It was football’s worst kept secret that Manchester United would undergo some major squad surgery this summer; the players who looked destined for the exit door were pretty much self-explanatory save for perhaps John O’Shea whose proposed move to Sunderland has come as a surprise for many. What was far from set in stone was the names of the players who would be coming into Old Trafford to bolster what was a transitional squad into what Sir Alex Ferguson hopes can be the start of his next and probably last great United team.
In truth, the three players that appear to be confirmed United signings have come, possibly not out of the blue but as unexpected packages. Nineteen year old Blackburn defender Phil Jones has arrived as a highly rated prospect, Ashley Young appears to be making the move from Villa to provide extra vigour and guile to the Reds attack and finally twenty year old Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea is likely to become the Reds new number one after he has finished playing for Spain at the European U21 Championships, it appears that Ferguson has once again put his faith in youth to take United forward.
It is Phil Jones who would seemingly possess the most potential. Sixteen million pounds may seem steep for a an unproven defender however the glimpses I have seen of him over the past two seasons since making his debut for Rovers back in September 2009 have contained immense promise. His physique certainly belies his age and he does appear to possess a sound footballing intelligence. For example in young defenders arriving from smaller Premier League clubs it is important that they have a solid foundation to build upon, which Jones clearly has, he must now work hard to iron out any creases such as hoofing the ball out of play as opposed to shielding the ball and returning it to his goalkeeper. This of course, will come and the aimless kicks to nowhere will be eradicated when he is exposed to the tutelage of the United coaching staff and the experience of the likes of Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra.
On a further positive note he and Smalling were the only shining lights at the end of England’s abysmal European U21 campaign. The two formed a seemingly coherent, solid partnership in which they communicated very well, hailed as a ‘possible future England Captain’ by Harry Redknapp, Jones was the steel to Smalling’s silk, a style that could clearly be moulded in to a Ferdinand Vidic-esc duo. It is highly likely though that in his first season in a United shirt Jones may well be asked to occupy either the right back spot or a defensive midfield position, if Jones can work well in the latter he will prove himself a top addition given that Owen Hargreaves, who occupied that position so well between 2007-08 has been released after a long battle with injury. Admittedly I have not seen much of Jones in this position but he does possess the attributes to play there, combative, intelligent and has terrific stamina. Interestingly enough, Owen Hargreaves spent a fair bit of game time in the right back position so fans should maybe expect to witness Jones fulfilling a role similar to Hargreaves in 2007/08 before he is moved into his natural position of centre half. It would, admittedly be a lot to ask of a nineteen year old given the importance that is attached to that role in the modern day game particularly in the Premier League, however it would not come as a surprise.
Ashley Young is another who has arrived having not been on the radar of transfer gossip prior to the end of the season, a talented attacking midfield has shone at Aston Villa however Young now has to prove that he wasn’t just a big fish in a small pond and establish himself as one of the leading lights in the Premier League. His transfer bears resemblance to that of Antonio Valencia in 2009, the Ecuadorian has now established himself as one of the Reds most important players and Young must aim to emulate his success by continuing the form that has seen him placed seventh in the Premier League’s top assists makers, an impressive statistic for a man of just twenty five.
Most importantly, Young must do more than just compliment United’s game, he has professed a desire to play at the top level, and now that he has achieved his goal he must make an impact and not be carried, he has been charged with creating and scoring goals and he will be expected to stand out in amongst United’s wealth of attacking talent. The expectation will be high, but playing with the calibre of player at United will only improve his game as has happened with the likes of Valencia. In England’s recently friendly with Switzerland I was very impressed of how assured Young looked in his own skin, confident on the ball and his distribution was unsurprisingly very good given his impressive creative record, he also took his goal extremely well.
I’ve mentioned comparisons with the signing of Valencia however one thing that Young provides over Valencia is versatility, Valencia is very much a right winger, he is so right footed one suspects he uses his right foot for both clutch and throttle. Despite Valencia’s success, his place in United’s first XI signals a loss of the ability to switch wingers as the Reds have done consistently over the past few seasons. Young’s arrival signals a greater fluidity to United’s midfield, he can play right, left and down the middle, a little more time spent on his intelligence of the game in terms of movement off the ball and United could mould Young into one of the most talented players in Europe. His style is different to anything we already have and provides a welcome boost in the post Scholes era.
Spanish keeper David De Gea presents a different proposition to Young and Jones, the latter two have been, to some extent at least on the radar of United supporters over the past two seasons. Both are suited to the demands of the Premier League and are aware what is expected at United having played against them numerous times for their previous clubs. De Gea however comes from a different background entirely. Clearly a talented goalkeeper with European experience, it does however appear a big ask for a twenty year old with no Premier League experience to come in and replace one of the best goalkeepers to have played the game.
I cannot profess to be an avid watcher of La Liga so I am probably not the best person to comment on how suited De Gea is to the United number one role but should De Gea complete his proposed eighteen million pound signing from Athletico Madrid he could become the youngest United number one in years. He may take a little time to feel his way in and United must be prepared to give him that however it is comforting to know that United have not jumped in at the deep end with De Gea, they have watched him for months and embarked on meticulous analysis into various aspects of his game, Eric Steele has been a constant spectator at Athletico’s Vicente Calderon Stadium and United cannot be accused of panic buying! Clearly United earmarked De Gea as their man months ago and despite witnessing one of the great goalkeeping performances in the form of Manuel Neuer against Schalke, Ferguson never wavered on his admiration of the young Spaniard even in the face of the Schmeichel-like German.
Nicknamed ‘Van der Gea’ by his Madrid team mates, it is clear that United have looked to infuse a seamless transition of calm and authority, rather than look for a wild, aggressive and bullish keeper in the mould of Schmeichel. Ferguson has stuck to recent form and looked for as many of van der Sar’s qualities in their new keeper as possible. De Gea does ooze calm, I have watched every game he has played for Spain U21’s in the European Championships and although he has admittedly not had much to do given Spain’s incredible ball retention, when he has being called upon he has delivered. Against England he had one save to make all match, it was just before the half time whistle and De Gea stretched his entire six foot four inch frame to pull off a brilliant save. This in itself is a sign of a major quality needed to be a United goalkeeper in that he may have nothing to do for eighty nine minutes but must keep his concentration as he may have make a match winning save in the ninetieth. Aside from the ‘Hollywood’ saves De Gea is clearly capable of making, the basic most important parts of his game were solid, his distribution was immaculate and his cool head helped him deal with a tricky situation in the first minute where he sorted out what could have turned into an almighty cock up as the Spanish defence temporarily imploded with Danny Welbeck lurking. Another aspect of De Gea’s potential signing is his age, at twenty this makes him thirteen in goalkeeping years! Should he be able to knuckle down a regular berth in the United eleven then perceivably United could have the same number one for fifteen years, which is similar to the success that Iker Cassilas has had at Real Madrid.
This would without doubt add an unerring stability to United that would continue into the post Ferguson era and which is possibly why the Manager has started his rumoured ‘spending spree’ by investing in youth rather than going all guns blazing for the likes of Sneijder of Modric, an interesting thought whether you agree with Fergusons actions or not. It is clear that to challenge the mighty Barcelona Ferguson arguably needs to create the greatest team of his twenty six year tenure in the Old Trafford hot seat. Names like Jones, Young and De Gea may not instantly fill the average fan with hope but possessing unquestionable potential and desire these young players have every chance of making it big at United and all have the chance to make history.
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