With the world’s finest player© sold, workaholic hero Carlitos off to Untied’s nearest rivals, a Liverpool legend signed as third choice striking replacement, and the spending officially finished – it’s got to have been the worst close season in history. Right?
To crudely paraphrase Salford’s finest, there’s panic on the streets of Manchester, and many fans are wondering to themselves, will Sir Alex ever be sane again? Well, if you’ve been panicking take one paper bag, breath deeply, and let Rant give you ten reasons why everything will be ok.
- We’ve been here before: Remember the summer of 1995 when Andrei Kanchelskis, Mark Hughes and Paul Ince were sold to Chelsea, Everton and Inter Milan? Maybe you panicked then too, and called one of those ridiculous GMR phone-ins to demand the manager’s head? But then Sir Alex came up with the goods and United won the Premier League and FA Cup double with his kids. Things were never the same again.
- Ruud van Nistelrooy: tra la la la la, scored 150 goals in 200 games for United while the Reds won almost nothing. Once again Sir Alex backed his own judgment, packed off the Dutchman to Real Madrid for a song and United secured their first Premier League title in three years.
- You can win with kids: in Danny Welbeck, Federico Macheda, Johnny Evans, Fabio and Rafael da Silva, Darron Gibson, Zoran Tošić’, Cory Evans, James Chester and Davide Petrucci United has the finest kids in the country bar none. Forget the media hype about Arsene Wenger’s children – no not that kind – they almost never progress beyond the Gooners’ Carling cup side.
- It’s time for Wayne: While Ronaldo stole all the headlines, Wayne Rooney continued to be the metronomic heartbeat of United’s team. Give the man a free role behind a main striker and the White Pelé will tear you apart. Back United’s best Scouser to win Player of the Year in 2010.
- United’s rivals are no better: Liverpool has made no significant signings and is set to lose one of their better midfielders in Xabi Alonso. Chelsea has spent £18 million on Yuri Zhirkov, a left winger-cum-defender, purely at the behest of owner Roman Abramovich, and recruited their fifth manager in as many seasons. Arsenal has bought an unknown Belgian defender but is about to loose one of the club’s better forwards. Sure, Manchester City is recruiting like oil is going out of fashion, but does anybody really expect a team of ten strikers plus Shay Given to challenge for the title?
- Dimitar Berbatov will come good: he’s just too talented not to. Sir Alex will work a system around the languid Bulgarian that suits his outstanding talent, brings the best out of Wayne Rooney and enables United to move away from being a one-trick pony.
- United does have a defensive midfielder: remember Owen Hargreaves, he’s quite good you know. Whether the Canadian-Englishman returns in August or January, Hargreaves will give United the bite and tenacity in central midfield that the team so badly needed in Rome last May. And if he doesn’t return to full fitness, Fergie will spend, it’s as simple as that.
- Carlitos isn’t actually that good: yes, fans loved his work ethic, and that back-healed strike that won United the game at Wigan, or the last minute goals that secured valuable points. But are his talent and end-product really worth £25 million? Ferguson thought not or he would have been in the team.
- The fixture computer has been kind: and given United some winnable games in the early part of the season that will boost confidence while the team beds down with new players and into a new system.
- Sir Alex Ferguson knows what he is doing: believe.
Fraizer Campbell’s sale to Sunderland for an initial £3.5 million was confirmed yesterday but it begs a serious question. While United’s academy has regularly churned out international class defenders and midfielders, no striker has made the grade since Mark Hughes in the early 1980s.
In the interviening years United has produced international players such as Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, the Neville Brothers, Paul Scholes, and more recently Johnny Evans, Wes Brown and John O’Shea. None of them strikers. By contrast, over the past twenty years the youth team has only ever produced forwards that have gone on to have decent, if unspectacular careers. Jonathan Mackem was once a £5 million signing by Manchester City, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake was Wolves’ top scorer in the Championship last season, and David Healy has gone on to be one of Northern Ireland’s leading goalscorers.
