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Manchester United 08/09 Season Review – Part I: The Attack

Attack!

With transfer rumours in full tilt, let’s behave like nothing is happening in the world around us — apart from acknowledging that Roger Federer is destiny’s only child — and decide to look at the world that happened in the past year.

Since this is a trilogy — with a chance of a bonus part; either, for purposes of completeness, or due to the commercial success of said trilogy — we will devote a post each for attack, midfield and defence. Waffling will cover performances of individual players, and a few words thrown around to talk about the collective.

In this post, attack refers to the attackers which, for our purposes, encompasses the strikers and the wingers. Yes, sorry to disappoint, but Park Ji-Sung will be considered an attacker; even Tevez. Such is the complexity of the beautiful game.

Nani:
His fans, and there are quite a few of them around, will argue that he’s been misused, misunderstood, mishandled, and any other words that could go with that prefix. In fact, if Nani were to one day hang up his boots after a distinguished career, and tell the tale of his footballing career to his grandchildren, he would describe his 2008/09 season with one word: a miss. (alright, alright — two words!) In the limited opportunities he got to show his wares, he sizzled in some, and simmered in others. Mostly, it was nothing spectacular that would force the manager to make him a guaranteed started like Rooney or Ronaldo. But then, none of our other attackers are ever guaranteed first team slots anyway.

It is inexplicable why Ferguson would use Nani so sparingly, whilst he gave the other summer 2007 arrival, Anderson, a good run. I hope he gets a better chance next season, otherwise, his time at OT will fast run out.

Rating: 5.5/10

Park Ji-Sung: Also known as Ji-Sung Park — some would say, the Energizer Bunny. He represents the quirks of the game. Not nearly talented like Ronaldo or Rooney, and yet he’s a winger; limited in creative abilities, so he has to make up for it with work rate. Jonathan Wilson, the great ‘football nerd’, attributes the emergence of players of his ilk to the advent of the defensive striker/winger. He has had as good a season as he had last time. A few good performances, a few average ones and a few poor ones. He is a good squad player that would do well when called upon, but to view him anything more than that would be pushing it a bit. He will never be the greatest player that wore the famous red shirt (the one with the AIG scribbling, not the Carlsberg one), but his role will be respect by most United fans once they look beyond the derision.

Rating: 6/10

Dimitar Berbatov:

A £30m striker will come witl £30m expectations. It could be unfair, but when someone spends that much, they’d expect their money’s worth at the least. In what form that comes, is open to debate, but it still is out of the hands of everyone but the person in question. While there was overwhelming noise made about attackers running like headless chickens, they weren’t ready for an ambling mongoose either. His skill remains unquestioned, but one tends to wonder what might have been had he had a few yards of pace in him. Bollocks to the clamour to get him to track back. He’s led the assists chart in the league, but he needs to get a better return than the 9 league goals. One hopes a good pre-season can see a better second season from him at the club.

Rating: 6.5/10

Wayne Rooney:

His continued success with England recently, and his talk about his favourite position made it clear that Ferguson needs to get Rooney’s role sorted out. True he’s had some excellent performances on the left. But the manager needs to see where Rooney needs to ultimately play — the role of the second striker — in order for us to see the best of the lad. The barnstorming season all United fans hope for from Rooney continues to be elusive. He’s had a string of excellent seasons for us, and there is a strong argument to be made that he’s gotten better every season, but we need to see the step up, where he hits the next level as a footballer. This would not only suit him as a player, but Manchester United too. Everyone at the club must realise that Wayne Rooney, in the long term, is United’s most important player — not Ronaldo — and his growth as a player will define our future successes.

In short, another very good season. But falls short of outstanding.

Rating: 7.5/10

Carlos Tevez:

Refer Nani but add some whingeing to it. He’s scored some crucial goals this season whenever he’s played — the goal against Porto comes to mind — but while there was a lot of sympathy afforded to him because of his extended time on the bench, his constant tendency to go to the press at every given opportunity has annoyed a minority (surprisingly an overwhelming majority still are behind him) of United fans, including yours’ truly. His commitment on the pitch is without question. But his overall contribution falls short of his £25.5m valuation (which was what Liverpool paid for Torres). He is a good player, but not world class by any count. In all likelihood he’ll move to City, and I’ll wish him the best — as long as he doesn’t score against us.

Rating: 6/10

Cristiano Ronaldo:

For a normal footballer, he’s had an excellent season. But he’s not your average footballer. He’s been one of the few to emerge with any credit in the Champions’ league final. But the Real Madrid saga played out over last summer, and his tantrums on field continue to make it very hard for United fans to reconcile Ronaldo, the person, and Ronaldo, the footballer. It’s always a factor needed to keep in mind while making any assessment of his season, but I’ll attempt to talk only about his on-pitch contribution. Ronaldo continues to be very important to United’s creative energies. We can talk all we want about our squad depth, but he remains our main creative spark. Macheda was the hero against Villa, but Ronaldo’s contribution in that game was equally vital. He absolutely owned the second half of the season, once he completely shrugged off his injury. Added to that, he remains an unbelievably fit player, considering the amount of kicking he takes. Which brings us to the question, of whether to hold on to him or to cash in — it’s something, thankfully, I wouldn’t have to deal with in my season review.

Rating: 8/10

Honourable mentions: Macheda’s made the headlines with his goals, but it’s still not enough to review his season. Danny Welbeck caught the eye with a blinding goal, but whilst he’s obviously got the talent, he is still far from the finished product. Both players are for the future, and that’s all can be said about them for now.

And that ends our review on the attack. Join us tomorrow for Part II of the season review.

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