Date: 4th June 2007 at 9:59am
Written by:

Manchester United have been crowned champions in 2007, four years after winning their last title. In 2003, I believe we committed great mistakes which must not be repeated.

The summer of 2003 had seen great changes at Manchester United who had just wrestled the title from Arsenal’s hands. We sold two key players and bought some others who were quite simply not good enough to wear the shirt. Let’s take a look at where it had gone wrong back then.

We sold David Beckham and Juan Sebastian Veron and did not replace them with suitable players.

One might argue that the latter has never been a great player for Manchester United and that Becks’ relationship with Ferguson had deteriorated to a point where working together had been no longer possible. And they would be too damn right.

The problem is that both players had been better by a mile than their successors. In the case of Beckham, Ronaldo’s turned out to be a talisman, the most valuable player of the club but in his first season he was no more than a one-trick showpony with little end product.

Veron will never be remembered as one of the greats and rightly so: he simply did not fit into our midfield that had been broken up for him. Still, he had the quality and experience to put together decent performances – and the same could not be said of Eric Djemba-Djemba or Kleberson who were meant to replace him.

Quite simply, the problem was that transition was not achieved gradually.

Instead that drastic steps were taken but we did not buy quality: Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson and the third misfit of the summer, David Bellion never had a future at Manchester United. The mistakes of that summer ensured that the next three years would be an uphill struggle while trying to plug some gaping holes.

I’d argue that all of Fergie’s purchases in 2004, 2005 and 2006 were successful had it not been for injuries but the rebuilding process had been almost terminally undermined by the mistakes of that one summer.

Now we’re in a similar position. The title has been secured and now the papers are talking about dropping the golden oldies, Giggs and Scholes and selling Heinze, Smith, Saha, Fletcher and a number of other players.

Our purchases so far are clearly superior to the flops of 2003. I firmly believe that Nani, Anderson and Hargreaves will go on to become excellent acquisitions – if, and only if, we retain the core of the squad that have won the title.

I had voiced my concerns earlier about Nani: I had feared he would tempt Ronaldo back to his old ways. I’m still sure the Portuguese youngster will need time to adapt to life at Old Trafford. That’s why Ryan Giggs’ role will still be vital – as a player and as a person whose experience is invaluable to youngsters.

The same could be said of Paul Scholes. He’s had a mesmerising season and though I don’t expect him to reach such heights again he’s still got a lot to offer. He must be eased out gradually, just like Giggs. Throwing Anderson and Nani into the middle of things will not do wonders.

As for the other players: we’ve never had a big enough squad for the 2003/04 season and paid the price for it during a disastrous winter. So don’t sell anyone who could play an important part next season. Sell players who did not do well last season and who are clearly not needed – Richardson, and it pains me to say, Eagles. Saha, Fletcher and Smith should be kept unless we get a quality striker – in that case, one of either Saha or Smith could leave if he’s desperate to do so.

Heinze and Silvestre will be linked with moves away from Old Trafford but I think we should sell only one of them AND only if Pique or Evans are ready for a place in the first team. I think both of them are ready but it’s not my job to decide.

Therefore, Fergie will have a very important task this summer: he must convince those who might fear for their place, most notably Heinze, Fletcher and Smith that we need a big squad to compete on all fronts as it has been proved the season just past. For the man who convinced Ronaldo to stay after last summer’s World Cup, this task can’t seem to difficult.