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The Libero - United running risk of falling behind

Published: 04 Aug 2010 - 09:54:53

Why haven't Manchester United signed a big-name player this summer? After a domestic season where they were second best in every respect to Chelsea and an equally disappointing European campaign, a summer of investment is just what Alex Ferguson's doctor should have ordered at his post-season check-up.

Far too often last season United looked uninspired, bereft of ideas and frankly a long way off being worthy contenders for major honours. That they managed to stretch interest in the Premier League title to the last day of the season was surprising, to say the least.

They were found wanting in a number of areas, notably up front, where Wayne Rooney had little if any back-up, in the Paul Scholes position, and at right-back.

Ferguson's brief for the coming season will surely be to wrestle the title back off Chelsea while at the same time mounting a sustained challenge in Europe, yet without an injection of high-class new talent in those areas this summer, it is difficult to see how that will happen.

United's inactivity in the transfer market during the close season has been marked. To date they have brought in just two players - Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling - yet neither are ready to set the world on fire, at least not yet. The pair are both very much signings for the future. But Ferguson should to be concerned with the present too.

This frugality is all a bit of a foreign concept at United. Traditionally they have led the way in terms of spending and in Ferguson they have a manager who has had no problem at all in the past splashing large sums of his chairman's/the club owners' cash (not always with great success).

Ferguson himself has said the Glazer family have made funds available to him this summer, yet he is reluctant to pay over-the-odds or be held to ransom in the currently inflated transfer market. It's certainly a change in policy from previous summers and one which raises questions over Fergie's staunch backing of the club's owners.

Given his 'previous' (he has broken the British transfer record six times, while considering Juan Sebastien Veron at £28.1 million and Dimitar Berbatov at £30.75m good value) and United's real need for improvement this season, his statement is rather difficult to swallow. While it is perhaps commendable not to give into the forces of the market, as Manchester City have done across town, there are no extra prizes for getting a player on the cheap.

Roberto Mancini is only too happy to fill in the blank cheques handed to him on a platter by the club's owners, but Ferguson appears more concerned by the club's off-pitch welfare than his team's performance on it. Yet it would be entirely understandable if Ferguson were worried about United's financial state; the Glazers have, after all, saddled the club with an enormous amount of debt.

Ferguson regularly talks about the legacy he will leave behind when he finally retires, and when that time comes, he wants to hand over the reins with the club in rude health and with a secure future. But his first priority has to be his team and how they perform on the pitch at the moment. Winning trophies is what he is employed for and when the offer of money to spend on improving his squad is tabled, he should take it, no questions asked.

Of course Fergie knows that. He's had no problems with doing it in the past, so why the sudden change of heart now? The question has to be asked: does this transfer kitty really exist? It may appear on the balance sheet, but there is a growing concern that it will instead be used to service the Glazers' debts.

It's a pity that we'll never know unless Ferguson actually spends it, which, as he admits, is unlikely in the current climate. So, for whatever reason, it seems that United will have to make do with what they've got for another season while relying on young emerging talent to add some fresh impetus.

Ferguson certainly has a large crop of youngsters available to him, Hernandez and Smalling included, but while he claims to have faith in them after a series of competent pre-season outings, they are no class of '96.

The truth is that few of the latest batch of Fergie's Fledglings are likely to see much action this season, leaving United fans to hope that Rooney can recreate some of his best form, that Scholes has found the elixir of eternal youth and maybe that Darren Fletcher has somehow spent his summer off transforming into Wesley Sneijder.

Otherwise, United's transfer policy, enforced or not, is in serious danger of seeing them fall behind the competition - even before a ball is kicked.

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DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.

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