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By ESPN Staff

Fergie midfielder search looks doomed

Sir Alex Ferguson has virtually abandoned any hope of landing an extra midfielder during the transfer window.

With Paul Scholes out for the season with eye trouble, John O'Shea missing for six weeks with fractured ribs and Ryan Giggs facing 10 days on the sidelines after picking up a slight hamstring strain in Wednesday's win over Blackburn, Ferguson launched a Europe-wide hunt for reinforcements.

But the search has proved fruitless, even for potential loan signings, leaving United to limp along with a midfield also shorn of departed skipper Roy Keane.

Youngster Ritchie Jones has been recalled from a loan spell at Royal Antwerp to provide cover but Ferguson's central midfield for the FA Cup tie at Wolves on Sunday will comprise either Darren Fletcher or Kieran Richardson alongside Alan Smith, who is guaranteed selection at Molineux because he is suspended for Wednesday's trip to Blackburn.

'We have been trying to bring someone in but it is very difficult,' said Ferguson.

'Ideally, we wanted to get someone on loan but we have exhausted that avenue and it is looking very unlikely anything will happen now.

'We are recalling Ritchie Jones from Antwerp to give us some back-up, but he is only young and we would have preferred someone with more experience.'

United's resources are being stretched far more than normal, although Cristiano Ronaldo is back after his three-match ban, while Park Ji-Sung has now recovered from the knee injury which forced him to pull out during the warm-up before the third-round tie at Burton.

The need to bring in a new face is not quite as acute given the relatively positive news over Giggs' fitness.

Ferguson must have feared the worst when the Wales skipper limped off 12 minutes into United's midweek Carling Cup semi-final triumph.

But, although Giggs will sit out this Sunday's trip, and next week's match at Ewood Park, there is an outside chance he could be involved against Fulham on February 4.

'It is a not a long-term injury,' confirmed Ferguson.

'Ryan just said it felt tight so we brought him off just to be cautious. He should be ready again in 10 days at the most.'

Ferguson's own health has become a topic of conversation as well following the comments of chief executive David Gill last weekend that the United boss would stay in his post for `years to come'.

Such a statement immediately had pundits guessing as to when the 64-year-old would finally call time on a Red Devils career that will reach an astonishing 20 years in November.

The Scot eased around that particular debate, preferring instead to focus on his own well-being.

'The one thing you are not guaranteed when you get to your 60s is your health,' he said.

'At the moment, I feel great and I am enjoying myself. But anyone who gets to my age just hopes they are feeling all right the next day.'

If Ferguson is struggling for numbers in midfield just now, he is blessed for defenders, especially now Patrice Evra has started to settle in after a woeful debut against Manchester City.

United's other January arrival, Nemanja Vidic, came through 45 minutes of a reserve-team outing at Sunderland last night but Ferguson's chances of handing the £7million Serbian his debut are being affected by Wes Brown's current form.

After suffering a catalogue of injuries, including ruptured cruciate ligaments in both knees and a broken ankle, Brown is finally recapturing the form which his manager believes makes him the most natural defender in the league.

And, while he acknowledges England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has a rich array of central defenders to choose from at present, he believes the 26-year-old should be part of the Swede's World Cup squad.

'Wes is an outstanding candidate to go to the World Cup,' he said.

'I have always felt when Wes is fit, he is the best natural defender in the game.

'He is like a lot of good Italian and Argentinian players who pride themselves on their defending. He knows he is a defender, he knows why he is a defender and he concentrates on it. That is why he is such a good one.

'But whenever we talk about him, we always say he needs luck to stay away from another bad injury.

'England do have some good defenders. John Terry is a certainty to be picked and Rio Ferdinand would be the other for me.

'Ledley King and Sol Campbell are other options but Wes would be a good one to have.

'We would be absolutely delighted for him to get picked. He would certainly deserve to go.'