How Ferguson can right the ship
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.