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· Darth Maul
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Fabien Barthez will underline his determination to establish himself as Manchester United's first-choice goalkeeper by starting training a week earlier than his Euro 2000 Championship-winning team-mates.

While Mark Bosnich begins training at United on Wednesday, Barthez will link up with the rest of his new colleagues on July 25 - seven days before fellow Frenchmen Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Marcel Desailly embark on another gruelling English season.

By spending £7.8million to sign him from Monaco, Sir Alex Ferguson has made it clear that he prefers Barthez to Mark Bosnich, and the Australian faces another test of character after his difficult first campaign at Old Trafford.

Ferguson, though, expects Bosnich to accept the challenge with relish, beginning with today's first session, and the Scot draws parallels with the situation that confronted his strikers when Ruud Van Nistelrooy looked to be on the verge of joining in May.

'It's not unusual for players to say they are unhappy about a club signing players,' said Ferguson.

'But nobody here dropped dead or put there hands up in horror when Ruud Van Nistelrooy was signed initially. Our strikers reacted in the right way. They saw it as a challenge and realised that that is what Manchester United is all about.

'My job as manager of United is to get the best players. It is hard to see a position at this club where a player is not challenged these days.

'You have to have that. I have a number of full backs, centre halves, I have four senior strikers. That's the kind of competition we've built here.

'Mark Bosnich will be battling for his place like anyone else. Fabien will be as well. He won't dismiss the challenge. Some people were talking about Bernard Lama starting Euro 2000 as France's No 1.

'There was also Bordeaux's Ulrich Rame in the running. That's the sort of challenge Fabien will be used to.

'A club of this size needs challenges but if Mark has anything to say he'll obviously come and see me.'

If anyone was in any doubt as to Barthez's ability, a series of excellent displays in Belgium and Holland this summer should have convinced even his most ardent critics that he is up to the challenge of playing for United.

Ferguson said: 'He did very well in Euro 2000. We were very pleased with what he achieved. It's good for the fans that they've seen him on a big stage beforehand performing the way that he did in the Championships.

'Coming here will be the best thing that has happened to Fabien in his life. He'll love playing in front of 68,000 every week because he has the personality to rise to it.'

Harry Gregg has given Barthez his seal of approval and he expects Bosnich to leave sooner rather than later if he starts the season warming the bench rather than between the posts.

United's legendary goalkeepersaid: 'At the start of the 1998 World Cup everyone was saying that Barthez was an eccentric goalkeeper and a clown. I laughed at the time because I could see just how good he was.

'He's my type of goalkeeper - he comes for crosses and although he makes the occasional boob, he's got a lot of character and he is very talented.

'If you don't feel you're the best, you shouldn't be there. If the manager doesn't think you're the best, you should be on your bike and I think that could be the case with Bosnich.

'The fact that they've signed Barthez for so much money shows Ferguson wants him to be the first choice and there's no way he's come to sit on the bench.'

That view was endorsed by Barthez's France team-mate Laurent Blanc, who said: 'For me, Fabien is one of the best in the world. He's a great person and a big character but it shouldn't take away from his ability.'

United's preparations for the new season have been hit by Dwight Yorke's call-up by Trinidad and Tobago for World Cup duty.

Yorke will face Canada in the first match of their CONCACAF semi-final qualifying round in Edmonton on Sunday and will stay with the squad for their next game, which is with Mexico in Port-of-Spain on July 23.

The £12.6million striker will report to Carrington two days later to start training.
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