Friday, June 01, 2007

Sir Alex's Shopping Spree

At the end of the season, it was pretty generally understood that United had three main transfer targets for the off-season -- assumed to be Owen Hargreaves, Gareth Bale and a top-class striker.

And they've just splurged about £50 million on three players. But although Hargreaves is one of them, Bale has gone to Tottenham and a striker hasn't materialized. Instead, the other two players are Nani from Sporting Lisbon and Anderson from Porto. Despite the price tag (roughly £30 million for the two of them), I think this is a great investment in two players with huge potential for the future. I'm also kind of shocked that United managed to arrange the deal so quickly and quietly -- maybe they learned their lesson from the public haggling over Hargreaves. (I'm almost afraid to believe that it's really over. Please, can we all just shut up about it now?)

So where does this leave the rest of the squad?

There's still a big Ruud Van Nistelrooy-shaped hole to fill up front, in my opinion. Yes, United scored a ridiculous number of goals last year, and yes, it's great that they weren't dependent on any one player to score those goals, but bringing in someone who's better suited to the role of target man wouldn't hurt, especially if they're going to play that 4-2-3-1 formation more often next season. Unfortunately, it looks like most of the transfer budget has been used up already, which means the big-name players like Eto'o, Villa, Torres, and even Berbatov are out of reach. The latest name being tossed around is Nicolas Anelka, which...well, my initial reaction was "Isn't one sulky Frenchman enough for one team?" But on second thought, it's not a bad option, especially if they can get him for a decent price. He's the right type of player, at least -- big, powerful, quick, good finisher -- as long as Sir Alex can keep him from getting his nose out of joint. And then they can look for a more long-term solution next summer.

As for the rest of the strikers:

  • Wayne Rooney - Obviously going nowhere. And for all the talk of him being in a slump, he still scored 23 goals for United this season. I think he'll do even better next year as long as he's not getting all frustrated at being stuck on left wing or marooned up front with no service.
  • Louis Saha - Probably out the door, provided he can get over the threshold without breaking a nail or whatever. He had a good start to the season, but Sir Alex seems to be fed up with the way he breaks if you breathe on him wrong.
  • Alan Smith - Might be going too, if they get a good price for him. It's a shame, because I like him and I think he wants to stay, but although he's had some good games since he came back from that horrific injury, I'm not sure he's good enough.
  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - One more year left on his contract, after which he and his creaky knees will be eased into coaching.
  • Dong Fangzhou - Has played exactly one game for United since getting his UK work permit. Not sure what use he is, other than selling shirts in China.
  • Giuseppe Rossi - Should be coming back from his loan at Parma (where he scored 9 goals in 19 games). Might be farmed out to another Premiership team in the fall to toughen him up a bit.

As I said before, I think bringing in Nani and Anderson is a great, forward-thinking move. I'd been wondering how United were going to deal with having to replace veterans like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs -- both of whom have had fantastic seasons, but you have to wonder how much longer they can keep going, even now that Giggs has retired from international football. Assuming that the new guys can manage to adapt to the Premiership from Portugal, and live up to their potential, they're ideal replacements. Nani can play on either wing but prefers the left, while Anderson can play on the left wing, up front or as an attacking midfielder. I expect they'll be rotated into the squad along with Cristiano Ronaldo on the wings, with Giggs playing in the centre more often next season.

Hargreaves, of course, is the piece of the puzzle that United have been after for a while now. Although this is assuming that he ends up being the player we saw at the World Cup for England last summer, rather than the player that we all hated before that. Anyway, having him in the squad gives them more options in midfield -- Sir Alex could pick two out of three from Hargreaves, Scholes and Carrick to play centre mid, or all three, depending on the opposition. Hargreaves should allow Carrick to get forward more and take control of the game, the way he did in that 7-1 against Roma. His presence also means that Paul Scholes will have to do less tackling, which is a relief to all of us who shudder every time Scholesy slides in for the ball and misses horribly.

The rest of them:
  • Park Ji-Sung - Had a decent season, when he wasn't out injured. I wouldn't be surprised to see him sold down the line, though, depending on how the new players adapt.
  • Kieran Richardson - Crap, and thinks he's a lot better than he is. As far as I can tell, his main advantage is being left-footed. Can we sell him, please?
    Darren Fletcher - Mostly crap, but he's had one or two brilliant games this year. Probably staying, due to Sir Alex's bizarre love for him, as well as his (dreaded word!) versatility.
  • Chris Eagles - Looks like he spends way too much time on his hair. Scored a nice goal against Everton, though.

