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.
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.
There’s an overwhelming rush of emotion as you try to explain Paul Scholes. A rush that comes to a screeching halt as you just can’t figure out that perfect word or feeling for it. But you know it’s there and it’s so deep inside you that it feels like you are under the ocean, suffocating, as you frantically wave your hands and try to grab anything you can but you seem to just miss that escape, that answer.
It’s not easy. Words like legend, genius and the like are too common these days. They would never do justice to Paul Scholes. No way. It’s a classic irony that the man himself is the embodiment of simplicity. But you still don’t give up. A bit more effort and a bit more time and you finally come up with a word, a feeling, for this man. And then the words just don’t stop. The dam has been broken. You breathe again. Read more…
As the summer transfer window rolls into July, Manchester United continues to be linked with a number of high profile names. Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and even Edinson Cavani have all been rumored to be on their way to Old Trafford. Most Red Devils supporters would be thrilled to see any of these players in a Manchester United shirt next year, but it would be the arrival of Thiago Alcantara, from FC Barcelona, that would best serve the club. Read more…
By now, unless you’re “living under a rock,” so to speak, you’ve heard the news regarding ex-Red, David Beckham. After a professional career spanning just over 20 years (and beginning in 1992 with Manchester United), Beckham has finally decided to call it quits, and will be stepping aside from the world of football. At least, that is, in a playing capacity – rumour has it Becks is already exploring an investment stake in a new professional team in Miami, Florida. Read more…
I was sitting in my friend’s car earlier today. We were discussing what the players were referred to by their teammates. He’s a Liverpool fan. We had gone through all the Liverpool players. I started going through the United players. «…Giggsy…Chris…Anders…Chicha..Well, Sir Alex usually called him Chico..». Usually called him. He won’t anymore. Because it’s not his job. Sir Alex Ferguson is no longer manager of Manchester United.
We have all grown up in different circumstances. Some with a huge family with uncles, aunts, grandparents and the solid unit you call your mother and father. Some of us grew up in homes with just a mother or father. Maybe an older sibling. Maybe not. They were people on whom you could always rely. People who would never really go away. Through good times and bad times you’d stand together. United. Many of us grew up with Sir Alex Ferguson. Many of us have never known anything else. Many of us do not wish to know anything else. It would be to replace the reliable unity you formed. It was never a unity you chose to form. It was just the way it became. Sir Alex Ferguson was Manchester United.
The past couple of days have been a rollercoaster. For us all. I have danced through my entire emotional register. I have been heartbroken, I have been angry, I have been hopeful and I have been fearful. I was born in 1992. I have never known anything different than what stands ahead of me. My unity with Manchester United was chosen through a radical Frenchman and a baby faced Norwegian who never looked a day older than 14. Behind them stood this authoriative, proud Scot who didn’t need to gesticulate or make a mockery of himself to get his point across. He would, from time to time, lose his cool. But that was his passion, his heart, his relentlessness. He was a winner and he demanded that they transpired him whenever they stepped on the pitch.
I don’t know about you, but I really don’t think about all the trophies he won when I think about the legacy Sir Alex Ferguson leaves at Old Trafford. Sure, he took the club from a fallen giant to the juggernaut of modern football. He made it the biggest and most popular club in the world. But what he did was provide a sense on consistency. You could always rely on Sir Alex Ferguson. You always knew his mentality. His work rate. As the son of a plater’s helper in the shipbuilding industry in Govan his working man’s principles were something we all grew to cherrish. Nothing was done without hard work. Look at the players he created. David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes, their talent was obvious, but they were a product of hard work. Sir Alex Ferguson’s hard work alongside them. And in the end, we were the ones who benefited. Had I received had a penny for every time I have been told that Manchester United was the only thing that made a person smile, I would now be a millionaire.
And so came the day. The day that was never supposed to come. It happened so quickly. Too quickly. We never got a chance to react. He was just… gone. Sure, the rumours were there. They were there every summer. Every time the league was won, every time the season ended, every time something monumental happened at the club. This was the time for Sir Alex Ferguson to retire. And we laughed. Because we all knew it was untrue. He would never leave us. But, he did. He had won us the league. Number thirteen for him, number twenty for the club. He had knocked Liverpool off their perch. He had regained control of Europe. He had ruled the world. But more importantly, he had conquered all of our hearts. 26 years. 9692 days. And so he’ll ride off into the sunset. Having appointed his favorite deputy to lead the march on. But it will never be the same. We will all support David Moyes. Because he’s one of us now. We who grew with Sir Alex Ferguson, however, will forever have a section of out heart reserved to the greatest of them all. The hairdryer, the red nose, the chewing gum, the glasses, the rants, the smiles, the glory, the triumphs, the sadness, the grief and the anger. But more than ever, the unity. And the years we spent finding sense and normality in comfortably knowing that Sir Alex Ferguson would always be able to make us feel good about ourselves again.
