United's Basel Balls-Up Beckons Big Changes

I've had 12 hours or so to calm myself down from the catastrophe that is Thursday nights, Channel 5. It's utterly humiliating - and it shouldn't be; but we've grown to expect the best from United.

There's a level of apathy in that United squad currently, and that's what has led to consistent poor performances since late September. I feel low and embarrassed, and I think a lot of fellow United fans will feel the same as I do.

This isn't me criticising the Europa League - not at all. It's still a European competition, that other clubs could only dream of taking part in. The issue is that United have done so well for so long, that any step down from the top of Europe is a failure.

But why has everything gone so wrong all of a sudden? Well, there's a lack of experience in the team. The loss of Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes, and to a point, Owen Hargreaves in the summer has left us a little bare in terms of match knowledge, and how to play the game well. They didn't replace any of these players in a sufficient manner - David De Gea is one of the world's best keepers, but needed a couple of seasons to settle in to the rough nature of English football. Tom Cleverley has shown he has the potential to be world-class, but injuries and setbacks has meant that he can't plug the hole that Scholes left. And there's not a single purely defensive midfielder in the squad any more now Hargreaves has gone.

So what do United need to do? Well, if there's no cash available, as reports seem to be suggesting, then they need to sell to invest. It's not something United fans have seen very often in the past - if Sir Alex wanted a player, the board would always try and find the cash for him to buy the player. The Glazers have given Ferguson a lot of cash over the last five years, and now seemingly have noticed that that looming debt is about to burst and come crashing down, should expenditure continue to match previous years.

My issue with the squad currently is the egotistical vibe that comes from every time they play as a team. Nani's 50-yard shots when there's a man in better space. The constant reliance on Rooney to play well. Fabio thinking he's God's gift to full-backs. Every player has an ego, and currently they're clashing. They run the risk of completely destroying everything Fergie has created in terms of team ethos in the squad over the last eight or nine years.

Last night's game with Basel proved a lot - and I think in terms of transfer windows, it confirmed a lot too. So, in true English football fan fashion, here's my take on what the sod is going on, and why we need to bin a chunk of the squad. Neatly arranged in squad number order, of course...

Rio Ferdinand

First off is Rio. This season he's been a bit of a liability. Over the summer, he seems to have lost a yard or two of pace, and with the forwards in the Premier League, and in Europe in general, getting quicker and quicker, United can't afford to be playing slow centre backs. Yes, he reads the game wonderfully, but there's been a lot of poor placement, and a lot of mistakes from the man who has been the solid rock of the England defence for years. Unfortunately, I feel age may now have got the better of him, and his injuries are playing up again, and he needs a slower style of football to continue his brilliant career. Rumours of a move to the MLS could come to fruition, and would wipe a good £100k a week from the wage bill, too. Chicago Fire seem to be the favoured destination, but we'll have to see what happens.

Michael Owen

From Liverpool to Newcastle, down to Old Trafford, via Real Madrid - there's no denying Michael Owen has a bit of a footballing tale to tell. Again, injuries seem to have affected his career, and when you're fifth-choice striker for the Premier League champions, some players would be happy. Michael is one of them.

However, there seems to be some interest in him from elsewhere, where he will be guaranteed first-team football. Sunderland are in desperate need of a striker, and have been linked - likewise Bolton, Aston Villa, and Blackburn. It may only be a short-term loan move, but it's another player gone from a large squad, allowing Fergie to streamline. It'd be a loss of even more experience, but there is no need in keeping umpteen strikers when United only ever play with two...

Anderson

The Brazilian who has more dogs than the Queen, Anderson has been dreadful this season. What I call a 'kamikaze player', he runs around like a headless chicken, boots the ball ten yards in front of him and chases after it. Then wonders why he loses the ball and inevitably starts the opposition on a counter attack. I was actually vaguely thankful he got injured late last month, as it puts him out till February.

Then realised we now can't flog him in January. There's rumoured interest from Germany and France, and if I were David Gill I'd snap your arm off if you made an offer for him. Anything - a penny. Half a button. Three paper clips. Just get rid.

Federico Macheda

'MACHEDAAAAAAAAA!' shouts Martin Tyler, as Kiko wins the game with a curling effort from the edge of the box in the third minute of injury time against Villa in 2009. Big things were expected.

And they never came. Macheda is a player with excessive amounts of skill - and an attitude to match. Weeks after that game against Villa, he announced he would love to move back to Lazio one day - proving he hardly had a commitment to the cause at United. He was appalling against Basel last night - really, quite poor. His loan at the end of last season to Sampdoria was meant to be enough to mature him, but he still has an attitude where he believes he is the best on the pitch. Fair play if you are, but grow a pair if you're not.

