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By ESPN Staff

Neville sees Hughes as future United manager

Manchester United captain Gary Neville has backed Blackburn manager Mark Hughes as a viable contender to replace Sir Alex Ferguson when he finally leaves Old Trafford.

Neville played with a clutch of one-time United players now in management but has named Hughes as the most suited to following in the Scot's footsteps.

Ferguson performed a U-turn in 2002 after claiming he would retire at the end of the 2001/02 season and instead signed a new deal with the club.

Although there is no fixed date for his departure at the moment, the speculation over his successor is never far away and Neville's backing is sure to put Hughes' name firmly back in the frame.

The England full-back told the Daily Mirror: 'Playing with the likes of Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce you always thought they'd go on to be managers.

'Some may have thought one of them would be our next manager but I certainly didn't think Sparky [Hughes] would be a manager yet out of the three.

'He's probably now the most outstanding candidate for it. He really seems to have taken to to management.'

Neville, an influential figure in the United dressing room, is also pleased that Ferguson stayed with the Red Devils after his initial retirement plans.

'Sven [Goran-Eriksson] was mentioned a few years ago when our manager was talking about retiring.

'You think back now to the choices being talked about and they would have been disastrous.'

• Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is predicting a bright future for striker Dong Fangzhuo.

The 22-year-old China international has been handed the number 21 shirt after receiving a work permit following a spell at feeder club Royal Antwerp. Dong scored 11 goals in 15 appearances in Belgium before being recalled to United.

A new deal to 2010 followed and Ferguson said: 'He had two-and-a-half years in Antwerp and made a great sacrifice.

'He has been very patient and will remain with us. He is a big, strong boy who is very quick and athletic.'