I was initially surprised that United were interested in Gareth Bale, since they're currently kind of overloaded in this position, with Patrice Evra, Gabriel Heinze and Mikael Silvestre. Evra is probably going to be the first-choice left back again next year, and one or both of Heinze and Silvestre could be leaving. I'd rather keep Heinze around -- although he's been erratic since coming back from injury this year, I still have hope that he'll get back to the way he was in his first season -- but I get the impression that he wants to leave if he isn't going to play regularly.

They're solid at centre-half, with Rio Ferdinand (when he stays awake) and Nemanja Vidic (a fucking wall; I love this guy), plus Wes Brown (surprisingly un-crap this year, for the most part) and either Heinze or Silvestre as backup. I'm more interested in what they're going to do about finding an understudy for Gary Neville -- I would've thought this was more important than left-back, especially with Neville's nagging little injuries this year. But I suppose this is one of the easier positions to fill. Brown and John O'Shea can both fill in if necessary (O'Shea is still crap, but at least he can play in lots of different positions; plus he pops up with random last-minute winners against Liverpool). And there's a few younger players who might get a chance, assuming they're not sold to raise money for a striker:
  • Phil Bardsley - Has been on loan, first at Rangers and then Villa. Wouldn't be surprised to see him sold off.
  • Craig Cathcart - Youth team captain. But apparently Fergie would rather play Darren Fletcher as a defender than have him on the field. Hardly a ringing endorsement.
  • Kieran Lee - Reserve team captain, or so Wiki tells me. That's...all I know, really.
  • Gerard Pique - Has been on loan with Real Zaragoza, but will be back at Old Trafford next season.

Edwin van der Sar had some dodgy moments toward the end of the season, but I expect that he'll still be United's number one next year. I hope they'll bring Ben Foster -- who was practically the only player to come out of Watford's season with any kind of credit -- in as his backup, with a view to replacing Van der Sar permanently in a year or so. It's tough, because on the one hand you want Foster to be playing regularly, but on the other hand he could use some experience actually playing for United -- probably in the cups, to start with. Tomasz Kuszczak has been okay, but not great -- certainly not good enough to be in the squad ahead of Foster. His loan deal with United becomes permanent as of the beginning of July, as far as I know, which means there's a chance they could sell him on and recoup some money.


Anonymous said...

ole, richardson and eagles are on their way out. anelka is coming for around 9m. John o Shea is future captain in waiting, you heard it here first!

jboy3533 said...

WOW!!! Anonymous u do believe anything you hear in the gossip columns, don't you?

Richardson I'll give you that, even a blind man can see that coming but Ole is going to United training staff and Eagles is going nowhere...expect him to future in some league cup and fa cup games so as to give the starters some rest.

Anelka isn't coming to United, look for united to get a striker that wouldn't cost them too much to bring into the side.

Jen said...

Any comment that includes a reference to John O'Shea as captain in waiting has got to be taking the piss, I think, jboy.

Bolton and United both seem to have quashed the Anelka rumours, which is interesting, but it makes me wonder who they *are* going to buy. Because I still think they need a new striker, even if it's only a stop-gap until they have the money for one of the big names in a year or so.

jboy3533 said...

LOL, clearly he's in bits over what is being discussed here. Still can't believe I missed the O'shea comment...quit watching too much Fox Football Fone-In mate.

With regards to the striker issue, I really can't say for certain who United will end up getting. We need a quality CF so Rooney can play off of (that's also when he's truely lethal) but right now Nugent is the only reasonably priced person I can think of but signing him will be difficult since he would want guaranteed first team football. Other strikers such as Berbatov, Eto and El'Nino will be way over priced for United.

Anonymous said...


i'll be sure to remind you when nicolas arrives ;)

Jen said...

I wonder what they're going to decide to do about Alan Smith -- I think how much Sir Alex trusts him to lead the line is going to affect how much they'll spend on a new striker.

Anonymous said...

there is no chance of smith leaving imo. the guy keeps everyone in the squad on their toes, fergie admires his attitude. has taken a bit of stick recently but that will only make him more determined. it's good to have options like smith on the bench, he's adaptable and he aint nice to play against. he needs a good pre-s and he'll be back to his best.