Just how serious is this mini-crisis at United?
Manchester United currently sit third in the Barclays Premier League table level on points with Arsenal (who have a game in hand) and 5 points behind league leaders Chelsea. But how much is Sir Alex relishing this most recent International break? Will the time off give him and his players time to reflect on their recent performances? All facts point to Ferguson righting the ship as United historically start slow to their season only to brush off the cobwebs before making a Championship winning run (see under the previous three years and time after time since the Premier League’s inception). But does this current United squad have the depth & mental focus to reach the summit again? More importantly, can this current crop stay fit and or reach match fitness before it’s too late?
In recent weeks, multiple United players have publicly spoken out in regards to their current situation. Nani, Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak have all whined to the media in what must be viewed as major annoyances to Ferguson and minor distractions to the squad. I realize these three players aren’t the back bone of the current 3-time league champions and if they were to suddenly vanish from Old Trafford in January, many a United supporter would shed not a tear. But the very fact that these players have chosen to speak out as opposed to keeping business in house speaks volumes of Ferguson’s ability to control his players, a strength that’s benefited Ferguson in the past.
- Portuguese winger Nani was quoted as saying, “He shouts at players in front of everyone“, which is a laughable, whimpering comment in and of itself but is sure to infuriate Fergie. Nani has also recently made public comments about certain “broken promises” after the departure of his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo to Madrid – Nani’s lack of “big game” playing time the source of his complaint. Upon Ronaldo’s departure, it was widely agreed upon that Nani and United newbie Antonio Valencia would fight for supremacy on United’s right flank, a battle that the young Ecuadorian Valencia has thus far won. It’s safe to say Nani’s future at United looks a bit cloudy. Recent reports suggest Italian giants AC Milan and Juventus are both keeping a watchful eye on the young winger. With the January transfer window fast approaching, Nani will want to produce more performances like he did on the weekend in Lisbon v. Bosnia Herzegovina in his country’s World Cup playoff or he’ll likely be off to Italy.
- Kuszczak’s “joke” about Edwin van der Sar not supporting him enough was little more than a minor distraction from the second choice keeper, but again a distraction nonetheless. The “joke” part of his comments only came out after the comments were made to assure a sense of lightheartedness from the Polish keeper. Let’s keep in mind this is a crumbling United defense no where near the form of their title-winning seasons. Both ingredients (Vidic and Ferdinand) of United’s world class central defense of campaigns past have suffered poor form and injury concerns this year in their attempts to protect either one of the three United keepers to see action. What United strive for is a cohesive and (pardon the pun) united back line whoever the keeper may be.
- Last but not least and most recently, the now (after a series of errors – see under the Manchester derby) third choice United keeper Ben Foster has spoken out about his “disheartened” status as third choice keeper but assures he has no desire to leave. After England’s lackluster 1-0 defeat to Brazil over the weekend, Foster was quoted as saying “I’m third choice for United yet I’m playing for my country“. Again it’s not the depth of how serious Foster’s comments were, it’s the simple fact that he feels the need to speak out at all. Foster is a keeper with loads of potential to have a fantastic career both at club and international level. But he’s young, he’s prone to mistakes and he hasn’t yet earned even second spot at United. He needs to learn to keep those kinds of comments to himself for the betterment of the team. Foster will earn his place, with time.
When you place these comments in the grand scheme of United’s long season, they may not have the impact Chelsea or Arsenal supporters wish them to. But when put into context with United’s current state of affairs, (continued injury concerns, Fergie’s recent run-ins with the FA, etc.) these comments become niggling, annoying distractions. It’s plain to see that Fergie’s recent comments directed towards officials have succeeded in shifting focus from his team’s average play. But is real punishment consciously or subconsciously being handed out on the pitch?
Regardless of your opinion on the matter, I believe Fergie will right the ship. I’m unsure if United will win the league this year, especially if they don’t spend in January. Wayne Rooney continues to impress for both club and country but he’s carrying too much weight for United. As much as I like watching Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen try to fill the gap for United, I know their inconsistent form cannot be counted on in big matches and towards the business end of the season. They simply haven’t proved it yet.
United need to spend some of the £80 million they received for selling Ronaldo to Madrid over the summer. With Spanish side Valencia in the depths of a financial mountain, United should be willing and ready to splash on David Villa and or David Silva to add creativity and partner Rooney up front. United have the potential to win the league and possibly go far in Europe this year. If Owen Hargreaves can return and reach his best form, if United splash some cash in January for a more consistent striker to partner Rooney and if United’s central defense can reach form of season’s past, then United can with their fourth consecutive Premier League title.