The Hazard saga has run its course. He is most definitely going to Chelsea now, barring some insanely twisted sense of humor which sees him say that he did not mean this season’s winner but the winner of 2008-09. That, however, does not seem to be the case, so let’s leave it at that.
Kagawa has been scouted, approached and nearly signed; or so it seems. Let us assume that it is indeed true. It looks as if the ‘creative spark’ that was so missing this season has been reignited. Vidic will be back to shore up the defence. Perhaps Baines will be bought to cover for the ageing and an-accident-waiting-to-happen Patrice Evra, though he still seems to be Fergie’s firm favourite.
A midfield enforcer is being talked about. There is ever the talk of a new striker to cover the departure of Michael Owen and the almost certain departure of Dimitar Berbatov. Ben Amos has signed a new deal and there seems to be no problem in the goalkeeping department. De Gea is only expected to get better and Lindergaard showed good signs until his injury last term.
All, it seems, is well and we are ready for a new season; ready to ‘win our title back.’ Only, not quite.
On the face of it, last season was quite bad. Knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages, humiliated by Bilbao in the Europa League, exits in the domestic cups and the the loss of the league crown on goal difference. It was bad indeed. There can be no doubt. Some say that United only lost on goal difference and well, they are right. The problem, however, lies deeper.
Anyone who observed United saw that there were cracks running through the team. When the attack looked fluid, the defence looked creaky and when the defence was solid, the attack seemed to run out of ideas. Sometimes they came together, of course, and when they did, there was some magical play. The problem, however, was that the level of consistency needed was simply not there. They looked quite clueless on the ball at times with more square and backwards passes than meaningful forward ones.
I believe that this is indeed a period of transition for the club and Sir Alex, as he has done so multiple times in the past, is overseeing this new phase. In Fergie, we trust. In that, there is no doubt. However, just about everyone knows that as great a manager that Sir Alex is, he is nowhere near that as a coach. His successes have always been formed on the backbone of an excellent backroom staff. Most important of all, his coaches.
For all their qualities, Rene Meulensteen and Mick Phelan have looked quite out of depth this term. I agree that you can only work with what you have in front of you and with so many key players out injured throughout the season, they had to patch the team up and hence the tactics that went along with it, but I still do not believe that they quite cut it at this level.
That is why I believe that United ought to make one big-name signing. A signing who will not kick a ball in competitive football. One who will, however, make sure that the players who do kick ‘em footballs will do so with a greater meaning and purpose.
Two names come to mind. Let me start with the more ambitious one first: Pep Guardiola.
A lot has been said and written about this man. Some hail him as the greatest ever and his results at Barcelona do merit a fair few votes in this regard. He took over a good team and transformed them into a team that just about swept all in front of them. He essentially followed the Barca way which, in itself, is an offshoot of the system of play that Johann Cruyff brought to Barcelona some three decades ago. The philosophy is simple: Keep hold of the ball, do the simple things right, make the short pass, look for the man in space, Score. And when you don’t have the ball? Press.
Pep has since decided not to renew his contract at Barca and cites stress as the reason he no longer wanted to continue. Being coach of Barcelona does indeed take its toll with one representing not only a club but also a partisan section of society that claims itself to be a nation and law unto itself. Pep’s reasons for wanting to take a break are understandable, but working at Manchester United, under Sir Alex Ferguson would surely not be that bad. Sir Alex would handle the press and the media, leaving Pep to do what he does best – coach.
Of course, United is a whole different kettle of fish, but Guardiola is one of the most intelligent coaches there is and, I am sure, will work out something that will work at United. He will bring that much needed tactical acumen that is abysmally absent when United play in Europe.
Pep looks a long shot. Not least because if he were indeed to come to England, he would rather be a manager than a number 2 and Chelsea will be more than willing to hand over the reins to him. Which brings us to the second, and in my opinion, the even better choice: Andre-Villas Boas.
He was touted to be the next Mourinho. He led Porto to an unbeaten season, he was young, suave, chic. He was a brilliant coach, he was the next best thing since sliced bread. He was Chelsea’s manager. Just as quickly, he was Chelsea’s ex-manager. I will not go into the merits and the demerits of his time at Chelsea, but I believe that he was short-changed.
That, however, is in the past. What is indisputable, however, is his tactical awareness. At Porto, he was primarily a coach. He did deal with the media and everything else, but the scrutiny was nowhere near as severe as it is in England and well, Mr. Abrahmovich’s legendary patience led to one more biting the dust.
AVB is that injection of young blood that United badly need. Those fresh ideas and perhaps that scent of change that is most necessary at this juncture when the team is being rebuilt. No doubt, he is tactically excellent and under Sir Alex and at United, he will only learn and get better. He will also have pretty much every facility that he wants and will, most importantly, not be under the media scrutiny so much. That will help.
He will fine tune his skills at United and who knows, might be in line to succeed the Gaffer one day. He will improve United. The ‘oldies’ here are more accommodating. There can be no doubting that. There is one thing for certain. He will be hurting now. The acrimonious sack that he got would have hurt badly and he will want to set things right. There is no doubt about that. The hunger is essential. The talent is there.