When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer
Anderson’s exit from Manchester United has long been on the cards, but the midfielder’s recent admission that he could return to his ‘roots’ could see the Premier League leaders step up their interest in Porto midfielder James Rodriguez.
A possible loan deal back to Porto has been mooted, but both player and club will be keen for any move to be permanent.
Anderson has suffered a succession of injuries during his time at Old Trafford, but a collection of poor form, lack of goals and inability to keep the ball has seen the early appreciation of the Brazilian midfielder’s energy and drive quickly dry up.
The player himself has publicly admitted that he has “tried to leave [the club] several times but never managed it”, whilst rumours of a move to Brazil are also steadily increasing.
Anderson has been quoted in Portuguese paper A Bola, as saying that “Porto are the only club I would consider moving back to Portugal for… my past is there” and a return to the Estadio do Dragao could provide the hard-working midfielder with an outside chance of making the Brazil squad for the 2014 World Cup, should he be able to stay clear of injuries.
Manchester United are likely to recoup less than half of the £20 million fee that the Red Devils paid for the Brazilian midfielder back in 2007, but Anderson’s impending departure could help improve Sir Alex Ferguson’s long term pursuit of Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez who has once again excelled in the Liga Sagres.
Rodriguez followed up his title-winning performance of 13 goals in 20 games last season, with eight goals in 17 appearances this time around, as the Dragons once again battle Benfica for the Primeira Liga championship.
Nicknamed ‘El Nuevo Pibe’ by former Colombian great Carlos Valderrama, Rodriguez has been likened to former Manchester United player Cristiano Ronaldo with the player’s dribbling ability, ball control, shot power, creativity and overall speed drawing comparisons.
Rodriguez won the Primeira Liga Breakthrough Player of the Year award last year and the 21-year old is thought to be open to a move to the Premier League leaders.
Sir Alex Ferguson is keen to reengineer his attacking line for next season following the January acquisition of Crystal Palace prodigy Wilfried Zaha and Portuguese winger Nani is another who could leave Manchester United in the summer.
After being priced out of a move for Gareth Bale last season, Sir Alex Ferguson may use the extra Premier League television money to secure a deal for long-term target James Rodriguez, whether Anderson can facilitate a move back to Porto or not.
Centre back, defensive centre midfielder, centre midfielder, attacking centre midfielder. Centre something. That seems to be the priority at Manchester United. A few weeks ago, we needed a centre midfielder; today, according to various reports, we are in need of a centre back.
Whilst both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have enjoyed a rather successful season, it is fair to assume that their time at the club is limited. Add to this the fact that Phil Jones seems to be in the process of being moulded as a defensive midfielder, used primarily to shadow and hassle key men in the opposition’s team, it is understandable that a certain doubt has been cast over the strength of Manchester United’s defensive core.
Once the two experienced centre backs decide to call it a day, Manchester United will be left with only two out and out possible starting central defenders: Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans. If you are a regular visitor to this website, you will know that I am yet to be entirely convinced by Chris Smalling and believe that he will only ever be a squad player at Manchester United. Again, as I have also previously stated, I hope he proves me wrong and establishes himself as a great centre-back for the club, but until that day comes, I believe that yes, another centre-back will need to be purchased to replace the two departing veterans; perhaps not this summer, but most definitely the next if they want to remain Premier League favourites. At the moment, United are odds on favourites to reclaim their title with Ladbrokes at whopping 1/200.
The only question is who? Who out there is cheap enough not to break the bank, but good enough to directly fill the big boots of his predecessors? The answer is: there aren’t many.
Kurt Zouma (Saint-Etienne)
If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I am a huge fan of the imposing youngster. I (fairly) recently wrote an article on him for this website, which you can read here. As stated in said article, I do not believe Kurt Zouma to be entirely ready to make the jump to a starting position in the Premier League. On the other hand, if purchased early and perhaps sent out on loan to gain some experience at another British club for a season or so (coincidentally just around the time a new centre back will be needed), Kurt has the potential to establish himself as one of the great centre backs of his generation.
Nicolas N’Koulou (Olympique de Marseille)
As a defender, Nicolas N’Koulou nearly has it all. He has the pace, the strength, the concentration and the positioning. His only weakness (and even then, he’s not half bad) is his aerial ability. Extremely capable with the ball at his feet, Nicolas isn’t one to shy away from running out of defence and picking out a good pass to one of his teammates further up the pitch. With teams nowadays relying more and more on versatility and ball ability, Nicolas N’Koulou would be an asset to the majority of big teams around Europe and with a reported price tag of £8 million, it is understandable why many teams have already expressed their interest in a player who, were he not playing for a Ligue 1 club, would be valued at around £20 million.