Another loan move might be all he needs - somewhere he is guaranteed first-team football in a league similar to that of the Premier League. Swansea are rumoured to have made enquiries, but there's also talk of a move back to the slow, drab league they call Serie A. We'll have to see who he becomes, what he does, and whether or not he is still worthy of a red shirt.

Tomasz Kuszczak

Over the last five or six years, I've seen Kuszczak play well once. And that was against United, when he had a stormer for West Brom. I said at the time it was a poor move, and I still hold out it is - he's now third-choice, if not fourth-choice goalkeeper in the squad.

Cart him off somewhere - anywhere. Hertha Berlin made a blind request, as did the likes of Middlesbrough, if reports are to be believed from the summer. Yet still, the poison chalice remains. If Ferguson wants cash, albeit a small amount, there's a sitting pot of gold called Tomasz somewhere at Carrington.

Mame Biram Diouf

I'm actually very impressed with Diouf - much more than his namesake. He's built like a brick shithouse, and has an obscene amount of tricks and skills to get him out of sticky situations. He had a wonderful end to the season on loan at Blackburn last year, and it wasn't recognised as he only scored three goals in 26 appearances.

I figured United may play him a little more this season because of it, but with seven strikers on the books as things currently stand, there doesn't seem to be a lot of hope of him becoming a regular in a match-day squad. Another loan move may be on the cards, potentially back to Blackburn.

There's the six I believe may be those who could leave in January, or during the summer. I also feel Nani may be off, too, and there's a lot of talk currently that Vidic may be on his way for a big-money move to Real Madrid or Anzhi Makhachkala at the end of the season.

Strength is needed in midfield, and also in left and right back. I'd like to see Schweinsteiger join United, and for him to be trained to play in an attacking midfielder role, feeding the ball through for Rooney and Chicharito. I was also highly impressed with Shaqiri against Basel last night, and the last three years' worth of rumours were finally proven to be true - he is a quality player. And again, Marek Hamsik played well for Napoli last night, and I'd be surprised if there isn't big interest in him from Europe's elite over the coming months.

I also feel they're missing a quality right-back. Yes, Rafael fills in well, but United played six weeks' worth of football playing one of their most attacking wingers in the position - Valencia. Chris Smalling does a great job there, but I feel he plays better alongside Phil Jones in the two central defensive roles. Strength in numbers is most certainly a phrase coined for United's current right-back situation - and they need someone who is proven and able to fit into the squad quickly.

We all know Rome wasn't built in a day, and this squad re-build will take time. But the success United fans have grown to love and expect needs to continue for them to be happy. And with this group of players, the attitudes involved, the tactics played and all the other factors that need considering, it won't be happening.

Well, it might be. Maybe. Hopefully. God I hope I'm wrong.

Agree with me? Want to add your tuppence worth? Follow me on Twitter - I'm @Adam9309 - or find me on my own blog!

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Comment by rednecromancer on December 13, 2011 at 6:37

well that seems a full ebay

Comment by Adam Mills on December 9, 2011 at 17:11

I have to say, I wasn't expecting such controversy from this post - and actually, I'm very thankful for that; it shows we're all committed to the cause somewhere along the line...!

I take each and every one of your points on board - again, it's all down to personal opinion, but it's fascinating to see how each opinion differs. Some are very glass half full, and others half empty. We all have views on who should go, the reasons behind a recent drop in performance, and where we see the club in the future based on the current performances. And the above was mine.

Now that's not me saying I disagree with any of you - it's all down to what you personally believe, how you prefer your football, and which players you think make a big difference to the general match day squad.

One thing I do disagree with, however, is the term 'scapegoat', in relation to this post. Not one player has been blamed for our poor performances of late - not a single one. Anderson has hardly been perfect, but there was no blame put on his shoulders, and I resent that comment, to be perfectly honest with you.

We're all different, so our views should be. There's not point commenting all guns blazing because someone has a difference of opinion. And I think the pressures of the current situation at the club do make a lot of difference to how we portray and view the ongoings.

Finally, I have to say - there's a fair few other names that could have been added to that list; reserve players who don't add anything but rotation cover to the squad, such as Gibson and even, to a point, Fabio. Big changes must be made at the club - if just psychological ones, but change must come shortly, or there'll be even more fan backlash.

Comment by redmisty on December 9, 2011 at 14:38

Doghouse, I'm not sure what your issue is - the author is as entitled to his opinions as you are. If you disagree with his opinions then you are free to put forward an argument.

I fail to see the point in saying that the author is looking for scapegoats due to our failure to win on Wed night. I think the fact that most of the players mentioned did not even feature in that match very clearly indicates that this is not an exercise in looking for a scapegoat for that match specifically. Every fan has a view on how the squad might potentially be improved and every fan has a right to express that opinion.

You may not want to be "that guy" who says "have faith etc" but that is exactly what you have just said! For all we know, Fergie might agree with this article! Sure, it is unlikely but I think it is fair to say that Fergie's season is not going according to plan. There is a difference between faith and blind faith. Just because SAF is a genius, doesn't mean he is always right.

