Tag Cesc Fabregas

Tag Cesc Fabregas

United must heed Cesc education

July 1, 2015 Tags: , , Opinion 9 comments
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July 15, 2013. The ides, it turned out, of Cesc. Ed Woodward, freshly appointed as Manchester United’s new executive vice chairman, made his first big move in the transfer market that day: a £25 million bid for Barcelona’s Cesc Fàbregas that was swiftly rejected. Woodward’s was a pursuit that ended in failure; just one in a summer of incompetence that still resonates at Old Trafford.

Indeed, it is hard to recall a more calamitous window than that of 2013. Not, at least, since Peter Kenyon graced Old Trafford’s boardroom by offering Juventus just £8 million for Zinedine Zidane in the late 1990s. Kenyon topped it by refusing to raise United’s bid for Ronaldinho a penny above £18 million in 2003.

While Fàbregas cannot match Zidane for class, Woodward’s virgin market was far worse than anything under Kenyon. After all, Woodward failed not only with Cesc, but Brazilian-Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcântara, Ander Herrera, Francesco Totti, Sami Khadeira and perhaps half a dozen others in a scattergun transfer policy that brought little more than embarrassment – and the lumbering Marouane Fellaini.

Having failed to heed the lesson from Thiago’s move United faxed over the club’s first official bid for Fàbregas a mere 24 hours after his colleague’s departure for Germany. As timing goes, Woodward is no Tommy Cooper, although the farce still ran deep. Deterred not by the predictably swift rejection of a £25 million opening bid, Woodward oversaw two further offers in £5 million increments, each rebuffed by the Catalan giants with increasing chagrin.

The ruse, as it turned out, was all Cesc’s; the Spaniard had not quite admitted defeat in pursuit of a more prominent role at Camp Nou and used United’s interest to bolster his position under incoming manager Gerardo Martino. It was a ruthlessly efficient strategy too – one that leaves a stark lesson from United’s failed pursuit of the now Chelsea midfielder. Like many a jilted lover, not all interest is requited.

That futile exercise remains in the memory amid the club’s reported £28 million bid for Real Madrid central defender Sergio Ramos this week. It is a bid that comes with a large measure of caution given the 29-year-old’s protracted and seemingly bitter contract negotiations with the 10-times European champions.

Ramos was signed from Sevilla as a teenager in 2005 and has played almost 450 games for the club in addition to earning 128 caps for the Spanish national side. Yet, with Madrid’s policy of signing world superstars unabating under President Florentino Pérez, the defender has slipped down Real’s wage table and now earns just over £5 million per season – about the same as Phil Jones’ new deal at Old Trafford.

In fact, once the most expensive teenage acquisition in Spanish football – at a touch under £20 million – Ramos now earns less than a quarter of Cristiano Ronaldo’s annual pay packet. And while the comparative wage has apparently sparked an ongoing pursuit of a better deal from the Ramos camp, it is the perception of Pérez’ dirty-tricks campaign that has unearthed seemingly genuine resentment. After all, Ramos has been painted as a mercenary in some sections of the Madrid-leaning Spanish press in recent weeks.

Yet, it is also a story that feels depressingly familiar: a player accused of greed and a club keen to play up to supporters’ perception of disloyalty. This is an equation so frequently solved when the wages demanded meets an equilibrium with a pay packet finally offered. It is a balance that few of the more cynical bent doubt will be found at the Bernabéu this summer.

Still, amid that now hackneyed analysis, some believe that Ramos’ exit strategy is actually genuine and that the player’s relationship with Madrid has come to a final end. Not least because of United’s need for an experienced defender this summer and the club’s new found muscle in the transfer market.

“I know Sergio has told the general manager to listen to offers they get from Manchester United,” former Real President Ramón Calderón told the BBC this week.

“He only wants to go to United. Things are in a very bad situation. As time has gone on, things have not only not improved, they have got worse. Now it is not a question of money. It is a lack of affection the player is feeling from Real Madrid.”

It is a situation all the more perplexing for Ramos’ increasing status and maturity at Real. Once a rash and petulant player, whose penchant for a tackle means he is the most red-carded in Madrid’s history, Ramos is now a cultured leader. The last of those 19 dismissals came against Barcelona in a 4-3 el Classico defeat 18 months ago, while the defender’s record remained clean throughout Real’s ultimately disappointing campaign under Carlo Anchelotti last season. Indeed, Ramos conceded just over 40 fouls in the La Liga campaign – the lowest number in any season spent at Madrid.

Meanwhile, United’s strong need for experience matches up to Louis van Gaal’s reported £150 million transfer budget. Last season none of Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcus Rojo or Johny Evans completed more than 30 games for the club. Form, and more often fitness, proved the quartet’s undoing, although Smalling emerged from the season in a stronger position than at any time over the past five years. Jones’ new contract reflects positive performances when the Englishman remained fit and Rojo impressed despite a series of frustrating injuries. It leaves Evans as the most likely to depart should United secure Ramos’ signature.

Still, that is a scenario that remains some way off, with both United, Real and potentially Ramos engaged in a classic summer game of brinkmanship. Throw Real’s pursuit of United’s goalkeeper David de Gea into the mix and this is a saga that may not come to a resolution before the Reds depart for a short tour of the United States in just over a week.

