Manchester United and the Transfer Carousel
Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, loves it when a new player comes in to the club.
We immediately jump to the Wikipedia page and check all newspapers for a little editorial on the player by a person of repute. We want to see how and where they will fit into our favourite team and what new kinds of talent and skill they'd bring.
At a club like Manchester United, almost every single world class player has been linked with the club. Alan Shearer, Roberto Baggio, Patrick Kluivert and many more from the past, to Alexis Sanchez, Riccardo Montolivo, Claudio Marchisio and Samir Nasri in the present.
So who do Manchester United really need right now? Rumours never die and neither do false news stories which can spread rapidly. Let's not forget, Man Utd has a club policy of not announcing the players who they're keen on signing.
Here's a peek into some of the players who are good enough to be playing at a club like Manchester United, and the club should definitely buy them.
What About the Academy?
This is a very good question. When there are wonderful lads coming out of the Manchester United Academy and the U-18 side, the question of a transfer usually sounds silly. However, we need to confront some hard facts.
It's been quite a while since the academy produced some very good players, and by very good I mean world-class. The last were David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
After them came Wes Brown, John O'Shea and Darren Fletcher. No offense to the latter three, but despite being quite good in their positions, they're not exactly world beaters.
At a point in time, the Manchester United academy was a conveyor belt of talent, producing players like Mark Hughes, Norman Whiteside, Duncan Edwards and so on. These were good players scouted and developed into amazing talents.
It's 2011, and Man Utd secured the FA Youth Cup with their outstanding performers being Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison, William Keane and Ryan Tunnicliffe. Credit should also go to Ezekiel Fryers and Michael Keane, but it remains to be seen how many of them are good enough to play in the Premier League.
After making the cut in the U-18 side they're upped to the reserves, and if they're good enough in the reserves they get their chance in the first-team. How many of them from the current youngsters crop can make it? Time will tell.
Some of the tags which David de Gea was labelled with were "£18.6 million", "world's second most expensive 'keeper".
After his first match, the knives were already sharpening. Even after the penalty save against Arsenal, critics were still going for his throat. It was only at Stoke City that he managed to build his reputation, and at Anfield he showed what he was made of.
Goals win you games, but defenders and goalkeepers win you championships. When a goalkeeper helps you get a point when you would have usually gotten none, rest assured he's the man for the job.
While I do agree he's a very good keeper, he still has a bit to prove before he becomes world-class. His shift between the sticks at Anfield was perhaps his best till date, and his performance at Stoke City was also a remarkable one.
The fact is, goalkeepers never get the credit for the saves they make. From pundits to analysts, the only words in their mouths are—"How could he have missed a sitter like that?". He's shown his pedigree, and Manchester United have nothing to worry about.
Also add Anders Lindegaard, an able No. 2, with Ben Amos making the goalkeeping department secure for years to come at Old Trafford.
Defence: Full Backs
I'll be dividing the defence into two categories, full backs and centre backs.
With the void left by John O'Shea, Wes Brown and Gary Neville, questions were obviously going to be asked over who will fill the right back berth. The answer was obviously going to be Rafael on the right, with brother Fabio on the left.
However, with Patrice Evra's not-so-good form at the moment, questions have been asked on this regard. The da Silva twins are as good as you'll see when it comes to bombing forward, but some question marks are raised when it comes to the defending aspect in their game.
Ezekiel Fryers has just started playing in the Carling Cup and it's too soon to judge whether he'll make the cut.
In the right back slot, it has been filled by Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Darren Fletcher and Phil Jones, with decent results. However, these three players are not out-and-out full backs, and thus it needs a specialist to take up this role.
If the twins can steer clear of injuries and improve the defensive side of their games, then the slots are theirs for the taking.
Also, there is the young Irishman Michael Keane who also made his senior debut in the match against Aldershot Town.
Would United need any new signings in this part of the team? Not in my book.
Defence: Centre Backs
Injuries to United's first choice centre back pairing of Ferdinand and Vidic, along with Rafael's shoulder surgery, pushed Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Ezekiel Fryers, Michael Carrick and even Dimitar Berbatov into the centre back positions. These have, however, yielded mixed results.
Smalling, Jones and Evans were present for the 8-2 drubbing of Arsenal and also present during the 3-0 win over Tottenham. Jonny Evans, as stated quite often by many critics and pundits, always has a lapse of concentration and a mistake in him. Personally I don't think he's bad at all, but he needs to step up his game.
This is the same Jonny Evans who had a breakthrough season in 2008-09 and is the same lad who was nominated for the PFA Young Player award but missed out to Ashely Young. Critics also argue that the centre forwards would always aim for Nemanja Vidic or someone else who was there and forget about Evans who would successfully clear the ball into touch.
Rio Ferdinand, who was brought in as a 24-year-old from Leeds United, is now 32 and will turn 33 in November. Nemanja Vidic is 30, and despite being one of the best defenders in the league, appears slightly rusty—which saw him red carded against Otelul Galati. He still commands his presence in the box and wins every header that comes his way though.
