Manchester United legends Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs to stay on for another year?
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It’s that time of the year when the future of some of United’s older players usually becomes a bit clearer. With the policy of offering only one year deals in place, there are obvious doubts every year about the likes of Giggs, Scholes and now Ferdinand. Who’s likely to be kept on and maybe more importantly, who should be kept on?
He came back and performed an admirable rescue job for us last season but in truth, 2012 was a year that can be split in two for him. Upon returning, with injuries aplenty he got more than his fair share of games, and, with freshness in his legs he coped admirably considering he’d retired half a year earlier.
It’s been a slightly different story this season. Whilst he remains more than capable of pinging the most perfect airborne passes, he’s found playing tricky. The form of Carrick, Cleverley and Anderson when fit, have seen Scholes take a reserve role in the first team – brought on to try and change games or see them out rather than dominate from the start. At times, this has been good – against Spurs at home whilst United couldn’t force a win, he was extraordinary at increases United’s tempo and improving a terrible first half performance.
Yet, of late, he’s playing like someone who might be on the way out. This United side have been at their best with the injection of energy in the middle and that is not a current forte of Scholes. The classic late Scholes tackle seems to be making a more regular appearance now – surely a frustration borne out of being just that bit slower in a side trying to play to a high tempo. Of course he’s still a phenomenal master of the art of passing but with Ferguson still preferring a system with just two in the middle, Scholes won’t have the time or space he now needs.
As games come regularly and with fitness concerns still surrounding Anderson and Fletcher, Scholes will surely still play some part in the rest of the season. Beyond that though, one can only feel like this time it’ll be the end for good for Scholes as a player. Last time he left football he left on a high, as a player who remained good enough – this time, should he quit, it’ll feel right. He won’t have harmed his legacy or reputation at all – let’s not forget that the media wanted him in the England squad for Euro 2012, but it’s evident that this is a slow goodbye.
Should he be kept on? No. Will he be? It seems unlikely. What United must do this time is replace him properly though. Cleverley’s consistency is doing some of that but there’s no denying that United still need some additional quality in the middle. Failing to replace Scholes last time hit us hard and that needs avoiding again.
Attempting to analyse Giggs is considerably harder. To some, his legend dictates that a bad word cannot be uttered against him. To others, he’s simply finished. It feels important to be objective when discussing Ryan, particularly when talk of a new contract comes into it. One can only judge on what a player is currently doing rather than what he achieved in years gone by.
Arguably this makes it even harder to get to grips with the player. Ryan goes in and out of patches of form which has a huge impact on the general sentiment surrounding him. For example recent performances of his have been an absolute joy to watch but only a few months ago he was playing dreadfully. United have actually used and managed him very sensibly – unless necessary, he’s not featured in the biggest games against the toughest teams. Rather, it’s cup games and rotated league sides that he’s played in – it’s easier to perform better in those.
Then there’s also the debate of where he plays. As a central midfielder he, like Scholes, has looked off the pace this season. In that position, the percentages matter and giving the ball away is simply unacceptable. Giggs, for whatever reason, hasn’t excelled at that this year and his flick passes have sometimes been poor decisions. Defensively, he doesn’t seem to be in the right place that often with the classic hands on his hips and head cocked pose being used a lot.
As noted though, it’s not all doom and gloom. Whilst his season started badly, it’s improved as he’s been involved more often in the last month. Notably, his use out wide has been a revelation as the conserved energy in his legs and that infamous body swerve have been used to a good effect. Fitness may not be an issue for him but there are genuine footballing concerns that shouldn’t be overlooked. On balance, he probably shouldn’t sign a new deal but I fully expect him to, particularly after Fergie’s most recent comments.
Even if ineffective in the middle, Giggs’ still provides cover and flexibility – used and managed right there is a place for him in the squad but potentially the club should be looking to bring in a new winger (we’re short on numbers) as well as a new central midfielder this summer making a need to hold onto Giggs reduced. This is what I’d hope for anyway and I suspect Giggs would still be in and around the club most likely as a coach, so his experience will continue to be put to good use. If this is to be his final few months, let’s enjoy it.
Whilst those unconnected with United have been trying to write Rio off for a few years now, he keeps responding by proving the doubters wrong. Arguably the competition at centre back hasn’t been this strong for a long time, particularly with Evans’ incredible improvements, and yet if you were to name a first choice pairing, it’d be near impossible to leave Rio out. Why is there still then some debate about his future?
With Rio it’s all a calculated gamble. Whilst he continues to perform so well and so consistently, there is very much a ‘managing’ aspect to him. This is a first choice player who cannot play every game. At 34 there’s bound to be some kind of decline at some point – he’s simply not a fitness freak like a Maldini who can go on and on. With that in mind, United have to weigh up when that time will come, when Jones, Smalling or Evans are firmly ahead of him. Rio won’t be a player who can be third or fourth choice – although unable to play every game, he needs to play as regularly as his body will let him so he maintains form. Without games, one gets the impression he will quickly start to lose it. So, if that’s to be next season, then it makes sense that United may be reluctant to give him a new deal and he may seek a change – either a final big payday, a move back to his roots at West Ham or the end altogether so he can focus on his non-football ventures.
For me, this one is more straightforward than Giggs or Scholes – Rio’s certainly a good enough defender and his performances against some of the league’s best strikers this season have been outstanding. A new deal is the least he deserves. Mind you, my gut for some reason says the club and Rio may part ways with a testimonial game his last contribution.
The final part of this piece is for Fletcher, a player who’s not part of the ‘one year deal’ club but someone who must surely also have big question marks over his future.
When a professional player is excluded over the winter games because heavy pitches don’t suit him you know that something’s not quite right. Fletcher’s admirable and brave return from his illness has been uncomfortable to watch – not least because he’s now trying to be a completely different player to the one he was… and it doesn’t suit him.
Formerly a box-to-box maestro, his use now predominantly in the holding role is awkward – he’s not got the range of passing to make it work nor the energy in his legs to be in the right place all the time like Carrick is. It’s been sad but anyone who’s watched him should be able to see that something’s not quite right. Of course saying assertively that he’s finished would be foolish but if this was a player at another club there’s no way we’d be interested in adding him to our squad so why should he continue to hold down a place in the team at present. It says a lot that he couldn’t even make the bench in an FA Cup replay.
There is an emotional connection to Darren – he’s a model professional, someone who keeps a low profile and has won over the boo-boys in the past. It’s all the more painful because the old Fletcher is exactly the kind of player United could do with now. If the club feel there’s a chance that he can get back to a good enough standard and get fit enough then he’ll surely be given every chance possible but against my heart, right now I feel his place should go to someone who is actually able to contribute to the team next season.