How Ferguson can right the ship

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

FOR the first time in six years, Manch­ester United have failed to progress be­yond the group stage of the Cham­pi­ons League. A com­pe­ti­tion that man­ager Sir Alex Ferguson ( right) favours above all oth­ers has left United washed up, worn out and in the Europa League. Is this a one-off or a sign of a deeper, more wor­ry­ing malaise for the Premier League cham­pi­ons? We ex­am­ine the is­sues fac­ing last year’s beaten Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal­ists. IS THIS A DRAMA OR MERELY A CRI­SIS? Cur­rently, it is a drama that will morph into some­thing more se­ri­ous if cer­tain is­sues are not ad­dressed. Given United’s record in the Cham­pi­ons League of late, they are al­lowed one slip-up. This, how­ever, is a set­back that has looked on the cards for a while.

United have been dire in the com­pe­ti­tion this year and the fact that six group games brought them only vic­to­ries over a weak team from Ro­ma­nia is what should re­ally be hurt­ing them. When Ferguson looks at this squad the de­fi­cien­cies are clear to see. United des­per­ately lack a world-class cen­tral mid­fielder and have been too de­pen­dent on Wayne Rooney for far too long. HOW CAN A CLUB FALL SO FAR SO FAST? It may sound ridicu­lous for a team that won the Premier League and reached a ma­jor Euro­pean fi­nal, but United were a modest side for much of last sea­son. Any team that achieved what they did must have been do­ing some­thing right but Ferguson’s side were the best of a very av­er­age bunch do­mes­ti­cally last sea­son and, it could be ar­gued, had a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward run to the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal.

A look at the records shows that United beat Bur­sas­por, Va­len­cia, Rangers, Mar­seille, Chelsea and Schalke to reach Wem­b­ley. In truth, only one of those – Chelsea – were of the high­est Euro­pean cal­i­bre. United were al­ways go­ing to have to raise their game if they were to make an im­pact on the com­pe­ti­tion this time round. ex­ec­u­tive David Gill claim there is money in the bank, de­spite the enor­mous por­tion of an­nual turnover that con­tin­ues to be shov­elled the way of the Glaz­ers’ debts.

The fact that they got in­volved in dis­cus­sions over the pur­chase of Wes­ley Snei­jder in the sum­mer at least il­lus­trates that United do have some cash for play­ers but they re­main re­luc­tant to set their wage ceil­ing too high. What is clear is that United need play­ers. We will have to wait un­til next sum­mer un­til we see any, though. WHAT IS WRONG WITH WAYNE ROONEY? Noth­ing that a cou­ple of goals wouldn’t cure. Reg­u­lar United watch­ers will know that Rooney goes through spells with­out goals and then springs to life and be­gins to once again look like the world-class player that he is. That will hap­pen again soon but what has be­come clear in re­cent times is just how re­liant United are on the Eng­land in­ter­na­tional.

Ferguson does have other tal­ented strik­ers in his squad. Javier Her­nan­dez, cur­rently in­jured, and Danny Wel­beck are the two that come to mind. But Rooney’s in­flu­ence on this team is wide-rang­ing and if he doesn’t play well then United too of­ten strug­gle for flu­ency and po­tency. That is not healthy and – it must be said – it is not a prob­lem that is repli­cated at other top Euro­pean clubs.

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