“For me it's all about winning trophies."
That was the reason Wayne Rooney gave for his intended departure from Old Trafford. He did not believe that Manchester United Football Club, winners of 18 League Titles, 3 European Cups, 11 FA Cups, and numerous other trophies, could still compete for silverware in the future.
Without delving into the legitimacy of Rooney’s claims, or the counter-claims of greed and ignorance, there was still the protestation that United could no longer challenge at the very highest level and satisfy the ambitions of a young, talented striker.
Rooney sought assurances that his club could still attract top players to join their ranks, and effectively argued that the current crop of players were not talented enough to bring future success to Old Trafford.
His final decision to stay, he claims, was based upon those assurances being met; one would assume, therefore, that Sir Alex Ferguson preparing to splash the cash on big-name players in a bid to not only satisfy his star player, but also to cement the future of the club and help them continue to challenge for every available trophy.
This week, a 3-2 win over Wolves in the League Cup went some way to challenge the assertion that United must spend to remain competitive in English football.
A youthful United side took to the field on Tuesday night to face opposition who pose a tough test to first-choice Premiership players, meaning that the young Red Devils had a challenge on their hands
Just three days earlier Wolves had succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, against league leaders, and current champions, Chelsea.
However, the visitors’ performance earned them the accolades of various football pundits, who argued that were it not for an excellent performance from Chelsea keeper, Petr Cech, then the result could have been very different.
Wolves can mix it with the best of them. They are physical, tough to break down, and have a squad more than capable of playing Premiership football. For a United side that included a number of reserve players, a win against Wolves would be a very good win.
At it proved to be just that, at Ferguson’s side, with an average age of just 23, came through a difficult test to progress to the quarter finals of the cup.
Ferguson used the more experienced Wes Brown, Michael Carrick and Park Ji-Sung, to revive their match fitness, but the oldest amongst the other starters was Darron Gibson, who turned just 23 on Monday.
The bench features more youth; alongside 35 year-old Gary Neville. The other outfield substitutes had an average age of just 19.
The manager has always seen the League Cup as an opportunity to give experience to the younger members of the squad, and Ferguson has said in the past that this will not change.
He sees the competition as an excellent chance for United’s youth to enjoy game-time and this has in the past resulted in embarrassments; memorable defeats at York and Southend spring to mind, as well as the home defeat by Coventry just three years ago.
However, the win over Wolves showed that the future of Old Trafford is bright and that they are capable of beating Premiership opposition. Not forgetting the current crop of talent in the squad that was not featured on Tuesday and with the inevitable future arrivals (whoever they may be), suddenly the future does not look so bleak.
Ferguson believes that there is enough talent in the squad to compete for honours in the future and the quality in show Tuesday night cemented this position.
Having spent around £20 million in the summer, the boss was rewarded with all three of his new signings playing an important part in Tuesday’s contest.
Chris Smalling looked assured on defense and may well be groomed to replace Rio Ferdinand considering his style and poise. One can draw some similarities between the two players and Ferdinand can act as an excellent tutor for the youngster to help him continue his rise to prominence.
Meanwhile, Michael Owen admitted his similarities to £7m summer signing, Javier Hernandez. The Mexican striker has made an immediate impact at United, usurping Owen and Macheda in the pecking order and replacing the injured Rooney in the starting line-up.
Hernandez is a born finisher, and bares a strong resemblance to a young Michael Owen in terms of playing style. He is a goalscorer, and Owen’s future at Old Trafford is now in doubt with his injury problems, and contract expiring at the end of June.
The diminutive Mexican has scored 6 goals in 11 appearances for United, including both goals in United’s 2-1 win at Stoke and the match-winning strike against Wolves. The winner at Old Trafford came having been on the field for just eight minutes, and Hernandez perfectly demonstrated his prowess in front of goal, making space for himself with an excellent run, before calmly turning a defender and slotting home.
Ferguson’s final signing was the most surprising. His £7m outlay on the unknown Bébé, who had only ever played competitive football in Portugal’s third division, Ferguson admitted he had taken a risk, having never seen the 20 year-old play.
However, the new boy was excellent against Wolves and will prove quite a handful for opposition defences if this is anything to go by. He is strong, quick and good on the ball. Obviously he is still a raw talent, and as a result will make mistakes, but there is no better place for him to learn than Old Trafford, and his hard-working attitude will help him improve and fulfill his potential.
