Now that the unthinkable (but extremely predictable) transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid ise set to go through at the end of June, much is being made of Manchester United’s losses.
With Carlos Tévez set to leave as well, it seems United will be lacking two of their major attacking players next season. That, coupled with the Champions League final loss to Barcelona, appears to herald an era of decline for possibly the world’s biggest club.
It may not be true.
The money generated from Ronaldo’s sale plus the refusal to spend 32 million on Carlos Tévez, mean United suddenly will find themselves with some money to spend, and at a good time too, as those two positions are not the only ones they will need to replace next season. Paul Scholes will be retiring, Gary Nevilla *should* retire and Owen Hargreaves doesn’t look like he’s coming back.
Ample opportunity then for Sir Alex Ferguson to rebuild the club yet again.
The two major targets that people are mentioning are Wigan midfielder Luis Antonio Valencia and Lyon forward Karim Benzema, as well as Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery. I think the first two are extremely likely to end up at United this coming season. Benzema in particular could reach superstar level at United playing next to Dimitar Berbatov.
Let’s not forget that Ferguson has been swapping Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch for a while. I believe Ronaldo’s role will be covered more by Rooney than by Valencia. With Rooney playing further back, Benzema and Berbatov could find themselves the focal points of the offence. Either one of them can be tremendously lethal.
Valencia (or possibly Ribery, though I see that as less likely) will provide another playmaker on the wing and some depth. The area of midfield that United should probably be more concerned about is central midfield. Michael Carrick is a very good player and is sometimes lost among the better known names in the squad, Darren Fletcher is a very good role player as well, the depth behind them is a bit suspect. Anderson has never adapted well to playing so far behind the forwards. In Brazil, he came up as an attacking midfielder and asking him to control the centre of the pitch and provide distribution is not a role he seems perfectly comfortable with. Paul Scholes is retiring and Ryan Giggs is, despite age, a useful role player, but not a full-time starter.
Similarly, United should look at its depth in the back line. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are an excellent pairing and Jonny Evans did very well this past season covering for them. The fullbacks could use some help though. Patrice Evra lost time to injury this past season as needs better cover than John O’Brien and neither Rafael nor the aging Gary Neville look to be full-time solutions at right back. Rafael is still young and will likely develop into an excellent player, but he is more like Dani Alves of Barcelona, a fullback who plays in midfield, than he is a marking back that is more commonly seen in the Premier League.
Even while bringing in Valencia and Benzema, Ferguson will have plenty of money left over from Ronaldo’s transfer to cover those gaps though. Don’t expect United to have an off-season. Come the end of the 2009-10 season, expect to see the team challenging for first place as usual. Ferguson’s purchases this off-season may yet mean another title for the team.