Manchester united and the theatre of nightmares

When people think Manchester United; they think Fergie time and a never say die attitude. When people think Manchester United, they think the tricks and flicks of Ryan Giggs, the never dying passion of Wayne Rooney and the turnings of a skinny 17 year old from Portugal, into the most envied and feared football superstar in the world. When I think Manchester United; I think Teddy Sheringham’s and Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s, injury time winners in the Champions league final which went on to seal United’s place on the summit of English football, by making them the first English team to complete a legendary treble title winning season in 1999. Eventually propelling Manchester united into a decade and a half of English and world football domination.
Recent Manchester united history has been loaded with great history making nights, which no current English club has even come close to matching; because in the theatre of dreams, dreams really do come true. However fast forward to 2014 and after a 7th place finish in the previous season, the current campaign despite early promise, threatens to also repeat recent heart breaking history. Some people say that it is merely a blip on the road to the summit of world football; instead I see it as a dire warning, foreshadowing of a gruesome nightmare to come, unless we don’t address these three problems; the big money signings will make it difficult for youth players and academy players to get into the team. The current 3-4-3 formation is not suited to United and the work done in the transfer market was a disaster.
Problem for youth players
The bases of all great football teams is a strong academy or youth contingency coupled also with boldness and patients to play them. All great teams need solid foundation and Manchester United was always a team famed for that especially when you consider the alumni of class of 92’; Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, Butt and Neville who went on to inspire united to a fruitful golden period. Even to this day, the youth policy continues to be a strategy adopted by many clubs. Just look at Barcelona and that wizard called Messy, Dortmund and the world cup winning goal scorer Mario Gotze or even Real Madrid and the best keeper in the world for almost 10 years in Iker casillas. But ironically the team, who made such a tactic renowned, seems to be doing the exact opposite and building the roof, before checking that the foundation is stable.
Why splash out on £16 million Rojo for when you have a young right wing back in Rafael who has been a consistent first time choice on the right ever since Gary hanged up his boats. Sure Rafael could be erratic at times and no stranger to red cards in big games. But that volatility only adds to his strength because people begin to fear what they can’t predict. Then we have Di Maria who is clearly far superior to any youth player we have, but at the same time his presence has stifled other emerging talents leading to the first casualties of the Van Hal era in Nick Powell and Wilfred Zaha who were loaned and sold respectively. Which is highly unfortunately when you consider that both before Di Maria, they had defiantly showcased the talent necessary to warrant a starting places in the team.
The wrong formation
From front to back, Manchester united simply doesn’t have the personnel to effectively carry out a 3-4-3 formation. First of all you need a sweeper keeper, who is quick of the line and always willing to mop up balls hit over the top, because 3-4-3 formations are infamously poor at dealing with direct football. David Dea is not a sweeper keeper. Don’t get me wrong he is a top quality goal keeper, probably top ten in the world when it comes down to purely shot stopping. But he doesn’t have the sharpness and quick wit of let’s say a Neuer or a Tim Howard who would be more suited to such a role, especially Neuer who is a raging bull when it comes to rocketing from goal line.
In defence you need three robust defenders who are comfortable in possession of the ball and can bring it out of defence and play if necessary. In the 2012-2013 season Juventus went undefeated using a similar formation, but they didn’t have a world betting striker like an Aguero or Suarez who can bang in 40 gaols a season. Instead their success was built on three centre backs perfect for the formation; caceres and bonucci who are both agile and robust and adept at closing down space for the opinion when they didn’t have the ball. Then when they did have it they had strength and stamina to break into the midfield and support attacks if needed. While the third musketeer chiellini always provided cover for the other two as well as being a solid defensive rock with his supreme reading of the game and herculean power. Smalling and Jones simply aren’t good enough on the ball to contribute to attacking shifts in play, although defensively they are more than competent. However when it comes to dealing with sharp crafty attackers like Sanchez and Diego Costa, I think their lack of pace and agility may leave united backline exposed.
For 3-4-3 you need a midfielder with great stamina to get up and down the pitch with ease, while still having the defensive presence of mind to be able to slot into the back 3 to make it a back 4 in periods of sustained attacking pressure on their backline. You also need a midfield maestro who can dictate the pace of the game, but at the same time have the shear genius to launch killer balls over the top of defenders heads like a NFL quarterback, or the cute through balls with the precision of a surgeon. In the midfield when everyone is playing at the best, Darren Fletcher certainly has the intensity and tenacity of a pit-bull. He just loves nibbling at the feet of opposing players and getting right up in their faces as if he were a boxer in the ring. But unfortunately illness had left him largely a shell of the player he once was. Sure his back as a regular starter in the first team this seasons, but can his body sustain him throughout an entire season just when we need him the most?
In regards to a creative edge in midfield, losing Paul Scholes to retirement left a creative canyon sized chasm in the midfield that United have struggled to fill ever since. I won’t claim to have seen very much of Herrera, but what I have seen he is simply not the calibre of creative midfielder Manchester United were screaming out for. His a top class passer of the ball, but I’m not convinced his the type of player that when down by one goal in a knock out game in the Champions League, will have the decisive brilliance to produce a wonder ball or a surgical pass that opens defenders wide apart.
