Tag Transfers

Tag Transfers

Ferguson’s tired line convinces few

July 5, 2010 Tags: , Reads 14 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson says that Manchester United considered making a move for Barcelona’s David Villa before concluding that there “is no value in the transfer” market. It’s a record the Scot has spun too many times in recent seasons, with United’s manager now playing lickspittle to the Glazers’ financial mismanagement.

The Scot’s assertion that United will not spend to bring the world’s best players to Old Trafford in the face of heavy investment by near-neighbours Manchester City amounts to little more than waving a white flag in the transfer market. United can no longer compete at the top of the market, with the club’s £722 million debt biting hard on its competitiveness.

This comes despite a huge increase in ticket prices and commercial revenues over the five years of the Glazer family’s tenure in Manchester.

“We’ve looked at a few options,” said 68-year-old Ferguson, who has recruited youngsters Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling this summer.

“We did consider David Villa but he was always going to Barcelona. I just don’t believe there is value out there at the moment. I’m very happy with the strength of our squad as it is.”

Ferguson made a similar admission last summer after the club sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £80 million, before bowing out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, the FA Cup in the third round and finishing second to Premier League winners Chelsea.

Yet club ceo David Gill continues to insist that the £95 million cash currently sat in United’s bank account is available for transfer spending and not earmarked to pay debt as many suspect.

With key members of United’s squad now in their mid-to-late thirties and the team’s over-reliance on Wayne Rooney’s form and fitness unresolved, the Reds risk further decline next season. It is even arguable the old adage of recruiting from a position of strength has already past the team by, with United now playing catch-up to rivals at home and abroad.

True, the Scot has added Hernández and Smalling to the squad this summer but neither is expected to start the season in the first team. The Mexican may even head to Spain on-loan despite a positive showing during the World Cup in South Africa, while Smalling will begin the season as fourth choice central defender behind Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans.

That United “considered” Villa is of course tacit admission that further squad strengthening is required. But Ferguson’s comments also reveal the extent to which United’s horizons have changed since the signature of Dimitar Berbatov for £30.5 million in August 2008. The Bulgarian, at 27, was just a few months younger than Villa is today, although the Spaniard’s significantly better strike-rate has cost Barcelona just an additional £4 million.

No value, indeed.

Ferguson is of course right about one thing – the transfer market is expensive, with City’s spending unabated and Real Madrid investing more than £260 million last summer. Barcelona, having already acquired Villa, will probably recruit Cesc Fabregas later this summer.

Meanwhile, Chelsea will surprise few if, keen to refresh its squad with a marquee signing, the London club brings in Fernando Torres from Liverpool before the transfer window closes. Even Arsenal, fresh from outstanding financial results, could outspend United this summer.

Yet the real frustration, on the day his squad returns to pre-season training, is not just that United is essentially broke – fans know – but in Ferguson’s repeated attempts to pull down the wool rather than admit the truth.

Real weaknesses do exist within the current set-up and while rivals move forward United remains a 40-year-old ‘keeper, perennially injured central defender, defense-heavy midfield or goal-shy Bulgarian away dropping back even further.

Shame there’s just no value in the market.

World Cup scouting report I

June 14, 2010 Tags: , International 6 comments

With nine matches at the World Cup now complete fans have witnessed a low-key start to the tournament,with few teams willing to risk losing first time out. With a number of reported Manchester United transfer targets to watch, interest remains high and Rant looks at a handful of speculated targets and those who could do well at Old Trafford.

Simon Kjaer
The Danish central defender, who stands out with long shocking blonde hair and an alice band, is currently on Palermo’s books in Italy’s Serie A but is consistently linked with an expensive move to the Premier League. Outspoken Palermo President claims a bid from either United or Manchester City, with Nemanja Vidic’s departure from Old Trafford seeming more likely by the day.

Kjaer, who featured in Denmark’s uninspiring 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands at Soccer City Johannesburg, looked comfortable in possession but was frequently caught out by the Dutch forwards’ movement, getting the wrong side of Robin van Persie on more than one occasion. Worst was to come in the second half, when the 20-year-old defender reacted slowly to Eljero Elia’s shot and was beaten to the rebound by Dirk Kuyt for the Netherlands’ second goal.

