The fourth striker



When Manchester United started the current season Sir Alex Ferguson could boast seven first team strikers; the Scot may go into the summer with just three. Indeed, while Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernández and Danny Welbeck will certainly start the 2012/13 campaign at Old Trafford, doubts abound whether Ferguson’s remaining forwards will be with the club.

After all, United’s decision to allow Dimitar Berbatov to leave in the summer will almost certainly be confirmed in June when the Bulgarian moves to a continental club. Meanwhile, Michael Owen is out of contract, with the former England striker unlikely to be offered a renewed deal, and then there is Federico Macheda, the 20-year-old Italian on loan at Queens Park Rangers who, at a minimum, will be loaned out for another season.

The likely trio of striking departures will leave Ferguson seeking a fourth senior forward at Old Trafford, with United likely to dip into the transfer market when the window opens on 1 July.

Berbatov’s departure was confirmed earlier this week when first Sir Alex and then the player’s agent admitted that the Bulgarian will be leaving after four years, 147 games and 56 goals for the club. That the player did not make the bench for United’s recent fixtures with Athletic Bilbao and Wolverhampton Wanderers says much for just how far the £30 million former Tottenham Hotspur player has fallen out of favour.

Departure will mark the end of a disappointing period for the striker, who has won so many fans with a mixture of artistic ability and off-the-field cool, but, ultimately, failed to produce enough on the pitch. Ferguson, apparently in search of more pace in attack, will not stand in the striker’s way this summer, although it is not yet clear whether United will – or has – already enacted a ‘one-way’ one-year contract extension clause. Extension will guarantee a transfer fee, albeit minimal for a player now in his thirties.

“We accept that Sir Alex Ferguson is [building] his next Manchester United for the next three to four years and the future of Manchester United is not related to Mitko,” said Emil Danchev, using Berbatov’s Bulgarian nickname.

“Sir Alex wants to change the style of play of United, to put more speed in the game. I wanted Manchester to announce that if any team that wants to go for Mitko, they will sit down and negotiate. Mitko must endure this situation. It is not his style to start making scandals like Tevez. Up against Chicharito, Rooney and Welbeck… the only thing all those players have more of than Mitko is speed. Berbatov is more technical.”

Then there is Owen, the diminutive former-Liverpool striker, turned horse breeder, who has scored 17 goals in 52 games for United over three seasons. The goals-to-games ration, in part at least, masks what has been a highly unproductive period, with all but three of Owen’s goals coming in cup competitions, rather than the Premier League.

Injury has struck too, as Ferguson must have known it always would – the latest a hamstring tear that has sidelined the 32-year old since United’s match against Oţelul Galaţi at Old Trafford last November.

Ferguson has been steadfast in his support of Owen though, promising last summer that the 40-goal England international would be used more often in the first team. It didn’t happen, in part because the striker has spent long periods on the treatment table, but also because the 70-year-old manager has so many attacking options available.

Yet, despite all Ferguson’s kind words for the Glazernomic poster-child it will be a major shock if the club offers Owen another deal now, no matter how cheap he is. Fans will always have that last minute winner against Manchester City to celebrate.

Perhaps a more difficult discussion will surround Macheda, who burst onto the scene three years ago with a dramatic goal against Aston Villa at Old Trafford, but has made little progress since. Indeed, when Kiko scored to bring United back into the title race in April 2009 many fans ranked the Italian youngster ahead of Welbeck, both in the pecking order, and on potential. No more, with the former Lazio striker seemingly having gone backwards in the intervening years.

Macheda’s failure to progress has, in part at least, been down to rank bad luck with injuries. But there has also been two disastrous loan spells, first at relegated Sampdoria last season and now with QPR. Critics can, of course, point to Macheda’s desire to return ‘home’ when the club would have preferred a spell in the Premier League last season. But Macheda cannot have predicted such a rapid turnover in managers in west London, where the Italian moved in January.

Yet, there is also the sense that Macheda feels entitled to a place at the top table; that, somehow, he has forgotten the hard work and focus that earned Welbeck a move from reserve team wannbe to Sir Alex’ key man, via a loan at Sunderland, and a place on the international scene.

