Up next on Neymar’s list of suitors is Manchester United. There’s a growing Brazilian contingent at the club, so it shouldn’t surprise many that Neymar has been linked.
Sir Alex Ferguson has been at the helm for almost 25 years. That’s a remarkable feat, but as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”. The renowned Scot turns seventy (70) later this year and although he often says that his health and not his age will decide the fate of his glittering career, one cannot reasonably expect him to be in charge for much longer.
Already, he is putting things in place so that when the new manager takes charge, the transition will be as smooth as humanly possible. That said, a pattern has developed with regards to the club’s transfer dealings in recent years. With the exceptions of Dimitar Berbatov, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen among others, players brought to the club have been under the age of 25.
Thus, the club’s transfer policy of buying and grooming youngsters would indeed make Neymar an ideal target, but while that may be so, is there any room for him at Old Trafford?
Manchester United have as many as seven (7) strikers registered at the club- Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, “Chicharito”, Danny Welbeck, “Kiko” Macheda, Michael Owen and Mame Biram Diouf. They have as many as eight (8) if one wishes to count Bebe as a striker. Not too long ago, Ferguson intimated that he would not be strengthening his striking options this summer and understandably so. Has he, in effect, ruled out a move for Neymar, though?
In Part 1, it was established that Neymar’s ideal role would be that of a second striker. It was also established that given his flexiblity, in terms of his movement and style of play, he would be capable of playing on either flank. Should this wonderkid move to Old Trafford, this may very well be the role he would be asked to fulfill. More specifically, Neymar may be deployed on the left wing, as Ferguson seeks a long-term replacement for Ryan Giggs.
The fact that Gabriel Obertan has flopped adds flavor to the belief that this transfer is not at all impossible. Should the Frenchman depart this summer, that would leave Park Ji-Sung and Ryan Giggs as the only left wingers (Nani is counted as a right winger). Park is not that young, neither is he a regular starter and Giggs cannot and will not start every game. Thus, there is indeed a place for Neymar at this club. A lot of frustration has been voiced in recent years about the fact that Ronaldo was not adequately replaced. With Michael Owen likely to depart when his contract expires this summer, could it be that the club’s iconic No.7 shirt is set to find an exciting, new wearer? How would Neymar cut it as a full-time winger, however?
In Part 1, a concern was expressed with regards to Neymar’s tracking back capabilities. That said, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo pops immediately to mind. While this is not meant to be a comparison between the two players from a talent point of view, it is worth noting that Ronaldo was not the tracking back type at Old Trafford. However, his telling impact going forward “compensated” somewhat for what he seldom did going back.
Bearing this in mind, just because Neymar hardly tracks back doesn’t mean he can’t be transformed into a winger. It just means that, as was established in Part 1 of this series, Neymar needs to be carried from a defensive standpoint. This is something that Manchester United are capable of doing and doing well. After all, they did it for Ronaldo for a number of years.
This time around though, it’d be wise to acquaint Neymar with the defensive side of the game as early as possible. In that way, the assignment of responsibilities to players on the pitch wouldn’t be lob-sided, leaving the defender(s) behind Neymar overworked, seeing that he/they would have his/their own defensive work to do as well as that of Neymar’s.
With that in mind, it’s great to see that Nani has developed this aspect of his game. It’s a positive in two ways- (1) It’s a great help to the defense as there’s an extra man to help out and (2) It has enabled Nani and will enable Neymar to spearhead counter-attacking moves as they will be picking the ball up from deep. Players with that much flair, pace and skill when it comes to running with the ball are great assets when it comes to normal play, but they are devastatingly effective on the counter-attack. Without doubt, Neymar will thrive.
Another aspect of a winger’s game is his crossing. In Ferguson’s usual 4-4-2 system, if Neymar is deployed on the left, it will, as was established in Part 1, enable him to cut in on his natural right foot to devastating effect. In so doing, he would have the option to either have a shot, curl an in-swinging ball into the box- this can leave a goalkeeper at dangerous crossroads as he’s torn between coming to claim it and leaving it- and there’s the option of laying the ball off to a team-mate waiting outside the penalty area.
He can also switch the play to the opposite flank. The decent vision he possesses will enable him to make the right decision where these choices are concerned. If he’s shown onto his left foot, then as was also established in Part 1, he should be able to get by with relative ease. Of course, given the flexibility of both Nani and Neymar, one can expect that during the game, they will be switching flanks. This is also a very useful and deceptive tactic.
In addition to 4-4-2, Ferguson also uses a 4-3-3 at times. It was established that Neymar is capable of playing on either side of the lone striker. Thus, as was concluded about Chelsea, he’ll have no problem adapting to the tactics used. Also, by way of reminder, it was also established that he has a good chance of adapting to the rigors of the Premier League.
A serious concern was raised in Part 1, concerning Chelsea’s negligence when it comes to giving the young ones a genuine chance at first-team football. There are no such concerns at Manchester United. Ferguson has combined youth and experience magnificently over the years and as he plans for life after he’s gone, one can expect Neymar as well as other youngsters at the club to play a key role in leading the revamped squad to a successful new era, thus continuing the legacy Ferguson painstakingly established. In a nutshell, Old Trafford would be a great place for Neymar to complete his development. The quality of end product visible among the likes of Ronaldo, Nani and Rooney serves as clear evidence of this.
Conclusion: While Neymar may play best as a second striker, the winger’s role he may be asked to fulfil at Manchester United is one that is very much within his capabilities. However, a factor to this transfer going ahead is the future of Gabriel Obertan. The role of Ryan Giggs in what could be his final season with the club is also key. What one must not overlook as well, is Neymar’s willingness to convert to a winger in the first place. If he is not opposed to playing the role, then it’s all good. Should he be more inclined to continue his career primarily as a striker, however, then United have a problem.
A huge plus with this club is the fact that the young ones are given a genuine chance at first-team football. That would give the club a priceless advantage in the race for the Brazilian’s signature. All in all, Manchester United is the first club in this series that Neymar would be wise to seriously consider.
Also See: Part 1: Is Chelsea The Right Club For Neymar?