Manchester United: Champions League Winners
The 2011/12 campaign looks primed to be an extraordinary one, even by Manchester United's recent history. The club will experience even more change and challenge...not just because Sir Alex is building yet another dynasty.
Here we make several bold predictions for what might happen—not just on the football field, but in the club's wider development. Some of these changes could dramatically reshape United's future.
Manchester United keeper Anders Lindegaard
Not difficult this one. While it's much too early to write off David de Gea (despite the best efforts of the media), Lindegaard has done nothing wrong since he joined Manchester United.
He has had an excellent preseason. His play has been confident; he commands his penalty area and it is clear his defenders trust him.
He is 27 and, although previously playing in the Norwegian League, at just £3.5 million, looks just as much a steal as Vorm does at Swansea City.
He is a "safe pair of hands", is modest and unassuming (unlike Tomasz Kuszczak) and has made it clear he's ready to step up as number one.
However, the main reason he will get the jersey more often than not over the next few months, is to allow the United physios time to get De Gea bulked up for the Premiership; as they did with Chicharito last year and Cristiano Ronaldo before.
David De Gea; Manchester United and Spain
But not before the end of the season.
Why would he be sold? A number of reasons:
He'll be homesick. He speaks almost no English and there is no other Spanish-speaking player at the club. Eric Steele, the United goalkeeping coach, is learning Spanish so that he can communicate with "the best young keeper in the world." And that's what he is, according to a mass of authoritative football experts and his peers. Iker Casillas has been quoted that "one day he'll pension us all off".
He won't make it quick enough in the Premiership. That doesn't mean he won't try his hardest and he'll get the very best of Sir Alex's renowned fatherly support. But in his last year, Edwin van der Saar made only a couple of obvious mistakes. Look at the drubbing that Almunia, Gomez and others have taken. It is possible that De Gea will come through like Pepe Reina, who also had a couple of slip-ups.
He will be targeted at every set-piece and, like Petr Cech, after his jaw was broken, will lose his nerve for a time.
He's got a Spanish pop-singer girlfriend and Manchester is nothing like Madrid.
Real Madrid will make a bid for him to replace Iker Casillas, who will move in the opposite direction. There is no way Atletico would ever have sold him direct to their arch rivals. Fergie's no mug. If the lad doesn't work out, United will get their money back when he returns to the city of his birth.
Paul Pogba, Manchester United
Make no mistake about it. This lad is the new Patrick Viera...and more.
He's a bit leggy still, but he is tall, well-built and filling out fast. He is strong in the tackle, is genuinely two-footed and is an all-round finisher. He has flair, vision, skill, everything.
Sir Alex Ferguson rates him very highly and wanted to take him on the preseason to the US, but there were no places left.
If United don't sign any more midfielders, Pogba will get his chance. He very likely will anyhow if the manager follows his usual policy of blooding youth in the Cup matches.
Sometimes players don't step up to the mark when given their big chance. Tom Cleverley did. Paul Pogba will...the next big thing...
Ravel Morrison, Manchester United
Ravel Morrison has talent to burn. He and Paul Pogba are two of the finest young players Manchester United have ever produced. But that's where the similarities end.
Pogba is a well-brought up, mature, well-adjusted young man. His signing for United was totally supported by his parents as he left his native France as a 15-year-old.
Morrison is a liability—especially to himself. He has been in court twice already, has a criminal record and has stretched the patience of everyone at Old Trafford. He may even be in "the last chance saloon."
And yet he is potentially the most talented English footballer of his generation. It's hard to understand why footballing geniuses like Paul Gascoigne and George Best self-destruct. Morrison is at the very best place for the support that he needs, but he must meet the club more than half way to repay the damage done in the past.
He missed out on the US trip because he couldn't get a US visa, following his eventful past.
Ravel Morrison ought to have just as much chance as Paul Pogba of breaking into the first team this year. His future is in his own hands. If he has turned the corner, he could be a fixture for England at the next World Cup.
Or, he could drift into oblivion...
Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
Wayne Rooney looks like a new man...and it's not just the hair transplant.
He looks the slimmest he's been for years and as sharp as a tack. He was the driving force at the end of last season and seems to be looking to the sky a lot more, so maybe some of Chicharito's commitment has rubbed off on him. Here's hoping he's a reformed character. He's rededicated himself to the United cause.
In the season after Cristiano left, Rooney carried United with his 34 goals. He could better that this term, with the service he'll get from Ashley Young added to Valencia and Nani.
Last season Dimitar Berbatov shared the golden boot with Carlos Tevez on 20 goals. Rooney will beat that and the only threats to him winning it are likely to be Sergio Aguero and his own teammate Chicharito.
Manchester United, EPL, Champions League
In 2010/11 Manchester United won the EPL and were losing finalists in the Champions League.
While they have failed to crack Barcelona in two recent finals, Inter Milan managed it in 2010 with a worse squad than United had last year. While Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Saar have retired, Sir Alex has added three talented young signings and if he can fill the midfield hole, he will have arguably his best young first team squad for a generation.
The opening match against West Brom suggested that United will attack with pace, flair and close passing, very similar to Barcelona and a style that was hugely successful in the preseason US tour—including beating Barcelona.