There have been the imports too. Many United fans still regret the sale of Giuseppe Rossi to Villareal two years ago. Arriving as a callow 16 year-old, Rossi announced himself to fans with a spectacular series of goals for the reserve team. Unfortunately the Italian, who has gone on to be the mainstay of the national team’s forward-line, was never able to break into United’s first team on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, former youth-teamer Erik Nevland has forged a good career since leaving United, which is culminating in a spell at Fulham. Before him, Jovan Kirovski went on the play for Borussia Dortmund, winning the Champions League in 1997, before running his career down at David Beckham’s LA Galaxy.
Of the current crop there are very high hopes for local boy Danny Welbeck, who has shown enough in his brief appearances for the first team to suggest he has a big future at Old Trafford. Welbeck’s first touch is classy and his application appears to be in the right place. Moreover, with no big-name summer striker arriving at the club, Welbeck ought to get more outings for the team in the coming season.
Then there is 17 year-old Federico Macheda, imported amid significant controversy from Lazio a year ago. Macheda’s spectacular strike against Aston Villa, followed by another against Sunderland, won United enough points to take last season’s Premier League title. Macheda will certainly go on to have a good career – whether he gets enough games at Old Trafford to stay is another question.
And that leaves Campbell, who was good enough a year ago for United to turn down £7 million from Hull and Wigan. A season further down the road and Campbell’s inability to break into Tottenham’s first team has reduced his value, and seemingly convinced Sir Alex Ferguson that the boy has no future at Old Trafford.
Fergie normally gets these decisions right.
Michael Owen will be manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s final prominent signing of the summer, according to the boss himself. While speculation has focused on who will replace the departed Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, Sir Alex insists that United has acquired the right signings, at the right price.
Speaking at the unveiling of Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan this afternoon, Ferguson blamed the inflated transfer market for the failure to land a big-name signing.
“Everywhere in England and in Europe the players’ values have shot sky high,” said Ferguson.
“I don’t think any of the transfers that you see happening are realistic but for some reason the market seems to have caught fire this summer. It is a very unusual summer and difficult to get value because of that.
“It’s always been the case that Manchester United have to pay a bit extra. But this summer we were not prepared to do that because we have got some very good young players.
“There didn’t need to be a kneejerk reaction to losing Cristiano Ronaldo. We did very well to keep him for six years. He wanted to go, and we allowed him to do that.
“We shouldn’t panic because one or two players are leaving. I think we have a very, very good squad with good young players in all positions.
“We asked about Benzema and we had a value for him. Lyons have done well because they got €42m but I think we took a sensible view.
“It’s the end of our business, so forget all these stories about who we’re supposed to be getting.”
Many United fans will be disappointed that the manager is not willing to open the cheque-book up and spend some of his reported £125 million summer transfer budget. A top class forward, left winger and defensive midfielder would undoubtedly enhance United’s team. But assuming that Ferguson’s budget is still available should he want it (and that may be a leap of faith given the club’s debt), then there is much to be admired in the boss’ approach. The United board has long been criticised for paying over the odds. This summer, in the face of bankrupt spending by Real Madrid, and the petro-dollars available at City, Ferguson has placed faith in value, youth and his own intuition.
While United does retain an interest in Gremio’s attacking midfielder Douglas Costa, it is likely that a deal will only be done for the Brazilian if his club backs down from their demanding for an eye-watering £20 million. The under-21 international is undoubtedly talented but when leading pundits in Brazil question whether United are “being conned,” then the club is right to set a price, and stick to it as they did with Karim Benzema.
Moreover, most United fans will appreciate the faith that is being placed in the talented youth team duo of Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda. Ferguson has built his reputation on placing faith in the vitality of youth and there’s nothing wrong with doing so again.
The major risk is that of Owen, whose form and injury record over the past few seasons is far from impressive. With no top-class forward now likely to join United this summer, Owen will be relied on more than many United fans had first thought. It’s a risk that Owen rejects.
