So last week, before the Chelsea game, I was quoted in the press as saying that the current Manchester United team is the worst I’ve seen for around 25 years. Understandably that upset a few United supporters but I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify that; I explained a few things on my Twitter account, but I wanted to put my thoughts here on my personal website where they don’t have to fit into a few words or won’t get taken out of context.
In my opinion, how can anyone say anything other than this – and not just by United standards – is a mediocre team? There have been so many changes with personnel and the team that the short term negative effects have become crippling problems which have had a profound impact on the teams performance; the players don’t know who’s playing from one week to the next and it’s fair to say that David Moyes himself probably hasn’t known either. He’s given players a chance and though we’ve had injuries, he’s six or seven months into his reign and no nearer knowing what his strongest eleven is.
Under Sir Alex, there were plenty of times when United were mediocre, but they either got results, or weren’t poor for long – that’s why they were successful. David’s problem is that mediocrity has become the norm and, crucially, that is the standard which is now expected whenever United step on to the pitch. That is unacceptable and David, while we’re all hopeful you’ll get it right, I can’t help but feel that my confidence in your ability to do so is waning slightly.
Of course the players have to take responsibility but let’s have a look at what we have; Chris Smalling is an okay defender but is he any better than John O’Shea or Wes Brown who we let go? Does he have the long term potential to build United’s defence around? I can’t be sure.
In midfield, we have serious problems – Darren Fletcher’s return, where he has come back and given what we have been sorely missing has been great to see but worries me even more. There’s no long term guarantee on Darren’s fitness and it’s frustrating that the other midfielders do not look at what he brings to the team when he’s barely match fit and not understand that his is a level of commitment they have to match.
It’s no secret that, to be polite, I had reservations about the signing of Fellaini. Well, he cost £28m, and he’s played 11 games out of about 30 since he signed. People talk about injuries and getting used to life at Old Trafford but that’s a pitiful return, even worse than I thought it was before I checked out the figures. His release clause would have gone back down to £23m if we had waited until January. Has the return we had from him so far been worth £5m?
We’re about to splash the cash again, about to break our transfer record for Juan Mata from Chelsea. He’s a very good player but I feel his value is around £25m – United, as we often do, are paying a premium because of who we are, and as good as he is that is a lot of money for someone who is for whatever reason not fancied by the club he’s currently at and someone who’s not a guaranteed starter for his country.
He’s got a number of things to prove to answer the kind of questions that will be asked of him and I hope he has the character to do so. United have 16 league games left and if we’re supposed to give him the same kind of gentle introduction to life as Fellaini he’ll play about 6 games. I’m being sarcastic of course – Juan is a player who is going to be needed, a player who we ought to be building around at that price.
It’s something that we have to take as a positive, that Mata is arriving with hunger and something to prove. It’s the kind of hunger that seems to be lacking in some of our players who have achieved everything and might be looking at their next move at the end of the season and those questions are being asked of Rooney and van Persie too. Their future at the club may be in question but at least with those two, with question marks over their fitness, they’ll be desperate to prove their ability from now until the end of the season. To be fair to Wayne, he has been excellent when he’s played, so whatever his motivation, it’s been good for the team.
What’s good for the team now looks like being a Champions League place at the end of the season – that’s what would constitute an acceptable achievement on paper by David at this point but United are going to need to start looking a lot better on the pitch from now until the end of the season to convince a lot of doubters about his ability to do the job for the long term.