Mesut Özil
Werder Bremen’s talented Turkish-German midfielder was outstanding in a 4-0 win over Australia last night, dictating tempo and floating in between midfield and attack. Contracted to the German club until June 2011, many suspect the midfielder will move on this summer to a bigger European stage. Not that Özil’s talents have come as a surprise to English scouts, with the 21-year-old simply brilliant for Germany last summer against England in the European Under-21 Championship final.

United’s lack of creative talent in central midfield with Paul Scholes’ legs getting no younger has many fans salivating over the youthful Özil. Arsene Wenger is a known admirer of the player who will cost around €10 million with less than a year on the player’s contract remaining.

Tactically, Özil remains something of a throwback with the player’s floating role in the German side not one many Premier League teams deploy. The risk, undoubtedly, is that Özil would get lost in a traditional 4-4-2 system.

Eljero Elia
The Dutch Young Player of the Year demonstrated much of his undoubted talent in Hamburg’s run to the Europa League semi-final last season. A winger of genuine pace, the 23-year-old surprisingly slipped threw Ajax’ famous youth academy before joining ADO Den Haag and then Twente Enschede. The player moved to Hamburg for around €8.5 million last summer. But with Hamburg finishing outside the European places a strong World Cup tournament will surely alert major powers to Elia’s talents.

Previously linked to a move to Liverpool, Elia has said he does not plan to move away from the Bundesliga side this summer. The player’s brilliant cameo performance against Denmark today may change all that.

Miloš Krasić
The floppy-haired CSKA Moscow midfielder excelled in two fixtures against United in the Champions League last season prompting media speculation about a move to Old Trafford. Although the Serb is highly likely to move this summer he has gone on record saying his preference is for a transfer to Italy. Rafael Benitez’ Inter Milan is reportedly interested.

However, the right-sided midfielder struggled to make an impact as Serbia lost to Ghana on Sunday afternoon. The Black Stars’ victory owing much to the African’s adventurous outlook, with Serbia negative and unsurprising. Indeed, Krasić took the brunt of media criticism in the Serbian press today for a poor quality performance.

Rafael Van der Vaart
Linked to a £20 million move to Old Trafford, van der Vaart’s season has swung from lows to high and back again. The Real Madrid midfielder began the season without a squad number and seemingly on his way out of Santiago Bernabeu. However, Kaká’s injury proved a blessing, with the Dutchman excelling over the closing weeks of the season. Word on the street has it that the Madrid hierarchy would gladly sacrifice the former Ajax playmaker if the right bid is forthcoming.

The left-sided midfielder began Netherland’s match against Denmark this afternoon but consistently took up the same positions as his more illustrious compatriot Wesley Sneider and was eventually substituted for the aforementioned Elia.

Say what, Mr. Gill?

May 29, 2010 Tags: , Reads 33 comments

Manchester United chief executive says there will be no Wayne Rooney sale to Real Madrid this summer, with money also available for further player signings if Sir Alex Ferguson wants them. Well he would, wouldn’t he? The ceo who cries wolf but really just wants season ticket and box sales before supporters realise the game is up!

For while United may well spend this summer – there is theoretically a £75 million credit card facility available to Ferguson – the club’s business model is so massively leveraged that it is now hemorrhaging money from every pore.

Gill remains tight to the party-line, claiming Ferguson is under no pressure to reign in the spending this summer or say anything to the contrary.

“The money is there,” Gill told the Manchester Evening News.

“People say Alex is saying that because he has to. Anyone who knows Alex Ferguson knows he wouldn’t say that if he didn’t mean what he said.

“We are not in a situation whereby Alex is restricted in what he wants to do with the club and his methods as a manager.

“We have never said: “You can’t do that, we have to pay interest on the debt.

“People don’t believe it. We never said to him: ‘You can’t go for that player because he’s too much’.”

Gill’s problem, with United’s financial predicament now exposed by the January bond issue, is that few take the 52-year-old executive’s word at face value.

Tellingly some analysts now believe that player sales are deeply ingrained into the club’s underlying business model. It’s hardly a surprise to fans following Sir Alex’ statements on the transfer market in recent weeks, with the Scot not only forced to shop at the bottom of the market but specifically required to buy players that retain a resale value.

