Despite the arrival of Robin van Persie in the summer, United only managed to muster a meagre 86 goals this season, 3 less than last time around. In reality, this was probably more attributable to the limited contribution from the wings this season because, in reality, it was a fairly positive season for the forwards. Whilst the defence did it’s best to throw away the title within the first few months – as the odds on Unibet suggested at the time – the forwards did enough up front to compensate for the kamikaze attitude on display elsewhere.
Following on from the defence and midfield reports, this report assesses how well everyone actually performed in comparison to their expected performance at the start of August. It is not a quantified ranking of individual ability, as most typical season reviews are:
Rooney has been replaced. He looks on grim-faced as the young pretender relishes the opportunity and rapidly graduates from little known understudy to the main event whilst the team’s former talisman looks on. Rooney faces the reality that his best days are past. No longer do his team mates and supporters entrust him with their hopes and dreams. As much as they revere the part he has played in the club’s history; it is clear to all that the future belongs to others.
Fortunately for the man who goes by a teenager’s nickname, the Rooney in question is Jack rather than ’Wazza’. This scene from Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday plays like a disconcerting premonition of things to come for United’s number ten.
Like Jack, having got used to being the main man, Wayne has found his billing reduced. Not only has Robin van Persie usurped him as the team’s star attraction, but both Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck have in the eyes of many fans emerged as the men most likely. Like in all his films, Stone’s message lacks subtlety but rings true regardless. Everyone can be replaced. Today’s star can become Yesterday’s man before he even knows it.
In Wayne’s case, you can inevitably trace the beginning of his fall from grace to that distasteful episode where in league with his agent he either a) extorted the club or b) took on the Glazers, depending on your view of the man. Regardless of the motivation, his appeal for the acquisition of world class talent has both enhanced the team and diluted his influence. Proven high quality arrived in the form of Robin van Persie, along with potential greatness in De Gea, Jones and Kagawa. The last title-winning side – so reliant upon its talisman – was remoulded, no longer centred upon Rooney. He is not alone in finding himself a functional sentry where once he was a centurion. Both Nani, and even Valencia , have found themselves at odds with the manager’s tactical vision.
To describe Rooney as having a poor season would be ridiculous. He provided a staggering number of assists, delivered a reasonable return in front of goal and earned plaudits for his willingness to adapt to deeper roles. This last element is where the questions lie. Arguments rage over Rooney’s potential to become a central midfielder but the fact these debates continue as he finishes his eighth season at the club is proof of the state of flux in which he finds himself. In the wake of Ronaldo’s sale, expectations rose that Rooney would fulfil his promise to emerge as a player equal to the greatest in world football. For a time he threatened to do so; memorably eviscerating a Milan side who had no answer to his combination of explosive power and intelligent movement. This was not to be sustained, as inconsistency in performance (if not output) convinced his manager to look elsewhere. The call for more goals to fight back against City brought a new face rather than a renewal of faith in the existing star. To paraphrase OFSTED, Rooney has been ‘good, with outstanding features.’
Should Rooney have become the player we hoped? Perhaps we asked for too much. The teen prodigy has edged close to becoming the record goalscorer for one of the world’s greatest clubs. Precious few precocious sportsmen have ever gone on to fulfil the lofty expectations lavished upon them – I give you Robinho for example. Yet like Robinho, the suspicions remain that lifestyle choices away from the field have undermined his achievements on it. None too subtle regular references to his ‘conditioning’ suggest his manager agrees. Even those Reds who defended his actions in the contract saga could not defend his return from the summer clearly overweight. We hoped the arrival of RvP and Kagawa would fuel his appetite to prove his worth, but sadly it seemed only to have fuelled his appetite. On the field Rooney has cut an unusually isolated figure at times this season; appearances punctuated by unforced errors and the now familiar throwing up of the arms when things don’t go his way. Life on the football field frequently looks a chore rather than the pleasure it once was.
