As much as the all Manchester United fans would like to forget about the embarrassing defeat to Leeds in the F.A Cup, the fact of the matter is that it highlighted several important current issues in football. Leeds fans will take heart from the victory, seeing it as a sign that they are on their way back to the top whilst the Old Trafford faithful and Alex Ferguson will be worried at the lack of fight and desire that their team showed. For me, the most pressing issue that emerged from the encounter involved Wes Brown as if his performance against the Yorkshire club was anything to go by, United fans should be very worried.
Brown is now 30 years of age and a vastly experienced defender at both Premier League and Champions League level. Alex Ferguson famously once said that Brown was “without question the best natural defender this club has had for years” yet the England international looked a far cry from this when he squared up to Leeds’ Jermaine Beckford.
It was been widely documented that Brown was given a torrid time by the Leeds man but the issue runs a lot deeper than that single game. Even the world’s best players have an off day and Brown was one of several men in red that did not show up that afternoon, but it is the manner of Brown’s performance that struck me. Beckford had the beating of Brown almost every time they locked horns in the match and it appeared to me less a case of Brown having a day to forget and rather that the centre back just couldn’t cope with the striker.
Brown looked full of fear every time Beckford received the ball and the Leeds man had Browns number, it was as simple as that. Now as a defender ages it is inevitable that they will face players much younger, faster and sharper than themselves but they must find a way to deal with it. Something I have noticed with Brown in general recently and not just in the Leeds game is that where most defenders age and lose their pace, they tend to gain in other departments. Whereas another defender of a similar age may have used their experience to shut out Beckford, Brown looked clueless and could have easily been the young, inexperienced centre back playing against a seasoned pro. No matter how much Beckford is tearing League One to shreds, Wes Brown should be putting players of his calibre in his pocket for 90 minutes and it begs the question of how he would handle someone like Fernando Torres in that form.
I do not necessarily think that Wes Brown is now poor defender per say, more that he has passed his prime and is not dealing with it well. Admittedly the defender has been marred with injuries in recent years and this cannot help his form but his performance against Leeds was worrying. Brown needs to learn to use the experience that he undoubtedly possesses to overcome opponents that are younger and sharper than himself. It would be the worst time for Brown to enter a bad run of form given the current defensive crisis at Old Trafford and with the future of Nemanja Vidic still clouded in doubt. Brown needs up his game and fast for his sake, and for Manchester United’s.
Follow me on Twitter