Ferguson faces a race against clock to find firepower

After failing against Burnley, United will know Rooney needs greater support. Sam Wallace on the options in the current transfer window

The last few days of August are a damned difficult time to buy a good striker, not least one that promises to transform your season, and Sir Alex Ferguson will reflect that the occasion he acquired Eric Cantona in the space of one phone conversation was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

There can be no doubt that Manchester United have a problem with their strikers because there is something wrong with a United front line that cannot score away at Burnley, let alone only one at home to Birmingham City. Ferguson's issue is whether, post-Cristiano Ronaldo, the problem is temporary – fitness, confidence, form – or something more serious that needs to be fixed quickly.

The defeat to Burnley on Wednesday night was one of those appalling results for United that have occasionally blighted them even in their last 17 years of pre-eminence. For all the quirkiness of the evening at Turf Moor, similarly bizarre defeats have befallen United in the past when inferior opposition such as Wolves (2004), Bolton (2001 and 2002) and Derby County (1997) have scored precious wins over them in the league.

It is hardly a crisis – although in modern football a big four club is only ever two defeats away from one – but there is a more fundamental question: are United's strikers good enough for the job? There is nothing much wrong with Wayne Rooney but the displays of Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov would test the faith of any manager with 12 days left of the transfer window.

As a result so much now rests on Rooney and the goals he scores. It should be remembered that in his first two seasons at the club Rooney outscored Ronaldo comfortably and in 2006-2007 they both scored 23 goals. Only in Ronaldo's two final seasons at United did he significantly overtake Rooney, scoring 68 over the two years to Rooney's 38.

But take out Carlos Tevez's contribution too – 34 goals over two seasons – and you can see why there is an added danger of Rooney's frustration getting the better of him. On Wednesday night he slammed a boot down on Tyrone Mears as he felt the game drifting away from him; the only improvement in his temper tantrums is that these days he recovers in time at least to look apologetic.

Ferguson has only ever really spent big late on in the transfer window when the player has been a summer-long target such as Berbatov or one who has become available earlier than expected. This was the case with Rooney in 2004, when Ferguson rightly spent the entire next summer's budget, and Ronaldo a year earlier when it became clear that United might miss out if they left him at Sporting Lisbon a year longer.

In short, the approach to transfers of Ferguson and Unied's chief executive, David Gill, has always been the model to which other clubs have aspired: discreet and quick, with less of the friction with the selling club that seemed to affect Gill's predecessor, Peter Kenyon. Since Ronaldo's departure the expectation has been, despite Ferguson saying otherwise, that he has a transfer up his sleeve.

The options across Europe, however have looked pretty bleak, Having to wait until Real Madrid and Manchester City did their business to avoid being caught in an auction did not make it any better. The ease with which Real Madrid took Karim Benzema from United was shocking. The acquisition of Gabriel Obertan from Bordeaux showed the limits of the market – currently injured, he was farmed out on loan to Lorient by Bordeaux last season.

Samuel Eto'o has been transferred already, so too Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, although he was watched closely and not judged to be at United's required level anyway. Franck Ribéry, David Villa and David Silva look to be unavailable for another year. Sergio Aguero is cup-tied for the Champions League, as is his team-mate Diego Forlan, who would be an intriguing returnee to Old Trafford.

The prospects of United going back over their options now would be bleak simply because what they really need is a ready-made striker who can hit the ground running. Of all those who has defied the odds to stay at his club this summer, Edin Dzeko is one of the most interesting. He was Wolfsburg's top goalscorer last season when they won the Bundesliga and somehow they have managed to keep him, despite the interest from the likes of Milan.

So too the Roma striker Mirko Vucinic, but none of these players would reflect the United way of doing things, which is to identify their targets early and pick them up quickly once the transfer window opens. It does the beg the question as to why, if United expected to lose Ronaldo and Tevez this summer, in January they did not challenge for Jermain Defoe, a player they have looked at before.

Striking problem: Three who could rescue United

Edin Dzeko (Wolfsburg)

But: The German champions have rejected all bids this summer.

Mirko Vucinic (Roma)

But: Sold Aquilani to Liverpool, reluctant to let any more stars leave.

Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich)

But: £80m valuation for the sought-after winger – a long shot.

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home