The question fans must ask is why acquisitions require a resale value if the club isn’t de facto prepared to sell?

It’s a new paradigm that only the hugely naïve believe will have no lasting effect on United’s transfer strategy, with the club losing more than £66 million on non-football related expenses in the last quarter alone.

“The loss shows that the business model doesn’t work unless there are player sales,” Philip Long, partner at PKF accountants and business advisers,told the Guardian newspaper today.

“It’s an absolute mess – when the full-year interest is accounted in and there are no items like last year’s sale of Ronaldo, what’s going to happen?”

It’s a question that needs no answer.

Few believe that Rooney, United’s most valuable asset, will leave this summer, with the former Everton striker settled in the North West.

Indeed, optimists could point to the ‘guided’ net £25 million per annum transfer budget available to Sir Alex, plus the money from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer.

In reality if Ferguson spends anything this summer the pressure to sell leading players in a year’s time – before the club files the 2011 year-end accounts  – will be overwhelming.

Indeed, with the Payment-in-Kind (PiK) loans moving from 14.5 per cent to 16.5 per cent in August the smart money is on the Glazer family drawing down both the £70 million cash and the £6 million special management fees provided for in the bond document.

Those fans seeking a marquee signing this summer need only look at the numbers, with United sitting on a cash pile of £95 million set to lose 80 per cent of its value in the coming weeks.

While that raid will happen fans are now unlikely to discover the truth until the Autumn, with any cash removal taking place after the financial year-end on 30 June and therefore reported at the end of November.

As the Americans love to say: ‘you do the math’.

Fergie: no summer spending

May 18, 2010 Tags: , Reads 19 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson says that Manchester United will target just one transfer this summer, while failing to replace Ben Foster who will join Birmingham City for £6 million this week. Speaking in New York, Ferguson effectively confirmed a second summer of regression with United’s transfer market activity highly restricted.

Following the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez last summer, Sir Alex brought in Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia as the close season’s only senior signings.

With youngsters Javier Hernandéz and Chris Smalling joining United for pre-season training, Ferguson says there will again be no major rebuilding of his squad this summer.

“In the market today it’s very, very difficult and the structure of our squad is good in terms of ages, the balance, the numbers and there’s a lot of good young players,” the United boss told the press in New York today while promoting the club’s forthcoming tour of North America.

“Sometimes you have to trust in all the development of the last few years and I’m going to stick with that, or most of it.

“There may be one signing and maybe we’d like to get a good player to the club, of course, but it’s not easy in the present day climate and I’ve nothing definite to tell you because we’re still assessing whoever’s available and the difficulties in terms of who you’d bring in.”

Ferguson also confirmed that United will not purchase a goalkeeper this summer, with the club previously linked to moves for Hugo Lloris, Igor Akinfeev and Manuel Neuer.

“When we decided to let Ben (Foster) go, we were in the process of letting a good young goalkeeper, Ben Amos, go out on loan,” Ferguson said.

“He’s in the England Under-21 team but we can only accommodate three goalkeepers. So when the situation with Ben’s future at Manchester United came into it and we agreed to let him go, we stopped Ben Amos from going on loan.

“He will now be our third goalkeeper, he’s very talented and has a good future ahead of him.”

Amos spent part of last season on loan at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s former club Molde in Norway, appearing in eight league matches, although the 20-year-old ‘keeper has not always held on to his first team place.

Unless Edwin van der Sar and Tomasz Kuszczak suffer injury Amos’ development will be limited to the reserves next season.

Sitting alongside Ferguson in New York, club ceo David Gill once again claimed that Ferguson has money to spend but that new Premier League squad rules limits potential activity.

From August the Premier League restricts squads to a 25-man limit, which must include eight home-grown players. Those players under-21 do not count towards the squad limit.

Strange then that United already has 12 home-grown players in the probable squad for 2010/11 and just 23 players likely to fall inside the Premier League limit. That is without the potential departures of under-performing squad members such as Anderson, Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov.

Although Gill reiterated the board’s stance that United’s £716.5 million corporate debt is serviceable few fans will believe the United chief. The bond interest payments total more than £45 million per season, while the Glazers will take at least £70 million from United’s cash reserves this summer as the family pays down Payment-in-Kind debt.

