Part II of this odyssey takes you to the realms of middle-earth, also known in modern times as the middle-field, or simply, midfield. The concept of the midfield here has been tweaked ever so slightly to consider only the positions in the centre of the park. The wings were covered in chapter one of this epic trilogy, so kindly proceed here to read it in case you haven’t.
Central midfield for United has been in a state of constant flux. And that can be reflected in the almost impossible task of trying to predict the players that will play there for us for any given game. Fitness, and Ferguson’s inner voice alone, decides who gets to start on a given day. To some extent Michael Carrick has been a relatively permanent fixture.
It’s amazing to see the man still strut his stuff in United colours, yet it’s also sad to see his player of the year award dismissed as nothing more than a sentimental lifetime achievement award. It’s not his fault that the voting was held at the time when he was stringing in great performances while re-inventing himself in the centre of midfield. It is a clearly obvious shift in his role this season to a purely central one (whilst he did it in bits and pieces in the 07/08 season) that he has been included amongst central midfielders in the end of season review. But despite the hyperbole that came his way when he had a few very good performances in end December, January and mid-Feb this has been a season which has shown it glaringly to the manager that Giggs cannot do it anymore on a consistent basis. I love the player to bits, but I can see that he cannot be considered a starter for us anymore. He’s reinvented himself against the tide of doubt on countless occasions, and he did show us another avatar of himself this season. But he has to be no more than a squad player next season — and I think even he, surely, would recognise that fact.
He’s done well on occasion to roll back the years, but he’s also found wanting on quite a few — not entirely his fault when the manager expected a far greater load on him than was warranted of a 35 year old.
*cliche alert* Another great servant of the club but, in his case, his time was already up last season. He’s been rather average, and age and physicality of the league has finally caught up with him. His highlight reel will undoubtedly hark back to that volleyball red card against Zenit St Petersburg, and the sending off at Fulham. He showed flashes of being able to do it in short bursts, but to me, this ought to have been his last season — and I don’t mean it as disrespect.
Stepped into the giant Hargreaves shaped, tendinitis afflicted void seamlessly. He just grew with every game right through the season. The Chelsea game stands out as well as the Champions’ League Arsenal game, before being sent off. The fact that there is even a debate over what might have been had Fletch played in the Champions’ League final is testimony to the way he has grown in stature at the club when, not too long ago, he was one of the objects of Roy Keane’s ire following our 4-1 embarrassment against Boro.
Oh, how the tide has turned!
When Anderson came to the club in the summer of 2007, he was a virtual unknown, despite papers hailing him the next Ronaldinho. The fact was no one in the club seemed to know what his position was. Expectations weren’t much to talk about, which was why when he was not intimidated against the likes of Gerrard and Fabregas in his first season, he was hailed as the next midfield magician. 2008/09 has been a more sobering realisation of his talents. He has blown hot and cold this season. On occasion he seems to make killer passes, on other occasions he seems to pass the ball right back to the opposition player. It’s been frustrating to watch him play. He missed the early part of the season to injury and took a while to get going in the second half. His performance in the final was diabolical, but again, it’s unfair to single him out in a game when everyone was generally poor.
Ferguson calls him the natural successor to Paul Scholes. I don’t agree with it, because he is a completely different player to the Ninja. He needs to work on keeping the ball, looking up for the right pass to make, and run less often with his head down. Quite a few traits that he needs to work on (apart from his terrible shooting) if he is to become anyone approaching Scholes. They say he has age on his side. I hope he does. It will be fantastic to see him become a good, consistent player, but he needs to work on his game a lot more than one believes.
It’s been a long journey for the former Spurs man. He is now the heart beat of United’s midfield. He has shown consistent improvement over the seasons and this year he’s shown more offensive ambition than the past. Having a very good midfield enforcer would be even beneficial to the man’s talents because it would free him up to move up the pitch. He’s also added a few goals to his tally, and hopefully that would improve next season.
A very good season for the man — if only there was a stable partner who could reliably do the dirty work in midfield.
Honourable mentions: Rodrigo Possebon showed some glimpses of technique far superior to the fare English clubs churn out in their academies. He is in the mould of Carrick, but would benefit from a loan spell in a Premiership club. Another shout goes to Darron Gibson who, in his limited appearances, actually showed a lot of drive going forward. However, it looks like he might see his future elsewhere, and we wish him the best wherever he goes.
This ends Part II. Join us tomorrow for Part III — which should be the last part, unless I decide otherwise.