Football can be a cruel game at times, it’s surely not for the faint hearted, as the pictures from Old Trafford were deemed too horrible to be even telecast on the live television when Luis Antonio Valencia suffered a damaging blow to his lower left leg and a dislocation of the ankle. The Devils fear  that the effects would be felt right through the grueling league campaign. An epitome of consistency and hard work, Tony, as he is affectionately called by United faithful, would be missed for reasons more than one.

Witnessing the sight of him in agony, when he was being stretchered off from the Old Trafford arena with an attached oxygen cylinder, Sir Alex Ferguson would have known immediately that the reliable winger may not be able to step in the football pitch for the remainder of the season. Although a successful surgery carried out by a team of doctors have ascertained that Valencia might be able to make a comeback  for the later part of the campaign, contrary to the initial reports of him being out for the entire season. The official statement released by the club spokesperson confirmed that even though the operation went well and Antonio is perfectly fine, very positive and very determined, he is likely to be out of action for better part of the remaining eight months.

Being almost inactive in the transfer market for an established wide player, Ferguson‘s viable response to the loss of Valencia will be pretty limited. With Valencia on the right and Nani on the left wing, Sir Alex seemed to have build up a trustworthy pair of wingers reminiscent of the treble winning golden days of Beckham-Giggs combo. Now Valencia’s injury leaves United in an awful strait with only three experienced wingers in the armor – Ryan Giggs, Nani and Ji-Sung Park. While the three of them are capable of taking the additional responsibility on their shoulders; any fatigue, injury or suspension to one of them will leave United gasping for breath. This implies that someone other than these three will be needed to step up to play out of position wide on the wings and Sir Alex must have already started searching for appropriate alternatives.

Antonio Valencia breaks his left ankle after the challenge from Rangers Kirk Broadfoot Manchester United 2010/11 Manchester United V Rangers (0-0) 14/09/10 UEFA Champions League Group C Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via NewscomThat unfortunate tackle

If we first take a look at the alternatives within the team, an obvious solution lies in Nani on the right wing. Even though the Portuguese would not have liked it to happen in this manner, but Tony‘s injury has presented Nani with the chance to stake his claim and stamp his authority on the right wing position. In all possibility, Nani will be moved to his preferred position on the right side of the pitch, while Ji-Sung Park will be operating on the left. Giggs will be the automatic substitute choice in that scenario. In the case of unavailability of one among Park or NaniGiggs can be trusted to fill in the slot effortlessly. But being on the wrong side of age, it will be irrational to expect Giggs to be able to play week-in and week-out on the wings. As long as an answer to this woe is not be found, the Red Devils all over the world will certainly going to have sleep-less nights.  

Darren Fletcher is another option though. Fletcher has the experience of playing wide on the right for United when he was fighting to break into the first team action. In-fact it was his work-horse performance on the right side of the pitch that made Red Devils to take a notice and subsequently has brought him today’s recognition. However, his amazing chemistry with Paul Scholes at the center of the midfield makes the choice tough for Sir Alex. Also, the point to ponder over here is that during those days Fletcher featured in a classic 4-3-3 formation, without conventional wingers, in the presence of Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney upfront. Now the scenario is  totally different. The Gaffer will never deploy a 4-3-3 strategy without someone having the skill of Ronaldo and the work ethics of Tevez. Moreover the fitness concerns for Anderson and the unavailability of Michael Carrick will be enough for Sir Alex to nip in the bud of any thoughts on these lines.

Darren Fletcher Manchester United 2010/11 Manchester United V Rangers (0-0) 14/09/10 UEFA Champions League Group C Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via NewscomExperienced Fletcher is another option for SAF

Well, Rooney has also played wide in the same 4-3-3 formation, but a repeat of that is unlikely as our third choice striker Chicharito is quite inexperienced and the lazy but elegant Berbatov can only be accommodated in a 4-4-2 formation. So this probability can also be ruled out.

It is highly unlikely that Fergie will take a leaf out of Gareth Bale’s brilliant adaptation from a full back to a left winger at Tottenham and try out either of the twin brothers, Rafael or Fabio, in the wings. Rafael has been impressive while going forward in the limited opportunity of playing as a right back and he is good in delivering those inch perfect crosses. But being the first choice right back, it is improbable that he will be used in an advanced position. Fabio, on the other hand, is lively, fast, tricky and more importantly not the first choice full back; but his crossing and big game temperament is still a suspect.

Another option for Sir Alex is to find a suitable talent from the United Reserves team. There are three players in the reserves, who have the capability and skill required to make it to the substitutes’ bench at- the-least. Gabriel Obertan has been with the first team for two seasons now and he was very impressive during the pre-season tour. He is pacy and good at dribbling, but his physical stature is fragile and he is injury prone in nature. If Obertan intends to make it big at Old Trafford, the first and foremost thing he needs to do is to improve upon his endurance level to counter the physical aspect of English football.

