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Controversy as Real enter Pogba race

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Pogba set to start, Rooney out

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson could be set to hand 18-year-old midfielder Paul Pogba his European debut for the club on Thursday against Ajax in the Europa League.

Pogba has been stalling over a new contract amid reports of interest from Manchester City and Arsenal, but Ferguson revealed that veteran defender Rio Ferdinand has stepped in to persuade the French youngster that his future lies at Old Trafford.

"Rio has become an important figure at the club. He is good with the young players," Ferguson said. "At the moment, he's working hard on the boy Pogba and talking to him. The young boy is unsure, but Rio is well regarded by him."

Pogba has been on the bench for United's last five games and could be thrust into action with United leading 2-0 from the first-leg.

''It is possible we could give Pogba a run-out,'' said Ferguson. ''It depends because there are a lot of players who need a game; Nani, Young, Hernandez, Cleverley, Smalling, Jones. Those players will all play tomorrow and we hope to put a sprinkling of experience amongst it.''

However, Wayne Rooney will miss the game after the striker was the only significant absentee from the open portion of training due to a throat infection.

"Rooney's out for tomorrow," said Ferguson. "He has a bad throat. There were traces of it in Amsterdam last Thursday. He has been in bed over the weekend and came in today for the first time and we are trying hard to get him right for Sunday.''

Michael Owen, though, has taken steps on the road to a first-team return by taking part in the session.

Owen has not featured for United since picking up a thigh injury in a Champions League group phase match against Otelul Galati in November, but trained alone at Carrington on Wednesday.

The forward has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, but he appears to still have the resolve to get back to the highest level and is on the recovery trail following a long period of rehabilitation.

The Red Devils will be taking nothing for granted despite the 2-0 lead from last Thursday's encounter.

"The experience we had against Basel, where we were 2-0 up at half-time [and drew 3-3], that's in our memories," added Ferguson. "I don't think we'll be casual or careless about what we're trying to achieve tomorrow but it's a good lead. You can't dispute that."

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