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By ESPN Staff

Crewe lucky to have 'amazing' Gradi - Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed the staying power of Crewe boss Dario Gradi.

Although Ferguson is preparing to celebrate 20 years as Manchester United manager next month, his achievement is eclipsed by that of Gradi, who has been sitting in the Gresty Road hot-seat since June 1983.

For the second time in three seasons, Ferguson will go head to head with his fellow long-serving colleague tonight when holders United visit the League One club for a Carling Cup third-round clash.

And, while the Scot appears almost certain to come out on top, he admits he is lost in admiration for Gradi.

'For me, it is pretty easy,' said Ferguson.

'I have the motivation of working for a great club who play big games every week.

'Dario has to keep this conveyor belt of young players going, which Crewe rely on to keep themselves stable. They sell players time and time again, yet he keeps going into work each morning looking to rebuild.

'He has done a fantastic job at Crewe, truly amazing.

'I am sure he could have left a million times but he enjoys the challenge of producing young players and has shown great loyalty to Crewe. It just emphasises how lucky they are to have him.'

Even though Ferguson intends to field a handful of untested youngsters against Gradi's outfit, United are still overwhelming favourites to take the first step towards retaining the trophy.

While the success over Wigan at the Millennium Stadium last term, Ferguson's record in the competition is surprisingly good considering he usually opts to field under-strength sides.

Semi-finalists in three of the last four seasons, it is nine years since United were beaten by lower-league opposition in their opening match of the tournament.

Ferguson has already confirmed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Mikael Silvestre and Gabriel Heinze will be involved, while teenage quartet Ryan Shawcross, Kieran Lee, Aaron Burns and David Gray will gain their first taste of first-team experience.

Alan Smith will also get a start up front just over nine months since fracturing his leg and breaking an ankle in a freakish accident at Liverpool.

Given the severity of his injuries and the length of time it has taken him to recover, Smith could be forgiven if he approached his comeback with a degree of trepidation.

But standing back is not in the Yorkshireman's style.

'There is no mental problem for me to overcome because the way I suffered the injury was so innocuous,' he told the club's official website,

'It was not in a tackle so, when I go in for a challenge, I am not thinking about my leg.

'It will be the first time I have played up there for two years and I can't wait.'