If Sir Alex Ferguson had a pound for every time someone has questioned his management skills over the years he would be, well, at least half as rich as he is now. Time and again during his remarkable career at Manchester Untied critics have prophesied impending doom at Old Trafford – the crumbling of a glorious empire. The end of a pre-eminent epoch. But every time, hitherto, the inimitable Scot has defied the soothsayers and come back stronger than ever.
When players like Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside were kicked out at the beginning of his reign, Fergie’s wisdom was questioned but Manchester United went on to win the Fa Cup and, subsequently, their first title in 26 barren years. When Mark Hughes, Andrei Kanchelskis and Paul Ince were deemed surplus to requirements Ferguson confounded the critics once more and won the league with kids. Kids who went on to dominate domestically, win the Champions League and form the backbone of the England team for the following decade. And when Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane were given the boot, Manchester United were again the subject of negative press from a plethora of pessimistic newspaper mongers – this time The Red Devils evolved into possibly the best Fergie team of the lot, again taking Europe by storm with Ronaldo and Rooney in devastating tandem and a defence that was tighter that a gnat’s chuff.
Every time a question has been asked of the man or the team, the old master has answered it with interest. Criticism tends to serve as the greatest motivator at Manchester United. But although this article is unlikely to get me tickets to the next Manchester United press conference, I seriously wonder whether Sir Alex Ferguson can build another team as good as the last, or whether he has bitten off more than he can chew, by declaring that he will stay at the club for another three years.
For me, mistakes are being made at Manchester United. Even the least discerning can see that Alex Ferguson’s midfield, for example, has been on the wane for at least 3 years. Last night Manchester United played against a side who have only recently been promoted back to the Premier League – but in Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote Newcastle had an immeasurably stronger midfield. How can this be? Is it simply down to the exceptional skills of Newcastle chief scout Graham Carr? Ryan Giggs and Micheal Carrick were outclassed by the hard working, skillful and mobile Newcastle United pair who were bought for peanuts by a side struggling to balance their books. Sure, all the other big clubs also missed a trick here, but it is certain to worry Manchester United fans that the midfield of a mid-table team was so patently better than their own last night. United, of course have many injuries but, even with a fully fit squad would any of Anderson, Tom Cleverley or Darren Fletcher have done much better? If everyone else can see that United need midfielders then why can’t Sir Alex Ferguson? There is excellent potential in Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison but Manchester United quite clearly need a world class signing to bridge the gap in that area.
Perhaps the reason for the lack of investment is that Sir Alex is indeed constrained by a lack of forthcoming funds from the Glazers – but he has denied this time and again.
Have not been up to scratch. Instead of asking the clearly persuadable and flawless Edwin Van Der Sar to stay on for another year Fergie spent £20 million on the fawn-like David De Gea. He has excellent distribution and handling skills but he just isn’t strong enough at the moment and is costing Manchester United points. It’s amazing how someone who has the advantage of being able to use their hands gets beaten so often by opposition attackers who are only permitted to use their heads.
Ashley Young is yet to prove that he is any better than United’s second string wide men Ryan Giggs and Ji Sung Park. If you read soccersweep regularly, you will know that we don’t hold out much hope for him. And Phil Jones, whilst promising, has enjoyed ridiculously premature comparisons with Duncan Edwards, Bryan Robson et al, and is still some way short of the requisite quality to lead the next United team to glory. He will never be as good as Rio Ferdinand and anyone that disagrees needs to take off the rose-tinted glasses.
Sir Alex has said that there is no value in the market but, even now, he could get Newcastle United’s Yohan Cabaye, Cheick Tiote and Demba Ba for less than he spent in the summer. Perhaps the next signing that Manchester United actually need to make is one Graham Carr.
There are now three years of evidence to suggest that Dimitar Berbatov is only ever any good at home against poor sides. Away from home you might as well just play with 10 men instead of picking him. Manchester United, in their pomp, were the fastest and most clinical of counter attacking sides. Quite how the mentally fragile Bulgarian fits into this equation is beyond me. Other dubious decisions by Fergie include putting their most in form attacker at right back whilst Rafael remains on the bench. After going 2-0 down to Blackburn Rovers at the weekend, United moved Antonio Valncia up the park to devastating effect. So why put him back at right back again last night? Had the lesson not been learnt in the previous game? Especially with Nani so out of sorts, Manchester Untied needed Valencia’s no nonsense wing play more than ever. And, neither last nor least, Fergie took his best player off the park with 15 minutes to go against Newcastle United. Surely even an off form Wayne Rooney would have been kept on the pitch by most managers in search of salvation. Rooney nearly left the club a year ago due to a perceived lack of investment in the squad. Perhaps similar feelings will begin to resurface soon.
These are all decisions made directly by the manager himself and they have to be queried because they don’t seem to make sense. It would be tragic for Sir Alex Ferguson to leave Manchester Untied with the team in anything other than rude health. He has done so much for the club, making it world class from top to bottom. Revolutionising the youth system that was non-existent before his arrival. Bringing domestic and European glory back to the club. Evolving the stadium into a 76,000 seat giant. And helping to proliferate United as a global brand .
But has his management of the club become a scab that he has to keep itching whilst his own faculties decline? Time will tell, but this downward trajectory has been on the cards for some time and there don’t appear to be any obvious moves to fight the latest fire.