Sir Alex Ferguson may have revealed his hand in January's transfer market ahead of Saturday's Manchester United match against Stoke City. In his program notes, Sir Alex admitted that he may have made a mistake in letting Ryan Shawcross leave Manchester United to join the Potters in 2008. This is what the United manager had to say about the defender who began his football career with the Old Trafford outfit (quote via guardian.co.uk):
I was delighted to see him [Shawcross] called up for the England squad because he is a quality player I have wished – particularly of late – was still at Old Trafford.
Beginning of Youth Career at Manchester United
Shawcross began his career in 2002 with the Manchester United youth team. He graduated to the United reserves in 2006 and made two appearances for the club in the League Cup. For part of that season, he enjoyed a loan spell at Royal Antwerp. In 2007, he was sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. He later joined the Potters permanently in 2008.
While explaining his decision to let Shawcross leave, Sir Alex mentioned the strong reserves lineup in central defence at that time. Among the players who were competing for places at centre-back were Jonny Evans, Gerard Piqué, Craig Cathcart and Paul McShane. In addition, the pair of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were at their peak then with others like John O'Shea and Wes Brown as backup.
Eventually, it was determined that Shawcross was surplus to the requirements at Old Trafford, and he was sold to Stoke. However, if rumors are to be believed, Ferguson introduced a buy-back clause in the contract during Shawcross' sale, leaving United in pole position to sign him in case Stoke decided to cash in on their prized asset.
Emergence as a Reliable Defender
At Stoke City, Shawcross has emerged as one of the most reliable centre-backs around. He is currently in his sixth season for Stoke (including the season on loan) and has made 208 appearances for the club. Standing at 6'3", Shawcross displays a style similar to that of the current United captain, Nemanja Vidic.
Shawcross has established himself as a no-nonsense defender who takes opposition goals as a personal affront to himself and his team. His presence and command in the air also reinforces the Vidic comparisons. His aggressiveness in the air makes him a goal threat from set pieces as well, as evidenced by his 18 goals for Stoke.
Speculation of a Return to United
Rumors linking Shawcross with a move back to Manchester United have surfaced on and off over the last few months. However, the rumors have lately intensified in view of the injury crisis plaguing the United defence.
Nemanja Vidic has suffered a torrid season and a half with regards to injury, while Rio Ferdinand can no longer be relied on to play at the highest level day in, day out without making an odd mistake or breaking down with injury. In addition, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have also experienced their fair share of injury problems. While Jonny Evans has improved dramatically over the last year and a half, he still has his unreliable moments. As a result, a defence that looks like the best in the league on paper is no longer the same solid and reliable force.
Shawcross' signing will definitely be a needed boost to the injury-ravaged Manchester United defence. One of the most noticeable characteristics of his time at Stoke is the consistency in his appearances and his tendency to remain healthy.
In addition, having come through the United youth setup and with experience in the Premier League, Shawcross knows the club and would easily integrate into the first team. At age 25, he also has many years in the professional game left in front of him and fits perfectly into the profile of youngish talented players United try to buy.
Of course, it is a different matter that Tony Pulis might not want to sell unless he gets a sufficiently high bid. There are also issues with interest from other clubs such as Tottenham. However, it seems like this story has a long way to go before coming to conclusion. Expect more speculation and rumors in this space from now till the end of the January transfer window!