Fergie’s Owen gamble has now failed

March 31, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 17 comments

When Sir Alex Ferguson signed Michael Owen on a free transfer in the summer many fans saw the signing as a low-cost gamble on an experienced goalscorer. Nine goals in 31 appearances later and Owen’s injury-prone record came home to roost. But with Wayne Rooney is such stunning form it mattered little. Until now.

Owen’s record with Newcastle United averages 18 games and seven goals per season. In short United squeezed out of the former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker exactly what Owen’s history suggested. Value for money in an expensive market but absolutely no more than that.

Increasingly Ferguson has deployed Rooney as the lone front-man in a 4-3-3 formation designed to pack central midfield and exploit the Scouser’s dynamism and goalscoring form. It worked; the former Evertonian has scored 34 goals in all competitions this season, a personal record that will earn the striker both the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and Football Writers’ Association (FWA) Player of the Year accolades.

But Rooney’s form is only part of the picture in a demanding season where squad rotation has rarely applied to the 24-year-old forward. Had injury not struck, Rooney’s season would surely have consisted of more games than any other in his career to date.

The result is that United’s other senior strikers Dimitar Berbatov, together with Owen, have started just 33 games between them this season. Although both players can boast a one goal in two games ratio when starting, United’s squad quite obviously lacks a senior goalscorer of international class without Rooney.

Taking David Gill’s word on finances at face value – a stretch of course – Ferguson could have spent large on another striker last summer, even if Karim Benzema preferred Real Madrid to Old Trafford. But should he?

Ferguson’s decision to withdraw from the transfer market has not been helped by the long absence of Federico Macheda, whose off-field ‘attitude problems’ and on field hamstring injuries have restricted the Italian under-21 international to just a couple of substitute appearances this season.

There is also disappointment with the progress of Danny Welbeck, whom Ferguson earmarked as a potential for Fabio Capello’s England squad at the season’s start. The local-boy was given little opportunity to impress before being shipped out to Championship side Preston North End in January.

Moreover, the Scot has now settled on a formation that rarely requires the use of two strikers in the biggest games. No longer, it seems, does Ferguson want four front line strikers as in the past.

But why then does the word-on-the-street say Ferguson has earmarked the largest chunk of his summer budget – United has a £75 million overdraft facility, if no real cash – to bringing in another striker? Perhaps the Scot now realises United is horribly exposed.

Rooney’s injury – on very early prognosis – will keep the striker out for two to four weeks. In the best case scenario he will miss United’s games with Chelsea and Bayern Munich at Old Trafford, and the visit to Blackburn. Any longer and Rooney will miss a potential Champions League semi-final and Premier League matches against Manchester City, Spurs and Sunderland.

That’s the best case in a potentially nightmare scenario. But the transfer market is likely to be no less heated this summer than last. There’s still no value, with Chelsea and Manchester City both in search of a top class forward. Prices will once again reach stratospheric proportions.

Ferguson will have to spend very big to bring top quality to the side or United will next season, like this, will be worryingly reliant on Rooney’s brilliance.


Don Pablo - March 31, 2010 Reply

‘United’s squad quite obviously lacks a Senior goal-scorer of International class.’ You are tacking the mickey. What does Berbatov have to do? Record goalscorer for his country? 12goals in 19 starts? What about his brilliant overall play whenever he’s played this season? A little faith my friend.

Ed - March 31, 2010 Reply

You misunderstand me… I’ve talked about Berbatov in the post and previously. Big fan. If you’re a reader of the site you’ll know that. 12 in 24 btw but that’s not the point. I’m a huge fan of Barbatov but he’s not a like-for-like replacement.

Rocco - March 31, 2010 Reply

There is a lack of cover for strikers at so many big clubs this season. The last transfer window hit Utd hard, losing both Tevez and Ronaldo. But Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all have only 2/3 options that can be reliably deployed up front.

Is this because teams are deploying 1-up front systems more frequently?

Don Pablo - March 31, 2010 Reply

I’m of the opinion that Berbatov brings a whole new dimension to our play that involves bringing everyone else to play and also with the ability to finish of chances. I actually wanted Fergie to start with him yesterday especially with his history in German football. I’m not as optimistic as I’d be with Wayne leading the line but not distraught either at the thought of Berba leading the line. As for Owen I think Sir was looking for someone who would be comfortable with a place on the bench. The dressing room discord caused by Tevez last season must have been an uncomfortable scenario that the gaffer didn’t want repeated. Who would we bench if we had bought a £25m striker. All in all, I don’t think Fergie would do it any differently in hindsight.

