With the reported £22m signing of Robin Van Persie closing in, Sir Alex Ferguson will be enjoying another coup at the expense of Arsene Wenger. However, with the balance of Manchester United’s team coming into question for much of last season, is this signing a reversion to type by the seasoned Scots manager?
In Scotland there used to be a stereotype –banished now due to recent events –that Rangers FC would simply buy the best players from the clubs round about them, in order to give themselves an easier run in to the Old Firm matches.
Out of this tradition came Rangers fan, Ferguson.
He used his disciplinary style and cunning to get Aberdeen to the top of European football, but with Manchester United he was prepared to plunder other players from rival clubs. Gary Pallister; Paul Ince; Eric Cantona; Roy Keane; Teddy Sheringham; Dwight Yorke. These men all came from teams that Ferguson’s side would pass on the way to the bigger matches.
As Ferguson nurtured his side, though, he went through cycles of dragging up youth players and molding them. Smatterings of such signings helped, but only in times of sustained threat would he panic and sign a marquee name that grabbed headlines.
It does not always pan out. Juan Sebastian Veron will always be remembered as a costly flop at Old Trafford. He had been bought to add wit and cutting edge to a Champions League midfield, but he was a player who could not rise above Manchester United’s team ethos.
Now, with the signing of Van Persie, Ferguson looks like he is trying to sign big in order to send a message to the rest of the league as well as swiping a quality player from another rival. Under pressure from Manchester City, he is taking to a combination of old tricks.
The problem here is that old tricks have not damaged the insurgent City. Last season, as Ferguson pulled out his most tested mind games, City and Roberto Mancini simply closed ranks and calmly nodded in agreement.
Ferguson knows that City can grow from this point. If he does nothing then it would display weakness and the impression of cowardice. In the bullying manner that has seen last season’s top goalscorer arrive in Manchester, though, Ferguson may have come on too strong, too soon.
In a move which may have rustled Wenger and irked Mancini, Ferguson has spent a lot of money in a position where Wayne Rooney is bossing Chicharito and both can be aided by Kagawa. Meanwhile, Michael Carrick is bailing out water in the middle of United’s midfield.
Perhaps Ferguson will be afforded more money by the Glazer family so as to sign a quality central midfielder. However, in making a point he may have stretched resources too far.
Doubting Sir Alex is very often a foolish, foolish choice. Nonetheless, in the past there were easier enemies to identify. Now that City are strong, Arsenal are spending more than they have in years and Chelsea are snapping up players from all over the globe, Manchester United know that they need to be more resilient than last season.