It is no secret that the fans, players and management team at Manchester United have learnt the meaning of pressure in the opening half of the 2011-2012 season.
United have faced a war on many fronts this season which has undoubtedly added a few silver hairs to Sir Alex’s already greying head.
Indiscipline among the players has emerged in recent weeks with a number of prominent players, including Wayne Rooney, breaking the manager’s curfew resulting in many fans questioning Ferguson’s influence over his current squad.
New signing David de Gea has been under intense scrutiny since joining the club and has so far appeared to lack dominance and reliability, thus leaving Ferguson in a position where he no longer knows who his number one goalkeeper is.
Injury has plagued United this year and has made the possibility of consistent team selection impossible, leading to players operating out of position in nearly every game. Michael Carrick has been seen playing centre-half on numerous occasions, Valencia has been slotted into right-back, and Park Ji-Sung and Rafael have been paired in central midfield. As a consequence of this, United have suffered from fluctuating levels of creativity in midfield and questionable dependability in defence.
This has certainly impacted on United’s results this year and it is no coincidence that United crashed out of the Champions League at the group stages for only the third time in Ferguson’s decorated career.
Oh, and to make matters worse, Manchester City have loads of cash. Thought I should mention that.
However, all is not lost! United remain second in the Premier League with only a three point margin separating them from the blue side of Manchester.
One or two intelligent signings could make all the difference to Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. So, if Ferguson and the Glaziers decide that it really is time to splash the cash, it may well be Roberto Mancini asking the “What ifs?” at the end of the season.
Who is he? Jan Vertonghen is Ajax’s twenty-four year old captain who is a natural centre-half but has shown that he is equally capable of playing at left-back or in a defensive role in midfield. He is also a Belgian international and is felt by many to be one of the top players in the Dutch League.
Pros—Vertonghen is a young, natural defender that could add a solid presence into the United back four. He stands over six-feet tall, is good in the air and often displays a superior technical ability over other defenders. Vertonghen, however, is not restricted to the defensive line and may also play in midfield in a similar fashion to 19 year-old player Phil Jones. Having two players in the squad with this ability would leave Sir Alex with interesting options.
Ferguson has admitted that former-captain Rio Ferdinand is no longer the player he once was and Nemanja Vidic has been linked with a move away from the club. This may mean that Sir Alex could decide that the January transfer is an ideal time to make a move on the Ajax ace.
Cons—Manchester United face stiff competition in signing Jan Vertonghen. Arsene Wenger has also shown interest in signing the Belgian, which will without a doubt automatically add a couple of million to any potential transfer fee. Ajax are keen to hold onto their captain and may perhaps refuse to negotiate with impending buyers until at least the summer.
Who is he? Nicolas Gaitan is Benfica’s Argentine playmaker who signed from Boca Juniors in 2010. Since arriving to the Portuguese club, Gaitan has looked impressive and holds the record for the most number of assists so far in the 2011-2012 Champions League.
Pros—Gaitan is a classy midfielder whose vision and first-touch is as good as anyone’s. The 23 year-old winger has pace, crossing ability and knows where the goal posts are. If United acquire Gaitan they can ensure that they have four of the most dangerous wide players in Europe along with Nani, Valencia and Young.
According to the English newspaper the Daily Mail, Gaitan was flattered when Alex Ferguson complimented his playing style and also said that he would welcome a bid from the Premier League champions as long as it benefits both Benfica and himself.
Cons—Gaitan is said to have a £37.5m release clause in his contract, which would mean United would be forced to pay top dollar for the Argentine international. Gaitan is also contracted to Benfica until 2016 so Benfica may choose to hold on to him for another season or two.
Who is he? Leandro Damiao is a 22 year-old goal scoring machine who has scored nearly 40 goals this season for his current club Internacional. He stands at 6'2" tall and is said to have a very similar attacking approach as Chelsea striker Didier Drogba.
Pros—At present United have a relatively short team attacking line-up with the likes of Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney, both standing less than six feet tall. Damiao has the ability to win headers, hold the ball,and score goals much like former-star Ruud Van Nistelrooy. The striker’s youth is an added bonus and it is also possible that the young man would prefer to play in the Premier League as opposed to the Brazilian Porto Alegre.
With Dimitar Berbatov being linked with a possible move away from the club, Ferguson may choose Damiao as his replacement adding literal strength to the United squad.
Cons—Tottenham had a bid of £15m rejected in the summer of 2011 and it is now expected that Internacional will only consider bids of £24m or above. Additionally, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal share an interest in the striker.
Who is he? Luka Modric is Tottenham Hotspur’s Croatian midfielder who has played a pivotal role in the club’s recent success. Since joining Tottenham in 2008, Modric has been the first player on Harry Redknapp’s team sheet and contributed in no small way to Tottenham’s historic Champion’s League campaign of the 2010-2011 season. Modric was also named in UEFA’s ‘Team of the Tournament’ following Euro 2008.
Pros—Modric is one of the most talented players in England and has proven himself to be a consistent performer in the Premier League. Many players who are successful in other countries often struggle with the pace and power of Premier League football and simply fade away. We know this is not the case with Modric as he has adapted to Premier League football valiantly. Therefore, Modric has a huge advantage over other possible buying options as he will need little time to adapt to his new surroundings.
Modric has an excellent passing game and never looks as though he is restricted to playing the obvious ‘Safe’ ball time after time. He is capable of reaching players at long range and would offer United the opportunity to use him in a ‘Quarterback’ role. Coupled with the fact that Modric is only 26 years old, Modric would be a terrific purchase for the Manchester club.
Cons—Harry Redknapp loves having this player in his squad and will only consider letting Modric leave for an enormous price. Chelsea made an offer of £40m in the summer of 2011 and it was simply dismissed by those at White Hart Lane. If Sir Alex really wants to sign Luka Modric he will need to make an offer in excess of £50m.
Who is he? Do you really need to ask at this stage? Wesley Sneijder is the most talked about possible signing of the January transfer window. Currently playing for Inter Milan, Sneijder has been on Manchester United’s radar since 2010. Tipped as someone who could fill the void when Paul Scholes leaves at the end of the season, he is a player of immense flair and play-making ability.
Pros—The Dutchman is the type of player that makes it hard for spectators and opposition players alike to find a weakness in the midfielder’s armoury. Sneijder can play with both feet, create chances game after game and has tremendous accuracy when placed in front of goal. He is clinical, quick and notoriously hard-working. With regards to Manchester United, Wesley Sneijder may in fact be perfect.
United’s midfield has been identified as a problem area in recent years. United have relied on Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes’ imagination and creativity for the last three years, two men who face retirement sooner rather than later. Simultaneously, Darren Fletcher has faced recurring bouts of ulcerative colitis, leaving United with a permanently weakened midfield. If United sign Wesley Sneijder many of their problems will disappear. They will have a goal-scoring central midfielder, someone capable of inspiring the players around him and, more importantly, Paul Scholes will be allowed to retire in peace.
Cons—With so much hype surrounding Sneijder one would wonder why he hasn’t signed yet. It may be down to a number of reasons. Milan are reluctant to lose Sneijder as he is under contract until 2015, putting them in the driving seat with the potential to wait as long as they want before selling. Sneijder is valued at a high price with a forecast minimum value of £30m, making him a steep purchase. In addition to this is the fact that his wage demands are said to be between £200,000 and £250,000 per week. This could result in Ferguson and his American counterparts deciding that to purchase Sneijder in the January transfer window would be too big a splurge mid-season.