“We easily can meet those interest payments,” Gill claimed.

“We’re very confident the business model we have in place will be secure and will ensure the club can continue to compete at the top of football for many years to come.”

Many United supporters will wonder how that Gill can make that assurance with no investment in the playing squad.

Fergie feels City’s presence

May 17, 2010 Tags: , Reads 4 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson says Manchester City are now genuine title contenders, with the Eastlands club likely to spend large sums before the new season kicks of in mid-August. Roberto Mancini’s outfit finished a 34th season without a trophy and failed to make the Champions League but will be heavy investors this summer.

Last season began with City signing former United striker Carlos Tevez and Ferguson accusing the cross-town rivals of being small-minded for crowing about the acquisition in a now infamous Manchester poster.

City’s pretension to the throne took a beating, with Ferguson’s Manchester United victorious over City on three occasions last season; knocking the Eastlands club out of the Carling Cup on the way to winning the tournament and doing a Premier League double with late goals in each tie amid much acrimony.

But with United’s transfer budget restricted by the Glazer family’s £716.5 million debt the 18 point gap is likely to close next season as Mancini’s side makes an assault on the title.

“They will be a lot stronger this time,” Ferguson told the Daily Mail today.

“With the experience of last year behind them they’ll be better equipped to go for the title because they will spend big money again.

“Winning the title is going to be more difficult for anybody. This time it’s been ourselves and Chelsea and Arsenal for a period, but I think we can all hear the horses’ hooves galloping closer.”

Much will depend on City’s transfer activity, with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard probable summer targets, although neither deal will come easily. £11 million German international central defender Jérôme Boateng will get the ball rolling when he joins from Hamburger SV.

Money is no guarantee of success though. City’s £24 million spent on Joleon Lescott now looks more than a little embarrassing, while untold riches were unable to bring Brazilian Kaká to Eastlands 18 months ago.

Evidence of this is also present in Spain, where Real Madrid’s £260 million spent last summer bought precisely no trophies to the Bernabeau.

There is also no shortage of competition in the market. Barcelona will spend more than £80 million on Cesc Fabregas and David Villa in the coming weeks, while Real Madrid will surely be compelled to respond in kind.

Moreover, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has apparently sanctioned a £70 million bid for Torres as the domestic market heats up.

“In addition to City, I’m expecting Tottenham to be in the mix as well. I suppose the neutrals will welcome a situation where the competition is spread further as being good for the game,” added Ferguson.

Meanwhile the United manager is keeping his counsel when it comes to transfer activity, with many onlookers now believing that the Old Trafford coffers are empty.

But Ferguson, who claims United’s limited spending in the past year is due to ‘poor value’ in the market, insists that the club’s failure to land the Premier or Champions League this season will not spark a revolution at Old Trafford.

“Of course I’m disappointed we didn’t quite get there this season, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be making wholesale changes,” said the Scot.

“I believe we are well placed to make another challenge next season. We have brought in some young players over the past couple of seasons and they’re going to be a lot better this time. We also have tremendous experience in the side.

“I’d like to make a couple of signings, but the market is very narrow. There will be a few clubs trying to buy the same players and we all can’t get what we want.”

If that sounds disheartening for United supporters then the competition from the club’s noisy neighbours is only likely to intensify.

City is challenging United off the field too with the club’s owners, the Abu Dahbi Royal Family, spending heavily on redeveloping the area around Eastlands to include a fan zone, training ground and leisure facilities.

As the very definition of a vanity purchase, City’s spending is perhaps unsurprising. After decades in the shadow of United, the club must spend lavishly to catch up on and off the field.

United’s challenge in a city where Reds consistently beat Blues is to maintain the club’s superiority in an era of enforced austerity at Old Trafford.

Golden oldies

May 14, 2010 Tags: Reads 17 comments

The transfer chase is beginning to hot up but with Manchester United’s budget limited this summer, perhaps the free transfer market holds some gems for Sir Alex Ferguson. Inspired by former signings such as Henrik Larsson and Laurent Blanc, here’s a list of five past masters that United could sign on the cheap this summer.

