Have Manchester United strengthened their squad enough?

It has always been a tradition for Manchester United fans to expect some big-name signings before the start of the new season, and Sir Alex Ferguson has had an even longer tradition of securing young, talented names rather than the ‘big-name stars’ and maybe, in a way, disappoint the bunch of extravagant United fans.

It can be assumed that Ferguson is looking at the bigger picture but when it comes to a club of United’s stature, fans generally seem to lose patience and get restless after an ‘unsuccessful’ season. The last season has been just that, with United failing to bag a single major trophy. City snatched away the Premier League title in the dying minutes of their last game. Champions League dreams were shattered long before, even the FA Cup and the Carling Cup went begging. Man United fans are clamoring for a big signing, and Sir Alex must surely be feeling the heat this time.

He has gone about his business unfazed, however. By securing the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell, he has sent out a clear message that he is not one to divert away from his old theory. United fans will nevertheless be eager to see the Kobe-born Kagawa in action. The 5 ft 7.5 in attacking midfielder will surely add to the attacking credentials of United. He is known to be very hard-working in nature and if he can bring the energy in the final third and with an in-form Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney, other teams’ defenders are bound to have sleepless nights. United have suffered in that aspect of late, with Nani and Ashley Young not being able to rise to the occasion. In spite of Kagawa’s inclusion, the biggest question still persists – have United strengthened their midfield enough? That question is far from being answered.

Michael Carrick still remains the fulcrum of the United midfield. He has made more number of appearances in the red shirt than any other midfielder for the past two seasons and the 31 year old Englishmen seems to have instilled tremendous faith for himself in Sir Alex’s mind. The Scot’s words “He (Carrick) is the key to it.” bears testimony to that fact. Thus, one can conclude that the picture of United’s midfield won’t change too much, with Carrick leading the pack as he has done for years now. However it won’t be wrong to conclude that he isn’t the same influential player as he used to be in the past. Most of the killer and accurate passes seems to have eluded the ex-Spurs man that characterized him during the start of his United career. Furthermore, he has been found wanting when playing against a technically superior midfield in many cases.

What has made the situation even worse is the long term absence of Darren Fletcher. He is one of those classy midfielders who fight hard to win possession back when it is lost and has the unique ability of destroying opponents’ moves in the edge of the box. It would definitely be fair to say that United have missed his services a lot. Paul Scholes’ return has surely given Ferguson a breather, but it is by no means a complete solution. United’s midfield situation was so pathetic during the middle of the previous season that Wayne Rooney had to be employed as a central midfielder in a few games. Tom Cleverley is young, talented and certainly one for the future. He has excelled immensely in the few chances he has been fortuned with but he still needs to gain much more experience and consistency before he can be considered as a competitor to the likes of the best midfield men of world football. Much has been said and written about new signing Nick Powell, who arrives from Crewe Alexandra, but it will be downright unfair if people expect tremendous performances from the 18 year old right from the word go.

Cheik Tiote Marouane Fellaini of Everton holds off a challenge from Cheik Tiote of Newcastle United during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Newcastle United at Goodison Park on September 18, 2010 in Liverpool, England.

All these permutations and combinations are bound to give Sir Alex deeper creases in his forehead, as far as his midfield is concerned. What United desperately need is someone who can break up the opponents’ play during crucial junctures and reconcile it by possessing the ability to win the ball back when it is lost. Someone like Schweinsteiger or even Marouane Fellaini or Nemcastle’s Cheik Tiote would be ideal for that role. Rumours have linked United with young Brazilian sensation Lucas Moura, but that merely sounds great for the attacking discipline of United, nothing else. One must agree that the prospect of United’s midfield in the build up to the new season is not a very bright one.

Similar concerns have been raised with United’s left-back position. Patrice Evra has been nothing less than awful last season and if Sir Alex doesn’t spend on a decent left-back this time, the prospect of United’s title challenge looks gloomy, leave alone their European ambitions. Everton’s Leighton Baines will undoubtedly be the perfect solution to this problem. The 26 year old English full back can not only defend better, but also can deliver pin-point crosses. Evra has been very uncomfortable against speedy wingers of late, and Baines can be the ideal man to rise to the occasion for United, if given the chance.

Another rumour that is gradually making headlines these days is the probability of Arsenal forward Robin Van Persie joining United. Sir Alex is said to have made an official offer for the Dutch striker and there’s a lot to ponder upon if Van Persie does opt for a move to Old Trafford. The forward line of United will definitely look very flamboyant with Rooney pairing up front with Van Persie, but if one looks into the situation minutely, he will find that it doesn’t solve United’s problem in any way. Sir Alex’s men have never had any difficulty in finding the net, notching up 87 goals in their Premier League campaign last season. Welbeck and Chicharito have assisted Rooney well in the strike department. Chicharito had an excellent debut season for United and Welbeck too is skillful and is often deemed as the next big thing for English football. The Dutch’s inclusion will only obstruct their progress. Van Persie’s move to the Theater Of Dreams will also leave Sir Alex with one of the toughest decisions to make, leaving him to choose between Rooney and Van Persie if United plays with a lone striker.

Thus for numerous reasons, United fans remain worried. The question still looms large, have United spent enough? The optimistic section of United fans will claim that this is a rebuilding phase and Sir Alex should be given some more time. Certainly, this argument holds water in crude but will the team be able to reclaim the title and challenge for a top spot in Europe? Sir Alex Ferguson is a veteran, with a massive experience of managing Manchester United for over two decades and there is probably no one better than him to solve United’s conundrum and get them back on track. Thus, the Old Trafford faithful will do well to keep faith in him, even when the going is tough – just like they have been doing so for the last twenty-five odd years.

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Avrajit Ghosh

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