Fergie’s Floundering Fledglings
Fergie showed us the future yesterday night, and the future looks promising.
But that’s the thing: it’s still the future.
After asking the old guard to do their stuff over the last two games, Fergie showed us what the coming seasons might look like at United. Nani and Valencia down the wings provide raw pace, and while they are not as good as Beckham and Giggs were in their pomp, they still do provide plenty of options. And you certainly can’t fault their work rate or talent at creating chances – not on yesterdays evidence.
Gibson and Carrick / Anderson and Gibson / Hargreaves and Carrick – choose your combination. I’d prefer the second one assuming both are fit and Anderson is firing on all mental cylinders – but the point is, this is Fergusson’s replacement for the Scholes and Keane act. Gibson is certainly no Scholes, at least not so far, but he does have a thunderous right foot. His lurking outside the 18 yard box is getting better, and the lay-off kicks will only improve with time. Carrick or Hargreaves – both can run the kilometers all right, but they don’t have the snarling, snapping-at-the-heels menace that Keane did.
That is provided in United 2.0 by Darren Fletcher, who completes the midfield threesome that is supposed to serve United for much of the current decade. I just can’t imagine Fletcher being cast as a reincarnated Keano though. His looks positively angelic in comparison to the Irish midfielder for one, although many an upended opponent can testify about looks being deceptive. And no one can fault his enthusiasm and work-rate. He covers more ground in 90 minutes than any other player in the team, and when it comes to United, that’s saying something. But he’s not the complete package – yet. That last bit of flair, inventiveness and out-of-the-box magic will only come with experience, and experience can only come with time. And the finished article will be well worth the wait.
Ferdinand and Vidic, when fully fit, are a pairing that have solidity and reliability written all over them. Both are perfectly willing to come up the field when required, but dovetail beautifully when chasing back. Vidic is an imposing figure at the back (although a certain Mr. Torres might beg to differ), and the center of defense looks particularly good right now.
Evra at left back is much, much better than Heinze ever was. His runs down the left are a treat to watch, and the pace that he and Nani will be able to conjure up will leave most right-backs around the world sweating.
Is Rafael ready? He has the pace, he has the ability and he has the willingness. What he does not have, at least on the evidence of yesterday’s game, is maturity. That petulant kick, which earned him the first yellow, was just a fish swallowing the bait, and while Fergie may have a point about Bayern forcing the second yellow on him by pressuring the referee, the fact remains that it merited punishment. Defending a one goal lead over 45 minutes with ten men was never going to be easy, and yesterday’s match is going to haunt the young Brazilian for a long time. He also squandered a golden opportunity late in the first half yesterday, when Rooney was free at the edge of the box. All of which may sound harsh, but that is not the aim. My only point is, Rafael will grow into the role – eventually. He’s not the finished article, but I’d still pick his pace and versatility over Neville.
Van Der Sar is probably one of the best in the business today, but at 40, he’s not going to be around for more than one season, at most. Fergie is going to have to look for a goalkeeper in the summer, make no mistake. Neither Foster nor Kuscak inspire as much confidence as EVDS, and that’s a fact.
Which brings us to the other major signing that Fergie will have to make. Rooney can’t do everything up front, and there are those who claim that Berbatov cannot do anything up front. Tevez would have been far, far better than Berba, but that’s history, and Ye Olde Owen is good for the occasional miracle, but nothing more. Macheda is promising, but still at least a couple of seasons away from regular selection. Which means that Fergie is going to have to dip into the till. Who will come in is not certain, but someone has to.
And that, more or less, is Fergie’s squad for the next three to four years. It’s solid at the back, rugged in midfield (if not particularly inventive) and speedy on the wings. Rooney up front will be a menace, as ever, but we lack a poacher of the class of Nistelrooy to partner him. I cannot help but think that Berbatov was supposed to fill his shoes, but on the evidence so far, it’s not working.
I like it, but it’s lacking a certain something.Set Wet Zatak provided that certain something last season, and maybe Nani will provide it in the days to come – but I don’t know. United, the way they are set up right now, look good, but not frigging awesome.
Even when people like Gibson, Rafael and Nani grow into their roles, and truly fill the shoes of Scholes, Neville and Giggs (although I’ll be the first to admit that this is an unfair expectation) – even then the team will be just very, very good. It won’t be magic. It’s difficult to describe magic, but you know it when you see it. Barca in full flow today is magic, the goal that Rooney and Ronaldo combined to score against Arsenal last year was magic. Arsenal, ever so rarely, when they take it into their heads to finish that impossibly intricate ballet by actually scoring a blooming goal – they produce magic. I don’t know where it comes from, I don’t know how it happens, but you know it when you see it.
This United team don’t have that kind of magic.
Not yet, they don’t.