As someone who writes on the internet, there will likely be a permanent record of all I have said until the end of time. That is the simple reality. Sadly, before the start of the season I suggested that Manchester United would not finish in the top four this year, due to some issues that I thought were clear within their squad. Yes, I tend to write about Leeds, but I took an objective view and realised where an issue lay – primarily up top.
However, I wrote the article before a particular signing that people are hailing as a stroke of genius, that of Robin Van Persie. My piece was based around the belief that as Kagawa was, at that point, the main addition of the summer, Wayne Rooney would be forced to play as a lone striker, something that I thought was incredibly counter productive. As I said at the time, there seems to be a delusional belief that he would be best being tied by rope of 18 yards length to the goalposts. He’s a forward and a midfielder, a classical number 10. With Kagawa coming in, I thought he’d be used as the number 9, and I saw this as an issue. It would negate one of Man Utd’s best players (to an extent) and limit their goalscoring. I thought with their poorer displays last season that other teams would lose the ‘fear’ and go and challenge them at Old Trafford, ala Athletic Club.
Like I say though, I try to be as objective as possible (even though it is impossible to be truly objective), and I also am willing to accept I made a mistake. The signing of Van Persie was excellent, a move that no one could have predicted in the summer before word began to break. Here was Arsene Wenger, happy to sell his best player to his old rival. People have written about it a lot since then, but it’s as simple as follows: no one could have expected Arsenal to give up so easily. You’d have thought the inevitable sale of Van Persie would have been to either Manchester City, who have poached player after player from them, or abroad, to the likes of Juventus who maintained an interest. Aside from Wenger’s submission to Ferguson, who could have seen City being so entirely toothless in the market this summer after last year’s success? It seemed incredibly unlikely that Van Persie would be pulling on the red of Manchester at the start of the season.
He has, however, been the difference. A goalscorer will do that for you – Manchester City’s last season was crafted by the signing of Sergio Agüero and boosted hugely by the return of Carlos Tevez from the wild tundras of deepest Argentina. When you factor in the goalscoring form of Balotelli last season, it shows the difference between City of a year ago and City of today. Where City should have strengthened, they rested on their laurels and found themselves awkwardly reliant on a Edin Dzeko, who, whilst fairly prolific, has not come close to the form Agüero and Tevez ultimately displayed last season. Man Utd took the charge.
You have to give Ferguson credit for identifying the flaw with his squad. Berbatov was the hope up front, but he’s not entirely that player. So they shipped him out and brought in the top goalscorer. That’s where I was wrong – they spent to wrest back control of the Premier League, spent well and now find themselves in a position by which their lead looks even more insurmountable than at the post-Everton juncture of last season. I was wrong and I’ll admit that.