THE BIG UNITED CLEAROUT: AND THEIR POTENTIAL REPLACEMENTS…
There is no denying, that in recent weeks, the Manchester United squad has been shown up and weaknesses have most definitely been exposed. Investment into the club’s playing staff is certainly required, be it this month or in the off-season, and David Moyes and the executive board have promised that there is plenty of money to spend. Only time will tell if the cash is splashed, but in order for the new manager to do so, he will need to have a clear-out of the men currently occupying the red shirts. The only problem is – where to start? For me, it is clear there needs to be a major upheaval…
The evergreen Rio Ferdinand has been an excellent servant for United over the past decade but this season more than ever has heightened his lack of pace and tendency to drop off his man, allowing too much space to the opposing attackers. I fear whenever his name is on the team-sheet as he always has a mistake in him. A great servant to the club and one of the best modern-day defenders – but his race is just about run and his contract should not be renewed come July.
Alex Buttner never has been and never will be a Manchester United player. He’s just not a good enough all-round footballer – and a left-back who can’t defend? Criminal. One of the club’s worst recent signings and the only positive circumstance arising from his arrival is some rest on occasion for Patrice Evra.
For whatever reason, both David Moyes and Sir Alex Ferguson seem to freeze Fabio out of the first-team picture with alarming regularity, even when he is fit and United have a defensive crisis on their hands. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling – and worryingly even Antonio Valencia – have started games over the Brazilian at right-back despite him being the obvious like-for-like deputy in the absence of brother Rafael. With only a very sparse handful of appearances this season, he would do better to move on and start afresh, possibly back home in Brazil.
This is the most difficult one. Patrice Evra has been a fantastic, reliable member of the first-team squad since exactly nine years ago and in 2007 made the United left-back spot his own. However, positional defensive errors have been apparent in his game for a while now, despite offering much to the attack, and it is often costing the team dear. Unless he is willing to stick around as back-up for a new left-back in the shape of Fabio Coentrao or Luke Shaw, it is probably best for him to move on, which is a real shame, as he is a popular and key member of the dressing room as it stands.
Anderson has been shipped off on loan to Fiorentina for the rest of 2013/2014 and it might well be best for him if he stays there long-term. Flashes of brilliance usually succumb to lengthy spells on the sidelines and much, often passive, rustiness pervades his game upon his eventual return to the side. On his day, he can be a real driving force in the centre of the park – yet sadly, these days are harder and harder to remember with the passing of time.
Marouane Fellaini is another who is a misfit for the red shirt. A strange signing that I still feel was to pacify fans on deadline day – if Moyes genuinely wanted Fellaini, he would have got him for £23 million before his release clause expired, rather than for £27.5m on the last day of the transfer window – that has done little in his appearances so far. Granted, he has spent the last six weeks out with wrist issues, but has done nothing of note in his dozen showings thus far. Nor is he refined enough to play in central midfield; he needs too many touches, with a slow footballing brain and poor vision. We should cut our losses and get rid; there is much better out there.
One of the best footballers ever to play for Manchester United: but even Ryan Giggs will recognise that he is coming to the end of his glittering career. His appearances this season have been sparse and only the odd showing gave glimpses of the Giggs we all know and love. If this year is to be the one with a major squad overhaul then I think it is best he calls it a day at the same time. Have him do his coaching badges, installed on Moyes’s coaching staff and ensure every single Manchester United player knows what it means to pull on a red shirt.
In Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, he stated that he saw Ashley Young as a long-term replacement for Giggs. But on two and half seasons’ evidence, this cannot be further from the truth. More often than not, he has flattered to deceive and has been regularly in and out of the starting eleven. With a tendency to pass backwards and cut infield rather than beat his man with pace and skill (sort of the point of a winger), Young’s goals and assists count is sporadic at best. He has a good cross usually – but not much else. I think it’s time he moved on: he flourished at Aston Villa, and I think that’s more his true level.
Shinji Kagawa promised so much and in reality has delivered little. Again, a man who has shown his best form in glimpses and when played behind the striker, his playing time is restricted because of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie’s guaranteed starting places (and rightly so). Ineffective when shifted out left – and understandably – it is difficult not to feel slightly sorry for Kagawa but he is wasted sitting on the United bench and playing in cup games. I cannot see him staying unless Rooney leaves and/or refuses to sign a new contract.
