MANCHESTER // Alex McLeish compared Wayne Rooney to Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane after the England striker began Manchester United's defence of the Premier League title with the game's only goal against Birmingham yesterday.
Rooney's first-half strike made it two goals in as many games for him this season - he scored in the Community Shield last week - leading the United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to challenge him to top last year's tally of 20 and prompting the Birmingham manager to liken the No 10 to two former European Footballers of the Year. McLeish said: "He's a huge talent, a natural footballer. You get the Zidanes and the Platinis: you see them over the years, they are just naturals. He drops into little pockets; he's hard to pin down. He's done well with the goal."
Ferguson said: "Hopefully that gets him on the road to a very significant total this season, because it's good if you have two or three strikers who get more than 20 goals. We know that's not impossible." Ferguson faces a defensive injury crisis for Wednesday's game at Burnley after Jonny Evans limped off, while Rio Ferdinand missed yesterday's match with a thigh problem. The United manager added: "I think Ferdinand is out for maybe two weeks. Nemanja Vidic is back training, which is good news. Hopefully we'll get him fit for Saturday which is Wigan away. Evans is injured again, Gary Neville has just started training and young Rafael has his dislocation of his shoulder. We're having a hard time of it with defensive injuries over the past two years."
In their absence, and with Ryan Giggs on the bench, John O'Shea captained United for the first time in a Premier League match, and Ferguson paid tribute to the stand-in captain. He said: "John can play anywhere without any complaints or gripes. He's so versatile, he gets on with the job and he has great understanding of what he has to do. We're very lucky to have a player like that." Behind a new-look defence, Ferguson was pleased with Ben Foster, who made a fine late save from Birmingham's debutant striker Christian Benitez.
He explained: "He made a fantastic save in the second half. He was very comfortable, very relaxed. I think he has learned from last week [in the Community Shield]. It was an unusual nervy performance. We know he has got ability and he proved that today." It was not United's most fluent display, but Ferguson said: "I would take eight 1-0s every season." email@example.com