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Ferguson’s comments on transfers, and he’s not stupid

This post was long overdue, but for some reason we never got around to posting this.

It has become a matter of common knowledge by now that Ferguson has made comments that our business is done for the summer.

“It’s the end of our business, so forget all these stories about who we’re supposed to be getting.”

That’s what he said to sum up his thoughts on our business in the current transfer window. The crux of what he said lay here:

“Everywhere in England and in Europe the players’ values have shot sky high. I don’t think any of the (big money) transfers that you see happening are realistic but for some reason the market seems to have caught fire this summer. It is a very unusual summer and difficult to get value because of that. It’s always been the case that Manchester United have to pay a bit extra. But this summer we were not prepared to do that because we have got some very good young players. There didn’t need to be a kneejerk reaction to losing Cristiano Ronaldo. We did very well to keep him for six years. He wanted to go, and we allowed him to do that. We shouldn’t panic because one or two players are leaving. I think we have a very, very good squad with good young players in all positions.”

Firstly there are two things regarding United’s business that have impressed me this summer:

1. We’ve looked to do business with clubs without dragging our feet or making too much fuss. We told Madrid to take it or leave it, or something to that effect. [Personally, I suspect it is the result of groundwork last year which forced Madrid’s hand. But it’s obvious there has been thought put to Ronaldo’s departure, based on that premise.] We were firm in our dealings regarding Benzema, and considering he went public with his preference for Madrid over United, there is really no point in crying over the Benzema transfer.

We monitored Valencia throughout last season, presumably, as a replacement for Ronaldo. Whether he stacks up to Ronaldo or not, is open to debate. The main point is that United were looking for a winger with the knowledge that Ronaldo will be leaving. According to Wigan owner Dave Whelan, Ferguson had seen Valencia play ‘practically every match’ last season. If a player can force Ferguson to monitor him so feverishly then, I have to give the player the benefit of doubt. It’s impossible to anyway find a direct replacement for Ronaldo; no one, bar Messi, comes close to him.

2. The second thing that impressed me about United’s transfer activity is that Ferguson seemed determined to get a striker and a couple of attackers that he rated at the least, well before pre-season got underway. Even while we were locked in negotiations with Benzema he had a plan B in the form of Michael Owen. Now, I must say I was underwhelmed at his choice of a fall-back option, and I made those emotions known not too long ago. I would have preferred someone like Huntelaar but, going by the details of the deal with Owen, we know we are paying for what we’d get from him. The question of how big a gamble the Owen deal represents, will be apparent when the season gets underway, or based on his pre-season at the club. But that’s besides the point I’ve been making here. His three signings were made before the pre-season, and it’s quite possible Ferguson rates team chemistry the key towards rebuilding the side.

The first point made, regarding not dragging our feet over contract negotiations, segues into another interesting example. One of Douglas Costa. When I came across this article by a Brazilian football broadcaster/pundit, questioning if United are being conned over Douglas Costa, (link via Unitedrant) I felt there may be some truth over Ferguson’s comments about inflated prices instead of the obvious “he’s trying to bluff the market into submission” reaction.

Of course, Ferguson could go ahead and splurge. But on whom? There is Aguero, but with Berbatov and Rooney, that’s asking for a tactical nightmare trying to fit first teamers at once. Playing Aguero wide forces us to waste him on the flanks whilst playing Rooney out wide to accommodate Aguero is unacceptable in a season where most people expect him to be played in a central role; Rooney himself made numerous references on that count. The only player I could think of is Huntelaar. But my contention is our problem area is in central midfield, and not in attack.

But let us return to the point of immense controversy. Ferguson’s comments, that our business is complete, has been met with a lot of backlash, some measured, some angry, some hysterical. There are also those in the in-Fergie-we-trust camp. It has divided opinion widely, but none of the backlash even compares to Ferguson’s sale of van Nistelrooy in the summer of 2006. Even then, Ferguson tested waters briefly, as the Carling Cup win in the 05/06 would testify, with great success.

