Fergie strikes out on forward options
Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney have come to the inevitable conclusion that Manchester United needs a new striker this summer. Whether Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is inclined or has then financial means to do so is another matter. Indeed, the Scot’s acquisition of Javier Hernandéz brought to seven the number of forwards at the club
In the week that Ferguson defended Dimitar Berbatov and assured the Bulgarian he will remain at the club, veteran Giggs and 34-goal striker Rooney called on the Scot to enter the market.
The call comes from a widespread recognition that United is too heavily reliant on Rooney, who injured his ankle against Bayern Munich in Germany and compounded the problem with a – possibly related – groin strain. The Scouser missed games against Chelsea and Spurs, while hobbling partially fit through the rest of United’s unsuccessful run-in.
“We can’t rely on Wayne as much as we have done this season in terms of goals,” argues 800-game United legend Giggs.
“It was unfortunate for us that Wayne got injured at a really important part of the season because we’d relied on his goals more or less throughout it.
“So to get to the business part of the season and not have him, then to have him for one game without him having really trained, wasn’t ideal.”
Indeed, Rooney failed to score post injury, often appearing no more than 80 per cent fit with highly limited mobility. That Ferguson chose to deploy his half-fit talisman said much of the falling confidence in Berbatov, despite the Bulgarian’s appearances against Sunderland, Stoke and Tottenham Hotspur.
While Berbatov’s statistics this season are on the margins of adequate – 12 goals in 43 appearances – the striker’s £30.5 million transfer fee demands a standard of excellence he has not yet met in his time at the club.
The Bulgarian’s unique talent, lauded by Ferguson and many supporters, is not in doubt. But offered a chance to lead United towards Premier and Champions League glory following Rooney’s injury, Berbatov failed to hit the net.
It’s hardly a surprising statistic to anybody who has seen the broken confidence of a man seemingly scared to shoulder the responsibility. But the striker’s retention, in Ferguson’s lone forward system, will once again leave United vulnerable to a breakdown in Rooney’s fitness.
Yet it’s striking that the Scot now has so many forwards vying for a single place in the side. In addition to Rooney and Berbatov, Michael Owen, Hernandéz, Mame Biram Diouf, Federico Macheda and Welbeck each have their own designs on Old Trafford glory.
While Welbeck, whom Ferguson tipped for a place at the World Cup last summer, will once again head out on loan few of Ferguson’s other options appear suited to playing up front alone. Berbatov certainly isn’t, nor is Owen.
Diouf, meanwhile, is great in the air but rarely deployed as the attacking pivot in his time with the reserves. Hernandéz, who is small and quick but deceptively strong, is perhaps the closest to Rooney.
Despite this Rooney himself believes that the club needs established attacking options to mirror those in place during the 1999 season, when Teddy Sherringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer supported Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke.
“If we can bring in two big-name players in it would give us a good chance of getting the league back if Chelsea do win it,” said the former Everton forward.
“If you look at the team in 1999 that won the treble, we had four forwards, all capable of scoring goals.
“Now there is me, Berbatov and Michael Owen. There is Federico Macheda, too, but if we can get one more top forward in it would give us the right balance.”
Rooney’s wish seems highly unlikely though, with Ferguson’s preferred choice Karem Benzema neither willing to leave Real Madrid nor affordable. The Frenchman, even if he’s available after a poor season in Spain, will cost more than £25 million.
Perhaps even more pertinent are the striker’s wages, at more than €10.5 million gross. Given current exchange rates and substantial tax differences, United’s board would need to offer Benzema more than £200,000 per week just to match the former Olympique Lyonnaise player’s wages. Rooney is on just £90,000.
Other potential options such as Wolfsburg’s Edin Dzeko will command a similar fee, if lower wages, although Ferguson has shown no tangible interest in the Bosnian. Meanwhile, Sevilla’s Luis Fabiano, at 29, is outside United’s stated transfer policy even though the Brazilian is desperate to join a Premier League team. And high-scoring Gonzalo Higuain is still wrapped up in Real Madrid’s bizarre internal politics.
It leaves United is no better position than now, reliant on the brilliant Rooney; hoping that Berbatov suddenly becomes more dynamic, Owen less injury prone, Macheda, Diouf and Hernandez mature beyond their years.
Berbatov’s supporters can bend the statistics and claim 12 goals in 24 Premier League games. Indeed, United scored more this season than last in the Premier League. But the club’s forwards also failed to hit the net on six occasions, dropping 17 points in the process.
They say madness is doing the same thing over and over – and hoping for a different result. But transfer madness is indeed what may face United this summer.