United’s dirty dozen

January 23, 2014 Tags: , , Opinion 18 comments
featured image

The transfer business, it seems, holds as much intrigue as the game itself. Why else should columns of speculation fill the nation’s print media, rolling news file vacuous report after unsubstantiated rumour, and the blogsphere work itself into a new frenzy almost hourly. None more so than at times of great drama – and Manchester United’s £37 million bid for Juan Mata on Wednesday was just that.

There could be many more over the coming months, with perhaps a dozen changes in United’s squad between now and the start of next season. Given both the paucity of talent available to manager David Moyes, and the predilection among few of his squad to perform for the new man, change is indeed required.

United’s bid for the Chelsea midfielder is both a business transaction – should it conclude successfully – and a human story. After all, while Mata was named Chelsea’s Player of the Season in two full campaigns with the club, he has been largely ostracised in José Mournho’s high-tempo system. In a World Cup year Mata has fallen from Chelsea’s star turn, to a man likely to miss out on Spain’s squad for Brazil in the summer.

For Chelsea Mata is an expendable asset; for United, a desperately required injection of high-class into a limited squad, albeit in a role where manage David Moyes is already replete with options. Mata’s favoured role at ’10’ behind a principle striker is the one taken by Wayne Rooney this season, preferred by Shinji Kagawa, and likely to be Adnan Januzaj’s best.

Neither, given Kagawa’s experience at Old Trafford this season, is there significant confidence that Moyes truly knows how to get the best out of an impish creative talent of Mata’s ilk. Still, that analysis is churlish given the quality of player under negotiation.

The Spaniard’s likely capture is, depending on one’s outlook, born of United’s desperation, or the catalyst that will fire the Reds into next season’s Champions League. Europe is a goal that looks most unlikely without fresh impetus, and surely worth every penny of the substantial premium United will pay should the Champions League beckon next year.

But Mata’s capture is only one piece in a more complex puzzle of transfer activity that Moyes must undertake if he is to transform a squad that is patently not performing for the manager. Or perhaps good enough to do so. And if the club’s directors, as seems increasingly likely, trust the Scot to spend freely in the market the Moyes certainly needs to.

It is not just that this squad lacks the requisite quality to succeed both domestically and in the continent’s premier tournament, but that so many familiar faces are likely to leave the club in the coming months.

Indeed, there is likely to be substantial turnover in personnel – more than has ever been typical under Sir Alex Ferguson. After all, the average tenure of a United squad member is the second highest in Europe, behind only Barcelona, at more than five yeas.

Still, in Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidić, Patrice Evra, Federico Macheda and Fabio da Silva United face five contracts that come to a conclusion in the summer. None of the quintet has yet been offered a new deal, let alone accepted one. It seems almost certain that each will depart for a new destination come June.

Meanwhile, another clutch of players will be discarded by Moyes in the summer, or may well agitate for a fresh challenge having sat on United’s bench for much of the season. Anderson will be sold following a six-month loan spell at Fiorentina, while Alexander Büttner and Nani, despite the Portuguese winger’s new contract, will be sold if suitable bids come forth.

Then there’s a trio of perennial bench-dwellers for whom Old Trafford may no longer hold a fulfilling future: Kagawa, Anders Lindegaard and Javier Hernández.

Wilfried Zaha must perform on-loan over the next five months to retain his United status next season, while Wayne Rooney is certain to push for a move once again. It will take a significant change in strategy for United to countenance the Scouser’s sale.

But it is the big departures that fascinate the most. After a fine campaign in 2012/13, Ferdinand is approaching the final few weeks of his time as a United player. After more than a decade at Old Trafford, the Londoner can look back on the finest period of an outstanding career. The only decision that the former Leeds United defender must now take is whether to carry on elsewhere, possibly in the United States, or retire at the very top.

Vidić is a different scenario, with the 32-year-old still in demand across Europe. While the Serbian has long been below his peak, prudent continuity may dictate the club offers the giant a new deal. Yet, the noises from the Serbian’s camp strongly suggest a new dawn in the player’s career. After eight years in Manchester, the defender is likely to move to the continent.

