MANCHESTER, Dec 29 (Reuters) - Cristiano Ronaldo, who has emerged as a candidate to become England's Footballer of the Year this season, has yet to hit his peak, according to his Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.
Just six months after being English soccer's 'Public Enemy No.1' for the part he played in Wayne Rooney's sending off when England played Portugal in the World Cup, Ronaldo has been a key figure in helping United establish a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League. He has scored 10 goals this season, and both his approach play and recent scoring form have been mesmerising.
But Ferguson has warned United's pursuers that there is still more to come from the Portugal international, who he already rates as among the best players in the world.
'I'm sure he's in that bracket,' Ferguson told a news conference on Friday.
'He's 21 and I think he will get better. He's showing maturity that we hope all young players start to show and the realisation of their potential as they start to get older.
'There are very few players who can play wide and attack players like he does. Defenders are not used to handling that type of player. That's why he is such a danger.'
Ronaldo's form is an even bigger bonus for United given that his future at Old Trafford was in doubt last summer after his involvement in the sending off of club colleague Wayne Rooney in England's World Cup quarter-final defeat by Portugal.
Ferguson's support for the player was steadfast and United are now reaping the benefits as United look to hold off the challenge of Chelsea.
'We had good experience of that because David Beckham went through the same thing (being vilified after being sent-off for England in the 1998 World Cup).
'He survived. The most important thing was to play well and Cristiano has done that,' Ferguson added.
United face a holiday weekend double-header against Reading at Old Trafford on Saturday followed by a New Year's Day trip to Newcastle United.
Between those matches Ferguson celebrates his 65th birthday on New Year's Eve but shows no signs of slowing down after chalking up 20 years in charge of United last month.
He said: 'It is just another birthday, but the thing about 65 is that it is a landmark in terms that people do collect their pensions then. I am waiting for the envelope to come through the door. But I feel good and I feel fresh.'
Ferguson will make changes to his side for the visit of mid-table Reading, who drew 2-2 at Chelsea on Tuesday, with Nemanja Vidic and Paul Scholes both suspended. However, Michael Carrick is fit again following an ankle injury and will replace Scholes.