Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Have United Sold Their Soul?

Manchester United can take a peculiar sense of pride in knowing that every team that beat them in the league between 2004 and 2013 had to spend and exorberant amount of money to do so. Chelsea were bankrolled to three titles in 2004, 2005 and 2010 by Abramovich's Russian millions. Likewise City's triumph in 2012 would not have happened without the funds being pumped into the club by their Abu Dhabi owners. United fans could bank on the fact that they'd either win the league or be able to say their rivals went out and 'bought' the title. This is most definitely not the case anymore. United have embraced the culture of the enemy in order to compete.

If any other club replaced a player like Welbeck with a player like Falcao in the same night, the only emotion experienced would be one of sheer joy and excitement. For United fans, and ex-players and staff alike, there's a twinge of sadness involved too. September 1st 2014 will be remembered as the day United finally abandoned their traditional values and embraced the 'dark-side' of modern day football.

Di Maria and Falcao represent the new face of United

I say dark-side and that might be a little misleading as I don't have a problem with it and after all there's nothing strictly wrong with going out and buying the best available players but it's an aspect that some football purists hate. Old-fashioned football fans would rather see a team full of home-grown talent beat their rivals side full of expensively recruited mercenaries from every corner of the globe. Think of the Barcelona team built almost entirely of academy players like Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Puyol, Pique going up against Real Madrid's Galacticos. Barca are definitely the good guys here, regardless of what picture Mourinho tried to paint of them during their wars.

Danny Welbeck had been at Manchester United since he was eight years old. The picture of him aged thirteen training with Ryan Giggs has done the rounds a lot during his career. Everybody knows he wasn't the best striker but he was adored by the Old Trafford faithful because of his work rate and simply, because he was one of their own. An academy product. A local lad. Dat guy.

Even then, Welbeck though Giggs was old

Welbeck was also the last Mancunian in the United first-team squad. A first-team squad now laced with expensive foreigners that now contains only six Englishmen. Their starting line-up in the 2008 Champions League final contained six Englishmen.

Falcao in for Welbeck in many ways symbolises, at last, the dawning of the new Manchester United. For the last twenty years the culture of the club had been defined by Sir Alex Ferguson. Yes there were some big-name arrivals, Juan Veron, Robin van Persie.. but the philosophy of the club was always to bring players through and the focus on youth. The best example of this is obviously the famous 'Class of 92', the batch of young players that contained the Neville brothers, Nicky Butt and the iconic figures of Beckham, Giggs and Scholes.

Even the team Fergie left behind contained mostly talented he had nurtured. Cleverley, Evans, Welbeck were all academy products whilst Rooney, Anderson, Smalling, Rafael, Fabio and Phil Jones had all been at United since their teenage years. Without Fergie there, a lot of them have been found out. How would the likes of Beckham and Scholes fared had Fergie jacked it in in 1997? We'll never know.

It's unlikely we will see something like this for a while in England

Transfer deadline day saw the departure of several club products. Welbeck sold to Arsenal. Tom Cleverley, significantly less revered by fans than Welbeck, was loaned to Aston Villa and will not likely play for the club again. Tom Lawrence who started for United against Hull under Ryan Giggs in May has moved to Leicester permanently.

Rather than trust in the club's legendary youth structure which is not delivering the goods, Woodward and van Gaal have gone out and broken the British transfer record to sign Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid and recruited Radamel Falcao, one of the best strikers in the world. This is in addition to Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind who've all arrived for a combined fee of about £90m. This represents a huge break from the norm at United. They are almost mirroring what Chelsea did in 2003 and City in 2009. Having recognised their current squad is nowhere near the required standard, they've gone out and bought a new one. And it doesn't look like the spending is over. Already Kevin Strootman and Arturo Vidal are being lined-up for January moves. If the team you have isn't good enough, simply buy a new one.

'More than a club' is the motto of FC Barcelona, a giant of world football. I think this more applicable to Manchester United. They are a brand. A business. A commercial juggernaut turning out a massive profit through sponsorship deals and merchandise sales just about everywhere in the world. This club can't afford a rebuilding phase in modern day football and these purchases are purely short-to-medium term, aimed at getting the club back in the Champions League and back at the summit of the Premier League ASAP. It is where they need to be.

United are on the way back up but they are not doing it 'the United way' simply because they don't have the time an England just isn't producing the players right now. They have accepted the only way they are going to compete with Chelsea and Man City on the pitch is to compete with them off it for all the best signings and that's exactly what they are going to do.

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