David Trezeguet, Juventus
The man who fired France to European championship glory back in 2000 has fallen out of favour in Turin and seeking an Italian exit. Trezeguet has struggled with injury this season but few can doubt his predatory instincts. The former Monaco star may simply have become disenchanted with life in Serie A and United could offer a particularly glamorous last stop in his career. At 32 Trezeguet is by no means past it and with just a year remaining on his contract could give United the experience and physical presence Ferguson’s side lacks up front.

Raúl González, Real Madrid
Quite possibly the greatest striker of the modern generation. Raul has survived the ‘Galacticos’ and still remains a consistent performer within the Real Madrid side, when given the chance. His goal record is unquestionable; Raul is the all time top goal scorer in the Champions league and holds the same title in the national team. The 102-cap striker’s contract is up at the end of the season and at just 32 Raul has more to offer. Although the Spaniard is not the player he once was, Raul would relish the move to the Premier League and may prove a masterstroke by Ferguson.

Guti Hernández, Real Madrid
The Spanish international is widely regarded as one of the best passers of the ball in world football. Guti is Paul Scholes’ equivalent at the Bernebeu, and like Raul, is out of contract at the end of the season. Although Guti is keen on a move to Dubai for one last massive pay-day, Ferguson’s missing creative link could lie in the Spanish playmaker’s experience. The change of pace of the Premier League is perhaps the greatest challenge, coupled by high wage demands that could prove the major stumbling block. Oh and he is 35…

William Gallas, Arsenal
The Frenchman’s ongoing contract saga appears to be heading to a bitter end at the Emirate, which could culminate in the departure of the former club captain. Although Gallas is not an ideal choice for purist United fans, the former Chelsea player’s positional sense is second to none when in form. The Frenchman could offer sound cover for the ailing Rio Ferdinand. It’s an extremely unlikely move but United could do worse than pick up the experienced Frenchman and not chase the next wonderflop.

Michael Ballack, Chelsea
The previously prolific, unplayable, undeniably brilliant German is … really quite crap now. It’s hard to justify this one but the former Bayern Munich player is available on free transfer and used to perform on the big occasions. Now even the Chelsea faithful hate Ballack, so could United realistically justify the German’s ludicrous wage? Probably not. The midfielder previously rejected before and Sir Alex won’t make the same mistake again.

In all likelihood none of these players will make the journey to Manchester this summer, with Ferguson chasing the best deals for younger players in the market. United’s acquisitions of the Javier ‘little pea’ Hernandéz and Chris ‘appalling’ Smalling indicates the Scot’s faith in youth.

Of the pensioners group, perhaps Guti is the best option. Age has appeared only to improve the midfielder’s game, which could really benefit United’s strike force next season.

Poll: who would you buy?

May 6, 2010 Tags: , Polls 25 comments

With the season over on Sunday evening, Sir Alex Ferguson will turn his attention to the summer transfer market, whether the club wins the Premier League or not. But with finances restricted by the club’s massive debt Ferguson’s activity may be limited. If you could buy just one player that has been linked to the club recently, who would it be?

Who would you buy?

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Will Ferguson rebuild United?

May 5, 2010 Tags: , Reads 19 comments

Whatever the result on Sunday 11 defeats in all competitions this season – seven in the Premier League – dictates that United needs strengthening during the summer. Sir Alex Ferguson, mindful that his squad is an ever evolving beast, has said that he will bring in a further two players in addition to those already signed.

The Scot has signed the golden oldies – Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Edwin van der Sar – for another year in addition to the acquisitions of Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandéz.

Several areas of the team still need addressing but in doing so Ferguson faces some serious limitations on his activity:

  1. United’s financial situation means that the club will not spend large sums this summer unless it comes from the £75 million bank overdraft the Glazers arranged as part of the bond issue;
  2. Around £20 million of that fund has already been spent this calendar year on Hernandéz, Smalling and Mame Biram Diouf;
  3. United’s squad must now comply with the 25 man squad system, which must include at least eight domestically trained players, designated as home-grown.

In goal, van der Sar’s return to the side coincided with a tightening of a defence, beaten all too often pre-Christmas. The Dutchman will complete a final season with the club and Ferguson may decide not to spend unless his favoured option – Hugo Lloris of Olympique Lyonnais – is available at a reasonable price. Lyon’s notoriously hard-nosed chairman Jean-Michel Aulas is unlikely to let one of his prized assets leave on the cheap.

