And so, another defeat for Manchester United at the weekend. And not just any defeat. It was defeat in the kind of match previous seasons would have seen them pick off with ease. Significantly, it was the kind of defeat that highlighted a number of ongoing problems. Problems which no amount of brushing under the carpet or blind faith in Sir Alex is going to solve.
Firstly, the United midfield lacks pace, imagination and inspiration. Squeezing season after season out of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes is no solution for a club with a burning yearly ambition to conquer Europe.
Michael Carrick is the intermittently sparking firework we’re yearly warned not to return to once lit. Meanwhile, Ashley Young’s performances could make both Jekyll and Hyde feel they were balanced, unflappable individuals.
So, I’d contend it’s time for a genuine, aggressive pursuit of targets in the January window. So, who?
A move for the Dutchman was heavily touted last summer (per The Telegraph). Now it’s increasingly pressing.
Sneijder’s mercurial talent was showcased best to the world during Inter’s treble-winning season of 2009-10, when he pulled all the telling strings of the Mourinho managerial choreography.
However, since that manager’s departure, he’s looked a player in need of a new challenge. A controversial move to Inter’s co-San Siro tenants Milan was even speculated (per goal.com) before the first United link waxed and waned.
Fans and pundits alike have salivated over United’s new Rooney/Van Persie axis. Just imagine then how turbo-charged the push for honours could become if RVP’s fellow countryman was working behind that duo, fashioning the artillery for them to fire!
Let’s move to the other end of the pitch for another recommended target.
Upon any non-partisan examination, United’s defence needs close examination.
Rio Ferdinand’s distinguished career at the highest level has entered its final furlong. While still authoritative, issues of pace and judgement have more than once been exposed. Centre-back partner Nemanja Vidic is meanwhile more frequently injured than fit.
Johnny Evans could reasonably be bracketed with the likes of Wes Brown and John O’Shea, who were allowed to depart to Sunderland, while the frequently pundit-discussed accession of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, etc. has yet to fully occur.
A move for Hangeland—the American-born Norwegian centre-back—may not immediately chime. However, since his arrival at Fulham in January 2008, he’s regularly helped the Cottagers to one of the best defensive records outside the elite six or so teams in the EPL. He’s also a formidable presence at attacking set pieces, with a number of goals to his name.
At 31, his age may raise some eyebrows, but he’s extremely fit by defenders' standards, rarely misses a game and is a defender no front man ever enjoys playing against. On a two- or three-year deal, Hangeland could immediately plant a much-needed flagpole of consistency and reliability in the United back line.
On the litmus test of how many other EPL teams would like him in their lineup, this one works on so many fronts. Finally, returning to midfield, suggested target….
Perhaps going under the radar of conventional transfer targets, Lazio’s Brazilian midfielder comes with something of a “total package” label attached. Born in, and having received his grounding in Sao Paulo, Hernanes has an innate ability to boss any game from central midfield.
His slight build, a la Chelsea’s Oscar, belies the power and dynamism he brings to any game. Anyone viewing Serie A will have seen how deceptively two-footed he can be. If he plays, any game will circulate around him, with his vision and mobility a huge asset at both ends of the pitch.
It’s likely a window raid would cost United significantly less than the £36 million that’s been asked (per the Daily Mail) for another target, James Rodriguez of Porto.
In addition his five goals in 11 Lazio games is a very tempting added asset. For a player at the prime age of 27, United should certainly consider a trip east for their New Year shopping.
One of these three steps to Heaven is needed. Now.