For Manchester United fans across the world, the past 12 months have been horrific. We have seen the greatest manager to have graced world football depart and a team of Champions morph into mediocrity personified.
It was a bad year, a dark year, a blip. There were positives in the arrival of Juan Mata and the emergence of Adnan Januzaj but you know you're in trouble when the best thing about a season is a certain players performance. It suddenly feels very 'Liverpool'.
Ryan Giggs was appointed caretaker manager and after much initial fanfare the home defeat to Sunderland was a reality check. There is no doubt he could, and probably will be, the Manchester United manager in a few years time but our ship was unstable and we needed steadying.
If the past 12 months saw the devolution of a great Manchester United side then this summer presents the opportunity for the revolution, the re-birth, the rising from ashes. Louis van Gaal has been appointed and arrives with kind of pedigree we were clamouring for 12 months ago.
Not an overwhelmingly popular choice initially, his World Cup campaign with the Netherlands has given each and every United fan cause for optimism. He is a proven winner, tactically superb and able to mould a team to his vision of the way the game should be played. He is proactive and not afraid to make the big decisions. He believes in youth and has a rich history of giving youngsters opportunities. If there is a man more suited to the role of Manchester United manager I have yet to learn his name.
Every summer brings with it the same questions as the last: Who's on their way out? Who's coming in? Which youth players deserve a chance in the first team? The arguments about whether certain players should be sent out on loan to aid with the development versus time in and around our own first team linger on well in to the new season. I've long thought the answers might be there to be discovered simply within the one thing that you can guarantee every season beyond any doubt.
A different way of looking at things
In each Premier League season every team players 38 games. Excluding injury time, every game last 90 minutes. Simple mathematics tells me that every year a club plays 3420 minutes of Premier League football at least. Consider the 11 players that may take to the pitch at any given time this, gives us a total of 37620 Premier League minutes available to our squad with a maximum of 3420 available to each individual player.
To allow me to talk about next season, where the gaps are, who we should bring in, who needs more minutes for their development or who should be sent out on loan, I first need to consider the season just gone. So here is a breakdown of our 2013/2014squad, how many minutes they played and what they should hope for next season.
When making recommendations I'll be doing so based on Louis van Gaal's favoured 4-3-3 formation but taking note of David Moyes' ice age 4-4-2 offering. I am not considering European football as we are not competing this season nor am I considering domestic cups as we do not know how far we will progress. I will include players out on loan last season that would hope to be in consideration for a first team squad place in 2014/2015. All stats taken from Squawka.
David de Gea: 3330 minutes and 23 years old
Anders Lindegaard: 90 minutes and 30 years old
Ben Amos: unused and 24 years old
This is the simplest category to analyze. David de Gea is our first choice goalkeeper and will remain so. Anders Lindegaard is our second choice goalkeeper and an able understudy. At 30 years old he may be past the point where he wishes to move on for first team football and seems happy to fulfil his current squad role. Ben Amos, registering zero Premier League minutes and older than our first choice goal keeper should look to move away from Old Trafford if he is to establish his own career as a regular first team player.
Nemanja Vidic: 2085 minutes and 32 years old
Rio Ferdinand: 1129 minutes and 35 years old
Jonny Evans: 1376 minutes and 26 years old
Phil Jones: 2173 minutes and 22 years old
Chris Smalling: 1939 minutes and 24 years old
Rafael da Silva: 1414 minutes and 24 years old
Patrice Evra: 2880 minutes and 33 years old
Alexander Buttner: 500 minutes and 25 years old
Fabio da Silva: 90 minutes and 24 years old
Michael Keane: 0 minutes and 21 years old
The end of the 2013/2014 season saw Nemanja Vidic join Inter Milan, Rio Ferdinand leave at the end of his contract, Alexander Buttner join Dinamo Moscow and Patrice Evra has joined Juventus. This is in addition to Fabio da Silva's departure to Cardiff in January bringing the total number of minutes lost from our defensive players to 6594, or just over 73 games worth.
This includes all available minutes for the left back position and 3214 minutes of centre back playing time, nearly 36 games. Luke Shaw has joined as our first choice left back but that still leaves 590 'understudy' minutes to be filled, or 6.5 games. Daley Blind has had an excellent World Cup and at the age of 24 would offer not just offer cover but competition for Luke Shaw probably ensuing a more even share of the available left back minutes.