Ben Foster will almost certainly depart, with Birmingham City rumoured keen on the former Stoke City ‘keeper. Meanwhile Tomasz Kuszczak will provide competition for van der Sar, unless Lloris arrives. Ferguson may decide that priorities lie elsewhere on a limited budget and seek to add only a younger ‘keeper to the squad.

United will complete the season with the Premier League’s best defensive record, which reflects the side’s tactical make-up this season. However, four goals conceded against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals points to some of the disorganisation that multiple injuries has brought a times this season.

Rio Ferdinand’s injury problems are chronic and long-term, while Nemanja Vidic’s future is as yet undecided. However, Jonny Evans’ new contract in addition to Chris Smalling’s capture means that Ferguson will bring in another defender only if the Serbian decides to leave. Even then it’s highly unlikely that an established name will join.

Ferguson’s more pressing problems lie in midfield, with a desperate lack of creativity coming from central midfield when Paul Scholes is not afforded time and space; essentially whenever United faces a leading opponent.

Ferguson, a known admirer of both Luka Modric and David Silva, will surely look to recruit one of the creative pair. Each will cost in excess of £25 million and neither will be easy to bring to Old Trafford.

Modric’s position is potentially dependent on Tottenham Hotspur’s qualification into the Champions League, while Silva’s is contingent on Real Madrid’s ongoing relationship with the disappointing Káka. The Spaniard is available from cash-strapped Valenicia and willing to move to England.

Modric and Silva are not identikit players, with the Croatian having proven he can play in the Premier League in three or four-man midfields. Meanwhile, Silva has largely played as a ‘number 10’ in Valencia’s outstanding fluid attacking unit this season.

Should Ferguson miss out on either of his first two options – as is likely – he may turn to CSKA’s Serbian Miloš Krasić or as a desperate last resort out-of-contract Joe Cole.

Michael Carrick’s chronic lack of form has now extended to almost a full season and, at 28, the former Tottenham Hotspur man looks the most obvious senior candidate for departure, with Owen Hargreaves now fit and Darren Fletcher established in the first team.

In forward areas seven into one does not go but Ferguson seems reluctant to release many of his forwards, bar Danny Welbeck who is likely to rejoin Preston North End on loan. One of United’s younger players – probably Mame Biram Diouf – is also likely to leave on loan or face a season on the sidelines.

Javier Hernandéz and Federico Macheda will provide back-up to Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen.

What then of Dimitar Berbatov, whose 12 goals this season and sometimes antipathetic performances have split opinion on the Bulgarian’s value? Perhaps more pertinently, Berbatov seems anathema to Ferguson’s preferred 4-3-3 system.

Yet the Scot, never afraid to show star names the door, is persistent in his support of the Bulgarian forward so expect Berbatov to leave only if a decent fee is forthcoming.

In all it points to a quiet summer, despite the endless media speculation!

Rant’s guestimated first team squad 2010/2011

Edwin van der Sar
Tomasz Kuszczak
* new signing *

Gary Neville (HG)
Patrice Evra
Rio Ferdinand (HG)
Nemanja Vidic
Jonny Evans (HG)
Rafael da Silva (UR)
Chris Smalling (UR)
John O’Shea (HG)
Wes Brown (HG)

Paul Scholes (HG)
Ryan Giggs (HG)
Darren Fletcher (HG)
Owen Hargreaves
Darron Gibson (HG)
Antonio Valencia
Ji-Sung Park
Gabriel Obertan (UR)
* new signing *

Wayne Rooney (HG)
Michael Owen (HG)
Dimitar Berbatov
Javier Hernandez
Federico Macheda (UR)

Matt James (UR)
Danny Welbeck (UR)
Mame Biram Diouf
Ben Amos (UR)
Tom Cleverley (UR)
Fabio da Silva (UR)
Ritchie de Laet (UR)

Michael Carrick (HG)
Zoran Tosic
Ben Foster (HG)

(UR) – unregistered (not included in the official 25-man squad)
(HG) – home grown (over 21 but has spent at least 3 years trained at a domestic club)

Transfer silly season begins

April 15, 2010 Tags: Shorts 6 comments

With the Premier League title race all but over – it certainly will be if Manchester United don’t win the local derby this weekend – attention turns to transfer speculation. The media, being the media, will ignore United’s financial reality and ‘link’ the club with every available player on the planet. Here’s today’s media speculation round-up…

Hugo Lloris
The brilliant Olympique Lyonnais ‘keeper has broken into the French national side in time for the FIFA World Cup this summer after appearing for Les Bleus at under-17, 18 and 20 level. Superb in this season’s Champions League, Lloris is a £15 million United target according to today’s papers.

