A truly horrendous injury list is finally starting to clear up at Carrington’s treatment room. Long term absentees such as Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young and Phil Jones are back, Michael Owen is due soon and best of all, Nemanja Vidic could be back sooner rather than later. A flashback is in order…
Sir Alex Ferguson must be breathing a massive sigh of relief. United’s mile long injury list has finally begun to clear up, just as the season is approaching its final few months. Its now all hands to the pump as United try to claw back City’s two-point advantage at the top of the table as they seek a record 20th Premier League crown.
United have been stretched for the last few months, with at one point more than 7 first team players – Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Cleverley, Fletcher and Young out – which prompted Sir Alex to field some truly curious line ups – Valencia at right back, Rafael in the middle of the park, and Berbatov as a centre back. Thankfully for United fans however, most of the experiments (bar poor Rafael) worked out well enough, as United clawed out victory after victory. Now though, with life trickling back to normalcy at Old Trafford, we revisit what has become the most serious demand of the United faithful – do we need a new creative midfielder?
On paper, this may seem easy enough. In all honesty, our midfield has been crap ever since Roy Keane packed his bags. Alarmingly, the issue has always been played down by Ferguson, who reiterated his belief in playing through the wings, than through the middle. However, since Cristiano Ronaldo’s eventual departure to the Bernabeu, even that has suffered. United have lacked a great deal of creativity going forward, especially from the midfield, relying as ever on one-dimensional wing play to see them through, usually from regulation crosses that become very predictable to defend given how little else United offer in attack. Watching the team get into the final third of the pitch is a lesson in frustration as players pass the ball around, bereft of ideas, looking for someone else to play the killer ball.
Even more alarming was Ferguson’s measures to fix the issue. Some of the club’s purchases during the last decade have been undeniably among the worst transfers ever since the beginning of time – Eric Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson, Juan Sebastian Veron and Alan Smith and most recently Bebe – would all find glory among worst-ever lists world over, as Fergie tried, failed, tried and failed again. Paul Scholes’s continuing brilliance and Ryan Giggs’s ageless transitions were what kept us going through the early years of the millennium. Good wingers in the squad too, were hard to come by. Both Quinton Fortune and Keiran Richardson were bought as cover for Ryan Giggs. Both turned out to be gobshite. Beckham left, Ronaldo came, and then he left as well.
It was the departure of Ronnie than really brought United’s woes to the fore. During his years at the club, the Máquina (as he’s now called) almost single handedly dispelled the notion that we had no real spine. Electrifying both fans and terrifying defenders, CR7’s goals dragged us to the treble in the 2007-08 season. Then the predictable happened, and Ronaldo left for Real. Ferguson’s claims of wing-play were unfounded simply because we had no other wingers of comparable quality. It seemed like we were back to square one.
Take the case of Nani for instance. Either he’s world-class, or he’s woeful. However, he has taken massive strides since his countryman left, but he still has that element of inconsistency about him. He is no doubt, among the world’s best at what he does, but when he’s not on form, he is frustratingly dreadful. The peerless Ryan Giggs for instance, was 34 in 2007, but how much longer was he expected to fly down that left wing? Park Ji-Sung was all power and no poise, and Wayne Rooney was hopeless on that left side of the attack. The purchase of Luis Antonio Valencia was a boon for the squad. Ruthless down the right, Valencia could beat pretty much anyone with his power and pace. On the downside though, he wasn’t/still isn’t exactly ambidextrous. So, was/still is rather predictable.
Things weren’t exactly rosy in the middle of the pitch either. Purchases such as Anderson didn’t help much either. However, both Michael Carrick (bought from Spurs for around £16.5 million) and Darren Fletcher independently managed to paper over the cracks in the midfield but weirdly, couldn’t do the same together. Add to that the fact that Anderson was incompatible with nearly everyone and Ferguson was left with a dilemma which would have left even Sherlock Holmes baffled. Sat Nav was still soldiering on, albeit without the influence he once used to wield. Yet, Ferguson declined to heed the call for new purchases, saying they had no need for new faces in the squad. For the major part, Ferguson’s claims were validated, because the United juggernaut continued to win trophies throughout the last decade.
The start of the 2011-12 season has so far, bought both joy and anxiety to Mancunians. Scholes was gone, Giggs could well have been following him, and our midfield was more porous than a beer keg on New Year’s Eve. On the bright side however, we had (after what seemed to be an eon) young and exciting players making the transition to the senior side. Tom Cleverley, Paul Pogba and Carrington’s poster boy Ravel Morrison were all expected to become major first team players. Sadly though, the results of those expectations have been underwhelming so far. Cleverley has spent more time injured than playing, Pogba has been unused and Morrison was sold to West Ham before he so much as kicked a ball. Scholes has been forced out of retirement (Sir Alex will claim otherwise) to shore up the side while Fletcher has taken an indefinite break from football.
United’s continued reliance on the Ginger Prince’s aging legs is very much a case for concern. How much more are we supposed to expect from him? Ferguson needs to take a leaf out of Arsene Wenger’s book and give youngsters a chance, before its too late. The more he believes in the infallibility of his side, the more they are being outclassed by opponents – Newcastle, Basel and very nearly an obscure Romanian club. Ferguson needs to face the music, because sooner rather than latter, it’ll come blaring in.