Poacher Javier Hernandez is another regular occupier of the United bench and with the options ahead of him, his playing time is also curbed by the superiority of his positional peers. With Danny Welbeck’s resurgence adding goals to his game this season, Hernandez’s knack for finding the net is relied upon even less. What’s more, his link-up play and general footballing skill is vastly inferior which leaves him found wanting when dropping deep. Such deficiency means he is also an ineffective and isolated lone striker with a number 10 dropping to help out in central midfield. A real shame, but he would probably score buckets of goals for a mid-table side here or in Europe.
There are also strong question-marks over Tom Cleverley and Wilfried Zaha, too. Cleverley divides opinion among United and England fans alike – he is capable of some very good performances but is extremely inconsistent. He cannot dictate games nor impose himself on the very best opponents; if he is to stay, it should be as a squad option at best. Likewise, Zaha is a very raw talent who has had few opportunities so far other than in the reserves. Personally, I’m not sure he’s a Manchester United player, and I would loan him out to a mid-table side to see if he can reproduce his best form at England’s highest level to help determine his future.
All this would leave manager David Moyes with a core squad of 15 players: de Gea, Lindegaard, Rafael, Jones, Smalling, Evans, Vidic, Carrick, Fletcher, Valencia, Nani, Januzaj, Welbeck, Rooney and van Persie. There are some excellent younger prospects mixed with those who have great experience – but crucially in players who still have good time left in their playing careers; here, Michael Carrick being the oldest at 32, closely followed by club captain Nemanja Vidic. It is important to keep some freshness and vibrancy around the squad, with the chance of Nick Powell, Jesse Lingard, Will Keane and Angelo Henriquez coming through the ranks to be blooded in to the first-team picture, too.
So who to bring in? The media have linked United with most players in existence as usual. With £100m+ supposedly available to the manager, you would expect some big names to appear. Here are my suggestions:
At the back: Fabio Coentrao, Seamus Coleman and Luke Shaw. Coentrao is most definitely on United’s radar as was apparent on September’s deadline day and his arrival this January depends on Madrid’s ability to acquire a replacement. He would be an excellent addition to replace or add genuine competition to Evra in the short-term. Down the left hand-side as well, Shaw is an exciting young prospect who can also play further forward. A genuine left-footer’s ability and versatility should not be under-estimated and he has the potential to become one of the best left-backs in the country. David Moyes is also a known admirer of Coleman and his performances have been sparkling for Everton this season, adding goals to his growing defensive maturity. The arrival of three genuine full-backs to complement Rafael would ensure Jones and Smalling can finally focus on becoming the centre backs they are intended to be.
In central midfield, two or three of Ilkay Gundogan, Arturo Vidal, Yohan Cabaye and Marco Reus would finally satisfy United fans’ cravings for a central midfield signing. Gundogan is admired across Europe for his play-making and range of quick passing that would add some stylishness and flair to a creaking red midfield. In many ways, he would complement and be the ideal partner for Michael Carrick. Reus’s brilliant close control, pace and ability to play in a number of attacking positions make him an exciting potential addition, but it is unlikely Dortmund would sell two of their key players to the same club in the same transfer window. Vidal would add some much-needed defensive nous and bite to the midfield that is yet to have replaced Roy Keane and would be available relatively cheaply in comparison to his Borussia Dortmund colleagues. Closer to home, Yohan Cabaye is a goal-scoring central midfielder that United have certainly lacked in recent times and his range of passing and ability to also knuckle down and do the midfield nitty-gritty is often under-estimated. All would improve the United squad vastly; Gundogan and Reus would individually command £30m (at least in the latter’s case), whilst Vidal and Cabaye would be around £20m each.
Also linked have been Juan Mata and Paul Pogba. Mata is a good player and a creative force but again, unless Rooney leaves, I can see his opportunities being restricted as they currently are by Hazard, Oscar and Willian at Chelsea. I also find it hard to believe Pogba would return to United so soon after leaving, and if he was to return to England, I get the feeling he wouldn’t be wearing red. Either’s arrival would depend on big-name departures not suggested above.
Whatever your viewpoint: it is clear Manchester United have a lot of work to do to become English champions again, let alone a force in Europe. It will take at least four or five major signings – and if they manage to acquire any of the players mentioned above, United will most certainly be all the better for it. David Moyes needs to exert his own impression and visions upon the club and he will be given the time to do so. Prepare for and expect a major player merry-go-round at Old Trafford in the next six months.