So that’s that then. Man United will finish the season trophyless for the first time since 2005 bar a catastrophe for City on the last day. To say the least, it has been a pretty dire season by United standards. Our gameplay has been more functional than pleasant, efficiency being the keyword.
There have been extra ordinary highs such as the 8-2 win against Arsenal but more often than not, turgid affairs have been the order of the day. The regular three points kept the belief that we stood a chance (as it still does) but truth be told, entertainment has been little and far between. It has been a gallant effort by Sir and his boys as they have maximized on whatever little resources availed to them to give the championship a go.
In hindsight though, our current position doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The parsimonious Glazer regime has hampered United’s ability to compete despite the best effort of the team. The three signings by Manchester United last summer were nowhere near enough to fill the gap existent following the departure of several players.
David de Gea was a direct replacement for VDS, a signing that was not out of choice. The fact that several clubs had their bids for Phil Jones accepted by Blackburn forced United’s hand as they had identified Jones as a future signing. His unplanned move has been reflected in the way the United management hasn’t figured where to use him best. This, as much as his versatility has been a reason as to why Jones has played at center back, right back and central mid at different spells this season.
Ashley Young’s signing epitomizes United’s transfer strategy in the Glazer era; players available on the cheap due to contractual reasons. It is arguable that we needed a central midfielder more than we needed a winger like Ashley Young. The fact that he was a quality English player available on a cut deal made United move for Ashley Young, instead of going for a central midfielder who was needed more. Young has been a good signing but his arrival signaled the close of summer business for us.
Those three signings were deemed enough to augment a squad that was already lacking in quality and later, numbers following the departures of VDSar, GNev, Hargreaves, Brown, O’shea, Scholes and in time Gibson. This meant that as much as we spent 50 million pounds, we went into the season without achieving squad balance with our central midfield lacking in quantity and quality. By October, the paucity in midfield options saw Rooney played in midfield for a number of games including a European tie.
Man United have largely won the easier fixtures without getting out of gear two but we haven’t looked convincing enough in the big games. We have surrendered easily in some of these matches and looked shaky on other occasions even when winning. Big games call for big players and few United players have stood up to be counted when the going has got tough.
Our transfer strategy has seen us concentrate the squad with players that have ‘resale value,’ a term synonymous with players under 26 years of age who can be sold for a profit, and senior players above 32 years of age. The only players in the 26-31 bracket are Carrick, Berbatov, Park, Vidic and Fletcher. Fate had it that the latter two would miss most of the season through injury with Park and Berbatov being non-features. Only Carrick would feature prominently.
It is arguable that in football, a player reaches his peak between the ages of 26 and 31. It is during this age bracket that a player finds the perfect balance between physical ability and mental maturity, with younger or older players lacking in either the experience or youthful vigour respectively to perform at their very best. It is therefore logical that the more of such players in your squad, the higher your chances of success. As it is, United’s squad is full of talented kids who will be world beaters in a few years and older players who despite their ability and experience, cannot be called upon in every game.
There are some instances where previous United teams with enough leaders on the field would not have let the game slip from their hands. The 4-4 draw against Everton comes to mind as an obvious example. Naivety was also evident as United tried to chase the game despite being 1-4 down in injury time against City. A team with older heads would have accepted the loss at that point and avoided the humiliation that ensued.
The fact that we didn’t address our central midfield was truly shocking. At best, it was short sighted and at worst negligent. Our central midfield has been crying out for reinforcements for several seasons before last summer and the departure of Scholes and Hargreaves meant that we were due at least one central midfielder if not two or three. That we brought back the ginger ninja mid season showed how ridiculous it was not to sign a central midfielder last summer.
Looking forward to next season, it is important we look at certain areas of our squad if we are to remain competitive both at home and in Europe. Of utmost importance is the signing of at least one central midfelder or two if Pogba leaves. We have been crying out for midfield signings for several years and continue to do so. Even with the return of Scholes, our midfield has not been good enough to compete against the very best. The mooted transfer of Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund to United would be a good start to our summer business. A destroyer to complement the midfielders we have wouldn’t go amiss either. It’s been a while since we had a midfielder who would crunch into tackles and terrify the opponent Keano-style.
Patrice Evra has been a consistent figure in our defence for over five years but his performances have began to tail off in the last two years. Personally, I’d have Fabio played more regularly with Evra deputizing but since that doesn’t seem to be on the cards with Fabio’s planned loan move, a left back to provide competition to Evra is required.
It remains to be seen whether Fergie will be able to convince the owners to fork out the amount required for transfers to keep United competitive. Without necessary additions, there is the nightmare scenario that City will deny us titles regularly, starting with the league title on Sunday. In the mean time, we can all concentrate our energies into hoping the Glazers disappear to whatever hole they came out from.
Game of the season: Man United 8-2 Arsenal
A day when all that could go right did exactly so. Its one thing hammering any team 8-2 but metting out such punishment to one of your biggest and loudest rivals is another story. Despite the poor quality of opponent on the day, this is one game reds worldwide won’t be forgetting any time soon.