Then there is Evra, who has enjoyed more than 350 games for the club, but in whom Moyes has such little faith that the Scot has made no secret of a strong desire to acquire a replacement.

In the stead of multiple departures Moyes will look for at least half-a-dozen new faces over the course of the next two transfer windows, starting with Mata.

Multiple changes are rarely ideal, nor the established United strategy over the past 25 years. Careful squad management had been a philosophy until the winter of Ferguson’s reign. Yet, for Moyes it is also an opportunity to shape a squad in his mould, perhaps to grow as a manager too. If ever the phrase ‘back him, or sack him’ was ever truly relevant this is it.

Moyes is certainly being backed in Mata’s acquisition, even if the Spaniard is an expense that might logically be better invested elsewhere. The 25-year-old will cost the club more than £66 million in fees and wages over the next four years – a transfer that once again exposes United’s lack of strategic planning in the market.

Still, Mata’s talent in not in doubt. The former Spanish under-21 international has grown from young high-quality attacking midfielder at Valencia, to world-class playmaker at Chelsea. He is the ’20/20′ player United has lacked this season – a man who can score 20 and create 20 in a single season.

In that there is a significant boost – perhaps the catalyst that will change the narrative of Moyes’ time at Old Trafford. After another horrendous result in Wednesday’s Capital One Cup semi-final, it is the very least Moyes needs.


Rob Macgregor - January 23, 2014 Reply

Moyes will not be there in June…..Another first at the weekend Hull to beat us……Players are not responding to this dope or his methods…..He has never won anything…..and in 48 games against Arsenal,Liverpool,Chelsea and United….He won None……Can you spot the elephant in the room

David Burke - January 23, 2014 Reply

We dont have a game at the weekend, next game is home to Cardiff on Tuesday night.

Mongoletsi - January 23, 2014 Reply

Moyes will be here next season, even if we miss the CL.

If we don’t make it NEXT season, then you may be right.

Fergie convinced the Glazers to think long-term, and they will.

In Moyes We Trust.

minde - January 25, 2014 Reply

you and fergie are both fucking idiots – fergie proved that many times his decision making is based just around his fucking empty ego – pogba etc… now is a buffoon never won anything in his life everton now doing much better without him he is just a scottish bloke fergies mate why he got this job, not because he is talented coach..

Paul Duffy - January 23, 2014 Reply

Valencia,Young, Smalling, and Cleverley should be added to that list as well.

Mongoletsi - January 23, 2014 Reply

I was hoping Young was only being played in order to attract buyers…

Neil - January 23, 2014 Reply

Well written Ed, can’t believe we’re signing Mata, who knows what will happen in the next few transfer windows. Player quality not in doubt, Mata at a lower price than Ozil is arguably just as influential but more of a goal threat.

No excuses now, with Januzaj, Kagawa and Mata around there is more than enough quality to bring some far more encouraging performances.

Mongoletsi - January 23, 2014 Reply

Well said.

Januzaj might well be best at #10, but he’s obviously awesome out wide too. Kagawa isn’t. But when played at #10, Kagawa generally shows real class. So I dunno why he’s put on the left so much; he doesn’t like it there and isn’t as defensive as Januzaj.

The young lad WILL need a rest before too long.

It baffles me why we don’t play with Kagawa or Januzaj up top with a 3 man midfield focussed on breaking up attacks and getting the ball forward to our ourtstanding attacking players. Presumably because Evra and Rafael will be caught out pushing up.

In Moyes We Trust… but only if he starts showing some flair.

That’s the problem tho; too many players look like they’re desperate to win, and that’s obviously hitting the nerves. Soon they’ll be more interested in simply Not Losing. I don’t think we’re there yet.

Lucas - January 23, 2014 Reply

Mata’s capture can certainly be the catalyst for improved performances this season, but we still lack that world-class midfielder.