“It does irritate me that so many people have doubts,” said Owen, who has been handed Ronaldo’s number seven shirt. “If there is one thing I am angered by, the injury thing would be it.
“There is no doubt I have had injuries in my career. But there is a long list of players that have had a broken metatarsal. I was foolish trying to rush back for the World Cup and my leg had just come out of plaster. But I played 33 and 32 games in the last two years in a team that was not in Europe and did not go on a decent cup run. Still I was continually labelled injury-prone, which gets up my nose.
“I am 29 and have played over 500 games for club and country. That says it all.”
However, even if Owen remains fit and regains the form of old, the consequence of not spending big this summer will be felt on the pitch. History shows that Owen, Valencia and Obertan – 12 goals between them last season – cannot replace Tevez and Ronaldo who scored 41.
Having spent the best part of the last two months bleating on about how hard done by he was at United, Carlos Tevez has now done the dirty on the fans that hero-worshipped him and signed for Manchester City on a five-year contract.
Tevez blamed his Old Trafford exit on manager Sir Alex Ferguson – for not picking the Argentinian striker enough in the major games. But confirmation of the long expected move across town has exposed Tevez for the treacherous liar he is. With no European football at City, and plenty of competition for striking places, Tevez will almost certainly play in fewer big games next season, not more. £150,000 per week should help ease the pain of sitting on the bench.
“It is terrific news,” former United legend Mark Hughes Mark said on confirmation of the deal.
“Carlos is an international player of the highest class who possesses all the attributes that will help drive this club forward.
“He is not only outstanding technically but he is a reliable goal scorer and someone who will contribute fully to the team ethic. He gives us another exciting, attacking dimension.
“I cannot wait to welcome him to City. I am sure our fans will give Carlos an exceptionally warm welcome.”
Tevez, who will keep his number 32 shirt at City, can expect more than a warm welcome from the fans when he returns to Old Trafford next season. The real shame is not that Tevez left Old Trafford – he just wasn’t good enough for United – but that a fans’ favourite has been exposed as a hypocrite. Those United fans who drowned out Sir Alex’ end of campaign address last season will have more than a moment’s pause for thought now.
Indeed, Sir Alex suggested that Tevez’ had little intention of signing on the dotted line at Old Trafford.
Barcelona forward Samuel Eto’o is likely to make a summer move to Manchester United, but don’t expect the deal to be sealed anytime soon, if reports in today’s Daily Telegraph are to be believed. The Cameroon striker, having seen a move to Manchester City collapse amid fighting over money, is reportedly willing to accept a large reduction in the wage on offer at Eastlands in order to secure Champions League football next season. With his bridges burnt at Camp Nou and Eastlands – and few suitors willing to match the striker’s financial demands – United are now head of the queue according to reports.
This is a suprise revaltion – after all Eto’o was expected to agreed a £25 million, £200,000 per week, deal to move to Eastlands. However, his apparent demand for half the fee from Barcelona scuppered the deal, with City pulling out late last week. The striker, who is in the final year of his contact at Barcelona, now has few viable options other than United.
While the reasoning in today’s Telegraph is sound, its hard to envision United spending huge amounts of money on a 28 year-old forward who will miss six crucial weeks of next season at the African Nations Championship. Like many in the game, manager Sir Alex Ferguson is a known admirer, but with United concentrating on younger, cheaper targets, Eto’o is only likely to move to Old Trafford if the Reds hold out for a substantial reduction in the proposed fee. A scenario in which United may need to hold their nerve until the final day of the transfer window.
United may have substantial funds in the bank following the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo and Frazier Campbell this summer, but the club was believed to have a policy against spending large sums on players they have no hope of making a return on.
Eto’o to United is only a realistic scenarnio if the player holds out for a move to Manchester as his best option. While United may take a gamble on the player if the fee drops to below £15 million, it must be doubtful that the player move for football rather than money. Given that Eto’o has already rejected £100,000 per week to stay in Barcelona, it would seem unlikely.
