You can understand Alex Ferguson’s decision to retire when he did. He went out on a high having won his thirteenth league title in England and Manchester United’s twentieth. But the rebuilding process needed at Manchester United was in of much greater need than simply acquiring one of Europe’s best players, as he did with Robin van Persie.
What we’re seeing from the United team at present is a group who have been sapped of their maximum output. Ferguson played a big hand in taking this team to the league title last season – combined with peripheral factors of underperforming challengers elsewhere – but it’s evident that this group, led by veteran figures, have offered all they can. Now it’s a matter of looking to the future and nurturing the younger players in the squad to become the flag bearers of the side.
There’s nothing malicious in it. Only the most cynical person would suggest Ferguson has thrown David Moyes under the bus by buying poorly. And have Ferguson’s signings really been that bad in recent years? In comparison to the other super powers of European football, they’re not as impressive. But signing players like David de Gea, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Shinji Kagawa has set United up well for the long term. Some of the attacking players like Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia haven’t exactly worked out, but coupled with players who have come through the academy – Danny Welbeck, Adnan Janujaz and to an extent Tom Cleverley – the team do have a promising base for the future.
The issue at hand and the key word is “future.” At 72, Ferguson was no longer than man to oversee such a change at the club. Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, and Michael Carrick are coming to the end of their time with the club. The back line has been rotated for the very reason that the previously impervious duo of Vidic and Ferdinand are no longer at their peak. For all that has been said of United not being able to experience a period of transition, this is exactly it – the passing of responsibility onto younger players.
It says as much about the club’s intentions and Ferguson’s recommendation that David Moyes was given a six-year contract. Welbeck and Januzaj have shown a lot of promise this season, with the former offering glimpses that he’s a very good striker in the making. But those youngsters would have been sacrificed for big names in the market had a Jose Mourinho turned up to replace Ferguson. United might have been in a better position than they are in currently with the Portuguese on board, but at what cost? Long-term uncertainty and the halting of youngsters’ development.
Ferguson did what he could to be successful in his final season with the signing of van Persie. That was the injection of quality that helped United wrestle back the Premier League title from Manchester City. Ferguson knew he needed something extra because evidently he knew that last season would be his final well before the announcement was made. The cost of such a layout on the Dutchman is that it was short term. Van Persie, as good as he is, won’t be performing to the level he’s currently capable of for the next three or four years. The task Moyes is faced with is supplementing the team’s current crop of young players with good additions via the market, replacing the important members of the squad who are in the twilight of their careers.
United’s situation obviously isn’t ideal and is quite clearly unfamiliar to a large part of the fan base. But it’s a necessary period that takes place when such pivotal figures come to the end of their careers and the next wave aren’t quite ready to take over.
Moyes and the club could have done a much better job of improving matters with a stronger showing in the summer window, but even now in January, it will take more than simply shelling out heavily on star names. It will take time for United to get firmly back on track.