Fergie compares captain Rooney to greats

Wayne Rooney will take to the field as captain of Manchester United for the first time on Wednesday with a glowing tribute from Sir Alex Ferguson ringing in his ears.

Ferguson has decided to rest many of his senior players for the meaningless UEFA Champions League group F clash against Roma - United have already won the group with Roma assured of finishing second.

And at Tuesday's press conference at Rome's Stadio Olympico Ferguson gushed over Rooney's qualities as a captain.

"Some of the qualities he has are similar to two or three of our captains in the past," said Ferguson. "Like Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson and Roy Keane he has got determination and heart and sometimes these are the qualities that can influence the team.

"He's been pestering me for ages to get his chance (as captain)," joked Ferguson. "He's developing all the time. He's had some disruptions with injuries but he's developed very fast. He's coming on really well, just as we hoped he would when he joined us as a young lad."

Despite his relatively tender years - Rooney only turned 22 a month and a half ago - he is one of the most senior players that will line up for United in terms of experience.

Another one will be England midfielder Michael Carrick, who will earn a rare start this season having lost his place in the team to new arrival Owen Hargreaves.

He is relishing the chance to shine once again and stake a claim for a place in the starting line-up when United travel to Liverpool for a crunch Premier League match at the weekend.

"It's a Champions League game and it's Roma against United so it's a huge game," he said. "With respect to the situation in the group (the match is meaningless) we want to be able to win all our games in the group to keep our winning momentum going. As players you want to play every game. This is a great place to come to play and for the young lads coming in it will be a great experience for them."

Hot run
United have made far lighter work of qualifying this season than they did a year ago when group defeats away to Celtic and FC Copenhagen had United sweating before they beat Benfica at home in their final game to secure top spot in the group.

Despite lacking striking support for Rooney last season, following an injury to Louis Saha, United still reached the semi-final before losing 5-3 on aggregate to eventual champions AC Milan.

But Carrick believes the squad is better equipped to go all the way this time around having added the likes of Nani, Anderson (both of whom are likely to play against Roma) and Hargreaves.

"At this stage we look very strong. The squad is very strong and whoever comes in to play is more than capable, as we've proven so far this season," he said. "When the bigger games come around in the knock-out stages, that's when we need as many big players available as possible. That's when the squad comes into its own."

Ferguson is expecting a tougher test from Roma this season than the Romans managed when the teams met in the quarter-finals last time out.

Roma won their home leg 2-1 after Paul Scholes was sent off for United before the Red Devils thrashed the Italians 7-1 at Old Trafford.

"I think they're much better this year. We had a difficult game against them at Old Trafford (United won 1-0 in October)," said Sir Alex. "You can see by their position in the league again that Luciano (Spalletti, the Roma coach) has done very well.

"When a coach loses 7-1 in Italy, normally the guns come out and he's dead by morning," he concluded. "But they stood by him and he's repaid their faith because he's an outstanding coach and I'm very pleased to see him doing well."