All is not lost for the youngster though. Others have failed at Old Trafford only to make it elsewhere, not least Ferguson’s seventh striker – Mame Biram Diouf – who has now scored five goals in nine games for Hannover 96 after a £1.5 million transfer in January.

The question now, of course, is whether Ferguson will dip into the transfer market for a fourth choice striker next season, or turn to one of the reserve team youngsters. Certainly, there are supporters who will favour internal promotion, with Will Keane highly regarded by those who watch the second string frequently. Yet, at just 19, and with one first team appearance to date, Ferguson is more likely to send Keane out on loan to the Championship next season.

The alternate route, should Owen leave as is expected, is to bring an experienced man into the squad a little-to-no cost. Could Ferguson’s eye cast eastwards towards Turin, and the once great Alessandro del Piero, who will leave the Old Lady in the summer? It would rank with Ferguson’s most surprising signings, including Laurent Blanc and Henrik Larsson.

More likely, United will follow a similar path to recent windows, by seeking a young, inexpensive forward, who is preferably English, although Ferguson’s scouting network will have been scouring the globe over the past season. Fans may wish to take media stories linking United with big-money acquisitions – Demba Ba, Jan Klaas-Huntelaar, Fernando Llorente, Leandro Damiao – with a pinch of salt.

But if Glazernomics is depressing, then there is always Bébé – the long-forgotten winger-cum-forward who has spent the entire season with Beşiktaş, injured. Now there would be a surprise return.

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  • Herbie Simms

    We need world class players if we are to make an impact in the Champions league and we definately have to change our style of play. I have been saying this for years and the only way to do this is to bring in a new manager.
    Other then that, it will be the same old story next season. Do we have the money to buy a world class striker? We can’t even get our midfield right? The midfield is a BIG problem. Can SAF fix it? NO! SAF has already run out of ideas.

  • Red Dave

    @ Herbie

    you think if Sir Alex goes well have more money to bring in world class players? we’re already hamstrung with glazernomics, having to then pay to procure a new manager as well as his wages, THEN purchase a team of world class players just isnt feasable. Also its a stupid idea, we’re not Real Madrid, thats not how we operate in teh market anymore. If youre angry at anyone, be angry at our American Onwers, not the man who has led us to trophy after trophy for 25 years.

  • Michael

    Ruud’s contract with Malaga is up at the end of the season… ;) And Fergie did say he would’ve gone for Raul if we didn’t have Owen already – he’s still around

    • Stevie D

      Haha, a Ruud return would be sensational!

  • Denton DAVEY

    Raul ?

    Diego Forlan ?

  • Dinkinflicker

    Robin Van Persie. Never fucking happen though.

    • DeadRevel

      No it won’t. Nothing to do with the Glazers though.

  • Dean

    As Red Dave rightly argues, we’re not going to compete for a top striker so we’ll go for an up and coming striker whose under the radar. Ricky van Wolfswinkel is a name that springs to mind but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Viktor Fischer slip on a united shirt.

    It’s just my opinion but I’d rather Kiko not be near the first team… I first noticed him when he was playing up front with Welbeck in resevres and I can’t say he’s improved since. His first touch and passing is rubbish and I don’t think it suits what Fergie’s trying to achieve.

  • DeadRevel

    Firstly, we don’t need another striker. This should be apparent considering we haven’t used Berbatov this season despite him being leading PL goal scorer last season. And the fact we have scored more goals after 29 games than any side in the PL since the 60s. Hernandez hasn’t even had a great season and Welbeck is improving every game.

    As Ed has said, we have Rooney and Welbeck (which should be the preferred option since they both have more to their game than classic centre forwards) and Hernandez in reserve. We also have 3 goal scoring wingers. No need to buy another striker. Football has changed since 1999.

    Just one midfielder and I’d be happy. Carrick has become a great midfielder again, Cleverley has been brilliant (as long as he gets back to his early season level) and we have Pogba (hopefully) Scholes and Giggs as back ups / rotation players.

    Our goal keeper looks to have adapted quicker than I thought he would, our defensive situation will be improved next season with the return of Vidic, we have plenty of CBs and full backs, great wing options… all we need is a technically gifted, quick, energetic midfielder. Preferably aged between 20-25 and Spanish!

