Keen for another Roy


No sooner had the new Premier League season begun than Sir Alex Ferguson was reminding us all that some things never change.

A quick search for ‘Ferguson slams referee’ on Google retrieves over 1,000,000 results of sour grapes, and Ferguson’s mood was typically corked on Monday after Manchester United slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Everton.

The manager’s assertion that the home crowd influenced referee Andre Marriner was a cheap excuse for a toothless performance from United, but while Ferguson has often been bitter in defeat, it’s false to suggest he’s set in his ways – especially when it comes to United’s midfield.

It seems that following his expulsion of Roy Keane in 2005, Ferguson has been on a mission to render the role of tough-tackling midfielder defunct at Old Trafford. An £18million investment in Michael Carrick eight months after Keane’s departure revealed a change in tack and ever since there have been grumbles (including on this website) that United are missing a key piece of the jigsaw.

Carrick was again at the centre of the debate on Monday night, as it reared its head shortly after Marouane Fellaini had his to wind United at the start of their title challenge. However, had Carrick been in his usual position at Goodison – instead of deputising at centre-back in the place of Rio Ferdinand – concerns over the lack of bite in United’s midfield may never have been raised and the result could certainly have been more favourable.

Indeed, for all the complaints that United looked light-weight and unable to stamp their authority on the game, they still recorded 69% of possession – bettered only by Arsenal in the opening round of matches and 12% more than last season’s average. Everton were spirited and robust – as expected – but, with new playmaker Shinji Kagawa a visual pleasure in possession, United bossed the game. And more often than not, control leads to victory.

Such was Keane’s formidable presence in the spine of team, that United supporters, by and large, have been unable to acquiesce to the absence of his type, despite the club reaching three Champions League finals in the last five seasons. But where Keane once uprooted trees, lighter-footed players such as Kagawa and Tom Cleverley, led by the timeless poise of Paul Scholes, are planting the seeds of football’s new trend.

Possession is now nine-tenths of the law and the all-action characters of Keane’s era appear more suited to a role in The Expendables than in the starting line-ups of Europe’s elite. Instead of focusing on the opposition’s strengths, and picking personnel accordingly, leading managers now concentrate on how they can dominate matches. The Premier League top three in 2011/12 also finished in the top four for average possession; if you can hold onto the ball for around an hour of every match, the need for a midfield destroyer is dramatically reduced.

Do Manchester United look incomplete without another midfielder? Who should they look to sign? Continue reading here.

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