The news that Real Madrid was planning to move for Bébé’s services before United stepped in, demonstrates that he has great potential.
If he can realize that potential, then Ferguson has uncovered a gem.
Other young talents at Old Trafford include the da Silva twins, Fabio and Rafael. Left and right backs respectively; the twins are seen as great future prospects, and can also play further up the field. Rafael is billed as the natural replacement to Gary Neville, while Fabio will face a harder task usurping Patrice Evra at left back, but may see game time if he, or Evra, play on the wing.
Magnus Eikrem, the Reserve Team Captain, was on the bench Tuesday night, but failed to see any game time. However, he is a very talented playmaker, with many arguing that he is in a similar mold to Arsenal captain, Cesc Fabregas. While he may not have developed as quickly as Fabregas, it is a glowing reference all the same and one which highlights the hopes that the coaching staff have for Eikrem.
Tom Cleverley, on loan at Wigan, is also likely to return in January and he will see first-team football. Ferguson is a huge fan of the young Englishman and he is seen as a future superstar at Old Trafford. As a result of his good performances at Wigan, Ferguson is planning to cut short his loan spell in January, and allow him to develop in the United fold.
Gabriel Obertan is beginning to see more opportunities in Antonio Valencia’s absence, and Federico Macheda has made several starts already this season. Danny Welbeck is on loan at Sunderland for the season, but all three could have bright futures at Old Trafford.
One very intriguing prospect is the young English winger, Ravel Morrison. The 17-year-old came on as an injury time substitute on Tuesday, and despite not touching the ball, he is seen as one of the top prospects to come through the ranks at United. Whether Morrison can become the superstar that United hope he will be is unclear. However, he is supremely gifted and may see more game time in the next round of the cup, or even potentially in the group stages of the Champions League.
All these talents are available to Ferguson and most will still be available to his eventual replacement. Many of them featured in a cup win over Premier League opposition, although none are even close to fulfilling their potential yet. If they can begin to achieve this, then United will be formidable opponents for the next ten years.
This does not even take into account the senior players who have plenty more years in them. Vidic, Evra, and Berbatov will likely play for another five years at least. Darren Fletcher is 26, Rooney is 25, with nearly 200 United appearances to his name already; Nani is 23 and Anderson just 22.
All could play an important part in United’s future, and alongside the older, more experienced players and with the youthful talent that is now breaking through, Manchester United will continue to compete at the highest level.
Fans’ forecasts of doom and gloom are too pessimistic. Ferguson has rebuilt his team time and time again at Old Trafford and every outcome has been successful. Why should anybody bet against him doing the same now?
Providing a suitable replacement can be found for Edwin van der Sar, then there are few reasons for concern in the red half of Manchester. Rooney’s previous assertion that big-name players may no longer be attracted to Old Trafford can be cast aside. As Wesley Sneijder mentioned in the summer, no players would ever rule out a move to Manchester United as the name is synonymous with success and silverware.
The team is rebuilding nicely, with a good mix of experience and youth. Giggs, Scholes, Neville and van der Sar remain on the scene to help improve the younger talents. Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra still have plenty of time left, and can groom their eventual successors too.
Manchester United are still unbeaten in the Premiership. They top their group in the Champions League and are into the quarterfinals of the League Cup. Lest us forget that an under-strength United team defeated an almost full-strength Chelsea side in the Community Shield in August. Then, the press were tipping the side for greatness; now, following a couple of draws in the league, they are the very people who are proving to be United’s biggest detractors.
Very little has changed at Old Trafford since August. If anything, the resolution of Wayne Rooney’s future has settled the nerves even further. With the talent available to Ferguson, the Red Devils will continue to succeed.
What Rooney seemed to forget in his ill-advised statement to the press, is that it is not just Wayne Rooney for whom “it’s all about winning trophies”. Sir Alex Ferguson listed his achievements as United boss at a press conference before Rooney’s decision to stay and it really is quite a resumé.
He has a winning mentality which he instills in all the players at Manchester United. This winning mentality cannot be brought; it is created from a legacy of success, and is passed down through a club with its rich traditions. Manchester United possess it and the very mention of the name immediately brings their success to mind.
The future of the club will feed off of this and will have that same winning mentality. This is what they have always done, and it is what they will continue to do.
For Manchester United, “it’s all about winning trophies."