Manchester United’s 2010-11 season ended with a gamut of emotions – the unbridled joy of a record 19th league title mixed with the cutting disappointment of defeat in the Champions League final – but Sir Alex Ferguson has wasted little time either basking in the glory of Premier League success or wallowing in the gloom of losing to Barcelona at Wembley. Instead, the manager has already begun the process of replacing his aged stars and making United new again.
The retirement of both Edwin van der Sar and Paul Scholes, and another year of wear and tear on the bodies of Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand, have pushed Ferguson into an attempted early strike on the transfer market. All three of the seemingly-imminent arrivals at Old Trafford, David De Gea, Phil Jones and Ashley Young, have their best years ahead of them, and signal either the replacement of or complement to those retired or creaking towards their inevitable future. Scholes’ is the only departure yet to be directly accounted for, but the long pursuit of Wesley Sneijder and Luka Modric suggest Ferguson is not only keen to cover for his former maestro, but to do so with a more experienced name than the other new recruits. Sneijder has, however, professed his loyalty to Inter, leaving Tottenham Hotspur’s Modric the apparent first choice to fill the gap left by Scholes. A fee in the region of £30m may be what it takes to prise the Croatian from White Hart Lane. Arsenal’s Samir Nasri is another possible addition.
Funds for Modric and company could be generated by a number of sales. Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Darron Gibson have been linked to Sunderland and Bebe to Besiktas, while Dimitar Berbatov’s exclusion from the Champions League final squad raised questions about his future, despite ending the season as the top scorer in the Premier League. The elegant Bulgarian has been mentioned in connection with a host of European names, some more reasonable than others, as well as mooted for a return to Spurs in a swap deal for Modric. Should Berbatov move on United will be in the market for a striker, but the dearth of rumours linking the club to forwards suggest the player will remain where he is. Whatever Berbatov’s fate, given the impressive first year of Javier Hernandez and the ever-increasing importance of Wayne Rooney, Berbatov may have to be content with more time on the sidelines than on the field, although he did form strong partnerships with both Rooney and Hernandez at various times last season.
Settling on a right-back – either Fabio, his twin brother Rafael, or a signing to come – is amongst the priorities away from the gossipy world of transfers. Both young Brazilians have shown flashes of excellence but also the indiscretion of youth, to be expected but potentially costly in crunch games. Yet, given both players’ massive upside, and the energetic endeavour they provide down either flank, Ferguson seems set to keep faith, and the possible departure of both Brown and O’Shea, two makeshift full-backs is a strong show of support in the youthful defenders. A back four that could potentially have both Fabio and Rafael in each full-back position, plus a centre-back partnership of Jones and Chris Smalling, would be one of almost limitless potential yet precious little experience, but is only a few injuries away from becoming a reality. To allow O’Shea and Brown to leave, as has been suggested, with Jonny Evans the only other senior central defender at the club, would be a tremendous gesture of support from Ferguson to his young defenders. Another youthful centre-back, Raphael Varane, has been frequently rumoured with a move to Manchester.
United’s likely transfer business this summer paint the picture of a manager content with the current state of his squad, but eager to bolster it for the future. De Gea, Jones, Varane and Young are all 25 or younger, and could each play a part in the Red Devils’ success for the next decade or more. With the likes of Hernandez, Rooney, Fabio, Rafael, Smalling and Luis Nani already at the club, each still young but with the experience of a successful Premier League campaign and an extended run in the Champions League under their belts, Ferguson is continuing to build a side dotted with experience in key positions, but mostly of talented young players who can be moulded into greats, ready to avenge this year’s Champions League defeat.
Edwin van der Sar GK – Retired
Owen Hargreaves MID – Released, free transfer
Paul Scholes MID – Retired
David De Gea GK – Atletico Madrid
Raphael Varane DEF – RC Lens
Ashley Young MID – Aston Villa
Samir Nasri MID – Arsenal
Luka Modric MID – Tottenham Hotspur