MANCHESTER: Alex Ferguson has earmarked Irishman John O'Shea and England international Nicky Butt as Roy Keane's successor at the heart of Manchester United's midfield.
Keane, who says he is no longer fit enough to play for both Ireland and United, has been forced into more of a defensive role.
But Ferguson believes he has the ideal replacements.
There is fantastic potential there. I am so very excited about what John may go on to achieve, he said Thursday.
He has played most of his games in defence but with his balance and ability to play with both feet he could easily play in the centre of midfield.
The 21-year-old O'Shea is a great admirer of Keane but he says his role model is Old Trafford lion Paul McGrath.
I definitely learned from Paul. He was so relaxed but completely controlled games.
I try to be composed and impose myself. I try to copy Paul McGrath, he said.
Ferguson can also count on Butt, who looks more and more like a revamped version of Nobby Stiles, the Manchester and England midfield terrier in the 1960s.
If I was playing in the roughest and most intimidating of games, I would want Nicky by my side. Nobody will ever be able to bully him, said Manchester youth team coach Eric Harrison.
And if Keane's hip deterioration gets worse then Ferguson knows who he can count on.
Nobody underestimates the role Roy Keane plays here but when he is missing we don't go shouting for him in the stands. Players emerge, he said. AFP