Bridging The Gap
‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ Could you imagine if Steve Jobs at Apple or Virgin’s Richard Branson thought this way? Regardless of whether Manchester United add another title to their cabinet, their poor showing in Europe means that if they want to get closer to the brilliant Barcelona, they have to add to their already talented squad. Pep Guardiola has clearly set the benchmark with his team of superheroes led by possibly the greatest player ever to have walked the planet, but Sir Alex will see this as a challenge – a frustrating challenge that he has tried to find a solution for since 2009, but one he will not shy away from. You almost get a feeling that after having dealt with Liverpool, Sir Alex would like nothing better than to ‘knock Barca off their perch’ as a parting gift to United fans.
With the signings of David De Gea, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, the goalkeeping and defensive problems seemed to have eased somewhat. After a few blunders, De Gea has begun to excel and is looking like an extremely hot prospect for the future. With a sturdy number two in Anders Lindegaard and England under-21 first choice keeper Ben Amos as backup, United’s goalkeeping issues seem to be non-existent. Smalling, a natural centre back, has no problems running up and down the right flank as a full back, and Phil Jones could play anywhere on the pitch as long as he has a leather sphere to chase.
Rafael Da Silva seems to be maturing as a defender and if his twin brother Fabio was to do the same over the next season or two, then that would provide ample cover for the excellent Patrice Evra. With Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez proving that they are goal scorers and with Federico Macheda waiting in the wings, buying a front man will not be a priority for Sir Alex – even if United lose Dimitar Berbatov and/or Michael Owen.
Midfield is the one position that United must strengthen in order to close the divide on their Catalonian counterparts. How do you replace Paul Scholes? After pondering on this question for 6 months, Sir Alex’s answer to this was: with Paul Scholes. Donning his new squad number, the evergreen ‘Scholesy’ has since re-formed a formidable partnership with Michael Carrick in the heart of United’s midfield – so much so that an England call up could be on the cards. However, at 37 years of age, Scholes is no longer the future of United but very much part of a very memorable past.
Tom Cleverley has the potential to be a great player, but looked vulnerable and out of his depth in the Europa League, which implies that the Champions League could yet be a rung too high for young playmaker. Anderson’s persistent injury problems mean that he’s not able to cement his place in the first eleven, which leaves Paul Pogba and Ryan Giggs. Again, with Giggs being used more and more sparingly to maximise his input when he does actually play, United simply cannot rely on a 19 year old with limited experience to provide the presently missing spark in midfield. So the question remains – how do you replace Paul Scholes? The answer is actually very simple: Xavi Hernandez. The problem of course is that Xavi is as likely to sign for United as Marlon Harewood is to sign for Barcelona. So what are the other options?
Luka Modric: When buying players over the age of 25, statistically, Sir Alex has looked at players who have already proven their worth in the Premier League (eg. Ashley Young, Dimitar Berbatov, Edwin van der Sar). It makes sense as you know what you are getting without the need for the player to adapt to the speed or physicality of the English game. Luka Modric is currently enjoying his fourth season at White Hart Lane and seems to get better and better. At 26 years of age, he’s fully suited to the Premier League, has plenty of international experience and of course, the ability and talent to attract clubs such as Chelsea and Real Madrid. He perhaps hasn’t got the range of passing that Paul Scholes possesses, but now that Cesc Fabregas has departed, it’s difficult think of another Premier League footballer who improves the fluidity and link up play of a passing team with such movement and intelligence. If a good enough offer comes in, Tottenham will have to sell.
Wesley Sneijder: The Inter Milan star has been considered a big favourite to try his hand at filling the void that will be left by Paul Scholes. He has great balance, two good feet, vision, and can hit a great free kick. He has the ability to play the intricate pass to unlock a defence or a 60 yard diagonal to start a counter attack. As well as this, he has huge amounts of international experience; coupling this with a Champions League Winners medal makes him the ideal replacement. Sneijder has been very diplomatic when answering questions about joining United but has hinted that he would love to play for the Red Devils. Sir Alex was put off by the price tag last summer but with Inter needing funds and restructuring, Sir Alex could be offered a much more appealing deal this time round.
Bastian Schweinsteiger: The Bayern Munich star is closing in on 100 international caps and has been around for so long that it’s hard to imagine that he’s only 27 years old. One of the most efficient players in the Bundesliga, what he lacks in pace, he more than compensates for with technical ability. Excellent positioning off the ball, he hardly ever gives the ball away and loves to strike from distance – remind you of anyone? Extremely versatile – he has played on both flanks, just behind the front two or even in the hole to protect the defence. However, his love for Bayern and an inflated price tag could scupper any attempts to sign the German.
Daniele De Rossi: Roma through and through but you can never say ‘never’ in football. The one club man has been ever present for club and country for the last six or seven years and has displayed enough skill, talent and passion to justify his status as the highest paid Italian player in Serie A. He has the defensive mind-set to allow a fellow midfielder to push up but also the technical ability synonymous with all Italian internationals, along with a surprisingly gritty demeanour similar to that of Roy Keane – a natural leader. However, having just signed a new long term contract at Roma, Manchester United fans shouldn’t hold their breath.
Sir Alex has also been a long term admirer of Jack Rodwell and another impressive season could see the United chief make a move for the Everton youngster. Rodwell will by no means be an instant replacement for Paul Scholes, but his defensive mindedness could allow for players like Carrick and Anderson to influence play further up the pitch. Eden Hazard of Lille is quickly becoming the most sought after youngster in European football and Sir Alex has already watched him play, prompting talks of a possible signing. Although Hazard is primarily a left winger, he has been used in the middle on a few occasions for both Lille and Belgium. Again, an astronomical price tag could deter Sir Alex.
United’s policy of buying young and relatively cheap has worked for them before and will continue to work for them in the future but if the English champions want to match their Spanish counterparts any time in the near future, they will have to buy some experience and flair in the middle of the park. Sir Alex constantly bemoans United’s relative lack of success in Europe when compared to other great clubs such as Real Madrid and AC Milan and it seems as if it’s time for Sir Alex to splash the cash once more to put the finishing touches on his latest revamped Manchester United squad.