Magnus Eikrem, an United Academy product, is another bright prospect waiting to grab this opportunity. Although he is not a conventional winger, and currently plays in central midfield – either as a deep lying playmaker or up on the hole behind the striker; he has also been deployed out wide during his initial days because of his excellent crossing abilities. His dead ball prowess could also be an added advantage for Manchester United. But, he too is in Obertan mould as far as the physical nature of the game is concerned – delicate and injury prone.

Last but not the least, there is the mysterious Tiago Manuel Dias Correia aka Bebe. The 20 year old  unknown quantity, who has created mass hysteria among British print and electronic media. Though the amount of quality, Sir Alex’s latest recruit of reportedly $7.4 Million valuation possesses, is yet to be ascertained; but his performance in a couple of Under-21 matches for Portugal have highlighted the fact that this unpolished gem is a rare blend of pace, power and skill. He has been included in United’s Champions League squad – however, the Gaffer thinks that Bebe is in an important stage of his development and it would take some time for him before he can properly gel with the team.

July 18, 2010 - Guimaraes, Portugal - epa02252850 Benfica's soccer player Ruben Amorim (B), fights for the ball with Guimaraes, Bebe, during the City of Guimaraes Trophee soccer match held at D. Afonso Henriques Stadium in Guimaraes, Portugal, 18 July 2010.Is he ready for the big stage?

If Valencia’s recovery seem to take longer than the anticipated duration, Sir Alex might be tempted to go for a new recruit in the January transfer window – may be a six month’s loan deal or it could well be a permanent transfer. But that will happen only if the right player is available at the right price. Do not expect United to shell out insane amount of money and run behind some superstar’s signature on the dotted line. Tom Cleverly could have been handy in these circumstances, but whether there is any recall clause in his loan deal with Wigan Athletic remains undisclosed. As they say – hindsight is an excellent thing to have.

Whatever solution works out for United, the loss of Valencia‘s contribution will be deeply felt. Valencia’s willingness to track back deep into his own half to regain the lost possession is another asset that  has been applauded by his manager. His absence has the potential to cause profound effect on Manchester United title ambitions, yet the Devils will consider themselves fortunate to have a versatile squad at their manager’s disposal having players with the ability to cover up for this regretful incident and hope for no more injury concern for any of its players until Valencia returns to match fitness.

From the entire TheHardTackle team, here’s wishing Tony a speedy recovery.

89 Responses to “Manchester United’s Corner : A Wish For The Wings”

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  1. Nipun says:

    Right on the money Deb, saw the reserves playing yetsrday and both Obertan and Bebe started. Bebe was reasonably good and has a good cross on him. Obertan on th other hand is tricky and clever with ball on his feet although he needs to work on the final ball.

    rumour has it that United could be in for Villa’s Ashley Young come january’s transfer market in exchange of cash and Michael Owen who is on Gerrard Houiller’s radar.

  2. Soccerfan says:

    Awesome analysis of the situation. The article deals with all the possible alternative options that united have. I would like SAF to go with Giggsy and Nani, Park can replace Giggsy at the hour mark. But if one of them is injured then it will be hell for united. Heard that Bebe is not that good and Obertan, well even John Oshea will be a better option.

  3. sounak says:

    From the little of Obertan i have seen, He looks really good to me. He shud be given chances like Jack is getting at Arsenal. Some young/fresh legs changes things.

  4. Luis says:

    Genuinely loved the article, well analysed. All the possible choices are explained in detail. Brilliant read.

    Park is out of form after the world cup days. Ideally I would like Giggs to be the first preference and Park should cover up for him. Obertan and Bebe can be tried in the FA Cup matches before they are selected in the league games.

    I liked the idea of Rafael/Fabio playing as a winger. On the first look it may sound creepy and madness, but its actually a good back-up idea. The Brazilian fullbacks are born with this inherent quality of doubling up as a winger. They love to overlap and attack. I hope Fergusan is listening.

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  7. Searscard says:

    100% agree with your thoughts and all the options. I agree, Obertan would be a gr8 prospect, he should get the nod to start. Do you think Nani can turn into Christiano Ronado version 2.0? I am hopeful.

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  9. Peter Hubert says:

    Amazing read. I am thankful to the guy who posted a link to this article on Man Utd official fan forum message-board. Wonderful website and most of the articles are really brilliant.

    Bebe and Obertan played in tonight’s CC match and both of them looked promising.

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  12. Fabio as the left winger ! Kinda creepy, but I was thinking about this just the other day. I think you read my thoughts. Excellent article. Neat and at the same time detailed. Loved it.

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  13. The strategies presented here are absolutely spot on. But Nani needs to learn a lot, he thinks himself as Christiano Ronaldo version2 and often goes for selfish attempts. ManU strikers are struggling for goals and one of the wingers have to step up and take the burden of scoring regular goals just like what Ronaldo did 2 yers ago.