379 appearances, 10 goals, 40 assists and 54 yellow cards.
Bought by Sir Alex Ferguson during the 2006 January transfer window, Patrice Evra took some time to adapt to the Premier League. Considered somewhat of a flop at the end of his first season, Evra and Vidic are the perfect examples that, sometimes, players need time to acclimatise themselves to new environments.
8 years on, and both players have left at the end of the same season as cult heroes in the eyes of the vast majority of the Manchester United fan base. However, there is a difference in the way both players left the club: Vidic’s decision to leave for Inter Milan midway through the season was seen by many as a player making a swift exit from a sinking ship; a decision the Serbian seemed to regret when saying goodbye to the fans. Manchester United’s ex-captain will always be regarded as one of the team’s greatest defenders, but there is something about Patrice Evra that makes his departure from the club that little bit harder to take.
First and foremost, he understood exactly what it meant to play for Manchester United. Many players have come and gone at this great football club without showing the professionalism or the passion that is expected from a player when he puts on that red shirt. Patrice Evra has.
“I got a load of DVDs, about the Munich disaster and the Busby Babes, about Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law, about Cantona. The whole story of the club. You meet these people around the club and I wanted to know who they were. What they had done for the club. Out of respect. All the young players here need to understand the history of the club. I realised I needed to respect the shirt. I needed to respect the story. Every time I play that is in my head. What a privilege it is to play for Manchester United. When you pull on the shirt you are pulling on history, and I say thanks to God that I play for this club”
Every time he spoke about the club, he always did so with great respect. His constant references to the club’s history endeared him to the fans, as they saw how proud he was to be at Manchester United.
On the pitch, the past few years weren’t the kindest to Evra. His reluctance to track back and his loss of pace hindered the team, and many fans made sure to voice their opinion on the matter whenever they could. However, the bond Evra had created with the fans was such that, whenever he spoke off the pitch, much was forgiven.
Patrice Evra is a born winner, something Sir Alex Ferguson quickly picked up on, meaning it came as no surprise when the former Manchester United manager made him vice-captain. The past year has been a great example of this. During one of the most disappointing seasons in the club’s recent history, Patrice Evra always voiced his support for the manager. He knew the fans were disappointed and so, in turn, this disappointed him even more. Evra became, to a certain extent, Manchester United’s spokesperson and said all the things the fans wanted to hear; something David Moyes seemed incapable of doing.
With his contract up at the end of the season, Patrice Evra could have done something similar to Nemanja Vidic and sign for a new team on a free in January. Instead, he waited until the end of the season and left after Manchester United triggered a clause in his contract, allowing the club to make money from his move.
The fact that Ferdinand, Vidic and now Evra have departed from Manchester United’s defence is a huge loss in terms of experience, but the new manager won’t be too bothered. As the Dutchman said in his first press conference, “I’m not always convinced by the experience of players”.
The fans will be forever grateful that Evra did not leave the sinking ship half way through the season, but stayed until the very end, ensuring that, when he left, his departure wouldn’t be missed. The signing of Luke Shaw certainly shows that Manchester United are thinking ahead rather than relying on the old guard for the coming season, and with Louis Van Gaal in charge, it’s almost as if Patrice Evra knows that the Manchester United ship has found its new navigator.
He can now leave knowing the club is in safe hands.
Welcome Louis: Reaction to Press Conference
Finally he has arrived!
After what seems like an age since his appointment, Louis van Gaal has officially been unveiled. The gap between confirmation of his employment and his first day on the job was a concern. The idea of Woody being left to his own devices, eyeing ‘marquee signings’ like a horny teen in Magaluf, was not a happy one. Yet despite those fears the transition between election and inauguration has actually proved to be positive. The aquisitions have been sensible and the new man’s reputation has been further enhanced thanks to the strong performance of the Netherlands under his stewardship in Brazil. Moyes appointment was recognised as a gamble; no such eyebrows are being raised this time around.