Apologists might point to his manager as the reason for a failure to press on. The tombola has forced Rooney to play markedly different roles from week to week. It is an oft heard lament that Rooney’s selfless flexibility has been exploited at the cost of excelling in one particular role. ‘He can play anywhere’ is meant as a compliment, yet the great players don’t. For them it is an endorsement of capability as oppose to a statement of intention. Robson and Keane were both praised as such yet positional changes for those two only came in the darkest of injury crises. The reality for Rooney is that despite being given opportunities to establish himself as both a striker and a creator, he has not convinced his manager of his ability to excel in either role. In the two biggest matches of the season, he was used either as a grafter or not at all. As much as supporters tried to underplay the significance of both selections, the inescapable fact was that Wayne Rooney is no longer considered essential to success. The era of ‘the big man’ is over.
The perverse reality is that in the month that he has added yet another title to his burgeoning collection, Rooney is perceived to be mulling over his next move. Stay, sign a new deal and fight for his desired place? All power to him if he does, but Ferguson’s fluttering of eyelashes at Dortmund’s lethal Pole don’t suggest a man preparing to restore Rooney to frontline service. Nor does the pointed praise of Kagawa and promises of a big future ahead suggest Rooney’s future role will replicate that of his shirt number. An alternative then is stay, sign a new deal and continue to serve in a variety of roles. Those who claim that Rooney could convert to a champions league quality central midfielder after ten draining years have admirable faith I sadly lack. His expensive use of the ball and frequent heavy touch don’t meet the criteria for the mobile, technical number 8 Ferguson craves.
The real alternative could be out of Rooney’s hands, yet ruefully I feel it best for the player and most probably the club. His contribution to our club derserves respect; at times he has carried us. Yet despite the occasional moments of brilliance; the consistent excellence that characterises the true greats has proved elusive once again this season. If a suitor is prepared to cross the Glazers palms with sufficient silver; a new club, with a new manager, could be precisely the fresh challenge needed to make the next five years of Rooney’s career the peak rather than the epilogue.
During this week’s Can They Score podcast, we talk about the surprisingly easy victory against Newcastle, the International Break and all that entails (or doesn’t), Burton’s opening and some silly transfer rumours. Joining us in the studio for this episode is Tom, Jonas and Adam.
Now that was more like it! From front to back a proper Manchester United away performance. Lacklustre starts have been our downfall of late, yet the first quarter of this game was our most impressive of the season. The only criticism being our failure to put the game truly out of sight.
The principle reason for this was the wayward finishing from Danny Welbeck. For all his technical ability, he continually snatches at the chances that fall his way and should have been celebrating a brace on his return to the starting eleven. However to condemn his display on this basis would be foolhardy.
Welbeck’s performance was understandably overshadowed by the star turns of Rooney’s homage to Keane, and a back four who didn’t look like they had been introduced to one another minutes before kick off. Yet the influence of the young forward should not be underplayed.
There has been much talk of an evolution to a fluid, pacey style this season; in no small part down to the arrival of Kagawa. The man from Japan is still finding his feet, meaning we have struggled for fluency. At the Wongabowl it was a much more familiar name who helped make us tick. Groans usually follow the realisation of a striker banished to the wing – yet Welbeck’s appreciation of space make him a perfect candidate for the dual forward role.
He may have failed to make the most of the opportunities afforded him but his uncanny knack of appearing in the right place at the right time is one few players possess. Harper’s heavy touch might ordinarily have gone unpunished but for Welbeck’s awareness and tenacity. Credit may also be given from some quarters for the determination to stay upright and attempt an unbalanced finish following the keeper’s desperate last man lunge. I suspect we’ll be waiting a while for the moral guardians of the British press to reconsider their stance of Danny the Diver. Welbeck’s link play with Rooney, Cleverley and van Persie left the home side chasing shadows and reduced to using baser instincts to try and disrupt our rhythm.
Not only did Welbeck inject urgency and unpredictability to our attack but he offered some desperately needed support to our overworked left back. It is no coincidence that our much maligned Frenchman produced his best display for years when aided by a left sided attacker willing to press high up the pitch and force the opposing wide-man to worry more about assisting the full back behind him than attacking the one in front.
