United had just finished second in the Premiership and won the League Cup. It was our most successful season since winning the title in 2003, and whilst still some way off our high expectations, at least we could finally believe we were getting there.
However, our top scorer, Ruud van Nistelrooy, was certainly on the way out, following his temper tantrum at the League Cup final. Louis Saha had been our striker in that competition, finishing the Carling Cup’s top scorer, so had been given a starting role.
Youngster Kieran Richardson, as well as new signings Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, were the used subs, whilst Ruud was forced to remain on the bench. I argued that Ferguson had made the right decision in doing this, giving these three players the taste for success they’d yet to enjoy at United.
Regardless, Ruud was heading through the Old Trafford exit door as fast as his legs could carry him and United were doomed… just as they are now in light of Cristiano Ronaldo’s potential move to join Ruud at Real Madrid.
van Nistelrooy was the 2nd highest scorer in the Premiership in his final season at United, scoring an impressive 21 league goals, with a total of 24 goals in 39 games. Rooney was our second highest scorer that season, with 16 league goals, and a total of 19. Our third highest scorer was Ronaldo with 9 league goals, and a total of 12.
So what was the response of the press when it was announced that Ruud was on his way to Real Madrid? We’ll look to the opinion of Sports Journalist of the Year, two years running, because he will know what he’s talking about.
If United want to muster more of a challenge to Chelsea next season, the last person – after Wayne Rooney – that they should be selling is van Nistelrooy. Selling him would be a huge step backwards and a massive blow to the club. Does Ferguson seriously expect anyone else to believe that the injury-prone Louis Saha is a better bet next season than a goal machine like van Nistelrooy. If he does, then his judgement is waning faster than everybody thought. Ferguson thinks there is no need to buy a new forward when he rids himself of Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Sadly for Oliver Holt, Sir Alex Ferguson has shown him up as being a total prat. Two seasons after writing this, United still haven’t replaced Ruud, yet in those seasons, have two league titles and the European Cup to their name.
In the season just gone, Ronaldo was our highest scorer with 31 league goals, and a total of 42. Our second highest scorer was Carlos Tevez with 14 league goals and a total of 19. Our third highest scorer was Rooney with 11 league goals and a total of 18.
Whilst Ronaldo was behind a large number of our goals last season, it’s important to note that both Tevez and Rooney would have finished in the top ten scorers in the league if Cristiano’s name is wiped from the list.
In Ruud’s last season, he was responsible for 30% of our league goals. The season after he left, with no replacement bought, we scored 11 more goals and won the league.
Last season, Ronaldo was repsonsible for 38% of our league goals, which obviously is a slightly larger proportion, but we now have more efficient goalscorers as our second and third highest scorers. In Ruud’s last season at the club, Rooney (2nd) and Ronaldo (3rd) combined goals total was 28. However, last season, Tevez (2nd) and Rooney’s (3rd) combined total was 37 goals.
In Ruud’s last season, Ryan Giggs, Rooney and Ji-Sung Park all featured in the top 10 players with the most assists in the Premier League; Giggs and Rooney tied in 3rd with 9 assists, and Park at 10th with 7.
Last season, Rooney was behind just two players in terms of assists last season, providing 13 goals for his team mates, with Tevez on 7 assists and Nani (who wasn’t even a starting player for the majority of last season) on 6.
When you have players capable of creating goals for others, then the player putting them away isn’t essential. After Ruud left, we just found other players to get on the end of the assists. The same will happen when Ronaldo leaves, whether that is this summer, next summer, or years from now. Strangely though, the idea of United existing and being successful without Ronaldo seems to baffle our rivals, like it did with Ruud. The same people will have been suggesting the same when Eric Cantona left, but we won the Treble two seasons later. Will they never learn?
Regardless, those who are expecting Ronaldo to leave, thereby depleting our squad and our team’s chances, are more than likely to be left extremely disappointed when the transfer window closes, as Ruud knows all too well.
“In those meetings, if he wants to keep the player he’ll do everything he can to do so — and he’ll probably succeed as well,” van Nistelrooy, said of Ferguson and Ronaldo. “What he is doing is in the interests of Manchester United. That’s what he always thinks of. Nobody is bigger than the club and it’s true. Will Ronaldo stay at United? I think so.”
So, if Ronaldo is probably staying, why is there so much fuss?
The Guardian produced a write-up on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s testimonial, entitled “Toothless United pine for old stars”.
A Sheringham or fully-fit Solskjaer would be the perfect squad player for Ferguson at the moment; the latter’s testimonial against mediocre Spanish opposition serving as a reminder of how unfortunate the Norwegian was with injury throughout a career that officially ended 12 months ago. Instead, the 20-year-old Fraizer Campbell may yet see himself pressed into first-team contention, and the manner in which he scored the only goal of the game against Espanyol, racing clear of the defence to place Ryan Giggs’s 81st-minute through ball into the net, was a handy audition.
Campbell scored 15 goals in 32 starts for Hull last season and the newly-promoted Premier League club would love to secure his services permanently. ‘His future is here,’ insisted Ferguson. ‘We don’t have many strikers, so Fraizer comes into that area. Also, we’re applying for a work permit for Manucho.’
Young Angolans and untested reserves may not prove the answer in the short-term and the answer, possibly, lies in finding a modern version of Solskjaer.
‘If you brought him on for the last 10 minutes, he wouldn’t let you down,’ said Ferguson, joking that Solskjaer’s 22-minute substitute cameo was enough to earn him a place in the squad for the Premier League opener against Newcastle. ‘He has had that talent all his life.’
It is that knack that United need so desperately.
Ian Whittell, who wrote this, has no better guess than anyone else whether Manucho or Campbell have what it takes to hold down a starting place in this team. Why anyone still would question Fergie or United youth team products is beyond me. Regardless, that is the writer’s prerogative, however, the point I’d like to question is this supposed ‘desperate need’ United have for a new striker.
As all has gone quiet on the Berbatov front, the media are whipping themselves in to a frenzy over United starting the season without a new striker. Who exactly do they think this new striker would be replacing? Louis Saha? He was neither use nor ornament for us last season, yet we still won the League and European Cup. United don’t desperately need any additions, because this current squad proved themselves to be the best in England last season, and in winning the Champions League, arguably the best in Europe.
An out-and-out striker would be a valuable member of our squad, as whilst we’ve done well without one in the past two seasons, our lives would certainly be made easier if we had a poacher in the box. Whether it be Berbatov, Huntelaar, or anyone else, I’d like to see a proven scorer brought in to our team. But as the success in the past two years have shown, our status doesn’t depend on us signing a striker.
This country desperately wants to see United fall flat on its face, but sadly for them, it doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon!