1826: Man Utd: It’s the midfield whe
by : Chris Sherrard
Manchester United’s failure to make a dent in either Chelsea’s title bid or Milan’s Champions League run must rank as a deeply disturbing scenario for all concerned at the club.
Many claim them to be the biggest football club in the world. But they are not the best. Not even close. And it will take plenty of surgery to turn them into world beaters this summer. For a start, the most impending – and likely – arrival will be that of a goalkeeper. Roy Carroll foolishly turned down the club’s offer of a new contract and will pay for that poor advice at the end of the season when he is forced to plough his furrow far from the greenery of Old Trafford.
United should always be going for the best in any position they attempt to strengthen but I can not see either Iker Cassilas or Gigi Buffon arriving in Manchester anytime soon. So it will probably be left to another untried face to pervade the seemingly unfillable shadow of Peter Schmeichel. Big money would be needed in any other circumstance and with United apparently not as rich as once they were, funds might be at a premium.
And Sir Alex Ferguson would prefer to splash the serious cash, if any comes his way in the summer, on a hard-hitting, combative central midfielder. Everyone knows that Roy Keane’s playing days are numbered. Not that he is particularly showing his age of late but the time will come soon when he must be replaced. It was with that in mind that Fergie brought in the likes of Kleberson, Djemba-Djemba and Liam Miller but anyone who thinks they are, or were, up to the job needs their head checked sharpish.
The first two won’t even be at the club by the start of next season – Djemba has already moved on to Aston Villa while a return to his Brazilian homeland appears imminent for Kleberson. Miller has got plenty of time on his side but there has been little evidence to date that he is a big enough player or character to fill his fellow Cork man’s void.
United need a warrior, a fighter. They need Milan’s Gennaro Gattuso. But they probably won’t get him. That is not to say they shouldn’t hammer at the doors of the San Siro bursting every sinue to bring the Italian international on board. He, too, is young but has crammed in plenty of experience in his career so far – including an insightful spell north of the border with Glasgow Rangers.
So if that is three signings so far – at least one keeper and two central midfielders – then another creative player would not go a miss in midfield, either. How different things could be now if Ferguson was able to tie up the likely transfers of Ronaldinho a handful of summers ago, or even Arjen Robben for this season. Either of those could well have secured the club a second European Cup triumph under their current boss. Instead Ferguson has been left to look on as Chelsea steal his domestic thunder and the Italians regain respect on the continental field.
There are plenty of strong talents still at Manchester United. But perhaps some of the hunger and ability has now gone. Sacrilege as it may be to say it, Paul Scholes has too often been a passenger where once he dictated the flow of a game. Ryan Giggs is struggling to maintain consistency, too. Those are the areas Ferguson should be targeting as his current weak spots. Because the defence is strong and their four strikers are as good a panel as many others posess. With the expception of Louis Saha who should be replaced with a more reliable goalscoring striker – Jermain Defoe cost four million less than the former Fulham man.
Whether Ferguson is the man to lead United’s charge is an issue for another day – albeit not too far off. The question he must be asking himself is: where do we need to improve to get back on terms with the best? He has done just that every other time United have fallen away. The challenge with Roman’s millions around now is an altogether toughter one, however. United supporters pray their boss is up to it still. And that he can bring in the players desperately needed.