Get behind this motley crew

Get Behind This Motley Crew

Since the outbound transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo it’s safe to say our activity on the transfer front has been underwhelming; with £80m plus burning a hole in Fergie’s pocket (according to David Gill, and the rumour that there is £100m in a kitty for when Scholes and Giggs retire, of which the Ronaldo cash is part), the largest move was for Antonio Valencia. At £16m eyebrows were raised; but, it can be said unequivocally that he cemented himself as a vital outlet.

If his arrival didn’t convince fans, then getting perma-crocked Michael Owen and giving him the number 7 shirt bemused us further, signing Gabriel Obertan only confused the player himself, Chris Smalling was signed for around £9m and hardly looked convincing playing out his time at Fulham while Javier Hernandez looked a complete gamble at £7m. Yet Manchester United finished 1 point behind champions Chelsea and are level almost by accident so far this season. Mark Ogden of the Telegraph wrote an interesting piece about how underwhelming or unconvincing he believes United to have been in their unbeaten run (incidentally, at 28 games in all competitions, is longer than any sequence managed by Arsenal’s “invincibles”).

My response (to an admittedly well reasoned piece by Ogden) as United announce another eyebrow raising signing in the form of Anders Lindegaard : is it time that we gave our unlikely lads a fair chance?

I’ll start my piece with using a direct comparison to our acquisitions in the summer of 1996. 5 signings; van der Gouw, Johnsen, Cruyff, Poborsky and Hernandez. All, more or less, bare some similarities. At the least, it’s a worthwhile observation.

Chicharito; well, the lazy comparison is Solskjaer. His quick footed approach, tendency to strike from the bench and “if you can’t be good, be lucky” charm has proven invaluable in his few games in a red shirt. Both were unknown when signed, both tended to make a greater impact from the bench that suggested they should really deserve more starts. Unlike 1996, United don’t have a Cole or a Cantona which would suggest the Mexican has a greater chance of establishing himself in the short term.

Johnsen’s signing was seen as safe but underwhelming; no obvious connection to our centre back capture of Smalling, but unproven to the pace of playing for Manchester United, a question mark over an ability to rise to the stage? Smalling has quietly gone about his business and has impressed on the Champions League stage as the group games have been treated as some kind of higher level Carling Cup rotation tool. The zero goals conceded speaks for itself as a joint record at this stage by any team in the competition’s history; more impressive in my book is the fact that we have permitted fewer than 20 shots on target in those 5 games against us. An incredible stat which Smalling has played a huge part in.

Lindegaard’s arrival looks like it might spell the end of Edwin van der Sar; it’s just as likely he will have signed as back up. In either case; van der Gouw proved to be the most capable successor to Peter Schmeichel up alongside Bosnich and Taibi.

Gabriel Obertan bulked up over the summer and seems to have grown in confidence; his arrival onto the pitch against Aston Villa turned the game and while no-one would suggest he will be the next Thierry Henry, perhaps redeployment as withdrawn or inside forward might be the way for Gabby – he’s certainly looked the part there in recent weeks. Jordi Cruyff was never given a chance at Old Trafford by anyone outside for the heinous crime of not being as good as his father; a similar judgement exists today, with players compared to the likes of Giggs and Scholes and Ronaldo. Giggs and Scholes are two of the best players of all time; so maybe it’s more relevant to compare the players to their peers in the Premier League, and when you see as a collective the team are unbeaten in second, no matter how they got there, it’s a testament to the underlying ability of the team. Even when we were dubbed a one man team by the media, Sir Alex has always underlined the importance of the group that he had.

Likewise, Valencia’s arrival and the timing of it inevitably meant the Ecuador winger would be compared to Ronaldo. Ronaldo is a freak of an athlete and stands head and shoulders above any player in the world in my opinion, well on his way to an all time great. Valencia is an outstanding winger in his own right though and his delivery has been something that not even our brilliant Portuguese was renowned for; when we welcome him back from injury, we will be welcoming the best right sided midfielder in the country.

Poborsky, signed off the back of a good Euro 96, could loosely be compared to Bebe. Poborksy failed to make an impression but that was as much to do with Beckham scoring from the halfway line (any readers who watched the Fast Show? Think Unlucky Alf and “Bugger”, this was Poborsky’s “Bugger” moment) as it was his own shortcomings. Bebe’s arrival at Old Trafford was derided from the onset; no surprise that we at Stretford-End.com made a stand on the site and on our Twitter accounts to get behind him. Where others thought “what is this homeless guy doing on our pitch”, we urged supporters to be excited by the unknown.

So far I would liken (using a movie analogy) Bebe’s first few months to the first round in the Ivan Drago and Apollo Creed fight in Rocky IV (Bebe being the Russian). It’s awkward, you don’t know if it’s brilliant and it could yet be a disaster, but every now and then you get a flash that something outstanding is about to occur.

Finally, add to this a rejuvenated Wayne Rooney – the penalty scored at Ibrox could well be far more valuable in terms of team cohesion and spirit uniting the players and supporters than the actual 3 points on offer, given that qualification was all but guaranteed with a point.

The comparisons between our 1996 recruits and those of the last 18 months is but a loose one; the difference being that in 1996 the accessibility of technology was such that signing 5 players, 3 of whom we hadn’t even heard of and the other 2 famous only for his family ties and a good 3 week spell at a tournament, was cause for optimism. Such is the ease with which information is available and given these days that anyone signed who is even relatively unknown or untried now rings alarm bells.

Our recent success is such that failure to win every game with dazzling wing play and stunning goals is treated as a crisis to which we should presumably respond by chopping our team in half; that’s not the United way as we well know. Many of our current team; including all the players I’ve listed above, alongside other fringe players such as Fabio and Anderson, haven’t really been given a proper fair chance to demonstrate their full ability. But we should be patient and trust that the ability will flourish; think of what maturity did to our fledglings of 1996, and how close we came last year, too.

What’s more important in the short term is the character of the club remains; and it looks as if it is there. Last gasp win at Stoke, immense character to recover at Villa Park, and perseverance at Ibrox and at home to Wolves. A desire that is either there from birth or is instilled after the right amount of time working alongside the likes of Cantona or a Giggs and Scholes, and obviously, Sir Alex. And when Ferguson springs a surprise – like he did against Wigan, putting Obertan and Kiko up front, and before that, using them as the rescue act at Villa – we shouldn’t moan about it from the start, especially when they’re fighting to the death.

We as supporters have a responsibility too; think of the difference we could make by letting our young stars, many of whom are chastised before they have even kicked a ball for the club, know that we believe in them, instead of buying into the anxious anticipation. Enjoy the unexpected; we’re not doing too badly so far.

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