Alan Pardew certainly recognised this when switching his most dangerous player Ben Arfa to the other side of the pitch. It was fitting that against the expectations of the majority, it was the dream team of Rooney and van Persie who were withdrawn early meaning the local lad from Longsight remained on the pitch to hear the whistle that called time on his best performance since April.
Amidst a gloomy economic outlook, loans of some sort or the other seem to be dominating the front pages of news. Loan news in the footballing world occupies tiny, three-inch column spaces in the middle pages, but appear to have proven far more fruitful. Last season saw the return of Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley following successful loan spells in the premier league with Sunderland and Wigan Athletic.
Previous beneficiaries of the loan system have included stars such as Paul Scholes and notably David Beckham. With the yoke of ‘Glazeronomics’ unlikely to depart any time soon, it becomes all the more imperative for a club like United to reap returns on loanees which they can reinvest on the pitch or the market. So who are the ones likely to be farmed out for a season or two? And when they return, do they stand a chance of cutting it at United?
The reserve team captain tops this list. Over the last couple of years, Old Trafford has seen overseas talents, in Giuseppe Rossi and Gerard Pique, hone their skills at the club, but eventually grow to world class players elsewhere. Paul Pogba could, and most likely will, follow them to achieve stardom away from Old Trafford. Is there a trend beginning to surface? If so, it must end here. Petrucci isn’t likely to make the cut immediately at OT. However a string of impressive performances for the reserves have convinced this writer that he could light up the theatre of dreams in the years to come, IF he sticks around long enough.
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.
Euro 2012 has once again encapsulated Europe; shaping the evening schedules for football fanatics across the continent.
The prestigious tournament has lived up to its billing and provided us with what we crave: entertaining, gripping football matches.
For most of us however, international football isn’t a priority, it’s more of a sideshow designed to keep us amused over the summer months when we don’t have to worry about contract talks stalling or what formation Sir Alex is going to line up to negotiate a tricky away fixture.
How many people would swap seeing their club lift the league title, for their country lifting the European Championship this summer? No, me neither.
Even when we watch the competition we think about United’s players. Oddly, Manchester United only has six representatives at this summer’s tournament; a mere three of whom are likely to feature in all their country’s matches – Nani, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck. This inevitably leads us into inspecting other players more intently, in the hope of finding a hidden gem who could bolster United’s ranks.
The Only Utd Player Remaining
Don’t be fooled, this is an age-old trap! The worst time to sign a player is after he has performed well in a major tournament, be that the World Cup or the European Championships. But why is this? Read more…
Conventional wisdom dictates that Manchester United need to sign a striker in the summer transfer window.
Following the flurry of activity in and out of Old Trafford already this summer, Sir Alex Ferguson looks like he will be one short of his favoured four forward options going into next season.
Following the departure of Michael Owen already, expected exit of Dimitar Berbatov soon enough and a nasty cruciate-ligament injury to William Keane which will rule him out for nine months (when he was destined to be involved next season), the Red Devils are left with only three recognised first team strikers. That is following the departure of other experimental strikers in Mame Birame Diouf in January, rumoured loan move of Macheda next season and necessary re-loan of Portuguese flop, Bebe.
Of course, Sir Alex may well decide to use Ashley Young as an auxiliary striker as he has been used for England in the Euros so far or he may deem another unnecessary in light of Kagawa’s arrival and a possible transition to 4-2-3-1.
However, on show in Ukraine and Poland is a plethora of goal-scoring potential who Martin Ferguson, our chief European scout, is sure to be watching.
(Poland and Borussia Dortmund)
With a nation’s hopes resting upon his shoulders, Lewandowski opened the scoring in this year’s European Championship with a fine header against Greece in the competition’s first match. A strong and athletic threat with a 6ft 3″ frame, he has become a key figure for both club and country.
After forming a telepathic relationship with United’s new signing, Shinji Kagawa, last season, Lewandowski finished the season with 22 goals in 34 Bundesliga appearances, after firing in more shots per games than any other player. However, the 23 year-old’s main weaknesses are his hold-up play and passing in general; in his Champions League appearances, for example, he averaged a pass completion rate of just 56%. Nonetheless, he is the second youngest player on the list and should improve on both of these weaknesses over the next few years.
