Rabu, 06 Oktober 2010

Midfield Crisis: What Midfield Crisis?

When I had already stopped groaning and started drinking, I saw at least one good sign. Anderson place two elbows on either side of Lee Cattermole and moved him out of the way like a human fork-lift truck. Cattermole, forced by a shower of yellow-cum-red cards to curb his inner pit bull, took it like a man before running off and carrying on Brucey’s strategy of having him relentlessly harass Paul Scholes. Truth be told, it worked, it was quite pitiful to behold. I was in a state of shock and am still so.

Darren Fletcher, love him or hate him, clearly knows how to do his job. Normally, he can be counted on to plug the gaps left by John O’Shea and mop up problems like an old-fashioned sweeper. But with Ginger Scholes looking tired from the get-go and a chubby Anderson huffing and puffing, barely able to put together a consecutive tackle and pass, Fletcher ended up running around like a decapitated hen.

Just a bad day? Well, all right, if you say so. Away draws to Fulham, Everton and Sunderland? No problem! A long season ahead? Owen Hargreaves will be back soon and the Gaffer will wave his magic wand and everything will be wonderful again. I think not! Of course, the fanatical loyalists will be frothing at the mouth about who is ‘loyal’ and who isn’t. On the other side are the armageddonists, led by Eamon Dunphy–
who see the end of the world. Somewhere in the middle is me, worried about us finishing below fourth place.

Has Sir Alex Ferguson neglected his team? Well, first and foremost, the Gaffer has the right to believe in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” maxim. We may not have been great last season, but United only ended up a point off a team that’s aging just as much as our own. Look at all those folks still driving 1959 Fords and Chevies in Cuba! Look at A.C. Milan: If they can still trot out Gattuso, Pirlo, Seedorf and Inzhagi, why not play Giggs, Neville and Scholes till they’re all well and truly knackered? As long as we end up in the top four the gravy train will still keep running.

Our beloved Gaffer can go on all he wants about “value for money!” Some of us agree. Some of us are dubious. But we all see his point. We overpaid for Veron, Kleberson, Saha, and Berbatov, but those days are over. Times have changed for the club just as they have with us fans. A lot of information has been published proving that the Old Trafford money men have definitely put many austerity measures in place recently, despite their denial. The Glazers, Gill and the Gaffer keep singing the same song concerning the questions about the £85M received off Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo, but, after Saturday’s humiliation at Sunderland, maybe they really will be thinking realistically about what happens if we don’t finish in the top four.

We will definitely find out the truth in January. Having spent only around £10 million this summer, the cash is either there or not there. Truth be told, with too many players past their prime, a handful of erratic prima donnas and a couple who are simply not good enough to wear the jersey, simply going out and spending vast amounts of dosh is not going to be a simple cure for the problem. If this were true, Manchester City and Chelsea would have already ground the opposition into the dust.

Our problem in midfield has gone from being a small cavity after Roy Keane’s exit into what is now a poisoned abscess. This may sound absurd because we’ve kept winning the silverware, but we owe all that to the motivational genius of Sir Alex Ferguson and the character of so many of his players. The miracle to me is that the club have had so many selfless soldiers in the ranks willing to play out of position. The brave likes of Phil Neville, Darren Fletcher, Smudger Smith, Johnny O’Shea and Anderson have all been more than willing to play anywhere, because, first and foremost, they just want to play–out of position, or not! Still, they’ve often been seen in the heart of our fans’ hearts as being a temporary fix, a sort of human duct tape miraculously gluing the ship together enough for our world-class players to bring home the bacon. Great clubs simply can’t function without those kind of players. Unfortunately, when Ji-Sung Park and Gabriel Obertan were signed, it was thought that they were both multitalented performers with the ability to play both on the wing and in central midfield and able to carry on the tradition of playing wherever needed. Unfortunately, neither one has been up to the physical task of keeping the ball in a very physical premiership. In Park’s case, the lung busting ability he has shown over the past few seasons seems to have decreased since his return from the World Cup and whatever Ferguson’s scouts saw in Obertan has yet to show itself in his few first team performances.

Everything seemed just right when we bought Owen Hargreaves. From the very first time he wore the red shirt, Hargo looked to be everything we needed for at least the next five or six years. Clearly, Ferguson’s decision to wait for his expensive, brilliant purchase to come back from the equivalent of athlete’s hospice, showed a lot about his character, too. After two years, Hargreaves definitely seems to be on the cusp of a comeback and will, doubtless, be very useful. Athletes do make comebacks from terrible injuries these days because of improvements in surgery, but I have yet to hear of anyone coming back successfully from having the kind of double cruciate ligament surgery Hargreaves has undergone and the fact is that we just can’t wait any more.

Much has happened in this short season, most of it disappointing. The good news? Scholes was awesome for the first five games and although Nani has been erratic, he is much improved over last year. With a 36-year-old Giggs clearly not available regularly, Valencia out for the season with a broken leg and Cleverley already out on loan, much was expected of Ji-Sung Park. So far he has been very disappointing. Likewise, Michael Carrick, who once seemed to be a world-class dream of a performer, up there close to Andrea Pirlo, brilliant at filling in the spaces ahead of United’s defense, making exquisite long passes and expertly rotating transitions from defense to counterattack. Yet he now seems to be floating in a depressed stupor. The third biggest disappointment has been a hapless Darron Gibson. Although he owns the valuable ability to shoot accurately from thirty or so yards out, the rest of his game is atrocious. He owns no ability to hold the ball and telegraphs both his tackles and passes. Too slow to even deal with Glasgow Rangers, Ferguson’s gamble on him has proven to be disastrous. On the other hand, although there are a number of problems showing up in Darren Fletcher’s game at the moment, I’m convinced that he’s been simply trying to do too much.

Is there money? As I said, we’ll find out. Pundits like Eamon Dunphy and Barry Glendinning insist the club are flat broke and will not spend. I see it otherwise. If I’m wrong I’m certain that the Gaffer will bring up the likes of Magnus Eikram, Paul Pogba and Will Keane in a desperate throw of the dice. If I’m right, I believe we’ll see the arrival a quality defensive midfielder like Lassana Diarra, Moussa Sissoko, or, if Santa really loves me, Daniele De Rossi. The acquiring of the slick-passing Steven Defour from Standard Liege to relieve Our Ginger seems to be a done deal according to a number of the rumor mills. Whether Defour turns out to be a wonder kid or not, I believe Freebie and the Glazers are bound to slosh the dosh to get Wesley Sneijder next Summer.

If these changes are made, I feel 100% certain that the careers of Carrick, Park, Anderson, Fletcher and even Scholes will be revitalized because the sheer weight of public expectation has been crippling for them so far this season. If Anderson can not lose weight and become really fit, I expect he’ll be playing in another kit like Gibson. And Bebé? Don’t worry about all that propaganda Fleet Sreet is spewing. Sir Alex Ferguson has all kind of reasons to trust Carlos Queiroz. The man knows from Portuguese-speaking personnel. Not to mention, if Queiroz comes back to Old Trafford, which would be lovely , that it will be a very good sign because he will pull a substantial paycheck and that would surely mean that the Glazers are still committed!

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