For months now Sir Alex Ferguson has been happy to tell anyone who cares to listen that he can spend the £80million from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo but has decided against it because of highly inflated prices. As he now sifts through the wreckage of a failed Champions League campaign however, he must face the truth that his current squad is simply not good enough to rule Europe.
Major reconstruction is not necessary but the quarter final elimination by Bayern Munich exposed the lack of depth at United and their continued over reliance on Wayne Rooney. Coming just days after their 2-1 defeat to title rivals Chelsea means that United find themselves at crisis point and even Fergie admitted such a setback cannot be considered a mere hiccup.
United only have five games left to salvage something from this season, the Carling Cup not considered a good enough return at a club where success is measured only by the big prizes but even if they can win all of them, it may still not be enough to be crowned champions, with Chelsea having taken a two point lead with their victory at Old Trafford.
Regardless of the outcome in the title race, Ferguson is already looking to the summer where he is likely to make at least three new signings if the glaring deficiencies in his squad are to be addressed. Edwin van der Sar turns 40 later this year and is likely to play a lesser role next season with France’s World Cup keeper Hugo Lloris tipped to be the preferred choice as a replacement.
United are also in need of both a striker and a goal scoring midfielder. A reported £10m deal for 21 year old Guadalajara and Mexico international striker Javier Hernandez is understood to have been completed during the past 24 hours but it’s still not clear if Ferguson regards him as his answer for next season or as an investment for the longer term future.
In recent years Sir Alex has bemoaned United’s lack of a free scoring central midfielder similar to Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard and Aston Villa’s James Milner may provide the answer. Fergie has been impressed with Milner’s emergence as a central midfielder this season and at only 24, his age along with a value of around £20m could see a determined move for him.
Fulham’s Chris Smalling will arrive this summer in a £10m deal but the young defender’s first team opportunities will depend on Rio Ferdinand’s fitness, whether Nemanja Vidic stays put as is now beginning to look likely and how Jonny Evans progresses.
Although Valencia striker David Villa remains a target for Ferguson, a reported offer to offload him to United for £40m was rejected this week as being over valued. At 28 years of age, Villa is also outside the clubs policy of not spending large sums on players who are 26 or above.
A more likely possibility is Frenchman Karim Benzema whose failure to make an impact at Real Madrid may yet see Fergie get the striker at the second attempt after refusing to meet Lyon’s £35m asking price last summer. He could now be available for around £25m, with Benzema’s physical strength and dynamic style being well suited to the Premier League.
Not all the signs will be pointing towards Carrington however because there are those who will be heading in the opposite direction. Dimitar Berbatov’s failure to hold down a regular place is now looking likely to see him offloaded. The preference of a half fit Rooney in the starting line up against Bayern was the ultimate insult to the Bulgarian who was thrown on as a last ditch measure with 10 minutes remaining.
Michael Carrick, at fault for Bayern’s crucial first goal at Old Trafford, is another who has failed to progress this season and is likely to be sacrificed as Ferguson reshuffles his personnel. Another is injured midfielder Anderson who arrived for £18m three years ago but is seen as having a questionable attitude.
If Owen Hargreaves returns to full fitness, the central midfield options will be bolstered particularly with Darron Gibson starting to make some great strides. Ferguson does not see a need for any wholesale buying believing that he has a very good squad that just needs tweaking here and there. His thinking is that looking at potential squad additions is an ongoing process but does not expect too many players to join the club.
Who should be the number one target for Ferguson to sign this summer?