When Sir Alex Ferguson signed Anderson in 2007, it would have been hard to imagine that up until his retirement in 2013 he would not sign another central midfielder. He did sign Paul Pogba, as a 16 year old, re-sign Paul Scholes from retirement, and his final signing was Nick Powell when he was 18. In terms of major signings, Anderson was the last.
When things started to go wrong after he retired, this fact was one that kept being used to identify how weak Ferguson left Manchester United in this key position. On the face of it you may have expected more investment, if only for competition, but the likes of Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher (now at West Bromwich Albion) continue to show their worth even as age catches up with them.
However, United won the league by 11 points with those two and the likes of Scholes and Tom Cleverley also contributed. There were no real stand out players, but as United normally played with a three in the centre, United were still able to dominate games and bring the forwards into play without having a need for a world class talent. The days when Roy Keane and Scholes were enforcing were long gone.
Still, David Moyes must still be ruing the day that Pogba left Manchester for Turin, Had Ferguson been able to hang on to Pogba, then that midfield would have been considerably stronger – even if Pogba would still have only been 20 when Moyes took over. He wasn’t though, and United have still not been able to address the issue of central midfield, despite a number of acquisitions.
Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Daley Blind, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger have all been signed, and all been tried in the midfield and none have made a particularly good job of it. Indeed, Carrick is possibly one of the better performers still, a fact not lost on Jose Mourinho who handed him a one year deal.
Schweinsteiger is the class act, but he is no spring chicken and injuries hampered his first season at Old Trafford. He added control and a bit of class, but it was too infrequent. Schneiderlin was disappointing.
At Southampton, he could dominate the midfield but he has been reserved in a United jersey. Fellaini and Herrera have different qualities and are more suited to playing further forward. Blind played the odd game in the centre, but has established himself in defence.
Ferguson’s mantra towards the end was that the midfield was greater than the sum of the parts. Take one out, replace with something similar. Louis van Gaal seemed to take the same approach.
However, although van Gaal’s midfield dominated games in terms of possession, they lacked penetration. Both Moyes and van Gaal failings have managed to show just how brilliant Sir Alex was in being able to get the best out of so called lesser players.
Well you can forget that approach now. Mourinho is here. He is not used to having a team full of half decent players. He wants world class material to work with. He wants Paul Pogba. Pogba is the embodiment of a Mourinho midfielder. Good physique, athletic, a good passer, great technique. He is someone who can boss a midfield and United have lacked that for some time.
When Manchester City signed Yaya Toure, it looked like an expensive mistake. The sums of money they paid for someone who was surplus to requirements at Barcelona seemed extortionate. It turned out to be good business. Yes he is languid, sometimes lazy, but since his arrival at City he proved he is a dominant force. With him, City were a huge real handful both in a game situation and in challenging for titles.
Toure is getting older, but is still a big player. Pogba isn’t even close to his prime. If United re-sign Pogba, then he can have the same effect that Toure had across the city. If. That is a big if. Bringing Pogba back will not be the most straight forward acquisition United have ever made. There are plenty of reports to suggest that it is not a forlorn hope.
It is suggested that Mourinho has been in discussions with Pogba’s agent, Mino Rainola, and in turn Rainola is trying to persuade Pogba that Manchester should be his next destination. It is mooted that Pogba wants to join Real Madrid and any deal to United hinges on their interest. It wouldn’t be the first time that United are left hanging on what Madrid want to do.
If Mourinho does get his man, then it would be a huge statement and a sign of things to come. To outwit Madrid for such a marquee signing doesn’t happen every day. It would complete a Mourinho spine, but it would also give United a talisman in the middle that they have been sorely missing.