Next season starts now
How do you improve on being English and World Champions, and European Cup finalists? It’s a difficult task you may say but to re-state the old cliché, to stand still in football is to go backwards, so improve United must. In fact Ferguson may need to recruit in all areas of the pitch to replace aging stars, departing players and failed imports.
Inevitably there will be squad changes this summer. The headline casualty will be Carlos Tevez, who is certain to leave to the highest bidder, rather than stay at Old Trafford. But while Sir Alex will need to make some important decisions on the make-up of next season’s forward line, he must also look at other areas of the pitch.
In goal Edwin van der Sar will start the 2009 – 2010 season as number one but at 38 years of age it seems likely that it will be his last year as a professional. Behind him few fans have faith in Polish stopper Tomasz Kuszczak as the great Dutchman’s long-term replacement. At least as a rarely used back-up he can’t do much damage. United’s other reserve, Ben Foster, has plenty of talent but with almost two years out of the game through injury and lack of opportunities there must be serious doubts as to whether he’ll ever make it at United. For his own sake, Foster will need to leave on loan once again next season. With Thomas Heaton likely to leave the club permanently, Sir Alex may look to recruit a third-choice ‘keeper.
In defence there is a short-term question mark over the right-back position, with Rafael da Silva suffering in the second half of the season. While he undoubtedly has huge talent, his defensive inexperience has been exposed on more than one occasion. Moreover, with Gary Neville approaching the end of his career, Wes Brown rarely fit, and John O’Shea most fans’ idea of a decent reserve, so long as he doesn’t have to play every week, then Ferguson may need to recruit.
At left back, O’Shea aside, there is no proven back-up to Patrice Evra. While Fabio da Silva’s talent may well be equal to that of his brother, his injury record has restricted his first team opportunities to just a couple of cup appearances. The arrival of a back-up left full- back would be no suprise.
In midfield, United should be able to welcome back Owen Hargreaves into the fold, which will be a massive bonus to the team, if not to Darren Fletcher’s hopes of continuing this season’s good form. Elsewhere, there will be concerns over the aging legs of Paul Scholes and to a lesser extent Ryan Giggs but there will be one final season in the sun before Sir Alex needs to think about bringing in extra reinforcements.
There is of course the left-sided Zoran Tosic, recruited at a cost of £8 million in January, who has been on a long-term fitness and strength building regime at the club. Next should see the introduction of the Serb to more first team action.
However, there must be a question mark over the long term future of Luis Nani, whose form has been fitful this season. At best the Portugese winger flatters to deceive. At worst, he’s a liability. He has talent but it has almost never been harnessed in a United shirt. The potential arrival of Wigan’s Antonio Valencia, for a shade over £15 million, will not only allow Cristiano Ronaldo to play more games in a central position next season, but potentially end Nani’s spell at the club. And if it doesn’t, the arrival of the talented but raw Serb Adem Lalić in January 2010 may just be the final staw.
Which leaves the forwards – and that’s an old story!