Date:Monday August 6 2007
Sir Alex Ferguson claims this is the most talented squad he's ever managed. Is it really?
Nani, Anderson, Owen Hargreaves, Carlos Tevez. Not bad names to add to a championship-winning side, already boasting players like Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Louis Saha.
Sir Alex is well within his rights to claim he's never had a better squad at his disposal. And there are plenty of arguments to suggest it's true.
Between the sticks, Van der Sar's been impressive ever since he had joined from Fulham but never reached the brilliance of Peter Schmeichel. The defense is as solid as ever - and less prone to lapses of concentration than even the famous Bruce-Pallister partnership. On skill, Rio and Vidic are far superior than their predecessors but not as tough and intimidating.
Patrice Evra, while showing great promise, has to do awfully much to be compared to the great Denis Irwin but on the other flank, Gary Neville's been in the form of his life last season and he's undoubtedly United's greatest ever right-back.
Midfield. Now that's tricky. I'd say that the Beckham-Scholes-Keane-Giggs quartet is unsurpassable, it's the best midfield of the past 20 years or so. Kanchelskis, Sharpe, Ince, Robson with Keane and Giggs again come close to it, as the famous 1994 side dominated almost all of their opponents with this intimidating set of players.
And the current one? Ronaldo is brilliant yet still inconsistent, Scholes has improved with age (not his tackling though), Michael Carrick is a type of player we've never had - a silky passer as a defensive midfielder. Owen Hargreaves could turn out to be a huge success and I have faith in him - comparing him to Roy Keane is a mistake, he's much rather like Paul Ince, a telling tackler but not such a forceful personality as the Irishman.
Giggs has widened the range of his skills recently and is still great for us, I have no doubts about that. The new signings, Anderson and Nani add even more technical excellence to the squad but are unproven in England. The potential and the talent is there, though.
Up front. Forget Eric Cantona, he's the one and only striker, we'll never have another Eric just as we'll never have another Roy Keane. In terms of understanding each other, the Cole-Yorke partnership is unbeatable, just as Canto is in terms of sheer brilliance. Yet the current crop, in terms of talent, stands up to any comparison: Rooney, Tevez, Saha are all technically excellent and the former two have fantastic fighting spirit, something Fergie always valued.
Squad depth: I think it'd be hard to argue that we never had such a big squad. We have cover in every position and will have quality players on the bench to turn matches if we need to.
So what's the verdict? I think such comparisons are difficult to make. In terms of technique and skills, this team is head and shoulders above any previous ones. So I might agree with Fergie that this is the most talented squad he's ever had. However, I'd strongly argue that this does not mean that it is the best ever the squad he's had. That would mean we are obliged to win the Quadruple, something that's very, very unlikely to happen.
As all of his best teams, this one will be able to attack at pace and tear opponents apart with skill. The defense is solid and we have better goalkeepers than we've ever had since the departure of the Big Dane. However, there's one more thing. It might sound obvious but it's relevant: football has changed dramatically since Fergie's first great team. The 1994 and even the 1999 teams encountered different opponents, faced different challenges. And that makes comparisons almost impossible though I'd like to think I made a valiant effort to do it*.
But of course its achievements that can tell great teams apart. If we win the Premiership and the Champions League, I'll be forced to conclude that this is Fergie's greatest ever team, for such a feat would be more impressive than the 1999 Treble - and more difficult, I think.
*Modesty might not be my strongest point
Date:Monday August 6 2007
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