As a fan of Manchester United I’ve become accustomed to the strange ways of our legendary manager. The approaching return of a certain Mr Beckham to Old Trafford has prompted a review of Sir Alex’s past judgments in the press. There is no doubt that subsequent events seemed to prove Fergie right in Beckham’s case and he’ll relish the flattering questions at the press conferences. Beckham won only one La Liga with Real Madrid and he and other “Galiticos” saw Barcelona surpass them as not only Spain’s best club but arguably Europe’s. Beckham peaked at United and Fergie rebuilt his side and found an even better successor in Ronaldo, who led the team to new heights with that long craved second Champions League trophy.
In the past I’ve trusted Fergie’s proven ability to make the right call for the club in the long term. When he sold Beckham I agreed with the decision and likewise when he recognised the need for a new style in the form of a Rooney/Saha partnership that saw the demise of the God-like Ruud Van Nistelrooy. He clearly has an instinct for recognising when a player has given his best and when what’s best for the team is to let a good player go. Sure he’s made mistakes too, notably the ego driven ousting of Jaap Stam following a row over revelations in the player’s book. That led to the acquisition of Laurent Blanc, an ageing player who failed to even dampen the flames left roaring at the back following the departure of the Dutchman. He also struggled to find a new keeper after the departure of a red nosed great Dane but who wouldn’t have? That’s why when the Fergie sold the world’s best player at the start of this season I followed his logic and expected to see him take the necessary action to maintain the club’s challenge domestically and in Europe.
However like many other fans I was disappointed by the lack of reinvestment of that gargantuan transfer fee back into the squad. Ronaldo was a winger and top scoring striker, so at least two players were needed to fill two gaping responsibilities in my view. Then there was the lightweight midfield, brushed aside in the final with Barca, which may as well be sorted out with the treasure chest overflowing. No such luck. Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen were the only signings of note; neither has become an integral team member. Disappointed, I consoled myself with the thought of what happened when Beckham left; an obscure young winger signed to replace him who would in time spearhead a remoulded attack to glory. Then I realised Valencia wasn’t young or obscure, just averagely effective at Wigan Athletic. This time then would the recovery take even longer?
Wayne Rooney is the reason why there have been no major criticisms of the lack of transfer activity as yet. His form, along with some stumbles by Chelsea, has ensured United stay within touch at the top. Fergie’s reluctance to admit defeat when it comes to big money signings of his own however may damage Rooney’s long term prospects. It happened with Veron, who Fergie desperately struggled to accommodate, and now it’s happening with Dimitar Berbatov. Rightly wowed by his dazzling football at Spurs, Berbatov actually seemed a relatively low risk buy at the time, proven in the Premiership already. Like Veron though his swagger and temperament have been hard for the fans to accept, especially when he has rarely found form. At Spurs the odd less than divine performance would perhaps go unnoticed but at Old Trafford the pressure rises. From the start many have said he is too similar to Rooney, a player who likes to drop off rather than poach in the six yard box. This criticism was brushed aside by Fergie, who seemed to have proved with the Rooney/Tevez partnership that a recognised “striker” was no longer needed for fruitful attacking play. With Tevez’s departure though Berbatov has failed to really connect with Rooney, doing so only on occasion. It now seems quite likely Fergie will rebuild again in the summer, offloading Berbatov and searching for Rooney’s perfect foil.
Until then United and England fans must hope that the weight of goals on Wayne Rooney does not break him. A supporting cast of Owen, Wellbeck and Macheda cannot hope to ease the pressure on such an inspirational player. In the summer it may be too late for this season, but Fergie must bring in a goal scoring replacement for Berbatov and other strikers if Rooney is to keep playing at this level for many more years. For the coming trophy run-in United fans can only pray Berbatov finds form to save the season and his Old Trafford career.