The press conference was reassuringly predictable. The fluff of glitzy presentation and wheeling out of Sir Bobby was cliched yet effective. The man himself was the expected embodiment of confidence. van Gaal has presence. He dominated the room in a manner few are capable. The cutting response to TClevz’ (alleged) BFF from the Mirror served notice that it was the journalists who were on trial in the court of King Louis. The Moyes comparisons are hard to avoid and deeply unflattering to the Scotsman. Charisma is a quality that comes naturally to a lucky few and unfortunately for Davey he was not amongst their number. If Moyes’ media engagements became a game of waiting for the blunder, those present hung on his successors every word for very different reasons.
Much has been made out of the fairly anodyne comments already. Speculation over whether the references to sponsors were a veiled protest at the commercial conquests of his employers are fanciful at best. Similarly, pledges that time will be taken to assess his squad are hardly groundbreaking and will be conveniently ignored by the legion of rumour mongers who would have us believe that Arturo Vidal has all but picked out his shirt number.
The tone was an amenable mix of confidence for what lies ahead and deference to the significance of the football club. I am in no doubt that over the next few months van Gaal’s public pronouncements will have us both crowing our approval and trying to hide our embarrassment. Remind you of anyone?
Sign Him Up! – A Case for Patrice Evra
With the departure of Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic confirmed, Kevin Levingston argues why the club must hang on to Patrice Evra…
This summer Manchester United are experiencing a season of upheaval quite unlike anything they have faced in the premier league era. The season is barely over and already, with the departures of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Ryan Giggs, United have lost more championship winning experience than many clubs have amassed in their history.
These are men that have embodied the club, season after season, and maintained a culture of professionalism, pride and success within the dressing room for all new arrivals and upcoming players to see. One word from Rio. One headfirst tackle from Vida. One look from Giggsy. Every action from these club greats drawing a line in the sand; “This is Manchester United…this is our club”. Like Roy Keane, Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson before them they made sure that any aspiring player knew what it meant to wear that shirt on their back, to wear that badge on their chest. They demanded performances from their colleagues, more often through setting an example than anything else. If you were a Manchester United player you better crawl off that pitch at Old Trafford having used up every bit of talent you have. All for the cause. Yes, these players knew what it was to play for Manchester United.
Their departure (or retirement) leaves quite a gap in the dressing room. It’s certainly quite the hammer blow to lose them all at once. Sure, the United team has quite an amount of experience in the remaining playing staff – Wayne Rooney has been with us for ten years – but by his own conduct has done little to suggest he can be the example for the next great United team.
And then there’s Patrice Evra.
To put it simply; The club MUST keep hold of him, for countless reasons.
Admittedly the Frenchman is a long way from the imperious form of 2007-12 when he was one of, if not the best left backs in the league and in Europe, but he still has a huge amount to offer. Quite often this season he has been rightly criticized for being irresponsible in defence, no longer having the legs to get back from his many forays into the opposition half. Such is the role of the modern fullback, though it could be argued that Moyes particular emphasis on wing play did not help Evra in this regard. Nevertheless he is a solid option, and you would struggle to name five leftbacks better than him in the league. Definitely worthy of a squad position.
Having played at least 45 games in all but one of the last seven seasons, Evra has racked up a staggering amount of appearances in his time at United. Combine this mammoth run with being comfortably on the wrong side of thirty and it’s no surprise his legs are not what they used to be. With a new left back almost certain to come in, there’s no reason why Mr Evra can’t benefit from the same rotation as Giggs and Ferdinand experienced towards the end of their time with us. A better deputy you will not find anywhere.
It seems increasingly likely that Luke Shaw will arrive at Old Trafford this summer, and who better to learn from than our wily Frenchman? Evra has played at the very highest level against the best players in world football and could certainly teach our next leftback a thing or two! Having such a player as your guide would be of undoubted benefit when dealing with the pressures of playing for this club.