The Poland coach, Smuda, did suggest Manchester United were a possible destination this summer but this was categorically ruled out by Borussia Dortmund who insist he is not for sale, even though a bid over £25million could prove very tempting.
(Holland and FC Schalke)
Seemingly linked to United every summer for the past five or six season, by lazy journalists in search of hits, the Dutchman is finally showing the form, at 28 years of age, that the prodigious goal scoring record in his younger years predicted. Scoring 39% of Schalke’s goals in the Bundesliga this season with a staggering 29 goals in 32 Bundesliga matches, he really is at his peak.
Averaging a goal every 96 minutes, in comparison to Podolski at every 140 minutes and M B Diouf at every 129 minutes, it is amazing that he has been ousted from the national team’s starting XI by a seemingly unfit and out-of-form Afellay. Made all the more bizarre considering that he scored 8 goals in just 5 Europa League matches this season and set up the same amount of goals as Shinji Kagawa with 8.
Despite all this, Huntelaar would be available for a fee just shy of that paid for Kagawa as his contract only has one year left to run and the Dutchman is keen to move on to a bigger club. If Sir Alex is interested, £14 million on a proven goal scorer may be a worthwhile investment.
This summer will see the departure from Old Trafford of an iconic player who has broken several records on his way to becoming one of the most recognisable names in world football.
Yet this parting will gain only a fraction of the column-space and media attention that was afforded to Carlos Tevez, Eden Hazard, Wesley Sneijder and Fernando Torres, to name but four.
Cast your mind back four years; Man United had conquered Europe, complementing their re-found dominance of the domestic game. Cristiano Ronaldo had blossomed into one of the game’s greats, Wayne Rooney was demonstrating the perfect blend of quality and determination required to join him, and they were complemented by a cast of stars which included Hargreaves, Tevez, Ferdinand and Vidic, all helping establish United as the number one team on the planet.
Yet there was still something missing; that player who was unpredictably brilliant, who could win matches with unfathomable pieces of skill and mastery. Perhaps there was a desire to finally fill the void left by Eric Cantona from a decade previously. It was a maverick, a nonconformist who deviated from the blandness and uniformity of the modern day footballer, who Sir Alex longed for. United thought they had found that player at the eleventh hour, minutes before that summer’s transfer window slammed shut.
From an outsider’s point of view, it may have seemed somewhat peculiar that Ferguson plummeted to splash over £30 million on Tottenham striker Dimitar Berbatov. The wiley old Scot had arguably the most distinguished counter-attacking team in living memory at his disposal, yet he opted for the languid and often apathetic-looking Bulgarian. Read more…
As the 2012 European Championship kicks off this evening, here is a quick check on the 7 Manchester United players called up for their respective countries and an analysis on what impact they may have during the competition.
Anders Lindegaard (Denmark)
8 PL games, 6 clean sheets
An injury to Thomas Sorensen the day before the final squad was due to be announced has left Morten Olsen without his first choice goalkeeper. Kasper Schmeichel was drafted into the squad, leaving Stephan Anderson and Anders Lindegaard the front runners to start in goal versus the Netherlands on Saturday.
Anderson has been given the number 1 shirt and played the full 90 minutes in Denmark’s last pre-tournament friendly, a 2-0 win over Australia; giving us the impression that Anders Lindegaard will be the Dane’s backup goalkeeper in Euro 2012.
29 PL games, 8 goals, 10 assists
The Portuguese forward is set to start on the opposite flank to former United star Cristiano Ronaldo. This is Nani’s second senior international tournament following Euro 2008 after missing the 2010 World Cup. Four years ago, Nani’s only start came in Portugal’s final group game which was a 2-0 defeat to Switzerland and he only made substitute appearances in 2 out of Portugal’s other 3 games.
This time around, Nani will be looking to make an impact in this tournament as a starter. But it won’t be easy for the Portugal national team as they have the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark in their group, all of whom are above them in FIFA’s World Rankings with all 4 making the top 10. Coached by Paulo Bento, this team is well organised but struggles to compensate for the imbalance Ronaldo causes. Read more…