Alex Ferguson must invest, whether the market has value or not

With the retirement of several long-serving players imminent and Manchester United lacking quality in defence and attack, Sir Alex Ferguson needs to spend big or face decline, argues

As a Manchester United follower of some 15 years, I have learnt to regard the views of Sir Alex Ferguson as sacrosanct. After all, what reason has there been to doubt the Scot? His great teams of 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2007 have provided the peaks of my adolescence; all United fans of my generation have been spoilt with endless silverware. However, the manager’s comments in the Friday press conference previewing the 1-1 draw with Birmingham City left me well and truly baffled, frustrated even.

Ferguson insisted he would not be using the considerable transfer war chest generated by the summer sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to reinvest in the squad during the January window, because he saw “no value” in the market. I was astonished that such a football genius could be so short-sighted.

There is no doubt there is little value in the transfer market, hence the trickle of bargain moves in its first fortnight. United’s sale of Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £80 million started the whole chain of inflated fees off and the second Galácticos project of Florentino Pérez and the billions of Sheikh Mansour et al. at Manchester City will ensure the situation will remain this way for the foreseeable future. In truth, football isn’t going to return to how it was for several years, possibly decades.

And this leaves Manchester United in a dreadful position. The fact they are saddled with upwards of £700 million of unserviceable debt from the Glazer family takeover leaves Ferguson’s hands tied, whatever he may say to the contrary. Hence, while United have been linked in the last 12 months with Karim Benzema, the £35 million Real Madrid striker, Franck Ribéry, the Bayern Munich playmaker, and Sergio Agüero, the Atlético Madrid forward courted by Chelsea, among others, they have succeeded only in recruiting the likes of Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia, Mame Biram Diouf and Gabriel Obertan.

Now, as things stand, this isn’t exactly a disaster. Despite looking vulnerable in defence during the recent injury crisis and occasionally lacking their usual cutting edge up front, United sit just a point behind Chelsea at the Premier League summit, are in a League Cup semi-final and remain among the favourites for the Champions League crown. However, these statistics miss the point.

In the next 12-18 months, United are set to lose a number of players through retirement as the chapter closes on the remaining members of the great FA Youth Cup winning squad of 1992. If the club fail to replace these players properly in the next few transfer windows, whatever the market climate, the team will be fatally undermined in several positions. Their position as the predominant club in England is at stake.

The mercurial Ryan Giggs, still in the Indian Summer of his career at 36, has already agreed to a one-year contract extension, but what then? His record of 824 matches for United speaks for itself but his absence on the left will leave a massive vacuum. The infuriating Nani, billed as the second coming of Giggs, has been largely non-existent on the occasions he makes the starting eleven, is certainly not the solution and should probably be swiftly sold to a mid-ranging Premiership side and quickly forgotten. Since his arrival in 2007, only one of the Portuguese’s performances springs to mind as being half-decent: his mauling of Arsenal in the 4-0 FA Cup fifth round victory in February 2008.

While the more promising cameos of Obertan this season mark him as one for the future, few would fancy him to step in as a like-for-like replacement for Giggs when he announced his retirement. You would expect United to be working behind the scenes to take advantage of Bayern Munich’s financial worries to poach Ribéry, manipulate the similarly prudent atmosphere at Valencia for the versatile David Silva or monitoring the likes of Jérémy Toulalan at Lyons, who can be deployed right across midfield, but don’t bank on it.

Paul Scholes, still influential at 35 despite his first-team opportunities becoming less frequent, should be slightly easier to replace, whether he decides to call it a day this May or next. However, none of Michael Carrick, Anderson, Darren Fletcher or Darron Gibson is exactly world-class. For the estimated £18 million United shelled out for him, Anderson has persistently underwhelmed and he certainly lacks the physical presence and silent midfield dominance of Scholes. As does Carrick, whose form has steadily declined during this season – his passing has suddenly ceased to be adventurous or creative as some kind of nervousness has creeped into his game. Again, reinforcement will be needed.