He Gets It
Perhaps as important as anything else on this list. More than anything, Patrice Evra knows what it means to be a Manchester United player. This quote from the man himself sums it up best;
“Ever since I joined this club has been like a big family. It’s the most important thing for me. It would be difficult for me to ever leave this club. I think maybe I’m possessed by this devil. I could not leave. I’m happy here. This is the biggest club in the world and it’s a privilege to play for the best club in the world” – Upon signing a new deal in 2011
It would be a mistake to let a player with such passion for the club go. For his ability, for his leadership, for his complete dedication to the cause, Patrice Evra should be allowed to finish his career at Manchester United.
He just gets it.
Kevin Levingston is a freelance blogger and Shinji Kagawa enthusiast. He disappears quite a lot. When he’s around you can reach him on twitter @KevinLevingston
United Transfer Special – Alternative Transfer Targets
As Ed Woodward and Co. embark upon the club’s most important transfer window of the premier league era, Kevin Levingston suggests five worthy additions that wouldn’t break the bank…
MATA INTERVIEW WITH CANAL+
After recently moving from Chelsea to Manchester United during the January transfer window, new fan favourite Juan Mata decided to open up to Canal+ in Spain and talk about his relationship with David Moyes, how De Gea harassed him constantly about making the move and much more. Below is a (near) full transcript of the interview.
On Manchester United’s interest:
I knew there was an interest, although I didn’t realise it was true until the two clubs started talking to each other. Chelsea told me there was an offer, an important offer. In the end, I did it due to the situation I was in over the past few months, and the opportunity to be at Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the world. When you’re looking from the outside, you think it is, but it’s only when you are a part of it that you realise that it really is one of the biggest clubs in the world. Here I am, very happy in this new city, in this new step in my career, and I hope that everything will go well.
On whether he feels any pressure:
No, no. Simply no. Because when I’m on the pitch, all I think about is playing, enjoying myself and feeling comfortable, like I always have. At the end of the day, the price of transfers during the window is something for clubs to sort out and as players, we have nothing to do with it. What we have to do is turn up, train, enjoy the training and enjoy the football. In the end, everything happened so quickly. I know that I have responsibilities, but this doesn’t stop me from enjoying it and producing on the pitch.
On the club’s objectives:
The objective is to get to the Champions League spots. It’s difficult because Liverpool are doing well, so are Arsenal, as well as Tottenham and Everton, who are all clubs also fighting for them, but I think we have a team who can do it. This is Manchester United. When this club wins two, three or four matches in a row, it has a very important mental strength, a winner’s mentality. We are coming and I think we can do it, but we have to win a lot of games first.
On his first time out at Old Trafford as a Manchester United player:
It was really emotional. It was incredible. I’d already played there as the away team, but playing there as the home team, just imagine. The stadium is huge, the fans are very dedicated to singing and it was all good, because we won, I found myself on the pitch surrounded by top quality players and from the off, the first training session, they have helped me integrate as best possible. Physically, I hadn’t trained a lot the previous week, but I feel good.
On his new teammates:
I’ve known David (De Gea) since we played for the national team at youth level. The week before I arrived, he was hassling me and when I arrived I stayed with him. Everyone has received me well, but he has been the one who has gone out of his way the most.
I didn’t know Giggs, but I had and still have a lot of admiration and respect for him. He’s been really good. He has helped me from the very beginning, made sure everything went perfectly. It’s a pleasure that he’s here and it’s a pleasure for me to play alongside a player like him. To reach 40 and still be playing at this level is fantastic.
Van Persie, Rooney, Chicharito, Welbeck. These are all players who always score goals. Playing with them is a pleasure. I got an assist for Van Persie and what’s great about playing with them is that if you pass them the ball, it’s a goal. It’s a goal pretty much every time.
On David Moyes & the club:
More than anything, he made me feel important and I think that’s fundamental when you arrive at such a big club that has made a huge investment in you. It’s nice when the manager tells you “Juan, you’re important to the team and we need you on the ball as much as possible” and that’s what I try to do. My relationship with him is good, friendly and from the off, he seemed to me to be a great person.