With Chris Smalling and Phil Jones ever present, the centre back positions seem secure for years to come. Though, with the gradual ageing of Ferdinand and Vidic, I might be tempted to name a replacement for them in the form of, *drum-roll*, Ryan Shawcross.
Usually people would jump for names like Thiago Silva, Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic. Why I've picked him is simple. He's British, so that means no problems with the foreigner rule in any way.
He's used to the rigours of the Premier League, a former Manchester United academy graduate and he also has a buy-back clause in his contract which can be activated by Manchester United any time.
The downside with him would be whether he'd be willing to sit on the bench if the competition for places becomes too much. Questions must also be asked as to whether he'd be able to play against world-class players in the Champions League, putting in the same performances week in and week out. He's been labelled as a "red card waiting to happen", so that gives us a better picture about him.
Verdict—If Ferdinand were to be sold, then Shawcross would be a very shrewd acquisition and also a very good one.
When Sir Alex Ferguson inherited Ron Atkinson's Manchester United, the squad was a brilliant one. Never mind the lack of trophies, there were wonderful players in that team.
It consisted of midfield marvels such as Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside, striker-cum-midfielder Mark "Sparky" Hughes and Gordon Stratchan—it was a wonderful one to watch.
The midfield is a place where Sir Alex has had slightly mixed results. When he's got it right, Paul Scholes and Roy Keane dominated it, and when he didn't get it right sometimes, there were Kleberson and Djemba-Djemba.
Manchester United never really found a like-for-like replacement for Roy Keane, and neither would they find one for Paul Scholes. Rather, they should go for established ones in this regard.
With all due respect to the current midfielders in the team, Michael Carrick is 30 and has received flak for his slightly passive attitude, but he relies more on intelligence than on pumped up running for 90 minutes. Darren Fletcher, too, is a defensive midfielder in some ways and puts in his 100 percent when he's on the pitch.
I'd divide midfielders into three categories (feel free to disagree with me)—defensive or play-breaking midfielders, box-to-box midfielders and play-makers, who can be deep-lying or attacking.
"When Roy Keane played, he'd do the job of two men in midfield as he went about breaking up opposition play and let his more illustrious team-mates do the rest. He wasn't flashy, he was just bloody brilliant at what he used to do." Denis Irwin got it quite correctly when it came to the fiery Irishman.
He was never far away from the ball, and neither was he far away from controversy. Six years after he left Old Trafford, Manchester United haven't found a player who fits his mould entirely.
Michael Carrick can't exactly be called lackadaisical, he rather prefers to play intelligently by anticipation. Darren Fletcher in this regard, pounds on every blade of grass as he plays and makes his presence felt as he stops opposition play forcibly. Even Phil Jones did the same when United went to Anfield.
With United lacking a hard and gritty midfielder, the answer for this one can come from the academy. Ryan Tunnicliffe, who does look a little like Wayne Rooney can provide the answer for this.
Currently on-loan at Peterborough United, he has impressed with The Posh and was also a regular in the U-15 and U-17 setup of the Three Lions. Personally, I would look forward to seeing him rise through the reserves and into the first team. He certainly has the potential to do just that, after being awarded the Jimmy Murphy (Young Player) Award for the 2011 year.
By the time Darren Fletcher will become 30 and beginning to slow down, Ryan Tunnicliffe can take up the mantle. If he doesn't live up to his potential, Phil Jones has also shown that he can fit as a midfielder, as he did during his time at Blackburn.
Verdict—While I am tempted to name players like Yann M'Vila, Jack Rodwell, Blaise Matuidi or even Lass Diarra in this regard, I'd go with Tunnicliffe as he might be worth taking a chance with.
While Anderson has started to show signs of his true potential as a Manchester United player, I would still venture to say that he's not exactly making the most of it.
While I do agree that he has pulled the strings of the Manchester United midfield quite brilliantly in some matches, I would also like to point out that in others, such as the one against Manchester City, he went missing.
He can shield the ball very well, but is yet to perform consistently as a playmaker or as a box-to-box midfielder.
Given Manchester United's current midfield woes, everyone's taking a peek at a January bargain or the purchase of a midfielder who can be a box-to-box player. Names such as Ross Barkley and Jack Rodwell have often been thrown up and all of us wondered whether they'd be Red Devils sooner or later.
Ross Barkley has just started as a regular player for Everton, Jack Rodwell is slightly injury-prone, while Jack Colback is also in his first season at Sunderland.
Verdict—Stick with Anderson. He's been around since 2007 and is United's best bet. Irrespective of the result against Manchester City, he's on the road to becoming a very good player.
Ever since the retirement of Paul Scholes, questions have been asked over who will be responsible for the chances created in the final third.
Tom Cleverley has spent two important periods on loan, the first at Watford and the second at Wigan Athletic—where he greatly impressed manager Roberto Martinez.
Having received plaudits for his performances in the first matches he played before his unfortunate injury against Bolton, he returned against Aldershot Town where he made his presence felt with his quick one-touch two-touch passing.