Whilst just a rumour at present, at around the £10million mark he would be an ideal signing. As for the 3214 minute void at centre back, it is unrealistic to assume one player will play every game. Here we should be looking at making one signing who can be a mainstay and perhaps promote Michael Keane for whom there will definitely be minutes available. Particularly when you consider that Rafael da Silva only completed just under 16 full games worth of minutes at right back last season, so we can expect to see Chris Smalling and Phil Jones utilised there on occasion.
Mats Hummels would be the dream signing, at 25 years old and the first choice centre back for the German national side, he possesses the quality to slot straight into a defensive line that is crying out for experience. When considering last season's statistics you must also consider than Jonny Evans, at just over 15 full games of minutes last season, will feature more, most likely at the expense of Chris Smalling who clocked a respectable 21.5 full games of minutes on the pitch.
Michael Carrick: 2413 minutes and 32 years old
Juan Mata: 1225 minutes and 26 years old
Tom Cleverley: 1579 minutes and 24 years old
Adnan Januzaj: 1644 minutes and 19 years old
Marouanne Fellaini: 1105 minutes and 26 years old
Antonio Valencia: 1948 minutes and 28 years old
Shinji Kagawa: 1165 minutes and 25 years old
Darren Fletcher: 780 minutes and 30 years old
Ryan Giggs: 505 minutes and 40 years old
Nani: 557 minutes and 27 years old
Anderson: 156 minutes and 26 years old
Ashley Young: 1029 minutes and 29 years old
Wilfried Zaha: 30 minutes and 21 years old
Nick Powell: 0 minutes and 20 years old
Bebe: 0 minutes and 23 years old
Jesse Lingard: 0 minutes and 21 years old
The midfield presents an entirely different situation. Statistically we have only lost 505 minutes so far with Ryan Giggs moving into the role of coaching assistant, yet we have already signed Ander Herrera, who will certainly be expecting to play a bigger role next year than Giggs did last year. Our January signing, Juan Mata, clocked up 1225 minutes in half a season with the club so considering that figure should be closer to 2450 in 2014/2015 to maintain the current playing levels, even ignoring the arrival of Ander Herrera briefly and considering only Juan Mata playing a full season we are 720 minutes above the maximum available.
Starting again then it is fair to say most fans would like, or expect, Anderson, Ashley Young or Nani or all to leave. Their departures would free up 1742 minutes of playing time in addition to the 505 minutes vacated by Ryan Giggs, leaving us with 2247 available. We can expect both Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick to face reduced playing time next season, so if we cut their accumulative total by a third it releases another 2107 minutes for the rest of the squad bringing the available total to 4354, over 48 full games worth of minutes.
If we add in the extra 1225 minutes Juan Mata may expect to play that figure drops to 3129 minutes, just under 35 full games of football. If Ander Herrera, who is assumed to be our first choice central midfielder at this stage, plays 25 games next season this figure drops further to 879 minutes, or just under 10 full games of football. Hardly the level of game time that Arturo Vidal would expect!
It is widely accepted that United need, at least, one more central midfielder of real quality and if Arturo Vidal arrives we can expect him play a similar of minutes as his would-be partner Ander Herrera. Factoring in 25 full games for Vidal we are now -1371 minutes. In other words the remaining midfield players must lose a collective (just over) 15 games of football to accommodate the potential arrival.
If Louis van Gaal gives Marouanne Fellaini the opportunity of one more year, who himself played only 1105 minutes last season in a reduced role and we include Nick Powell returning from his loan spell at Wigan then the numbers suggest that if Arturo Vidal is to arrive and Nick Powell is to get any kind of playing time then Tom Cleverley must be sacrificed to free up the minutes.
In this current market we could probably get somewhere around the £10million mark and with the investment on incoming players this season selling Cleverley would represent a good opportunity to bring some money in whilst giving more deserving players an opportunity. Adnan Januzaj, with 1644 minutes last season, will expect to feature more as he develops, putting pressure on Shinji Kagawa and his already low 1165 minutes.