This is a club that should always be fighting for the Premier League. I think, in the last 20 or 21 years, they’ve won 13 times. The mentality of this club is to win and fight for all the trophies. Unfortunately this year, things haven’t gone so well in the league, but I believe there is still time this season. With the mentality and the staff that we have, I believe we can climb up the table and win as many games as possible.
There are good people here. First and foremost young people. When you play for Manchester United it’s difficult because you have a lot of responsibillity. I don’t know what will happen in the summer but the manager said the other day at a press conference that he’s going to be signing players. I think this club is at a stage of change, a bit of change in the project, but as I’ll tell you, at this club the best players in the world will always arrive.
On Sir Alex Ferguson and the future:
All he has done here, everything Ferguson has complished is pretty much unattainable. He has won everything possible to win with this club in the last 20-25 years and it’s tough to maintain such a level of excellence. But at the end of the day, it was these players that won the league last season. And the new manager has arrived knowing what this club is. I think he has a great relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson and with time everything will get better, the results will get better and we’ll get back to being where this club deserves to be.
On Mourinho and Chelsea:
We spoke and he [Mourinho] said that he thought this was a good option for me, and I told him I thought this was a good option for me. We didn’t speak for long. I wasn’t playing, and to be honest, I am happy when I play football. It’s the thing I like to do the most. He wished me good luck and told me to be good, as did everyone at the club [Chelsea]. I’m very grateful for my time at Chelsea and for all the trophies I have won. We had a fantastic relationship, I had great relationships with several of my teammates. They weren’t just my teammates, but my friends. Fernando [Torres] for example. I was very saddend to tell him I was leaving him. It was tough to tell him I was going because he is a very important person to me, but we’ll keep in touch we aren’t that far away from each other.
I’ve already had a tour around the city! The other day I was having dinner with David Silva and he recommended a couple of places to me. I think there are several beautiful places in this city and now I get to discover another city in England.
Now I’d like to present you to my friend, the one that has welcomed me here. He does everything with me, he’s part of my security team, he takes me to get to know the training ground, he shows me the city, I present to you; David de Gea.
De Gea walks in and sits next to Mata
Mata: Tell them about all the messages you have been sending me!
De Gea: Yeah, I’m sure you had to get a phone and everything was a bit crazy. But it’s good that you are here and we have gotten you here.
He’s a great player that will help the team a lot and knowing him as a person, he will also help in the dressing room and help the whole team grow.
Mata: We are going to be neighbours too, so that’s good!
De Gea: Yeah, I brought him to the nice part of the city
(both laugh again)
Mata: He’s a realtor too!
(Journalist asks if there are any other Spanish players living nearby)
Mata and De Gea both mention that they think Navas and Negredo live close.
De Gea: I think he has come in and played very well. I’m very happy that he is here and I hope he keeps growing as a player and that he continues to improve the club.
Mata: OK, that’s it.. I will pay you that dinner that I promised you!
Transcribed and translated by @sardinetrawler & @CheGiaevara
An Ode to Anderson Luís de Abreu Oliveira
He’s gone… He’s really gone.
After many years of frustrating the masses of United fans around the world, the January transfer window finally saw our beloved Brazilian, Anderson, leave Manchester for pastures new. His destination? Florence and Fiorentina. To many this is a cause for celebration and mockery aplenty, however, I can’t feel anything other than a sense of disappointment for our Ando and his career at Old Trafford.
Why January Transfers might be best avoided by David Moyes.
Every Christmas I take great pleasure at laughing at others. Not exactly in the spirit of Christmas I accept but with good reason. The regional news runs the same Boxing Day feature on the fools who have left the warm bosom of the family home at the crack of dawn to queue outside High Street shops in the hope of getting first option on whatever unsellable tat they have slashed the price of to free up warehouse space. Clothes, phones and tablets are bought destined to be used once and subsequently discarded as ‘I didn’t really want/need it but it was in the sale.’ Some people crave the rush of consuming, the sensation of relief that they have acquired something they previously lacked – never mind whether an actual need exists. Which brings me to football…
In previous years the January transfer window has largely been an irrelevance to United. Signings have been part of a longer term plan rather than the ‘save our season’ purchase we associate with fiscally irresponsible sides fighting relegation. This season however the mood is very different. Collective wisdom suggests Moyes and Woodward must act next month if Manchester United are to achieve the bare minimum of a successful season. It just might be however that the brave and unpopular approach might just be the right approach; namely, restricting spending to all but the most minor of additions.
