I never like it when managers try to justify their bad decisions with equally bad logic.
Take Louis van Gaal’s handling of Danny Welbeck’s Old Trafford departure. It’s a misguided decision to let him go – and the attempt to justify that error by comparing him to Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney is also, well, misguided.
There is no credibility, no meaningful value, in comparing player with player – unless they’re truly like for like. In Welbeck’s case that’s hardly the case.
This is a young player who has been pushed from pillar to post at Old Trafford, playing in just about every conceivable position – but rarely his favourite one – as Sir Alex Ferguson papered over cracks elsewhere in the team.
The best deals of the summer...
The best deals of the summer...
1/15 Bojan Krkic (Stoke City, forward, £4.4m)
The most unlikely move of the summer looks like it could be one of the cutest. More interesting than all of the inevitable talk about “How will a former Barcelona starlet handle himself on a wet Saturday afternoon at the Britannia?” is how Mark Hughes convinced a former Barcelona starlet to leave Rome for a series of wet Saturdays in Stoke. Bojan has cut an increasingly disappointing figure in the three years since he left Catalonia – but Hughes revitalised Oussama Assaidi last season and could do the same for the nimble-footed Spanish forward.
2/15 Bafetimbi Gomis (Swansea City, striker, free)
Swansea City have reacted shrewdly to the uncertainty surrounding the future of Wilfried Bony with the signing of the equally powerful Gomis. The Frenchman was hardly prolific during his five years at Lyon, netting at the rate of just over a goal every three games – but he offers an all-round threat not present in Bony’s game. Gomis is adept at holding the ball up and will allow Swansea the option of going long more often to complement their sometimes predictable passing game – he is a pragmatic buy with the potential to transcend lowly initial expectations.
3/15 Daryl Janmaat (Newcastle, right-back, £5m)
The quiet revolution on Tyneside continues at right-back, where Daryl Janmaat is a more than adequate replacement for Mathieu Debuchy, who was lured by Arsenal. Janmaat impressed for the Netherlands under Louis van Gaal at the recent World Cup with several displays of defensive solidity coupled with attacking prowess – indeed, he looks more secure at the back than the man he is replacing. The same caveat applied to Filipe Luis is relevant to Janmaat: the effectiveness of his displays will be measured by their lack of prominence. The early signs are promising.
4/15 Filipe Luis (Chelsea, left-back, £16m)
To suggest that Luis is an Ashley Cole clone is to damn him with faint praise and speak a measure of truth at the same time – Schrödinger’s Cat updated to fit Chelsea’s left-back problem. The Brazilian is as safe in defence as a Victorian semi-detached town house, but is ever-eager to press forward on the overlap. Great full-backs follow the maxim applied to referees: you only really notice them when they are performing badly or missing in action. Luis’s value will be revealed if Atletico Madrid struggle in his absence – and if no one mentions the name A Cole.
5/15 Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal, forward, £32m)
Sanchez is perhaps the standout signing in a summer of big-money moves at the sharp end of the Premier League. The Chile international has the pace, skill and finishing ability to play anywhere across the front line – he started on the wing in Arsenal’s Community Shield defeat of Manchester City but is expected to move to a more central role before too long, possibly replacing Olivier Giroud. Sanchez should bring the type of dynamism that Arsenal’s pretty, patterned play has often lacked over the past few seasons. Given the size of his fee, he will be expected to perform.
6/15 Diego Costa (Chelsea, striker, £33.44m)
The man viewed as Chelsea’s long-term striking solution could well turn out to be not just one of the best Premier League transfers of this summer but one of the best in the league’s history. Equally, the Brazilian has the potential to make his £33m-plus transfer fee look like the biggest debacle this side of Fernando Torres. The naturalised Spaniard flourished at Atletico Madrid in Diego Simeone’s high-energy, high-pressing system – but on occasion he can appear leaden-footed and has a fiery temperament that must be curbed. A two-goal salvo against Real Sociedad on Tuesday night hinted at the good side of the man – and his reaction to a Bruno Alves horror tackle against Fenerbahce the bad.