Federico Macheda
Kiko retains the confidence of Sir Alex Ferguson despite an injury-hit season that has reduced the Italian’s first team opportunities to just one Premier League start this season. Speculation has Macheda joining Italian club Palermo on loan. Not so, says his agent.

“Interest of Palermo? I know nothing about it, Palermo have not contacted me,” Giovanni Bia said.

“For now Federico is in Manchester and is well there, but it is (too) soon to talk about next season. He has a four years contract there. I don’t think that Manchester would give away a player like him.

“The future of Macheda depends on Manchester United.”

Simon Kjaer
One agent busy on the hustings is the Danish central defender’s. Kjaer, 20, wants to leave the aforementioned Palermo for the Premier League this summer. Reportedly a target of both cash-strapped United and even more cash-strapped Liverpool, Macheda could be used as makeweight in a deal for the Dane, according to some of the more wide-of-the-mark reports.

Fabio da Silva
The Brazilian teenager has not progressed this season, with injury once again blighting the campaign. While brother Rafael challenges Gary Neville for the United right-back spot, Fabio has little chance displacing Patrice Evra bar injury. Could the former Fluminese player join Sporting Lisbon on loan?

David Luiz
Who? United will need to stump up £25 million large ones to acquire Benfica’s 22-year-old central defender. The curly-haired Brazilian, who is yet to feature for his country, is unlikely to receive a UK work permit even if United was to find the cash hidden under Malcolm Glazer’s mattress.

Where do we go from here?

April 13, 2010 Tags: , Reads 11 comments

Manchester United’s title capitulation in the past fortnight has been a long time coming. United’s 11 defeats in all competitions a measure of the side’s inconsistency in the face of key player departures, injuries and an aging squad. While talk of a complete squad overhaul is wide of the mark, Sir Alex Ferguson’s crucial end-of-season planning begins now.

That planning will, of course, be hampered by the stringent financial environment fostered on the club by the Glazer family. It will also take into account revised ambitions that now extend – as Ferguson admitted on Friday – to “maintaining the current level.”

As a minimum United’s owners need the club to qualify for the Champions League in 2010/11. United’s supporters want a 19th title and a genuine assault on the Champions League.

It is with no little irony that United has amply replaced the goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez this campaign. Wayne Rooney’s outstanding form, together with an even spread of goals around the squad means United has scored nine more goals in the Premier League to date than in the entire 2008/9 season.

But the side’s reliance on Rooney, who has scored 34 per cent of United’s Premier League goals this season, has come to haunt Ferguson in the title run-in.

Over the season’s course United’s defensive injury crisis has hit home in key matches; defeats to Aston Villa and Fulham around the New Year are strongly linked to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s long-term absence at that time.

Given that seven defenders and Edwin van der Sar have missed at least part of the season it is a minor miracle United can boast the best defensive record in the Premier League.

But the suspicion at the season’s start that United was just a bit too short in quality to win either the Premier or Champions League this season has been born out. There is absolutely no satisfaction in it.

If United is to regain the Premier League title in 12 months time and mount a serious challenge for the Champions League, Sir Alex should consider the following questions:

  1. How to solve a problem like Edwin – Edwin van der Sar will play one final season at United. The great Dutchman’s presence and largely error-free application of the goalkeeping art provided additional security through the winter just when Ferguson side needed it. But is that good enough? Beaten at the near post by Samuel Eto’o in the 2009 Champions League final, van der Sar could also have done better for Bayern’s goals home and away in this season’s quarters. Formerly a world great, van der Sar is now showing his age. Ferguson is reportedly interested in Schalke’s Manuel Neuer at around £10 million. Olympique Lyonaise ‘keeper Hugo Lloris is the fantasy choice but at huge expense.
  2. Offering Wayne Rooney support – growing evidence suggests that United will not buy an established international centre forward to offer United’s talisman either support or back-up. Dimitar Berbatov’s unsuitability for the role of lone forward – ditto Michael Owen – means Ferguson will enter the new season still reliant on Rooney’s ability to play the role in the biggest games. Commence praying for an injury-free season in 2010/11.
  3. Seven into one won’t go – Unless Ferguson changes his current thinking about United’s tactical formation Rooney, Berbatov, Owen, Federico Macheda, Mame Biram Diouf, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández will compete for one spot in the side. Cynics might say that Ferguson’s current tendency to stock up on unproven talent above established class is Benitez-esque.
  4. What formation? – Ferguson’s apparent devotion to the 4-3-3 formation in United’s toughest fixtures mirrors tactical trends around Europe. The formation is anathema to many United supporters but a decision made by the Scot many years ago. But if United heads into the season bent on playing Rooney alone up-front, is disaster is an injured ankle waiting to happen?
  5. The dearth of midfield creativity – For 15 years Ferguson’s team selection boasted the outstanding talents of Paul Scholes as its creative heartbeat. Widely regarded as the best of his generation by fellow pros, Scholes’ contribution is now hugely fitful. Yet United without a youthful Scholes is a side without central midfield creativity. To replace Scholes at his peak will cost United upwards of £30 million that Ferguson doesn’t have. To match Barcelona’s midfield brilliance might cost £60 million.
  6. Planning for injury inevitability – 12 senior United players spent a month or more in the treatment room this season. The unprecedented level of injury at the club can, in part, be written off as bad luck. But injury to certain players is utterly inevitable next season. Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Scholes and Ryan Giggs will break down. Age and a tendency to injury effects each.
  7. What now for Berbatov and Carrick? – Two years of Berbatov at United has taught fans that the Bulgarian record goalscorer is a wonderful talent who cannot deliver on the biggest stage. Few United supporters now believe that Berbatov is the answer to the club’s redemption next season, even if like Rant they are huge fans of the former Tottenham Hotspur striker. Meanwhile, Carrick has suffered his worst season in a United shirt by some distance. The pair’s future at United is surely in doubt.
  8. What of the supporting cast? – Are Anderson, Darron Gibson, Jonny Evans, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Macheda and Park Ji-Sung good enough to haul United through another injury crisis next season where they failed this time around?
  9. Trust in youth? Rafael da Silva, Macheda, Gibson, Anderson and Evans offer much promise, if fulfilled to differing levels in the first team to date. Ferguson trusts the quintet and each is likely to play more than less next season. But with key members of United’s squad aging Ferguson must also decided how to blood the next generation of youth – look for progress from Joshua King, Tom Cleverly, Will Keane, Davide Petrucci, Paul Pogba and – hopefully – Ravel Morrison. It is worrying that just four players in the past decade have made it out of the academy to become regular starters for United.
  10. The wide men – Antonio Valencia has delivered a highly impressive first season at United, despite the pressure of ‘replacing Ronaldo’. The Ecuadorian’s increasing confidence in the United shirt bodes well for a solid career at Old Trafford. Meanwhile, Nani’s post-Christmas form offers promise of a bright future. At one stage few thought Nani would make it through the winter. But with Giggs now too old for the wide positions and Park a level in quality below, United is short of options in wide areas.
  11. Transfer strategy – United’ stated strategy to acquire players who retain a resale value limits the club to players under 26 years of age and commits the club to selling those players who successfully make the grade. The Glazers’ debt mountain means that United cannot spend heavily without first selling or piling yet more debt on the club’s books. This is the Rafael Benitez route to League and Cup ignominy.
  12. The coach – Ferguson’s testy manner this season may well be a factor of United’s sporadic form but the level to which the manger has intensified his war on both the FA and officials is counter-productive. Yes the FA has an anti-United agenda that is beyond doubt but Ferguson’s insistence that Alan Wiley was ‘unfit’ to referee invited a backlash that has resulted in a series of inexplicable decisions against the Scot’s side in big games. For example, United suffered horrendous decisions against Chelsea home and away and Liverpool away that had a material effect on the results. Ferguson must ask himself whether the war is worth it?