I have held this view for less than 48 hours – and it could be subject to change. Before Tuesday evening I was of the opinion that bringing in quality – whatever the cost – was necessary. Buy out clauses should be triggered and our midfield renovated. Then I spent two hours hosting our Transfer Special podcast and reality bit; as we worked out way through the eighteen (!) central midfielders that have been linked with Manchester United it became clear that the likelihood of attaining the right players in January is far trickier than merely opening the cheque book.
A succession of issues stand in the way of bringing in the quality of player we require to boost the team; reservations about changing club mid-season, unwillingness to move before a World Cup, prohibitive release clauses, and questionable evidence that they can adapt quickly to a new culture came up time and time again. The intense scrutiny facing new recruits in January will be even greater than that ordinarily placed upon a Manchester United signing. In the summer we brought in a proven international footballer, who has already performed impressively in our league and whom many Reds had coveted for a number of years.
All circumstances that would surely lead to a smooth transition and instant impact, yet Fellaini has struggled. The man who has managed him for many years admitted that the expectations of playing for a club like Manchester United have proved harder to deal with than anticipated. What chance then a winger who has never played outside Brazil, a young Spanish midfielder or a once great Dutchman who has failed to find consistency for three years. Exceptions do exist. If a player of the calibre of Ilkay Gundogan became available then United should be asking how much and handing over the monies. Such players though are thin on the ground and for reasons already stated highly unlikely to either be available or keen to move at this time.
The scenario that must be avoided is panic buying leading to the acquisition of players on account of availability rather than suitability. Paying over the odds, eating into the summer transfer fund, would be a desperate response more in common with a Wonga loan than a measured investment in a successful business. There is a reason we have kept our January spending to a minimum in the past and it should not be forgotten amidst the clamour for change. The temptation must be enormous for Moyes to appease disgruntled fans across the world yet he must tread with caution. Ed Woodward took the fall for the debacle in the summer with Moyes largely escaping criticism. Yet the one addition has failed to have any real impact on the quality of the side and the manager and coaching staff must take some of the blame for this. If this is followed by further underperforming purchases then the manager will have some explained to do to his parsimonious bosses.
So Woodward should give himself a well deserved month off and do another disappearing act to warmer climes? Not a bit of it. There is transfer business to be done in the new year – making contact with clubs and representatives of those players already identified as being of the required quality and setting up moves for the summer. At the same time, inviting interest for those players marked for departure and negotiating terms acceptable to the club.
This season has always been about managing transition and if the new boss can’t achieve a top four finish with a squad who walked the league twelve months earlier then serious questions would have to be asked about his job performance. It might not set pulses racing but eschewing short term temptation and playing the long game might ultimately turn out to be the wisest move our beleaguered boss could make.
Manchester United, a Helicopter and the Best Player in the World.
As part of this week’s Transfer Special podcast, some friends of the site were asked to share their memories of great transfer rumours from the past. The brilliant Tricia replied with her memories of when United were a helicopter away from signing the best player in the world.
Your question about memorable transfers sagas and rumours over the years got me thinking about July 2003 when we waited on tenterhooks for news that we had landed Ronaldinho from PSG. We were flush with cash from the Beckham transfer and our offer placed side by side with the lower offer from a cash poor and faltering Barcelona, gave Reds a fantastic buzz of optimism that the deal would be made. I recall being absolutely elated about bringing a player the class of the Brazilian to Manchester United. I was sure with Ronaldinho in the side to partner Ruud, another European Cup was only a season away, two at the most (far too long to wait, anyway, in my opinion, since the last CL triumph of 99, for a club the stature of United. I was still smarting pretty bad from the 2001-02 and 2002-03 CL campaigns, and the puzzling disappointment that was Veron.)
