Menu
Opinion
Manchester United related opinion.
Curious case of the midfield conundrum

As the imminent arrival of David Moyes’ official inauguration as Manchester United manager approaches so too does the inevitable question of who he will sign, or perhaps most importantly what central midfielder will be brought in. For a few years now United fans a plenty have been adamant that the most pressing concern within the squad is the obvious hole in the central midfield area. More often than not the majority of United fans claim that the midfield area is evidently lacking in genuine world class quality or void of any real depth, while some go as far as to lament Sir Alex for his failure to truly realise the need to strengthen such a significant area of the team.

Admittedly, I am not one those whom have been calling for a major overhaul in the middle of the park or those of whom often advocate the need to buy a big name, but instead was and am of the belief that Michael Carrick was always world class in his own right and that the faith Sir Alex vested in Tom Cleverly was one of substance. I am also of the opinion that one of the major reasons as to why so many fans had become besotted with the need to strengthen the midfield was in fact a direct consequence of many people’s infatuation with Barcelona’s style of play. Yes, we were essentially torn apart by an exuberant Braca team in Rome and while still beaten well in Wembley, it was to a lesser extent a spanking. What many forget to realise is this Barca team consisting of two of the most gifted midfielders of the modern game, in Iniesta and Xavi had an air of cohesion that no money can buy, but instead is a determinant of consistent coaching and culture derived from the famed La Masia academy.

However, with the second retirement of perhaps the greatest midfielder of the Premier League era in Scholes, the worrying continued absence of Darren Fletcher through illness (despite unconfirmed reports of his recent surgery being successful), an ever growing dependence on Carrick to function as an effective unit and the inevitable sale of Anderson, who has to be regarded as one of the most disappointing signings of the Ferguson era, due to the un-fulfilment of his undoubted potential, there is a much more pressing concern to add that much needed quality and depth to the midfield, as coveted by so many fans.

If recent reports are to believed Moyes himself has earmarked the central midfield position as the critical area of reinforcement. This does not come as a surprise, not only because of the aforementioned, but when analysing Moyes recent tactics and formations used at Everton it is glaringly obvious that there is a significant emphasis on centrally suited players whereby, he has opted to play inside forwards as opposed to wingers ala Pienaar and Mirallas and much of the wide play is facilitated through forward thinking fullbacks ala Coleman and Baines. Whether this style of play is simply dictated by resource constraints and or a consequence of a clear lack of quality wingers at his disposal remains to be seen, but it can be posited that every top manager has a foot-balling philosophy that underpins there approach to the game and this can be exhibited by instinctively associating a manager with a style of play e.g Mourinho, Guardiola, Trappatoni etc..

At first one must be sceptical regarding reports from unsubstantial websites or Twitter ITK’s, however, as of today reports from consistent, well respected and reliable sources have confirmed that Moyes, is in fact looking to add at least one, if not two quality midfielders to the squad. The names being branded about are perhaps not a surprise however, well all but one that is. Your regular gossip merchants have consistently linked PSV’s Captain and Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman while Marounane Fellaini was inevitably going to be linked due to his strong relationship with Moyes and much mooted release clause. Thiago Alcantara another whose name has been branded about for quite a while now is gathering momentum on a daily basis, especially when it has been confirmed that a stipulation in his contract has seen his release  clause significantly fall from €70 million, to just €18 million. However, alluding to my previously mentioned surprise candidate the name of one Cesc Fabregas is mentioned. At first one must take such a postulation with an inevitable pinch of salt or diminutive air of enthusiasm but after the signing of Robin van Persie last year you simply can’t rule anything out. If Fabregas was available for the £25 million fee that is being suggested, it is a no brainer. Having just turned 26 Fabregas undeniably has his best years ahead of him and is proven Premiership quality. Equally adept as a holding or attacking midfielder he could be the diminutive midfield maestro we need to partner Michael Carrick in what can only be described as a formidable alliance. The prospect of an RVP – Fabregas reunion is mouth-watering and would be seen as a serious statement of intent from both Moyes and the club. The magnitude of signing a player of Fabregas ability and reputation also ties in with the notion that there will be at least one ‘’statement’’ signing this summer, either  to offset the sale of Rooney or please those of whom are discontent with the hiring of Moyes.

However, the Fabregas deal is perhaps wishful thinking considering he is still regarded as one of the best midfielders in Europe and his familial association with Barca. Alcantara on the other hand is much more plausible. Thiago as he is formally known is a young and naturally gifted Brazilian born Spain international who was not so long ago regarded as the heir to Xavi’s throne. Blessed with intricate balance, awareness and technical ability he is highly thought of in Spain having gained three full international caps at the tender age of 22 and racking up 35 appearances for Barca last season. While there is the unknown quantity of how he will adapt to life in England there is a few major pluses. The majority of Spanish players who have made the transition from La Liga to the Premiership have done so seamlessly while simultaneously prospering in most cases, and it is believed that he is in fact close friends with our very own David de Gea thus, perhaps making the move even easier. However, one of the major negatives is his reluctance to carry out defensive duties, often preferring to play further forward and conceivably therein lies the major problem as it is widely assumed that Kagawa will make the attacking midfield role his own next season. After a steady if not sometimes exhilarating debut season, big things are expected from the exciting Japanese playmaker who only last week Jurgen Klopp described as one of the best players in the world.

Admittedly, I am not in a position to fully comment on the ability of Kevin Strootman due to my lack of knowledge on the Eredivisie however, having seen him play on a handful l of occasions he is deserving of his reputation as one of the most sought after midfielders in Europe, having Captained the Dutch national team at the tender age of 21 and currently captaining PSV he is an all-round midfielder, as equally ferocious in the tackle as he is in playing the decisive pass. The pluses here are his age, price tag and the fact that Dutch players have a track-record of prospering at United.

However, despite what many United fans think perhaps the most viable central midfield option is that of Fellaini. Despite many fans being discontent and ultimately aversive to the idea of spending £24 million on the rangy midfielder, he on his day is a more than just a handful but a class act. Ultimately playing out of position for the majority of last season he would look to slot into a deeper role at United. Here he would add some much needed steel and bite while also contributing in the final third of the pitch. His all action aggressive style could be the missing link in United’s midfield. He is proven Premiership quality and has that equal flux of character and combativeness that could see United fans take to him in time. A midfield three of Carrick, Fellaini and Kagawa could in fact be the perfect mix of style, control, aggression, balance and substance.

Whether it is any of the aforementioned or perhaps someone who is under the radar (the usual way United do business), it is evident that there is a pressing concern regarding the depth of the squad in the midfield area, and it is of major significance to Moyes. Will he go with what he knows and can trust or will he venture outside of the Premier league? These are questions of an uncertain nature in an uncertain time at Old Trafford but as Gary Neville said last week “I am excited because there is a lot more uncertainty about what’s going to happen next season.”

___

Follow Ciaran O’Connor on Twitter.

More Stories Alcantara Thiago Barcelona Cesc Fabregas Darren Fletcher David Moyes Kevin Strootman Manchester United Marouane Fellaini Michael Carrick Paul Scholes Shinji Kagawa Sir Alex Ferguson Tom Cleverley Wayne Rooney