It has been well documented over the years of the lack of quality in the middle of the park for 13 times Premier League champions Manchester United.


Sir Alex Ferguson was instrumental in bringing the class of 1992 through the youth system and over to the first-team with the likes of Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers Gary and Phil, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs and arguably his best signing ever was a certain Roy Keane, who arrived in 1993.

The Irishman divides opinion on a number of issues but one thing for sure is if you were to use the phrase midfield general, Keane comes to mind.


Keane spent 12 years at the heart of the Manchester United midfield, of which the remaining eight years he spent as the captain of one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Keane, Scholes and Butt forged a rotation of three of the best central midfielders for Manchester United, but since their departures and father time catching up with them why have Manchester United struggled so badly and what can they do to finally move forward?


Keane was fortunate to benefit from Bryan Robson’s ageing legs and injury problems, and an extended run in the side in the 1992/93 and 1993/94 seasons established Keane as a first-team player.

He never looked back and with the emergence of the brilliantly talented Scholes alongside him, Keane and Scholes went on to wreak havoc for Manchester United and win them every trophy at the heart of a midfield, where you had Giggs flying down the left and an amazingly crafted right boot of Beckham on the right hand side.

Keane’s injury problems and acrimonious departure, coupled with Scholes' injury issues and father time catching up with him, halted Manchester United’s engine room and problems emerged.


Sir Alex swiftly signed the gifted Michael Carrick, and since then Owen Hargreaves was acquired in 2007. However, there has never been that quality and assuredness that previous partnerships in the midfield exuded.

Hargreaves spent most of his time at Old Trafford on the treatment table and Carrick has always done well but has never been a box-to-box goalscoring midfield general.

Plus, how much can one decent player do at a club where money is available and the team needs world class operators at the heart of the team.

Manchester United were able to rely on the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez for a couple of years to hide the midfield problems.

Then came Dimitar Berbatov for £30m up front and Scholes had a re-emergence as a deep-lying playmaker. A bit like a quarter-back as our American counterparts would say.

These combinations meant Manchester United had domestic success as well as Champions League success in 2008.

However, the season after beating Chelsea on penalties in Moscow to win the Champions League, Barcelona outclassed Manchester United at Wembley to lift the trophy. 

That game truly showed the world Manchester United’s inability to compete in the middle of the park.

Ronaldo left, Tevez was welcomed to Manchester by the noisy neighbours Manchester City and we all wondered what the greatest manager of all time would do to freshen things up and keep these new but old foes at bay.


So where to go from here?

Many combinations have been attempted and Manchester United have really struggled against lesser opposition as well as top European sides due to a lack of leadership, quality and steel in the heart of the team.

Anderson, Tom Cleverley, Darren Fletcher, Scholes and Giggs, who also played centrally, have all been utilised and have failed. Park Ji-Sung was also employed in the central role for one unwatchable game, but gladly for everyone involved that never happened again.


My consensus? Ferguson simply went about the task the wrong way. I believe the Keane-Scholes dual axis cannot be replicated. You can not replace players who were so good at what they do.

You need to evolve. But evolving or replacing still requires spending money. This is something Manchester United have failed to do in six years since Hargreaves arrived from German giants Bayern Munich.

Shinji Kagawa arrived from Borussia Dortmund last summer but he is more a creative player who plays behind the main striker and is not a midfielder who offers steel, leadership and that box-to-box element.


So let’s not talk about replication, let’s talk evolution. Manchester United tabled a £25m bid for Cesc Fabregas, the once revered Arsenal captain, who wished to ‘go home’ to Catalonia.


And so he did, but it just has not worked out for him. David Moyes took the hot seat at Manchester United therefore he has been linked with big Belgian Marouane Fellaini from former club Everton.

There have even been rumblings of Luka Modric, the little Croatian maestro, who swapped Tottenham Hotspur for Real Madrid, coming to Manchester United and filling the holes in a midfield that desperately needs rejuvenating.


In my opinion, two out of three players would do well at Manchester United and are desperately needed. These would also compliment Carrick, who has had an excellent season for Manchester United and was one of the first names on the teamsheet for Sir Alex.


I would also propose that Moyes looks at the possibility of offloading some deadwood. Anderson has had many chances to prove himself but he is now at an age where is not a potentially great player. He should be doing it by now or move on.

Scholes retired and good for him - let him rest and enjoy spending time with the family. Fletcher is still struggling to battle a stomach illness, which has brought an excellent career to a halt.

Cleverley has the potential to be a great English midfield player but needs to stand up and be counted and really impress the new manager if you ask me.


So Mr Moyes, over to you - work your magic and let’s see if you solve a problem which has been a bigger mystery than Roswell. Just remember, forget replication, think evolution.

 

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Topics:
Manchester United
Paul Scholes
Roy Keane
Football