United need a heart, brain, courage, and a 2005 style shake up

Rooney gets his coat. Will he be getting it for good in January?

If it was just one game, then you could put it down to one of those things. If you take into account West Brom recently won at Arsenal, it doesn’t seem so bad. However, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something very wrong going on at Old Trafford, and that something needs to be done urgently to address the situation. So, what exactly is the problem? There’s talk in the press about Rooney either wanting to go or fearful he’ll be kicked out. The club have denied it, but unrest remains. I’ll take a look at the (several) issues that currently present themselves as major problems at the club, and suggest why a 2005 style bombshell might be exactly what we need.

Ownership

We’ve made our own opinion clear on this site. Most supporters, it can be agreed, have something of a different take on how we protest, but most (if not all) concur that the Glazers are bad for the future of the club. Their ownership is directly linked to all of the below; as I am about to take the stand of stating clearly that investment is needed. There is talk that there is around £120m plus sitting in the bank for United to spend on new players. Time will tell, although history suggests it’s probably going to go in the Glazers’ pockets or to whichever of their other failing businesses needs temporary respite. What can we, as supporters, do to force them to leave the club? The protest scheduled for the 30th is a start. But the Glazers have shown they won’t leave just because they are unpopular. Taking the approach that they appreciate investment is needed in order for the team to remain a successful cash cow (and the fact that we shelled out around £60m in 2007), let’s look at where, in the team, we are lacking.

Goalkeeper

This isn’t a knee jerk reaction to Edwin’s mistake against West Brom. If anything, it was sods law that his one high profile mistake came at this point. All top keepers are prone to it, Schmeichel had at least one a year, and the last major one to my mind for van der Sar came at Anfield the season before last. He was due one. Nonetheless, he is 40 in a few days. Sure, he’s in a position where he doesn’t run a lot, but every November for the last 3 years we’ve half expected him to announce he was hanging up his gloves. If he does so, then we’d better have a safety first keeper lined up. If there’s one thing that our defence needs, it’s a keeper comfortable in his own ability. I honestly don’t think too much is wrong with our defence, in general, despite the number of goals we are shipping. Rio wasn’t sparkling yesterday but he was present for the clean sheets in Valencia and Sunderland, suggesting that – for now at least – yesterday was the exception to the rule, and that the problem lies further forward.

Engine Room

I use this term loosely, based on it being the popular football culture reference for the middle of the park. Made famous for the driving spirits of Roy Keane and Bryan Robson, displayed on the continent in the recent past by the likes of Gattuso and Edgar Davids. If you wanted the antithesis to that, you need to look no further than yesterday, when for 30 minutes, Michael Carrick and Darron Gibson plodded their way to another appearance bonus, 30 minutes in tandem that saw them offer nothing of their creative talents going forward and even less in protection for a back line exposed to raw pace. If they are unable to impose themselves in the bigger games on a consistent basis, then that’s hardly a stick to beat them with. If they lack the desire to even try against the so-called lesser lights? Then something is wrong, and that something is more than likely their fundamental lack of ability to do so. At least in tandem.

Because for the moment at least, United look blessed in numbers. Perhaps it’s the combination? Any two of Gibson, Carrick and Scholes is a leaden footed recipe for disaster. Scholes has been in imperious form but benefits from the energy of Darren Fletcher or Anderson at the side of him. Part of United’s problem lies with the injuries to wide players; with Ryan Giggs’ hamstring recurrence suggesting he was in need of a longer rest the first time – something he’ll definitely get now, the lack of a direct crossing threat that Antonio Valencia provided is also absent. Anderson was shifted wide at times against Valencia and after Gibson’s introduction yesterday.

Is Anderson the answer? After 3 years trying to find his natural role – pushing him into numerous positions, (where to be fair, he has applied himself admirably) to accommodate for others, namely, yesterday, Gibson – he deserves the opportunity for someone to be shoehorned in at the side of him for a change. It wouldn’t have hurt for Bebe or Obertan to have been around yesterday, and it won’t hurt for them to be involved on Wednesday.

