As a Manchester United fan, I am grateful for what I have. 12 points clear of bitter rivals Manchester City, 21 ahead of 5th placed former title rivals Arsenal, cantering towards a record 20th Premier League title, having scored the most goals and won the most games in the league, you could say life is pretty sweet being a United fan at the moment.
Yes, we are (undeservedly) out of the Champions League, yes we are out (deservedly) of the FA Cup, and yes, we did lose our pride to City last night (very much deservedly). The last few weeks haven’t been great, out of those two competitions and poor performances even in victories over Reading and Sunderland in the league all in all lead to a very anti-climatic end of season for United fans.
A lot of fellow supporters have been voicing their opinions of our squad, and because we have had a bad few weeks, we suddenly have a lot of “dead wood” in a squad which needs mass rebuilding. Here is a more rational look at our squad, and where I believe we need to improve in the summer.
Absolutely fine here. Anders Lindegaard is one of the best “number 2” keepers in the League and is generally solid and consistent. David De Gea has come on in leaps and bounds since the Christmas period, looks a bit stronger physically and mentally, and even took a head butt from Nemanja Vidic like a man last week against Sunderland. He is definitely on the way to being one of the best keepers in the world and can make saves a lot of other stoppers couldn’t.
Centre backs are fine except they all appear to be injury prone apart from the out-of-contract in the summer veteran Rio Ferdinand, currently in the twilight of his career. Ferdinand needs to be signed up – he has been our best defender this season and is a great leader at the back. Vidic will be fine with a pre-season under his belt (I hope), and Jonny Evans is a very good back-up central defender for a leading club in Europe – not a first choice for a season kind of quality, but good enough as cover. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are young, again slightly injury prone and make the odd errors, but are truly outstanding talents for 21 and 23 years old respectively; especially as defenders generally improve past the age of 25.
Full backs may need tweaking. Rafael has the attributes to become one of the best in the world, great going forward (he is Brazilian, enough said) and has curbed his reckless aggression to actually think about his positioning and reading of the game defensively. We will have Fabio back from a season’s experience with QPR where he didn’t do much wrong to my memory, and also has great potential after a spell at right back two seasons ago where he was excellent. If Fabio is played at his natural right back position, we have that covered (Jones, Smalling and Valencia can cover if needed); however left-back is a different story. Alexander Buttner looks raw but promising, a good attacking cover at full back but looks very shaky defensively, so needs to be behind someone in the pecking order. Patrice Evra has had his best season in about three years but is getting on now (32 next month) and has generally considered to be in decline, so a signing here would be good but not essential – we can get another season or two out of Patrice before desperately needing someone to replace him. Leighton Baines is a long-term target of ours, but is now 28 years old and would cost over £15 million, so I’d be surprised if Sir Alex Ferguson goes in for him – just not the signing age and cost-wise Fergie makes (apart from RVP).
A bit of a mess. We will start with wingers as it’s easier to write about and takes less time to sort. Antonio Valencia has had a horrific season, ironically performing badly in the season he hasn’t been injured a lot in! Although some fans have jumped the gun and talked about selling, I’d stick with him as one bad season in three with us so far surely earns him time to get it right, he can also play right-back and always works his socks off for the team. A pre-season behind him and a decent game at the start of next season and he will be fine. Ashley Young isn’t amazing or “United standard” but has a decent (albeit irritatingly inconsistent) cross on him and should chip in with a few goals, a good back up for us. Wilfred Zaha comes in the summer and is exactly what we need, a bit of a gamble but young, hungry, English and has a lot of skill, flair and unpredictability. Kind of like Nani but not Nani. Which brings me onto…Nani. Consistently awful, the surprise is when he actually plays well. Lots of 3/10 performances he gives the ball away like he has a phobia of footballs going to red shirts, and hasn’t produced anything in his United career except a good five months at the end of the 2009 season. How we have kept with him I will never know, Fergie must be ruthless here. A left footed left-winger would be appreciated seeing as United fans can’t remember the last one we had (Giggs in centre midfield doesn’t count) – Porto’s James Rodriguez would be an option (see transfers below).
Central midfield now and where to begin? Michael Carrick is the first name on the team sheet in midfield, and rightly so. Apart from that, you could present a case for us chopping every other centre midfielder if you wanted to. But, because this is a RATIONAL look at United, here is what should be done. Anderson MUST be sold. We have toiled with him for far too long. How any professional footballer is fat I will never understand, and his injuries have been far too frequent, performances too inconsistent, for us to deal with any more. The annoying thing is, when he has a good game he is outstanding, capable of running a midfield – he can dribble, tackle, pass well, and does work hard (when he lays off the burgers). He will be a massive success at a different club no doubt, but it just isn’t working here. Paul Scholes looks to be retiring through injury – he has barely played this season anyway and was a bit hit and miss earlier in the season. Ryan Giggs will play another year into his 40s, an amazing achievement and a nice dribbling option in midfield who looks to go past the opposition and create chances. Who knows about Darren Fletcher – our only defensive tackling midfielder in the squad – but my hunch is he won’t play for us again. Defensive midfielder wise we clearly need a signing or two – Celtic’s Victor Wanyama would be my personal choice but anyone who wants to break up play (Sandro from Spurs would be the dream) would be great. Shinji Kagawa is a sensational player who will improve next season, particularly if we change formation to a 4-2-3-1 as has been rumoured the last two seasons, and I hope he gets a lot more game time next term, though it’s hard to fit him into the 4-4-2 Fergie prefers. Nick Powell is a young player who looked great every time he played this season, surprised he hasn’t been played a bit more, but he can come through next term. So Giggs, Kagawa and Powell are fine attack minded midfielders of varying ages. Tom Cleverley is also a good player, he can link midfield to attack, has a good pass and lots of energy, although questionable quality, but certainly worthy of keeping at the club for years to come. A defensive midfielder alongside Carrick would be a priority, allowing Zaha, Young, Rooney and RVP to focus on attacking play, but United fans aren’t holding their breath about this position as we have needed one since Fletcher’s injury, and possibly even since Roy Keane left in 2005.
