The season kicks off on Monday for us, but let’s use this as an overall preview of the rest of the season as such.
Public perception has been that this summer is quiet on the transfer front. In reality it’s not been quite at all. If you add up signings made during last season and during this summer we’ll realize that the club has in fact spent about £25m on players. True they’ve been spent with the future in mind, but they are signings nonetheless, and what we cannot ignore is that hard cash has been put into players. This is not something that we can write off as pure PR, because money has been spent.
This is not to extricate the Glazers from blame; far from it. We would have spent much more in the presence of a different ownership model—maybe even not had to spend because we’d already have had a better squad, but let’s not fantasize now.
But the question worth asking is: has the money been judiciously spent on signings? To answer that we’d need to go off our hunches, and other suppositions. (“Hernandez already looks a world beater!” “Smalling is a bit raw.” “Bebe? Who? £7.4m? Wha—?”)
Take the case of Bebe. My initial reaction was one of confusion. It’s partly owed to the statement from the official website which had him down as a striker. It’s a bit like Arsenal buying another midget who player behind the striker when what they needed was someone who was more lethal and in the box. But subsequent reports and *sigh* YouTube clips of him showed he was more an attacking midfielder who played either on the wing or behind the striker. Much better, then. Or is it? Well, it’s not really the price that bothered me. But the series of events that led to his signing. He was playing in the Portuguese third division, and signed up by Vitoria Guimares only a couple of months ago. By David Gill and Ferguson’s own admissions they were aware of him only a month ago. Add to that he was a Carlos Queiroz recommendation. His last scouting network find was Manucho, and the one before him Nani and Anderson. But the latter duo were already quite well known in various scouting circles. Manucho and Bebe, less so. Again, Manucho is just one data point, and there’s a significant difference between playing in the Angolan league and being snapped up by a Portuguese top division club. But still, the fact remains that Ferguson moved swiftly to snap up Bebe—paying over the odds in the process—just so others don’t get hold of him is rather odd, considering his recent caution in the transfer market, and his pronouncements about the “lack of value”.
In essence he was splashing over half the value of a star player like Mesut Ozil on an unknown. This is not a criticism of our scouting network, but more about a seeming lack of a plan in the mind of Ferguson. It seems he is as capable of falling to the whims of impulse. Yet he talks about caution and lack of value. They just don’t add up.
I am not calling for us to sign Mesut Ozil. From what I’ve read, and heard from media sources, there has been a solid interest from the club, but the complications arise from the indecision by Ozil himself, Bremen’s quandary over playing him in the upcoming Champions League qualifier (and hence, losing value) or selling their star player at the risk of possible exit from the Champions League qualification stage (and losing millions thereby). Also, there are a host of agents, and assorted hangers-on from his entourage trying to act on behalf of him, often without his or his agent’s knowledge.
I’ve said this earlier: I’d like Ozil to come, but if not, I’d much rather see Cleverley get an extended run. I’d like a more assertive midfielder who has the legs to move forward and help in our attack. Carrick is more composed and less dynamic. Scholes prefers a deep-lying role at his age. And Fletcher is better at mopping up and protecting the defence. If we ever needed to sign a ‘finished product’ I’d want someone in that role. If not, then we move on and look forward to the new season.
Ferguson once again decided to have a pop at the fans. To be honest, this sort of news doesn’t shock me anymore. I cringe when I hear it, or read reports and quotes from Ferguson, but it’s evident that he’s bent upon sucking up to the Glazers and showing contempt for the fans. And from here on, I’ve decided to compartmentalize—block the outrageous nonsense he spouts about fans, and focus on the season and his performance during the matches as and when it happens. It’s not about ignoring the ‘pressing issues’ regarding his attitude towards fans, but every time he opens his mouth about supporters, he isn’t going to be unpredictable. Everything I’ve had to say on him about that has been said. Little value in adding to noise, and redundancies. But every football match is new, every performance—win, loss, draw—is a new experience despite the years, and that is always worth discourse. So talking more about the actual football and less about off-pitch is what I’d like to do more of from now on. (Talking about the actual football—what a novel idea eh?)
Moving on, I have a lot to be optimistic about this bunch, despite my misgivings about the future. The starting XI is as good as any. Rio’s fitness is a worry, but the rise of Evans is important. This is a big season for our right-back Rafael. Neville is a club legend, but I would honestly like him to sit back and mentor Rafael more. Not since Ronaldo have I been as excited about a new signing, as I have with Hernandez. His eye for goal is something and ability to play on the shoulder of the last defender is something we’ve entirely lacked since the departure of Ruud and, to a lesser extent, Louis Saha. Rooney and Tevez always gave effort, often at the cost of not playing like a classic striker. Rooney has steadily improved every season in his goal scoring tally, but there’s something about Hernandez that will hopefully strike fear in opposition defences. He’s also exactly the sort of striker Berbatov would love.
I have my reservations on the midfield, partly because I don’t rate Anderson enough, and partly because I felt Carrick went backwards last season. I hope Carrick returns to his usual steady self, because it’s a damn indictment of our midfield if a 35-year old Scholes is the best we have.
Anyway, onwards and upwards we go. Hopefully the shower at Eastlands keep up the dreadful form they showed against Spurs.
The preview to our opening match will be up tomorrow.