Regarding Owen, I think you'll find that a hell of a lot of United fans feel that we don't need him. I respect your opinion if you don't feel that way but I couldn't care less what Owen is being paid - nobody has stated that he is overpaid so that is irrelevant to the debate.

Personally, I have no problem at all with Evans and I think Carrick is the best CM at our club (though that isn't saying an awful lot). Gibson, on the other hand, was due to be sold for peanuts at one point in the summer which strongly suggests that the manager does not see him as part of the future of the club. TK is 4th choice keeper and hasn't featured at all so why have him in the squad? These are relevant questions imo. If criticism is outlawed then football forums would be very boring places to spend any time! Perhaps the author could have toned his comments down a bit but football is a passion and I think it is understandable that some fans are going to have strong feelings after a series of setbacks so I would take some comments with a pinch of salt.

Comment by Red As Tomatoes on December 9, 2011 at 13:56

great timing i must say. 

few points.

anderson has not been dreadful this season. i remember a few early games this season were he performed more than admirably. granted in a world based on immediate judgement, we may remember the more recent performances, but in these recent performances, just about everyone else has been close to "dreadful"

owen and kuscak should have been gone now for a while. they are basically just drains on the wage bill. they rarely play and are not really factors to were we are at the moment. 

i dont rate macheda or diouf that highly, but used rightly those are players what will get 10 goals a season. if any of these two players started behind rooney on wednesday, we may not even have this article for another 2 months. until a player gets at least 20-30+ games a season, i doubt we can ever judge them correctly. as you mentioned diouf did well at blackburn playing out of position albeit playing regularly. that is the difference here. personally i have lost hope on macheda, his first touch on wednesday and his finish with the goal gaping in the game did not change this. he is denying his true nature. diouf i hope will get games with our striker injury situation.

this article would be better served focusing of fergie's bad habit of constant tinkering because it is still the main reason for the proverbial united poor start every season. he does have a decent escuse this season with the injuries, but meh jones and smalling are now versatile... great. i wish they were just defenders who could play in the centre and  the right. i wish rooney would be allowed to play in his SS role in a big game like Wednesday's. i wish we would be done with this retched 4-5-1, and accept what type of team we are (and he knows best) the humour gotten from knowing you and i and clearly fergie could not pick our best 11 is becoming really old.

also i may be the only one who thinks this, but this team is playing more like a team that is just tired or too comfortable. the players who come in and look up for it are the young players. evra, rio, giggs, park, valencia even rooney just seem to go through the motions. they dont come out in second halfs of games looking better than the first. they just expect a result at the end. it could be seen in our home games against basel and benfica, and all of our 1-0 games. too much success maybe? this too is all on fergie.

Comment by Doghouse on December 9, 2011 at 0:30

Ah there it is. The inevitable post failure hatchet job. Let me see, where to begin?

First things first, this sort of shit is embarrassing and any sort of fan ought to be Utterly Fucking Ashamed of himself for turning on the players with the knives out in such a spectacularly crude manner so soon after a game which, all things considered, wasn't nearly as big a howler as the draw with Basle at Old Trafford.

Yes, United have looked wonky. And yes, it's bad to get binned from what was not a particularly hard group. But as a fan what do you want to do? How do you want to conduct yourself? Do you really want to be that guy who the very second we hit a bit of adversity reaches for the stack of P45s? Hell if the Gaffer wasn't totally bulletproof I bet there'd be fans calling for him to go as well.

How about a bit of loyalty and a bit of faith in the squad the Gaffer has put together?

And talking of getting rid of Owen is utter madness. The guy is a natural born goalscorer who any striker can learn from and he's playing for a handful of magic beans a week. And I don't even think the beans are really magic. He just likes beans.

I don't want to sound like the guy who just says, "TRUST IN THE GAFFER AND STFU!" because nobody likes that guy, and I'm all for asking the big questions. However there's ways and means to do that. Doing a really mean spirited hatchet job on a bunch of lads who have all given their best for the club when asked, that's not the way to do it. I look at that list of players and I don't see one slacker (Anderson is by all accounts a reformed character because he might have been a possible exception). I don't see one player on that list who has done wrong by the club. All I see is a list of players that the author feels it's okay to slate. They're the easy players to have a go at. You might as well have included Gibson, Evans and Carrick and gone totally obvious.

The team is ravaged by injuries. It's being constantly juggled and we've had a few mares lately. It's not the end of the world and it's not the time to pick scapegoats.

Comment by redmisty on December 9, 2011 at 0:25

Aye, Vidic seems to have become as injury prone as Rio. I honestly feel they would still be an awesome partnership if they could both stay fit for a consistent run of matches but the injuries are holding them back.

