Chicharito, our Little Pea, has superseded any expectations our fans, players and manager had of him. After signing for United, he left the World Cup as the fastest player of the competition, having scored goals against Argentina and France. He had given us plenty to be excited about but having spent his career in Mexico and not having the build you would think necessary for English football, it was hard to imagine he would make much impact during his first season.
Not only did he make an impact, becoming the first United player since Ruud van Nistelrooy to score 20 goals in his début season, he changed the way United play. For all our big games over the past few years, Ferguson has dumped 442, even shifting Wayne Rooney out on to the left, to try and find a formation which will counteract the strengths of our opponents. In our big games in Europe, it’s been years since we’ve played the more familiar 442/4411, yet thanks to Chicharito, this is exactly the formation we were playing. It meant Rooney’s strengths could be used effectively and we could show every opponent that we meant business. Brilliant.
All of this meant that Dimitar Berbatov, the league’s top scorer, was moved to the bench. Unlike strikers of recent years, like Carlos Tevez and Ruud van Nistelrooy, Berba was happy to play his part in the squad. He came off the bench away to West Ham and helped change the game, as well as scoring a last minute minute winner against Bolton after replacing Chicharito, after Jonny Evans had been sent off with quarter of an hour to play. Having two great strikers isn’t good enough and thanks to Berba’s determination to play for United, it means we get a striker with his great quality as our 3rd choice.
His poor performance as the lone striker against City in the FA Cup semi-final appeared to be his lowest point in the season, until his omission from the Champions League final squad. Berba watched the final from the dressing room (in tears?) and was left to dwell on whether he had a career at United or not. With just a year left on his current deal, we still don’t know conclusively what will happen with him, but as far as he’s concerned, he’s staying.
“I will stay,” he said. “I will fight for the 20th title. If I were an easy quitter, I would never have made it this far. There will be new finals and we will be fighting for new titles. I am moving ahead. When you go through difficult times, you should not quit.”
For the manager to leave him out of the squad, which he admitted caused him heartache, you have to wonder how much of a future at the club he sees for the Bulgarian. Berbatov would be completely within his rights to have a strop and want to leave, so all credit to him for sticking to it. He has handled the situation with usual class, but whether that guarantees his place in our squad, who knows.
Considering it was Michael Owen who got on the bench ahead of Berbatov, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s had his contract extended, but it did. The former Liverpool striker contributed well enough in his first season, scoring that last minute winner against City, scoring a vital goal in the League Cup final and scoring a hattrick against the German champions in Europe, as he likes to remind us, but he hasn’t done an awful lot this season. At the awards evening a few weeks ago, he was asked about his personal highlights of the season, which left him shifting uncomfortably, before talking about his first season. What did he do this year? He scored five goals in all competitions and one of those earned us a point at the Reebok after we had gone 2-1 down to Bolton. It’s nothing to write home about though. Assuming we’ve got him on another pay-per-play deal though, it’s not the worst bit of business we could have done.
That leaves us with our two younger strikers who have spent this season out on loan. Some have questioned whether they have got what it takes to make it at United but we’ll never know until they’re given a real chance in the squad. If we assume Berba stays, that leaves Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda as our 5th and 6th choice strikers. Given that Owen, even when fit, hardly got a look in this season, what chance would Danny and Kiko have? Owen is a pro and maybe he’s a good influence to have at the club but I do wonder if his new deal means we’ll be looking to sell on our young lads. How could we expect them to play the odd League Cup game after playing first team football elsewhere this season?
We have been lucky with injuries this season but who we have as 3rd choice is incredibly important, given how prone to injuries Rooney usually is. If we were to sell Berba, we’d get next to nothing for him and in the case of a long term injury to Rooney or Chicharito, we’d be screwed, particularly when looking at Owen’s injury history, regardless of what his brochure says.
So here’s to Rooney and Chicharito scoring a shed load next season, Berba ready to share the load when called upon, and Owen to justify his new contract.
Can Manchester United score? They always score.
Made in Manchester is available for just £5. It includes 30 articles from the country's best football writers about graduates from the Manchester United academy. Everyone who buys a copy enters a competition to win the new home shirt. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.