A Huge Challenge For Fergie And For United
Cristiano Ronaldo is as good as gone - we should not think for a moment that he's going to refuse personal terms at Real Madrid. The real question is how will United use the obscene amounts of money they'll receive for their best player.
And Ronaldo is our best player, make no mistake about that. He is irreplaceable in many ways: his free-kicks, his ability to win a game out of nothing, to score crucial goals at crucial times, his directness and his completeness will be sorely missed and we won't find all of these in one new player.
United will have to evolve, will have to change. But frankly, that would have been necessary even if Ronaldo had stayed. We had a great season in terms of results but looking at the football we played - well, if we're honest, it was generally mediocre and sometimes downright atrocious. Our attack was pedestrian, we scored only 68 league goals and looked blunt so very often.
Arguably, it is a trend that's been evident for a while now: the 'new United' was at its fluent, attacking best in 2006/07, was still pretty good (and very efficient) in 2007/08 but only the efficiency remained for 2008/09, a few glimpses of brilliance (the Arsenal semi-finals, for example) aside.
So we need to evolve because the fluidity, the creativity has gone. Ronaldo's ego deprived him of his creativity and turned him into a goal machine - though people say that he creates plenty of goals as well, this is simply not true: 7 assists in 2007/08, 6 assists in 2008/09... this is not bad but not irreplaceable either, he's not our main creative force.
The lack of pace is an issue and that's why I do not wish to keep Tevez. He's slow and that's a fact. Berbatov is also slow, true, but at least he's got excellent technical qualities, something that Tevez can't boast. I believe that United need to grasp this moment and invest and the priority should be to add pace to the attack.
Also, it is somewhat refreshing that we won't have to build the team on anyone next season. Ronaldo was obsessed with himself, with scoring goals and in the end paid little attention to the team, a few occasions aside (but recalling those occasions is painful because those games remind us what a loss he actually is) and we had to shape the team to suit Ronaldo and to do the donkey work for him. Maybe we'll have a more balanced team next season.
This is the challenge that is before SAF. I promise that I will be patient, I recognise the fact that probably a 'transition' season awaits us. There is the opportunity to create a more balanced team, to reverse the tendency that saw our football getting worse. Careful man management, detailed tactical analysis and, crucially, the right signings are required.
Fergie is, without a doubt, capable of delivering these. He's got major decisions ahead but one must hope that the sale of Ronaldo was a strategic decision. So far it looks like one, what with the whole thing being so smooth and quick. We won't have to endure a long transfer saga and it's also clear that we do not sell because we've been forced into a corner: in all probability Gill, Ferguson and co. have known ever since last summer that they'll sell Ronaldo. But, crucially, they bought themselves time to make long-term schemes and Ronaldo departs on United's terms, for an extraordinary amount of money.
There's no question that with his sale we became weaker. However, there is the chance to create an even better team. Hopefully we'll take it.