How Will the "Rooney-Monster" Affect Plans for a New Manchester United Striker?

nigel smithCorrespondent IMay 19, 2010

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 09:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United poses with the Barclays Player of the season award prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on May 9, 2010 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Regular briefings from United’s Carrington bunker suggest that Sir Alex has money in place to bring in a marquee signing this summer.

Chief Executive David Gill’s virile media appearances and the tidbits offered by the manager since the season’s end have set pulses racing.

In turn, sports hacks have pounced with typical zeal to nail down the manager's thoughts in bold headlines.

“Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed he will look to sign two new players this summer, admitting challenging for four trophies had taken its toll on his squad this season,” the Mail newspaper revealed.

No sooner had the newspaper found its true purpose as lining for the cat litter tray than United's most talented and respected players offered their views on where their team needed urgent improvement.

“We can't rely on Wayne as much as we have done this season in terms of goals,” said Ryan Giggs.

Wayne Rooney, whose goals carried United to the brink of glory last season, agreed with his Welsh teammate.

“If we can bring in two big-name players in it would give us a good chance of getting the league back if Chelsea do win it," he told The People newspaper.

"If you look at the team in 1999 that won the treble we had four forwards, all capable of scoring goals.

"Now there is me, Berbatov and Michael Owen. There is Federico Macheda too, but if we can get one more top forward in it would give us the right balance."

Even Dimitar Berbatov, the player with most to fear from a new forward, thought his  arrival was imminent.

"I'm sure the club will buy a new striker," Berbatov admitted earlier this month.

The newspapers now fill the long empty days before the World Cup starts in earnest with reams of fanciful blurb on the players in Fergie's cross-hairs.

Is the 23-year-old £25m-rated hit man Luis Suarez Old Trafford-bound?

Will United swoop if Chelsea set free Nicolas Anelka? Could Benzema, Dzeko or, goodness me, Huntelaar be playing in Red next term?

Who knows! It hardly matters. The media’s constant chatter is good for business and the United brand. It reflects too what is being said in fans fora and phone-ins.

The default wisdom is that a new forward would underline United’s challenge to Double winners Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool and to Spurs and Manchester City, newcomers to the Big Four Premiership party.

The striker’s arrival would dash any hopes of rival teams that United lack a serious approach to winning titles, a charge the club failed to answer last term when Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo left without adequate replacement.

A top quality forward would also demonstrate in the clearest terms that United mean business next year and intend to win back the title.

Rarely has there been such a consensus between players, fans and the media. It would appear that everyone is onside about the need for a new forward. United have the money and now they must spend it!

Not so fast!

While United’s team does need strengthening, Fergie might be more tempted to make changes to his midfield rather than in attack.

A paucity of goals, the ageing of key players and the poor form of others—go and stand in the corner, messrs Carrick and Anderson—make an irresistible case for expensive improvement. 

By contrast, Sir Alex could argue that has every right to expect better from Wayne Rooney paired with one from Owen, Macheda, Diouf, Hernandez, Wellbeck, and Berbatov.

Unlike the critics who see in United’s forward assets nothing but an Old Trafford fairytale —a Theatre of Dreams production of The Giant and the Pygmies —Ferguson is publicly committed to these players. This suggests they will be given time to prove their worth.

A persuasive argument could be made for Macheda, in particular, to be given a shot at a regular first team berth. His reputed love of the ladies and the casino might prevent him from seizing the opportunity but to cast him aside now in favour of a high-price recruit would be to send a chilling signal to Fergie’s other fledglings waiting in reserve.

In any case, how could the manager persuade the Glazer family that it should stump up many millions in transfer fees, agent’s expenses and salary over four years for a new striker when Ferguson has accumulated seven forwards already?

Indeed, the manager can point to United’s improved league goal return last season as reason to doubt the arguments for a new attacker. He might also claim that the advance of Nani and Valencia bodes well for the team’s goal threat next year.

Significantly, Sir Alex might be loathe to tinker with his strike force when it is so closely allied to his preferred tactical formation.

In recent years, United’s more composed performances against the top teams have been achieved when deploying a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formation.

Rooney flowered at the point of United’s attack last season which ended with a career-best goal return for the England star.

Rooney’s form and his 34 goals from the center forward position present the manager with a stark ultimatum: Move me if you dare!

There will be many who will agree that it makes little sense to shift Rooney to a deeper position, or out to the left wing, when he has proved just how devastatingly effective he is as the dynamite in United’s attack?

On the other hand, it is Rooney who is leading calls for the recruitment of a new striker. Would the club dare to resist the deafening clamour for an international calibre forward when it is hoping for the successful renegotiation of Rooney’s contract?

The England striker’s triumphs and the power that he now commands may yet box the manager into the tightest of corners over the coming months.

The Rooney-monster is back with all the pomp of 2005, devouring any notion that he will allow his reputation to be sacrificed easily by moving to a deeper position or to the left flank to accommodate a big name attacker.

Even if Fergie was ready to heed the advice of the media and fans, he might wish to accommodate Rooney’s preference by seeking out  to a creative link man—a 21st century Peter Beardsley rather than a classic No. 9 in the Dzeko mould.

The dilemma confronting Sir Alex is clear but his room for manoeuvre and United’s indebtedness make his likely course of action less obvious.

Will he face down his own players and the massed ranks of the media sports generals and fans, trust his seven attackers and stick with Rooney as United’s center forward, in order to devote his limited transfer budget to more pressing midfield needs?

Or, will Ferguson satisfy the media and fans’ craving and seek out a new forward based on the conclusion that Rooney’s success should not prevent the tactical adjustments needed to make United stronger?

Could he find the player who would allow Rooney to continue in his favoured position or would the new arrival revise the team’s game plan, requiring the United talisman’s redeployment to a new role?

Would this decision later expose weaknesses in central midfield that the manager, deprived of further transfer funds, would find difficult to mask?

These are just some of the many questions which Sir Alex will have to address before the start of the new campaign.

Who would be a football manager?


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