Looking Ahead – Man United’s Graduating Class of 2010-11

It’s safe to say that the world cup was not a source of great joy for Man United fans. Rooney was undeniably the biggest disappointment – whether you were an England fan or not. He followed his best ever season for the club with without a doubt his worst patch in the national jersey. Rio didn’t get to kick a ball. Nani also crocked himself before the cup started. Patrice Evra was at the heart of the France debacle, but didn’t look for a second like he himself had the heart for a real fight in most of the games. Vidic played well but didn’t progress.

On the other hand, the world cup was lit up by United’s past. Gerard Pique went home with a winners medal. Diego Forlan won the golden ball. Tevez scored one of the tournaments best goals. Ronaldo suffered from Portugal’s formation but he got a goal and didn’t play too badly. The irony would have been complete if Kleberson had strolled on and scored to take Brazil past Holland, or if Veron had turned in a masterly midfield performance.  

Arguably, the brightest spot for United fans at the World Cup, was the performance of young Javier “Chicarito” Hernandez. He looked sharp, took his goals well and keen followers will have noted the little statistic about his having been one of the fastest players in the world cup.

Now it’s all done and dusted, and Man United have been clocking up the miles on stateside. The World Cup players have yet to join the squad. But Vidic has committed to a new contract and that is a huge worry sorted for the time being. Nani has returned to action. And though the big set back is Owen Hargreaves’ eternal injury, made worse by Anderson’s end of season crock, at least Fletcher, O’Shea, Valencia et al will be unencumbered by World Cup fatigue. This can only bode well for another tough season with 6 teams potentially vying for the top spot!

The rumour mills have been focused around the big spending team from Manchester. Yes the ones who haven’t won anything since … since… well, whenever it was. But it’s also clear that United and Fergie will have to take a leaf out of Wengers book and become much better at unearthing talent. There is no economic justification for the astronomical fees being touted. £ 30 million for Milner???

Which brings us nicely onto the Man United youngsters on display in pre-season. This is a very useful time to try and get an early view of those players who are ready to come of age in footballing terms. So who can we look forward to this season?

2 players who should shine, but probably not at Old Trafford for this season, are Cleverley and Wellbeck. Both look set for a loan to Premiership clubs. The former to Newcastle and the latter probably to their arch rivals Sunderland. Both are ready for the big league and need game time. Cleverley was Watford’s player of the season last year and though both suffered injuries, both look like very bright prospects.

Fabio and Rafael are among the brightest prospects at the club. Both have great skill, endless enthusiasm, a great and obvious love for the attacking game. But at 20, both lack the discipline and maturity to truly provide security and comfort in the wing back positions. Rafael is caught out of position half a dozen times every game. Last year, his impetuous challenge and subsequent grabbing of Ribery effectively cost us the Champs League game. Even in the pre-season game against the Kansas City Wizards, he played Davy Arnaud onside – leading to the first goal. Fabio is known to be defensively more astute, but is behind Patrice Evra in the pecking order. The talent is never in doubt but defending is as much about temperament. Let’s hope the twins mature quickly.

Jonny Evans had an error strewn season last year, as he was pushed into the front line because of Ferdinand’s injuries, but he is still 23 and hopefully will improve again, this year, when he is joined by younger brother Corry, who can play in the midfield. Darron Gibson will also improve this year and he needs to add a bit more bite in his tackling and improve his passing. Just a ferocious shot doesn’t buy you a place at football’s top table. You have to play a bit as well.

Mame Diouf and Kiko Macheda both show promise but both need to dramatically improve their conversion in front of goal. It’s here that many before them have failed – temperamentally. Saha, Forlan, Owen, even Berbatov – these are big names. So it’s far from easy. But the prize is magnificent – so let’s hope at least one of them can shape up this season. Though at present, both look a bit short in the finishing department.

Chris Smalling is completing his integration into the squad and his meteoric rise has not gone unnoticed by most. From Maidstone to Manchester United in 18 months, and just 25 games. He has a tendency to hoof the ball out at present, which is not a bad thing but will need to work on his distribution. His positioning and athleticism seem pretty much up to the mark. Alongside Smalling, another young defender making his mark is the Belgian Richie De Laet.

The player who I believe has the potential to thrill this year, is Gabriel Obertan. Yes, he was lightweight last year and couldn’t really make an impact. But he is very fast, as good control and as he gets a stronger and fitter, he will become harder to stop. And a good winger will always find support at Old Trafford. Notably, between Wellbeck and Obertan will add significantly to United’s pace going forward, which should keep us as one of the most exciting attacking teams around.  

Of course, the rumoured arrival of players like Mesut Ozil or Steven Defour will only add to the youth brigade at United. Both are midfielders and we have been looking for a decent midfielder for a few seasons now. We’ve also needed a good goalkeeper to replace VDS, and though Ben Foster blew his chances, we now have Ben Amos, another bright young goalkeeper who has been doing well in pre-season.

Not all these players will shine or flower. But add to this lot the seniors – Giggs, Scholes, Wes Brown, Fletcher, O’Shea, Berbatov and the returning world cup squad – Rooney, Evra, Vidic, Nani & Ferdinand and it becomes clear that we will have enough depth to compete for the league title. But equally, we’ll also get to see the blossoming of some the most exciting talent around. I’ve always maintained that while Wenger justifiably gets the kudos for his ability to find fresh talent, Man United have been neck and neck with the Gunners in creating the stars of the future. And this season, should prove this once again.

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