It’s the end of an era at Old Trafford. When Manchester United confirmed Patrice Evra’s transfer to Juventus on Monday, they officially declared to the entire footballing community that they will, in fact, have a left back next season.
If that wasn’t enough, they’ve brought in England’s fourth choice left back and Spain’s eighteenth choice central mid-fielder for a paltry 60 million quid while Real Madrid have spent more (yes, more!) on World Cup winner Toni Kroos and World Cup top scorer James Rodriguez, who we all know are average at best.
There is optimism in the United camp about the new signings reminiscent only of the kind of optimism that accompanied the arrival of Belgian stalwart Maroune Fellaini last season. This optimism propelled him to a mighty seventeen almost-goal-but-actually-zero tally that left United almost-champions-maybe-top-four-no-well-how-about-Europe-not-even-that-screw-it-lets-get-a-new-shirt-sponsor seventh in the league standings.
But, this year will be different. This year will be their year. Louis van Gaal comes to Old Trafford off the back of a World Cup campaign with the Netherlands that saw them fly into the semi-finals and then let Ron Vlaar send Argentina into the final.
Vlaar magic aside, van Gaal was tactically brilliant at the World Cup and United will be hoping he brings that sharp acumen to Manchester and doesn’t play Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck in the same team. Given the decision to sell Evra and Rio Ferdinand, one wagers that acumen is in action already.
Can he really bring glory days back to United? His record would suggest he can. The current squad’s record would suggest he would have been better off joining Southampton. But if there’s one thing van Gaal is known for, it’s making bad players play mediocre. And that’s exactly what the Old Trafford faithful has been pleading for from Tom Cleverley- please be mediocre.
There are, however, major gaps to fill. With Shinji Kagawa, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj all wanting to play in the same position, one wagers a couple of those may have to warm the proverbial bench and a couple may be played out of position. With Evra leaving, United have also now lost their best winger and must rely on the combined expertise of Nani, Valencia and Ashley Young- which has historically managed an average of 0.5 accurate crosses per game.
The most major of said gaps is now at the heart of what will be a drastically different back line. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have left for pastures anew. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans have collectively ensured the retirement of United’s head physio Rob Swire and their current most experienced centre half Michael Carrick is out with an ankle injury.
Rumour has it, though, that van Gaal has lined up key signings in these areas. Mats Hummels, Angel Di Maria and Arturo Vidal are strongly linked. There is also the contingency plan of buying Edinson Cavani and (I’m guessing) keeping him on the bench to establish psychological dominance over Chelsea and Manchester City by demonstrating that United too can buy expensive players and ruin their careers by never playing them.
If the transfers (minus Cavani) go through, United may have a playing eleven that challenges for the dizzying heights of fourth, maybe even higher! Without the useless distraction of Champions League football, they can now focus on what matters most- winning the Manchester derby.
It all comes down to these next few weeks. Partly because that’s always a neat way to end an article, but mostly because David Moyes arguably got the entire season wrong in these very weeks last year.
Calamitous dealings in the transfer market eventually saw the coup of Fellaini to rapturous applause from the Everton faithful. Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck were regular features on the MU Tour. And, to cap it all off, Arsenal were spending money. It was, in summary, an absolute nightmare of a month for United and Louis will be hoping for no encores.
With players leaving and transfers hanging, there seems to be an Arsenal-like air about United that evokes an understandable sense of trepidation. What should be the target, then? Top six? Top four? Title? Let’s keep it realistic. Finish above Spurs.
Lo! The transformation is complete.