    With the sale of Berba, and hopefully the sale of Owen, Macheda and possibly Anderson, we should have enough money. Especially considering the wage reduction.

    ———–De Gea
    -Rafael–Vidic–Rio–Evra
    ———–Carrick
    Valencia—-Clev—–X?X?X
    ———-Rooney
    ———————Welbeck

    SUBS FROM: Lindegaard, Smalling, Jones, Fabio, Pogba, Giggs, Scholes, Nani, Young, Hernandez,

    Our team / squad will move from good to great with just one signing.

  • ja

    I remember as a kid, a tv ad for a chocolate called revel. The ad was someone wearing white gloves who held the chocolate in his hand before eating it. then showing the glove to still be pristine white. the pay off line was ‘revel, melts in your mouth not in your hand.”

    The drivel deadrevel posts reminded me of that ad in that I imagine “butter wouldnt melt in his mouth”.

    • DeadRevel

      Why don’t you actually respond to the argument rather than resorting meaningless insults? The answer is, because you are a fucking idiot with no understanding of football.

      • ja

        wow, called a fucking idiot by a moron who thinks he has the slightest clue about me and my background. I guess if you take the glazer dollar you dont have to worry about libel bills.

  • bman

    DeadRev,

    I think that’s a bit too optimistic. If Rooney is crocked for an extended period of time, Hernandez and Welbeck have not shown that they would be good enough to take up the slack. This problem could be mitigated though if we had a new creative/attacking midfielder who provided as much creativity as Rooney while also offering a major goal threat — someone who does the sort of things that Sneijder did a couple of seasons ago. So I agree that we don’t necessarily need another out-and-out forward, but a really star quality attacking midfielder is a non-negotiable necessity if we are even going to pretend to be competing with the best again.

    From a practical point of view, it’s probably best if we get a star-type player for the attacking-left role, because we need someone there too, and it’s simply impossible based on recent years that the club will splash out for both a forward and a left-sided player. that’s why someone like Hazard would be ideal — provides the goal threat a pure forward would, offers creative spark, fills in the left-side problem. Bale would be even better, since he can also play as a more pure left sided winger. A cheaper alternative could be this James Rodriguez lad who’s scoring for fun at Porto.

    We also need a central midfielder who offers more bollocks than our current options, but still has real passing and ball-retention class, i.e. a pure bruiser is not good enough for United (or shouldn’t be). Javi Martinez at Benfica looks ideal to me.

    Left-back also looks a concern, we need a deputy for Evra. Right back might be alright since Jones or Smalling can do well there. For centre backs I think we’re really looking rosy — Evans, Jones, and Smalling all look like they’ll be class with more experience, with Evans further along than the other two. De Gea also has bags of potential.

    So Javi Martinez for some class and defensive solidity in midfield, Hazard/James/Bale/someone cheaper for the left, and a Smalling/Jones type promising young left-back. The left-back and Martinez could easily be paid for by selling Berba, Andoshit, and a couple of the young lads who aren’t going to make it. If the club just splashed a bit of cash for once for a real £25-30 million player for an attacking left spot, I think we’d be back in the races for real, if not exactly Barca class.

  • vlad

    eh.. Ronnie?

  • dozer

    Yeah, let that cash grabbing pussy Pogba go if he wants to if we get a proper defensive player like Martinez. We need a world class attacking player, our strikers are good, our right wing is good, Young is an improvement on the left, but if we get a Valencia class left wing player then we’re good.
    I don’t think Fergie will buy a midfielder however. I don’t think he’ll sell Anderson either. For two midfield places we will most likely have next season Carrick, Cleverley, Giggs, Anderson and Fletcher. Scholes and Pogba may remain at the club as well. That’s a possible 7 players for 2 positions next season and Carrick will most likely be a permanent starter. Even Jones may play there. He won’t buy without selling a few, even the club will be right in blocking a move if we have 7 existing players for one position – the other being Carricks.

    Sir Ryan Giggs? No no no. Sir Paul Scholes say.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    hernandez and welbeck isn’t good enough if rooneys not fit, berbashites needed for riff raff duty