This summer has been full of football’s most dramatic elements: transfers, rumors, and money. With silly season in full flight, one of the most debated topics in the world of football has been the future of Manchester United. Yes, the same Manchester United that is coming off three straight Premiership crowns.
For some reason, many members of the media have been writing Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United off already.
Having sold the best player in the world (I don’t mean Carlos Tevez) and one of the Premiership’s hardest working strikers (there’s your cue, Carlitos), far too many people were anxiously awaiting a massive spending spree by Fergie and company. Instead, United fans are forced to sit at home and celebrate the signings of a standout from Premier League giants Wigan, a former Liverpool star who enjoyed a memorable spell at the famed Newcastle United, and a young French winger who admitted himself that he was shocked at the move. Hmmm…
But even with all of this, even through all of the disappointment that United fans are feeling, I can’t help but think that everything is going to be alright. Here are the five reasons why United will be in with a shout come May:
1. There’s no “Ronaldo” in “team”
While Cristiano Ronaldo may have appeared to carry Manchester United game after game, it was only because the system set it up that way. When I wrote about Sir Alex Ferguson’s new plan the initial feedback was “yeah, but who will replace Ronaldo!?” It’s a simple solution.
Just like when Ruud van Nistelrooy left the club in 2006, everyone is looking to replace that one star player. When Ruud and all of his goals left, the fans were crying out for Fergie to sign a 30 goals a season striker to replace the Dutchman. No such signing came in, but somehow the Red Devils managed to secure a first Premier League crown in four seasons.
Now, with Cristiano Ronaldo gone, Sir Alex Ferguson is clearly opting for the same fix. Instead of trying to replace a single man and his goals, the wily old Scot is signing players that will fit into the new system. Cristiano Ronaldo scored forty-two goals in one season? So what? With him gone that means the rest of the team will split those 42 goals amongst each other; Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, and the midfield will all gain some tallies.
At the end of the day football is a team game, and eleven men working together is far better than one. Sir Alex Ferguson is getting the right players for a new system, and they will all be pieces of the puzzle.
2. The class of 2009
United will forever be remembered for their famous crops of youngsters. Last season we were lucky enough to get a tiny glimpse of what’s been going on behind closed doors at Carrington as Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck got significant playing time, but there’s still more to come.
Kiko Macheda and Welbeck should have even more chances to shine this season, and fellow youngsters Ritchie De Laet, Fabio, and maybe even Davide Petrucci could see some senior action during cup games. Just like the beginning days of the Nevilles, Beckham, etc., these youngsters are hungry and determined.
3. Owen Hargreaves
Before you write this guy off, think back to May of this year. United were chasing an unprecedented second straight Champions League victory, but Barcelona’s midfield played with United and put the English champions to the sword. United fans were clamoring for a Michael Essien-type player, and one is already waiting in the wings.
Yes, Owen Hargreaves has been hurt for an entire season, and yes his health is being compared to the fragile Louis Saha, but if he can remain healthy this season then United will be getting back a solid midfielder. Owen can tackle, can shoot, and can take some worldclass freekicks. It may be a cliche, but Owen’s return is like a new signing for the club.
4. Squad players
Cross-town rivals Manchester City are catching a lot of heat for their summer exploits this far, but Mark Hughes knows exactly what he’s doing. Manchester United’s success in recent years has been down to the fact that the Red Devils’ squad is much deeper than their rivals’.
Even without Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez this rings true. Last season saw the emergence of some fairly average players like Darren Fletcher make the step up into useful squad players, and expect more of the same this season. If you look across the board there are very few positions where United is thin; the defense is as solid as ever, the midfield has been bulked up over the summer, and the front-line has experience and youth.
5. The white Pele
Wayne Rooney was billed as England’s savior when he was only a teenager. Now, years later, people are still saying the same thing – but still in anticipation. It’s time for Wayne Rooney to stand up, and there’s no better time than in a World Cup year. On top of that, Rooney will have a chance to play an entire season with Michael Owen, who could quite possibly be Rooney’s strike partner come June in South Africa.
Even without all of the extra motivation, Wayne Rooney should be in top form due to the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead of being pushed out wide to compensate for Ronaldo’s lack of tracking back, Rooney will be able to stick to his central role and get in front of goal this season. “Shrek” will not have to focus on getting back and playing defense – this season it’s all about the goals.
It’s for these five reasons that I truly believe that Manchester United could make history this time next year. A record fourth consecutive Premiership crown? It just might happen.
Brian Lofrumento is a full time writer for Premiership Talk.