Even Ferguson in his press conferences before the 2003 summer tour was bubbling with excitement at the prospect of the signing, and it seemed a sure thing. Almost as an afterthought, he threw in the name of Kleberson, whom, if I recall at the time, was a Leeds target. United took off for a summer tour in America, positive that they had their man only to land on this side of the pond to the news that he had accepted Barcelona’s offer. Devastation. Anger! Confusion!
I remember one of the tabloids saying that the deal breaker had been that Ronaldinho wanted his own helicopter to travel from Manchester to London for his entertainment! LOL, well, we were reaching for excuses for why it had gone wrong, I guess. So bloody disappointed. So, it was not to be. Today, I looked at Red Cafe threads from that week, and read comments like, we should have gone for Defoe or Joe Cole or Damien Duff with the Beckham money.
Well hindsight is a fine thing, obviously, but what I remember from that summer is that we dared to dream that one of the very very best players on the planet wanted to play for US. I think back to that August when Ferguson unveiled Kleberson alongside a pimply 18 year old Cristiano Ronaldo, to join new signees Eric Djemba-Djemba, David Bellion and Tim Howard. There was our Beckham windfall. My God, the old man did make some blunders but of course, when he got it right, as in Cristiano, he really got it right. But I still wonder about what would have been if Ronaldinho had deigned to wear the red shirt. We would have had him at his peak, ah jaysus, what a wonder it would have been.
Follow Tricia on twitter here.
Whisper it quietly, but United got their priorities right
With rolling 24-hour sports channels and the social media flourishing more than ever, it should not come as a great surprise that what happens off the pitch is now given more scrutiny than what happens on it. The lust for breaking news and getting ‘the story’ has accelerated out of control, while providing in-depth tactical analysis and insight into the games has become an after-thought.
Many now anticipate the biannual ‘transfer deadline day’ more than the actual football matches which is insane. Each club is heavily scrutinised in the market business and not making big-money signings to appease the fans now portrays club as weak and vulnerable.
And let’s make one thing clear – the new combination of David Moyes and Ed Woodward being thrown in at the same time to work on transfers was a significant error of judgement. Manchester United don’t use a Director of Football as Moyes is famed for scouting many of his own players and playing a large role in club recruitment policy. In any case, a Director of Football doesn’t fit into United’s ideals and more commonly seen at club’s who expect a high turnover of managers. Ed Woodward’s success comes from his tough financial negotiating and helping the club write off large sums of debt accumulated from the Glazer takeover. Both have been hugely successful in their respective fields, but neither is directly familiar with overseeing the intricacies of big-name and big-money transfers. In hindsight, the vastly experienced and successful David Gill should have been persuaded to remain in his role as Chief Executive for twelve more months to ease Moyes’ into his job.
Large swathes of the media are now opening fire on the Moyes and Woodward combination. They were embarrassed by Thiago Alcantara’s last-minute switch to Bayern Munich, before being humiliated by the public pursuit of Cesc Fabregas. There were bizarre attempts to negotiate a non-negotiable deal with Anders Herrera, numerous failed bids for Leighton Baines, reportedly turning down the wonderfully gifted Mesut Ozil, further unsuccessful attempts for Danielle De Rossi and Sami Khedira before missing out on the loan-deal for Fabio Coentrao. To top it all off, they even paid £4 million more for their one major signing than they should have after dithering on triggering his release clause in time.
The wholesale doom and gloom is unfounded and misplaced. Manchester United made a significant number of vital errors over the past number of months but one vital fact has been overlooked by the media vultures circling around their proposed demise of the club. With the acquisition of Marouane Fellaini and the holding of Wayne Rooney, Manchester United have accomplished their two immediate priorities from the start of summer and have thus, strengthened their title-winning squad.
Wholesale changes to the playing staff would have been a grave error and one that was, thankfully, avoided. Much has been made of the impact of new managers on this year’s title race but their influence over proceedings pales in comparison to that of the mentality of a squad.