Its only in that attacking regards do I see United has an safe bet in the current formation; Rooney, Di Maria, Van Perise and Falcao is an almighty alliance that only realistically Barcelona and Real Madrid can match; It’s almost like stepping onto mount Olympics surrounded by football gods. Why so confident? Because 3-4-3 formation begs for attackers to be versatile, shapeless and quick; Rooney and Di Maria are the most flexible of the attacking arsenal, they can easily slip into midfield creating an integral bridge between midfield and attack, whilst at the same time they can move into the left and right wing and provide width to the team. While Falcao and Van Persie play their best football when they are playing against the shoulders of defenders, where they can beat you in a foot race or out muscle you to the ball, either way they are like ducks to water and most important all four can score goals!
Dodgy transfer dealings
150 million, 50 million and 60 million; those are the three figures that meant Manchester United dealings in the transfer market caught all the headlines. The first figure was the amount of money we spent to bring in 5 new players. 50 million was the then British transfer record that Chelsea paid for Torres and 60 million is the amount we used to break it with the purchase of Di Maria. It’s true we were in bad need of an expensive overhaul and revolution, to get rid of all the dead wood in the team, but the money we did spend was wasted because the players we did buy were largely the wrong ones and were grossly overpriced.
With departures of Vidic, Ferdinand and Ever who at their peak formed part of the most formidable back line in Europe, so we needed titan-esk players to come in and fill in their giant shoes. In the current football climate, on op the mantle was Mat Hummel’s who looked like an absolute beast for both world cup winning Germany and bundesliga runners up Dortmund. So who did we buy? Blind and Rojo, okay they aren’t just mere chumps or mortals and certainly caught the eye in the world cup; but they are simply not the centre back power house we were crying out for, especially this season were defensively we look abysmal.
United fans have been yarning and wishing upon a star for the day they could finally find a midfielder orchestrator that can match the perfection that was Scholes. We have spent big in the past two seasons; Fellini for 27 million, Mata for 37 million and now Herrera for close to 30 million, but despite such heavy investment, we are still no closer to finding an adequate replacement. Give me the 30 million you paid for Herrera and I will happily skip to mama Kross house and ask if Kross is allowed to come out and play for Manchester United. Kross who despite his age had the unmissable air of the Zidane in him, he can attack, defend, pass and score goals. Calm down Silva! Just breath, the guy went to Real Madrid, I have to let go of the past.
Who else could we have gone for? Well allow me to tell you a story; it was 2011 and we had a tall gangly young Frenchman in our youth ranks who despite his incredible potential and imposing stature was unable to break into the first team. So Fergie instead of sending the boy out on loan or taking a risk on him, decided to allow the boy to move to Juventus. Once there he went on to become a man, a complete midfielder and a treble title winner, whilst at the same time the Manchester United midfield began to look like it couldn’t even get into the soccer aid teams.
I adamantly stand by the fact that allowing Paul Progba to go to Juventus so early in his career was the biggest mistake and sin committed by Sir Alex Ferguson; so just forget the signings of Veron, Folan or Bebe. But it’s a shame because like I have blogged about before; Progba is in my top 7 most formidable complete players, especially abundantly made clear when you consider his ever present status in the Juventus midfield despite having to compete against the likes of Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio.
Transfer failures or shortcomings are on the whole rather minimal upfront, but while the inclusions of Di Maria and Falcao will surely create a revolution in currently meandering United team, the biggest blow in the transfer market for me was allowing Welbeck to go to Arsenal, a rival team for such a merge price. If you gave the choice now between Van persie and Welbeck, I have no doubt in keeping Welbeck. Not only is losing him like losing a son, but I just feel in the long run he would be so much more beneficial to the United cause. While Van persie in his advanced age and increasing disillusionment with playing the red devils, Welbeck pace, strength and passion for the club would be something greatly missed. Sure he isn’t as prolific in the goals department as a fit and firing RVP, but at 23 he certainly had the time to add that to his already brilliant game.
So what does Manchester United immediate future resides?
For a generation of Manchester United supporter who have seen their team in the last 20 years consistently changeling for the top honours both at home and in Europe; just maybe this year’s absence in the Champions League, may actually be a blessing in disguise. You’ll probably saying right now, that when it comes to Manchester United, failure is never an option, but just maybe this failure is what we need in a moment of metamorphosis. With only the Premiership and the cup competitions to challenge for, the reduction in games means we are more likely to keep a consistent line up allowing for the 5 new players who are probably going to go straight into the first team, to be able to bond with each other as well as their team members at a lot more rapid pace. Less games means United players would be less likely to sustain major injuries and for players like Van persie who has had a injury fraught history, this will serve him well and United who need our flying Dutchman on full tilt.
Remember the old saying fortune favours the bold; ultimately the success of United, rests in the hands of choosing the right formation. Manchester United had been playing the standard 4-4-2 formation for as long as I have known how to count. It’s what they are famous for and have used it time and time again to great success. Sure Van Hal has been although Europe; Bayern Munich, Barcelona, the Dutch national team and he has brought his unique stamp to each of those teams, but alas I don’t see a happy future involving the 3-4-3 formation for United. Although I applaud the fluidity of the formation and the great counter attacking options it offers, but against the more direct opponents, I’m not sure if the formation allows for sufficient defensive covering in the most crucial of moments, United simply don’t have the team to fully exploit all the capabilities of the formation.
If United under current circumstances switches to a diamond formation of a 4-5-1, I believe with the supreme attacking arsenal at our disposal that can Expendables 1, 2 and 3 our way to the title, but if we continue to use 3-43 with the personnel we have, I can with a heavy heart say adios to another opportunity to reach not only the title, but to Champions League football also.

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