One key thing I picked up yesterday, and remarked upon immediately on Twitter and in the match report, was our lack of penetration. We rely on a 36 year old to provide this, and it shouldn’t be the case. Rooney can, if he’s in the mood, but he’s not. Anderson has the natural talent to do it but yesterday he was denied that opportunity in place of Gibson. Nani, for all his improvement, is not that answer. At times last season he looked like he would be. This season he has scored goals and created loads, so it’s with a degree of apprehension that I write this. I was talking before the game yesterday about my thoughts on him, only for him to do, yet again, exactly what I had predicted. Two moments of brilliance accompanied with 88 minutes of almost complete frustration. Is this because he’s reverted to type, or is the rest of the side just not good enough? Given the number of crosses that failed to clear the first man yesterday, I’d have to suggest the former, but I wouldn’t give up on him yet.

Tom Cleverley may yet turn out to be the penetrating midfielder we need, but that’s the unknown quantity. Ravel Morrison was earmarked as one for the future by Doron last week and had a stormer yesterday, but he is, as Doron remarked, very much one for the future. Likewise, Magnus Eikrem at the higher level of the reserves, is the regular captain for United’s second string. Of the two, Eikrem is far closer, but even he is yet to make his debut. There are hopes that he will figure in the coming weeks, but it remains to be seen if he is able to make the transition from excelling in the reserves to performing with comfort in the first team.

Where does a penetrative threat lie outside of Old Trafford? There are two names that spring to my mind immediately. Cristiano Ronaldo is the first. Our exclusive last month that United were actively sounding out the possibility of his return was greeted with scepticism by some, and I would have to at least concede that the move relies heavily on the willingness of Real Madrid to sell in the first place. Given their unpredictability on transfer matters, it’s very much wait and see.

The other name is Gareth Bale. The young Welshman is currently the most exciting left sided player in the country and it is no secret that Ryan Giggs is his hero. A transfer is no foregone conclusion given Tottenham’s current standing and our dealing with them in the past. He would, without question, come at a premium, which would immediately cock an eyebrow at the finances. While Ronaldo remains the dream, Bale – although equally unlikely – is surely the hot favourite for Ferguson to look at. When casting an eye for “Manchester United” style players, Bale is the one that sticks out like a sore thumb, and certainly, one I wished we’d taken a punt on in the January window when he was seemingly out of favour, since when his price has probably trebled.

In terms of a Keane / Robson / Davids style player, we already have Anderson, who has the potential to be a box to box midfielder, if only he is given the prolonged run he is crying out for. Build the team around him, if only until a transfer window and we will at least have a pressing urgency. Best of all, we already have him, so only an arm around the shoulder and faith is required. We have to try and at least utilise his immense ability; after all, we’re trying to do the same for players of lesser individual talent. The worst thing of all of late is the lack of urgency in the late stages of games. It was there to see against Liverpool, but that pride shouldn’t just materialise when we are playing esteemed rivals, it should materialise whenever our players pull on the United shirt.

Reliance on the old guard

Maybe a little too simplistic, given that we finished the game with plenty of players who cost more than £7m on the pitch. They should have been able to see off a newly promoted side, right? As I wrote in the match report, and to be fair, as has been widely acknowledged, United looked toothless after Giggs went off. So, with Giggs out, Scholes unable to kickstart some energy into a team intent on going through the motions, and van der Sar making an uncharacteristic error, we saw exactly what happens when we can’t rely on the elder statesmen. I spoke at length last season about how it was Ryan Giggs pumping blood into the United body that decided the league derby with City at Old Trafford, and the pride of Paul Scholes that saw him pop up in the last minute at Eastlands. Where was the heart yesterday, the pride? It was sulking, or already feeling in the comfort zone. Too many players who don’t think they have anything to prove, Dimitar Berbatov and Nani in particular who seem to believe that one swallow made a summer. It’s not a particularly helpful attitude to those who are playing as if they have got something to prove, yesterday, Anderson and Chicharito.

If this were a film, it would represent the Wizard of Oz, with United needing a new heart, new brains and a little bit of courage. Yesterday, and too many times this season, we have displayed little of any.

The problem dates back to last season – I believe the same problems on display yesterday were all too easy to see in our game against Aston Villa last December, and at various points through the season. It’s not simply that we lack conviction or a cutting edge; profligacy up front does not correlate with these bizarre short spells of terrible defending nor does it explain the lack of cutting edge or even desire that generally follows. I waited until after the international break to voice this concern; I was hopeful that, as these things seem to in the past, it was just a short trend. However, the trend has continued through two international breaks and a lack of invention without Valencia and Giggs does not bode well for upcoming games against Stoke, Tottenham, Villa and City (three of those away!). If we continue to defend like we have, too, then things are likely to get worse before they get better.

