Despite leaving David Moyes with a squad full of newly crowned champions, and despite many pundits, analysts, players and Fergie himself saying otherwise, Sir Alex Ferguson hasn’t left Manchester United in the best shape at all.
Sure, you can look at this and think; what more does Moyes need than the best team in the country? But in reality, and no one is denying this, David Moyes has a huge task ahead of him, and in my opinion, it’s going to be an even tougher test than the majority of the country seem to think.
For a start, as I’ve said, I don’t believe Ferguson has left United in great shape. That’s not to say that Moyes is doomed from the start or anything as severe as that, but I didn’t much like to see that ‘Ferguson has left United in a great position’ becoming public consensus. I’m here to challenge that.
Fergie bowed out in style, wrestling the Premier League title back off neighbours Man City, proving that he is, and probably always will be, the top dog in English football. In his 26 year reign, he’s knocked Liverpool off their perch as the number one in the country, and has since prevented them from making a comeback to the big time in England. He’s seen off the rise and fall of Arsenal as a powerhouse in the English game. And after both Chelsea and Manchester City threatened United with domestic dominance, he has, yet again, proven himself to be the top dog.
Now, one could argue that retiring now was a wise move for Ferguson, not least because Man City will no doubt continue to spend big, as will Chelsea who also are expecting the imminent arrival of Jose Mourinho, the one man in England whom Ferguson has a negative record against. Perhaps Ferguson realised that now was an ideal time to retire? Who knows? Still, bowing out as Champions is no bad way to leave the game. But I do wonder if Ferguson realises what kind of shape he’s left United in, or whether he truly means what he says, when he claimed he’s left the club in a very good state.
First-up for examination, we have David De Gea. Similarly to when Peter Schmeichel left the club, Man United haven’t really found an adequate replacement for Edwin Van Der Sar. I don’t care what the PFA Team of the Year says, De Gea is no prize. Since 2011, Ferguson has either spent his time defending his Spanish goalkeeper or rotating him with his number 2, Anders Lindegaard. Any non-blinkered United fan will admit that their goalkeeping predicament is far from sorted. There are still big question marks over De Gea, and you do wonder if David Moyes will be tempted to go looking for another one this summer.
Then we come to Man United’s left back Patrice Evra. Far from the player he was 2 or 3 years ago when he was considered to be in the top bracket of European left backs. He’s been extremely average for a number of seasons now and United have been supposedly looking for a replacement for the Frenchman for some time. With Moyes now in the United hot-seat, it wouldn’t be surprising to see long term target Leighton Baines join the club over the summer.
Moving on to United’s centre backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić, there have been big question marks over the heads of these two for a good while now. Mostly due to Rio’s advancing years and Nemanja’s recurring injury problems. Nevertheless, in effect, Ferguson has left Moyes with a 34 year old Ferdinand, who is way beyond his best, and a hugely injury-prone (and not exactly young himself) Vidic as supposedly his two best centre backs. It means that Moyes will need to do some centre back shopping next season if not this season depending on how he feels.
Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling do deserve a mention here though. Ferguson has left Moyes with some reinforcements at least, but while Phil Jones looks to have a bright future ahead of him (which may not even be at centre half), the jury is still out on Smalling, who’s yet to show the same kind of progression akin to Jones, and whether Evans can really hack it against the very best remains to be seen.
Then we move on to Man United’s midfield, which has also been left in a more than questionable state. While the likes of Tom Cleverley, Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell offer Man United a good platform for the future, the majority of their current midfield may realistically be gone in as little as a year. Paul Scholes has retired, for the second time, and will need replacing. Ryan Giggs might seem as though he can keep playing for another decade, but with him approaching 40, he’ll be hanging his boots up soon. Anderson and Nani have already declared their intention to leave the club, but the only thing seemingly standing in their way before was Alex Ferguson, who told them they couldn’t leave, not any more. Despite having one very good season so far as a United player, Antonio Valencia has since quietened down. Is he still good enough? Does Moyes need to be looking for a better replacement? Especially if Nani finally is allowed to leave, that leaves United with just one winger, Ashley Young, who’s had a poor season at Old Trafford, and has also been linked with an exit. Is this really a team left in great shape?
Darren Fletcher’s career is in big trouble as he seems to be continuously struggling with injury, and at 29, there isn’t much time left for him. Michael Carrick on the other hand is in the form of his life, but he himself isn’t young. At 31, there are wonders whether he’ll need to be replaced in a few years or not. However, midfield longevity seems to be a trend at United doesn’t it?
Then we come to the strikers. Danny Welbeck had a torrid 2012/13, but there’s still a lot of promise, but he and Javier Hernandez will more than likely be asking for me playing time than they were given last term. Robin van Persie, the man who won the title for United is approaching 30. He ain’t young! Not many strikers remain as prolific past the age of 32. Which leaves Moyes with yet another huge issue to ponder. Then of course, we have the Wayne Rooney saga. Fergie steps down with Rooney asking to leave the club, so, immediately, it’s up to Moyes to convince the striker to stay.
Wow. What a task that Moyes has huh? A questionable goalkeeper, a left back who needs replacing, two centre backs who can no longer be relied upon, an ageing and rather lacklustre midfield, many of whom are looking to leave, their top goalscorer coming into his thirties Wayne Rooney causing yet another controversial stir.
At second glance Ferguson has left United in a poor shape. He knew he was only one or two seasons away from a transition but has decided to pass the baton on to Moyes just before the work started to get hectic again.
As I said before though, of course, it would be stupid of me to declare Moyes or even United to be doomed or to be a few years away from an unmitigated disaster. No, far from it, but looking at their squad in depth, and we see that the new United manager has a lot of work to do. And the work begins right now.
Watching the transition from Ferguson to Moyes was always going to be interesting. To see someone else take on the rigours of the United job was always going to be a sight. But upon inspection of the United squad, that job now seems a lot harder. Realistically, Moyes could be looking to buy a new goalkeeper, two new centre backs, a new left back, two new centre midfielders, two or three new wingers, and one or two new strikers, in the space of 2 years. And in order for him to buy the best (especially in today’s market) it will probably cost him around £200million to make this transition.
Has Ferguson left United in great shape? Not really is my answer, although United’s squad currently contains more than enough talent to keep them from impending decline, and if Moyes can come in and fully maintain that most admirable of Man United traits, the will to win, the refusal to be second best, that winning culture and mentality instilled by Ferguson down the years, they should be more than fine. But nevertheless, there’s no getting away from the fact that Ferguson has left his team in a less than adequate shape for Moyes to take over. He’s handed him the reigns a few metres before a sharp turn. Good luck Mr Moyes. You’re going to need it.