The manner in which Manchester City pried back a title already won by their rivals, clawing themselves to a win against Q.P.R. with two of the most last gasp goals since that night in Barcelona (come to think of it, poor Bayern), inevitably creates a sense of worry and fear over what the next few seasons hold in store for the red half of Manchester.
With what appears to be an endless supply of oil money, Manchester City look poised to further strengthen their grip on the Premier League and, simultaneously, take Europe by storm. If City’s transfer target rumors are any indication- and I can’t find one reason they shouldn’t be- things are beginning to look pretty bleak for the Red Devils.
Robin Van Persie, Gareth Bale, and, perhaps most spectacularly, Zlatan Ibrahimovich, have all been linked with the Etihad outfit. Aggravating all of this is the ever-growing sense amongst United supporters, and indeed one W. Rooney, that the club no longer has the clout- be it financial or otherwise- to lure the sport’s major stars to Old Trafford.
We’ve heard this all before. We heard this at the start of the transfer window two years ago, right after Cristiano Ronaldo went onto the continent play for Galacticos MkII and Carlos Tevez betrayed all of our collective love and swapped red for blue. We heard it when United failed to sign Wesley Snejder, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale; and we especially heard it when “all” Ferguson was able to scrounge up recently were an over-the-hill Michael Owen, a winger from Wigan, and recently, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Ashley Young. Let’s not forget, somewhere in the middle of all that there was Bebe.
These signings, taken in part with the money spent by the noisy neighbors, signaled a Brave New World, one where City won everything, and United did not. Yet that new world did not happen. It took City four-odd years to finally, by the hairs on Owen Hargreaves’ chinny-chin-chin, finally, win something to justify their 250 million-plus-pound squad. Here is why next season (and the seasons after), hold much promise for United.
The Return of Nemanja
When Marco Streller rolled onto Nemanja Vidic’s right knee in a Champions League match in early December 2011, a string of events was set in motion that would eventually lead to lost games, lost points, and a lost title. The resulting reshuffle saw Michael Carrick at CB and Antonio Valencia deployed at RB in consecutive losses, to Blackburn and Newcastle, respectively.
Surely other injuries caused problems, but few, if any, had as much impact on the fortunes of the team as number 15’s. Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones covered for the big Serb respectably throughout the season, but, as the stands suggest “He comes from Serbia… He’ll ****** murder yer…” There is no discounting the experience and solidity he brings at the back.
Ready to Return from Day One?
At 30, he is closer to the wrong end of a career than we’d like, but he has already suggested he’ll be ready for the beginning of the season. If he is to partner Rio in what could be the former English captain’s swansong, rest assured he will do so with aplomb. The agony of watching from the stands as United fell to Wigan, drew at Everton, and went down at the Etihad at the close of the season will do as motivation for next season.
As I look back on the season, it’s difficult not to wonder… would it have been Nemanja marking Kompany on April 30…?
“He comes from Serbia…”
Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, David De Gea, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez, Jonny Evans, Rafael Da Silva, Tom Cleverley… and even Anderson, all form an U-25 contingent at United strong enough to keep the Old Trafford faithful optimistic about the few next seasons at the club.
With the money made in the Ronaldo-to-Madrid deal, Sir Alex Ferguson had enough cash lying around the boot-room, the lunch-room, and the physio’s room to bring a “proper” transfer to Old Trafford (see Snejder, Modric, et al.) After analyzing the market and concluding there was no real “value” to be had, Fergie settled on kids, youngsters- players light on experience but heavy on potential. This formula seems to have worked in the past for the great Scot, so I found it surprising his spending was questioned so vociferously. This was, after all, a man who had won with kids after he was explicitly told… “You don’t win with” them…
In retrospect, the players currently on staff have performed more than admirably for the club. Hernandez swept through both the Premier League and the Champions League on his debut season. Last season was dampened for the Mexican, initially through injury then competition from another bright young thing in Danny Welbeck. There exists no reason to believe Hernandez will forget how to score goals. Then there’s Danny-boy… The aforementioned young man from Longsight, Manchester forged a near-telepathic connection with Wayne Rooney, prompting Sir Alex to reminisce about Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole.
His 100% Intentional Goal in Euro 2012
After Vidic went down for the count in December, fans and pundits alike wondered who would replace him. In came Jonny Evans, making the CB position his own and playing admirably through the second half of the season, leading this writer to finally agree with Sir Alex Ferguson on the merits of the Northern Irishman. By mid-April, Ferguson had anointed Evans “arguably the best defender in the country.”
