Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Rooney staying will not paper over the cracks

Wayne Rooney signed a new five year contract with Manchester United at the end of last week, just days after he announced that he wanted to leave. This is undoubtedly good news for the club as Rooney is a fantastic player, but there are big problems at Manchester United which won’t go away just because Rooney has signed on the dotted line.

Manchester United are a European and World football powerhouse and in the last 20 years they have won 11 league titles and 2 European Cups. However, over the last few seasons an unusual pattern has begun to emerge where Man Utd’s squad has dwindled and appears to be getting weaker every season. After receiving a mammoth £80m from the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo, it appears that most of this money has gone to service the club’s debt rather than to bring in top class players.

In May 2008 Manchester United won the Champions League by beating Chelsea on penalties in Moscow. Below is the team that they fielded:

Man Utd - 2008 Champions League Final line-up

Only two players have been lost from this line-up, but their performances since leaving the club demonstrate what a huge loss they have been. Carlos Tevez has been in a rich vein of form for rivals Manchester City, scoring 36 goals in 51 games. Cristiano Ronaldo has netted an amazing 43 times in just 47 appearances for Real Madrid. Ronaldo would be a huge loss to any team in the world, and replacing him is arguably an impossible task and neither Nani nor Antonio Valencia have been able to pitch in with enough goals in comparison. In 2007-08 Ronaldo scored an astonishing 42 goals in all competitions for Manchester United, and although Wayne Rooney managed a fantastic 34 goals last season, circumstances this season may prevent that from happening again.

In addition to the loss of key players, United are arguably over relying on their more experienced personnel. Next month Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs will turn 36 and 37 respectively. Scholes has played in every league game for Man Utd this season and Giggs has only missed two. 35 year old Gary Neville was very lucky not to get sent off at Stoke on Sunday after two late challenges on the younger and quicker Matthew Etherington. Neville also had a torrid time against the pace of Wolves’ Matt Jarvis in last night’s Carling Cup tie. These examples quite clearly show that Neville is starting to struggle to keep up with the pace of the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see whether or not Ferguson sticks with Neville when Tottenham and Gareth Bale visit Old Trafford this weekend. Ferguson’s reliance on his older players may be because the likes of Darron Gibson and the Da Silva twins have not progressed as quickly as he hoped.

Looking back at Man Utd’s Champions League winning side of 2008, a few more names have struggled for fitness and/or form ever since. Since that match Owen Hargreaves has only managed to play in 4 games, while Rio Ferdinand only appeared in 13 league games last season. Michael Carrick has also struggled for a long time to recapture the form he showed a few seasons ago where he dictated the rhythm of United’s play so well.

Manchester United are beginning to struggle in an emerging world where they can no longer compete financially with the likes of Manchester City and Real Madrid. They have missed out on big name signings across Europe such as David Villa, Wesley Sneijder and Mesut Ozil. In the league, while United are trying to fight off dramatically improved competition from Manchester City and Spurs, they are struggling to keep up with Chelsea at the very top. This season is crucial for Alex Ferguson’s side, as Liverpool showed what can happen to a big side that is knocked off their comfortable perch.

Things are not heading for disaster at United, however they are certainly missing one or two world class players which they may or may not be able to afford. They need to adapt to the new challenges in both the Premier League and in Europe quickly, otherwise they could get left behind.

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