Comment by Shades Of Red on December 8, 2011 at 22:14

Macheda seems to get goals when called upon, hit the crossbar yesterday, the guy definitely has something and hasn't exactly been given a chance so I say keep him. Diouf seems decent and we signed him for a reason but he's not really done enough in the limited appearances he has been given and we have too many strikers so he should leave. Owen, I have no idea why he is still here. I really like the guy and he also scores when called upon, but I'd rather Macheda and Welbeck got more game time. Berbatov, we still need quite frankly, he's only 30 and definitely has more to offer and unlike Owen is hardly injured.
Then comes the midfield... Jesus I have no idea where to start. SAF seems content with the midfield but I have no idea how. Anderson has had 5 years (give or take) and although still young is very inconsistent and although he has potential just hasn't shown a great deal regularly. I'm not saying give up on him, but with age will come even more injuries and I don't see what will happen.
Either way, forget selling any midfielders (we can't afford to lose any more at this stage) we need to be doing the opposite and signing some! Yesterday we had Giggs (old) Park (not a central midfielder really) and Jones (a teenage centre back) in midfield. Yes I'm being harsh and the labels are biased to suit my point but the point is it's very mix and match.  
As for Rio, I don't think he will or should be sold. Yes injuries are an issue, but he is still fantastic when he plays most of the time. If anything Vidic is worrying me slightly, he looks to have lost a yard of pace and isn't even in his 30's yet is he? 

Comment by 68Gaz99mufc08 on December 8, 2011 at 20:13

The players I think we need to let go of in the summer are:

Berbatov, Owen, Diouf and Kuszczak. I also think it's about time for Giggs to retire because in my opinion he's holding other players back like Anderson when playing in midfield, a bit like Scholes did in his final season or two at the club.

I would definitely keep hold of Ferdinand because his experience would be invaluable and on his day when he's fit, he's still a good player and would still make a very good squad player and as redmisty says, he could assist in the development of our young defenders. In my opinion, when all our defenders are fit, Smalling and Vidic would be our best centre back partnership because they were excellent together last season when Ferdinand was out injured.

Anderson as we all know, started the season very well but when Cleverley got injured and the manager started making wholesale changes to the team when the Champions League came around, his form gradually detioriated along with the rest of the team. Unsurprisingly he's injured again and won't be back for a while which is yet again so frustrating. For the first time since he arrived at the club, my patience is starting to wear thin with him because it looked like he'd finally turned a corner at the start of this season but his loss of form, his absence from the team and then his injury has left me wondering if it's ever going to happen for him at United and I'm now wondering if his time at the club is nearly up.

I don't think there's much chance of us signing anyone in January because the players that we should really be looking at would probably be cup-tied, so I think we'll wait until the summer to do the business we all hope we do. We've still got a chance of winning the league and the FA Cup and if we take the Europa League seriously enough, then there's no reason why we couldn't go the distance. It will however be difficult for us to win the Premier League this season if Vidic is out for a lengthy spell because he's made a huge difference to our defence since he has been back from injury and if we don't start scoring more regularly than we are currently, I really don't think we'll win the title. To be honest I'd be more than happy with the FA Cup this season. If we manage to beat City in the 3rd round, then that could really drive us on to win it and who knows it may drive us on to push City all the way in the league and maybe even win it.

Comment by redmisty on December 8, 2011 at 19:13

Interesting article. I can't say I agree with all your points but at least it's an honest perspective. And I'm glad you waited until today to write it so we know it isn't knee-jerk. To be honest, apart from Rio, I wouldn't really care if we did sell that lot. I still feel Rio, and perhaps Ando, should have a place in the squad if not the starting XI.

IMHO, we should have got rid of Owen, TK and Gibson in the summer. Owen has a decent strike rate but he never plays in big matches, never stays fit for long and, basically, occupies a space in the squad that should be filled by one of our numerous young strikers. Any 30+ year old striker that is behind a 22 year old and two 20 year olds in the pecking order must surely be surplus to requirements? I don't include Berba in that assessment because, unlike Owen, he shouldn't be behind those players in the pecking order!

Diouf is unfortunate because he only ever plays at left wing (where he is rubbish) when we all know he is really a striker. Macheda has an awful lot still to prove but he is younger, to be fair.

Ando has shown he can be a very good player. But does he show that often enough? The jury is still out I reckon.

Having released/sold Nev, Brown, JOS and VDS in one transfer window, I think selling Rio would be folly. Players like him are essential to the development of Jones, Smalling, Evans and the twins.

I expect a reaction from Fergie of course. But it won't be a knee-jerk reaction, that's for sure. We rarely sign anyone in Jan - and who would sign for us in Jan when we are out of the CL anyway? I suspect that Fergie will take the view that there is no point in making radical changes until the summer at the earliest as our squad is still capable of challenging for the league; Europe is no longer an issue.

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