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By ESPN Staff

Fergie tips Macheda to be next United star

Sir Alex Ferguson claims departed star Cristiano Ronaldo is "streets ahead" of Kaka and Lionel Messi as the best player in the world - but is confident teenage star Federico Macheda will eventually receive the same adulation. Describing Ronaldo's exit as "a massive loss", the United manager paid a glowing tribute to the Portuguese forward. "Cristiano is a massive loss," Ferguson told PA Sport.

"I have nothing but praise for the boy. He is easily the best player in the world. He is better than Kaka and better than Messi. He is streets ahead of them all.

"His contribution as a goal threat is unbelievable. His stats are incredible. Strikes at goal, attempts on goal, raids into the penalty box, headers. It is all there. Absolutely astounding."

Ferguson intimated that he had always expected that Ronaldo would leave Old Trafford sooner rather than later.

"Three years ago I had a conversation with (then assistant) Carlos Queiroz," recalled Ferguson. "We thought we would be doing well to keep him for another two, so overall, we have done well to keep him for six years.

"He is a great player. And if he gets the right training regime, as he had at United, he will develop and get even better."

Yet, as he hands over Ronaldo's number seven shirt to Michael Owen, Ferguson is already looking at his next star of the future.

Federico Macheda burst onto the scene last spring when he followed up a sensational injury-time winner against Aston Villa by securing another victory against Sunderland a week later. The Italian youngster scored in United's 3-2 friendly win over a Malaysia XI and looks likely to be United's fourth-choice striker this season behind Owen, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney.

"Macheda is top drawer, a hero in the making, just as Cristiano was," said Ferguson. "It is hard to believe he is just 17. We probably need to check his birth certificate because I reckon he is at least 28."

"Federico has plenty of confidence," admitted Ferguson. "When he came on the other night he dropped into midfield and ran down their left-side.

"He is a player all right - and tough as old boots. He can look after himself.

"He does not have the lightning reactions of Ronaldo but he is quick around the box and he has an eye for goal.

"He was way in front of everyone with his finishing the other day - and I mean everyone. It was magnificent to see."

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