Dismissing reports of a failed bid for Dutch international Wesley Sneijder, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has defiantly claimed that his side are equipped for a title challenge next season. Speaking earlier this week, the 68-year-old said: ‘I believe the squad is stronger than last season with the younger players having another year under their belts. I don’t know where those reports about Sneijder came from. How can anybody turn me down when I haven’t even made a bid?’
Despite their unwavering faith in the Scotsman’s managerial abilities, small sections of the Old Trafford faithful have questioned Ferguson’s decision to eschew the signing of big-name players this summer. Are Manchester United as strong as Sir Alex claims?
Notwithstanding their failure to secure an unprecented fourth successive league title, Manchester United’s season last year was a relatively disappointing one. Knocked out of the FA Cup and Champions League at earlier than anticipated stages, the Old Trafford outfit’s only piece of silverware in 2010 came in the form of the Carling Cup. With Premier League rivals Manchester City spending big this summer, and reigning champions Chelsea likely to follow suit, reclaiming the Premier League crown will be harder than ever.
Club ambassador Bryan Robson has revealed his thoughts on the current squad’s defiencies. Speaking to the club’s official website, Robson said: “Personally, I’d like to see the boss sign another couple of players. It would be great if we could bring in a goalscoring midfielder. You look at the likes of Gerrard and Lampard who contribute so many goals from midfield and I think that’s an area we need to improve on. Also, having lost Ronaldo and Tevez last year I think one more striker would be a good addition as well, although [Javier] Hernandez certainly looked promising at the World Cup.”
Whilst Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba enjoyed similarly prolific seasons last term, Chelsea’s arsenal of goalscoring midfielders proved to be the main difference between the two teams. Nine of Manchester United’s most frequently used midfielders (Anderson, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji Sung, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher, Antonio Valencia and Darron Gibson) last season managed 48 goals between them in all competitions; by contrast, Chelsea midfield duo Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard managed 42 goals between them (although this fact may be distorted by the fact that ten of Lampard’s goals were penalties). Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas managed 19 goals in all competitions in 2009/10, whilst Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard, a player perceived by many to have had a poor season, racked up 12 goals. The fact that Manchester United’s joint most prolific midfielders, Giggs, Nani, Scholes and Valencia managed seven goals each vindicates Robson’s claim that the side require a ‘goalscoring midfielder’.
Thus far this summer, Sir Alex Ferguson has secured the signings of young duo Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez. It remains to be seen how much first-team football will be afforded to the pair next season, and neither player is likely to be regarded as a first-team regular. Whilst Robson has pointed to the signing of Hernandez as a positive move to address the side’s attacking deficiencies, there is no guarantee that he will be able to quickly adapt to the rigours of Premier League and Champions League football.
However, last season, Manchester United’s first without both Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, saw the side score 18 more goals than the previous season (68 league goals scored in Manchester United’s title-winning campaign of 2008/09, compared to 86 league goals scored last season). This difference in the number of goals scored clearly indicates the manner in which Sir Alex Ferguson has adapted his side in the absence of Tevez and Ronaldo; Wayne Rooney is much more prolific having been deployed in a more central, lone-striker role, and players such as Nani and Antonio Valencia have shown increased maturity and reduced profligacy.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial pedigree is unquestionable. Having overseen the challenges brought by Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United in the 1990s, Arsenal in the early 2000s and Chelsea in the mid to late 2000s, I for one, believe that the 68-year-old can rise to the challenge yet again.
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