Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography recently revealed that Wayne Rooney, much to the Scotsman’s annoyance, told him he should have signed Mesut Ozil. “It was none of his business who we should have gone for,” wrote Ferguson.
On top of that, current Manchester United manager David Moyes admitted yesterday that he could have signed Ozil before Arsenal did. “We didn’t need that position at the time. I didn’t even say it was an interest, it was put to us and it was just something at the time we didn’t need,” said Moyes. “We we had Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney and people of a similar ilk so it wasn’t quite what we required at that time. We were looking at different positions.”
Rooney, who played most of the 2009/10 season as a lone striker, felt that he lacked creative support in the final third and a specialist no. 10 – and quite a good one too – like Ozil could provide him that. Ferguson, on the contrary, was planning to convert Rooney into that missing no. 10, not as creative as Ozil, but good enough to link attack and midfield and still able to provide a second striking option. Ferguson was the manager, so his decision stood. Instead of Ozil the playmaker, Javier Hernandez the poacher was snapped up and Rooney was converted to a ‘second striker’.
Three years have passed since then. United’s squad has changed, their coaching staff has changed, even their manager has changed. But the formation remains the same. United still play two forwards up front, one deeper than the other. Rooney’s importance in that no. 10 role might have lessened towards the end of last season, but Ferguson’s final Premier League title was largely engineered by the performances of both van Persie and Rooney, who were often played together. David Moyes must have felt that that continuing with that successful blueprint would be the right way to go.
And then there is Shinji Kagawa who, when signed in the summer of 2012, was believed to herald a new tactical era at Old Trafford. The sense was that Ferguson would finally break away from his philosophy of playing two strikers up front, fielding Kagawa, a proper playmaker, behind Rooney. It is true, however, that following the loss of Park Ji-Sung (who left United in the same window), some suggested that the signing of the Japan international was simply an effort to continue carrying favor in the lucrative market of Asia. But this opinion was quickly rebuffed by most who argued that Kagawa, who, having racked up 17 goals and 10 assists in a historic double-winning season at Dortmund, was bought for “footballing reasons”.
Yet, with the passage of time, the cynics’ view seemed to gain more and more credence. All those notions of Kagawa being the first out-and-out trequartista in the Ferguson era soon faded into obscurity. Rooney continued to play as the deep-lying forward, behind the newly signed Robin van Persie, while Kagawa was frequently dropped or fielded in an wide left position, where he looked uncomfortable more often than not. While it’s true that Kagawa did get a few games in his favored “hole”, particularly towards the end of last season, it was more down to Rooney’s lack of form or fitness than Kagawa’s merit.
Some people opined that van Persie’s ‘unplanned’ recruitment made it difficult for Ferguson to give Kagawa his preferred role. According to them, Ferguson originally planned to field Kagawa behind Rooney, but van Persie’s sudden availability lulled him into launching a bid for the Dutchman, which in turn made him play Rooney in the no. 10 role that was initially reserved for Kagawa. But Ferguson’s autobiography dispelled such ideas. The Scotsman wrote that United had actually began negotiations with Arsenal way back in April and he even mentioned that the Glazers were prepared to go for Lewandowski or van Persie in the summer. Ferguson, thus, had not really decided to part ways with his favored two-strike partnership. Then, why did he go for Kagawa in the first place? To sell shirts? Or to use him merely as a squad-player?
Whatever be the reason, his situation at United has not really improved even after Ferguson’s retirement. Yet to start a game this season in his favored position, Kagawa continues to play a bit-part role at the club. He was impressive when he was shifted to the hole midway through the game against Real Sociedad in midweek, and he would have to hope that such cameos as this forces Moyes to reconsider his plan of playing two forwards. And an Ozil-less United would ensure that he would be the first person in the manager’s mind if he ever considers playing a genuine trequartista.
Moyes’ decision not to sign Ozil would please the young Adnan Januzaj too, another playmaker who is trying to establish a place for himself in the first team.
Ozil would certainly have been a luxury signing in any case, but let’s not pretend that luxury signings do not improve a team. Van Persie, for one, did improve the Red Devils significantly enough to help them win back the league from their neighbors. And considering that Ozil garnered more assists than any other player in Europe’s major five leagues in the last 5 years, you probably would not bet against him making an impact if Moyes had signed him, and had played him in the no. 10 role…or in other words, in Rooney’s place. So, the question remains: should United have signed Ozil this past summer? Rooney’s answer would at least be no.
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