His reign at Manchester United may only be officially a month old, but David Moyes will already have formed his own ideas about the squad he has at his disposal. The much publicized pursuit of Cesc Fabregas leaves little doubt that the new manager is of the opinion that central midfield needs significant reinforcement. The fact that United are reportedly prepared to return with a third bid for the former Arsenal captain after been thwarted twice by his club Barcelona highlights Moyes’ desperation to land his primary transfer target.
Elsewhere, Moyes had a bid rejected by his former club Everton for Leighton Baines – which probably indicates that in Moyes’ eyes, Patrice Evra is no longer an automatic choice at left back. The other great transfer saga involving Manchester United this summer has been that regarding the future of Wayne Rooney.
Something which has been conspicuous by its absence though from United’s reported transfer schemes is realistic attempts to acquire a winger of genuine class. While there has been talks about moves for Gareth Bale and a sensational return of Cristiano Ronaldo, those can be firmly filed under ‘fanciful’ category. Admittedly with almost a month still remaining till the transfer window slams shut, things can still change. Maybe once the Fabregas pursuit comes to a close one way or the other, Moyes will turn his attention to other areas of the squad. But come September, if things stand the way it is today, United will start the season with some serious question marks hanging over the ability to cause problems from wide areas of the pitch.
Such a state of affairs may be acceptable at other clubs but not at Manchester United. Over the decades, the club has come to represent a bastion of attacking wingplay in the country and the continent. From the days of Sir Matt Busby, wingers have been at the forefront of all great United teams and have led by example in terms of creating and scoring goals. Few other clubs have put as much emphasis on their wingplay or have produced as many great wingers as United have.
Put against such an impressive context, United’s wingplay last season was distinctly underwhelming. They may have won the title at a canter but that had more to do with the individual brilliance of Robin van Persie and commanding displays of Michael Carrick than outstanding displays by any of the wingers. While some of them were impressive in individual games, none were able to deliver constantly throughout the course of the season.
The biggest disappointment among them was undoubtedly the Portugal international Nani. In spite of spending six years at the club, he has yet to nail down a regular starting spot in the team. The thing that frustrates fans most about Nani is the fact he has talent in abundance but remains frightfully inconsistent. He drew Sir Alex Ferguson’s ire last season when he needlessly gave the ball away in the final minute of the League Cup clash at Stamford Bridge with his team in the lead. After United lost the match in extra time, Sir Alex uncharacteristically singled out Nani for harsh criticism. Many thought that would bring the curtains down on the winger’s career at Old Trafford but Nani made a comeback of sorts, not for the first team, by turning in a string of decent performances towards the end of the season. His future at the club remains very much at balance and there have been talks that the player has been offered to Monaco. There is a likelihood that Moyes may want to have a closer look at Nani before washing his hands off him.
Ashley Young, the England winger, has had a torrid time with injuries ever since joining the club back in 2011. His United career got off to a bright start which included a sparkling display against Arsenal in the 8-2 mauling, but since then he has been bogged down by a spell of layoffs. In a season in which 20 different United players got on the scoresheet in the Premier League, Young’s failure to find the back of the net was a glaring statistic.
While Young, and Nani too in some extent, can blame injuries for their indifferent form, no such mitigating circumstances exist for Antonio Valencia. His form has tapered off drastically in the last two seasons and he rarely looks like a player who can trouble the opposition fullback. He remains industrious and defensively a sound option but going forward he seems to have lost the cutting edge.
Faced with such a conundrum over the fitness and form of the established first team wingers, Moyes has understandably turned to the young players in the squad in the pre-season tour. What he saw would have encouraged him greatly as both Wilfried Zaha, the new acquisition from Crystal Palace and Jesse Lingard, a player from United’s academy, made the most of the opportunity presented and have genuinely staked a claim for a first team place. Zaha especially, with his pace and bag of tricks, looks an outstanding candidate to carry forward the glorious tradition set by great United wingers of the past.
Moyes though will be well aware of the potential pitfalls of placing too much expectation on a pair of 20 year olds neither of whom have played a single minute of Premier League football yet. He must try to ensure that he can extract the best out of the likes of Nani, Young and Valencia. If deemed necessary, he may even have to cut ties with one or more of them. In case such a situation arises, expect a winger or two to walk in through the door at Old Trafford before September, with or without Fabregas.