Pre-season blues….

 Whatever the loyalists say, Sir Alex Ferguson is gambling with his legacy now.   United’s pre-season performances have been patchy and pallid with Wayne Rooney in particular looking overweight, out of condition and totally disinterested.  Perhaps as a result, the team have scored just 3 goals in 5 pre-season games against largely moderate opposition in South Africa, China and Scandinavia.

United have been linked with most of the summer’s top transfer targets, all of whom have now gone somewhere else – just the same as every summer for the past 3 or 4 years.  Lucas Moura was the latest to announce that he’d rather live in Paris than Alderley Edge, whilst United have managed just 2 signings: the unproven 18-year old Nick Powell from Crewe and the Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa. 

Shinji Kagawa – Park Mark 2?

United still need a creator and a destroyer in central midfield and whilst I have my doubts as to whether Moura was the answer there, Kagawa just looks like the now-departed  Ji-Sung Park Mark Two so far and Powell is an unknown quantity for the forseeable future. 

The other player strongly linked with us is Robin van Persie, Arsenal’s erstwhile poster boy, who is out of contract at the end of the coming season and has said he wants to move on.  He is also said to favour a move to United.  Well, that’s a bonus, I guess, but the fact is that Van Persie is 29 and shockingly injury-prone.  He would probably do well for us – if we can keep him fit.  The trouble is, Arsenal are clearly holding out for a bigger fee than United want to pay.

I would be happy to see Van Persie sign but central midfield is still the priority as it has been for about 3 seasons now and for all United’s ‘worldwide scouting network’ and his own managerial status, Fergie has still to sort this out.  Quite extraordinary for a man of his reputation and a club of United’s stature.  What are they doing with their time?  3-hour lunches? A nice nap in the afternoon? Watching the racing on TV?

I could understand if things didn’t work out one summer and our target(s) decided they’d rather live in Madrid or Paris than Cheshire but this will be the third summer running that the cream of the world’s young midfielders have slipped through Fergie’s hands like so much sand.  No, there has to be another reason for this and – footballers being what they are – it must be money.

As a result, almost unbelievably,  we are – yet again – running the risk of going into a new season with a ragbag midfield of veterans, untried kids like Cleverley & Powell, converted defenders like Jones and – how could I forget? – Anderson the Eternal Nearly Man as our midfield options.  David Silva & Yaya Toure must be having sleepless nights already.

The team needs a couple of high-quality imports in this area – Moutinho from Porto and Eriksen from Ajax could be good options now that all the A-List candidates have been snaffled up by so-called ‘lesser’ clubs.  These ‘lesser’ clubs seem to understand that if you want the best you just have to pay the price sometimes.

It’s all very well for Fergie to shake his head disbelievingly at the Moura fee, but he needs to crash in on the owners’  imminent US flotation and persuade them that some of that money needs to come his way.  Otherwise, like many fans, it’s my fear that we are headed down the same road to mid-table mediocrity already trodden by Liverpool.  I don’t think Fergie would want his epitaph to be ‘great manager, but he lost the plot a bit in later years and didn’t rebuild the team when he should have done’. 

Rooney has looked out of condition and disinterested in pre-season

Nothing is guaranteed, particularly when you are shelling out big bucks for raw, unproven talent, but sometimes you just have to follow your instincts and be prepared to take the hit if things don’t work out.  United have been doing that since Garry Birtles and there have been others along the way. 

Look at Chelsea – Shevchenko’s failure to cut the mustard here was seen as Abramovich’s Waterloo and yet there he sits today with the Champions League trophy and a big grin on his face.  It’s in the nature of the game at this level that you have to gamble on young footballers from different cultures who come at a high price – and Chelsea are still doing just that.

Sir Alex understands this perfectly well and is known to like a flutter, so like most fans I wonder where all this recent prudence and caution is coming from.  After all this is the man who has broken the UK transfer record on a number of occasions.  The inescapable conclusions are either that our manager has lost his nerve or that his hands are tied in terms of transfers. 

What’s wrong with this picture?  Aren’t we supposed to be on Sky Sports News?…….

Like most fans, for all Fergie’s protestations about the owners, I just feel that they are trying to do things on the cheap.   If you look at their past business dealings, that would seem to be in their DNA – what they seem to care about is the ‘brand’ rather than the football club and that does not bode well for the future.

Don’t know about anyone else but I cannot recall another pre-season where my expectations and sense of anticipation were so low.

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