Why Manchester United Must Address Midfield in Final Week of Transfer Window

Paul AnsorgeFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: Michael Carrick of Manchester United in action during a training session ahead of their Champions League Group A match against Shakhtar Donetsk at their Carrington Training Complex on October 01, 2013 in Manchester, England (Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images)
Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Manchester United's purchase of Juan Mata is amongst the most exciting signings I can remember as a United fan. It immediately stands alongside the arrivals of Eric Cantona, Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie as a signing which feels as if it is almost guaranteed to have a definitive impact.

However, whilst there are many (many, many) wonderful things about Mata's arrival, it is parallel to the acquisition of Van Persie in that it is an expensive, world-class signing of a player in a position where we are not short of options.

Juan's licking his lips at the prospect of being a red.
Juan's licking his lips at the prospect of being a red.Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Mata is an upgrade on the existing options, just as Van Persie was, but he does not address the huge, clear, ongoing, apparently never-ending problem with the bit in the middle of the pitch.

The simple footballing truth is that United are still suffering from have never replaced Roy Keane.

It has got to the point where we would have to need to replace his replacement, had he been replaced. With that in mind, it might seem ludicrous to hark back to a player who left the club almost a full decade ago, but it is not.

In spite of the vast success United have achieved in the interim, a Champions League and a full five league titles, a quarter of all the league titles United have ever won, if Sir Alex Ferguson had been able to deploy a functioning clone of Roy Keane circa 1999, it is hard to argue there would not have been even more success.

United have occasionally fallen short at key moments. Would a team with Roy Keane in it have thrown away a 4-2 lead against Everton in 2012? Would Keane have allowed heads to drop as dramatically as they did in the wake of the dismissal of Nani in the clash with Real Madrid in last season's Champions League?

These are hypothetical questions, of course, but it is hard to argue that United are a team replete with leaders, and especially not in the centre of the park, where football teams need them the most. 

The final—proper—actual—definite—retirement of Paul Scholes (as it should officially be known) means that United now have to replace both the great midfielders of the Ferguson era. The mistake of never finding a suitable replacement for Keane cannot afford to be repeated with Scholes.

Carrick needs help
Carrick needs helpClive Mason/Getty Images

Michael Carrick has many fine qualities as a player, but he cannot do it on his own. He may be highly respected by his fellow professionals, but it is possible to count on both hands the number of times he has grabbed a game by the scruff of the neck and made a decisive impact.

Darren Fletcher is a fine player, but the impact of his long battle with serious illness will mean he is not likely able to play every game. 

Marouane Fellaini's early United career has been unimpressive, but given the long lay off from an injury which began as he was coming to terms with the brightness of the Old Trafford spotlight, it is perhaps unfair to judge his long-term potential as a United midfielder. However, the early signs are not exactly full of promise.

United outnumbered in midfield. Again.
United outnumbered in midfield. Again.Michael Regan/Getty Images

Tom Cleverley has a slightly unfairly poor reputation amongst United fans, quick to get on his back for his perceived weaknesses as a player, less quick to acknowledge his strengths. However, in spite of the fact that he does have merits as a player, he is not the “new Paul Scholes” in anyone's estimation.

With the departure of Anderson, United are short in numbers as well as quality. For David Moyes to get the best out of his wonderful creative, attacking options he has to provide a base for them to build on. 

In order to manage the transition to a new era at the heart of United's defense, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans will need more protection than Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic did in their prime. 

For this to happen, something needs to improve. And to paraphrase Bill Clinton: It's the midfield, stupid.