At that point in the season, Evans had started 26 games, playing consistently enough to make me question whether J.S. Park’s inclusion, or Evans’ omission, at the Etihad worried me more. (Evans was apparently “ill” on that fateful April afternoon. Had he been available, I’ve no doubt he would have had the game of his life, defending like a hybrid Italian/German and undoubtedly scoring the winner from a set piece. I’ll let you decide whether it was a corner or free kick.)
A young man arrives from another country to play for your team. He goes through not only a change in language and culture, but changes in playing style, weather, and expectation. Would it be all that outlandish to expect early-season jitters from such a player? Would it be out of the question to defend his transfer, citing his incredible potential, and the TWO European titles he’d won at his previous club? Nay, I say! David De Gea was not all that bad, considering. If he is to be our number one, our collective number one, for seasons to come, let us sing his praises (See saves against, but not limited to, Arsenal, Chelsea, Stoke, Norwich…) Adding to the hype, his distribution was exceptional last season.
Finally, the two most experienced of the bunch- Messieurs Anderson and R. Da Silva. For the latter-the more talented and experienced of the twins, Rafael Da Silva plays an exciting game. He combines attack with defense well, and nobody can question his tenacity. Still, his defending was suspect last year, and he was heavily exposed against Bilbao (who wasn’t?) Young at only 21, it can be argued he still has room for growth. Should he falter, one Philip Anthony Jones will be standing at the ready.
Last but not least; Anderson appears to be stalwartly in the mold of fun-loving, muffin-consuming Brazilians. He was injured this year, and his creativity and imagination were missed. Still, whereas with other players questions simply “linger”, with Anderson they are firmly here to stay. This season truly will be “make or break”. Would it “make”, then wonderful. Should it “break”, see No. 3 below.
“Potentially” the best midfielder in Britain, according to Sir Alex. The Scot also singled out the youngster as United’s best against Barcelona in last summer’s friendly in the U.S. Simply put, United have got a supremely talented midfielder in their ranks, one with control, a clever touch, and an eye for goal.
An Injury Free 12/13?
The few opportunities I’ve been given to watch Cleverley play have been enough to strengthen my belief in the player. Admit it; you see it, too, every time he plays. The comparisons to Scholes are not far off; would it not follow that countless training sessions alongside the Ginger Prince might have something of an influence on a player with Cleverley’s skill-set? Indeed, former youth-team coach Eric Harrison confirmed Cleverley is the best “home-grown” United player since Paul Scholes. This was a nightmare season for Cleverley- should he manage to stay healthy next year, expect him to do a “Van Persie”.
That United Mindset
That mindset, the one we all know and love, the one that wins games at the death, the one that lets no one player get bigger than the club, the one that says this is who we are and this is how we’ll play, remains. It will carry over into next season, engrained fully into every player, member of the coaching staff, maintenance man, custodian, and parking attendant.
City will be dangerous, and they will surely look to splurge on one or two new players to ensure their conquest of the league continues. United will not waver- their resolve will hold. After City sealed the title, Sir Alex put things in beautiful perspective when he said it would take city one century to match United’s history and prestige.
In the world of football, few men are truly competitive- competitive to the point where they hate losing more than they enjoy winning. In the world of European football, few men have carved a path such as has been tread by the great man who helms United. This will be Roberto Mancini’s first defense of a Premier League title. Sir Alex has won the title twelve times, successfully defending it six, repeating in 93-94, 96-97, 99-00, 00-01, 07-08, and finally in 08-09.
Let Round IV Begin..
That mindset permeates throughout the club, and it echoes in the stands at Old Trafford. It can be seen and heard in living rooms and in pubs halfway around the world. This is all the doing of one man- Sir Alex Ferguson. His intention will be to return to the summit of English football, and he will return. Will City repeat? Can they repeat? I can almost hear Sir Alex now, like Michael Corleone in the Godfather II… “Don’t you know me? Don’t you know that that’s an impossibility? That that could never happen? That I’d use all my power to keep something like that from happening? Don’t you know that?” Well, don’t we?
This is why we love this game- because last season was the greatest we’ve ever seen, but you’d be a fool to not want to cast it to anonymity with the start of the next. Manchester United is in good hands, and it has some very exciting players in its squad. It is a team, of which there are fewer and fewer these days. Here’s looking to next season… Keeping calm and carrying on.
Luis recently discovered the world of football. He enjoys learning as much as possible about British football, particularly about Manchester United. In a relatively short period of time, he has begun watching, playing, reading, and writing about the game- all to an exhausting degree. Luis lives in southern California with his wife and Rooney, their German Shepherd.