It's worth noting that in the Premier League last season Shinji Kagawa did not consecutively play 90 minutes once all season, suggesting his struggles with form are not all his own fault. The numbers also suggest Louis van Gaal should consider offloading Darren Fletcher, who, with Marouanne Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Arturo Vidal (potentially) ahead of him, would free up vital minutes to be used elsewhere.
Whilst that may be not the popular choice with many preferring to see Marouanne Fellaini leave, it makes sense statistically when considering return on investment and the far lower risk the departure of Darren Fletcher would be. Considering the wings we are chronically short of quality. Louis van Gaal likes to play with pacey wingers and with Ashley Young and Nani gone he may consider bringing someone in here. Antonio Valencia was on the field for 1948 minutes last season, or just under 22 full games, a figure he cannot expect to maintain given his form of the last two years.
On his side he has his versatility but with Angel di Maria reportedly available this may be the perfect opportunity to bring a truly exciting winger again. We also have Wilfried Zaha returning from loan who will hope for some playing. Bebe too, on the back of a successful campaign in Portugal may be hoping for one last opportunity.
However, inevitably there just aren't enough minutes to go around and considering the Premier League only, for both Angel di Maria and Wilfriend Zaha to enjoy the playing time they would hope requires the sale of Antonio Valencia. Despite not considering domestic cups our midfield is a perfect example of why all of this analysis should be taken with a pinch of salt as all of Nick Powell, Wilfried Zaha and Jesse Lingard could feature in these competitions.
Wayne Rooney: 2447 minutes and 28 years old
Robin van Persie: 1581 minutes and 30 years old
Javier Hernandez: 855 minutes and 26 years old
Danny Welbeck: 1463 minutes and 23 years old
Tom Lawrence: 69 minutes and 20 years old
James Wilson: 63 minutes and 18 years old
Angelo Henriquez: 0 minutes and 21 years old
Will Keane: 0 minutes and 21 years old
Our striking dilemma is a tough one. Robin van Persie, when fit, is by far our best option. Wayne Rooney can, on his day, be exceptional but those are becoming ever rarer. Javier Hernandez is hugely popular but unlikely to regularly be chosen above either Van Persie or Wayne Rooney.
Danny Welbeck had a better 2013/2014 than his previous season from a goals scored perspective but also looks unlikely to displace either of the two first choice strikers and has struggled being used in a variety of positions. Van Persie completed 1581 Premier League minutes last season which is just under 18 full games and as a favourite of the incoming manager it is fairly safe to assume, fitness depending, that he will feature more this coming year.
If we allocate 20% more minutes to Van Persie he may expect to play around 1896 in 2014/2015, just over 21 full games worth. Javier Hernandez looks likely to leave in his pursuit of first team football, something that no one can blame him for having spent less than 10 full games of minutes on the field in the Premier League last season and at the age of 26 he rightfully deserves to move somewhere we can be the main man.
It remains to be seen how Rooney will react playing second fiddle to Robin van Persie but assuming he stays at the club let's assume the 20% of additional minutes Van Persie gets are taken from Rooney's. This leaves Hernandez's 855 minutes up for grabs. Welbeck can expect to see a fair share of these as too perhaps can James Wilson who with his two goal debut at the end of the last campaign deserves an opportunity to see if he can do it regularly.
If Welbeck and James Wilson share the minutes then Tom Lawrence, Angelo Henriquez and Will Keane must look elsewhere. With Will Keane having overcome a serious injury it would make sense for him to spend a season on loan at a higher end Championship side. Angelo Henriquez, after his goal scoring exploits for Real Zaragoza, would hope to secure a Premier League loan.
As will Tom Lawrence, who looked very comfortable in a United shirt on his debut. Mathematically, despite the want of United fans to see some younger players given some minutes, it seems very unlikely that Lawrence, Henriquez or Keane will actualize that hope on the field.
It's all a bit 'money no object' but then that is what the press would have you believe. Factor in our record-breaking Adidas deal and there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Glazer ownership has caused many a fan to be pessimistic, and the ageing squad that slipped to seventh last season is a product of that lacklustre re-investment but it's time to dream again.
We're Manchester United, this is what we do, we fight, we overcome and despite everything the club has been through we are ready to once again take our place at the summit of English football.