Manchester United supporters have been preaching for some bite in their midfield for over three years. Snappy Spaniard Javier Martínez would definitely be no soft touch.
Manchester United’s midfield is a gormless shade of the snarling spines of yesteryear. Roy Keane stated in an interview earlier this season how he thought that football – and his former club – had gone soft. Those so loyal to Ferguson that they are physically incapable of offering a critique on his faults just tediously reminded critics in unison with Keane of his trophy haul since the captain left in 2005. Imagine how sheepish they are feeling after the Irishman correctly foreshadowed said softness displayed in a derby, of all games.
Umpteen midfielders were linked with United during the summer, almost all of whom would have been an improvement. Stop-gap suggestions Joey Barton and Scott Parker were frowned upon by those satisfied with the inspiring quartet of Carrick, Anderson, Fletcher and Gibson because they weren’t ‘world-class’.
Martínez however, although not world-class, will be. Having turned 23 is September last year, he is a spring chicken in terms of a midfielder’s development (unless you’re Spanish) and while at Athletic Bilbao, must be (dis)contented with mid-table fodder after last season’s 6th place finish. Likely to fetch the same £20m-£25m price tag that his Spanish teammate Juan Mata cost Chelsea, he is crucially a hard b*****d.
It’s now all the more pressing that United pounce for him in January.
The 6ft 3in anchorman would be a regular in any other international side if he wasn’t one of a plethora of midfield maestros to have emerged from Iberia over the last decade. Part of Spain's 2010 World Cup-winning squad, Martínez then captained the imperious Under-21s in Denmark to a deserved European Championship win in the summer. The challenge now is to caress silverware at club level.
Mixing flair and fight, his continental nous would supplement United’s budding forward-thinker Tom Cleverley perfectly since he too embodies the Tiki-taka ideology of Spanish football. Politics are unlikely to make the Basque-born midfielder an unviable option for Real Madrid or Barcelona, but more pertinently, neither team need him. Each club’s fondness for home-grown squads makes an exception feasible, so it’s all the more pressing that United pounce for him in the summer – David de Gea’s arrival could be more important if it acquires his national colleague. The caveat is that Ferguson hasn’t prioritised a defensive midfielder.
United’s summer spree was overshadowed by the stultifying saga of Wesley Sneijder, a trequartista when United needed a Gattuso destroyer to kick some a***s. Samir Nasri was also courted until his agent realised he would make infinitely more money if his client headed across the city. But there was no hint of steel, just silk.
Despite Ferguson’s ridiculous suggestion earlier in the season that United were edging closer to Barça, they are in a weaker position than last May’s humbling defeat at Wembley, which was a weaker position than the May 2009 Rome final defeat. Failure to sufficiently strengthen made a 20th title the achievable proposal as opposed to the mission impossible of conquering the Catalans. Then City arrived.
Although not a fraction of the scale of Eric Cantona arriving to end the club's 26-year league fasting, Martínez could still be an important shade of Dieu’s effect if he adds bite to United's toothless midfield.
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