Against Everton, as well, was a good performance, where he performed his role quite well. But in instances where Cleverley is injured or has an off day, questions will be asked.
In this regard, there's the promising Paul Pogba who was refused to be sent out on loan by Sir Alex and Oliver Norwood who is currently loaned out to Scunthorpe United.
Were more players in this regard to be brought, it might serve to discourage the youngsters and might send them elsewhere. However, there is a need for a genuine playmaker in this Manchester United side.
Paul Pogba needs to spend more time with the reserves before he can break into the regular first team. Oliver Norwood has managed to impress Paul Scholes, as well as The Iron's manager Alan Knill.
With budding players such as these, and also names being thrown up to add a bit of spice, does Manchester United need another midfielder who can play centrally? Between Javi Martinez from Athletic Bilbao and Mateo Kovacic from Dinamo Zagreb, I'd pick the latter, though narrowly.
Pros—Scouts who have seen this youngster play for Dinamo Zagreb have not been disappointed.
Still just 17, he's played eight times this season for Dinamo Zagreb in the PRVA HNL (Croatian First Division), and scored three goals. He's also the youngest goal scorer in the PRVA HNL too, which says quite a bit for a league which produces players like Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar.
If one ever needs to wonder about pressure, then the derby of Dinamo Zagreb vs Hajduk Split makes Man Utd vs Liverpool look like a schoolboy's kick-about. Were he to don the United shirt, he might etch his name in history alongside that of Paul Scholes.
Likened to Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic has already earned rave reviews from some of the scouts and coaches in Croatia, even likening him to Robert Prosinecki. His age makes him an ideal target for Manchester United who usually buy young players and in-turn develop them, and he might be seen as an ideal ball-carrying playmaker like Luka Modric.
Cons—A relative unknown with no Premier League appearances, the move might in some ways hinder him than help his growth as a footballer. There are various examples of promising youngsters heading abroad to big clubs, only to never fulfill their potential.
Also, it remains to be seen whether he would be able to adjust to the pace and physicality of the Premier League. There also remains to be seen as to what would happen to Paul Pogba and Oliver Norwood were he to arrive.
Verdict—Sign him. With Arsenal and Juventus closing in on the player, a huge offer on the table can sweep away competitors for his signature. He's also openly stated his desire to move to England more than Italy, were he to leave his homeland.
A figure of anywhere close to 10 million Euros would be ideal to chase away competition and land his signature.
Javi Martinez is seen something similar to Xabi Alonso and has also played with the Spain U-21, has a World Cup winner's medal as well, but I'd still go with Kovacic, as he'd provide a very different aspect to United's overall play.
When it comes to wide players, there is no dearth of them at Manchester United. Nani, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Ji Sung Park and Ryan Giggs are all fully established players. Add to these Robbie Brady who is impressing on his loan spell at Hull City, and Ravel Morrison as well, who is being touted as the next big thing to come out of the academy after Ryan Giggs.
However, there is a genuine dearth of a left-footed player who can completely own the left flank, which has been occupied very well by Ashley Young this season, and also at times by Luis Nani. With Giggs becoming more of a part-time player due to his age, and Park turning 30, it is but evident that a few years from now we will see both of them ride off into the sunset.
This would still leave Manchester United with 5 wingers, of which Nani and Young are on the verge of world-class, Valencia is a constant menace for full-backs and also scores the odd goal and provides bag-loads of assists. Morrison and Brady would also fancy their chances at having a crack at first team opportunities.
Names such as Angel di Maria and Kevin de Bruyne have been mooted as replacements once Ryan Giggs retires.
Verdict—Keeping in mind the potential of Ravel Morrison and Robbie Brady, it would be ideal if the two youngsters are slowly introduced to first team action, and Sir Alex Ferguson honestly doesn't need any new wingers anytime soon.
Currently, Manchester United have SEVEN forwards in Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Kiko Macheda and Mame Biram Diouf. Make that eight if Joshua King, who is currently loaned to Borrusia Monchengladbach, is included.
To be honest, Berbatov and Owen look as though either they'll be sold or might ask for a transfer at the end of the season if they don't get more playing time. Both these players are in the last year of their contract and it is highly likely that they both be either at different clubs next season.
There are rumours that Mame Biram Diouf might either be loaned out again or be sold to the highest bidder. Macheda might just be able to fancy his place as a substitute with either Hernandez or Welbeck, as Rooney will be present in the starting 11 almost all the time.
There has been news that United is currently eyeing Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who plies his trade as a forward for Sporting Lisbon. Were I to look at the academy at this point, there is young William Keane who has already received plaudits for his performances in the U18 side from Paul Scholes and has been likened to Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
Verdict—No purchases in this category either. If William Keane was to spend more time with the reserves and go out on loan, he could become an amazing striker. With a keen eye for goal and ability to link up play, he should be slowly allowed to rise. One of the heroes of the Manchester United U18 side which won the FA Youth Cup, Will Keane is one for the future.
So folks, those are my suggestions as to what Manchester United can or should do to strengthen their side. Feel free to add criticisms, comments and suggestions. Cheers!