If Eto’o does move to Old Trafford, the player will have to buck the trend in which the majority of talent is heading to or remaining in Spain. With tax at a maximum of 23% in Spain, compared to 50% tax plus 11% NI in the UK for high earners like footballers, the trend may be towards a drain of talent away from the Premier League in the coming years. Indeed, when players as talentless as Jermaine Pennant can earn the equivalent of £80,000 per week in Spain, then we know the era of Premier League dominance of Europe is now at an end.
In the meantime United fans will continue to wait and see if the club is able to sign up a big name replacement for Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.[TABLE=4]
At least ten Manchester United games will be moved from their original times and dates before December after Sky and ESPN announced their initial covered fixtures. The list means that by the end of the 2009/10 season more than half of United’s season will have be moved for TV coverage. Once again this season’s fixtures will be randomly assigned designed to maximise viewings figures rather than the consideration of traveling supporters. See you all at Portsmouth away for the inevitable Sunday 27 Dec 8pm fixture!
Fixture changes up to the end of December:
- United v Birmingham, Sunday 16 August, 1.30pm (Sky)
- Burnley v United, Wednesday 19 August, 7.45pm (Sky)
- United v Arsenal, Saturday 29 August, 5.15pm (Sky)
- Tottenham v United, Saturday 12 September, 5.15pm (ESPN)
- United v City Sunday, 20 September, 1.30pm (Sky)
- United v Sunderland, Saturday 3 October, 5.15pm (ESPN)
- Liverpool v United, Sunday, 25 October, 2.00pm (Sky)
- United v Blackburn Saturday, 31 October, 5.15pm (ESPN)
- Chelsea v United Sunday, 8 November, 4.00pm (Sky)
- United v Everton Saturday, 21 November, 5.15pm (ESPN)
The best part of silly season is the speculation. This summer is no different and with United’s apparent bumper transfer kity the rumour mill has been in full swing. Sometimes there is unrealistic hope that United will pull off a mega-deal, such as with tabloid speculation about David Villa. Occasionally, the club is linked with hitherto unheard of ‘wonderkids’ from all parts of the globe, normally being hawked by their agents. Then there’s the best bit – the signings – and there have been three new United players to date, albeit somewhat underwhelming.
But just occasionally there’s a rumour that makes you shudder with fear. Not Liverpool hero Michael Owen moving to Old Trafford, as sickening as that was when it came true. No, worse still is today’s rumour that Sir Alex Ferguson is seriously considering a bid for Inter Milan’s striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It’s not that the Swede is a bad player. His record is decent. Indeed, he picked up the capocannonieri title as Serie A’s top goalscorer last season with 25 strikes, and bad players don’t do that. Moreover, his performances moved no less a manager than Jose Mourinho to call him “the best player in the world.”
But Mourinho’s assertion was ridiculous – designed more to make headlines than based on reality. At the very top level, when it really matters, Ibrahimovic has normally flattered to deceive. To use a topical parlance, crueller pundits have labelled the striker as little more than a flat-track bully. It’s hard to remember a really big game that Ibrahimovic has won for club or country with a performance his monumental hype justifies. Ibrahimovic’s performance in two Champions League ties against United last season, for example, rarely rose above the average.
Tabloid rumours are not always without cause. The player is certainly looking for a move this summer, although Barcelona has always been Ibrahimovic’s preferred destination. However, with the European Champions only likely make a move if their bid for David Villa falls through, the leaked rumours about United’s apparent interest are given greater context. It would be a huge surprise if Fergie sanctions a bid, especially as it would need to be more £30 million for the forward.
More worrying than his ability, the man himself is particularly unpleasant. Aside from once demanding to be substituted because he couldn’t be bothered (a strop Mourinho gave no credence), perhaps the most abhorrent aspect of Ibrahimovic’s nature is the player huge ego. While the striker is hardly the first – or worst – offender in this department, he is perhaps the least talented player to consider himself the best on the planet. Fergie would do well to steer clear.[TABLE=2]
News that United’s second choice goalkeeper Ben Foster has agreed a new four year contract this week is welcome but will the former Stoke player finally get his chance? Edwin van der Sar is entering his final season as a pro and – to be frank – began to show signs of wear and tear towards the end of the last campaign. Now manager Sir Alex Ferguson must decide who begins the new campaign as his number one – the legendary Dutch international, or the younger pretender?
