…Wesley Sneijder? Alexi Sanchez? Pastore? Messi….ahem!?
It’s amazing to think that this summer it is a full ten years since United’s last bone-fide superstar signing (And some may say only transfer of it’s type for the club) In 2001 Sir Alex saw fit to sign who many felt was the best central midfielder in the world: Argentine silksmith Juan Sebastian Veron. Twenty-eight million pounds later and United had acquired a genuine world superstar. Other players have indeed costed United more over the years since, but they did not have the global profile that Seba did.
At that time, Veron was my favourite non-United player in the world. He was the only reason why I bothered to watch Serie A. He could do things with the ball that did not seem human. He could thread passes into his forwards with a control of the ball that seemed it had been created by witchcraft. His grace as he moved around the pitch seemed like a manifestation of art. Veron didn’t play at football’s pace….Football played the game at Veron’s!
When we were linked to him and it seemed like he would join United I almost soiled myself! Could we really sign a player of such standing? A player every team on the planet wanted? You have to remember that in 2001 we were still in a relatively new era of success for MUFC. It felt that it was only 5 minutes ago that we were begging Mark Robins to bury a ball on a windswept day at the City Ground to try and keep us in the 1990 FA Cup. This was the sort of thing the common member of The Faithful was used to back in the day. We had our heroes of course: The Robsons, The Cantonas, The Keanes. But truth is we were NOT used to having a ready made genius who strutted his stuff all over planet. Players had become legends at the club for their exploits, but this was an indication that we would try and buy success, and aquire thoroughbred pedigree rather than potential.
The story of Veron is a fuzz…with it ending with his acrimonious sale to Chelsea just 24 months later. He has often been muted as ‘the right player for United at the wrong time’. If Veron had been a United player now he would be our Michael Carrick…but a world class version (no disrespect to Carrick meant!). Its easy to point to why he failed. Yes he couldn’t play with Keane that well. Yes he struggled with the English pace. Yes this and that. But ultimately, for a club team that played a rigid 4-4-2 as we did back in the early 90s, he just wasn’t fully suited. It was a poor buy by Ferguson. The manager got stung. And as soon as he had the chance to sell he did with little fuss. I was gutted the day we sold him. We should have kept him another season. But like many I was blinded by his talent, as opposed to his general use to our team. You could say he was the original Dimitar Berbatov.
So the transfer window bursted into life yesterday as United moved to secure the prodigious defensive talent that is Phil Jones. Rated as one of the top teenage talents in his position in England, he is more the route that Fergie has taken over the years…even when he splashed the cash. Even when Rooney was signed he was much more ‘potential’ that anything else…not the ready made talisman. Everytime I read that were in for a ‘big name’ I often think back to Veron. About what buying this sort of player taught us. If you buy a Ferrari you know what you’ve acquired. But there is no guarantee that it wont get a punctured tire. Everybody recognises that we could do with a Veron type signing now…and that player seems to equate to Wesley Sneijder to many fans. The fever which has been created by a player who has had no official contact with the club is amazing..some fans losing their minds in delirium at the thought of him wearing our Red. But as in 2001 as I was when we nabbed Seba, these fans are more bothered about the name than they are by what the team needs. They want that damn Ferrari, because a BMW estate just isn’t sexy enough. Sneijder would directly effect Rooney’s position in the hole. Is he the player our style of midfield needs? Or would he represent a sea change in formation that MUFC play? This sort of transfer is loaded with issues from the off.
As it stands, I still think we would be third in the que after City and Chelsea for his services, purely on the issues of wage. Yes…if it is his dream to play for United then we will be in poll position. But I don’t believe in fairytales. Many fans are looking for a complete squad overhaul…yes, of a squad that won the title by 9 points and trotted with general ease to a Champions League final. No mean feat in my book. Last year was a great season…but many wish to ignore this glaring fact. A signing of Sneijder, or Sanchez, or Pastore would represent to many of United’s younger fanbase (and I do think there is a generational divide on this matter) that we had pure ambitions to chase down and murder Barcelona. They want a statement of intent. A revolution rather than evolution. “Yes” They say! “Burn Gibson at the stake. Destroy Jonny Evans. Break John OShea in half”..and then you get the classic line: “They are not United class” …Yet if you had first hand experience of our last uber signing then you will realise that our success has been built more on the proverbial John OSheas and that mentality of a deep squad, rather than say Chelsea’s mentality of spending £50m on a solitary player..when they could have bought nine Chicharitos for the price.
I’m not saying I would turn my nose up at a global signing in the Sneijder mold…far from it. But I’m wise enough after 27 years of United support to know that not everything that glitters is gold. There is alot of choice out there for the manager…and it will not surprise me to see him bring in a leftfield signing to replace the legend that is Paul Scholes. A player who is not on any of the fans radar.
Spending money is indeed essential in modern football. But trusting the brain of Sir Alex is more important to me, and protecting our holistic approach to squad building for success.
For this is the Manchester United way.