Dedé (Vasco de Gama)
When it comes to the Brazilian league, my knowledge is fairly limited. I know of players, yet I wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable describing their strengths and weaknesses as I only catch one or two games a term. I know Dedé to be a talented centre back but I would much rather let @CheGiaevara, someone who has seen a lot of the big Brazilian, describe him for this article:
“Dedé is a freak of nature. At six feet three inches, with the body of a supreme athlete and the ability to dominate his opponent, he strikes fear in the hearts of attacks everywhere. The general tradition of fullbacks attacking has moulded Dedé into covering the space they leave as well as covering his own. He outmuscles, outruns and often outsmarts his opponent, including one fellow by the name of Neymar. Dedé’s tempo and pace often covers up his lack of positional skills, which could become a problem in the Premier League (see David Luiz). However, he posses the power to move the ball out of the defense, in which he has earned the original nickname “Dedéckenbauer” by the Vasco da Gama faithful.”
Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)
As you can see, options are running a bit low, yet Hummels isn’t exactly an impossible target. Admittedly, he has recently signed a new contract until 2017 with Borussia Dortmund but Thiago Silva did so with AC Milan a few weeks before signing for Paris Saint-Germain. Manchester United were linked with the German defender around November last year and since then, Barcelona have been the latest club to be linked with the German rock. Still only aged 24 and with 24 caps under his belt for Germany already, Hummels has the ability to be one of the first names on any team sheet around the world. A price tag of over £30 million may be required to acquire his services but as Manchester United saw with Rio Ferdinand, great quality generally comes at a high price.
I recently read an old article on TalkSport, similar to this one, linking Manchester United with the likes of Sergio Ramos and Giorgio Chiellini. Whilst I, along with a vast majority of Manchester United fans, would love to see players of their ability at the club, their price tag would be exorbitant. Even Hummels is more of a wish than a realistic target.
Are there any other defenders I may have missed whom you believe would be an adequate fit to replace Rio and Vidic, all the while consolidating our back line? If so, feel free to leave you suggestions in the comment box below.
Have you ever wondered why it takes so long for Manchester United to sign a decent young player?
I think every single fan has. Months and months of speculation, column after column written in the papers; after a while, fans give up on a potential signing, thinking the papers are milking a rumour for all its worth.
In yesterday’s L’Equipe, alongside Olivier Sadran, head of Toulouse FC, and Olivier Giroud’s agent Michaël Manuello, David Friio (Manchester United’s EPL and Ligue 1 scout) shed some light as to why transfer stories, especially ones regarding Manchester United, return year after year.
This year is a special one for Premier League clubs. Next year’s media coverage money is larger than ever and 20th in the Premier League will receive €85m. That’s twice what the Ligue 1 champions get. As Friio says, “For Newcastle and QPR, relegation would be terrible. They are buying whomever they can just to stay up. QPR cannot afford to go down. Redknapp is incredibly good at forcing the owner to spend his money on players. He’ll put out a B-team in the cup, lose and then point to the result and say: “See that? We got battered!” Newcastle is different. They have a different approach: to buy 10 players at €3m such as Haïdara or Sissoko in the hope that 2 or 3 will be good enough, like Papiss Cissé and Demba Ba, in order to sell them for a big profit. Players with high resell potential values are in France at the moment.”
Sadran then goes on to say “Newcastle are stacking them up. It won’t get them anywhere. We’ll see in two or three years that there was an agenda to all this… At Manchester, you spend 2 years observing players in every game, checking to see if they would be mentally capable to go get the three points in the same manner against the likes of Arsenal or Swansea, because for United, the 3 points are important each time. That’s why, when you’ve scouted him for 2 years and you have decided to buy him, there is never a problem with the price. That’s why I tell my players: “You played well in a big game and afterwards your form waned, but you forgot that they, Manchester and co., saw you play every game, against PSG but also against Sochaux. That’s the reason why you won’t go to a big club, and not because Toulouse are asking for too much money.”
When asked whether or not Manchester United will delve into the French transfer market in the summer, Friio’s answer backs up Sadran’s previous statement: “I don’t know, seeing as it takes me at least 2 years to scout a player. Do you know how many French players have come to Manchester United into the youth team? Only one! Paul Pogba. I brought him in when he was just 16. As soon as players are called up to any level of the France national team, I follow them. For example, I know over 300 players from the 1997 generation.”
