by Teo Teng Kiat
It was all fine and dandy just a few weeks back. Having trounced Wolves 4-1 and beaten QPR 2-0, where Michael Carrick did his best Messi impression by waltzing from the halfway line to slide a sideways pass into the goal, we then proceeded to put five each past sorry Fulham and Wigan in the next two matches. Berbatov was back with a nonchalant backheeled goal (and an even cooler celebration: he just raised his arms and wore a non-plussed look, like it was something he did all the time), and we didn’t even need proper defenders; Valencia was masquerading as Daniel Alves, while Carrick went to centreback to fill in. Injuries? No problem, or so we thought.
Then Phil Jones got hit by the injury curse, Smalling contracted tonsilitis. So Fergie fielded four wide players in midfield against Blackburn, with Rafael and Park in the centre. Surely we couldn’t lose against the bottom club. But Yakubu had different ideas, De Gea dropped a clanger, and suddenly the 2-3 loss prompted a slew of quickfire comments from United supporters all over the world, clamoring for Sneijder, Gaitan, Hamsik, Mats Hummel…the list goes on. The pressing need for new players were seemingly made even more urgent when Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye combined to deal the Red Devils a second successive defeat at St James Park (I refuse to call it any other way).
And from being level on points with City and seemingly on our way to secure a 20th title and not a squeak about January signings being heard, these same bunch of fans are now calling for the gaffer to splash the cash. These people are probably the same ones who called for Lindegaard to start against Newcastle, only to stick the blame on the Dane after the loss, despite none of the goals actually being his fault. And also, Berbatov has apparently gone back to being a lazy bugger who does fuck-all, while Rooney repaid the supporters’ faith with a performance so tepid, the manager would have been better served sticking Albert the kitman out there.
Then this morning, lo and behold, Paul Scholes is suddenly going to come out of retirement and salvage the season for us, ala Thierry Henry (he’s going to partner Van Persie and fire the Gunners to the top), or so the papers claim. While we are at it, why don’t we ring up Denis Law or Eric Cantona to replace the soon-to-be-sold Rooney (because he was dropped for ONE match)?
I am genuinely sick of all the knee-jerk reactions. How can people honestly believe that the club will sell a top player in the middle of a season, when we are chasing a title that we have every chance of winning, despite the recent defeats? People claim that the current midfield has no creativity and no spark, but it is a little disturbing that many also believe that the return of a 23-year old midfielder with only a couple of seasons’ worth of Premier League experience will somehow transform the team and get us playing like Barcelona.
Take a look at the table again. Manchester United are second. Yes, only one place below an admittedly very impressive-looking City, despite having an injury list that would have already crippled most other clubs. Heck, we could field our injured players as “Manchester United Injured FC” in the league, if not for the fact that none of them are actually fit enough to kick a ball. All this, and we are only three points behind a team which is backed up by unlimited reserves of crude oil billions, with slightly less than half of the season to go. Not bad, ain’t it, when you put it into perspective.
I am obviously not saying that I won’t welcome any top players to the club in January, if it happens. I salivate over the class of Luka Modric when I watch Spurs play, I admire the graft of Cheick Tiote in a Newcastle shirt, I marvel at the heroics of Van Persie for Arsenal, and I know that Mario Gotze and Christian Eriksen are bloody brilliant players for their respective clubs, but that doesn’t mean that if Fergie wants them at Old Trafford, it will definitely happen, never mind what anyone else thinks. And if I hear another word about Sneijder (plagued by injury this season; ten appearances only) coming to United, I think I will weep.
I really don’t think we need to, or should, buy any players during this transfer window. It would be much more prudent to assess the squad again at the end of the season, after seeing how well we have done (or not), and then decide on whether there is a need to get anyone in. The recent spate of injuries might well end up costing us the title, but these players won’t stay injured forever; what happens if we buy new replacements and they come back? We are not like our neighbours, who can afford to buy players on a whim, and then dump them to train with the Under-18s when they are no longer required due to new arrivals superseding them.
What I feel we can do is to actually get a team out there with eleven players in their natural positions. Give the youngsters a chance, there’s nothing much to lose really. Fryers has looked decent whenever he’s played this season, while there is Scott Wootton to recall from loan if further cover for the defence is needed. Start blooding in Ravel and Pogba by putting them on the bench, with the odd ten or fifteen minutes; surely their ability can’t be that far behind Gibson. Macheda has gone on loan, and if Diouf is loaned out as well, then Will Keane should also get more opportunities upfront. Any reasonable sort of playing time will surely only benefit their development, and stand them in good stead for future loan moves to other clubs where they will get regular action.
Much as I would love for us to retain the title, I honestly don’t feel that it will be a disaster if we don’t. This team is a one in a transition period right now, after the departures of Van der Sar, Neville, Scholes, and probably Giggs in another year or so. The likes of De Gea, Jones, Welbeck, Smalling, Cleverley are still young and learning. Give them time, and together with the more established players as well as the upcoming Academy lads, and the team will be a potent force to reckon with very soon in the future.
We need to be patient as supporters, and trust in the manager and the team to put things right again, hopefully starting with the FA Cup derby against City tomorrow.
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