United have a big enough squad to last 70 matches or more and any team winning the Champions League need an element of fortune, so why shouldn't they win the two big ones this season?
Manchester United Manager, Sir Alex Ferguson
No he's not going to "pop his clogs."
But just supposing he won a 20th title and a fourth European Championship? What would be left to achieve? And especially if he did it with a new young squad again.
He can't go on forever and for evryone's sake it would be better if he went out at the top than to have an unplanned exit.
What would be more relevant would be if Manchester City emerged as a genuine long term threat to United's dominance—or worse still finished above them. Would Sir Alex have the energy to take on a new 'powerhouse' for what could be several years? Or is that a task he would gladly hand to a younger talented manager?
If he did retire, who would succeed him? Sir Alex has always been grateful for the support of Sir Matt Busby, who let him be his own man but was there when needed. Fergie could be the same mentor for a new manager with a huge act to follow.
Who could possibly follow the most successful British football manager ever? Here are some of the credentials:
Unquestioned managerial talent; a successful track record of winning national and European titles; the ability to develop young talent; a commitment to attacking football; the personal characteristics to fit the Manchester United "mould"; a strong, single-minded, self-motivated individual who is modest in his manner but is his own man.
One man fits these criteria perfectly and is hugely admired by Sir Alex, especially how his team play football. No, it's not Jose Mourinho, it's Pep Guardiola.
Pep has already indicated he will look for a fresh challenge some time in the future. After Barcelona, what else could match up. They might be the best team in world football, but they are by no means the best known or biggest club. And there's no way he could go to Real Madrid.
So why not the "chosen one"—Jose Mourinho? He's too loud and controversial. His football is too defensive and he doesn't stay long enough at any one club.
There are very few managers who are big, strong and successful enough to pick up where Sir Alex leaves off. Pep Guardiola ticks all the boxes. He knows how to win with style while building a new generation and that's the United way.
Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs
In a recent interview, Sir Alex referred to five players over 30 leaving Manchester United. These were: Edwin van der Saar; Paul Scholes; Gary Neville; Wes Brown; and John O'Shea. The latter two were deemed surplus to requirements, with the arrival of Phil Jones and the maturity of the Da Silva twins.
Maybe Sir Alex wishes he still had "Sheasy" at his disposal after last week's injuries?
He has always been good at blending youth with experience. The most senior professionals now are: Ryan Giggs (37); Rio Ferdinand (32); Michael Owen (31); Patrice Evra (30); Michael Carrick (30); Ji Sung Park (30); Dimitar Berbatov (30); and Nemanja Vidic (29). That's two-thirds of a possible First Eleven.
Clearly, he could not have afforded for much of this experience to leave last year as well, but United have always been adept at getting value towards the end of a player's career. In 2011/12, theyl may let go of several of these players, with not all replacements coming from home-grown talent. This is probably one reason why Wesley Sneijder would be pivotal at 27 if he were signed.
While Vidic and Evra appear to have committed the rest of their careers, it seems likely that Giggs and Ferdinand will be pensioned off this year.
Rio Ferdinand is the most problematic. At 32 his body is failing him and there is an opportunity for one of the young guns to stake a claim for a first choice central defensive spot. Or, as we've speculated elsewhere, Gary Cahill would be a ready-made experienced replacement at 25. Rio's hamstring injury must raise a question in the manager's mind whether now is the time to replace him permanently.
As for Ryan Giggs, while Sir Alex has said he can play on as long as he wants, the recent revelations about the sordid private life of a so-called "model professional" will have shocked the United hierarchy to the core. Ferguson may already have had the 'one more year son' conversation and, with Young, Welbeck, Cleverley and Pogba now at his disposal, may call on the Welsh Wizard less than before.
Fans Protest Banner at Old Trafford
It could not even be said there was a love-hate relationship between Manchester United's fans and the Glazers. While a growing number think it's all an irrelevant sideshow, many fans are still unhappy.
In commercial terms, their ownership has transformed the financial fortunes of the club. Income in 2011/12 will likely top £300m, meaning United will have no trouble meeting UEFA's Financial Fair Play criteria. The most penal debt has been paid down; the club is profitable; and there is still money in the transfer fund even after the recent £50m splurge, if Sir Alex wants it.
While the "Red Knights" and MUST tried to force the Glazers into selling out, this was clearly never an option. Now, both the owners and the club seem on the verge of fulfilling their awesome potential.
In April 2011, Forbes magazine said Manchester United is the world's most valuable sports club, at an estimated £1.165 billion. Some may have dismissed that suggestion, with £475 million debt still on the books. If the Glazers have their way, however, it may soon be official.
This week, Bloomberg, Reuters, the FT and others carried the story of United's prospective float on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The plan is apparently to sell up to 25 percent of the shares at a price which would value the club at $4 billion, or £2.5 billion. That would put to rest any arguments about which is the biggest soccer or sports club, irrespective of Middle East $billions.
And how might the cash be spent? Paying down the debt is obvious, but a likely scenario would be to complete the stadium development by filling in the South Stand and taking capacity to 90,000. The juggernaut rumbles on.