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Manchester United's Young Wingers Factor In Establishing Attacking Balance

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 25:  Gabriel Obertan of Manchester United shoots under pressure from Ibrahim Uzulmez of Besiktas during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Manchester United and Besiktas at Old Trafford on November 25, 2009 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Nathan LoweAnalyst IDecember 23, 2009

The idea that young players with potential should be weened ever-slowly into first team action is a fallacy perpetuated at the highest level.

At Manchester United, Alex Ferguson employs it capriciously. He shields starlets with the requisite skill and panache to balance his asymmetrical side in favor of experienced, "what you see is what you get" players, like Ji-Sung Park or Ryan Giggs.

But when Ronaldo emerged on the scene in 2003, the deliberate growth of his prodigious talent was quickly marginalized when United needed results. Ronaldo started 23 games in his inaugural season.

The situation is not dissimilar to current circumstances at United. With a dearth of creativity in central midfield, compounded by a disinclination to start Berbatov consistently, Ferguson and United suffer from a lack of innovation going forward.

This weakness of unbalance can be assuaged by compensating the creative paucity with the right selection in United's wings.

Giggs' days as a wide player are essentially over, despite perhaps one performance on the wing to the contrary.

Similarly, Park's efficacy as a defensive winger went out the window when Ronaldo left; his back-tracking is no longer required because he is not playing across from, essentially, a third striker in Ronaldo who rarely tracked back against opposing wingers.

However, players who can provide the required natural width aren't getting the same allowances Ronaldo received at the club, despite the Portuguese player having a much higher ceiling; a much greater need for protection.

Gabriel Obertan has started only one game this season for United, despite being the only winger in United's first team capable to dribble past defenders with skill.

Against Wolfsburg, Obertan arrived in the 73rd minute and immediately skinned two defenders before setting up a sitter. In a rare start, Obertan featured against Wolves in United's next match, playing for 70 minutes in a game United comfortably won with their best attacking six.

Zoran Tosic, a natural left-winger, has started all of none, despite being the only natural left-footed attacker in the squad not named Patty Evra—United's best offender this season..

Over many reserve games, and throughout few first-team appearances, Tosic did very little wrong, and looked spritely, eager to pass and play, and willing to take on defenders. Sadly, he wasn't even included in United's Champions League squad this year.

Either player, opposite Antonio Valencia, help provide the needed balance to their sputtering attack. And they could be rotated with each-other to prevent overburden.

They're both young, and surely shouldn't be thrust into first-team starts consistently, or perpetually, like Wayne Rooney, who's featured every game for United this term.

But just because they are young and yet to fill into their bodies, or yet to fulfill their potential, doesn't mean they must be coddled with pussyfeet, especially during a time when attacking can relieve pressure on an ailing defense.

Alex Ferguson has done a lot right in his career, enough to be remembered as one of the greatest managers ever.

But, to think he is above changing, or thinking outside of his carefully constructed box, means he will not continue to evolve as a manager, a condition some of his young wingers are currently suffering, through non-use, as players.

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