I am sorely tempted to write a rose-tinted article exhorting the virtues of the current Manchester United squad and boasting how, if fit, we can beat any team in front of us, be it Madrid, Barca, Milan, Bayern or Chelsea.
Unfortunately I don’t do biased bullshit very well. Considering what it does for revving up your side’s fans, it’s a skill worth learning.
But until then, here’s an unbiased, no-holds-barred look at where Manchester United stand on July 27, 2006.
Whisper it, but we’re a couple of steps away from being totally fucked.
One star striker is in the middle of serialising his ghost-written autobiography (and in the process, is showing us what sort of a person he is – more on Wayne Rooney in a future post), the other is being pawned off to the highest bidder (and considering what Ferguson said on MUTV last night, both Madrid and Munich have some way to go before they match United’s valuation for Ruud van Nistelrooy).
When (and not if) Ruud goes and when (again, not if) United starts the new season with a strike force of Rooney, Saha, Solskjaer, Rossi and Smith, we will be walking a fine line between madness and brilliance. Injuries will kill off our season but if these players stay fit they have the potential to lead Manchester United into a strong challenge for the Premiership title and in Europe.
Our defence is stronger this year thanks to players like Gerard Pique, Phil Bardsley and Jonathan Evans coming through the ranks. We don’t lack cover over the right-back position as both O’Shea and Phil Bardsley can play there (plus Wes Brown can depute if necessary. Last season was not completely injury free and if Heinze can stay fit, Manchester United will have the luxury of leaving Silvestre on the bench and hopefully we’ll see better crosses from the Argentine. He’s not a perfect fit though – his defending at corners and against high balls is woeful.
Kuszczack who? With the talents of Ben Foster at our disposal, we don’t need no Poles. What we do need to figure out though, is how to replace van der Sar when he retires. His contract extension takes him to 2007/2008, but after that we need a young keeper to see us through for the next 5-6 years (a la Chelsea and Tottenham).
Instead of telling you what a bad state our midfield is in, I’ll just list the midfielders from the first-team squad for you:
Giggs, Ronaldo, Park, Richardson, Scholes, Smith, Fletcher, Miller, David Jones, O’Shea.
Of these, O’Shea will go back into defensive duties. That leaves us with a first-choice central midfield of either Fletcher-Scholes or Smith-Scholes. The later would do in a pinch, but the former is unthinkable for next season. We said it last year as well, that Ferguson should have bought a central midfielder instead of Park (who still has to get over his fear of hitting the target), and his decision came to haunt us last season when we fell short of Chelsea.
Manchester United, contrary to popular opinion, has followed a very limited number of targets this summer (Torres and Mascherano are not in that list). Carrick, Vieira and Gattuso are on the list, which shows to me that United are looking for one big midfield buy (hence the slow and deliberate actions of the club in the transfer market. One must not forget Diarra and Hargreaves – both would prove to be expensive but in a pinch, United could come up with the 15-20 mil demanded for either player. Both have a considerable advantage over Carrick – they are hard-tackling players and United lack a talented holding midfielder.
Carrick’s strengths lie in passing and creative play (which Hargreaves manages well). He’s got real talent, but has limitations to his game that will be exposed cruelly at Old Trafford, especially if he’s the only summer signing we make.
Ferguson’s statement about the current squad being good enough for next season is a smokescreen – he’s playing the diplomatic card but he also knows that United have at least 1-2 players lined up to play in the midfield. It’s a risky assumption (and I’m going on a limb here), but things will change drastically over the next month and while we wont be bringing in Torres and Gattuso and Riquelme, we could be bringing in two new midfielders (one with graft, one with class) to support Scholes, Ronaldo and Giggs.
We still have a little over two weeks before the season opener against Seville, and we play Fulham on the 20th for our first Premiership game. Officially, I won’t panic even if we start with Miller and Fletcher in the middle of the park (and considering the potential lynching Ferguson will get, I don’t think I’ll need to say much). Unofficially though, I’ll wait till August 12 before I start screaming at Ferguson.
The bottom line is that a second-place finish next season will not be acceptable for the players or the supporters. If Ferguson does not sign at least one (and preferably two) midfielders, and if we are hit by injuries again this season, we will be, for lack of a better expression, fucked.