Posted by: Zel Ram | September 2, 2009

Manchester United , No leader ?

THERE’S nothing much wrong with Manchester United that Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres couldn’t put right.

Sadly for United punters, I believe these two are already spoken for.

The fact remains, though, that Alex Ferguson has never replaced Roy Keane or Ruud van Nistelrooy.

One a skipper in the true sense of the word, the other a focal-point centre-forward with an unerring propensity for putting the ball in the net.

What United missed more than anything in Rome’s Olympic Stadium on Wednesday night was a leader in the Keane mould.

A man that team-mates look to when the road grows steep.

A man with the bloody-minded ruthlessness to get in among players like Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

A man like Keane, who didn’t shrug his shoulders and admit the game was up when Juventus went 2-0 ahead inside 11 minutes in the Champions League semi-final second leg in Turin in 1999.

Instead he dug deep, piled into Zinedine Zidane and Edgar Davids, pulled one back himself with a header from a corner and, from then on, there was only one team in it.

When United went 1-0 down against Barcelona, their players looked around for salvation — and saw nothing.

With shoulders drooped and confidence draining away, United were rudderless.

From the early Nineties, the club has been blessed with certain players who stamped their huge character and personalities on games.

And the opposition when required.

Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona and Keane all spring readily to mind.

Leaders of men, hard as teak, driven individuals who never looked for excuses — least of all from themselves.

One of Ferguson’s main regrets will have been his failure to sign Michael Essien when the chance arose — even more so with the injury-prone Owen Hargreaves completing just 17 league games in 21 months.

What a difference the rock-solid Chelsea all-rounder would make to this current side.

Or Frank Lampard, of whom Ferguson spoke so glowingly the other day. Or, in your dreams, Gerrard.

There was only one player out there on Wednesday with a similar capability to rouse a team — Wayne Rooney.

But the England man was so preoccupied with trying to find an effective role for himself within United’s swaying framework that he was caught between a rock and a hard place.

And where is the orthodox striker United need so badly?

Part of the problem pre-Rome is that they may well have been duped by the ease of their semi-final destruction of Arsenal.

Rather than coming to the conclusion that Arsene Wenger’s team was a soft touch, they congratulated themselves on the enormous success of playing Cristiano Ronaldo down the middle.

When they tried it again against a real team, they were found out.

At the same time, let’s not forget this United side has had remarkable success — three consecutive titles, a record 25 European games without defeat and back-to-back Champions League final appearances.

In many ways, it is testimony to Fergie’s ability that he has got so much out of a team that lacks certain fundamental strengths and one in which he has been forced to play too many square pegs in round holes.

Though some will say he has only been overcoming problems of his own making.

Yet as Ferguson suggested only this week, there have been a number of occasions when only good fortune and the failure of the opposition to take advantage of United’s frailties have kept them going — on both the domestic and European fronts.

Had Liverpool, beaten only twice in the league, been more ruthless at Anfield — where they dropped a staggering 14 points — they would surely have been champions.

Had Guus Hiddink been in charge of Chelsea all season, they too would have run United closer.

So what now for Ferguson?

Sadly, it would appear both Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have had their time.

They were an integral part of the great era under youth-team coach Eric Harrison, rolling sublimely off a production line that, for the moment, has dried to a trickle.

Even more so when you consider that seven of the players who started for Barcelona in Rome came from their academy.

Are Park Ji Sung and Nani really good enough?

And what of Anderson, who blows as cold as he does hot?

And, surely, United cannot squander another £26million on Carlos Tevez?

Yet the greatest conundrum of all is Dimitar Berbatov.

It would have been almost inconceivable at the time he signed for £30.75m to predict the Bulgarian would not even make Wednesday’s starting XI.

For him then to suggest this week he would be none too confident if called upon in a penalty shootout said everything about his character.

Ferguson, though, will be intent on seeing Berbatov succeed.

For that to happen, he has to either play Rooney in front of him (which is difficult seeing as Rooney loves to drop deep) or bring in a striker like Lyon’s young Karim Benzema.

Or cut his losses.

Then there’s all the talk about Franck Ribery — an outstanding performer but, at the £40m price quoted, one seen more as a replacement for Ronaldo considering the growing concerns about United’s finances.

Most important of all, though, is the putting together of a DVD with all the composite qualities required in a new midfield powerhouse.

Perhaps they could call it “Looking for Eric, Roy and Robbo”.

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