Unrelenting hunger for success sees Ferguson set the early running

United's summer spending spree reveals manager was not fooled by title triumph

He has told us that he will defer the piano lessons he needs and the belated German lessons that he covets because he has seen what retirement did to his father. "He retired on his 65th birthday, and one year later he was dead. The worst you can do is put your slippers on..." But the events of the past six weeks tell us that something else is driving Sir Alex Ferguson's desire to work on.

When he retracted his decision to retire nearly a decade ago, Ferguson cited his own realisation, after the penny-pinching era of Martin Edwards, as he saw it, that his board were "prepared to try to become the best club in the world" as the principal reason. The opportunistic £20m bid for Samir Nasri – tabled two to three weeks ago, just as the player went public on his discontent at Arsenal – contributes to the sense that Ferguson considers himself to be back in precisely the same place as 10 years back. Then, Roy Keane was railing against the side's inadequacies and Ferguson went out and spent £47m on Juan Sebastian Veron and Ruud van Nistelrooy, to help create a side which might challenge for the European Cup in his beloved Glasgow the following May. This summer United have spent £50m already and are still busy. This is about something far bigger than a 20th title.

The sense that an overhaul lay ahead began afflicting Ferguson months ago and certainly long before the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona, which confirmed what he learned through the drab autumn days when his side was struggling at places such as Bolton and Sunderland. It was when he was under the pressure of the Wayne Rooney contract saga last October that Ferguson dropped the pretence and we glimpsed, briefly, in the raw, his feelings that this United side were no longer an immutable force. "Life changes," he said on the day Rooney publicly questioned United. "I don't think one club can win [dominate] for 10 or 15 years. It is impossible for a club to continue that. It was the same situation a few years ago at Chelsea."

March appears to have accentuated an appreciation that 2011 would be 2001 revisited: one last, truly defining summer of business for him. The manager, resigned weeks earlier to losing Edwin van der Sar, had given voice to the mounting gloom he was feeling about Rio Ferdinand playing any further role in the season. It was in early April that Ferguson began pressing Paul Scholes about his plans for the future, just about the time the manager met Soren Lerby, Wesley Sneijder's agent, at United's team hotel before the away match at West Ham. The alarm bells had been ringing about Scholes since early December after he sustained a groin injury at Rangers the previous month. It took seven weeks to heal.

Thus began the groundwork which has seen United set the early running this summer, spending £17m, rising to £20m, for Blackburn Rovers' Phil Jones, £17m on Ashley Young from Aston Villa and £18.9m on Atletico Madrid goalkeeper David de Gea. Jones and De Gea are the easy part. More complex is the challenge of the reshaped midfield and Ferguson's calculations of how to fit everybody in.

Young is generally characterised as a replacement for Ryan Giggs and the player whose arrival gives Luis Nani cause to worry for his future. But that's not how Gérard Houllier saw it at Aston Villa. Houllier discerned as soon as arriving at Villa Park last summer that Young operated better behind the main striker. Asked about Martin O'Neill's perception that Young could potentially be one of the best left-wings in Europe, Houllier replied: "No. He can play on the wing. Whether he can be one of the best in the world in that position... I think he can be one of the best in another position." Last month Fabio Capello agreed that Young is best deployed centrally, "not left-wing or right wing". The growing consensus in football is that Young operates best there.

That would place him in competition with Wayne Rooney, whose partnership operating in the hole behind Javier Hernandez has started delivering such potent results for United and who does not much care to shift left. Nasri offers slightly more variability but he, too, likes to drift in from the right to a central place. The arrival of Sneijder, a classic trequartista, would complicate things yet further. Scholes was certainly exuberant about the idea of him signing this week. "We've been linked to top players, especially Sneijder who has done it in the World Cup as well," he said. Old Trafford's policy is of not laying out cash on players over 26, which offers grounds to believe United's interest in him may be less than is publicised, but Sneijder would create even more of a jam behind the main striker.

Ferguson's track record on signing expensive attacking midfielders at moments like this is certainly not peerless. He certainly got Veron all wrong – and not only because he believed that his signature was "the best things the club has ever done". The Argentine was a deep-lying football quarter-back, pure and simple, doing from a deep-lying position for Lazio what l'architetto Andrea Pirlo did for Milan. Ferguson saw him as an attacking midfielder instead and he bombed.

But Scholes is a believer, where Ferguson is concerned, and has seen the same hunger in the manager he witnessed a decade ago. "His drive and enthusiasm is greater than ever, if anything. It really is bigger than ever," Scholes said. "He will have been thinking about the Barcelona game all summer and working out how he can avoid that sort of thing happening again." Where Ferguson's itch is concerned, expect anything in the weeks to come.

United role: Who can provide the central inspiration in Ferguson's new side?

Samir Nasri

Age: 24

Height: 5ft 10in

Weight: 11st 8lbs

Clubs: Marseilles, Arsenal

Apps (sub): 201 (50)

Goals: 38

Total transfer fees: £15.8m

France caps: 22

France goals: 2

Major honours: None

Wesley Sneijder

Age: 27

Height: 5ft 5in

Weight: 10st 5lbs

Clubs: Ajax, Real Madrid, Internazionale

Apps (sub): 355 (48)

Goals: 105

Fees: £37.6m

Netherlands caps/goals: 76/21

Major honours: One Champions League, three League titles

Ashley Young

Age: 25

Height: 5ft 9in

Weight: 10st 2lbs

Clubs: Watford, Aston Villa, Manchester Utd

Apps (sub): 272 (31)

Goals: 61

Fee(s): £26.65m

England caps/goals: 15/2

Major honours: None

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvSpoiler alert: It has been talked about for months
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
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

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?