Very strong here, two world-class talents in Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie at ‘peak’ ages of their careers (though one suspects Rooney peaked at 19), both 20 goals a season and 10 assists easily. Rooney should not be sold but we would also survive without him if the right offer comes in, moving Kagawa forward to play off RVP would be a likely option if Wayne was to leave. Javier Hernandez is a great finisher who can come off the bench and nick a goal, and although his build up play isn’t great he has clearly been working hard on it. I actually think he should start more games and I hope he doesn’t become frustrated at being 4th in the pecking order. 3rd, somewhat surprisingly is Danny Welbeck. He is a frustrating talent but is young enough to master the art of finishing…well just shooting in the first place! Fantastic hold up play, links well with midfield runners and works hard for the team, is quick, powerful and a handful for any team (great performances this term against Liverpool, Madrid and Arsenal stick in the memory), however his finishing is simply woeful. Overall four excellent options to have, with Angelo Henriquez meant to be a promising player too coming back from Wigan next season, nothing needs to be changed here.
Frank Lampard – would add a nice dimension alongside Carrick though would have to be managed well. Would guarantee goals from midfield which is something we could do with, and it would make Chelsea fans squirm in addition to being a free transfer. Fergie does like his old players as well – the new Scholes?!
James Rodriguez – we desperately need a left-footed left winger, haven’t had one since Giggs got moved inside to centre midfield. Has pace, great technique, can dribble and cross the ball, and works hard on his flank whenever I’ve seen him for Porto.
Gareth Bale – same reasons as Rodriguez but would be the preferred option. If Spurs don’t finish 4th someone will snap him up, why not us? Will get ripped off for him, but just imagine a front four of RVP, Rooney, Zaha and Bale next season. Wow!
Luka Modric – absolute proven Premier League class, would be a perfect signing for United in the ‘deep-lying playmaker’ role alongside Carrick, could enable us to fully control games which we haven’t done for a few seasons.
Thiago Alacantara has stated he is ready to quit Barcelona and move on. Similar in many ways to Modric, I would love us to get him as I am a big fan since seeing him for Spain U21s a few years ago. Great passer inventive going forward, £20 million or slightly less may be good to get him, would be ideal if we can’t get Modric.
Victor Wanyama – this would be a bit of a gamble being from a team in Scotland, but I’ve seen a lot of the Celtic midfielder in the Champions League this season and looks the real deal. Tough tackling, keeps the passing simple, only really interested in defending but is also comfortable on the ball, exactly what United have needed for years. He’d be my number one priority (or someone similar).
Alex Sandro – Has looked good whenever I’ve seen him for Brazil (albeit in meaningless friendlies) and Porto, has a great cross on him. Not sure about him defensively but he would be available at a decent price £8 million if rumours are to be believed) and is a good age (25) to learn his trade in the Premier League ahead of Buttner.
Lucas Digne has had 21 appearances for Lille this season, impressing in his time with the Ligue 1 club at only 19 years old. Similar to Buttner, I’d rather a slightly less attack minded full back to directly replace Evra, but still an option.
Robert Lewandowski ONLY if Wayne Rooney leaves, could get the big Pole in and make money from selling Rooney, but as I said before I wouldn’t sell Rooney unless an offer of £30 million plus comes in (only PSG would pay that).
My top three targets would be Gareth Bale/James Rodriguez depending on Bale’s transfer being viable, Victor Wanyama and Thiago Alacantara. I really think this would give us a strong platform for next year, Wanyama would cost £10 million tops, Rodriguez around £20 million same as Thiago, so around £50 million outlay but could get £15 million back from Nani, £8 million from Anderson (with good marketing on those players) and with a fair wedge from the Premier League payments, I believe these targets are all viable signings. Oh and Frank Lampard would just be funny to see Chelsea fans squirm when he inevitably scores against them due to the previous club rule.
A potential line up in a few years time with the young players (and a couple of my signings) Fergie has assembled:
Rafael Jones Smalling Alex Sandro
Zaha Wanyama Thiago Kagawa
With Anders Lindegaard, Jonny Evans, Nick Powell, Tom Cleverley, Antonio Valencia, Danny Welbeck and Chicharito on the bench with a few new signings, that looks a very strong squad. A clear out of dead wood? No, but a small brush up this summer would do nicely.