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Monday, January 30, 2006
Rio revels as the man in the middle

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is prepared to retain the unconventional midfield partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney for Wednesday's Barclays Premiership trip to Blackburn.

With Paul Scholes, John O'Shea and Ryan Giggs all injured, Alan Smith not fully fit either and Darren Fletcher needing a rest, Ferguson opted to pair the England duo together for United's FA Cup tie with Wolves.

Even though neither man has any real experience in the role, the tactic worked well as United romped to a fourth-round win at Molineux.

And, with Smith suspended for the midweek Ewood Park encounter, Ferguson may yet spurn the option of recalling Fletcher and stick with the Rooney-Ferdinand axis.

'It is possible I could play them in there on Wednesday because they both did very well,' said Ferguson.

'I was forced into the move really because my best selection options were all at the back.

'Darren Fletcher has played a lot of games and needed a break, while Alan Smith has been missing training with an ankle problem and I felt it was a big ask to throw him into a full-blooded FA Cup tie.'

Long-term, it is highly unlikely Ferguson will keep Rooney or Ferdinand in midfield even though his efforts to bring in reinforcements during this month's transfer window appear doomed to failure.

Wolves boss Glenn Hoddle is dismissive of Rooney's midfield prowess, insisting the youngster is at his most destructive when he plays just behind a main striker.

However, former United man Paul Ince is convinced Ferdinand could have a future in midfield and pointed England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson towards the 29.1million man as his World Cup enforcer.

'I have always said Rio is a fantastic player and he could do that holding role for England,' said Ince.

'I know there is a question mark over who is going to play centre-half but Rio is good enough to play in that position and Sven should be looking at that because the lad is awesome.

'Ledley King played there against Argentina and it did not really work out for the lad. He can play that role but there are not many about and Rio is the only one who has the discipline to sit in there and set things up.'

Eriksson was at yesterday's game and while Ferdinand did catch the eye, the Swede could not have failed to be impressed by Kieran Richardson, who netted twice, either side of a Louis Saha effort.

It appears Joe Cole has already been ear-marked for the troublesome left-sided berth but Richardson's ability to play in defence could see him squeeze into Eriksson's 23-man squad for this summer's finals in Germany.

'Kieran has been doing terrifically well for us,' said Ferguson.

'In fact, in the last two games he has probably been one of our best players. He is only 21 and he is improving all the time.'




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