The Rooney factor

This will be unpopular, as it is going against the grain for myself to write it. It’s only in response to the rumours that Rooney is unsettled that have been ridiculously over-hyped and exaggerated by the Mirror who are boldly claiming Rooney will definitely be off and be off in January, too. Regardless of whether they are right, perhaps there is some truth in the style of the story.

If the problem isn’t that Gibson and Carrick aren’t as desperately bad as I make them out to be, then it’s somewhere else. In 2005, Sir Alex dropped a bombshell by kicking Roy Keane out of the club mid-season when it seemed that Cristiano Ronaldo and Darren Fletcher, among others, were facing the end of their own stays at Old Trafford. At the end of that season, Ruud van Nistelrooy was gone too, and only Michael Carrick came in. Minor tweaks (the midseason signings of Evra and Vidic) and we had a title winning side. If, in the summer of 2005, you would have identified Roy Keane as the player to go, you’d have been laughed out of town. Yes, we needed a long term successor, but every time he was on the pitch he was invariably United’s best player. Kicking him out was a huge decision and, ultimately, the right one.

The Mirror’s story that Rooney has had a number of rows with Ferguson – there is only likely to be one winner in that scenario. Rooney’s bench time and introduction wide left is probably the fuel to the fire on the Mirror story – the Daily Star (I know) go with quite the opposite, that Rooney will stay, and will sign a new contract. The Telegraph’s reaction was to take an even further stand; far from trying to engineer his exit, Rooney himself appears to be fearful of his future. United have dismissed talk of a sale as “nonsense”.

I’m not suggesting for one moment I want Rooney to be sold, only that the problem with some players might not be quite so obvious. At the end of the day, no player is bigger than the club. Roy Keane’s controversial exit did not tarnish his legacy at the club, as evidenced by his warm reception on his subsequent returns. More importantly, Darren Fletcher and Cristiano Ronaldo grew into two of the best players in their positions in Europe. The problem may be Rooney – the finger is pointing there, as he seemingly struggles to come to terms with the consequences of his recent actions – but even if it is, he has time to put that right. It may well be someone else. Maybe Nani has gotten too big for his boots. I get the feeling that there is something massive brewing at United, and that a bombshell is about to hit. I actually predicted as much in our pre-season review, and it’s a feeling that grows every time I see us go through the motions. If it takes the sacrifice of one top name to be conducive to the progress of others and the team, then that’s what will need to be done.

Conclusion

I don’t have the answer. Just that, something isn’t right, it’s just as likely to be none of the above but factoring all of it in. You can just take a look at the three completely different stands taken by the media re: Rooney, and how Sir Alex’s response, if he gives one, will probably contradict the lot. One thing we can safely say, though. Our midfield needs a re-invention, and unless Cleverley or Bebe has the keys or Obertan makes an unlikely and startling rise to prominence, it will have to come in the terms of significant investment. Investment that is required, as conceded by Sir Alex, with the inevitable retirement of Scholes and Giggs on the cards, too. My pick, as I said, would be Bale, and another midfielder. The identity of who, I don’t know, but what we have is not enough.

Before then, however, we need to wait for the storm to hit. Exactly what kind of storm is brewing, is anyones guess.

The intention of this is not doom-mongering. But we have to be realistic; all is not right, and it’s not just the ownership. There is an issue that exists within the team. It needs to be resolved, and quickly, if United are serious about trophy ambitions this season.

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14 Responses to “United need a heart, brain, courage, and a 2005 style shake up”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Manchester Utd News, Mrs Yolkie , DAN!, Saikrishna Chitrapu, Mrs Yolkie  and others. Mrs Yolkie  said: NEW BLOG : #mufc need a new heart, courage, brains & a 2005 style shake up http://bit.ly/aOF8xs RT [...]

  2. I’m with you on pretty much all of that – I do think there needs to be a freshness about the team. I almost feel that having so many available players is a hindrance so it will be refreshing to see rio, vida and evra as mainstays of the back with rafael and o’shea battling for right back.

    There needs to be consistency in the midfield, nani, fletcher, anderson and someone is what i want…bale may well balance that beautifully.

