The transfer window shut firmly today and with it United’s business for the summer ended. Having brought in two senior players and a further three in the ‘promising’ category, manager Sir Alex Ferguson has declared himself happy with his squad. But after the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez earlier in the summer, the question is, do the fans feel the same?
“The bulk of the £80m fee we got from Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo is still there, of course, and it seems to be burning a hole in the pockets of a lot of fans,” said Ferguson today.
“But you don’t suddenly scrap your transfer policy because of one defeat even if it was a bad one [to Burnley at Turf Moor].
“I have explained our strategy, based on my confidence in our squad with a few new faces, existing players maturing and more eager beavers on the way up, and I have no intention of abandoning it. I know we have the right squad.”
It’s a commendable show of faith by Ferguson, whose transfer policy – a few exceptions aside – has centred on buying players under-25 in recent seasons. It’s a policy that flourished with the development of Cristiano Ronaldo; bought for £12 million, sold for £80 million six years later.
Ferguson has built such a bank of credit over the seasons that to question his judgement is churlish. When it comes to players, the manager is normally right. In youth Ferguson may trust, but even the great man cannot guarantee success. For every hit there is also considerable risk in betting the house on youth. Indeed, of the younger players brought into the squad in the past two seasons none have conclusively proven that they will make it at the highest level. Coming into the new season there is considerable young talent at Ferguson’s disposal. Yet there are question marks over first team regulars Anderson, Nani and Ben Foster. Moreover there is no certainty that Fabio and Rafael da Silva, Gabriel Obertan, Mame Biram Diouf, Kiko Macheda or Danny Welbeck will make it either. Nor 23 year old new signing Antonio Valencia for that matter.
United must also deal with the inevitable decline of Gary Neville, Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs; and the increasing injury prevalence of Rio Ferdinand as he enters his 30s. The result is that United cannot possibly line-up with 11 top class players as they have in the past. Ferguson has an awesome squad at his disposal but one with fewer proven stars than in the past. Indeed, only the aforementioned Ferdinand, together with Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney can reasonably be described as world class this season.
United’s midfield is of particular concern. While well stocked, it is light in terms of proven quality.
There are also question marks about how the team will adapt to Ferguson’s tactics this season which – necessitated by the departure of Ronaldo – have evolved from a flexible three up front to a more conventional two.
That’s a lot of uncertainty and risk. A dip into the top end of the transfer market could have mitigated some of that. Ferguson felt it unnecessary and time almost always proves him right.