Our resident European Football expert, Paul Watson, takes a look at the fall-out of Wayne Rooney's u-turn and identifies 5 strikers who should be on top of Sir Alex's wish list.
I POINTED out the other day that Wayne Rooney would have little choice but to back down over his demands to leave Manchester United in the upcoming transfer window – and I was proved right yesterday when the England star penned a new five year deal.
Looking from the outside in, there's always guessing games to play. Was there really a row? Was it simply an agent's manipulation of the boardroom? Did a deal to Manchester City fall through?
There's been claims that safety concerns put Rooney off – that he was forced into a change of heart at the eleventh hour because he didn't want the hassle of carting about a bodyguard every-time he nipped out to the local sauna. Or took his wife for a meal – whichever seems more likely.
I don't buy it. Not that there wasn't an angry element willing to commit GBH at the switch of a shirt but considering how common it's become for big name players to swap rival sides and suffer the boo-boys' wrath, that Tevez, Manny Adebayor and Gareth Barry have all endured that exact treatment at City, that he already plays for a side equally loved and hated throughout England, would trading moronic abuse in red for moronic abuse in blue be a problem?
The more likely scenario is the talk of Rooney's dissatisfaction around team affairs (as opposed to, y'know, his own…). There's no doubt that the current Manchester United squad is far weaker than when he first joined the club from Everton. The current level of debt brought on by the Glazers and a poor recent record in transfer dealings has left United with a dearth of top class, nevermind world class, talent.
Javier Hernandez, Nani and Antonio Valencia have all shown enough to be considered very good players in the making – the right calibre of signing that can help move the club forward. Unfortunately, they're about the only ones in the entire first-team squad.
After the sale of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Sir Alex Ferguson saw his side stutter upfront. For over a decade he relied on Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham for firepower with the lethal Dutchman a fine extension to those 20-30 goals a season strikers. But after his bust-up with Fergie, there was a lack of a natural successor, something I still don't think has been addressed.
Diego Forlan was bounced out of the club with the tag of a big-money flop. Hindsight, for those who need it, shows that the player simply struggled to adapt without proper attention and advice.
Thankfully for Ferguson, signing the phenomenal Cristiano Ronaldo glossed over every wasted note on the likes of Kleberson, Manucho, Zoran Tosic, David Bellion, William Prunier, Massimo Taibi and Djemba-Djemba or some poor decision-making on the likes of Juan Sebastian Veron.
After a shaky start, a young Ronaldo found his feet in the Premiership and his astonishing haul of 42 goals in the 2007-08 season won United the league and Champions League double on all but his own. They simply didn't need a striker with him around and he brought out the best in Rooney, too.
But a two years ago he left for Real Madrid in a world-record £80million fee, yet who have United replaced him with? Valencia, Gabriel Obertan, Michael Owen and Hernandez. Not to mention a couple of million splurged on Mame Biram Diouf (out on-loan at Blackburn), Chris Smalling and the extraordinary signing of Portuguese homeless star Bebe. Combine the lot of them and you're still not close to a player worthy, or capable, of lacing Ronaldo's boots.
If this is what Rooney was getting at, if the hissy-fit and media storm over ‘wanting out' and United's “lack of ambition” were really just frustration at poor judgement and failure to bring the very best through Old Trafford's doors, then I can agree. Ferguson obviously does, too, or the situation would have ended with Rooney in the reserves and another three months of the cold shoulder.
There's clearly been furious discussions over the last week with chief executive David Gill promising the necessary funds for Sir Alex. Appeasing Rooney is important but despite the flak he's taken, the controversial 24-year-old's strop could be beneficial for the entire club.
Let's have some fun with it. If Manchester United want to sign some players in January or next summer, then who should they target? Well, for starters they'll need a new frontman. Berbatov still doesn't cut it for me. So this week I'll have a look at some of the names who should top Fergie's shopping list.
1. Edin Dzeko (Wolfsburg) – You've probably seen my top-tips for the Bundesliga striker pop up on more than a few occasions and he's delivered just as often. He's a phenom. The Bosnian is 6ft3in, powerful, quick, nimble with the ball at his feet, has a great reading of the game and the coolness under pressure to record 61 goals in 102 appearances for Wolfsburg. He also scored nine goals in Bosnia and Herzegovina's failed World Cup 2010 qualifying bid. The same as Rooney for England. He's been chased up by everyone and pound-for-pound he's the best striker not at one of Europe's elite. He'd cost roughly £35million but it'd be worth every dime. Think Didier Drogba Mk II.
2. Luis Fabiano (Sevilla) – It's amazing that he's still in Andalusia. He's got everything. Sometimes his temperament is a little off but the longer he's spent in Europe the more focused and hard-working he's become. He's absolutely deadly in front of goal and with the sort of electric pace that's a trademark of Brazilian No.9s, he'd tear-up Premiership defences. He's robust and physical, too, has bags of top-level European experience. If the rumours are to be believed, he was close to signing back in July before putting pen-to-paper on a new deal at Sevilla. It's proved to be a poor decision – he's spent most of this season on the bench with a managerial upheaval leaving his place uncertain. A very good option.
3. Welliton (Spartak Moscow) – Initially, I was a little reluctant to mention the former Goias man as he's only 23 and at this point I reckon United need experience. That said, his record of 47 goals in 68 games during his spell in Moscow speaks for itself. In August, he netted two consecutive hat-tricks. He's the best striker in Russian football and he's dazzling on the ball. He's not unrealised potential, like so many of Fergie's signings, he's the real deal and could easily go on to have the same level of success seen by Ronaldo.
4. Ola Toivonen (PSV Eindhoven) – The Sweden international started this season's Eredivisie campaign in stunning style, netting six goals in his first four matches and attracting the attention of teams across Europe – most notably Liverpool. His goals-to-games ratio in Eindhoven reads roughly one-in-two and he has already found the net at international level. The best bit? He'd only cost £12million.
5. Luis Suarez (Ajax) – You'll probably remember the Uruguayan for his shameless goal-line handball against Ghana in the World Cup quarter-finals. He was sent off but came rushing back to celebrate atop his team-mates' shoulders when his country sneaked through. That aside, there's little at fault with the 23-year-old. He scored 49 goals in all competitions last year – better than Ronaldo and Leo Messi – and was named the Player of the Year in Holland. In total, he has 110 goals in 149 matches for the Amsterdam outfit, which is staggering. I talked him up before the World Cup and I think he and Diego Forlan were fantastic in Uruguay's run to the semis. Again, he's closer to the finished article but still has best years ahead of him.
On a seperate note, I'd urge everyone to check out Ian Holloway's fiery rant on the Rooney saga from the other day. The Blackpool boss is one of the few remaining characters in the game but beneath all the jovial, west country banter, lies a working-class fan of the game who still believes integrity and a close relationship with the fans is absolutely vital. If only there were more like him.