Manchester United: Why Sneijder Is Not the Player Sir Alex Needs at Old Trafford
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Wesley Sneijder is undoubtedly a world-class player. At Inter Milan, he was the creative fulcrum for the Italian side's treble-winning season and a driving force in Holland's run to the final of the 2010 World Cup.
For the past two summers, his name has been batted about the gossip columns as the potential successor to Paul Scholes at Old Trafford—a midfield solution to United’s creative gap.
He would offer no such thing, however. Wayne Rooney is United's player 'in the hole', whilst Nani and Ashley Young provide creativity from the flanks, cutting inside. Manchester United's attacking midfield is already well-stocked in mercurial talent and flair. The problem lies further back, in the centre of the park.
In his later years, Scholes dropped deeper within United's formation, becoming the 'Sat-Nav' deep-lying playmaker he was lauded as in his later seasons. He became soccer's equivalent to the quarterback, relying on his vision, passing range and awareness rather running on increasingly tired and worn-out legs.
The ginger prince himself has suggested Tom Cleverley can take on his role of the inspiring schemer in the team's midfield engine room, more akin to the all-action Paul Scholes of the past but sitting behind the attacking line.
When in the team, Cleverley is everywhere, covering Anderson's surges forward, linking up play with short, decisive passing, closing down opponents, and winning back possession. He ticks all the boxes.
Looking at United's midfield without the young Englishman, cruelly snatched away and out of form by injury, they seem pedestrian and tired. Perhaps the player United actually require in the middle is one of those fabled 'box-to-box' midfielders?
It’s strange seeing a Manchester United side so lacking in midfield, considering the mid-pitch dynamos who’ve donned the red shirt over the years.
A ‘midfield general’ is something of a cliché these days, but Roy Keane was the embodiment of such a player. Love him or loathe him for his personality, but as a footballer, he was the ball-playing, playmaking enforcer who set the tone of any match he played in, right at the heart of Manchester United’s engine room.
He was a one-man powerhouse, able to inspire and drive his team to truly great performances, all the while dominating the opposition as both a bloody minded marauder and an intelligent, skilful artisan, able to play some fantastic football.
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Keane was the quintessential box-to-box midfield general, forever leading and driving forwards by passion and example.
In my mind, the only player to come close to replicating his unique combination of ruthless, combative energy and tenacious intelligence since has been Owen Hargreaves—a player able to couple smarts, skill and steel, if not the domineering mentality that Keane possessed.
His absence has been keenly felt for the last three seasons and seeing him defect to City was a bitter pill to swallow.
Sneijder has always been an offensive player, and whilst his passing and ball retention are both fantastic, he lacks the positional discipline, work rate or defensive capabilities to cover United's midfield shortcomings.
He would purely be an expensive and wasteful extra layer of glamour on a team that lacks traction, not pizzazz.
Just look at his lack of bite in Inter's recent loss to Juventus. Tasked with closing down Andrea Pirlo, he only ever approached his duty grudgingly, lacking the enthusiasm and appetite to dominate the opposition in the match's midfield guts.
Sneijder's signature would come at great cost, both in terms of transfer fees and wages, for a player so utterly unnecessary, he would make Berbatov's signing look like the prescription for a life or death drug.
United need someone capable at both ends of the pitch and with the passing expertise and combative tackling approach that can cover and contribute toward the free expression of the more fanciful players in Sir Alex's squad.
Does the answer lie in the inflated transfer market? Jack Rodwell's legend would fit the bill perfectly, but so far, he hasn't quite lived up to the hype built up around him. The solution may lie closer to home.
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Ravel Morrison, like Cleverley before he broke through into the first team, is seen as more of an attacking midfielder, but his brief cameo in the League Cup hinted at a commitment and energy able to operate and power the midfield.
Paul Pogba, too, is touted as a great prospect coming up, but his appearances have so far seemed rather timid and nervous.
Ravel's nonchalant determination to get involved bordered on happy arrogance as he zipped up and down the left wing, cutting inside to attack and defend as required. Whether or not he has the positional sense and discipline to play the role is another matter entirely.
Amongst expensive imports and on-the-vine prospects, let's not forget Darren Fletcher. Coming back from fitness hell, he still doesn't look quite right and is struggling to find his feet and form.
Give the Scotsman time and games, though, and he can hit his personal-best 2009 heights again. At full capacity, Fletcher fits the criteria desired perfectly, with an over-clocking engine, underrated passing game and fanatical desire to fight for the shirt that, at his best, saw him ripping through defenses and attacking threats with equal relish.
Ultimately, United need a street fighting graffiti artist, not some esoteric, ornamental thespian.
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