After guiding United to their 18th title last season, Sir Alex Ferguson was asked how good his latest championship winning side was and he replied, “It’s a great squad; I could have picked two teams today”. Just nine months on from that memorable day at Old Trafford, the United manager would find it hard to repeat his words with the same conviction.
Sir Alex has rebuilt the Manchester United team more than a few times during his tenure at Old Trafford; yet, he has never let the standards drop with United never having finished outside the top three in the Premier league era. The past premier league winning sides were gradually modified as he replaced Robson with Keane, Bruce with Stam, Cole with Van Nistelrooy, Beckham with Ronaldo and so on. The older players were gently phased out with the newer ones given time to settle. The core strength of the side was maintained and the team changed its style of play according to the new players drafted in the squad. Even the ‘Golden Generation’ was given time to settle as the Boss rotated his players to give them experience alongside the established players.
The success of United in the past would be credited to the astute signings made by the Scot along with the kids from the ‘Golden generation’. The problem today, though, is that they still heavily depend on two members from that generation and the players brought in by the manager in the recent past have not been of the level they were expected to be, to play regularly for Manchester United. This has been compounded by the lack of quality supply from the academy with only Darren Fletcher being the only noticeable player coming through the ranks whereas Jonny Evans is showing some promise. Red Devils’ problem today is that the team still needs either Giggs or Scholes in it to threaten the opposition. With none of the midfielders, either signed by the manager or coming through from the academy, having the range of passing and the vision of Scholes and the place of Giggs on the left wing still up for grabs; one might think that Sir Alex has got his work cut out.
In the past three years, Sir Alex has signed the likes of Anderson, Nani, Hargreaves and Berbatov and also Tevez on a two year loan spell. None of them apart from Tevez, who decided not to join on a permanent deal, have yet guaranteed themselves a place in the starting line-up which is evident from the fact that none of the above mentioned-players have made hundred appearances for the Red Devils. The injury problems of Owen Hargreaves have certainly not helped matters as he was one player who looked certain to make the grade.
During the 2008-09 season, the Manchester United’s squad was surely tested in terms of quantity, with the amount of matches played in the season, but not in terms of quality as the team from Old Trafford got favourable draws in the Carling Cup and the FA Cup. With the manager rarely playing the ‘Fab Four’ of Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez and Berbatov together, he almost had at least one or sometimes two out of these players to come on as a substitute or being rotated for the subsequent games. The likes of Nani and Anderson were also used mainly to rest Giggs, Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher.
Now, Valencia and Owen have replaced Ronaldo and Tevez respectively. Many believe that the financial situation at the club has not allowed the manager to look into the market for better replacements but David Gill and Sir Alex have denied this on numerous occasions. Since, neither of the two replacements have been as prolific as their predecessor, United have become over reliant on the ageless Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes and the ever improving pair of Rooney and Fletcher. But the drop in form of Michael Carrick and a season ending injury to Anderson have reduced the options of the manager considerably. He has also not been helped by the injury to the highly versatile John O’Shea and the lack of availability of the rock solid partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the heart of the United defense.
Sir Alex has always maintained the fact that he has faith in the current squad. Although doubts have been creeping in amongst the supporters, they have not been made highlighted due to the strong position of the team at this stage of the season. . United are still in the race for three trophies this season. During the upcoming weeks, United play Villa at Wembley before hosting Milan and Liverpool at Old Trafford with all three trophies on the line. Ryan Giggs will miss at least one, if not two, of these games and with Carrick suspended for the Milan game, Fergie has to be spot on with his tactics and team selection. His past record shows no signs or reasons that he can’t, as he once masterminded the team without Scholes and Keane to a success in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich. It’s approaching make or break time in United’s season and if it’s the latter, then surely Fergie would be forced to look into the squad which he called ‘great’ a season ago.