Michael Carrick, Rafael Da Silva, Wayne Rooney’s eagerness to stay on, Bayern Munich’s gamesmanship, the referee affecting Darron Gibson’s run up for a shot- the list of excuses/reasons/lies for Manchester United’s Champions League exit is almost endless. Following last night’s game you could have claimed Gordon Brown’s election announcement was behind United’s exit and someone would have agreed with you. The 90 minutes played last night, well the last 47 of them, have become for many, yet another reason to start believing that it’s the end of an era at Old Trafford, that United are 3,4, or even 5 players away from being kings of Europe, or the premier League for that matter. With the Glazer’s debt, the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, not to mention a certain Argentinean, the noisy neighbours getting noisier, the weather being miserable and Blanche from Corrie passing away, it’s been an annus horribilus for the red half of Manchester. Well excuse me for pouring dandelion and burdock on that particular chip barm but things at Old Trafford aren’t as bad as they may seem. Yes, I’m an optimist- I even believe England will win the World Cup-and no I‘m not smoking crack- but if we take a minute and assess the situation are United really that badly off. I’m not talking about in terms of everyone else, of course United could be a lot worse off, no I mean in terms of the playing squad, does Fergie really need to have a summer clear-out/ spending spree? The United manager recently said he wasn’t going to and I think he may be right.
First of all there’s the money, I realise many of you may now be saying- with some justification “does he even have any money to spend?” Well the answer to that one is -I’ve absolutely no idea, sorry not exactly an exclusive, insightful revelation I admit but let’s face it does anyone outside the club management and owners really know if United do have a transfer kitty of any sort? I will simply say this, Fergie is a manager who is more than just a paid employee, he’s as big a part of United as any player who’s ever played under him and then some. He doesn’t just want to see United succeed he lives for it, hence the reason he’s still going strong when by rights he should be stood in the middle of a school road holding a giant lollipop giving oncoming traffic the hairdryer treatment. If there was genuinely no money at all and the club was totally bereft of any ability to operate in the transfer market, I suspect that the man who took on the previous owners over the matter of horse semen, would be more than willing to air his grievances.
Anyway, regardless of whether there is money in the Old Trafford coffers or not the point I’m making is this, the current squad is not as far behind the top teams in Europe as some may feel, that despite the ageing of Giggs, Scholes, Neville and Van Der Sar, United still have a strong squad with some very good youngsters waiting in the wings.
First of all, there’s the goalkeeping department, which is the one area I would like to see Fergie spend money on if at all possible. But even if he can’t VDS still probably has a season left in him, after all he’s been playing pretty well of late, so it can hardly be a matter of urgency to replace him.
Then there’s the defence, United have Chris Smalling on the way, who depending on what you believe may have been brought in to replace Nemanja Vidic. Even if Vidic does decide that the sangria is sweeter on the other side, then United still have, Smalling, Wes Brown, Jonny Evans, and England Captain Rio Ferdinand who are all capable of playing at centre back. In the full back positions there’s Patrice Evra of course, John O’Shea, plus the Da Silva twins. Many will criticise Rafael for his sending-off against Bayern, and while it was foolish, and undoubtedly turned the game, there were some positives from the Brazilian’s performance. He marshalled Frank Ribery to near anonymity in the first half and will surely learn from his mistakes. The sending off may just be the tonic to make him tone down his rashness slightly, after all you could see how gutted he was as he left the field. As for Fabio, again he’s a youngster who’s showed promise and if injury’s go United’s way, probably can be edged into the team gently over the next two years rather than thrown in somewhat at the deep end like his brother. That just leaves Gary Neville of course who may well stay around Old Trafford for the rest of his life to complete his mascot duties and maintain his quest to be the most hated United player ever.
It’s in midfield where many feel Fergie simply must buy someone, and that someone must be someone big, or a big someone if you like, which is practically the same as someone big I just wanted an excuse to use the word someone one more time in this sentence. There I’m done. There’s no doubt that the midfield does look a little lacking, particularly in the goalscoring department at times, and that the ageing Paul Scholes has yet to be truly replaced. Add to this the fact that Ryan Giggs is actually one of the last remaining Busby Babes and you can see there are areas where perhaps a blank cheque book would come in useful.
Well call me a mentalist but I actually don’t feel United have too much to worry about in the midfield department at Old Trafford- unlike the hair and beauty department which is shocking. Yes Scholes and Giggs are old, but that still leaves, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Anderson, Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ji-Sung Park- not to mention Owen Hargreaves-hopefully, one day. Add to that list Gabriel Obertan and Darron Gibson and you have a pair who could be called upon for lesser games and give the others a bit of a break. It may not have a Ronaldo or a Roy Keane but that midfield still has lot of quality and in Valencia and Nani in particular two players capable of tormenting defenders who’ve shown signs of late that they may just be United players after all. Fletcher’s been outstanding for much of the season, and while the jury is still out on Anderson and Carrick can be a little quiet in the bigger games, if Hargreaves does return, the midfield may well be one of the strongest in Europe.
That just leaves the strikers, well Wayne Rooney’s obviously rubbish but other than that waste of space United have Dimitar Berbatov who still manages to put in quite a lot of good performances when he’s called upon, plus the youngsters Frederico Macheda and Danny Welbeck. While I’m not sure Welbeck has what it takes, I’ve seen enough of Macheda to believe that, injuries permitting-like any other footballer I suppose- he could make the grade at Old Trafford and become a real legend.
Many cite some of this season’s poor results as an example of how United are in decline, well let’s not forget, there’s been a ridiculous amount of injuries in defence at times, not to mention getting used to life without a 30-40 goal a season player, and United are still only out of Europe on away goals while down to ten men, and two points behind Chelsea in the league. Hardly a total disaster.
So there you have it, everything’s rosy at United, there’s no need to worry, and go about spending millions of pounds the club doesn’t have. Even if Chelsea do win the league, United will still be in the Champion’s League next season, with a good squad and some young players who’ve gained some valuable experience this time round. As many fans at Old Trafford know “It could be worse, you could be……..”
Read more of Justin’s work at his excellent blog ‘Name on the Trophy’