Fill­ing the hole left by Ron­aldo the ul­ti­mate test for United

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

D I S C OV E R - ING some­one to step up to the plate when the main man has gone has long been an at­tribute of the best teams.

If you ac­cept the prog­no­sis that no in­di­vid­ual is big­ger or more im­por­tant than the team then it is en­cum­bent upon oth­ers to fill the gap left by a de­part­ing in­di­vid­ual.

On the ear­li­est of ev­i­dence, some might sug­gest that Manch­ester United are go­ing to find it mighty hard to mask the loss of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo this sea­son.

An un­con­vinc­ing 1-0 home win over Birm­ing­ham on the open­ing week­end of the sea­son was fol­lowed by de­feat at Burn­ley in mid­week, through a sim­i­lar score line in re­verse.

But it wasn’t just the loss of three points that made you won­der who would step up and ac­cept the greater re­spon­si­bil­ity this sea­son in the United side.

Wayne Rooney’s grow­ing frus­tra­tion, a fa­mil­iar sight, was ev­i­dent as United slith­ered to­wards de­feat.

Ryan Giggs did his best but those age­ing legs can­not quite carry him to the parts of the field other play­ers could not reach in his hey­day.

Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov came on and again dis­ap­pointed, like­wise Michael Owen who failed once again in front of Eng­land man­ager Fabio Capello.

Of course, it was all so easy in the last few sea­sons. When oth­ers were con­tained or off their game, all United had to do was give the ball to Ron­aldo and watch as he worked a par­tic­u­lar piece of magic that would in­vari­ably turn a game.

It wasn’t just his goal scor­ing abil­ity, but his skill in cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for oth­ers, too. Now, that is just a mem­ory and per­haps United are beginning to see their lim­i­ta­tions without him. For th­ese are some boots to fill. Per­haps, in time, An­to­nio Va­len­cia can fill the void, per­haps Owen will re-dis­cover his once lethal goal scor­ing touch that made him feared the length and breadth of the land.

Per­haps Sir Alex Fer­gu­son can coax from the enig­matic Ber­ba­tov the kind of form that per­suaded him to pay Tot­ten­ham £30 mil­lion for his ser­vices.

Thus far, it has to be said, and doubt­less to the be­wil­der­ment of the Old Traf­ford au­di­ence, Ber­ba­tov has sel­dom looked a shadow of the player he was at White Hart Lane. Quite why, it is hard to know.

Suf­fice to say, some­one from some­where in this squad has to step up to the chal­lenge. Per­haps it will be Fed­erico Macheda or a home grown young­ster, Danny Wel­beck. It will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see just how long Fer­gu­son will wait be­fore try­ing one or even both of them. But he surely can­not af­ford to wait too long.

Fill­ing this void, what some might sug­gest is more a chasm, will test not only Fer­gu­son’s nerve but the re­solve of those play­ers in his charge.

Who will show he has the char­ac­ter to take on the task, good enough tech­ni­cally to com­mand a reg­u­lar place but also con­sis­tent enough as a goal scorer to jus­tify it?

Af­ter this stum­bling first week of the new sea­son for United, Fer­gu­son, and United’s many fol­low­ers, will hope that fig­ure emerges sooner rather than later.

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