Football FanCast columnist Will McGrath looks at the selection dilemma that Sir Alex Ferguson is set to face.
With Ryan Giggs turning 36 in a month's time, the question will soon come as to who will replace him (not to mention Ronaldo) as Manchester United wingers for the future.
Ferguson's tactics this season seem to indicate he is happy to play with two out and out wingers, with two strikers again, a change away from the 4-3-3 that was build around Ronaldo. This year the Red Devil's have made a good start points wise, but the performances have been below what United fans have come to expect. Gone is the excitement when Ronaldo, you could hear the crowd holding its breath in expectation of a moment of magic, what it has been replaced by is a functional unit that is slowly grinding its way through the opposition.
Within the first team squad, United really have only four out and out wingers, and two players who could potentially fill the role, these are, Nani, Park, Valencia, Tosic, Obertan and Anderson.
Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha better known to all as Nani, was signed in 2007 he came with a high expectation, with comments circling that he was "Better than Ronaldo at this age", since then he has failed to live up these grandiose heights, most of the time featuring as a squad player. The 08/09 season was fairly shocking for him, and he has said he was disappointed, and felt he was in Ronaldo's shadow, but now he is ready to emerge. A player with undoubted skill, sometimes his decision making is poor, and he has yet to learn the art of teamwork, this season he has shown signs he is developing nicely, and I think it is a safe bet he will be around the team for a while to come.
Park Ji Sung a fans favourite who works hard, and occasionally causes trouble in the attacking third, but world class? In 88 games for United he's contributed only 9 goals, and personally I can recall many more misses when he should have done better. Going forward I think Park will continue in his role as squad player, and he is a mighty fine squad player to have, but at his stage in his career I doubt he is the man to step up and lead the United charge.
With Ronaldo leaving this summer, Alex Ferguson went out and signed long term target (if we believe the papers) Antonio Valencia, a player who always put on a decent show in the blue and white of Wigan, but certainly not the high profile superstar many fans called for. So far this season he has been good in unremarkable, a strong pacy winger he is a handful for defenders, if he could add some finesse to his game he could turn into a top class winger. With his first goal coming last weekend hopefully he can go on and cement his place in the United line up for the meantime and the future.
Zoran Tosic is a little known player outside of his own country, he has yet to feature prominently in the United first team, but having had the opportunity to watch him play for Serbia, it is clear he has potential to be a top notch player. A short twisty winger when we signed him, he has been set the challenge of bulking up, and he certainly looks to have done that, however Ferguson still deems him not right for the first team yet. If he can continue to improve and put in performances like he did in pre-season in the actual season he could yet become a world class performer.
The following two players, are not out and out wingers, but have both featured on the wing in the past, Anderson, was a massive hit with the fans to begin with, but I've heard some fans getting on his back lately, maybe due to the lack of progression he has made, he still looks the same player as when we signed him in 2007. His goal scoring ability has also lead to some question marks over his long term prospect. I don't really think he can be asked to play on the wing in the current 4-4-2 formation, because it requires too much "positional" sense, which not being a natural winger he would find difficult, plus his combative style makes more sense to play in the centre of the park.
Gabriel Obertan was signed from Bordeaux in the summer just gone, a player who was once touted as one of the best young footballers in the France, but in recent times has gone off the boil, coupled with injuries and "mental" issues make him a risk. But he has the god given talent, playing for the French youth sides from u16 through to u19, if Ferguson can do with him what he did for Ronaldo, we could have another world class player in the squad.
In a team that in the last 15 years has been blessed with, Beckham, Giggs, Kanchelskis, Ronaldo, the current crop are nowhere near this level yet, but they are all young, and thus could all go on to reach the high level of those before them, only time will tell. But one thing for sure is it seems unlikely Ferguson will dip into his £80m to buy another player, when he trusts the new generation coming through.