Soccer

Midweek Musings: Manchester United criticism is temporary

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Gareth Wheeler
9/5/2013 2:46:49 PM
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Monday's closing of the transfer window overshadowed last weekend in the Barclays Premier League.  Somehow, moves not made before the window closed ended up dwarfing the moves that were consummated.

Gareth Bale's big money transfer to Real Madrid was a headline maker, but with the move inevitable weeks prior, the hysteria was muted to a degree.  Mesut Ozil's last minute shock move to Arsenal created a stir, but the Gunners title credentials are very much still up in the air, even with Ozil.

The biggest headlines Monday came out of Old Trafford.  The failure of Manchester United to make a significant splash (not named Marouane Fellaini), despite the need for strengthening and the financial wherewithal to do so, left an early stain on the immediate post-Ferguson era and raised questions about what kind of hands the club are now in.  It wasn't just about whom they failed to land, but how it went down that drew widespread criticism.

United's transfer window dealings has been called 'farcical' and incompetent in the past few days.  Use whatever descriptor you like; vice-chairman Ed Woodward and manager David Moyes didn't live up to the lofty standard of their predecessors.  In very un-Ferguson/Gill fashion, the duo left important dealings too late in the window, failing to display the confident, composed and controlled demeanor and way of doing business accustomed to the great Manchester United.

The failures have been dealt with at length, from 'imposters', to misunderstanding of Spanish tax law, to not having a clear blueprint how to attract top talent to Old Trafford.  The term laughing stock is a bit much.  Inadequate fits the bill. 

To advance the conversation, the more relevant issue now is how United puts the past two months of wavering behind them, while ridding questions pertaining to the standing of the club.  To that end, United have nothing to worry about.

Yes, I'm daring to tell you Manchester United will be just fine.  Shocking, isn't it.  A club with a history of success, top players, and record earnings will be okay.  The negative headlines are temporary.  In the immediate world of Twitter and instant analysis and often times sloppy reporting, narratives are built up and torn down at an incredible rate.  United's failure Monday and the weeks prior played into the 'sky is falling' narrative.  The sky is just fine in Manchester.  Rainy, but fine.

Let's give it a couple weeks, if United come out on top in the Manchester derby two weeks from now, criticism will be muted.  Not of the process, Woodward and Moyes have much to learn, but it's the play on the field, the results that matter. 
It can be suggested United's results over the years covered up inefficiencies.

Since the transfer window came to be in 2003, United have spent less than Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, and even Spurs. Yet, United have won four more trophies than its nearest competitor Chelsea, and three more league titles. 

The purchase of quality and fit, not price tag has been decisive. Ferguson's backroom staff grew together, sharing similar vision, getting the most of what they've had at their disposal. 

The New York Yankees comparison only holds true, as the Bronx Bombers, despite their spending, are able to cultivate young talent as well. 

The system of recruitment has been far from perfect (Bebe, anyone?) even under Ferguson.  Sir Alex failed to bring in proper centre midfield players to play along side Michael Carrick since he brought Owen Hargreaves to Old Trafford in 2007.  Saying you need to strengthening a position is much easier said than finding the right player to fit the plan. 

Moyes plan is incomplete and it shouldn't surprise, judging by the lack of originality and flexibility in his starting XI through three weeks, Moyes is still figuring out what he has in his squad.  In the meantime, he's playing it safe and going for consistency.  Not trying to defend the Scotsman, but the learning curve is steep.  He's only been on the job since July 1.  The identity will come and suitable players will follow.

The bigger concern is the credentials of Woodward to execute in the transfer window.  Bean counters should stick to sponsorships, not navigating through the murky waters of dealing with agents and shrewd negotiators on the transfer front. 

The suggestion United may need a Director of Football post-Ferguson is well warranted.  Perhaps the job description at Old Trafford dictates more compartmentalization – something the club was able to get away without under the watchful eye of Ferguson.  United was his baby, now the club is all grown up, and more complex as ever.  Woodward should stick to growing the brand.  Let football people make football decisions.

As for the immediate future, United has as good of a chance to win the title as any of their true Premier League competition and there is no reason to believe another deep run in the Champions League cannot be achieved.  This is the same team, plus Fellaini, that ran away with the league a year ago and were an ominous Nani red card away from dispatching Real Madrid in the Champions League. 

Fellaini is a top pick up for United, no matter how you slice it.  He may not have a marquee name like Neymar or Ozil, but he's the type of versatile player in the middle of the park United has desperately needed.  Fellaini has size (6'4 1/2), strength and is entering his prime at 25 years of age.  United has often times been bossed in central midfield by the likes of Yaya Toure.  Spurs gave all kinds of fits to United last season and have continued to strengthen the position.  Fellaini is comfortable in a defensive midfield role, as well as playing well forward off the striker creating fits with his size. Moyes can use Fellaini in various roles depending on the occasion.  His 11 goals and six assists a year ago are a testament to his game changing ability. 

United may have overpaid for Fellaini, they may have not landed a second midfielder and approaches for other top names went for naught.  However, this team is still good enough to see out this transitional period while maintaining their high standard.  Many speculate Moyes will have to buy in January.   Ironically enough, Sir Alex Ferguson always said January wasn't the time to do business, with transfer rates inflated and a lack of value in the market. 

Before the window re-opens, let's see what Moyes can do.  Let's see what Kagawa can do with a run in the team.  Let's see Rooney and van Persie continue to grow together.  Let's see what Zaha can do, when given a chance.  And let's see how Fellaini does on a bigger stage with a team of top talent around him.

It's now Moyes turn to makes the headlines, not transfer rumours, dealings, and disappointments.

- Everton has been widely credited for their work in the transfer window. The club left it late before bringing in James McCarthy from Wigan, and Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku on loan.  Perhaps it was intentional, driving up the price for Fellaini at the last minute.  Regardless, pressure is now on manager Roberto Martinez.  Many pundits have said Martinez is over-rated. I don't agree with that sentiment.  Everton hasn't been entirely unimpressive through three draws in three matches.  Much of it comes down to a lack of goal scoring, and the hope is Lukaku proves a vast improvement over the misfiring Nikica Jelavic.
 
- Got to hand it to Liverpool – a perfect record through three matches is the teams' best start in nearly 20 years.  And on top of that, they have yet to concede a goal.  The play of Daniel Sturridge has been the highlight, and Coutinho has had his moments.  But other than those, the team has been efficient, yet not spectacular. 

- That's a testament to the tactics of Brendan Rodgers and the commitment to team shape and approach.  Most noticeably, Steven Gerrard has taken up a much deeper, holding role in the midfield.  Gerrard is basically sitting on top of the back four, maintaining the shape defensively and quarterbacking the attack.  He's no longer the influential player getting up in the attack.  Gerrard's new role suits the team better.  The loan move for Victor Moses could prove to be a shrewd piece of business, filling a need.

Match-day three top performers: Nathan Redmond (Norwich City), Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle), Jason Puncheon (Crystal Palace), David Marshall (Cardiff City), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)

Worst performance: Fulham, entire squad

If they only had a proper striker: West Ham

Under the radar transfer moves to watch: Peter Odemwingie to Cardiff City, Barry Bannan to Crystal Palace, James McCarthy to Everton

'Good Game, Good Effort' of the Week: Hull City. Should have, could have been up on Manchester City at the Etihad.  If you don't bury your chances … a tough way to learn life in the Premier League is about decisiveness and taking advantage of chances.  The Tigers lost 2-0.

You can reach Gareth at gareth.wheeler@bellmedia.ca or follow him on Twitter, @WheelerTSN

David Moyes (Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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