by : Antony Melvin
Sir Alex Ferguson has never been one to stand about and watch while his team disintegrates; but regardless of extra training or slanging matches in the dressing room the team is in decline. Why would Michael Ballack choose to join a team that is drifting through another season?
The reality is that there is a Chelsea team that is bossing every game (and winning almost all of them) and then there are ten other teams who can now have a realistic shot at second place. United and Arsenal are not what they were, but are picking up enough points to suggest that they will drift into another pair of top four finishes.
But is that ambition?
Arsenal and Manchester United need to demonstrate that the millions invested in the youth academies can produce players that will be world class. Arsenal fans can shout up the development of Fabregas and Clichy - but they are not yet international class, never mind world class. And in response Manchester United can big up Pique and Rossi - but in that case why are they rotting in the reserves?
So for United the ideal must surely be to bring the youth players through and buy in some world class players to change the team. For this to happen United must get rid of the players that are blocking up the system. Arsenal have already started this process and Manchester United must go down this painful road immediately or face a slide into mediocrity.
A bad plan is better than no plan, and with no apparent transfer budget there appears to be no plan. And so here is my bad plan - a list of players that, for various reasons, should be moved on.
Tim HowardA decent number two - but he is blocking the progress of two keepers of great potential in Luke Steele and Ben Foster.
John O'SheaJohn O'Shea has been struggling to recapture his early promise for two years now - and his inability to hold down a regular position could mean he is too flexible - or not good enough.
Cristiano RonaldoThe most contentious choice - Cristiano Ronaldo is in here because, in the final analysis, his style of play may not suit the Premiership. There is little doubt that he is talented - but how many goals does he score, and how many assists does he make? The answer is clearly far too few. In a 4-3-3 he plays too narrow, and in a 4-4-2 he lacks discipline. There is time to become a conventional number 10 or right winger, but he is not a good enough inside forward - and he may find he needs a change of club and league to achieve his potential. No doubt he would be a godsend for Real Madrid or Barcelona due to the ease with which he would win free-kicks.
Louis SahaIt is difficult for Saha, he is genuinely talented and a good goalscorer. But you can't score from the treatment room - and Guiseppe Rossi is another with pace and a decent long-range shot. On the list to raise revenue.
Rio FerdinandRio Ferdinand seems to have gone backwards since his contract renewal. Perhaps he is in a comfort zone, but regardless Ferguson should drop him immediately and see if he rediscovers his form in the reserves.
Mikael SilvestreNearing his 30's, and when his pace starts to fade his poor positional play will be exposed. May have two or three seasons left at the top level.
Roy KeaneKeane is too good a person to let people remember him as a faded star who hung on too long. Time to leave with dignity.
Liam MillerEighteen months and what? May not get another chance in any event.
Ole Gunnar SolskjaerThe injury he picked up celebrating his goal in Barcelona meant that the high point of his career has destroyed what should have been the second half. For the sentimental (which, I guess, covers all football fans) if he could get a short run in the first team to say goodbye it would be nice.
Paul ScholesWhat happened?
Quinton FortuneClosing fast on 30 and is rarely fit for half a season - perhaps he needs a less intense league. Qatar?
David BellionFast. Err, that's it.
If a team is to be rebuilt then there has to be some cash generated, because there are no guarantees from the Glazers that there is any transfer budget. Admittedly there have been some vague references to £20m/£25m per season - which you can believe if you are a very trusting person. So to generate cash sell on Saha (£6m), Ronaldo (£20m), Ferdinand (£10m) and O'Shea (£4m). Anything that the other six bring in would be a bonus, to yield a transfer pot of around £45m. If the Glazers then made this up to £50m-£60m then there is the kind of budget to target four world class players that would create a team capable of challenging Chelsea.
Fill in the gaps with van der Sar, Heinze, Rooney, van Nistelrooy, Neville, Park and Richardson and bring through the youth team to flesh out the squad, or cover for injuries. And attack every match with a plan of outscoring the opposition (rather than keeping a clean sheet and hoping something turns up).
This bad plan seems the best way for Sir Alex Ferguson to avoid a return to 1989 - when the fans nearly hounded him out of Old Trafford. But this may be his final season in any event.
31 October 2005