Sir Alex Ferguson possessed an endless array of attributes but the most crucial was that he was a natural-born winner who despised losing and knew how to be successful. He knew what players matched this and was an expert at spotting which players shared this mind-set and which didn’t. Fergie may be gone but this attitude remains and he has shown full trust in Moyes that this blueprint will not waver.
What United have lacked in recent times is a domineering central midfielder who will assert himself on the game both with his ability and physicality. A midfielder whose robustness and energy could complement the silky passing and fluent rhythm of Michael Carrick. It is telling that Shinji Kagawa (six goals) was the only United midfielder to net more than twice last season and a more significant goal-threat was required. Ideally a new midfielder would be strong in the air, play short, succinct passes to complement United’s counter-attacking threat and be a box-to-box player.
Marouane Fellaini is the perfect fit. He scored twelve times last season, averaging a goal every three matches, finishing as Everton’s top goalscorer, and was the league’s player of the month for November. He can play in a holding midfield role, as a box-to-box player or sit nestle in behind the front-line, such quality in versatility is a greatly underrated asset. He made 82 tackles in the league last season – from the top clubs, only Michael Carrick (83) made more, having played an extra two games.
He is a player Moyes trusts and has a close bond with – a signing virtually with no risks and countless benefits. It also fits the United policy of spending big on established Premiership players, only seriously delving into the European market on the rare occasions to sign promising youngsters when no home-based equivalent is on the market.
Fellaini has helped propel Everton to finishes of 7th and 6th in the past two seasons due to his contributions at both ends of the pitch and was the club’s most technically gifted asset. At 25 years old the big Belgian is now only entering his prime and is sure to improve his game yet further in the coming years. He has an eye for a pass and will bring much needed creativity to United, whilst there should be less focus on his need to contribute defensively which theoretically should improve his attacking attributes further.
Moyes also retained Wayne Rooney and the early indications are that he will use him in his preferred free-roaming attacking role, and will be less burdened defensively. Automatically this strengthens United not just in terms of ability within their squad, but of weakening major rivals Chelsea.
After his summer courtship of Rooney, Mourinho was forced into signing an ageing Eto’o and bizarrely loaning out Romelu Lukaku. Chelsea have an impressive squad with an equally strong-minded coach but the weaknesses which hampered their progress last season remain. Question marks remain over their defensive strength-in-depth, lacking a quality holding midfielder and most crucially of all, firepower up top. Eto’o will score goals and is arguably an upgrade on Torres, but their rival fans will breathe a massive sigh of relief that they didn’t invest more heavily in that area.
Manchester City have also strengthened their squad, but they have already shown massive defensive vulnerability without injured skipper Vincent Kompany. Joe Hart is going through a prolonged spell of poor form and whilst there is now less reliance on Yaya Toure and Aguero, they haven’t made the marquee signing some fans expected after a disastrous 2012/13 campaign.
Arsenal grabbed the headlines with the remarkable coup of the outrageously talented Mesut Ozil, but buying new leather seats for your car without replacing a faulty engine could be dangerous. That said, Wenger has got the fans back on side and the club has made a statement, but they are not quite ready for a title tilt just yet.
Spurs have bought impressively from the windfall of funds generated from Bale’s sale, but the Welshman’s loss to the side cannot be underrated. They failed to break into the top four even with the genius of Bale and have also lost a raft of players adapted to the Premiership. The loss of Dempsey, Parker, Huddlestone and Caulker may not significantly weaken the first team, but the experience and know-how of home-based players can never be underestimated. None of their signings will obviously settle and acclimatise immediately, so the optimism of Spurs fans may have come a little too hastily.
Manchester United romped to the title last year and despite widespread criticism they were mightily impressive. There are no signs that the any of the existing squad will let their impeccable standards slip and the additions of powerhouse Fellaini and the sublimely skilled young winger Wilfred Zaha are purchases which should excite the United faithful.
It is impossible to ignore the on-going incompetencies of their main Premiership rivals, namely Manchester City and Chelsea who despite a limitless supply of wealth have squandered much of their early promise. This summer has seen the furore of management changes but none have taken the transfer window by storm. Inefficiencies have been left unaddressed and no-one has obviously taken the initiative.
