As this campaign teased out to an exciting yet somewhat inevitable climax, United fans cant help but have a bitter taste in our mouth at how the season has gone.
After the superb, flowing football exhibited in pre season and community shield, as well as our first few performances against Spurs and Bolton particularly, not to mention the demolition of the Gooners on a glorious Sunday at Old Trafford, United supporters and pundits alike were no-doubt wondering if Sir Alex had spent his holiday at Hotel La Masia. It was exciting, exhilarating and most importantly full of promise.
Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck made instant impacts returning from loan spells at Wigan and Sunderland respectively. Almost instantaneously partnerships were struck up, Welbeck linking with Rooney and fellow new-boy Ashley Young who In turn seemed to have no trouble linking up with our dynamic midfield duo of Cleverley and the resurgent Anderson. Smalling too, looked very comfortable at right back and Phil Jones partnering the terminator Vidic. This young side looked as if it could not only be in contention for the title, but win it in a style of football that was, quite simply, enthralling.
Then the wheels came off. Key injuries to Cleverley, Welbeck, the prolonged absence of Javier Hernandez and most significantly the long term injuries to Vidic, Fletcher and Anderson come some way to explaining our struggles this year, however, deeper problems emerged. It was plain that without Cleverley, Anderson and Fletcher our midfield was terribly anaemic.
Relying on Michael Carrick to lead from the middle was something that was met by United fans with derision. Having missed out on Mesut Ozil and Wesley Sneijder in consecutive summers, questions were asked about United’s ability to attract top quality players to the club. People blamed the Glazers, people blamed City for the inflation in the transfer market, people looked for short term solutions for long term problems blaming everyone they could think of.
It seemed from all the talk in the pub, on forums and in the mainstream media that all United’s problems could be fixed by signing this magical “No. 10″, a creative influence the likes of which rivals had signed in David Silva and Juan Mata. I, however, don’t think United’s success or failure is determined by one players creative abilities and furthermore I am still not convinced that United need to sign a superstar, in fact I remain convinced that United’s future success lies in our rough diamonds.
“Conflicting Egos and Agendas Do Not Make Great Teams”
This is where I become controversial and I make no apologies for this. As someone who has seen three generations of united teams come and go, I remain convinced that signing already proclaimed superstars is not the united way. Furthermore it would be detrimental to the dressing room. Evidence of this is clear when you see the friction and conflict coming out of our neighbours training ground. Conflicting egos and agendas do not make great teams. It is my belief that a group of good players playing together make a much better team than individual superstars.
Guardiola’s Barca showed against Mourinhos Madrid that buying a team doesn’t beat the development of coming through a youth system into the first team. It is this team philosophy that I feel is vital to the success of a club. And this philosophy is something present in the current United squad. We have been poor this year, but we have been ravaged by injury, the sheer volume and longevity of which could not have been foreseen. Next year should see the return of certain players who (I feel at least) can transform out team and really lead us to titles again.
Tom Cleverley is a product of the great British media hype. A lot was made of him after a successful loan spell at Wigan, and instantly he was lauded as the heir apparent to the ginger wizard. Many people tend to forget that someone so young is by no means the finished article and expectations weighed heavily. Perhaps for Tom it was fortunate his season was blighted by injury. Physical scars will heal, but if he had played a full season turning in average performances the mental scars could have lingered longer.
This is what I believe has happened with our Brazilian superstar Anderson. His is a tale of tragedy and given his young age (remember he is still only 24), it’s no surprise he is struggling.
High flair, eye-catching performances in the Brasileirao (Brazilian Série A) for Gremio caught the attention of Porto. A real number ten full of explosive pace and excellent technical ability combined with an astonishing passing range saw Anderson quickly become a hot prospect for top level European Clubs, despite the fact he had not played many competitive games. A mark of how much potential he had was that when he and Nani were brought to the club at the same time, Anderson was the much more talked about.
“Anderson on His Day is Unplayable.”
However, since his arrival Ando has failed to live up to the hype. This is a problem endemic in young South American players particularly. So much is made of them so young. They are signed for huge sums of money (in Anderson’s case around £25.6 million) and are then expected to perform like Zico, Socrates or Maradona. The weight of this fell heavily on Anderson who found himself a long way from home and facing a new challenge at United.