As you can see, the French market is something Manchester United are taking rather seriously. Whether or not the same applies for Spain, Italy or Germany, only the club and the staff know. Having missed out on Varane (who decided to ply his trade at Real Madrid) and letting Paul Pogba leave on a free (two players who are unfortunately shining at the moment), there is no reason why, with the current influx of French players to the Premier League, Manchester United wouldn’t delve into the French market next summer. With players such as Zouma or Capoue available at reasonable prices and both capable of ameliorating the squad, one can expect plenty more rumours in the papers during the coming months. And don’t worry, if it’s a recurring story that’s been around for a year or so, it means that Manchester United are probably interested in the player.
Whenever I mention Kurt Zouma on Twitter, I get a few questions regarding who he is and where he plays so here is a short and sweet explanation from an article I wrote for Sport Witness a few months back: “Kurt Zouma, born October 27th 1994, is the perfect example of a meteoric rise in the world of football. Getting his first start at the age of 16 for Saint-Etienne, the French club have never really looked back since. Very quickly finding a place in the hearts of fans due to lively and mature performances, the bulky defender (1.85m/87kg) started 16 games for ASSE, making a grand total of 24 appearances in his first season for the first team.”
Now, as some of you may know, the subject of the ins and outs of football is something that I take a great interest in and the Zouma saga is one I have been following in particular. Why? Simply because I believe that Kurt Zouma is a player destined to achieve great things in the world of football. As the description above shows, Kurt Zouma is a player who started his first team career before most. Now aged 18, Kurt has had a rather unfortunate season with a few niggling injuries. Despite this, he has managed to start 10 games for Saint-Etienne, impressing each and every time.
Now onto the main part and the question most Manchester United fans have on their mind.
Do we need him?
My answer is rather straightforward and simple: Yes. Manchester United cannot afford to pass up yet another cheap and extremely talented player in the summer. The list has grown too long and depressing.
Whilst many view Chris Smalling as the natural replacement for Rio Ferdinand, I do not. Despite impressing lately, I firmly believe that Chris Smalling will remain a squad player at Manchester United, filling in for the likes of Rafael at right-back and for the centre-back pair. For me, there is one perfect player to replace Rio and that person is Kurt Zouma. Before you all get your pitchforks out and start making effigies out of Anderson’s body with my name on it, let Chris Atkins from The Elastico explain to you why Zouma has what it takes to be successful wherever he goes:
“When it comes to describing Zouma’s style of play, it would be easy to over-emphasise the physical attributes that he brings to the team. After all, he is a man-mountain, as well as being blessed with acceleration that belies his sizeable frame. However, it should not be ignored that the centre-back’s game shows great maturity for a player of his age. Indeed, a quick look at the statistics (whoscored.com) will tell you that whilst he makes considerably fewer tackles than his defensive colleagues, Zouma makes an astonishing number of clearances, blocked shots and interceptions each game - testament to his acute ability to read the game.
Indeed, given his physique and maturity of play, it would be difficult to work out quite how incredibly young the defender still is without being informed. There are, of course, areas that the defender must improve upon. Perhaps, despite how obvious his strength is, he could make more of this natural advantage and attempt to rob the ball from the player’s feet more often. Zouma did score twice early on in his debut campaign, but he can also look to be more forceful in the air and attempt to contribute more in an attacking sense from set pieces. However, the fact remains that Zouma plays with an authority that is rare in one so young, he displays intelligence in his positioning and, when in possession, is comfortable bringing the ball out of defence and receiving the ball in tight situations. A fine, all-round prospect.”
Now comes the inevitable question: Where would he fit?
As I have previously stated, I do not believe that Chris Smalling possesses the potential to become a regular first team player for Manchester United (If I’m wrong, come back to this article in 3 years time and rub it in my face. I’ll have deserved it) and I believe that (recent selections point to this) Phil Jones will be remoulded into a defensive midfielder over the next season. This leaves only Jonny Evans as the sole quality centre-back at the club once Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic call it a day, leaving the club with no other choice but to delve once more into the transfer market for a centre-back.
I agree that, at the moment, Zouma isn’t particularly needed, nor do I believe that he is ready for the Premier League (yet); however, a deal similar to Wilfried Zaha’s in the summer could be an option. Zouma needs first team experience to fully develop as a player and loaning him back to Saint-Etienne for another season would be beneficial for both parties. In fact, buying him and loaning him out to any club, even a Premier League one (look at Welbeck and Cleverley) would be useful.
To conclude what was originally set out to be a short article: Do I believe that Manchester United are interested in the player? Yes. Do I believe that this transfer will come to fruition? We are talking about a team managed by Sir Alex Ferguson here. Anything can happen.