Managing Manchester United

Posted: February 27, 2011 in Football, Sports
Tags: , , , ,

Yesterday, Manchester United produced a 4-0 victory away against Wigan.

After Wednesday’s dismal nil-nil draw with Marseille in the Champion’s League, the Reds were lambasted by many of their supporters about the stuttering, toothless display that was put on by United.  Chris Smalling was the only player to come out of the game with his reputation unscathed, surprising given that he was the youngest member of the Reds’ starting eleven.

With yesterday’s victory, which included two goals from Javier Hernandez and one from Wayne Rooney, one might think that the fans would have forgotten – or at least forgave – the midweek speed bump.

However, that was not the case as mere hours after the game topics such as “Which players would you sign and why?” and “Nuri Sahin is a must…” appearing on the United forums, indicating a general dis-satisfaction with the way the team is heading.

One of the major themes of this type of topic is that Manchester United need to go out and sign almost ten top-quality players in the summer to avoid falling from the top of the Premiership perch next season.

I think that this is complete BS, and I’ll tell you why: Manchester United’s youth system is stocked so full of talent that they have to loan out players who are too good to play reserves football, but are not good enough to make the Reds’ squad.  Some of these players will be ready to join the squad next season and they should be given the chance before Sir Alex Ferguson goes out and spends like he’s Roberto Mancini.

To really get a good picture of what I’m talking about, let’s go through the Reds’ roster and look at what might happen next season.

Looking at the goaltenders, I want to take you back a couple years to when Edwin van der Sar was first establishing himself at United.  Tim Howard was the incumbent keeper and Ben Foster was signed as a depth option.  By the start of the next season, Howard was gone and Tomasz Kuszczak was brought in to be Edwin’s backup, slotting in directly in front of Foster.  As Foster was denied game time by Edwin and Tomasz, he became frustrated and eventually left the club.  Kuszczak has been stuck behind van der Sar ever since as well, which will likely result in his departure from Old Trafford this summer coming.

Now, because of van der Sar’s impending retirement, United is left in a dangerous position.  They potentially have three keepers on their books in newly-signed Anders Lindegaard, Kuszczak, and reserve keeper Ben Amos.  With Kuszczak’s predicted departure, the Reds could do one of three things: (a) bring in a proven international keeper to replace van der Sar outright, (b) sign another keeper to push Lindegaard for the number 1 job, or (c) continue with Lindegaard and Amos as their two keepers.  I would choose option (c).  For one, Lindegaard has shown to be a very capable keeper in the few games he has played with the club and actually reminds me a lot of van der Sar himself.  The second reason I have is that options (a) and (b) risk alienating either Lindegaard or Amos by not giving them the game time they need to succeed and become better players.  By alienating them United could have another Kuszczak or Foster on their hands, neither of which is beneficial to the club.

Moving on to the defence, there isn’t really much to do here in the summer.  Any concerns about replacing Rio Ferdinand seem to have been alleviated by the emergence of Chris Smalling and Rafael da Silva has shown signs of becoming Gary Neville’s long-term successor at right back.  Therefore, any changes to the back line is just tinkering under the hood.  The only possible change that I could see happening is that Sir Alex gives some game time to youngsters Ritchie de Laet or Marnick Vermijl at the expense of either John O’Shea or Wes Brown.  Both de Laet and Vermijl have come up through the United ranks, signifying another change from within for the Reds.

The midfield is where things get complicated and to make things easier I’m going to break the midfield down into two sections, the central midfield and the wings.

First, let’s tackle the wings.  Despite being forced to deploy Wayne Rooney on the left wing against Marseille, the Reds aren’t in a bad position in terms of wingers.  Nani is steadily improving and Ryan Giggs is just steady (even at 63…).  What will make a difference for the Reds in this department next season is the impending returns to action for Antonio Valencia and Ji-Sung Park.  These two players have missed most of the season so far (Park did put in a few outstanding games in the first half of the season) and their absence has really been putting a lot of pressure on Nani and Giggs to stay fit and consistently perform to the best of their abilities.  When Valencia and Park return, United will have options on both wings.  Also in the system are Gabriel Obertan, Bebe, and youngster Ravel Morrison.  Obertan and Bebe should probably go out on loan, but Morrison could find himself playing some first-team football if one of Nani, Giggs, Valencia, or Park miss an extended period of time next season.

The center of midfield is where most of the frustration has been leveled after the Marseille game.  The trio of Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, and Darron Gibson were mostly ineffective in the game and it wasn’t until aging veteran Paul Scholes replaced Gibson that United started to move forward with any kind of purpose.  Perhaps the criticism that the aforementioned trio has received has been a bit harsh, but it is not wholly undeserved.  The main problem lies in that all three are basically the same player, and none of them an adequate replacement for the likely-departing Owen Hargreaves.  United really only need one of them and I can offer no real evidence for one over the others.  Combine this conundrum to Scholes’ impending retirement, and the center of midfield is quite a mess.

So, how do I propose on tackling the problem?  Like a broken record that keeps spinning over the same worn patch, the answer lies in United’s youth.  If we take it as a given (although it likely won’t work out this way) that two of Gibson, Carrick, and Fletcher will be following Hargeaves out the door, then it follows that there are three places open in United’s midfield.  The first should go to Tom Cleverley, who is currently out on loan.  Cleverley has been playing well for Wigan (although he didn’t suit up against United yesterday due to a clause in the loan agreement) and surely deserves a chance to make a mark with the Reds.  Another of the places should go to one of Paul Pogba, Ryan Tunnicliffe, or Daniel Drinkwater, with Pogba and Tunnicliffe being the frontrunners.  All three are talented youngsters who can play almost anywhere in the midfield.  All three are products of the United youth system.

That leaves one space open in the center of midfield.  This is the one purchase I believe United need to make.  They need to find an experienced midfield general who can both patrol in front of the back four and win the ball and press forward to join the attack; in short, they need an all-rounder.  I use the word experienced here because United doesn’t need to sign someone that they plan on developing into a superstar.  They need someone who can step in now and steady the ship while the prospects they already have grow into experienced players in their own right.

You’ll notice that I’ve said nothing about replacing Scholes in this section.  That is because I feel that United are well on the way to replacing Scholes with Brazilian midfielder Anderson.  Anderson showed glimpses of what he could do in a smattering of games before he came off injured against Crawley in the FA Cup.  With hopefully another year of learning from the master, Anderson should be primed and ready to step into Scholes’ shoes when the legend eventually calls it a day.

Finally, we get to the forwards.  This picture is pretty clear.  Dimitar Berbatov and Rooney sit atop the pecking order with Javier Hernandez just a notch below.  The status of Michael Owen is unclear for next season, but if he does leave Old Trafford, then the logical choices to replace him come from within in the shapes of Kiko Macheda, Danny Welbeck, or Joshua King.

I guess the message here is not to panic.  Despite some discouraging results, Manchester United is in a very good position going forward with the amount of talented youth that is pouring through the system.  As the last stragglers of the old guard say their farewells (Neville, van der Sar, Scholes, and eventually Giggs), now is a perfect time to bring along some of that talent and put it to use alongside established stars such as Berbatov, Rooney, Nani, Vidic, and Evra.

Apart from the one midfield purchase, Manchester United can fill all of their other needs from within, which bodes extremely well for a side still in the reckoning for a second Treble of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign.

P.S. The Manchester United forums can be found here:

  1. […] methods.  In fact, much of my thinking about the Man United squad that can be found in this post has been reflected in Sir Alex’s actions and statements.  However, given the facts that […]

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