• 'The boy has great courage and incredible stamina'
• Benfica plan special attention for Manchester United striker
Sir Alex Ferguson eulogised Wayne Rooney as Britain's answer to Pelé as he challenged Manchester United to find the improvement necessary to knock Barcelona off their Champions League perch.
United launch their latest attempt to land a fourth European crown on Wednesday in Benfica, where Rooney suffered a broken metatarsal at Euro 2004 and returns in arguably the form of his career, with 10 goals in six competitive games so far and his manager praising a new-found maturity in the 25-year-old.
The threat of Rooney inevitably dominated Jorge Jesus's pre-match press conference, with the Benfica coach conceding United's No10 would shape his plans. "Rooney is the best British player but doesn't seem like a British player," Jesus said. "He's like an Argentinian or Brazilian. He can decide the match in the final third and so we have to pay special attention to him."
That prompted Ferguson to doubt Jesus, although not Rooney's potential to be remembered among the greats should he maintain, and indeed improve, his current form. "I think he's a typical British player," said the United manager, who left Rio Ferdinand behind as a precaution ahead of Sunday's visit of Chelsea and revealed Nemanja Vidic is a fortnight away from returning from a calf problem.
"There have been British players over the last few years, maybe for the last decades, who have similar great qualities that make them great players, whether it's a [Paul] Gascoigne, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law. The similarities are that the boy has great courage, wants to play all the time and has incredible stamina. These are added extras to the talent he has. In terms of a Brazilian, you'd say Pelé. He was a very aggressive attacker also who could look after himself, so can Rooney. They have similarities that way: strength, speed, determination, but he's white, completely white."
Ferguson believes the England international can surpass his United record of 34 goals, from two seasons ago, following his remarkable opening to this campaign. He added: "I'm sure it's a target for him. If that's the target this season and he gets to that, then I'll be absolutely delighted because with Chicharito's [Javier Hernández] ability to score, we could have two goalscorers above 25."
Three Champions League finals in four seasons is an impressive record for United, albeit one tinged with the misery of two emphatic defeats by Barcelona. Ryan Giggs, who may start in Lisbon as Ferguson considers the demands of Benfica, Chelsea, Leeds United (in the Carling Cup) and Stoke City in the next 10 days, insists the quality of the reigning champions has not left a lingering fear inside Old Trafford.
Giggs said: "It's not impossible to beat them. Teams have beaten them and we beat them three years ago when they were not too different back then. What they've got now is more experience and confidence from winning things that they didn't have back then but we've got to overcome that if we come up against them again. We'll be confident we can beat them if we do, we've got to learn from our mistakes and get better. I'm sure we can with the players we have here, a mixture of young players and the hunger to win things and desire to want to win trophies."
Ferguson was quick to dismiss any Barcelona reunion, rightly adopting the line that only Benfica concentrates his mind at present, but he accepted a fourth title must be the target for United this season. "It's always the challenge for us," he said. "We're coming closer all the time to getting another trophy. The consistency has been very, very good over last few years. That's a good guide to the standard we are in Europe and also the progress we're making. I think the last three years we haven't lost an away game, apart from the finals. Of course we want to improve, that's the drive of every coach and player, to improve. We hope we can improve. The most important thing is to win it – that's the improvement that we really do want."