At right-back, Gary Neville, ostensibly the club captain and its most fervent advocate, has barely kicked a ball these past years and, although his intense commitment will thrust pen to a new contract if offered one, e has little left in the tank. Sadly, Rafael Da Silva, the young, swashbuckling Brazilian, won’t offer instant compensation for Neville’s departure or, more likely, move upstairs into a cushy coaching role. Between the posts as well, with 39-year old Edwin Van Der Sar preoccupied with his wife’s recovery from a brain haemorrhage, more than a stop-gap replacement will be needed. Until this season, Ben Foster had played more minutes for England at Wembley than he had for United at Old Trafford and, following an altercation with Ferguson in the wake of the lucky 2-2 home draw with Sunderland in October, newspaper reports yesterday suggested the stopper had been valued at £4 million and pushed towards the exit door.

With the aforementioned dearth of attacking options, now exacerbated by news that Dimitar Berbatov requires exploratory surgery on a niggling knee injury, there are at least four or five positions in which United must look to strengthen, either immediately or in the summer. There must be no room for sentimentality for the 1990s generation drawing near to retirement; Ferguson must trim the deadwood in the squad and harvest every penny brought in, including the Ronaldo money supposedly at his disposal, to build a fifth great side, regardless of the absurdly inflated market.

18 comments

  1. 11 Jan ’10 at 6:03 pm

    Martin O'Neill

    Having despised Man Utd for many years I would suggest that we never doubt Fergie. It seems perhaps he should follow the message of your article, get rid of Nani and co, and bring in some of the talent United are regularly linked with but Ferguson has had a career of defying the critics.

    Alan Hansen famously said you win nothing with kids when Fergie jettisoned Ince, Hughes and Kanchelskis in favour of Giggs, Beckham and co, and look what happened there. People said he shouldn’t sell Beckham, shouldn’t see Stam and shouldn’t sell Van Nistelrooy but look how that has worked for him. People hadn’t heard of Ronaldo when he brought him in, look how that worked out.

    Fergie doesn’t do what seems logical a lot of the time, perhaps the reason he is such a genius. Man Utd will most probably win the title again this year and Fergie’s bandwagon will carry on, because he is – and I don’t say this simply because I really don’t like the man or his team, the best manager since Clough.

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  2. listen up Adam Shergold, you being a united fan and coming from york really, really makes me laugh at you, your a half-blood, a glory hunter. For the real united fans i feel sorry because your empire has been ruined by the glazers, as for working behind the scenes to secure Ribery (45m-60m player) for united. Are you living in the real world or what? You have no money, its gonna get worse and you will NEVER replace the half right Ryan giggs, and the rest at the old peoples home, nevermind buy Ribery. Everyone smells blood when they play united now, cos your poor on the pitch and off it too.

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  3. United have started their slide downward.

    Riddled with debt, there is no money for Fergi to spend in this transfer window, or any other. The interest repayments alone on the Glazers’ wonderful takeover – financed by hedge funds who expect a swift return – have eaten up the Ronaldo money; this further refinancing will simply add to and prolong the debt. Regardless of what figures United put out – no club’s make any sense or reveal the true situation – it is increasingly apparent that the debt is biting hard. Ticket price hikes and new conditions, redundancies and now ‘refinancing’ efforts.

    Beyond the bank balance, the team’s hardly something to be feared anymore. The reserve ‘youth team’ has an average age of 26. Giggs, Scholes, Neville, Van der Sar and Ferdinand are into their thirties and have passed their best (the first four beyond 35). More worrying should be the utter lack of replacements. Foster? Welbeck? Obertan? Nani, Anderson and John O’shea… haha. Darren Fletcher and Owen Hargreaves? Wigan’s winger and a relegated team’s striker? Scary stuff.

    And all the while United cling to this idea that Fergi is some kind of genius. His increasingly unsporting, bullying and irrational displays this season demonstrate he’s at least under pressure; his genius must be called into question. Moreover, I wouldn’t bracket Ronaldo and, let’s not forget, TEVEZ (Fergi, Fergi, sign him up!! 11 in 8 now haha) in the ‘did the right thing selling him’ group. I wonder if any journo will have the balls/inclination to ask Fergi if he should have signed Tevez? Doubt it.

    Arguably most interesting and problematic for United is, with the exception of a few managers, teams are waking up to the fact United aren’t to be feared. This assumption – the negative mentality of accepting a draw as a ‘great result’ and a one/nill loss as good going for some – has for years sustained United at the top. Finally teams are fronting up to them, realising they’re just 11 players. Fulham, Burnley, Birmingham to name just three. Even better, Fergi’s bullying is being identified and quelled. His next ban from the FA is well overdue and should be substantial.

