In the movie Love Actually, Alan Rickman’s secretary and lover addresses her boss’ question as to what she’d like for Christmas with a sharp, conclusive reply: “I don’t want something I need,” she says, “I want something I want.”
If you’ll excuse the excursus in the romantic-comedy branch of British cinematography, you’ll find that the quote is United’s policy in the transfer window in a nutshell.
Since the arrivals of Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic seven years ago, we have become accustomed to watch the January transfer window pass us by with the same interest with whom we would witness a pub brawl – casting the odd glance every now and again while focusing on whatever we’re reading and praying that the fight doesn’t degenerate to the extent where actions might be required of us.
In recent years United have never found themselves in the position where they’d need to recruit reinforcements for the remainder of the campaign – big clubs are always reluctant to alter the team’s chemistry in Janurary, let Alan Pardew and Harry Redknapp trade blows in a bid to sign a player from every club in the French top division.
This month, though, United have been feverishly active for their standards as they look to conclude a deal for English football’s next “Big Thing” – an accolade that was, I believe, established when Michael Owen scored against Argentina in 1998 and that has seen its fair share of pretenders – Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, which bring us to the opening statement of wanting not something that’s needed, but something that’s wanted.
United have already three wingers in the squad – the average but dependable Ashley Young, by many considered not worth of a United shirt, the occasionally superb Nani who shares a knack for petulant diving with his team-mate and who has also allegedly been seeking a move to the warmer climate that is traditional of Saint Petersburg. Last but by no means least, we have Antonio Valencia, a case in study in the relationship between a player’s ability and his confidence.
None of the players mentioned above have enjoyed a great season so far, Young and Nani have been blighted by injuries and Valencia has been a shadow of the player he had developed into last season when he had looked the first out-and-out winger the club had possessed since Andrei Kanchelskis had spent the early 90s hugging the right touch-line.
Based on these arguments, Zaha’s purchase would seem a very shrewd piece of business, particularly considering that the Palace man, voted The Football League’s Young Player of the Year last season, has already scored five goals and assisted six this season, as Ian Holloway’s side push for a return to the top flight.
But the arrival of Zaha would almost surely mean that one between Young, Valencia and Nani would be kindly asked to collect his belongings and find himself a new club, which would leave United short of one player with international experience, in favour of an exciting, but largely unproven, prospect.
Sir Alex Ferguson is obviously not desperate to sign Zaha, otherwise he wouldn’t have offered Palace the option of retaining the player until the end of the season, should a deal been sealed, and neither has hinted at the eventuality of one of his three wingers being sold, which is perhaps the most chilling sub-plot in this scenario.
The last time United had an abundance of wide players was in the 2009-10 season when Nani, Valencia, Obertan, Tosic, Giggs – yes, back then he was still considered a part-time winger – and Park were on the books, which led to players deployed out of position – Park – and youngsters dismissed without having had a real shot at establishing themselves in the first team – Tosic and Obertan being the most notable casualties.
Zaha might be extremely more talented than both of them, after all he’s an England international as the media haven’t relentlessly reminded us over the last few weeks, conveniently overlooking the fact that Wilfried spent a grand total of seven minutes on the pitch for England.
Considering that the 20-year-old has also attracted interest from Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal (sorry Arsene, we’re not buying it) though, do United really need Zaha or are they simply trying to prevent rival clubs from signing him? Presumably, we’ll find out the outcome in the next eight days.