Sir Alex Ferguson has always been a master at re-building squads over time, knowing the right moment to let players go and scouting out youngsters with potential and turning them into super-stars.
But in these days of financial uncertainty, with the Glazer’s self-imposed £500million debt hanging over the club, Ferguson faces a big a job as ever if he is to refresh the squad as well as balancing the books.
This summer looks like to be the first step of a major clear-out, with a number of squad players leaving. The contracts of Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen are all up in June and are set to leave or retire. Wes Brown and Tomasz Kuszczak are also expected to be transferred despite having another year to run on their deals.
Patrice Evra’s contract also expires in 2013 and rumours persist about his future, with Real Madrid reportedly interested. Ferguson also has to open contract talks with the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, John O’Shea, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Ji-sung Park.
All these changes would necessitate a number of big money signings to replace departed stars – even if Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs sign new deals as expected; their influence will be limited due to their age.
But since the Glazer’s leveraged but out big signings haven’t been coming as frequently as they previously had and all the talk from chief exec David Gill about how United have “rarely bought the world star...We have made them world stars by playing for Manchester United” suggests that pattern will continue.
I have to say I disagree with Gill’s comments to a point. True, they have never taken the Real Madrid (and dare I say it Manchester City) style galacticos approach but United have always been at the forefront of the transfer market and bought the best players when available – Berbatov, Rooney, Ferdinand, Veron (though that didn’t work I admit) Van Nistelrooy – All world-class, big name players who have filled a whole in the team.
United just don’t seem to be in the market for those sort of players anymore and despite all of Ferguson’s wily skill in the transfer market he is up against it if he is to find adequate replacements for so many departing players on a limited budget.
Given his propensity to prove people wrong I’m not going to be foolish enough write Fergie and United off, but I think it is safe to say that given the financial climate he faces his biggest challenge ever if he is to keep United at the top over the next two or three years.