A football club’s most prized assets other than its legions of fans are undoubtedly its players. A manager has to keep an eye on each of his player’s needs and ambitions; the club’s aspirations and that of the player have to be in sync for the relationship to flourish. It’s that time of the year once again for the management to reward performers with better contracts and an opportunity to clear out the deadwood. With the 25 man squad rule coming into play there is absolutely no place for journeymen, much less for perma- crocks.
Manchester United over the years has always tried to be a club loyal to its players and that loyalty has more often than not been returned by the players. Players like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville are shining examples of loyalty and dedication – the proverbial ‘one-club men’. But with that era drawing to a close, Sir Alex Ferguson has some tough questions to answer – would loyalty still reign supreme or is it time for a squad spring-cleaning?
Long term injuries could be the final nail in the coffin for some, where as a souring relationship with the gaffer could spell doomsday for others.
Let’s examine players who are up for contract renewals with the club, and whether there are players really worth their weight in gold.
Contracts due for renewal in 2011
Owen Hargreaves: The curly haired poster boy of OT has perhaps already played his last game for the club; it’s shattering to see a career in its full bloom go down the drain. With his exclusion from United’s Champions League side Sir Alex has probably lost his last remnants of hope in Hargo’s full recovery. United, as a club, has to move forward and it’s bordering on the impossible to picture Owen Hargreaves in United’s scheme of things. United have shown admirable faith but perhaps it may be time to move on.
Michael Owen: Micky Owen’s impact at Old Trafford has been fairly average. In his stop start United career, Owen has given a decent account of himself. Deployed as an impact-sub, Owen has done his bit although the critics have often cited his poor injury record as an argument in favor of his exclusion. Currently on a pay-as-you-play contract Michael Owen has to be content being a fourth choice front man who is expected to be content with limited playing time. To his credit, Owen has done just that and always spoken of his desire to remain at United for life. However let’s not forget the ever improving Danny Welbeck could be back next season challenging for a place and eating into Owen’s playing time further. This is a tough call even for a man of Sir Alex’s enormous experience.
Is this the last season for Hargreaves and Scholes at Old Trafford?
Paul Scholes: Every United fan wants him to continue for one last season along with Giggs. Scholesy hasn’t yet made up his mind and in the middle of another title challenging season his attention is probably on the next game in hand. Sir Alex has great persuasion skills and Red Devils hope he convinces the Ginger prince to stick around for one final hurrah.
Van Der Sar: The flying Dutchman has all but called it quits after six trophy laden years at the helm. Undoubtedly, he has been United’s best keeper since the ‘ Great Dane’. VDS’s retirement would be a massive loss to the club and to say the Red devils will miss him sorely is an understatement.
Contracts due for renewal in 2012
John O’Shea: The perennial ‘Man Friday’, O’Shea, has never been a crowd favorite probably because he isn’t the headline grabbing type. However, his versatility is a massive boost to Sir Alex because he can step in and give it his all in any role he is asked to perform. United’s cover for Center Back, Right Back, Left Back and even Center midfield , the Irishman has always been an admirable servant to the club and it would be a folly to let him go. And yet, in the era of specialists, O’Shea’s versatility could be his own undoing as he is seldom first choice for none of those positions mentioned earlier. Though his best season in a United shirt came as a Right Back, the emergence of Rafael has put O’Shea’s place in jeopardy. The young Rafael has been in marauding form down the right wing as his ability to get involved in the attack has given him the edge. Ironically, the O’Shea chant goes “When Johnny goes marching down the wing”. Still Fergie would more than likely offer O’Shea a contract extension as he knows the value of squad players.
Versatality – a blessing for the club but a curse for the player?
Dimitar Berbatov: Dimitar’s star has risen at OT like no one else’s over the past few months. His critics have had to gulp down humble pie as his goal scoring exploits have rejuvenated his flagging career. The ‘Berbs’ is here to stay and a new contract would surely be on its way.
Darren Fletcher: The Scot hasn’t put his best foot forward this season and has got a fare amount of flak from sections of Old Trafford faithful. But Fletcher can always be expected to fight back harder and his place in the squad shouldn’t be under much threat. By all accounts, a new contract would be presented for Fletcherinho as Fergie considers him too valuable an asset to let go.
Darren Gibson: The much maligned Gibson has faced constant scrutiny from a majority of United fans. There aren’t many who consider him United quality and there are aspects of his game which need improvement, to put it mildly. Also there is an increasing pressure from the youngsters coming through the ranks – the likes of Norwood, Morrison and Pogba would be a year older and thus a year wiser. Also Tom Cleverly would make a return from his impressive spell at Wigan and mount even more pressure on the perpetually under-fire Gibson. Although Ferguson has never been unfair to those youngsters he believes in, Gibson might yet have three months to save his United career.
Tomasz Kuszczak: The Pole in goal has always been a second choice, an understudy, the perennial bridesmaid but never quite the bride. With VDS hanging his boots he could be forgiven for thinking his time had come. However with the signing of Danish International Anders Lindegaard coupled with United’s rumored interest in another shot stopper, Tomasz might be on the cusp of a departure from the ‘Theatre of Dreams’.
Michael Carrick: Michael Carrick is an increasingly divisive figure, as far as crowd support goes. His best years for the Red Devils were his first two seasons when he formed an impressive midfield combination with Paul Scholes. Since then his career has gone a bit south but this season his performances as a defensive shield to United’s back four seem to be on the rise. His presence has often blunted opposition attacks and there isn’t anybody in the United squad who protects the defense better. Despite clamor for midfield reinforcements it’s hard to imagine Fergie letting the Englishmen go.
Park Ji Sung: Three Lung Park had been a revelation this season with a series of brilliant displays on the left wing. His return from the Asia Cup would provide a massive boost to United’s title charge. Park has always been an integral squad player and an irreplaceable big-match specialist. The Knock out stages of the Champions league are fast approaching and the South Korean will be again called upon to deliver at the biggest stage of all. At the ripe old age of 29, and having retired from international football, Park would look to prolong his United career.
Patrice Evra: A crowd favorite – the ever reliable and omnipresent Evra is United’s prized asset. With more than one club showing their interest in the Frenchmen’s services, United should be looking to seal the deal as quickly as possible. Paddy has been a dedicated servant of the club with consistency being his forte. United’s options at Left back are scarce with the young Fabio as his only notable backup. Rumor mills have linked Sir Alex’s team with the Portuguese Left Back Fabio Coentrao, but it goes without saying Evra’s stint at Old Trafford needs to be extended.
Wes Brown: Born in Longsight, Manchester, Wes is Manchester United through and through. In a career frequently punctuated with injuries, Brown’s presence has at times gone unnoticed. He has been a member of the first team squad for no less than thirteen glorious years. Is it time for a mutual parting of ways? There have been rumors of his falling out with the gaffer that might have resulted in his limited playing time. Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans have been regularly preferred over the experienced Brown at Center Back while Rafael seems to have made the Right Back berth his own. Brown’s future hangs in the balance and it will take a lot to spark a renaissance of the big bad Wesley Brown.
Sir Alex Ferguson will surely try to keep his core squad together but not at the cost of the future. Tough decisions lie in store and it’ll be interesting to see what’s going on in the Great White Scot’s head. Your guess is as good as mine.