In September, Sir Alex Ferguson gave what was an insightful interview to the sincere and frank talking Gordon Burns, as part of his week’s worth of “perfect” interviews, as he left his post as presenter of North West Tonight. The interview covered most things Ferguson, but a particular focus fell on the future and what Fergie phrased as a, “modern Manchester United” which he and his backroom staff started building immediately after their 2009 Champions League final loss in Rome to Barcelona.
Ferguson’s words were “focused on youth” and how, at present, Manchester United are building a “nucleus” that can compete together for years to come. “When you’re building teams, you want to build a team lasting 5 or 6 years, you need that consistency about them,” said the Scot. However since, what the boss described as a, “flying start,” much of that “nucleus” has been eroded by injury.
The manager, who now has a stand at Old Trafford named after him, was referring to the nucleus of players he has now, consisting of home grown home nationals: Welbeck, Cleverley, Jones and Smalling, as well as having Carrick, Fletcher, Ferdinand, Giggs, and Rooney. To Ferguson, the importance of this is unparalleled, “it’s very hard to get players together that can play well together for a period of time,” he told Burns. “We had that in Scholes, Giggs, the Nevilles, Beckham, that era of players,” he further added, eluding the midfield anchorman that tied up his midfield so neatly for the best part of 12 years: Roy Keane.
United, fully undergoing a revamp under Ferguson once more, took the League Cup as an opportunity to get “the kids in” both on and off the pitch. Using the sickening, yet accurate, cliché, “they are the future,” Ferguson highlighted the importance of doing so and was confident in his team’s ability to have a good cup run. However, it wasn’t to be as Manchester United crashed out to Crystal Palace in the quarter-finals, in a game that, beforehand Ferguson had described as a, “valuable development aid for our younger players” and afterwards apologised for an embarrassing performance, holding his criticism back some what, due to the many young players that had played, “my apologies are to the fans because that was not a Manchester United performance. I am just very disappointed.”
The transition he is clearly making from the old to the new, focussing on a generation of players that he feels must be built over years, “nobody talks about sacking Alex Ferguson so I can have the vision of looking two, three years ahead,” has been hounded by setbacks all season in the form of injuries. Before Wednesday night’s game against Fulham, the best part of that “nucleus” had already been wiped out: Nemanja Vidic (out for the season), Darren Fletcher (out indefinitely), Rio Ferdinand (out for 2 games), Michael Owen (6 weeks), Anderson (2 months), Tom Cleverley (3 months) and Fabio (6 weeks). By the end of the 5-0 demolition at Craven Cottage, a further two had been added: Phil Jones and Ashley Young.
Phil Jones’ injury, “doesn’t look good,” according to Ferguson and he is to have an x-ray on his jaw and cheekbone, having been dealt an elbow to the face by Clint Dempsey. Ashley Young also got crocked as Manchester United strolled to victory: being taken down by Dickson Etuhu has ensured the England winger will be sidelined for the next 2-3 weeks. As Manchester United’s injury list builds, it is looking more and more likely that Ferguson will have to dig deep in January and give his “modern Manchester United” side a revamp.
Back in September, he stated in the interview, “a third of teams have spent more than us in recent years,” eluding to the fact that Hull, Blackpool and Burnley have all spent more than Manchester United, whilst in the Premier League in recent years, “I look at them and think, how are you doing that?” However, the self-asserting money savvy Ferguson may well have no choice when the window reopens.
As his injury list has mounted up, the Scot has remained adamant that his side is strong enough to continue and with each hit the team takes, Ferguson stands strong by his words, “It’s easy to buy a player, but buying the right player is more difficult. We don’t have a scatter-gun approach to signing players,” (speaking in November.) However, now Jones and Young are both out and Fletcher, who Ferguson backed to fill the midfield void, is sidelined indefinitely, adding to the rest on the list, that approach may have to change.
Manchester United have been linked with many a player as we approach the January transfer window: Christian Eriksen, Cheick Tiote, Nicolas Gaitan, Xherdan Shaqiri and Jack Rodwell. The rumours suggest that it’s almost certain Manchester United will sign a midfielder and Ferguson’s comments support this, “we’re all right in the striker department,” said Ferguson in faint praise of Welbeck and Berbatov and no praise of Michael Owen, “it’s in other areas we are picking up injuries.”
If Ferguson really is building a “modern Manchester United,” to compete over the next “5 or 6 years” a January face lift for his already young-faced side is needed, as well as justified, especially considering Manchester City’s relentless push for a Premier League title continues and undoubtedly will strengthen in January.