The exit from last night’s Champions League Group Stage came long before the referee blew the final whistle. Some will say that it was when we failed to win home matches against Basel and Benefica. Some will say that it came when we made so many changes to the side that faced Benefica. Some will even say that it was when Hernandez went down injured against Villa this past Saturday. I’m going to say that it came back on August 31st, 2011 – the day we failed to secure a CM that we’ve desperately needed. Sure, sure, that may sound a bit harsh, but it’s really not if you think about it.
Paul Scholes was going to retire at some point. And long before he announced it, he wasn’t this midfield magician who played 50+ games for us each season. The preemptive searching for a midfield was nonexistent and I will not count Sneijdergate as anything other than some fans’ pipe dream signing. They put all their eggs in a basket hoping Sneijder could come here when we should have been focusing our efforts on a player we could have gotten and a player who wouldn’t sit out a majority of the games we play. When it comes down to it, there will always be speculation as to why we didn’t get certain players, fine, but we could have made stronger efforts to get players like Nasri, Modric, Diarra, Khedira, (<insert player’s name here), etc. We replaced VDS, got some fullbacks to beef up our somewhat aging backline, and got a winger to pair with Nani. That’s all well and good (and in Phil Jones’ case I’ll say “absolutely spectacular”), but what we have needed for some time is a great CMF. Those who think otherwise have to be on another planet far, far from here.
So, the rest of us saw the summer transfer window close with 50m worth of new signings, none of which were a CMF. I didn’t want him, but hell, I might even consider Scott Parker a good signing in retrospect. So what happens? The season starts off with a thrilling Charity Shield win versus City and then some resounding performances where we looked like the United team of yesteryears thumping Bolton and Arsenal. The title was ours. City, you can have the FA Cup; we’ll take the Premier League title again. Thank you very much. But alas, this early season form only did us a disservice in the end because it blinded many fans into thinking that we had a spectacularly well-rounded team when we really didn’t. Getting big names and splashing some cash is fine and dandy, but not when the issue of the hole in our MF gets swept under the rug. Young looked good early, but has sunk to a level of mediocrity. De Gea has had his fumbles, but I’m 110% behind him being one of the best keepers in the world in the next two seasons. And Jones? That really speaks for itself now doesn’t it?
Sure, injuries haven’t helped our cause, but as I’ve said before, you can’t plan for injuries. You can plan for fielding a great team by putting together great players – and that includes a much-needed CMF. The Glazers have been the cancer of this team for years, but they shelled out 50m for players. We could’ve used Young’s 18-20m for a CMF and that’s all I’ll say on that. So we were forced to plug the holes in the dam time and time again, like we have been for several seasons. But when you’ve got a gaping hole in your midfield, you’re not going to be much good. In the interim, we’ve used Jones as a utility man and we’ve used Rooney as a stopgap CMF at times. We’ve also mixed up the line-up to try and compensate for the lack of creativity and strength in our midfield. We have to be an autonomous unit that gels from back to front. Games that we would have scored 3 and 4 goals in years past have only yielded single goal efforts. This is not the United team we need to be. The 1-nil wins and clean sheets are great, but they could be doubly great if we scored more goals. Battering a team with possession and attempts but not goals only deflates a team into a funk – a funk United are in.
When it comes down to it, the Carling Cup exit, the Champions League exit, and the 5-point gap between us and City in the Premier League all could’ve been different if we had signed the CMF that we needed. And you can say, “One player wouldn’t have made all this difference.” And to that I’d say you’re sorely mistaken. It wouldn’t just be about everything that he produces, it would be about what the team would produce with him in there, and that’s a big difference. A CMF controls the game. They do the job of connecting the front and back lines. They do everything that we’ve needed, but haven’t gotten. Instead, we’re looking at the rest of this season without Vidic and only the Prem title as the aim to shoot for. And keep in mind that being out of all these competitions cost us more than any midfielder would have. Just makes the pill a little harder to swallow when you look back. So the goal we should have right now is to hold ground in the PL till January and look to buy in the window. Should we buy? Absolutely. Will we buy? Probably not. But that issue is saved for an entirely different novel.
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