Fergie challenges Smith
By Adam Marshall
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has challenged Alan Smith.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has challenged Alan Smith to prove he can become Roy Keane's long-term successor.
The former Leeds striker is being handed the chance to reinvent himself as a midfield terrier with the sale of Phil Neville increasing the likelihood that Smith will become Keane's deputy.
As the England international prepares to line up in that role against Debrecen in Hungary, Ferguson has few doubts regarding the switch.
"We've got two players with small injuries to John O'Shea and Mikael Silvestre," Ferguson informed Sky Sports News. "So they're out anyway and Roy Keane is left behind, simply because it's a good opportunity to make that change.
"Alan will play in the centre. There won't be many changes but those three are out from Saturday.
"It's worth utilising his abilities in there. He's got great personality, great character and is a very committed player. He's quick and has got a lot of great assets to play that position and, obviously, I think he relishes that challenge.
"Someone has to eventually [replace Keane]. Manchester United have always been able to find someone to turn the corner and do a job. From a great player like Bryan Robson or Roy Keane or whatever. That happens and the history of our club is like that, it will happen eventually and Alan is going to get an opportunity to see what he does."
Ferguson is pleased with his side's form going into the UEFA Champions League match in Budapest, as United hold a 3-0 advantage from the first leg.
"We have to be sensible about it," he explained. "I feel we had to play well to win our last game and I think they're a very good team. Their form has been fantastic in the Hungarian league.
"It's a matter of not being complacent, make sure our game is high-tempo and they have to work hard to get anything they think they can get.
"It's been a good start and I think the spirit of the team is very good.
"I think Saturday was one of these games where [Aston] Villa provided a fantastic challenge to us.
"The way they shaped their team and never had one chance was very encouraging from my perspective of the team. Any game at United over the years, the opposition has always had a chance. On Saturday, no chances were given away and that's encouraging and the attacking play, especially, in the second half was excellent."