7/15 Romelu Lukaku (Everton, striker, £28m)
Having been on loan last season, Everton’s key signing of this transfer window already feels well at home among Goodison Park’s club-embossed armchairs. Lukaku hit 15 league goals for Roberto Martinez’s side last season as they challenged for the Champions League, only to falter at the last. More will be demanded of the Belgian now the Merseysiders have almost doubled their transfer record to make his move permanent – but Lukaku has the ability to fulfil those lofty expectations. Bullishly strong and with an unerring left boot, he can flourish now he is not tagged as the next Didier Drogba.
8/15 Lazar Markovic (Liverpool, winger, £20m)
How do you go about replacing the irreplaceable? Brendan Rodgers’ seemingly impossible task of filling the void left by Luis Suarez got off to a promising start with the signing of jet-heeled Serbian winger Markovic, who starred during Benfica’s run to last season’s Europa League final. The 20-year-old will be allowed time to settle into Premier League life, with Rodgers expected to use him from the bench in the season’s early weeks. Once he is unleashed, however, Markovic could be the season’s great surprise – he has trickery enough to delight even the most Suarez-obsessed members of the Kop.
9/15 Ander Herrera (Man United, midfield, £32m)
Leaving aside the lingering memories of the farce that was United’s pursuit of Herrera last summer, the fact that Louis van Gaal finally has the man David Moyes wanted can only be a good thing for a midfield in need of both an internal and external makeover. Despite being only 24, the playmaker is a classy and experienced operator – a veteran of European football with Athletic Bilbao, for whom he impressed against United in the Europa League in March 2012. Herrera is a significant upgrade on Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick – a player of finely spun steel for a deoxygenated midfield.
10/15 Rémy Cabella (Newcastle, midfield, £12m)
The Montpellier chairman, Louis Nicollin, mocked Cabella for his decision to move to Tyneside, telling the midfielder that he would be “bored” at his new club. It will be Alan Pardew seeing the funny side of the deal if Cabella proves a hit at Newcastle, however – and the France international has the ability to be just that. Creative and versatile, he possesses the type of Gallic skill that Newcastle fans have seen twice before with Laurent Robert and the incomparable David Ginola.
11/15 Daley Blind (Manchester United, midfield, £14m)
While United stole the headlines with their dramatic swoop to bring in Radamel Falcao in what looks a drastically expensive loan move, it was the signing of Daley Blind which could help the most given United's obvious deficiencies in midfield and defence. Blind, 24, knows Louis van Gaal and his methods well, which should prove very useful given how slowly it seems the rest of United's rearguard are getting their heads around them. And at £14million, he is the cheapest of United's senior signings.
12/15 Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea, midfield, £30m)
Another expensive acquisition, the fee this time believed to be in the region of £30million - but again, it is easy to see why the cash has been splashed. The early signs are that the Spain midfielder may be an even better player than the one who left Arsenal as a true Premier League star in 2011.
13/15 Calum Chambers (Arsenal, defence, £16m)
Not the most high-profile departure among the exodus from St Mary's over the summer, but Chambers was known to be a player of great promise and has certainly made a big impression in Arsenal's defence so far following his switch for a reported £16million, earning a first call-up to the full England squad.
14/15 Hatem ben Arfa (Hull, midfield, loan)
Steve Bruce arguably had the best deadline day of any Premier League manager as he completed something of a summer overhaul with the arrivals of Abel Hernandez, Mohamed Diame and Gaston Ramirez. But it was the late, late arrival of Newcastle outcast Hatem Ben Arfa which had the fans most excited. When his mind is right, the Frenchman is one of the most exciting attacking midfielders in the league and if Bruce can get him back on track after a frustrating year in the north east, he will give Hull a new dimension.
