Hurrah! 3 points! At last a day where everyone stays out for a post-match beer rather than scattering off home in a sulk, AND you could watch MOTD without wanting to kick the telly in afterwards. Yes, I know it was only QPR at home but the win was a long time coming (131 days to be precise) and it felt like a large cloud had lifted. People were actually smiling, basking in the (very possibly premature) glow that we might just have turned a corner. I’m certain there’ll be more painful results to come before things are properly sorted, but medium to long term I’m sticking with the belief that we’re moving in the right direction again.
Despite the paucity of results throughout 2014, even by United’s exalted standards, off the pitch it’s been completely captivating. Whilst it quickly became apparent we picked the wrong successor to Fergie, it still came as a huge relief that Moyes was dismissed in such a timely manner. 5 months on, the buzz still hasn’t fully subsided that we pulled the trigger when we did. The board could have quite easily decided to give him another 12 months and we’d be facing another season of demoralising results with much the same demoralised squad. Instead, we’ve appointed a man who appears to know what needs to be done – who in a matter of weeks has instigated a long overdue overhaul of both personnel and the predictable tactics in place.
After a promising start and a tumbleweed strewn 6 week period in the middle of the transfer window, the last 2 weeks saw Woodward locate the chequebook and spring into action like a startled gazelle. Finally, the major surgery we’ve been in dire need of for the last 3-4 years was carried out. There were casualties, there were surprises, there were disappointments (nobody was stupid enough to buy Anderson, sadly) – but overall, the upshot is the squad now looks considerably stronger than it did at the start of the summer… ummm, apart from the defence.
Nani, Cleverley, Hernandez, Kagawa, Welbeck… all gone. Nani hasn’t had a good game in 3 years, Cleverley is loathed by pretty much everybody in the world and Hernandez, despite being a tremendous impact sub, never developed into a player who should be starting games. Shinji Kagawa meanwhile, so beloved of internet reds and Bundesliga hipsters, remained anonymous even on the occasions he was allowed play in his much heralded ‘special position’. Everyone has players for whom they afford a large blind spot, but in truth they’ll be few tears shed as a consequence of this bunch leaving the club.
Of all the departures, it’s the loss of Danny Welbeck that’s caused the most consternation, with Eric Harrison and Mike Phelan leading the voices expressing disappointment and suggesting the club is in danger of losing its “soul” or “identity” by deciding to move him on. Their argument possibly bears scrutiny in the light of an unprecedented £150M spending spree, but the brutal reality of the situation was best summed up by Van Gaal himself… Danny had 3 years to cement a place at United but didn’t reach the required standard.
He was close though, and Welbeck is a player with many qualities. As United’s football grew more pedestrian (almost reaching a grinding halt last season), he was the one who brought genuine pace to the team – which was especially apparent given the lamentable form of Young and Valencia. Despite his willingness to run the channels, Danny considers himself a centre forward… but as a striker he simply didn’t score enough. A great athlete, bags of skill and a selfless team player, undoubtedly – but forwards are ultimately judged on goals. Unfortunately Danny Welbeck had a record comparable with Peter Davenport’s – and despite flirting with 1980s-style results of late, nobody seriously wants a return to those days, do they?
So rather than watching Welbeck toil relentlessly with a minimal goal return, we’ll have to put up with Radamel Falcao. How will we cope? This was a genuine Big Dawg signing of the type United have become resistant to in recent years, as we instead adhered to Fergie’s doomed pursuit of value in the market. A pursuit so misguided that it’s required a £200M+ outlay to begin correcting it over the last 12 months – and we’re still left with a lopsided squad that remains very much a work in progress.
Although Fergie maintained the Glazers were “fantastic” owners who never refused him a player, are we still supposed to believe the cost of servicing the club’s debt hasn’t adversely affected successive transfer budgets since 2005? If United had continued to invest in the squad at the rate they did pre-takeover (when we were regularly paying eye watering sums to cement a position as Europe’s most financially secure and successful club), it’s unlikely there would have been any requirement for the colossal-sized splurge that was witnessed this summer.
It’s only 4 years since Fergie described City and Chelsea’s spending as “kamikaze”, but that’s exactly what United have been forced to resort to in a bid to play catch up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining as it was wholly necessary given the blindingly obvious deterioration of the squad – it just smacks of arrogance and complacency that it took so long for the penny to drop. If the club had continued with the policy of one or two ‘proper’ signings per year as opposed to taking frugal gambles on dross like Bebe, Obertan and Bellion, we would never have got into this mess to begin with.
In truth, United have always spent big money – whether it be Tommy Taylor or Denis Law or Bryan Robson or Rio Ferdinand. I fail to see why upgrading Welbeck for Falcao should be seen as evidence the club has abandoned its proud record of nurturing and blooding youth players. You could just as easily cite the recent emergence of Tyler Blackett and the non-arrival of a big name centre half as proof the opposite is true and the tradition is alive and well.
Signing the likes of Falcao and Di Maria isn’t a betrayal of Manchester United’s culture, I’d say it’s more a sign that Manchester United are now behaving like Manchester United again. Welbeck had a chance and came up short, so now James Wilson will get game time as a result of him leaving. If Wilson proves to be the real deal, then he’ll thrive here… and if he doesn’t, then in time another kid will get an opportunity. That’s how it has always worked, some make the grade whereas others fall by the wayside. It’s a ruthless business and it’s survival of the fittest. No matter what club, no matter what level – that’s football.
Copyright Red News – September 2014