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Friday, 29 May 2009

Where Now For Manchester United. Should Fergie Rip It Up And Start Again ?

alex ferguson looks on disconsolate as barcelona collect the champions league trophyEarly on Wednesday morning, as Fergie and his Manchester United looked forward to another Champions League Final he must have still thought he had a team that would place him among the top European managers from right across history.

By full-time he was back in one of those cold-sweat, pre-1993 moments, defeated by a football club, actually a football institution, who made his own look puny. Where does he go from here?

This has been far from being a bad season, don't get me wrong. First and foremost we should bear in mind that this season Manchester United have done everything asked of them except win the Champions League and the FA Cup. They made light of the demands of the Fifa Club World Cup, they saw off the best challenge in 19 years from a Liverpool team and all the emotion that entails. They came back in games against Stoke City, Aston Villa, Sunderland and Tottenham when it mattered.

They are hardly the dysfunctional, bickering side that could not make it out the Champions League group stages in the winter of 2005, Ferguson's lowest point in the recent past. They have won three consecutive Premier League titles and any analysis of how bitter their humiliation at the hands of Barcelona was on Wednesday night should be placed in the context of another astonishingly successful season.

But wednesday night, something was missing. The usual inertia on the United bench when Lionel Messi's goal went in on 70 minutes — Ferguson and his assistants sat slumped like moody teenagers at a bus stop — told you that on this night they had run out of ideas. No-one could argue that Ferguson should rip it up and start again but a new standard has been set by Barcelona and the old Scot would not be doing his job if he did not ask himself how he can reach and surpass it.

You can't have what Barca have got ? The preoccupation now will be Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, very much the men of the moment. How do United get their hands on two pocket-sized demon midfield passers? How much will it cost? Can they get a Messi too? But trying to replicate exactly another team's model for success, even trying to replicate the model of past United team's success, is dangerous.

Once the theory was that United would never prosper without a new Roy Keane in the middle of midfield. You don't hear that much now. Instead, Ferguson put his faith in equally dominant players, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, who are just as effective only in different ways, in different positions. Ferguson cannot conjure another Xavi or Iniesta, but United need more of those dominant midfield players.

Who can make this United team stronger?

As befits a team that looked so competitive until now, this summer Ferguson has been linked with precious few big-name players. The interest in Karim Benzema at Lyon is longstanding, so too that in Antonio Valencia at Wigan Athletic and Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery.

These are all dominant players, they are not comparable in style to Xavi and Iniesta but then who is? Those two are a real one-off, once-in-a-generation players and attempting to find clones of them would be foolish. Ferguson's policy has always been to buy the best players he can attract to United and trust they will flourish on the biggest stage.

Will Owen Hargreaves be the same player again?

It took a couple of takes to deduce the identity of the bloke on the touchline before the match with curly black hair in a United club suit. A third Da Silva brother perhaps? It was the long-lost, lesser-spotted, too-often injured Hargreaves. One of the stars of last year's final in Moscow, he has not kicked a ball for United since 21 December and last night, for the first time in a while, United were missing him.

The notion that Wednesday's result would have been radically different with Darren Fletcher in the United side is hopelessly optimistic at best. With Hargreaves rather than Luis Anderson you could see a case for United having more energy in central midfield. Hargreaves has been brilliant in patches for United but at £17m he owes Ferguson a big season in 2009-2010.

What do you do with Ronaldo?

On the occasion of one of his greatest disappointments, the behaviour of Ronaldo was encouragingly gracious. On more than one occasion he glanced up at the stadium's big screen for a glimpse of that face he loves more than any other. He swerved a handshake with Carles Puyol as the Barcelona team applauded United up the steps but that was understandable. He never gave up on a pretty wretched night.

A logical mind would say that joining Real Madrid now is an even greater folly, so lost in Barcelona's shadow are they. But if Ronaldo's reasons for staying at United were that they were Europe's premiere team, then Wednesday night has weakened that premise. Yet for all his histrionics, Ronaldo has never been less than professional. If he turns up at United next season there's no reason to doubt he will probably end up top scorer again.

How long can Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs last? With these two United giants now facing surely their last season at the club they handover to a new generation who have an unprecedented chance to establish themselves.

When do we get to see the £7m Zoran Tosic his fellow Serb Adem Ljajic who arrives next January, around £3m? For these young players as well as Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda the door is open. Adam Johnson of Middlesbrough is another Ferguson is understood to be interested in.

If they have to face Barcelona again next season then United will have to learn from Wednesday as they did with their semi-final defeat in 2007 to Milan, whom they subsequently eliminated the following season. The trouble with Barcelona is that they are better and younger than that Milan team and they could be around for a while yet.


Rite$h said...

In fact we witnessed a scared United team in that final, scared of Messi, Iniesta, Eto'o, Henry, should I say more...
No one stood up to the task and instead make Barcelona doubt, of course United started very brightly, but a football match is not ended in 10minutes is it?? Ok there were mistakes which led to that 1st goal, but how come no reaction of any sort from the players...left me stunned in front of my tv!!
A rip up is not a bad thing afterall, first to go should be Ronaldo thou, he's not a team players, just wants to go for a one-man show. Giggs and scholes time are up, need men who can run around for 90 minutes and make opponents cringe in fear. Rooney back to his CF role while get rid of Berbatov or play him as CAM, and get Benzema or any other guy who plays the V.Nistelrooy style, the beautiful days when we scored so many goals. Crisis is there in the club, not officially thou, but well present and eating up the team from the inside, only 2 example: Ronaldo wanting to leave at every transfer window, and Tevez wanting to join scousers fc.
In fact I wrote almost the same thing on Manchester United Musings blog :P
But to be frank, am disappointed the way United drop their weapons and accepted defeat in such a way, no battle whatever :(

Manchester United Zealot on Attacking90 said...

I reckon Fergie had been looking forward to this match all year, specifically against Barcelona, that he fancies building more of a Barca like side. He got a great measure of the work cut out for him -

- CR7 is a great talent but unlike the great players at Barcelona, he looks too much to make the shot and not the final pass. Compared to Messi he was immature - the team can not rest it's fortune on his wonder strikes which are less reliable than good combination play

- Berbatov as one of the few players that looked equal to Barca in terms of touch and ball possession, but he lacked what Man Utd have lacked all season...

- the whole squad has been too poor on finishing this last year, and one must wonder why. Is the training inferior to what it was? Certainly Barca was miles ahead in quality of finishing. Park and CR7 should have had early goals, both of them, but for lackluster finishing. Blame the players, but the whole team has been this way this season.

I think that's a training, coaching issue - Fergie and his staff need to do better.

- Against Barca you could see the quality of Scholes --- and his shortcomings. The team needs a mid field that has the touch and can pass as Scholes does if it wants to prevail in the intended style against a team as good as Barca was. But Scholes is too far past his prime and subpar when the other team has the ball - those patented Scholes late tackles are an embarrassment, not a proper defense nor way of recovering the ball.

Fergie seemed determined to take on "the Europeans" and beat them at their own game, rather than pull a tactical Chelsea, but it ended up in Rome like West Brom in the EPL - trying to play in a style we didn't have the talent to win with.

Fergie has his work cut out for him.