15/15 Mario Balotelli (Liverpool, striker, £16m)
The former Manchester City star is back in the Premier League after Brendan Rodgers went ahead with a £16m move for the Italian, securing his services from AC Milan. If Liverpool can contain his livewire personality and on-field temper, it could work out to be one of the best deals in the club's history.
The decision to let him go says far more about Van Gaal than it does about Welbeck but if United’s new manager must try to justify that decision by making comparisons, he needs to make them relevant.
And as unlikely as it may seem, I see many similarities between the situation Welbeck is now in and the development, through wise coaching, of one of England’s greatest goalscorers, Geoff Hurst.
I am absolutely not saying Welbeck is the new Hurst. I’m just saying he’s on a similar trajectory – or at least could be under new boss Arsène Wenger at Arsenal.
The question isn’t really whether Welbeck has scored enough goals so far in his career; it’s whether, playing in the right position, under the right coach with the right vision, he can become prolific in the right team.
His two goals for England against Switzerland suggested he can.
I believe Welbeck simply hasn’t been given sufficient chance to prove his goal-scoring prowess because he has been constantly played out of position and swapped from one side.
The reality is Welbeck is at the perfect age for strikers. In my experience hitmen come of age when they are around 23 years old, like Danny. That is the crucial age when young strikers either develop, or don’t, the strength of belief. They need to score goals and say to themselves: “That’s it, I’m on my way.”
And this is where I see a parallel with Hurst. Like Welbeck, Hurst was being played out of position at West Ham. Danny has been forced to play a lot on the left-side of midfield for United, though he’s always wanted to play through the middle.
Hurst started off for West Ham as a left-sided midfield player, an old-fashioned wing-half. Geoff didn’t score too many goals from there, but he learned the art of the game from then manager Ron Greenwood. And with teaching and confidence, Hurst moved up front and, wallop, started scoring goals. Maybe Arsenal boss Wenger has a similar vision for Welbeck.
Rooney is slimmer and faster
While Welbeck was England’s standout performer In the European Championship qualifer against Switzerland on Monday, it was Wayne Rooney who caught my eye. Or rather Rooney’s shape.
Slimmer, leaner, less chunky: Wayne really looks like he’s worked hard. And when you’ve got your shape right you are going to be quicker as he showed on his fast breakaways in that match the other night.
Manchester United and Queens Park Rangers will both line up with a 3-5-2 formation at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon. It’s a system I used a lot of the time as a 5-3-2. It means people from the back can get forward quicker and you can be more fluid.
In the modern game, full-backs can often find it hard to get out because the opposition wingers stop them from coming. But if you’ve got five at the back you can let any two of the five go – even from the centre-backs – because opposition centre-forwards go to sleep. If their centre-forwards turn off, then your centre-backs can turn on, come out of the back quickly and start playing. That is how you can break away from the back with great speed.
City’s European education
Manchester City against Bayern Munich on Wednesday night will be the tie of the opening round of the Champions League group stage. Bayern have got more experience than anyone else in this competition.
For whatever reason, City have had no success at all. Roberto Mancini brought them great success in the Premier League and they surprised everybody, overhauling Manchester United. But maybe they were not set up for the Champions League. Maybe it was a little bit too clever for them. They didn’t have the right formula for European football.
It didn’t get any better until Manuel Pellegrini came in last year. He reached the last 16, and has taken the rough edges off the team. Now they look like they can compete. When they first started they didn’t have enough experience in the Champions League. But the team has got far more European education now, no doubt about that.
Alonso could be key for Pep
Pep Guardiola is trying something interesting at Bayern Munich. In football, as in life, you don’t stand still, you either go forward or backward. And you have to work harder and be cleverer to progress.
So Guardiola is trying to mix it up, taking a little bit of that from Barcelona and a bit of this from Bayern. He also is out looking for new parts. If you need a new carburettor for your car then you buy it and put it in. And that carburettor could be Xabi Alonso. He is a great signing for Bayern, a great passer who could make the difference. Building teams is all about putting the right pieces together.Reuse content