A once advanced midfielder, Ando found himself being forced further back at United with Sir Alex preferring to use him as a deep lying playmaker, ready to turn the pace of an attack in an instant. Anderson initially took to this challenge well and for his first two seasons managed 38 appearances each. He then began to suffer both physically and mentally.
Reports in Portuguese media began to suggest that Anderson was unhappy in his new role. Combined with this and his seasons being severely interrupted with serious injuries, Anderson began to cause headlines off the pitch. A fairly serious car accident in August 2010 and frequent reports of him jetting off to Parties with former team mates in Portugal were causes for concern, especially given that he seems to have gathered a bit more mileage in the spare tyre around his waist.
Many think that the time for Anderson to part ways with the club has come. I disagree. Anderson on his day is unplayable. His start to the last campaign and the end of the previous one, saw him revel and delight in being given a more expressive forward role. His displays against Schalke, Spurs, City and Arsenal at the start of the season were inspired. He logged more yards than everyone on the team save for Evra and Rooney (according to Opta) and was more often than not involved in attacking movements.
From a deeper role too, we have seen him progress over the years. His awareness and passing is excellent. He can’t really tackle but then neither could Scholes. Anderson’s United future will be decided with how fit he can stay more so than his inconsistent form. Sir Alex seems to like Ando. He sees the potential there and if anyone can harness it, Fergie can.
It’s perhaps too late for Anderson to become an international superstar, but if he can harness the deeper lying role, behind Kagawa, Young, Nani Valencia et al, then his future at United could be bright. Similarly too, given the real lack of genuine deep playmakers in the Brazilian national set up, Anderson could find himself playing in the 2014 World Cup. United fans can mock or deride Ando but I feel he could be key to what is still to come.
If eight years ago you had said to me that Darren Fletcher was going to be a vital part of a very successful United team I would have mocked and slated you. Shows what I know really as Fletch has been sorely missed this season. His explosive work rate and defensive grit has been something United fans have been wishing for. With his illness being a somewhat unknown quantity it remains to be seen what exactly will happen with his career. However, at the age of 28 he isn’t getting any younger and doubtless plans for a replacement will be (hopefully) discussed between Fergie and the boardroom. We shouldn’t be so quick to rule Fletcher out of United’s future. If he comes back even 80% the player that he was, the Red Devil’s engine room will be running with some energy again.
This current United squad seems to be running on “Could be” players. We look at our young squad and can be rightly proud of the fact we have many player who, hopefully, will be playing for the club in 10 years time.
It is exciting, especially that throughout the year we have seen glimpses of what is to come in the future. De Gea looks like the man between the sticks for a long time now after overcoming a shaky start to the season. Evans has been imperious at the back this season and will surely now be sealing a first team place. Smalling and Jones are young yet extremely talented.
If some sort of system could be worked out whereby they have a consistent position for more than one game in a row we could see great rewards being reaped. Our attacking options, boosted by the exciting Kagawa are plenty sufficient to fire us goals this season.
My primary concern as a United fan is our left back position. Patrice Evra has played an insane amount of football over the last few years and has remained relatively unchallenged in his position. This has conspired to produce performances we would deem unsatisfactory from our favourite left back. We need to strengthen given the apparent loaning out of Fabio next season. If we have a fully competitive squad in all other areas, it makes sense to have it at left back as well. Potentially this will result in a strong squad that will challenge for the title again.
Potential is a word that I have used a lot in this article. I think that the only way to describe this United side is one full of potential. When they play well it is irresistible and leaves United fans like me salivating for more. The problem is that sometimes for reasons known only to the players, it doesn’t quite click. United is, however, a family. And families work for each other.
I’m pleased we missed out on Hazard, I really don’t want Modric and Sneijder although a wonderful player missed the boat whether through his own fault or the fault of others. We don’t need them. We are not Chelsea, we are not City. We are United.
We have a squad of players who know what it is to play for the club. For what it stands for and in the knowledge that success will come from hard work. It won’t be from some Football Manager Style spending spree that will do it, rather It will be the the United coaching team over the next couple of years taking these rough diamonds in our squad and polishing them.