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Evra vs Heinze / Saha vs Ruud – a Manchester United fan speaks out

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This is a rant – as such it is personal and one-sided. I still like Saha for the same qualities that make him a United darling, and I’m partial to Evra too. However, that should have no bearing on our assessment of players.

Flair has won more fans than sheer effectiveness has – just ask Arsenal. You can have too much of flair, and it becomes showboating, but you can never have enough effectiveness.

And besides, flair never won a football game, goals do. And after all the runs and dribbling and movement off the ball and the pretty passing and the overzealous tackling has been done and dusted with, if you can’t block goals at one end and put them away at the other, you will still lose.

But try telling the fans that, and you’ll get the usual “Beautiful football is great to watch” routine.

Let’s take Manchester United’s example (because this is about them and not about Arsenal, in case you got misled by the beautiful game comment) – Players like Louis Saha and Patrice Evra – both decent players – are celebrated as top players by the fans. Fans have notoriously short memories and even weaker opinions, but the ease with which fans have abandoned Ruud and Heinze and move on to support Saha and Evra against those two is depressing.

Saha is, at best, a player fit for Manchester United’s bench. Evra is a poor defender and not that great going forward either.

And yes, I watch the games, so I’ve seen them play – let’s get beyond the “you don’t know what you’re talking about because you don’t see them play” bullshit.

Why is Saha playing? Passing, pace, good in the air, movement off the ball?

He’s a support striker at best. His finishing is average, and for a striker that was slated to lead Manchester United’s goals charge this season that’s not good enough.

Saha scores goals because he gets 10 chances made for him and 3-4 that he creates himself, and manages to put away 2 or 3 – on a good day. Manchester United’s approach play – built on Scholes, Giggs, Ronaldo and Carrick – helps Saha get that many chances.

I’d take Ruud and Saha or Ruud and Rooney over Saha and Rooney any day. Why? Because you need at least one quality finisher, and Ruud gave us that.

He’s gone now, so we need a new striker – a finisher, rather than another support striker. Will Rossi fit the bill? Hopefully he will.

Why is Evra playing? Pace, excellent going forward?

He is a left back for crying out loud. Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge – these guys are far better defenders than Evra, and Bridge is better going forward too. You don’t need an overly attacking left back if your left winger has some pace, and IMO Evra plays mainly because Giggsy HAS to play, and his slower pace and tendency to cut inside leaves space outside that needs to be exploited.

Evra likes going forward, so he fits the bill. Heinze is your traditional defender, hard in the tackle, decent in the air and always aware of his defensive duties. He doesn’t mind camping up front either, but when both left back and left winger are slow on pace, there’s not much can do.

And Evra’s forward play isn’t that good either. He fluffs passes and crosses, and is generally wasteful, like Saha.

And yet these two play – not because they are of Manchester United’s standard, and not because they are the best choices for those positions (currently, Larsson fits the role of second striker for United).

No, Evra and Saha play because the system works, however flawed the players might be.

That system will change next year, when United buy a quality finisher, or when Rossi gets a run in the starting 11. It will change when Giggs retires and United start playing a faster winger on the left.

All the hustle n bustle in the world cannot hide a player’s inadequacies, and if a player cannot do what his role asks him to do as well as others can, then he should be replaced.

Saha is an average finisher, Evra is an average defender. THAT is what they bring to the team – average finishing and average defending.

But do you guys see that?

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Ahmed Bilal created Sportslens in 2006. He is a business consultant and entrepreneur who helps businesses identify and overcome their biggest challenges. He’s also the founder of Football Media, an online advertising agency that specialises in sports and male audience targeting, with a monthly reach of 100m+ sports fans in the UK and US. He’s also the previous owner of Soccerlens.com – a sports news site that reaches 3m+ readers / month.