Vul­tures gather as Fergie’s big sales start to cost him dearly

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL - GARY LEMKE

The prophets of doom pounced im­me­di­ately the fi­nal whis­tle blew to end Manch­ester United’s short­lived 2009/10 English FA Cup cam­paign. The de­ci­sion to sell Car­los Tevez and Cris­tiano Ron­aldo last sea­son has come back to haunt man­ager Sir Alex Fer­gu­son, they said.

Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov was a £30m flop. If Wayne Rooney is not at the top of his game, United are nowhere. The Glazer fam­ily hold­ing the purse strings need to pro­vide up­wards of £70m to help re­build the great club. And so on.

Leeds United ad­mit­tedly pulled off the first big bur­glary of the year when they claimed a 1-0 victory at Old Traf­ford, but ru­mours of Manch­ester United’s fall from grace are ab­surdly pre­ma­ture.

Fer­gu­son him­self took out the famed hairdryer when a jour­nal­ist asked him whether or not Dar­ron Gib­son, Danny Wel­beck and the Da Silva twins were equipped to take over once the club had drawn a line un­der the ca­reers of the mag­nif­i­cent ser­vants Paul Sc­holes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville.

Fer­gu­son called the in­ter­roga­tor an “idiot” and said he should be “bloody sacked”. He added that he found the whole dis­cus­sion “un­be­liev­able”.

There are signs that this United squad is in tran­si­tion. They look more vul­ner­a­ble than in re­cent sea­sons and there are sto­ries fly­ing around that there is not enough money to fund a com­plete over­haul of play­ers. Added to this is that the club have in­sti­tuted a pol­icy that they won’t spend “big” amounts on play­ers over the age of 26, and that the £30m for Ber­ba­tov was the last time such a sum will be shelled out on an older star.

But, for good­ness sakes, this is Manch­ester United we are talk­ing about. At last glance they were still sec­ond be­hind Chelsea in the English Premier­ship – and go­ing into the pe­riod, postChrist­mas where United tra­di­tion­ally start hit­ting their stride, and also at a time when the leaders are miss­ing their African stars, in­clud­ing the pro­lific Di­dier Drogba and the un­tir­ing Michael Essien.

United are also through to the knock­out phase of the Cham­pi­ons League, where AC Mi­lan and David Beck­ham will be their op­po­si­tion over two legs. Beat­able op­po­si­tion, it has to be said. They are also in the semi-fi­nals of the Car­ling Cup (Chelsea aren’t), so all talk of a side on the slide, or a club in cri­sis, does look de­cid­edly pre­ma­ture.

Sure, there are is­sues that need ad­dress­ing, some of which do in­clude the strength in depth, or the lack of strike power up front should Rooney not be at the top of his game. But sim­ply be­cause Leeds United came to the home of one of their most hated ri­vals and snuck out a (de­served) FA Cup victory should not be cause for global alarm. In the League, we have just gone past the half­way sea­son and only Arse­nal have scored more goals and only Chelsea have more points.

Fer­gu­son him­self is known to have con­fided to some of his close mates who live in South Africa that he is “comfortable” where United are po­si­tioned and “con­fi­dent” they can go on to re­tain the Premier­ship.

Then again, the re­ac­tion and the dis­cus­sion around United fol­low­ing an FA Cup set­back is un­der­stand­able. The king of the jun­gle has been wounded in a fight and the hye­nas are gath­er­ing. Yet for any­one to think that it will sim­ply roll over and play dead is in for a rude shock.

Af­ter all, the clubs around United in the League all have to keep winning and keep go­ing for­ward – and all have their own sets of prob­lems.

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