Sir Alex Ferguson has always been tough to predict in the transfer market, he’s capable of securing transfer deals that seemed incredibly unlikely, unexpected, genius, or sometimes, baffling. From Henrik Larsson to Chicharito to Gabriel Obertan and Bébé, there’s usually something from way out in left field. Yet, centre midfield has long since been viewed by fans and pundits alike as an area that since 2007 has been overwhelmingly under-invested in by Sir Alex.
All Manchester United fans no doubt remember a phrase from last season that has almost become one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s most famous phrases – “there’s no value in the transfer market”. It’s just as hard to understand it then as it is now, there has never really been any value in the transfer market. It’s unpredictable and prone to ballooning at anytime.
It’s also hard to take it too seriously when you consider some of the transfers in football that United have missed out on. Shinji Kagawa moved to Dortmund for what was an incredible bargain. As well as that in the past 4 or 5 years the transfer fees of Rafael van der Vaart, João Moutinho, Mesut Özil, Javier Pastore, Nuri Şahin, and even Wesley Sneidjer. All centre midfielders, all of which are arguably Manchester United quality, and of which went for under £15,000,000.
Since the signings of Owen Hargreaves and Anderson in the early summer of 2007, there has been little in the way of central midfield reinforcements. In January 2008, Rodrigo Possebon signed for the club and looked promising but seemed to lack confidence after his injury and his disastrous loan spell in Braga. Possebon was sold to Santos in August 2009. Darron Gibson made his league debut for the club in November 2008, and it’s now looking likely he will be on the way out to Sunderland. In October 2009, there was the signing of Paul Pogba, which may be an inspired signing, should he develop like many expect him too.
Those are the only central midfield signings since and it is a massive lack of investment when you consider the money spent on other areas of the pitch. So, despite Manchester United now looking likely to invest heavily this summer after a transition season, it’s fortunate that unlike other teams, United are able to win the league whilst reinventing again.
It’s not then, beyond the realm of impossibility, that perhaps the midfield is missed out completely again this summer. Even with the obvious reinvestment of Phil Jones, and very probably David de Gea and Ashley Young. The manager did say back in May that there would be 3 new signings; perhaps that’s our fill of transfer activity then? It’s unlikely, as there is looking like there will still be plenty of cash to spend with players that maybe on their way out, there’s Darron Gibson, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Nani, and Dimitar Berbatov – depending on what you read.
Should United fail to secure a new midfielder (and presumably don’t sell any) then the only options available would be: Anderson, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Darron Gibson, Ryan Tunnicliffe, and Paul Pogba.
A virus ruined Darren Fletcher’s 2010-2011 campaign, and it was apparent that when he did recover that he had lost a lot of weight, which limited his opportunities. Even before his mystery virus, Fletcher had not replicated the kind of form he displayed from 2008-2010 that made him indispensible to the team, and a huge loss in the 2009 Champions League final. Given he recovers back to his former self, Fletcher can still be an important part of United’s midfield.
Ryan Giggs will be 38 in November, which is frankly, ridiculous – in a good way. Although it has been said for the past 4 years or so, this time it may actually be his last season. Of course, Giggs will be getting attention off the fans next year, after becoming a Daily Star selling machine – with apparent sex stories become more bizarre and abstract. The entire thing is tedious for real football fans, but it will be ammunition for opposition fans. I’d wager that someone as professional as Giggs would remain entirely unaffected by all the extra attention. We can perhaps hope for more of the same from Giggsy next year.
Anderson is a strange one, he is undoubtedly talented but there is still the sense that he could become so much more. When he does pick up good form, he usually been stopped by another injury or falling out of favour of the squad rotation system. Nani’s found himself since 2010, maybe now it’s time for Anderson to do so. There are signs of his improvement; he’s even begun scoring goals now.
Michael Carrick and Darron Gibson have the special ability to divide opinion. Carrick’s first two seasons showed the kind of player he was (and can be), and many said he lost his confidence after the Rome final, but at times he has showed entirely what he is capable of. Darron Gibson has come under a lot of stick, some would say rightly so – and other’s wouldn’t. With Gibson to turn 24 this year, it’s certain that if (and that’s a big if) he stays with United it will be his very last chance to impress Sir Alex.
Ryan Tunnicliffe and Paul Pogba are two of the gems from what looks like a very talented bunch of youngsters coming through. Of course, Ravel Morrison is deserving of mention, but his talents are better deployed in more attacking roles than what we are focusing on here. Tunnicliffe has the bite and the desire that have had many compare him with Roy Keane, which is a huge ask. If he manages to be half the player that Roy Keane was then we know we have a special lad on our hands.
Paul Pogba has looked a lot more than the “next Patrick Viera” that many writers, who are looking for an easy comparison, have said. Paul Pogba is more dynamic than Viera ever was, and he’s shown that he is worth every bit of legal disputes with Le Havre so far. Although in the end, the disputes were much more straightforward deal than Le Havre’s president, Jean-Pierre Louvel would have you believe.
Pogba and Tunnicliffe look like immensely talented prospects, but to throw them in at the deep end next season would be irresponsible. It’s likely that both will make their senior debuts at some stage during the season (probably in the League Cup), but we can’t expect Pogba to come in and score wonder goals for the first season straight away, like he does with the reserves.
A central midfield composed of the likes of Carrick, Fletcher and Giggs could be likely to bring about a similar season to the one just passed – and the team may will even end up with a twentieth title if luck is on United’s side, but it would not be able to conquer Europe. The midfield of Barcelona will once again be the best in the world. Perhaps Pogba or Tunnicliffe will emerge, but it is a good few years until they will be able to carry a side like Manchester United. If only Paul Scholes could turn 18 again on his next birthday.
Whether it be Luka Modrić, Wesley Sneidjer or perhaps someone, once again, a bit further left-field. It’s time for a new transformation of Manchester United to build on last year – let’s just hope it will be this season.
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. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.