Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, and Anderson are the 3 names which are likely to strike fear deep into the hearts of fans all over the world – the only problem – it’s the Manchester United supporters that will be waking up in cold sweats. As it currently stands, for the 50 million pounds that SAF has spent this summer, none were central midfielders, and with the departures of Scholes and Hargreaves and the hopeful departure of Mr Gibson – Fletch, Carrick and Ando are the 3 recognised senior central midfielders that SAF has to choose from when the selecting his midfield to face West Brom at the Hawthorns on August 14th. For one reason or another, none of the above has managed to cement a place in the team on merit; and if you consider how the midfield performed last season – it is an outlook bleak enough to give even the most diehard Red many sleepless nights.
In the 2008/09 season, Fletcher was fantastic for United. Deployed as a defensive midfielder, he displayed great energy and desire to break up play and win possession. Built like a middle distance runner and with the technical skills to match; he may not have been easy on the eye, but he was an absolute nuisance to the opposition – especially Arsene Wenger. He was everywhere, snapping away at the heels of more technically gifted midfielders in a way that would even make Paul Scholes ever so slightly jealous. His star has risen to such an extent that United’s poor showing in the Champions League Final in Rome was blamed on his absence.
One could say that Carrick’s worth has been undervalued at United due to his style of play
Then the following season, he quickly went from looking like a major asset to looking like a massive a*se. There are many conspiracy theories as to why his star has fallen. The most likely of those theories is that he was played out of position. He was given too much responsibility – primarily a defensive minded midfielder, in the seasons post 2008/9, some argue that he’s been under pressure to offer more creatively and this theory would explain why his efforts to switch the play with a 40 yard cross field ball resemble something more akin to a personalised attack on the linesman. Being made to play in such a way has diluted his defensive influence on the team and if you add the fact that he seemed to play almost every game into the mix – its no wonder that he’s been struck down with a serious case of man flu – the poor guy must have been exhausted.
Michael Carrick’s transfer in 2006/7 was met with abject suspicion, even more so when he was given the legendary number 16 shirt. However, his signing coincided with United reclaiming their first league title in 3 years. One could say that Carrick’s worth has been undervalued at United due to his style of play. Rarely in recent memory has there been a natural deep lying playmaker in the United midfield, fans in the Stretford End are far more used to the all action style of Keane, Ince and Robson – powerful players who could snap a man in half without breaking stride before unleashing a howitzer bound for the top corner. But despite playing enough sideways passes to make Ray Wilkins look like a carefree maverick, Carrick has always been adept at keeping possession, and when he’s on form, he is capable of that raking 60 yard defence splitting pass. Therein lays the problem.
Anderson is faced with a similar situation. Once heralded as the new Ronaldinho, those comparisons now appear accurate for all the wrong reasons
He has the technical ability to be a mainstay in the United midfield, but he has the mental stability of a Ryvita – brittle and likely to crack if placed under any real pressure. For the past 3 seasons, Carrick has been more off form than on, and some say he’s still trying to catch Iniesta’s shadow from their first encounter in Rome, so god knows how much further he has regressed after the events that transpired at the 2011 Champs League Final. In his defence, one could argue that like Fletcher, he’s being asked to do something that isn’t in his natural game. Ironically, it’s in the absence of Fletcher that one could argue his form is poor. When placed alongside the likes of Scholes or Anderson, he is given the lion share of the defensive duties. He is unable to impose himself on games because he’s too busy trying to curtail the opposition’s influence.
Anderson is faced with a similar situation. Once heralded as the new Ronaldinho, those comparisons now appear accurate for all the wrong reasons considering Ando’s dodgy haircut, dodgy dancing and increasingly poor fitness levels. If you take a cursory look at footage of Ando in his Porto days, you will see a dangerous player who bursts into the box before hammering the ball past the ‘keeper. Look at footage of him in a United shirt and you’ll see him saunter into the final third at a pace which is can described as glacial at best, before releasing a tame toe poke in the direction of the corner flag. Despite these apparent failings, and despite being so left footed he’s almost off-balance; Anderson is perhaps the most naturally gifted of the midfielders we have left. He has shown fleeting glimpses of quality with his strength, passing ability and his surprising turn of pace. The problem for Ando, is that in the 4 years he’s been at OT, that’s all he’s shown – fleeting glimpses, there has been no consistency – one reason for that is a smorgasbord of niggling injuries.
We haven’t relied on Scholes for the past 3 years. Last season, the creative influence came from the likes of Nani, Rooney and Giggs
Perhaps the main reason for his stunted development is that for the majority of his United career – he has been incredibly shackled. In the majority of the games he’s played, he’s been used as a box to box midfielder and while he does have that surprising burst of speed I don’t think that is his natural game - at Porto he played higher up the pitch, and that’s where we should play him. It is no surprise that most of Anderson’s best performances have coincided with presence of Owen Hargreaves alongside him. While Anderson bombing forward with reckless abandon or when he was mixing it up with likes of Cesc Fibreglass and Steven Gerrard, Hargreaves with his brilliantly brittle knees was there to steady the ship.
I believe that is the common denominator as to why all 3 players have struggled to live up to expectations. I believe that reason is why they are being made to play in a way which negates their respective qualities. Forget the all the clamouring for a creative midfielder to replace Scholes, the truth is - we haven’t relied on Scholes for the past 3 years. Last season, the creative influence came from the likes of Nani, Rooney and Giggs. The player we really need to replace in Hargreaves. What United really miss is that dynamic presence in the midfield, a technically gifted powerhouse who can inject urgency into our play. If we fail to sign a dynamic midfielder in this window, then we’ll be stuck with Fletcher hoofing into the away end, Carrick having a nervous breakdown anytime he’s faced with a Spaniard and Anderson sulking around the centre circle. Failure to replace Hargreaves will see Sir Alex having to continue to ‘put square pegs into round holes’ and United will be forced to play a midfield to fit the formation rather than a formation which suits the personnel we have.
The problem United face is that, there aren’t too many of those players available. Danielle De Rossi has a year left on his contract at Roma and would fit the bill perfectly. He’s a leader, strong in the tackle, good passer of the ball and right foot that could kick another hole through the ozone layer.
An even better option would be Bastian Schweinsteiger, but I very much doubt that transfer would ever materialise for two reasons. Firstly, he signed a new contract last season, so he’d cost an absolute fortune – probably more than what it would cost to sign Wesley Sneijder. Secondly, the medical team at United are all too aware of what happened the last time we bought a dynamic midfielder from Bayern Munich.
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