I am surprised we went for Mata, who would certainly be labelled as a panic buy, but a good panic buy at the expense of a midfielder, Our midfield has been overrun by lesser teams and it shows in our results.

I think we need to make a bigger statement by bidding 30M for Vidal or Koke and we need to make it happen now, because by the looks of it, we are not certain to finish fourth this season. And when we finish outside of CL places, it will be more difficult to attract world-class players to the club.

And, getting rid of so many players at one go, and replacing them is never easy. Even if we buy 4 or 5 players in the summer, it will take a lot of time to gel as a team (look at Tottenham this season) and it will take a few more years for us to compete for the title, which again depends on us signing world-class players, which will happen only we finish 4th this season.

Mongoletsi - January 23, 2014 Reply

Yet Spurs are above us…

Lucas - January 24, 2014 Reply

Yes, and they are not fighting for the title, are they?

Will - January 23, 2014 Reply

Mata is a player you build a team around. However, can Moyes’ adapt and accommodate him? Can Steve Round and Phil Neville help Moyes with this? Will the rest of United’s largely sub-standard team be on his wave-length, share his vision? All questions to which the answer it seems, at present, is ‘no’. Still, I’d rather have Mata than not!

Mongoletsi - January 23, 2014 Reply

Yep especially now Carrick is out!

Fin O’Súilleabháin - January 23, 2014 Reply

Your point about wavelength is right on the button and surely the key to Shinji’s apparent inability to quite click. He gives, he goes … nothing happens. Occasionally, I admit, he also miscontrols, but surely that comes from his confidence being a bit knocked (why wouldn’t it be?). He could be the hub, Scholes-like, if only the players around him were bright enough to realise it. And the manager too (it would be a start if he could be bothered to pronounce his name properly) although recently he’s shown signs of getting it. Now Mata’s here, will SK see even as much game time as he’s been getting, or are his days numbered? What a shame that would be.

Kieran McKeown - January 23, 2014 Reply

Few typos man. But excellent article.

Damian Garside - January 24, 2014 Reply

Not winning a single away game against a top team in 48 attempts marks DM as a manager of rare consistency.

Just think about all the jammy defeats big sides — including ourslelves (or should I say our former selves, the man united we know from a former life) have suffered at home, even against much lesser opposition. Go through the records and you will find that there are matches where the home side were in contention for the league title, absolutely dominated play and then lost because at a certain key moment in the game, the ball decided it was going to go quantum rather than Newtonian physics and ended up magically, inexplicably or absurdly in the net, giving the away side an unexpected win.Now this never happened to DM in 48 games. Not once in 48 games was he able to pounce on the fact that the big 4 team playing at home were out of sorts, off their game or had spent the whole night in a back-street massage parlour. Not once was he able to grab the lead and hold onto it for 90 minutes. Not once in 72 hours of football (which as you might have figured, is 3 whole days worth of football) was he able to impose a winning pattern on the big 4 home team or dicate the tempo. And if we think about it we know why — bcause he never took risks, he did not think the unexpected, the unusual, that a unheralded player could suddenly decide to tear a top defence to shred, and therefore it never happened.

I believe Sir Alex is interested in military history. How ironic that he should have recommended for his successor a man who in trying to be the epitmoe of caution, turns out to be a recipe for disaster. If we use a miltiray metaphor — Sir Alex gave us a manager who is the antithesis to great risk takers like Hannibal and Napoleon. An “anti-Napoleon”. or, given Sir Alex’s own penchant for taking risks and gambling, for upping the ante and seeing what happens, an “anti-Alex”.

ForeverRed - January 25, 2014 Reply

Damian – I guess I would argue that the 2011-13 Fergie was himself not the same risk-taker we saw in the ’93-’08 vintage. Moyes’s selection is perhaps a reflection of Fergie’s own mellowing, conservatism and sentimentality in the twilight of his career. Let’s face it, despite domestic results, there were few inspiring performances in the last 2-3 years.

luke wrightson - January 26, 2014 Reply

great article

Add your comment