It remains to be seen whether Ramos’ interest is genuine, of course, despite Calderon’s assessment. After all, this week the player’s mother dismissed any chance of seeing her son in Red: “He loves Spain. Madrid has everything,” Paqui Garcia told local reporters.

Meanwhile, Woodward might do well to heed a lesson of two summers’ past. In the market not all truths are equal.

Fabregas was key to Moyes tactical plan A

August 12, 2013 Tags: , Opinion 8 comments
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It appears that Manchester United has some money to throw around this summer, with revenues from Anderson, Luis Nani and Wayne Rooney potentially bolstering a healthy transfer fund. While Rooney is still likely to be sold, for a sizeable fee too, the loss of United’s number 10 is not as disastrous as some media outlets and fans make it out to be. However, the case of Anderson and Nani is a bit more complex.

Nani has often disappointed but the Reds’ first team is so thin with wingers that Nani must be kept if only to allow David Moyes to rotate his wide men. Wilfried Zaha has excelled in preseason games but he remains untested in the top division and Champions League. Nani is the one player in the squad who has the skills and agility to consistently beat a man and should stay unless United can capture someone who offers the same qualities before the window closes.

While Rooney’s physical deterioration greatly hampers the former Everton player’s influence on the field, the same criticism applies to Anderson. The Brazilian’s rather unprofessional approach to life must be condemned but, again, there so few central midfielders in the first team picture that Anderson should be retained at the club.

Sir Alex Ferguson often spoke about the dangers of bringing in too many players at once. It is a lesson David Moyes might heed. Although the new man has not had the time to fully stamp his authority on the squad, having replaced much of the backroom staff, it would be rational to be careful about making additions to the playing staff too.

Moyes typically emphasises width and even though United’s wingers  are limited at best, Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra are excellent attacking full-backs and will mask the shortcomings of the players ahead of them.

The real problem area for Moyes is central midfield – an area with little depth.

Acquiring a player or two will solve that problem but the fact that Michael Carrick, who is very important linking midfield with wingers and forwards, has no understudy is problematic. Rooney shouldered much of the ball-winning burden last season, and someone who can compete physically in central midfield should be considered if Rooney goes.

Phil Jones can be deployed in midfield, of course, but the youngster simply does not possess the game intelligence to play as a midfielder at the highest level.

The chase for Barcelona’s Thiago Alcântara and Cesc Fàbregas offers more insight into Moyes’ plan. Each clumsily handled at best and at worst plain unrealistic. The Spanish duo are excellent passers who can fulfill Carrick’s deep lying playmaker role if needed. Crucially, though, each can effectively carry the ball forward, make key passes while posing a goal threat.

Neither offers much physicality though – and with Carrick likely to cement his place as one of two in 4-2-3-1 it is rather unconventional to field two passers in central midfield and then deploy Shinji Kagawa, a very technical player, ahead of them.

However, Kagawa’s presence does allow Moyes to field three passers. Kagawa is a player who likes to come into possession facing forward and plays quick, incisive balls to the team’s strikers. Robin van Persie and Javier Hernández are excellent finishers and United’s opposition will be forced to keep an eye out for the Japanese’s creativity.

Should Moyes use the former Borussia Dortmund player as Jürgen Klopp did at the German club by fielding two very capable passers deep United’s opposition will face a dilemma as to how to stop the Reds’ midfield. Man-mark Kagawa and two central midfielders will run the game. Compete in midfield and Kagawa will roam free. Meanwhile, Fàbregas (or a player of his ilk) can storm forward and overload the hole between the midfield and defence.

The Moyes model, should it come to fruition, insists upon the team setting up deep and forcing opposition into choosing between letting United’s midfield run the game or risk succumbing to clinical counter-attacks launched through Kagawa.

It is, however, a complex and intricate plan that often fails.

Sound in theory, nobody yet knows whether Moyes’ plan will actually work. It seemingly revolves using Kagawa as a bluff to force the opposition into defending the hole. It is a reactive plan, based on a supposition that United’s opponents will attack – a strategy that fails when the opposition parks the bus, leaving the attacking side to retain meaningless possession.

Fàbregas is perhaps the only player who can make this plan work. The Spanish can score from distance and the Barcelona player, perhaps influenced by the English game, is so direct that more cultured teams such as the Catalan club and Spanish national team often use him as a forward.

Cesc has the attributes to break down teams that sit deep and is experienced in doing so as a former Arsenal player. There are few others who can pass incisively, carry the ball forward, shoot from distance and storm into the box if needed.

Moyes’ plan is bust of course with Fàbregas now committed to remaining in Barcelona, but the brazenly public wooing of the Spanish duo suggests that the new United manager will continue the counter-attacking approach adopted during his Everton days.

It is risky though. While Ferguson’s approach became increasingly defensive during the latter days of his tenure, Moyes does not possess the retired manager’s trophy haul. United’s fans might not take kindly to the reactive tactics.

Indeed, the new man’s desperation seeps through in the frantic quest to bring in the one player who could have very well been the difference between Moyes’ approach being described as boring or refined.