The pre-World Cup signings of Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez suggested Manchester United were set for a flurry of summer transfer activity with the English defender and Mexican striker fitting United’s current transfer policy profile of signing young, raw talent.
But a reluctance by Sir Alex Ferguson to inject some much-needed cover in his first team squad ahead of what should be another season-long battle with Chelsea and Arsenal is somewhat surprising with only weeks to go to the 2010/11 kick-off.
A recent on-line poll of Manchester United fans stated 60% wanted Ferguson to improve the midfield and a further 25% wanting an additional striker before the start of the new Premier League campaign.
More tellingly, only a paltry 8% of fans polled stated they were happy with the current setup of United’s first team squad.
Reports of another Owen Hargreaves setback in his battle to return from long-term injury suggests United will be without their top-quality holding midfielder to sit in front of the back four. The English international’s influence was badly missed in the Champions League last term, especially in the \’big-four’ Premier League clashes. It is a specialised position that Hargreaves – when fit – fills superbly. Carrick and Fletcher are excellent passers and seasoned internationals but Hargreaves is better at protecting his side’s defence.
Speaking of defence, United kicked off their pre-season with a 3-1 defeat of Celtic in Toronto, fielding a youthful back four of the Da Silva twins, Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans. Rio Ferdinand’s continuing injury problems and Nemanja Vidic’s wandering eye towards Real Madrid means the defenders who took to the field against Celtic could well see a lot of game time this season.
Ferguson has already gone on record to say that the upcoming campaign is one in which the young players in the United squad such as Nani, the Da Silva’s, Macheda and Diouf will all have to step up if the Premier League title is to be secured.
Old Trafford legend Ryan Giggs echoed his manager’s sentiments following the Toronto victory by stating: “Last season we saw a lot of the young players featuring in the first team. Nani had a good season, Valencia had a fantastic debut campaign, Macheda had a frustrating season with injuries, Chris Smalling has come into the squad so there are many young players who experienced some first-team action last season. Hopefully their determination and hunger will see them kick on this season and do even better, because we’re going to need them”.
Local rivals Man City are spending big on internationals such as David Silva and Yaya Toure while Chelsea recently recruited the experienced Yossi Benayoun from Liverpool.
Ferguson has obviously decided to go with his existing crop of young players and attempt to create the correct \’mix’ along with the likes of the experienced Rooney, Giggs, Berbatov and Evra. Sir Alex obviously feels that there is enough talent within United’s squad to challenge for the title but failure to lift this season’s championship (or to progress to the latter stages of the Champions League) will have United fans wondering why more high-profile and experienced players were not brought in during the summer months.
In the same poll that reported less than 10% of Man United fans were happy with their current squad, 56% of those questioned chose German World Cup star Mesut Ozil as the man Sir Alex Ferguson should do his utmost to sign.
Newspaper rumours abound of Bayern Munich’s full-back Phillip Lahm and Inter-Milan’s striker Mario Balotelli being lined-up as potential transfer targets for United and both would prove welcome additions.
It is not so long ago that Sir Alex Ferguson was derided in the English media by Alan Hansen for introducing youth-team players such as Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt into the Manchester United first team following a 3-1 loss to Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1995-96 Premier League season.
Ferguson went on to have the last laugh by securing both the Premier League crown and FA Cup that year and his policy of injecting youth into the first team has never wavered. A similar approach failed to deliver the league crown last season however with a more battle-hardened Chelsea squad eventually claiming the title.
If United fail to improve on their 2009/2010 showing – which only yielded the Carling Cup – then even more on-line polls and articles are likely to appear questioning why more experienced internationals were not recruited.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled \’Off Centre Circle’, published by the Evening Echo, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork amateur soccer player.