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Sagnol for Manchester United?



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The Sun is at it again today. After – correctly – predicting that Martin Jol will be sacked since (and you better hold on to something here) he was not included on the team’s monopoly board, they have now made up found out that Sir Alex will move for Willy Sagnol in the January transfer window. I do not want to discuss the (in)validity of the story, but, to their credit, it would make a lot of sense for Manchester United to buy the French right back.

My reasoning is simple: Man Utd does not have adequate cover in the position that I think is their weakest. Do not get me wrong, Gary Neville is a marvellous player and I fully admire him. Being the a good captain of the team and providing quality in his own half as well as the opponent’s cannot be easy, but he does all three with great success. Problems arise when he is not fit (which has been the case too often recently) since there is not one player in the team who can take over the defensive and offensive duties with half as much success.

So far, Wes Brown has been the preferred choice of Sir Alex to fill in for the absent captain and it is not hard to see why. He is a quality defender and does a pretty good job against opposition wingers, but the reality is that he is a central defender and that is not good for the team. Brown lacks the speed needed by full-backs to keep wingers in check or to provide much needed support to Ronaldo or Giggs further up the field. Even when he does get forward he is usually inept. Again, I respect Brown and I want him to stay, but if that means playing him at right-back then we have a problem: he is not that type of player.

The second most popular choice with the gaffer for that position has been John O’Shea. Although he rarely played there this season, he has shown that he is also the wrong player. Being a winger, he looks more natural as a right-back and perhaps defends a little better then Brown, but where he makes up in defence, he loses in offence. He is worse than Brown either at providing crosses or support to his wingers, which are qualities that Manchester United have to have if they want to play the kind of free flowing football we have been used to. Again, good player, bad position.

There have been two other players who have played there this season, but for so little that they cannot be considered part of the solution – for now. Danny Simpson looks to have a bright future, but Sir Alex will not do a Wenger, and Pique is just another central defender. It now becomes clear that Man Utd desperately need another traditional right-back to cover for the ageing Neville with the same success, and Sagnol is one of the names which pops up.

Though he may be old, the Frenchman is as good as pure gold to Bayern. Defensively he is a rock. Offensively, he is as good as a winger. Speed and stamina are both qualities which he possesses in abundance and, in my opinion, he ranks among the top right-backs in the world currently. In fewer words: he is the right choice if Man Utd wants to buy a right-back in the near future. Whether he could adapt to the Premier League is anyone’s guess, but if he does, he will challenge Neville for that spot.

Therein lies the problem. Neville is the captain of that team and a legend in the making. Not even Sir Alex would have the guts to eliminate him like he did with Keane, so if both are fit (supposing Sagnol does make the unlikely move) then there is a real issue on the gaffer’s hands. Do you play the older captain who is a symbol of the team and keep the World Cup finalist and arguably France’s finest player during that campaign on the bench? Or do you upset a large portion of the fans, bench Neville, and play the better and slightly younger player?

It would not be an easy choice for anyone and that is the main obstacle in front of Sagnol’s arrival to Old Trafford: what happens when they are both fit?

Well, what will happen? Is he a viable solution? If not, then who would? There is no doubt that Man Utd need another right-back but because of Neville’s status I do not see a good one coming in for the next couple of years.