WHEN relative unknown marketing guru Ed Woodward was announced as David Gill’s successor at Manchester United earlier this summer, it was reported that he would remain largely in his Mayfair base in London rather than relocate to Stretford.
After the flak he has taken for his handling of United’s transfer window dealings over the off-season, he’d probably be right to put faith in the age old saying that ‘it’s grim up north’.
In fact, he might have been put off from ever making an appearance in Manchester.
Now, let’s look at this as sensibly as we can as United fans. Which is to say, let’s accept that this summer was a farce in the sense that the normally speedy and effective way in which we go about our transfer business was made a mockery of.
But let’s also deter from descending into the quite honestly poisonous mire, fueled by the media, that United have all of a sudden become a third rate club due to their failure to land any of their biggest targets, and that David Moyes is already a failure.
It was pretty ugly, I’ll admit, but it’s not exactly as cut and dry as critics of the new regime would have us believe.
Let me start by, again, acknowledging that it was a pretty embarrassing and excruciatingly frustrating summer to be a United fan. High profile targets were identified and pursued, but ultimately we were left scrambling around on the final day of the window and, in the end, only purchased our one significant new arrival at the 11th hour, and at a far more premium price than was necessary.
But two issues that I think are being ignored in favour of lambasting Sir Alex Ferguson and Gill’s replacements are two important areas where Moyes and Woodward deserve a lot of credit.
The first is managing (somehow) to keep hold of arguably our most prized asset – Wayne Rooney.
The other is doing far more than what the so-called messiahs Ferguson and Gill had failed to address since the departure of Roy Keane in 2005/06 – adding steel and physicality into the middle of midfield with the signing of Marouane Fellaini.
Since Keane left, Fergie and Gill tried experimenting, buying Anderson and Owen Hargreaves for £15m and £17m respectively in the summer of 2007/08.
Anderson remains a Red but is yet to live up to his potential, and price tag, while all United fans acknowledge that Hargreaves was the missing link, he just couldn’t shake his horrendous injury hoodoo.
We signed Shinji Kagawa last summer but we are yet to see the best of him after a stop-start debut campaign, and he is more of a number 10/playmaker/in the hole type of player anyway.
The only successful midfield acquisition since Keane’s departure has been Michael Carrick, who was bought from Tottenham for £18.6m in 2006/07. Even he has endured years of criticism from opposition or neutral parties.
He’s even experienced a love-hate relationship with United fans, although he has begun to receive the praise and respect he deserves in the last two or three seasons from all sides.
But for all the good that Carrick represents, the near miss with Hargreaves and the jury still out on Anderson, all of which the majority of United fans accept, there are the monumental failures under Ferguson and Gill – Alan Smith, Rodrigo Possebon, Ravel Morrison, Darron Gibson and Liam Miller.
So while the media may marvel at our failure to land Thiago Alcantara, Cesc Fabregas, Ander Herrera, Daniele de Rossi, and if you believe everything you hear or read, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira, in the cold light of day I don’t think the squad is in too bad a shape at all.
Of the squad that won the Barclays Premier League by 11 points last season, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley, Rafael, David de Gea, Jonny Evans and Shinji Kagawa have either won their first title or have another year of experience under their belts.
We’ve got the league’s highest goalscorer, Robin van Persie, in his prime.
Rio Ferdinand is fresh from arguably his greatest season as a United player.
Nemanja Vidic looks to be approaching something near his brutal best.
Even though they underperformed as a group last season, we’ve got a supremely gifted core of widemen in Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Nani. Rumours will now cease over Nani’s future after he signed a new, long term deal this week, and while his future has been the subject of much speculation for the last year, on his day he is devastating.
Add to that the exciting, home grown Wilfried Zaha.
Patrice Evra is back to his best.
As I’ve already mentioned, we’ve kept our somewhat bewildered yet undeniably brilliant talisman, and we’ve added to that the unmistakeable Belgian Fellaini, who I think will be a major asset, despite, again, what the critics say.
Of all the top clubs in England, we arguably had the poorest window.
City splashed the cash. Chelsea strengthened a squad that already looked like something special last season. Tottenham lost the hottest commodity on the market but were bullish in their pursuit of replacements. Time will tell if they’ve bought wisely but at least they haven’t been shy. Arsenal, despite getting a fabulous player in Özil, which will at least placate the Emirates faithful for the time being, ignored areas that were in more desperate need of attention. Liverpool, like us, kept hold of their best player, while adding smartly in most other areas. Everton, in my eyes, did the best business of all, especially on deadline day. Possibly not overall or in a spectacular or glamorous sense like City, Spurs or Arsenal, but bringing in Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku, keeping hold of Leighton Baines and getting more than the initial release clause for Fellaini makes me believe they can continue to be competitive this season.
But I think the strength and stability of our squad remains largely ignored.
The main issue that has been destabilising is the change in management and, to a lesser extent, the change in chief executive. Moyes was always and will continue to be second guessed and criticised because of the massive hole left by the legendary Fergie. The failure of our transfer policy just magnifies the criticism.
Ultimately we are still searching for a new Paul Scholes. A source of goals and assist from midfield. Someone who can record double figures for both each season.
None of this though should detract from the fact that Fellaini is a quality player and fits a position that we’ve needed to address for a number of years.
I don’t think you’ll see much of Fellaini playing off the frontman like he quite often did at Everton.
It’s far more likely that he’ll sit in front of and protect the back four with Carrick. Break up opposition attacks while also contributing to our own attacks, making late runs into the box and trying to cause havoc and score goals while Carrick sits back and patrols.
People harp on about the release clause issue, which while silly, is hardly shambolic. I somehow doubt too that the additional £4m made much difference to United’s coffers.
Fellaini exudes strength and offers the ability to defend and attack with equal capability – in an area which was crying out for just this.
I’m sure Moyes would have liked to have brought in a few more players, but the squad doesn’t require a massive overhaul, just a bit of tinkering.
Fellaini is a huge physical presence who will cause problems for opposing managers and at a team like United, I think he’ll get even more opportunities to score goals.
His signing has been followed largely by ridicule. While obviously a good player and a success at Everton, now the opinion is swinging towards the belief that he’s not good enough for United.
Fellaini has previous ties with Moyes of course. I’m sure the Scot knows him better than most, knows his strengths and how to get best out of him, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have signed him if he didn’t think he would fit in at Old Trafford.
Some critics have and will continue to use Fellaini as a stick to beat the club, Moyes and Woodward with over our summer transfer troubles.
I feel anger, disappointment and bitterness whenever I hear or see criticism of United, but I’m sensible enough to know that ultimately it bears little significance to how the team actually performs on the pitch.
Over the international break, I came across a humorous and lighthearted advertising campaign by a leading bookmakers that depicted Moyes in a celebratory pose with accompanying words something akin to ‘at least one person’s glad of the international break’, suggesting that United’s start to the season had been a disaster.
A 4-1 win away at Swansea, a 0-0 at home against Chelsea in which United were slightly the better side and a 1-0 defeat at Liverpool, another close game where again we could arguably say we deserved better.
I’m sure the majority would love Moyes to crash and burn and see United plummet, but that is wishful thinking and to United fans, I would urge calm and caution.
Let’s keep our hair on. Ignore the white noise and know and believe that we’ve got a very decent, young squad that will improve. A squad that won the Premier League by 11 points last season. A squad that has retained Rooney and added Fellaini. It’s not quite the disaster it’s being made out to be.