Worst game of the season: Man United 1-6 Man City
Not just the worst game of the season but the worst in my time supporting Man United and beyond. Writing about it seven months later gives me the same sick feeling. The less talked about, the better.
Goal of the season: Ashley Young vs Arsenal 8-2
For his first season, Ashley Young has scored some amazing curlers. None has been better than the first he scored against Arsenal during the 8-2 demolition. The technique to curl the ball from outside the box and place iot in the top corner is a difficult one to execute and the fact that he’s scored several similar goals shows that its not a fluke. Other notable goals include Fletcher’s in the 1-6 debacle, Welbeck’s goal against Everton at Old Trafford and Nani’s goal versus Chelsea at Old Trafford.
Player of the season: Wayne Rooney
It’s a tricky one choosing the player of the season as different players have proved crucial at different times of the season. The mature performances by Johny Evans in Vidic’s absence and his recovery from the 1-6 low point makes the Irishman a viable candidate. Michael Carrick has been a pillar of calm and consistency in the heart of our midfield. So too has Valencia in the wings with consistently impressive outings, particularly in the second half of the season. Paul Scholes came back to steady the ship and soon went about doing his magic, his return coinciding with our most productive spell till the late season slump.
Ultimately though, Wayne Rooney shades it with his overall contribution that includes 33 goals in all competitions. He has largely had to play number 10 in a 4-4-2 formation this season behind Welbeck or Hernandez and to still finish the season with such a high return speaks of his undoubted world class quality. Infact, I’d go as far as proclaiming him the best player in the world after those two La Liga freaks.
Rooney’s return to number ten has seen him get involved in build up play more often while still exhibiting ruthless efficiency when infront of goal hence getting the best out of the player. His contract saga is now behind us and Rooney remains central to United’s fortunes now and in the future.
Worst Player of the season: Park Ji Sung and Michael Owen
A tie between Park and Owen for this one. Park has had his appearances few and far apart which has not helped his game as he ages and loses the physical ability to maintain his high energy performances that made him a key squad player especially during big matches. He has only managed 18 starts this season with nine of those starts coinciding with a loss for United. A fan favourite, the former South Korea captain is likely to leave in the summer. He will be remembered fondly by the fans.
Michael Owen has had a worse season than his prior seasons at United, something which seemed impossible given how poor his previous seasons were. He has been largely missing with just 3 starts this season (none in the league) and offered little on those few occasions he has been called upon to play. The ultimate low in Glazers frugal transfer policy of cheap/free signings, he is likely to follow Park out of the door and will not be missed by many.
Young Player of the season: Danny Welbeck
Young players often endure unproductive spells during their formative years of pro football (through loss of form or injury) as part of the growing up process. Phil Jones, De Gea, Cleverley, Smalling, Rafael and Fabio have all had such unproductive spells for different reasons this season despite some promising outings.
The stand out performer among the younger players has been Danny Welbeck. Welbeck returned from a season-long loan in Sunderland and came back having matured physically and his perfomances proved equally mature and impressive. Welbeck has formed a good partnership with Rooney, nailing down a starting spot for club and his form sees him going to the Euros with England with a chance of leading the line in their opener against France.
We are often reminded of how Man United hasn’t produced a first team striker from the reserves since Mark Hughes almost two decades ago but that unwanted statistic is about to be rectitfied.
Welbeck has shown great versatility upfront, dropping deep to influence play and leading the line well. A big tournament might just be what he needs to announce himself to a world stage and Euro 2012 provides the perfect platform for that as Euro 2004 did for Wayne Rooney. Gwan Danny, kill it.
Disappointment of the season: Berbatov (mis)treatment
Top scorer in the league last season, Bulgarian record goal scorer and the silkiest touch in football since Zidane and still Berbatov struggles to secure even a bench spot at United. Fergie’s preference for a quicker style of play and Berbatov’s selfless love for United has seen the mercurial striker stuck at United and relegated to fourth choice striker at the club. Nowhere has graft over craft been exhibited better and at such a costly price.
It’s been sad seeing Berbatov consistently miss out on even a bench spot for most games and the sooner he takes his talent to a place where it is appreciated more the better. All the best in your career, Mitko.
Best moment of the season: Return of Scholes
That forgettable night at Wembley seemed the last we had seen of United’s most technically gifted players and one of the best in our history. Seeing his name on the squad sheet before the F.A Cup tie at City had our collective pants wet with excitement as we never expected to see the magical Scholes perform live again. As Ian Holloway put it, what he does is art and the chance to watch his masterful play once again was one we welcomed with glee.
The second half of the season has been full of wonderful long range passes from Scholes with a few late-run goals for old times sake. It was arguably the best moment of the season when Scholes returned and another season of spoiling us with his technical brilliance would be welcome especially as the only other technically perfect player, Berbatov looks likely to leave.