Foster, 26, joined from Stoke City in 2005 but has made just 10 starts for United in the intervening four years. Two seasons on loan at Watford, plus recurrent injuries to his knee and hands, have restricted his opportunities at Old Trafford. As such, the new contract is faith in the player’s ability, more than his performances on the pitch for United. But the prize for keeping himself fit is great for Foster – potentially taking over in goal for both United and England too.
Foster’s rival for the shirt, van der Sar, is under pressure to maintain his performance levels in the coming season. While the big Dutch ‘keeper set a new record number of Premier League clean sheets last season, the pressure of back-to-back games during the run in exposed some of van der Sar’s growing frailties. At 38 his ability to stay fit and flexible will be on the wane, as will his judgment. This much was evident in the poor goal van der Sar conceded in last May’s Champions League final.
However, this is no shoe-in for Foster. The Lemington born ‘keeper must perform in pre-season to be in with a shout of starting the campaign as number one. More realistically, Ferguson will go with the devil he knows but it would be a major surprise if the England international does not finish next season as first choice between the sticks for club and country.
All the same, it’s a make-or-break season for Foster. If the player fails to break into the team – or worse still succumbs to injury once again – United will buy next summer. Indeed, the club has been linked with a move for two Spanish stoppers – Villareal’s Diego Lopez and Barcelona’s Victor Valdes. While the later may have been angling for a new contract at Camp Nou, Lopez is undoubtedly available. This is the challenge now facing Foster.
While Rant rarely engages in idle gossip, newspaper reports have once again linked United with a £20 million move for Real Madrid outcast Klass-Jan Huntelaar. It’s not the first time that the club has apparently expressed an interest in the former Ajax player, who scored eight goals in 20 games for for the Spanish club last season. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson had reportedly been tracking the striker before his £19 million move to Madrid in January.
However, the arrival at Real of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Karim Benzema this summer means that Huntelaar will be available for transfer, just six months after moving to Spain. The forward, who has scored 13 goals in 23 appearances for the Dutch national team, has become a victim of President Florentino Perez’ bank-loan inspired revolution at Real.
The question is, do United really need another central striker? That is not to doubt Huntelaar’s quality as a goalscorer, who’s record at international and club level is better than a goal every other game. But with Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen now at the club, there would seem to be little room for another forward. Indeed, there was really little point bringing Owen into the squad if Ferguson is also after Huntelaar as both occupy the same role. This argument is even more pertinent when youngsters Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda are brought into the equation.
At the same time, the club has also been linked with a £25 million move for Aston Villa’s excellent winger Ashley Young. The former Watford wide-man has progressed immensely in the past two seasons to become a regular in Fabio Capello’s England team. However, for a player who is unproven at international or Champions League level, Young would cost a fortune. Primarily because United would be shopping at one of the league’s leading teams, but also because there’s always a premium on English talent.
But United are weak in wide areas, despite having Ryan Giggs, Nani, Zoran Tošić, Ji-Sung Park, and new signings Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan in the squad. Serbian wonderkid Adem Ljajić is also due to join the club in January 2010. But Giggs aside none are proven at the highest level, and unfortunately the legendary Welshman is in the twilight of his career.
Together with Valencia, Young would add extreme pace in wide areas – something United will lack through the middle of the park next season. While Tošić, Ljajić and Obertan may well prove themselves in the long term, nothing is guaranteed. Park, meanwhile, deserves his place in the squad as a willing worker but is never going to win a game on his own. Nani is in the last chance saloon.
Young, although frighteningly expensive, will be available if he expresses his desire to leave and does have the requisite quality to make a real difference at the top level. He would surely be a better use of more than £20 million.