Manchester United’s apparent bid for Wesley Sneijder, together with ongoing interest in Karim Benzema and Mario Ballotelli, is a better indicator of the squad’s current state than Sir Alex Ferguson’s public statements of happiness. Huge shortcommings in central midfield and attack were brutally exposed towards the tail-end of last season.
It’s a problem Ferguson at least recognises but whether the Scot is allowed to repair his ageing squad is another question altogether. The club’s £;20 million bid for World Cup superstar Sneijder hardly bore the hallmarks of authenticity, much akin to United’s late, undervalued, offer for Benzema last summer.
After all the market price for Sneijder has been set with City spending £27 million on Barcelona reserve Yaya Toure and even more on the brilliant Spaniard David Silva. Sneijder’s form is better than either, having won a treble with Inter Milan last season and guided Holland into the World Cup final.
Inter, quite rightly, stood firm and the player himself has indicated his preference to remain in Milan. Already on a wage superior to anybody at Old Trafford and winning trophies by the bucketload, why would Sneijder move? It’s a fact that United almost certainly already knew, having resisted the option to include the Dutch playmaker in Real Madrid’s deal for Cristiano Ronaldo last summer.
Indeed the bid for Sneijder now smacks of grandstanding from the club’s management, who have failed to sell out Old Trafford’s allocation of season tickets this summer, with executive seats again well down on last season too. No surprise then that Inter President Massimo Moratti described United’s interest as “an advertising campaign”.
Ballotelli, however, is available following a series of clashes with Jose Mourinho last season and a public expression of love for Inter’s crosstown rivals AC. Inter simply want to start an auction.
The talented Italian has plenty of critics in Milan, not least because the forward’s temperament is more that of a hormonal teenager than professional footballer. But with Manchester City sniffing around there’s little chance of United succeeding with a bid – if the interest is at all genuine. Take the speculation with a large pinch of salt.
While United supporters should drop any hope of signing Sneijder, Ballotelli, or indeed Benzema as Rant argued last week, Ferguson has at least revealed his hand. The World Cup has taught us nothing if not that ball retention, the playmaker and the 4-2-3-1 system are king at the highest level. Ferguson it seems has watched.
The club’s complete reliance on Rooney as the lone spearhead in the all but the games Ferguson is confident of winning handsomely was unmasked after the striker’s injury in March last season. Hope that Dimitar Berbatov will come good or that Javier Hernández can hit the ground running in England is no kind of strategy on which to base a season and Ferguson knows it.
The paucity of both goals and creativity from central midfield was perhaps an even greater problem though. Six of United’s losses last season came when Ferguson’s side failed to score. If the bus is parked, United’s strategy dries up with Paul Scholes playing deeper – and slower – than ever and Michael Carrick permanently out of form.
Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Owen Hargreaves will compete with Carrick for two deep central midfield slots next season, leaving Ferguson reliant on Darron Gibson to provide flair from midfield. Few believe the Ulsterman is the ‘world class’ option United requires.
But with Silva already off the market and Sneijder’s “heart in Milan,” Ferguson is left with few options even if he has the money.