    As for up front, well if we’re going for two up top, the energy and enthusiasm of Chicharito yesterday leaves me convinced he’s going to be a great signing as he continues to learn the PL. His movement in particular reminds me of a young michael owen. Rooney will come good, he has too much talent not to. A break from the side may well do him good but he needs to accept that.

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  3. Matt says:

    Excellent summation but I’m not sure what you’ve seen from Anderson to suggest he’s a capable central midfielder? He cannot retain possession, he plays in a tactical bubble, he lacks stamina and he’s carrying so much weight that he’s lost his acceleration.

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  4. Ian says:

    I think in some ways we haven’t been helped by our ability to steal draws and points when we’re not playing well. Maybe a couple of the sort of defeats that we’ve normally suffered at this stage in the season would have pricked the players’ pride and got them going. As it is, maybe that we’ve just about got by thus far has put a few of them in the mindset that if they just keep turning up it’ll come right sooner or later.

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  5. Nikos says:

    You have made some fantastic points, but also jumped to too many harsh/hasty conclusions IMO.

    You are spot on about Rooney – but the midfield malaise, if we can call it that, is less an issue than you imply.

    Firstly, I think you are overly harsh to Carrick and Nani – and overly sympathetic to Anderson, who lest we forget, had ample opportunity to show what he is capable of before his recent injury. I too looked on with great satisfaction as he bossed Gerrard, then Fabregas, then Lampard with skill, ambition and most importantly United-style verve. The true reality is however, that he has failed to live up to that early promise. Moreover he has sulked and complained when he was asked to step up his game – and even flirted with Inter Milan and others. Granted, the mixed instruction he has received has not been helpful, and we shouldnt read too much into the fact that his only league goal last season was at Spurs in opening games….But in an attacking CM position he is yet to prove that he can consistently replace Paul Scholes for example. He will now surely get more game time (and hope so ahead of Gibson, Cleverley et al), but he must ensure he is sharper on the ball; makes quicker decisions when on the ball; does not needlessly relieve us of possession, and improve his final outcome (shot or goal) – In short everything Nani is seemingly doing at present. (Note context, doing rather than done). If you would have told me Nani would be involved in over 80% of our goals this time last year, I would have laughed all day long. He does still have an attitude problem, and a tendency to over-do it and take the odd dive, but at least the lad is putting it in – and reaping the rewards in the main.

    Finally, I think its time Utd fans appreciate what Carrick and Berba have brought to the team; The former, composure, possession and the ability to read and intercept – the latter, the ability to create numerous opportunities for others (leading assister in PL in first season; leading chances created in PL last, with approx 1 goal in 3 games). He may look half-interested but it should not be confused with his desire, commitment and most of all talent. The majority of fans thought it wrong that Fergie changed a CL winning team/system, and have not been happy since with Berba replacing Tevez – this is an overwhelmingly simple “psychological” observation. People are talking as if the guy has set the world on fire this term jsut because of a few goals – in truth hes been no better, no worse than last season or before….

    Lets get behind the whole team and trust Fergie – this is not the crisis the media would have us believe, just a few tweaks here and there require. In times like these where every paper we pick up uncovers a whole new media Utd agenda, reds need (i.e. not optional) to stay together….

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  6. Nikos says:

    By the way you are absolutely spot on with the line about the Glazer’s not caring about popularity. They are a despicable bunch, but I am convinced the protests are strengthening their resolve/stubbornness. I also find the lack of protest against the league quite bizarre – it is they that have allowed this, yet it should be our utmost priority to impel them to change the system whereby a PL club cannot be bought in this manner again in the future.

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  7. glen says:

    CONCLUSION – GK=NEUER , RB = LAHM or even S.RAMOS , the new scholes = GOURCUFF , left/right midfield = BALE/HULK , ST = BENZ/PODOLSKI….all young talented and would fit perfectly in the team…oh one other IMPORTANT thing = GLAZERS OUT!!!!!!

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  8. dumo says:

    gibson rinks horse shit,a notoruis back passer with shot powes shouldv been a rugby player rather than a footballer

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  9. Rupert says:

    Some interesting thoughts – maybe Rooney in his current demeanor is an unsettling factor. I’m not sure though. The apparent complacency/carelessness and downright flukes (karma from last year’s OGs???) suggest a steelier resolve in attitude rather than any major problems with player quality, although we do need a decent RB and MF enforcer and will need a keeper maybe next or the season after. Baffling faith in Anderson considering he has offered very little since he walked through the door and dismissing our two outstanding performers so far in Berbatov and Nani.

