Alex Ferguson has made some debatable team selections over recent years, and yesterday, in the Carling Cup final, he made another. He dropped Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has scored an impressive 22 goals from 34 starts for United this season, as well as topping the Premiership goalscorers table, for 3rd choice United striker, Louis Saha. Was he right to do this?
Louis Saha is the leading goal scorer in this competition which United over the years have taken less seriously than the other trophies. After a season without winning anything, and early knock out from the Champions League, United have been forced to take this cup more seriously. After the past season which was riddled with injury for Louis Saha, Ferguson has used the Carling Cup as a way to get Saha back to full fitness, preferring him over Ruud in all the games United have played in the competition.
Ferguson defended his choice to play Saha, saying “I think he deserved to play. He had scored five goals in the previous games and, since he’s been fit, I think he’s scored 10 in 13 games. I think there’s a danger you can sometimes overlook it and not give him the credit, but today he deserved to play in the final.”
However, had Manchester United failed to score yesterday, and lose in a cup final two seasons in a row, would it have been so easy for him to defend his decision? Ruud van Nistelrooy is one of the most prolific goal scorers in Europe, and with a recent dip in form from Rooney, going his longest ever spell without scoring a goal since signing for United, surely the sensible decision would be to stick with someone who has the greatest chance of scoring? Ferguson had admitted that his job would be on the line if United didn’t bring home the Carling Cup, and so it seems a rather strange decision, one which could have cost United and Ferguson himself dearly. Alex Ferguson is one of the greatest managers of all time, and has often made questionable decisions. Letting Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes, three of United’s best players at the time, all leave in one season. Not only that, but replacing these experienced United favourites with the “kids”, David Beckham, The Neville Brothers, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt. But United went on to win the league the following six out of eight years, and all was forgiven. However, Ferguson’s big decisions don’t always pay off, and this season more than ever, he has picked strange starting elevens and formations that the fans, and even the players themselves, don’t understand at times.
After favouring Saha again this in this competition, all were expectant of a Ruud appearance, and the crowd at Cardiff sang his name, all wanting one of their favourites to be a part of United’s cup success. The first substitution was Richardson, in the 73rd minute, leaving fans waiting for an 80th minute substitution for Ruud, but 10 minutes after Richardson came on to the pitch, a double substitution was made of new boys Evra and Vidic, meaning Ruud wouldn’t even get a run out.
Richardson, Evra and Vidic were three of the growing numbers of players at United who had yet to win anything, yet to participate in a final. Ruud has done these things with United, and so it seems clear Fergie wanted to give a taste of glory to as many inexperienced players as possible.
Saha was involved in all 4 goals yesterday, scoring one himself, making his Carling Cup total this year 6 goals in 5 appearances, his flick leading on to Rooney’s first goal, assisted Ronaldo for the 3rd, and headed on Giggs’ freekick which ended with Rooney finding the net.
Ferguson repaid Saha for all the effort he has made to improve his form, after a depressing 2004-2005 season for the French striker. This competition was his competition, and his goals had got United to the final. Although none would have blamed Fergie for choosing Ruud over Saha, it is admirable that Ferguson has stayed true and loyal to his 3rd choice striker.