Mac - March 31, 2010 Reply

I have to aggree, its a bummer about Wayne but not the end of the world. With his obvious enthusiasm to play in every game it was always a danger he’d pick up a knock. That same enthusiasm I feel will have him back on the pitch in a couple of weeks if at all possible. I reckon Berbatov will relish this chance to impress and will have plenty od support from the likes of Giggs on Saturday who only played a few minutes. We don’t have to beat Chelsea on Saturday, just avoid defeat and its a huge step towards the title

Ethelred - March 31, 2010 Reply

Remind me how many games Michael has missed for United because of injury?
It may be 9 goals in 31 appearances, but how many of those were more than 10 minutes?
I can’t believe I’m defending the little ***. Sorry Ronny.

lan Australia - April 1, 2010 Reply

The Rooney injury is a huge blow to us without doubt,
but there are many young players coming through with
tremendous talent, perhaps its time to throw caution
away and play these youngsters,rather than spend millions
seeking band aid solutions, young players promoted to
first team status can sometimes find the confidence to
rise to the occasion, hence one Duncan Edwards.
any comments to my suggestion?

vlad - April 1, 2010 Reply

Berbatov is class? You must be kidding, gentlemen. He has never scored a goal that proved decisive, now THAT is worrying.

And what about Diouf of Molde? He was promising until the occasion when he missed a header, and SAF seems to have pushed him to reserves immediately after that.
I think he’s talented (better than Macheda), he should be given a chance. Or is it some injury?

ja - April 1, 2010 Reply

Berbatov supposedly almost had a knee operation a couple of months ago but instead is being ‘nursed’ through the season with rest etc. What if that flares up?
No value in the market? No, no money available until someone is sold.

Bill - April 1, 2010 Reply

If Fergie continues to play 4-5-1/4-3-3 and there are no funds then i could see nobody brought in. If you go off the Jose M model you need a quality cover for each position, at the most 3. In that case the depth chart for the lone forward is as follows:


More than enough. If Fergie wanted to go 4-4-2 at any point before Rooney’s back (which would be at the most 2 games) he would pick Diouf or Macheda. He spent 5 mill on Diouf surely he is going to start with him at some stage.

Ashish - April 1, 2010 Reply

It remains to be seen whether Berba can step up and lead the front line efficiently.

Bill - April 1, 2010 Reply

With him likely to start both against Chelsea and Bayern he has a real opportunity to prove himself. He’s in good form so i back him to do it…

swapnil - April 1, 2010 Reply

ed…i agree that rooney’s injury is gonna have a big effect on our season but i totally disagree that fergie got it wrong mate.its just not fair arguement.you have to accept the fact that over the course of a long season your best player is going to get injured at some point of time and you have to live with it.i mean if arsenal dodn’t win the title you can’t blame them coz they didn’t replace vpersie,if chelsea don’t win thats not bcoz they didn’t have replacement for essien.any team just can’t buy big money players to play a substitue’s role(except rmadrid maybe…)and its not that SAF has not given rooney enough rest.a fully fit rooney would always have played every single match irrespective of his form or presence of other world class players in the team

Ed - April 1, 2010 Reply

Well fair enough. But he did want to buy Benzema, right? Young player without a horrendous injury record. So the squad make up and in fact tactics are very much plan b. Unless Fergie planned to have two £30m players on the bench.

Bill - April 1, 2010 Reply

Yep on footballing analysis alone Benzema would have been better for the Reds. Unfortunately Madrid are underwritten by the Spanish royal family, whilst we are underwritten by a family of pirates from Florida! Time for them to walk the plank 🙂

SKW - April 3, 2010 Reply

Berba showed how useless he is today.

Col - April 5, 2010 Reply

That should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has followed his time at United. Can Berbatov handle the pressure of big games for United? So far it doesn’t look like it.

I just don’t see the point of Berbatov, or for that matter Michael Owen. Diouf, Welbeck and Macheda are our future so I hope they get a genuine chance next season. All that Berbatov and Owen are doing right now is preventing these talented, inexperienced younger players from getting time on the pitch in matches against the likes of Hull, Burnley and Wolves.

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