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  10. Yolkie says:

    Cheers for comments guys.

    Nik, maybe I was too harsh on Carrick, and I concede to, at times, playing favourite with Anderson. My issue is primarily that for whatever reason, after Giggs injury, Gibson was the one brought on and Anderson moved out of his natural position, where he was doing well. It’s indicative of Ando’s career at United, really, that he never actually gets settled. I’m of the opinion that we’ll only see the best of him when we properly give him a chance, in the last 2 years for whatever reason he still hasn’t had it.

    I’ll keep banging the drum though because I believe if we do get it right then he will be frighteningly good.

    Carrick on the other hand has had the run and had the chance, more than enough.

    Nani, yes, I can take that point. He is still our best player, but that to me speaks volumes in the wrong way. I don’t mind him making a wrong decision, I do mind him taking 15 seconds every time to do it though..

    Something I didn’t write about was the formation. Aside from Everton we’ve played 4-4-2 every game this season. Maybe, until we get new faces, we need to play a 4-3-3 in the coming games, meaning Park – if he’s available – would about to become very important indeed.

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  11. Homez says:

    Gr8 article, agree on most points especially about Anderson & Rooney. However, the Ronaldo deal will never happen, we are too broke and Real would want to recoup their investment. Also, Berba and Nani have been excellent, without them we would be closer 2 Loserpool.

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  12. mossbank17 says:

    I think the time has come for carrick and gibson to go they don’t have the ability to cut it at manchester united. Bring through Eikrem he has bags of potential. Also i think a january bid for a certain Mr Rodwell will have to be made. Also please can someone tell me what is going on with Davide Petrucci i haven’t seen him playing in the academy or the reserves. He is meant to be a creative midfielder lets give him a try

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  13. mossbank17 – I can confirm Petrucci is now back in training follow a horrible spate of injuries. Not sure when he’ll feature next, probably beginning of November. Hopefully his injury hell is over and he can catch up with where he left out. An outstanding talent, whom I can only hope hasn’t seen his chances ruined by injuries.

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  14. TONY QUIRKE says:

    The article is great food for thought but let us all be real.
    Gibson, O’Shea, Park and Carrick are not good enough for the Premier League whilst Berbatov has no fire in him and is so laid back and full of over ambitious touches that United would be better off if he went soon instead of Rooney.

    A study of United’s playing style reveals a wonderful tendency to play sideways and backwards especially in their own half usually from a Van Der Sar throw to a centre back
    and invariably the ball ends back with VDS and we start again! Surely a long ball forward must be used some of the time but it seems the Phelan touch of timidity and safety first now applies.
    We need fire in bellies not poncing about if we are to get back to winning ways.

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  15. Nikos says:

    Thanks for reply yolkie.

    Hope Anderson can take his chance; Fergie will give it him if he performs in training, thats for sure….

    Re Carrick, I can understand fan frustration, especially after a relatively quiet season last term (injured for a large period lest we forget). But Carrick’s role has always been understated – he was never going to score and assist when we acquired him, instead keep balance, positional and defensive solidity for the team. Carrick was essentially a replacement for Keane, and to some extent Veron, after a disastrous 3 trophy-less years in which we would often see a combination of O Shea, Smith, Kleberson, Djemba, Rio(!) and an underdeveloped Fletcher in the vital position of central midfield.

    So with 3 PLs, 2 CL finals, 2 Carling Cups amongst others, he has more than proved his worth IMO; The Scholes-Carrick combo is very much different to the Fletcher-Carrick output however, and it is there that I would perhaps be willing to concede that a change in personnel is required. For me the answer was Ozil or Toure, but alas it wasnt to be. With Scholes in his final season Cleverly and Anderson have every chance to claim 2nd CM spot, lets hope they can take it….

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  16. [...] I blogged earlier that if he wants out, I would like Rooney out in January and David Beckham back as a temporary successor to the number 10 shirt. In my article on Sunday I accurately predicted a hell of a storm was about to hit, and suggested it would include Rooney. [...]

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