Cesc Fabregas’ recent declaration of his intent to remain at Barcelona has seen him join an ever-growing list of midfielders to reject a move to Manchester United this summer.
Alleged inquiries into the availability of Read Madrid’s Luka Modric, Barcelona’s Thiago Alcantara, Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, and the Juventus duo of Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio have amounted to nought for the Premier League champions, who are eager to find a reliable partner for Michael Carrick in the middle of the park.
The failure to lure Fabregas from Camp Nou will most likely see the new United manager, David Moyes, turn to an old favourite (and probably the back-up plan all along) in Marouane Fellaini, but the former Everton boss is already feeling the heat of expectation at Old Trafford – and the season hasn’t even begun.
It has been suggested that United’s struggle to land top-notch talent in the current window may have something to do with the departures of Sir Alex Ferguson and long-time chief executive David Gill, the driving force behind the club’s transfer business over the past 10 years.
But while it is true that Moyes and co have an enormous task ahead of them – especially amid the looming PR disaster that is Wayne Rooney and his future – it is also true that United’s problems with midfield recruitment go along way back.
The giants of the north-west have failed to sign a superstar centre-man since 2001, when they forked out nearly £30 million for Juan Sebastian Veron – widely regarded as one of the greatest flops in Premier League history. (Perhaps one can understand Ferguson’s reluctance to spend big on overseas players thereafter?)
Since Veron, Man U have bought precious few central midfielders of any note. Owen Hargreaves had one good season before injuries forced him off the face of the earth; Anderson has been solid without ever earning a regular place; and then there’s the Eric Djemba-Djembas, the Klebersons…
In that period only Carrick has made a lasting impact – and for all his qualities, he is neither Paul Scholes nor Roy Keane.
That would be all well and good if the famed United academy was producing the same calibre of talent as it did during the 1990s, but the likes of Liam Miller, Darron Gibson and Chris Eagles have rather failed to live up to their predecessors’ benchmark. What are the odds on, say, Tom Cleverley bucking that trend and becoming a genuine star? Is 50-50 too generous? He’s a tidy young player, but can he be the box-to-box terror his team needs?
The point is, United haven’t had any great success with central midfielders for years, and that Moyes has so far failed to change that in a few weeks at the helm is nothing to get on his back about. Have you ever heard of a new coach coming into a club and deciding everything is fine as is? Players will come, and probably very good ones at that. There is no need to sound the alarm.
Bear in mind that the Red Devils could be in for a difficult stretch, regardless of who they do or don’t buy. When you lose a manager of over 26 years you’re going to suffer some separation anxiety, both on and off the field. But Moyes won’t run this club into the ground, and his early efforts will have as much to do with his own managerial abilities as with the squad and legacies he inherited – good, bad, or otherwise.