we’ve been trained over the years to not question him. and why should we?
sir alex may be the most successful manager of his generation, but is he still on top of his game?
sir alex ferguson’s 24 years at the helm of manchester united have landed them an almost unprecedented number of trophies: 11 premiership titles, 5 FA cups, 3 league cup titles, two champions league titles and two club world cup tiltes. his results by themselves are hard to argue with: not a manager in the modern day game has delivered more than him.
his “my way or the highway” attitude has lead to falling outs with star players that none of us thought the club would be able to recover from. but the losses of players like gordon strachan, pual ince, david beckham, roy keane and ruud van nistelrooy almost always resulted in the team becoming more solid. in fact, fergie’s hardline managerial style is probably one of the biggest contributors to his success.
and his knack for unearthing unbelievable talent isn’t anything to question either. high profile departures and retirements never seemed to bother him, as he’s always had the red nose (and money) to bring in more than adequate replacements.
until recently, that is.
i can’t help but feel that sir alex’s wily ways have finally caught up with him. the high profile departures from last year continue to loom over this season. they definitely miss ronaldo and tévez, and not just for their goals.
right now, man united are a one dimensional team, at least as far as other teams are concerned. sure, their dangerous with dead balls; ryan giggs in particular. and they’re fundamentally sound and deep at every position. but who on their roster strikes fear into the heart of defenders besides rooney? michael owen could, but he never gets off the bench. danny wellbeck and federicho macheda aren’t there yet. i don’t even want to hear an argument for berbatov, who hasn’t been a cause a defender to wet his pants since he left tottenham.
when the ronaldo and tévez where still wearing their red jerseys, opposing managers had to worry about shutting down at least two players every game… possibly even three. ronnie, carlos and wayne could all produce something out of nothing. not now though, as only rooney remains of the three.
that means that opposing sides only really have to focus on shutting down rooney. sure, united are still getting plenty of goals from the rest of the squad, but no one else is a real threat to regularly score goals. close down rooney, and all you have to worry about is a midfielder or defender pulling something out of their ass.
even better for the opposition? the further into a game you can keep a clean sheet, the more likely it is that rooney will take it upon himself to drop deeper and deeper into the midfield to help create something. this is especially true when united are down. which means you have a park ji-sung or antonio valencia spearheading your attack while rooney tries to catch up from his foray into the back.
how didn’t sir alex see all of this coming?
he sold one of the most potent weapon he’s ever managed this past summer for £80 million. he hypothetically could have used that money to buy all of newcastle united. not that that purchase would have increased his team’s goal scoring abilities, but i’m just saying he had more money at his disposal than any manager could have ever dreamed of. benitez has wet dreams over money like that.
fergie didn’t make a single move for any player to replace ronaldo’s 20+ goals a year or tévez’s 15. he could have virtually had any player in the world for half that money: valencia’s david villa, edin džeko of wolfsburg, atlético madrid’s kun agüero, or hulk from porto. hell, he could have even convinced bayern to offload ribery for £60 million. (the only players i think he couldn’t have gotten for that money? torres, drogba and ibrahimovic.)
however, old red nose decided against buying anyone. maybe he like’s sleeping on a giant pile of money? or he felt content with partnering rooney with the con-artist formerly known as berbatov and a bunch of young, and using an unproven crop of kids to fill the shoes of two of the best players in the premier league. owen was signed as nothing more than an insurance policy. and now he’s stuck with a one dimensional attack option.
and united’s attacking problems aren’t the only issues sir alex is facing right now either.
it’s no secret that united are knee deep in an injury crisis, especially in the back. rio ferdinand seems to have permanently broken his back. nemanja vidić, john o’shea, wes brown and johnny evans have all been fighting off persistent injuries all season. number one goalkeeper edwin van der sar has been given “indefinite compassionate leave” after his wife suffered a brain haemorrhage. owen hargreaves hasn’t played since bush was in office: rumor is he could be coming back soon, but i’m not falling for that one again.
also, this united roster isn’t exactly the youngest of sides. sure, there are plenty of young players on the team sheet (macheda is 18; danny wellbeck, fábio and rafael are 19; gabriel obertan is 20; anderson is 21; mame diouf, zoran tošić and daron gibson are 22; valencia and rooney are 24; the rest of their regulars are either late 20’s or in their dark 30’s), but only anderson, rooney and valencia could be considered regular starters. there’s no denying that these young guys are talented, but how often do they see the field?
maybe vidic is growing tired of fergie's iron hand.
ferguson hasn’t really started to lean on the rest of his young players yet, and continues to rely on veterans such as van der sar (39), giggs (36), scholes (35) and gary neville (34). eventually these old men are going to start needing nursing home care retire, so fergie will need to start testing his youngsters more regularly.
lastly, it’s become increasingly evident that some of united’s more talented players have become unsettled in manchester in the last few years. ronanldo is easiest example of this to point out, but he’s not the only one. tévez became increasingly disillusioned with his playing time and life at old trafford as fergie didn’t want to be held hostage by carlos’ agent kia joorabchian’s high transfer price. sir alex’s insistence to not bow to anyone’s demands led to tévez’s exit to city.
the latest to apparently join this list is star centerback nemanja vidić. intense speculation has begun to swirl about the media that vidić is real madrid’s biggest january transfer target. rumor is that the big serb’s wife is not happy with life in manchester. that’s never good news, as we all know an unhappy wife means an unhappy husband. not only that, but vidić’s demand for a new contract (and higher pay), seems to indicate he is trying to engineer a move to the spanish capital.
so is the one of the greatest managers of all time losing his magic touch? an impotent attack, an aging and injured squad, and an increase in the amount of unsettled players in his side lead me to say maybe. this season is barely half way through, and i know that united have the ever-pissing-me-off tendency to play out of their minds in the second half of the season.
but, there are some cracks in the foundation that i can’t ignore. hell, i want those cracks to get bigger: i’m tired of manchester’s continued dominance of england. i’d love to see that dominance end… just as long as it’s not chelsea that takes the top spot from them.