On Tuesday the inevitable happened, David Moyes was relieved of his duties as Manchester United manager and Ryan Giggs placed in temporary charge of first team affairs. Relieved really is the right word as Moyes if left to continue at United would have only succeeded in continuing to tarnish his once solid reputation. The manner of the sacking left a bitter taste in the mouth, with the press reporting on the sacking before the club had made an official announcement or the Scott has even been informed. The Glazers, Woodward and Sir Alex Ferguson by no means come away from the whole affair unblemished. If Moyes must ultimately shoulder the blame for the Red Devils’ failures this season, United’s senior management are next in the firing line.
There is no room for mistake now then. The club stands at a precipice, the right appointment, the right signings and United can be back challenging for honours again next season; if the right steps are taken, the short lived Moyes era can be relegated in status to nothing more than a blip in a history of success. One wrong managerial selection may be forgiven, another will not be. What cannot be allowed to happen is for the United directors to become embroiled in a cycle of hiring and firing in the manner of many of their closest rivals.
Louis van Gaal is now the odds on favourite to be the next Manchester United manager. The current Holland national side gaffer certainly has the pedigree and experience required to fill the Old Trafford hot seat. Any questions surrounding the appointment would be in the Dutchman’s confrontational and often divisive man management style. This aside, van Gaal would appear the ideal choice for United, as a disciple of the Ajax schooling of Total Football, the former Bayern and Barcelona boss promises attacking football with plenty of trust placed in youth. However, van Gaal is committed to Holland until after the World Cup, and after the debacle that was last summer’s transfer windows, reports suggest that United are keen to get their business done early this year, even if that means signing players before a new manager is confirmed.
In the haste to bring players in, what United must now be careful of is panicking. It has been widely reported that up to £200 million may be made available for transfers in the coming months, but this spending must not be allowed to become reckless. Numerous pundits such as Robbie Savage have suggested that if United are to be competitive next term then the full transfer kitty must be spent and up to twelve players shown the door. Such an overhaul sends the wrong message; it is not the United way, it positively reeks of panic, and quite frankly is unnecessary. It must not be forgotten that almost a year to the day, Manchester United were crowned champions of England with room to spare, and since then Fellaini and Juan Mata have also been added to the squad.
The Belgian powerhouse brought in by Moyes from his former club Everton has not had a good year, hampered by injury and poor form. That said, suggestions that Fellaini should be moved on and is not up to the standards of Manchester United are harsh and wide of the mark. The purchase of Fellaini has synonymous with the failings of Woodward and Moyes in the transfer market last summer, but misgivings should be about the way the transfer was carried out and not over the quality of the player. Bought last minute after other targets fell through and for significantly more than what he was available for just a month earlier, concerns over Fellaini’s purchase are fair. Despite this though, we all know he is a top player. The midfielder has earned numerous accolades over the past few years, putting in some immense performances for the Toffies and was the target of various big name clubs. It is a matter of when, not if this buy comes up trumps.
Fellaini forms part of a much maligned midfield that has seen United be linked with a ridiculous number of transfer targets; Toni Kroos, Wesley Sneijder, Adam Lallana, Ander Herrera and Koke are just some of the suggested names. This betrays a complete lack of direction and organisation as this is a disparate group of players. Lallana and Koke are primarily deployed out wide for their respective clubs and whilst both a capable of playing centrally, neither truly hits the brief. Sneijder is a classic number ten, a languid playmaker, Herrera a deep-lying metronome, Kroos an intriguing mix.
For all the criticism though, United’s midfield has promise. Carrick although poor this term was amongst the best in the league last year and is still capable of recycling possession from deep and keeping things ticking over. Kagawa has shown only flashes of form but has been shamefully misused. The Japanese international is capable of playing off the striker as a number ten, or operating deeper and breaking forward, in either position he offers energy and guile, but has found himself shunted to the left. Fellaini is a powerhouse and offers bite, power, pure physicality. These three offer a formidable balance but have practically never been played as a trio such was Moyes’ devotion to 4-4-2. Cleverly has been much bemoaned but offers solid cover, and the emerging Nick Powell has been a revelation on loan at Wigan.
Further forward it is obvious Nani and Young need to go, but between Januzaj, Welbeck, Mata, Rooney, Kagawa and van Persie, United are hardly short of players able to operate either behind a striker or slightly wider. What United really need in midfield is a manager that sets the players up to flourish. Moyes’ habit of dictating that United focus on traditional wing play, getting down the byline and putting in a cross, took all the verve, creativity and spontaneity that the team had always displayed under Ferguson. Of course wingers are a United tradtion, but not in this shackled manner. Moyes misused the talent at his disposal, given the room to go wide or cut in, swap positions and work on instinct, United’s midfield will have no problems providing service to a world class strike force of Rooney, van Persie, Welbeck and the criminally underused Hernandez. All that is missing then is that one world class player. A central midfielder to rival Toure and Gerrard at City and Liverpool.
