Bebe played for just one season, were in the "second division" rather than the third. But Ferguson said buying the player – who was on the bench for the Carling Cup game at Scunthorpe last night – was a chance worth taking on the basis of six pre-season games for Guimaraes, in which he scored four goals.

"We have a scout in Portugal, where we asked him about this young player playing in second division in Portugal," said Ferguson, who was alerted to Bebe by his former assistant Carlos Queiroz. "He'd only played three of four games and our scouts insisted that we should sign him. It was a bit of a leap into the dark really because we hadn't seen him play, we sent one of our scouts down... to see him play in the last game before we signed him and then he comes up and says there's something exceptional here, we're maybe seeing something really special, and so we took the gamble.

"It was one of those instinctive things; you have a smell about something and you take it," he added. "So he's joined us but physically, he wasn't ready, hasn't done a proper pre-season, so the last few weeks since he's joined, we've been working on him physically."

While Bebe seeks to break into the United side, goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar's understudy Tomasz Kuszczak has said he may be seeking to leave Old Trafford if he does not get a first-team chance before January. Kuszczak is now in his sixth season at United but made only his 53rd appearance when he started at Glanford Park last night. He let his frustrations show last season when he suggested that Van der Sar was unwilling to help him to develop. Yesterday, he admitted he could follow former United keeper Ben Foster in seeking a move.

"I could understand Ben's position," Kuszczak said. "He wanted to move because he wanted regular football and he wanted to play for England. If I don't get enough games I will have to do the same as Ben. The years are going by and I will be 29 after this season. I want to enjoy football and I want to play."

Ferguson, who took questions from CNN viewers, named Bryan Robson and Roy Keane first when asked who were the best players he has managed. "Bryan Robson was an incredible presence in the dressing room and was loved by the players . Tactically he was very astute. Roy Keane was a driving force in the dressing room."

Ferguson reiterated that Chelsea are the side he considers United's greatest current danger, though he has already declared that he believes their comparatively easy early fixtures have contributed to their position at the top of the Premier League. "I always look at the team that wins the league the year before, you have to be the target to try to work on, it's up to the rest, including us, to do that and Chelsea are the champions. The games that will matter will probably be the ones against each other."