As has frequently been the case in recent summers, United have been pretty quick out of the blocks in the transfer market this year. Ashley Young and David De Gea were obviously identified some time ago as targets and deals for both went through fairly smoothly. Seemingly Phil Jones was a target for next summer, but with other clubs prowling, Fergie decided to move earlier than anticipated for a player who’s been described as a ‘future England captain’; not necessarily a recommendation if you look at the current incumbent.
However, there remains an elephant in Fergie’s room and that is the state of our central midfield. Paul Scholes has retired, Darron Gibson – rightly in my view – has been deemed not up to the required quality, Owen Hargreaves has been released and now, Darren Fletcher has suffered a recurrence of the viral infection that kept him on the sidelines for the back end of last season.
United have been repeatedly linked with three replacements this summer – Luka Modric, who – if he does leave Tottenham – seems destined for Stamford Bridge, Samir Nasri, who is rumoured to be joining City and Wesley Sneijder, who seems the best fit of these three for United’s needs.
For all the denials from all parties, it’s clear that David Gill is engaged in protracted negotiations with Inter Milan for Sneijder’s transfer and it’s now beginning to turn into a bit of a soap opera. Clearly Fergie would like to get Sneijder on board ASAP as United have a very tough opening to the season, with Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea all due at Old Trafford early on. The need to ‘hit the ground running ‘ next season therefore becomes paramount.
Fletcher will clearly not be ready for the start of the season, which leaves us with Giggs, Anderson and Carrick to hold the fort in midfield – an injury to any of them and a problem would rapidly become a crisis. In any case, with Giggs needing to be used sparingly, Carrick slowing down and Anderson a model of inconsistency, there is a strong argument for saying that there isn’t currently enough quality in our midfield anyway.
One side-effect of this scenario may be that French youngster Paul Pogba may be pitched into first-team action sooner than was initially anticipated, as may gifted ‘problem child’ Ravel Morrison. However, youngsters like these need to be eased – rather than hurled – into the fray and the need for a quality player of the Sneijder variety to be brought in is obvious to every United fan – and, presumably, to Fergie as well.
In fact, many of us are still shaking our heads in disbelief at how United managed to win the Premier League last season without a settled central midfield. Carrick, Giggs, Scholes and Anderson rotated for most of the season, with occasional contributions from Gibson and the Da Silva twins and frequent help from Wayne Rooney, but – Paul Scholes aside – you could hardly say that there’s been a dominant force in United’s midfield since Roy Keane moved on in 2005.
Should he join us, Sneijder will come with a big price-tag and a hefty pay packet, not to mention a wife who is already making Victoria Beckham look like a shrinking violet. A great deal will be expected of him and if this deal ever gets done, it’s to be hoped that he adapts quickly.