Toni Kroos would fit the brief, but with just a year left on his contract, the German has indicated he will remain at Bayern next season before deciding on a contract renewal or a Bosman transfer. The player United should break the bank for then is Arturo Vidal. The Chilean is the complete midfielder, able to roam from box to box tirelessly delivering tackles, interceptions, assists and goals. If Pirlo is the brains at Juventus, Vidal is the brawn. Vidal would elevate the United midfield to another level, becoming irreplaceable in the Reds engine room. He almost never gives the ball away, averaging just one turnover a game, and is no slouch getting forward either, having contributed 18 goals and 5 assists so far this season. Currently in his prime, Vidal will not come cheap with Juventus likely to demand upwards of £40 million for their star, but this is one player worth the price tag and with the Old Lady reportedly interested in Nani, there is definitely a deal to be made.
Defence is the other area that has attracted the most transfer speculation. With Vidic being allowed to depart on a free, it looks as if Evra will follow suit. The Frenchman has been on the decline now for several seasons and is simply no longer good enough. Fabio should join his colleague on the way out of the door having not developed in the way that his twin has on the opposite side. Left back is an area in need of reinforcement. Buttner is able cover, but not good enough to start for United. Luke Shaw is the choice according to tabloid rumours, with reports even suggesting a £30 million deal is close to being agreed. This is the right choice, at just 18, the Southampton starlet already exudes calm and experience. He almost never lets his man past him, having thus far averaged being dribbled past less than once a game. Tireless up and down the left, Shaw needs to improve the number of assists he is providing, but time is of course very much on his side. Some may balk at the huge fee being demanded by the Saints, but United must move quickly to see off interest from Chelsea. Shaw could go on to become a United regular for the next 15 years, much like the last defender United spent such a high fee on, Rio Ferdinand.
A loyal servant to the club, it looks as if Ferdinand will retire come the end of the season, or at least take a step back, perhaps to a player/couch role in the same vein as Ryan Giggs this term. Without Ferdinand or Vidic, United will need a commanding figure at the back. Evans is solid cover, and Smalling and Jones still learning and developing. Calls to sell these players are premature, but they certainly do need augmenting. Dante from Bayern has been mooted, but his fee and wage demands would not represent good value for an ageing player. Eder Alverez Balanta and Doria, both under 21, both full internationals, and both still plying their trade in South America could be solid, bargain signings who could become features in the first team for the next two decades. However, with experience needed, Ezequiel Garay of Benfica looks an easy choice.
A long term target, the Argentine who formerly played for Real Madrid has now just a year on his contract, meaning Benfica would struggle to demand more than £20 million for his services. With the strong, intelligent defender currently at the peak of his powers the deal seems a no brainer and needs to be made quickly; Garay has no shortage of suitors, not least Tottenham Hotspur. Accomplished in possession and with an excellent reading of the game, Garay is no slouch when it comes to the physical side of the game either. Good in the air, Garay has contributed 7 goals for side so far this term, an excellent return for a defender. Davide Astori of Cagliari would be another, potentially cheaper option.
If deadweight Evra, Nani, Andersen, Young and Fabio is shown the door and the trio of Vidal, Shaw and Garay brought in, United should have no trouble returning to the Champions League next season so long as the right gaffer is placed in charge. These three players would likely cost a total of £90 million, well short of the £200 million figure being carelessly thrown around by so called experts, with player sales offsetting some of the cost. United now need stability and consistency, not more upheaval, spending for the sake of it and showing a dozen players the door is not the way forward. Manchester United has always been a club that has prided itself on calmly planning long term and this must continue.
With the league and top four the club’s main focus next term, United should perhaps take a leaf from Arsenal’s book and use the cup competitions as way of developing their young stars. With Powell and Lingard already looking ready to contribute to the first team, taking just a fraction of that £200 million and buying up some of the Football League’s excellent young, English talent may quickly pay future dividends. As well as obvious standout individuals in the Championship such as Will Hughes of Derby and Jamaal Lascelles of Nottingham Forrest, moves for Birmingham pair Gray and Brown, Crewe academy product and soon to be free agent Max Clayton, full backs Purrington (Plymouth) and Byram (Leeds), and 17 year old League One player of the season Dele Alli of MK Dons would provide great strength in depth, and the spine of a United side for years to come.