It would be an understatement to say United have blundered and dithered at times this summer but the core objectives have been met. Moyes and Woodward will of course need to acclimatise themselves to a learning curve which can be unforgiving and potentially excruciatingly embarrassing, but the next two transfer windows will be the litmus test.
Fellaini could well achieve ‘cult hero’ status at Old Trafford, Rooney may well rejuvenate himself and become the club’s all-time leading goal scorer and in Robin van Persie they have the world’s most complete striker. This is a squad of champions with a winning mentality, and the continuous widespread doubt over their credentials should provide the hunger and determination to once again succeed. You’d be a fool to bet against them.
Bring the big Fella!
Every team needs that sort of player that make the opposition quake in their boots. The type of player that will force his opponent to commit, gamble and eventually crumble. The type of player that, when the other team’s manager reads out the opposing eleven, you hear a unified sigh throughout the dressing room: you know it’s going to be a long afternoon as soon as you spot his name on the team sheet.
It doesn’t really come down to technical ability or passing range, it comes down to your willingness to combat your opposition to the ground. Roy Keane, even though underrated, was never the most technical player. However, when teams saw his name on the team sheet, they knew what was coming. That alone won games. The fear and the anticipation, knowing that across the pitch stands a man who doesn’t think twice before sacrificing his body for his team. Manchester United have lacked that. A man that can dominate a game just by being who he is. That man can be Marouane Fellaini.
If there’s something fans have complained about for the past years, it’s United’s lack of presence in midfield. Despite catching a lot of grief, Sir Alex Ferguson did try to address the issue several times in his last few seasons at Old Trafford. Owen Hargreaves was unlucky, so was Darren Fletcher and Anderson never fit the role to begin with. The emergence of Tom Cleverley gave United a new perspective to how the midfield was to be run, while Phil Jones, who really is a centre back, was the only pure physical specimen when called upon in midfield. This has left Michael Carrick with the herculean task of controlling a midfield by positioning himself excellently, balancing the midfield and defence and acting as a deep-lying playmaker. A test which he has passed with flying colours, but that perhaps needs a bit revamping under David Moyes.
Although Carrick controls a game from the deep, even he has seem himself being combatted to the ground by the likes Yaya Touré. When faced with intense pressure from teams such as Man City, Liverpool and Everton, that task becomes too great even for Carrick. This is where Marouane Fellaini comes in. At 6’4” and with the frame of a barn door, there’s only one adjective that could describe him at the heart of Manchester United’s midfield: Brobdingnagian. Despite not being credited for it, Fellaini levels out his lack of pace with a high footballing IQ. He’ll position himself where he thinks things will happen. This may also be the reason why David Moyes used him as an offensive midfielder for a great part of the 2012/2013-season. As midfields would be running at Carrick and Fellaini, they’d face a battering ram of gigantic proportions in Fellaini before Michael Carrick elegantly sweeps away what Fellaini misses, somewhat in a similar manner to how Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand made their partnership in the heart of defence function.
But this is midfield, right? And Fellaini adds plenty of things to a Manchester United midfield that severely lacks presence. He’s not a midfield maestro and nor does he need to be. Looking at how Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney interchange in terms of dropping deep and establishing play from the back, Fellaini won’t need to part take in that. He will be called upon to carry the ball between the opposing lines. Again, something which he often did do at Everton, knowing that someone would secure the space left behind.
The undervalued factor, however, is the intimidation he’ll scare out of opposing teams. In his first interview with MUTV after having signed Fellaini, Moyes mentioned how teams absolutely hate playing against Fellaini. United fans will know this all too well having seen United struggle to keep up with the behemoth in the league opener against Everton last season. This is also where the comparison to Roy Keane comes in. Fellaini is no Roy Keane, let’s put that to bed already, but he’s the player you’re looking over your shoulder for. Because you know he’s coming. And you know it’s going to hurt when he gets there.