Ferguson in striking need but silent on £20m Henry bid

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Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday spoke optimistically about Manchester United finally ending their summer-long quest for a new striker before the start of the Premier League season this weekend. The United manager said it was "possible" he could make a breakthrough in the next few days. "We're trying," he added. "We have one or two options we are looking at. It's been pressing since the end of the season, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel."

Whether that includes a £20m bid for Thierry Henry is uncertain and although Ferguson refused to be drawn on claims he was interested in the Barcelona striker – "there's a new name every day. That's the name of the business in journalism. I can't answer it because I won't get the right answer" – the sense at Tottenham is that the Frenchman's name has been used to concentrate minds as they hold out for a greater fee for Dimitar Berbatov. Ferguson added to that by insisting United were now looking "elsewhere".

He spoke of the merits of his club's younger strikers such as Fraizer Campbell – a second-half substitute in yesterday's game – and the injured Danny Welbeck, while he said that he was hopeful the Angolan Manucho would secure a work permit this month. "We always look to operate with four striker and aren't able to do it," he said.

The truth is none of the three will fill the gap Ferguson has identified. "I know there's an issue scoring goals at the moment," he said. "But if you're making the number of chances we are, we shouldn't worry about it. It will eventually be fine. Players will come back and we will eventually add to the squad. In the meantime what the players have done in pre-season is excellent."

Chief among those has been Carlos Tevez. "A year ago he'd been to the Copa America and he was certainly not as fit as he is today. He's light years ahead," Ferguson said of the Argentine. "He's got heart to play the game, is never intimidated, fights for every ball that comes near him. He's a real handful. He was on the go and a constant thorn to Portsmouth all day, a superb performance."

Ferguson was in confident, effusive form and even went on to praise Rio Ferdinand as "the best central defender in the world", adding: "Ferdinand gave an exemplary display at centre-back, intercepting every ball that came towards him, broke out of central defence so many times with comfort. It was a magnificent performance."

A significant bonus for United was the long-awaited return of Gary Neville with Ferguson hailing the right-back as a "remarkable man" given he has not played a domestic match for the first team since March last year due to his ankle problems. Ferguson even suggested he may not oppose the right-back's inclusion in Fabio Capello's England squad to be announced later this week, although he said that was only because the next match was a friendly. "But I'd prefer he played with us for a few more weeks before he got back into international football," he said.

For Portsmouth, there was no appearance from their manager Harry Redknapp, laid low by a virus that affects his balance, and there was certainly, also, a problem with the equilibrium of his team who appeared leaden and disjointed. That may improve – although Spurs fans are unlikely to agree – with the arrival today of defender Younes Kaboul who has agreed personal terms on a £6m move and will undergo a medical at Fratton Park. "There's been a lot of competition for him and he's a player the manager has set his sights on early," said coach Joe Jordan.