TOTD is delighted – and extremely proud – to bring you our latest former player columnist, the legendary Brian Greenhoff. Brian spent over a decade at Old Trafford throughout one of the clubs most infamous periods in the 1970’s, and was man of the match as United defeated Liverpool in the 1977 FA Cup Final 35 years ago. He will provide a regular column for 7Cantonas throughout the season; in this first one, he shares his opinion on what United need to challenge for next season, the Glazers and Rio Ferdinand completing a decade in service as a Red.
The squad from last season had something like 1,800 days worth of injury, and City’s squad had around 10 per cent of that. That speaks for itself, and having an easier time of injuries this coming season could make a huge difference. It does catch up with teams when they’re having to play the same players; towards the end of the season maybe one or two of the United lads were running on empty, especially in the last six games. We needed eleven points and even looking at the City game you thought United could do it; but the performance and result at Wigan was a shock, and the Everton game really hindered the team.
United could have done with a bit of freshening up in the squad, someone livelier in midfield. Despite Scholes’ quality on the ball and Carrick’s exceptional passing ability, neither really get forward – well, Scholes not like he used to. We missed the energy of a Darren Fletcher and we had no Tom Cleverley or Anderson to call upon. The squad was depleted in an area where they needed the most energy and that’s why the majority of United fans would love to see a player come in in that area. Many, myself included, would have liked Luka Modric, but accepting that he won’t come, the names don’t leap out. My second choice would be Bilbao’s Javi Martinez, a player who can move between the back and midfield and also likes to go forwards.
Robin van Persie is a name who has recently been linked with the club and I’d love to see him at Old Trafford, I think he’s a quality player. Some are concerned about the development of Danny Welbeck but sometimes when a player comes available you have to think about buying for now and not just for the future; it might well be next season when Welbeck really explodes but if there’s one criticism it’s that he doesn’t score enough goals. The potential arrival of van Persie just adds to the options and Welbeck showed when he was at Sunderland that he can play across the front.
Of the players we have signed, Shinji Kagawa is one of those “for the now” and looks a fine player. Nick Powell is a fine example of one of those players signed for the future as I don’t think anybody expects him to be in the first team right away – time will tell, he could break into the team but it’s a great jump from Crewe to Man Utd and not everybody can do it. Kagawa is quick and sharp on the ball, but the big question is where he will play and how he will fit in – it would be nice to look at a United team and think “that’s our best team” but I don’t think anybody’s been able to definitively do that for a good few years. Will Sir Alex finally change to a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1 as many think? And if van Persie does come, you could play Rooney alongside the two players I’ve mentioned – Welbeck and Kagawa, then your two midfield players would have to be holding players, and then where do you fit in Antonio Valencia and Nani? And who would be the holding players? Carrick, Scholes? Anderson? Tom Cleverley, who has really impressed me with his performances for Team GB in the Olympics – as a quick passer and mover, when he’s on his game, there aren’t many better than him in the Premier League. The problem with him and Anderson is whether they can stay fit enough – they have to answer those questions this year, especially if United don’t sign another midfielder.
In the last week the Glazers have made headlines again with the flotation of the club. I asked the question on Twitter, “who were the last owners that United fans liked”. Some people took that as me defending the Glazers and it wasn’t that at all; I’m not into the politics of it at all, I was just asking the question to see what people thought. Unfortunately the reaction was against me thinking I was pro-Glazer! I am not “pro”, neither am I “anti”, I don’t want to get into it. I’m not clever enough when it comes to the financial matters, that’s for other people, I was just interested in the opinion. Nobody liked it when the Edwards family run the club nor when it was a PLC and obviously the Glazer family aren’t popular; the question is a genuine one – what kind of owners would the supporters be happy with?
Talk of a flotation brings back memories of supporters who were forced to give up their shares in the club when the Glazers took over; yet though there were those who gave up against their will, some made money from it too – when offers were put in giving people the chance to make much more than they had paid for the share, some people took it. I knew some people who did exactly that, one person told me, “I’d like to keep them, but I’ve been offered daft money – what can I do?”. I can understand the concern of supporters if money is being taken out of the club to help the owners other businesses, as that’s not something that sits right with me. As I say, I’m not the most knowledgable when it comes to finance – I read others opinions and take it on board, but I don’t want to argue with fans about the Glazers. If I ask a question on Twitter – it’s a genuine question!
Rio Ferdinand has been a fantastic player for Manchester United and I think he still is – he’s probably just lost that half a yard of pace, but he’s 33 and that’s to be expected. His reading of the game is as good as any – I said last season that if we kept Rio fit, we had a chance of winning the title. As important as keeping Rooney fit, as important as keeping Valencia in form. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones picked up injuries and the last thing we wanted to do was put Michael Carrick back there. The debacle of the Blackburn game, where Sir Alex for once made a mistake picking a football team, showed the importance of keeping players in the position they’re meant to play. Paul Pogba and Anderson were on the bench and though both had reasons for why they perhaps shouldn’t, that was the one game they could have started. At least the side would have had balance; and maybe a decision like that was why Pogba wanted to leave…
… anyway, back to Rio. He has had ten fantastic years at United and I think he will have a massive part to play next season, too. Nemanja Vidic is back from injury and that partnership is very strong. It’s no secret that I would have loved to play with Ferdinand – not least because I would have been on £100,000 a week, and that would be nice!
One thing Rio hasn’t had the fortune to win at the club is the FA Cup, as he missed the 2004 final through suspension. I hope United take it more seriously – not just United, I think the same for a lot of clubs – but you want to win trophies while you can, you don’t want to make mistakes and lose. Sir Alex recently admitted he made mistakes in Europe with his selection last season but it’s not just that; the League Cup was something that United were doing really well in recently and it’s a shame that seems to have dampened. If there’s one competition that you must sacrifice then I can understand it being the League Cup but not the FA Cup; look at Chelsea’s really good record of late. It’s not just Rio; there can’t be that many currently at United who have actually won the FA Cup. To me, it’s the greatest Cup competition and gives a feeling like no other. I can remember gathering around the radio in the changing rooms after training listening to the draw, hoping to hear our name come out first. Hoping for a home draw in the Sixth Round, because you felt you had a good chance of going on to the semi final at a neutral venue… and don’t get me started on those! I feel Wembley is a daft place to have a semi final, particularly if you have two Manchester clubs having to go down like there was in 2010. The Community Shield this year is being held at Villa Park, years ago it was played at the home of the Champions… to me, Villa Park makes perfect sense. Why should the Londoners always have it where they don’t have to travel? They should have Arsenal v Chelsea in a semi final up at Newcastle and see if they like that!
If I’m brutally honest, I can’t see anyone beating City to the league. I think United are perhaps two names short, and Chelsea might even get second with the signings they have made. They might miss Drogba but it might be the making of Torres; he’s a fantastic player and at some point he must come good. I think our best chances are in the Cup competitions while we are two players – to my mind – short. We apparently have £70m in the bank so let’s go and break the bank for a player – we don’t want to be shopping at Aldi, we want to shop at Harrods. It’s great signing players like Nick Powell but we need a top player, someone where the fans will go “Wow”. The last one of those was probably Wayne Rooney. I’d love to be proved wrong and for people to tweet me in May telling me I’d made the wrong prediction; but asking the question now, and the strength of the opposition squads… if we have our best eleven out, we’re a match for anybody. But what’s our best eleven?