BLACKBURN Rovers boss Mark Hughes reckons Cristiano Ronaldo would be taking a backward step if he considered leaving Manchester United for one of the big clubs on the continent.

The United winger, who is now regarded by many as the best player on the planet, is widely coveted by Europe's glitterati, with Barcelona, Real Madrid and AC Milan all confirmed admirers of the 23-year-old's mesmeric talents.

However, Hughes, who once famously quit United for Barcelona in 1986, when he was the same age that Ronaldo is now, believes the Portuguese flyer would be making a big mistake if he tried to follow in his footsteps in the near future.

The Rovers chief, whose side must find a way of stopping Ronaldo in today's sell-out clash at Ewood Park, said of United's leading scorer: "I think the Premier League is the hardest league in world football and he is playing with the top club in it, so why would he want to leave? There is absolutely no reason to.

"Everything is there for him. He is the top player at the top club in the top league. There is no reason for him to leave.

"Barcelona is a fantastic club and has the tradition and standing in world football that United has. But at this moment in time, I don't see them as a top club - I see United as a more solid and together team than Barcelona."

An odds-on certainty to be named the PFA Player of the Year for the second successive year, Ronaldo has swept all before him during a remarkable season for United, scoring 38 times in all competitions, including two against Rovers in a 2-0 victory at Old Trafford last November.

That's an astonishing return from a player who has never been regarded as an out-and-out goalscorer, and with the potential of another seven games to go, assuming United beat Barcelona to reach the Champions League final, Ronaldo remains on course to beat XXXXXX XXXXXX "It is fantastic for Ronaldo to be a couple away from 40 goals," observed Hughes.

"He has had a great season - a stand-out, career-defining season, you could call it.

"He did exceptionally well last year and I felt it would be difficult for him to top that, but he has managed it, and that is credit to his drive and his ambition to be the best player in the world, which he is obviously very close to being."

Although Ronaldo has been the dominant force in United's pursuit of a second successive Premier League title - and their 10th in total under Sir Alex Ferguson's leadership - Hughes insists what sets his former club apart from the rest is the amount of matchwinners they have right through the side.

"United are the stand-out team this year," said the Rovers chief.

"They are exceptionally gifted as a team and have outstanding individual talent as well.

"Even if they are not firing on all cylinders, and are not quite at the level they know they can be, they still have individuals who can turn games on their head.

"They don't have just one of that type of player - they have two, three or four of them."

United will move a step closer to their 10th title if they overcome Rovers at Ewood today but, while Hughes admits his players will have their work cut-out trying to stop the Reds' juggernaut, he insists they are more than capable of denting his old club's aspirations, providing they play to the level he knows they can.

"It does become more and more difficult to keep them at bay, but it can be done," he added.

"We have proved that in the past, and we are looking to do it again.

"We are a top ten Premier League side so we should be able to give a good account of ourselves."