Ferguson tactically altered United last season, which forced Ronaldo into a more orthodox role of a winger. The system was to accommodate Berbatov, and possibly, ensure a new winger could slot into that position more easily than getting a wide attacker to play, what we shall call, “the Ronaldos role.” Hence Valencia. The only thing that system lacked was for a midfielder who could dominate, move forward into the box and contribute to the goal tally (in the role of the Scholes of old, and Frank Lampard). Berbatov needs more players to go forward to support him, and it is quite possibly the main question mark over the current squad.

I am not particularly big on statistics, but I find it necessary to provide some data of our top four goal scorers in the 2005/06 season, versus the 06/07. I will also list the top four goal scorers of last season for some perspective. (stats are for all competitions)

In 05/06 goals scored:
Ruud van Nistelrooy: 24
Wayne Rooney: 19
Louis Saha: 15
Cristiano Ronaldo: 12

In 06/07 goals scored:
Cristiano Ronaldo: 23
Wayne Rooney: 23
Louis Saha: 13
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: 10

In 08/09 goals scored:
Cristiano Ronaldo: 25
Wayne Rooney: 17 20
Carlos Tevez: 15
Dimitar Berbatov: 14

Stats source: Soccernet

The comparison between 05/06 and 06/07 is fairly instructive in that one player notably, in Cristiano Ronaldo, stepped up significantly to score 23 goals. Berbatov who’s averaged about 22 goals for Spurs, could conceivably step up in his second season at United while Rooney, injury notwithstanding, could even perhaps step up if the side is built around him. Both those projections are not a major leap of faith if one thinks about it. Back in 2006/07 we had an ‘old codger’ in Solskjaer step up to the plate to share the goal scoring burden, this season that onus falls on Michael Owen. Again, even assuming he’s injury prone, it’s not entirely a major leap to expect 10 goals from Owen. The rest would have to be made up by Valencia et al. This system can fail however on one count, and that is what I’ve already mentioned — we need a central midfielder capable of chipping in with goals. Despite this we still have a first XI good enough to mix it with the best.

We may not win the title this time. But with this side we cannot conceivably finish out of the top four, as a lot of the naysayers would have it. In all these years since the Premier League’s inception we haven’t done it. Not even when we had a train-wreck of a midfield in 05/06, manned by John O’Shea and Giggs. I see no chance of that happening this time either.

Liverpool are likely to lose Alonso to Madrid. Barring a right back, they haven’t addressed their problem areas yet. Speculation abounds over their lynch pin, Mascherano. Chelsea have made a top signing in Zhirkov and will be a threat for sure next season. But Terry’s possible departure for Man City could well put a spanner in their works, not to mention, the question marks over Ancelotti’s abilities in a league foreign to him. Arsenal are in the lookout for their elusive defensive midfielder, and although their first XI could challenge anyone, their depth remains questionable.

Of course, we speculate, we doubt and, as concerned fans, it’s a natural reaction following the departure of the greatest star of our generation. But once again, the constant that remains and matters, and is arguably the envy of all clubs, is Ferguson. He may have mellowed a bit, but he hasn’t lost the ability to rebuild and mould sides. There hasn’t been an instance where he hasn’t bounced back. And the evidence of time, makes it a very, very important factor to consider in our speculation. Despite his successes in Europe, he may have never really made it his own. But he sure knows how to win the league. He may never be known as a tactical genius; I never considered him one, and to this day I question a lot of his tactical decisions, but, I never doubt his ability to coax and cajole the best out of the men at his disposal; I haven’t seen much, in all these years, to make me think otherwise.

The key to some of Ferguson’s success is his ability to not be swayed by emotion that we fans get caught up in. It divorces him from the emotions that could bring many men down. He has known one way to satisfy us fans, and that is by doing things his way, even things that haven’t been always popular. His pointed remark in the conference was a case in point, “I can only placate fans one way and that’s by not being stupid.”

We won the league last season, but the hurt and humiliation at Barcelona’s hands resonates more. SAF has often used failure to fire him up. Perhaps we may not challenge for the title. Perhaps we will only have a Carling Cup to show for all this bluster. Maybe we will graft our way after all. But the day I would really start worrying about United would be the day Ferguson departs. I will have the odd concern; perhaps criticising him for a bird-brained substitution. But worry is reserved for far greater potential pitfalls than anything I could foresee this summer.