WITH exciting signings like Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell in the bag, and attention in the Manchester United boardroom now turning to left back, there is still that stellar signing missing from the Old Trafford midfield. Many critics and fans believe it should be Tottenham’s Luka Modric, who lit up Euro 2012 in Croatia’s ultimately fruitless tournament. Bringing in the diminutive midfield magician would silence those saying United can no longer afford to compete with the heavyweights of Man City and Chelsea in the astronomical transfer fees and wage wars. I don’t think any United fan would turn their nose up at the signing of Modric but while his name is the one spoken of most when we talk about that as yet unsigned marquee player our midfield is crying out for, he is not the player I would go for.
He’s absolutely class, of that there is no doubt, he reads the game superbly, he finds pockets of space in the most unimaginable of places, he rarely wastes the ball and when he delivers, it’s usually to devastating effect.
Still, the type of midfielder we are in dire need of is not a twinkle-toed replica of Xavi or Iniesta. We need a lay-it-all-on-the line, combative, no nonsense, marauding, box-to-box, buccaneering midfielder with an insatiable desire to succeed.
True, in Kagawa, we already have a player with similar capabilities to Modric, but they are different players, and they could still fit into the same side. Kagawa is more of a goal threat and plays in the hole behind the striker. He doesn’t drop into his own half to collect the ball off the back four like Modric, he takes the ball from such a player and causes havoc in the final third. While both are comfortable out wide, Kagawa has been utilised out there with Japan to good effect. He plays there for the national side and although he does prefer to drift inwards, he can be devastating from anywhere in the final third; left, right or centrally. When Modric has been used out wide by Spurs, he’s been ineffective and has failed to influence games.
Anyway, I’m drifting. I meant to point out that Modric and Kagawa could play together. If, as the signing of Kagawa suggests, we will shift to a 4-2-3-1 formation next season, Modric could play in the 2 with either Scholes or Carrick, and Kagawa would play anywhere in the 3, but preferably centrally.
My real point is that if I were Sir Alex Ferguson, I’d be looking at finally bringing in a replacement for Roy Keane, or an upgrade on Darren Fletcher. I’m a big fan of the Scotsman, although ask my friends, this was not always the case. He’s really progressed into a fine player and has learned to stamp his authority on games in United’s midfield. In fact his absence from the United midfield last season was arguably as big a loss as Nemanja Vidic from the heart of our defence. Unlike Michael Carrick, who often got asked to boss the midfield when that is really not in his repertoire, Fletcher could have done that. He’s slight but he’s a pest, he’s got a great engine and he’s remarkably tough. He’s also become a real threat going forward and has become an accomplished and even reliable goalscorer from the middle of the park, again, more so than Carrick. He’s not a superstar though, perhaps that’s not fair, he’s not world class I mean. I don’t think it’s unfair to describe him in those terms. The issue we also have to look out for with the Scotland captain is that, unlike Vidic, there is a real possibility, even likelihood that he will never return due to his ulcerative colitis.
For the remainder of the summer, the left back scenario will be another issue to look at but, for now, in my opinion, we should be looking at this Fletcher/Keane void in the side and be looking to the likes of Danielle De Rossi or Javi Martinez if we’re looking at the top end of the market. With De Rossi having signed a five year contract at club side Roma at the beginning of the year, and the fact that it’s his hometown club and he’s just been named as Fracesco Totti’s replacement as captain, I yearn desperately but probably more wishfully for De Rossi to arrive. It’s a similar situation with Athletic Bilbao’s Martinez. Less will perhaps be known about him by United fans but he’s a marvellous player. Equally comfortable in his more natural position in midfield or at centre back, the 23-year-old is both elegant and commanding and he caught the eye in his side’s two-legged tie with United when the Spaniards totally outclassed United twice in the Europa League last season. I think we’d be more likely to get hold of Martinez but, if rumours are to be believed, he is Barcelona’s top transfer target this summer, which poses its own difficulties.
If, in all probability, we can’t get or don’t go for either of these players, then as with the club’s determination and custom to go for youth, I would suggest buying PSV Eindhoven’s tenacious middle man Kevin Strootman. I’ve only seen videos and footage of Strootman, but he looks a class act and possibly more of a throwback to the talismanic Keane than either Martinez or De Rossi. Again, acquiring someone like Strootman would have the tongues of the media and rival fans wagging that United are slipping financially under Glazernomics, and are being forced to invest in potential rather than proven talent. It’s an argument not without merit but considering Strootman would cost in the region of £15m and was part of the Dutch squad at Euro 2012, we’d hardly be shopping in the bargain basement or taking a gamble.
Returning for a moment to a point I introduced at the beginning. Midfield has long be a problematic area for us. Most people have honed in on the need for an attacking player, an eventual replacement for Scholes, but with Kagawa and Powell, I think the club has taken its first actual steps in addressing that. Kagawa, although some will be cynical and say he’s unproven at the very top of European football and is the new Ji-Sung Park, brought in to boost shirt sales in Asia, they’d be saying that blindly and more in hope. I’ve read and researched a lot about him since the end of the season and there is no doubt that he’s a special player and will hopefully be a quality addition to our squad. Powell, of course, is very raw, but still an excellent prospect. He’s tall, athletic, powerful, has good ball control and, if you’ve seen his youtube highlights, can also strike a ball from distance, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing them both in action.
This is why I think it’s now time to turn attention to putting a warrior in our midfield, a leader, a fighter. If that void is addressed by the hierarchy this summer, then I really think United will be equipped to do battle on all fronts next season. Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more.
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