Date: 6th August 2009 at 5:36pm
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Remember the summer off 2006? It wasn’t a long time ago so you should. I’d say the resemblance to the current summer’s events is uncanny, although with obvious differences.

Back then we had sold our leading goalscorer, the man who scored 150 goals in 219 appearances. We had lost our inspiration captain, too and replaced neither of them. No striker arrived and only Michael Carrick was purchased to boost the midfield options. A ‘band aid for a bullet wound’, as it had been described.

United have never looked back since, winning three consecutive league titles in style. But this summer, everything changed: we sold our leading goalscorer and didn’t replace him properly… Familiar, huh?

There are obvious differences, of course. First, one must acknowledge with a certain sadness that great player Ruud was, he’s no Cristiano Ronaldo. With him in the team we became so one-dimensional in the end that it was difficult to believe. He wasn’t someone who struck fear into every opposition, who could win games single-handedly – he was simply a top class goalscorer, a world-class player but highly reliant on his teammates.

With Ronaldo, it’s the other way round: the teammates became highly reliant on him. But back in 2006 nobody believed that would happen. Everyone talked about where the goals would come from for United and no hack, pundit or fan could imagine that we could improve our attack without making any new signings. But that happened, simply because Cristiano Ronaldo (and to an extent, Louis Saha) stepped up the plate and we ended up scoring more in 2006/07 than we did in any of the previous four campaigns.

And thus we won the league after being widely tipped to finish third or fourth – even fifth was mooted as a possibility with Spurs overtaking us. Now, in 2009, we are again tipped to finish third behind Liverpool (never mind they sold the brain of their midfield and replaced him with a player who’s about as injury-prone as Hargreaves) and Chelsea. Once again, summer shopping is dismissed as insufficient. But are there any players at the club who have the potential to step up as Ronaldo did?

Emphatically, yes. The most obvious candidate is Wayne Rooney: he enjoyed a telephatic understanding with Ronaldo but there’s no denying the fact that catering for Ronaldo’s whims and building on his strengths meant a lot of donkey work for Rooney which is somewhat of a waste for such a brilliantly gifted player. It’s an indication of his talents that he still managed to be a key player and scored very important goals. Now he needs to do it all the time.

The other one is Anderson. He’s got a huge season ahead of him as it’s time for him to show his real talent. The aging of Scholes and Giggs means he will have plenty of opportunities – actually, he’ll probably be a key player. He’s fast, skilled, strong, creative – he’s got the lot. The question is whether he can channel his raw abilities into a more refined form? I think he can and will be a huge hit.

Their emergence, with Dimitar Berbatov hopefully taking on more responsilibites, could see United return to the smooth, spectacular attacking football of 2006-2008. We can score 68 league goals without Ronaldo, of that I am certain. Because, like it or not, that’s not a very great total of goals scored…

So, see, there’s plenty of similarities with 2006 and a great deal of comfort might be drawn from the memories. The reason why I think we won’t win the title is the most obvious difference between the two situations. In 2006 we were looking for our first league title since 2003 which became embarassing for the likes of Ferdinand, Giggs and Scholes. Especially the two veterans were who stepped up the plate and played with renewed vigour and hunger.

This won’t happen this time: there’s no more left in the tank of Giggs and Scholes and United won the last three league titles. Quite simply there’s nothing of the ‘we’ll-show-’em’ attitude, the raw hunger and ambition which was so important in the drive for success in that first Ruudless season. Or to put it even more simply: winning four in a row is bloody difficult, no wonder no team have managed it yet…