    This decline on and off the pitch is evident! And all the while, down the road in Manchester, a blue moon is rising. I, for one, look forward to witnessing the collapse of United with Fergi & the Glazers at the helm.

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  4. hahaha Rankin you are so bitter! Must piss you off that the pre Glazer United wiped the floor with their little City brothers and now you can cling onto something to shout about. And after all that Utd are still above you in the league!

    Didn’t you go on a little drawing run? 8 games was it? Yeah quality. Wouldn’t mind if you were a Chelsea or Arsenal fan who has actually achieved something in the past 15 years. No doubt you will win the Carling Cup and shout about it on the rooftops. well done in advance.

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  5. 18 Jan ’10 at 5:49 pm

    Joseph Leyland

    You tell him Phil! I would hate it if my team was a group of greedy mercenaries, and he will find out the hard way that money cannot buy lasting success

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  6. 18 Jan ’10 at 5:54 pm

    Papa Boupa Diop

    I’ve heard Robinho had a great game up at Everton? Like a player who really wants to be at Man City cos he loves the club and wants to win the league and playing for them has nothing to do with the £160,000 p/w salary he’s on? Yeah, I heard he was class. Should do well in the Champions League next year though. Oh. Hang on….

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  7. Only Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United fans opinion’s are relevant.

    Fact.

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  8. Im a Wigan fan

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  9. Who stole my post on Rankin’s wall?!

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  10. 19 Jan ’10 at 12:26 pm

    Papa Boupa Diop

    I did Dan. I’m not getting many games at Pompey and I’m bigger than you

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  11. Man Utd will slide as long as the glazers are at the helm and football continues to show disregard for financial prudence. With the money Ferguson genuinly has availible, I doubt he feels he could improve the squad. This season hasn’t been helped either by the loss of ferdinand who in recent seasons has been THE best centre back in the world. I don’t support Man U because their a business rather than a club. However i appreciate the Ferguson knows infinately(?) more than anyone else here about what is best for Man U.

    p.s For what was actually £47m for Man City i wouldn’t sign Tevez either.

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  12. Good result last night Dan. Did you manage to get there, or did your arm chair get stuck in reverse on M6 again?

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  13. Anyone else think Rankin’s been letting his mouth got too much? Whether it be porters, Jane Grenville or Manchester City? My reading into the situation is that Rankin certainly knows his stuff and is a genuine fan, but shouting about it now when Man City certainly look as though they’re going places (whether Tory Taylor likes it or not! LOL) won’t help you! For instance, why weren’t you banging on about your team in the closing stages of last season? All I’m saying is that you’re setting yourself up to be knocked down by these plastic “United”* fans.

    Dan Taylor, you can consider yourself fit to discuss football when you support a team you’re affiliated to in some way (i.e. when you’re not supporting a team that plays its football 200 miles away from your house). Your armchair must be stuck in reverse on the M6 as I haven’t seen you at Old Trafford lately.

    *There are 11 other Uniteds in the football league by the way.

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  14. …oh and leave Papa alone yeah?

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  15. Ex-Lesterites head coach, Oliver Lester was left fuming today after a newly formed six-a-side team, The last of the Lesterites, was formed including one of his former players, Barnaby Francis.

    Lester is believed to be angry that no fee was offered to the Lesterites for Francis’ services. Although Francis was out of contract at the C Block club, he is only in his second year which means that the Lesterites are entitled to a compensation package.

    This moves comes after the much hyped ‘Hallamgate’ where FC Business Time’s Matt Hallam was illegally tapped up by the Lesterites.

    “It’s crazy,” fumed Lester. “How can they accuse us of tapping up Matty when they go and do this…talk about the pot calling the kettle black!”

    The former Derwent chair is also unhappy with the naming of Francis’ new team.

    “It’s childish. In fact, it’s bordering on being unacceptable. A mickey take of a team that was a good, honest, Derwent side.”

    Benjamin “Wedge” Courtney refused to comment.

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  16. Hahahahahahaha Rankin! Shut up you noisy neighbours! el o el

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  17. replace ryan giggs ???? when that guy retires no one will EVER replace him. great players come and go but the level of commitment gigs as brought to the game is simply outstanding. every team in the land should give the man a standing ovation on his last game.

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  18. 10 Feb ’10 at 7:37 pm

    OFFICIAL STEVE MILLER CAMPAIGN TEAM

    there is only one man who can replace Ryan Giggs. His name is Steve Miller

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