Anybody who caught Zoran Tošić’s lively display for Serbia under-21s against the Italian equivalent Tuesday night might wonder where Sir Alex Ferguson has been hiding the boy all these months. Tosic, who was signed from Partizan Belgrade with teammate Adem Ljajic in a £17 million joint deal last January, came to United with a glowing reputation as one of the best young wide players in Europe. But in the interviening months the left-winger has played just three times in the United first team. He came off the bench against Tottenham in the FA Cup, and then again against West Bromich Albion and Hull City in the Premiership. In truth though Tošić has spent most of his time in the reserves in what has hardly been an auspicious start to his United career.
But there is hope for the boy, who played in both central and wide-left attacking positions against Italy at the European Under-21 Championships. Some strong performances for Serbia Under-21s, a good pre-season tour to Asia, together with United’s current weakness in the left flank area, could thrust Tošić into the first team spotlight come the opening match of the season on August 15.
While there will be much talk of bringing in high profile reinforcements following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid, it seems that United are unlikely to recruit at the top end of the market. Indeed Franck Ribéry is much more likely to end up at Chelsea or Madrid this summer. Meanwhile, the other reported target, Valencia’s David Silva, is known to be a target of both Madrid and Liverpool.
As such Tošić is likely to compete with Nani for a left-sided spot, unless Sir Alex Ferguson continues with the failed policy of deploying Wayne Rooney on the left-wing. It’s a problem area for United, with Ryan Giggs, Ji-Sung Park, Nani, Rooney and Ronaldo, having all played there at some point in the last season. However, with Ronaldo gone, Ji-Sung Park embarrassed in the Champions League Final, Giggs nearly 35 and Nani out of form for what seems like the best part of a year, Ferguson needs a solution. Could Tošić provide it?
Being generous, Tošić is allowed a period of adaptation to both United’s training methods, tactics and English football in general. He is also known to have been given a strength building regime, to build muscle size and bulk in readiness for the hurly-burly of the Premier League. However, his lack of minutes on the pitch is worrying. The Premier Reserve League is nothing more than a glorified youth competition these days, and Tošić’s time playing for the reserves will have contributed little to his understanding of English football. Even after six months in England, Tošić may well need a further period of adaptation in the coming season. The question is, with no left-sided acquisitions, can Fergie afford it?