The Failure to Attract

With the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, is Manchester United still capable of attracting the best talent the world has to offer? United are probably the biggest club in the world in terms of fan base and battle Real Madrid for richest overall sports franchise year on year. However, most of the world’s flamboyant players have avoided Manchester for years and the loss of Thiago Alcantara to Bayern Munich shouldn’t have shocked anybody. Many have jumped to the conclusion that Manchester United can’t attract the world’s top talents anymore under David Moyes. I counter that by saying that Manchester United haven’t regularly attracted the world’s best players at least not as easily as Real Madrid or Barcelona. So what’s all the fuss about? Traditionally, United have either created wonderful talents as in the case of the class of ’92 and Cristiano Ronaldo, purchased a foreign talent with a point to prove as with Cantona and Van Nistelrooy or simply bought local British. With the trophy haul that Ferguson amassed I can’t say that he’ll be losing sleep over the players he wasn’t able to attract to Old Trafford.

Another one bites the dust

Another one bites the dust

Attracting the best foreign talent is a major English problem and not just United’s. Perhaps the issue reached its height in 1985 at the European Cup Final in Heysel. 39 fans were killed when Liverpool supporters confronted their Juventus counterparts who ran for their lives. In their flight the wall they tried to scale collapsed killing those who hadn’t escaped. As a result English clubs were excluded from European football for 5 years and Liverpool for an additional year. Liverpool won the 1977, 1978,1981 and 1984 European Cup finals. Aston Villa won in 1982 while Nottingham Forest won back to back in 1980 and 1979. English teams were dominating and other leagues were streets behind, they surely would have attracted the best players because it was clearly the best league to play in if you had ambition to win at the highest level.

Other factors like language, food, culture and the dour weather come into play but I seriously believe that in the late 80s and early 90s when the transfer market became more fluid, the English clubs were the ones left behind. On the continental stage, British teams stagnated and the league became the modern day equivalent of the Portuguese Superliga. The Premier league had little money and little respect in Europe and English teams were easily knocked out in the group stages of European competition. It wasn’t until 1999 that an English team would win the European Cup once again. That team was Manchester United.


Players who snubbed Manchester United

Patrick Kluivert – 1998

He was set to join United but at the the time the Premier League did not enjoy the reputation that is has now. So when Barcelona came calling to make him the replacement for Ronaldo (Da Lima), Kluivert went for the glamour of Catalunya instead. Kluivert won the league in 98-99 but nothing else in his time at Barcelona while United won the Champions League in the same year and countless other trophies. Sir Alex immediately splashed the cash on Dwight Yorke. Yorke’s form and partnership with Andy Cole proved that the marquee signing of Kluivert would have been nice but Yorke was actually the right man for the job. 29 goals in all competitions and destroying defences all over Europe. Great effort Dwight.

Edwin Van Der Sar – 1999

United wanted Van Der Sar to succeed Schmeichel but despite winning the Champions League. VDS saw Juventus as more attractive. A higher pay packet doesn’t hurt either when deciding on your new team. Van Der Sar went on to flop at Juventus and went to Fulham to resurrect his career. United got their man and the rest is history.

Samir Nasri

Simply put Samir Nasri went to City over Man United because City could pay him more. Nasri has been played out of position and has not come even close to recreating his Arsenal form. United would have given him the No. 7 shirt and built the team around him. Definitely a bad choice by Samir.

Ronaldinho – 2003

Of all these players, perhaps Ronaldinho is the only player who would have no regrets over snubbing Manchester United. He’s had a glittering career winning the Champions League and few league titles. He is hailed in Catalunya and maybe made the right decision for himself.What United lost in Ronaldinho, they gained in Cristiano Ronaldo. A few years later Ronaldo would become the best player in the world. Fair to say that now Ronaldo has eclipsed Ronaldinho in the hierarchy of greats. That 80m transfer fee to Real Madrid wasn’t bad either.

Paul Gascoigne – 1988

Gazza was the most exciting player to come from the British Isles for decades. Gascoigne gave verbal agreement to Manchester United that he would join them. Ferguson went on holiday thinking he had his man but he got a call saying that Gazza had instead joined Spurs. Ferguson calls it his biggest disappointment and Gazza his biggest mistake.When United didn’t get Gascoigne they signed Paul Ince who was a wonderful player for United before his ego got the best of him.

Alan Shearer – 1992 & 1996

With only 1 premier league title to his name, Shearer will not be remembered as a winner. After nearly agreeing a deal with United, Kevin Keegan gave Shearer a last minute speech persuading him to come to St. James’ park. Maybe Shearer doesn’t regret his decision but as a United player he’d have won trophies, something that no one currently remembers Shearer for. He signed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer instead, who is now a United legend. He scored 18 league goals in his first season. United would have liked Shearer but hey Ole won them the Champions League.

Other notable snubs: Jon Obi Mikel, Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane, Laurent Blanc etc.

Face of desperation?

Face of desperation?

So yes, United have missed out on some big names. Frankly they always seem to do so, but the United way is to not act bothered. They never follow up a failed bid with another rash one out of desperation like the current Cesc Fabregas debacle. As they did with the players mentioned above, United need to look at an alternative that makes more sense. United need to strengthen in the middle of the park but the answer to this is closer to home than many think.

Michael Carrick is a pass master, dubbed Magnifico Carrick by the Italians. He has been asked to play a holding midfielder role for too many years now. Carrick is a deep lying play maker with an eye for a through ball, Scholes-esque diagonals and a pass completion rate of 90%. What United need is steel in the centre of the park to allow Carrick room to conduct his orchestra. At Juventus Pirlo creates from deep but Vidal, Pogba and Marchisio do a great job protecting him so he can forget about defending and just express himself freely. There’s a reason why united fans sing “It’s Carrick you know, I can’t believe he’s not scholes”. It’s clear as day that Carrick’s passing ability is beautiful to watch especially in full flow. United score goals and have creativity that will come from Rooney, Kagawa and Van Persie. Adding steel in Marouane Fellaini throws Carrick into that mix, opening up room for everyone else.

United also desperately need to address the winger situation. Last season the brilliance of Robin Van Persie guided United, while Rooney was the lead goal creator. However, when United have been at their best they have had wingers terrorizing defenders. In 2009-2010 it was Nani who made us forget Ronaldo for one season then he went off the boil. In 2010-2011 it was Antonio Valencia but now he has also gone cold. Ashley Young frankly is not United quality. So in comes Wilfried Zaha of whom much is expected. United still need to sign someone to properly occupy the left wing. Kagawa performed admirably but this is not his position. Nicolas Gaitan would be affordable and would have a point to prove. Pulling teams wide as the best united teams used to do gave room for the likes of Scholes to operate and was the catalyst for swashbuckling football.

Many say United don’t control games, they don’t play attractive enough football, they are lucky and they are functional. This is all currently true, I have no arguments about that. However with what I am proposing, United will be a force once again and no longer will they be run over in central midfield. Fellaini has strength, poise and an eye for goal and there are not many like him.

Fellaini will be spectacular and in two years time United will be fending off Real Madrid for his signature. A star that Everton developed but Manchester United allowed to flourish. A foreign star but his play is typically English and typically United. Barca’s Neymar, Bayern’s Thiago and PSG’s Cavani would all be great but for United to win the Premier League and attain European glory they don’t need much more than what they already have. Attracting flamboyant talent may be an issue but attracting trophies hasn’t been and with the right signing like Fellaini and not the most flamboyant signing a la Thiago, United will continue to attract trophies.

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