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United unveils trio replacing Ronaldo, Tevez

ALEX Ferguson unveiled the signings he hopes will prove to be another bold masterstroke, but could still turn out to be a gamble too far for the Manchester United manager.

Even while flanked by his new attacking trio yesterday of Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan, Ferguson had to concede that his shopping list was redrawn as Madrid pushed up Europe's price tags.

That swiftly ended any interest in Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema for Ferguson, who deflected any concerns about Cristiano Ronaldo joining Real Madrid and Carlos Tevez defecting to Manchester City.

Just a quarter of the 80 million pounds (US$131 million) received from Madrid for world player of the year Ronaldo has been spent by Ferguson and will be before January at least.

Tasked with marauding down the Old Trafford turf graced by world player of the year Ronaldo are wingers Obertan - at 20 not yet a full France international - and Valencia, the Ecuadorean whose Premier League experience has been limited to Wigan.

"They're both very quick and play in wide positions, although they can also play through the middle," the 67-year-old Ferguson said. "Players who can play in several positions are invaluable in the modern game."

Ronaldo's No. 7 shirt will be occupied by Tevez's replacement Owen. Yet while Tevez is an Argentina regular, the injury-prone Owen has been exiled by England and was struggling to find a club when his Newcastle contract expired. Ferguson, though, believes the 29-year-old Owen is still a potent targetman.

"Michael gives us experience in the penalty box, which is vital," Ferguson said. "He has always had that little knack of losing defenders in the last third. I know he will score a lot of goals for us. He has been great at that for years."

With no more players arriving before the end of the transfer window in August, Owen will be competing for a starting spot alongside one-time England teammate Wayne Rooney and Bulgaria international Dimitar Berbatov. Teenagers Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck will also be pushing their cases.

"It does irritate me that so many people have doubts, but if there is one thing I am angered by, the injury thing would be it," Owen said. "There is no doubt I have had injuries in my career. But there is a long list of players that have had a broken metatarsal. I was foolish trying to rush back for the (2006) World Cup and my leg had just come out of plaster.

"But I played 33 and 32 games in the last two years in a (Newcastle) team that was not in Europe and did not go on a decent cup run. Still I was continually labeled injury-prone, which gets up my nose. I am 29 and have played over 500 games for club and country. That says it all."

Ferguson monitored Owen during the final year of his contract at Newcastle, knowing the former Liverpool and Real Madrid player could leave St. James' Park for nothing at the end of the season. The interest persisted despite Owen's side struggling before dropping out of the Premier League in May.

"In certain parts, people do have a justification to have a go at me," Owen said. "I didn't set the world alight in the last year at Newcastle. That is no one's fault but mine. We were not playing well as a team and I wasn't doing my bit either."

Ferguson has being keeping track of Obertan's progress despite the France under-21 winger also struggling with injuries of late.

"We've monitored Gabriel since he was 16 years of age and he was probably the most sought-after youngster in Europe," Ferguson said. "His form dipped a little last year, possibly due to an injury, but he's regained that form and was fantastic against England under-21s earlier this year. That reignited our interest in the boy."

The pressure on Obertan and Valencia will be constant comparisons with Ronaldo.

"When I had my first conversations with Manchester United it was never said that I was coming here to replace Cristiano," Valencia said. "Obviously Cristiano did very well here and he's a good player. But I'm here to do my job and to do the things that I do well. I'm keen to do well, I have a desire to do well, and I don't really make any comparisons between myself and Cristiano."


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