Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has recently quashed rumors that United are interested in procuring the signature of Dutch master midfielder Wesley Sneijder. In truth, this means little, as Ferguson is never one to give away his intentions so easily. He has, of course, already signed the considerable and growing talent of Shinji Kagawa, who operates in a very similar role to Sneijder, so it would be odd for United to go for another attacking midfielder so soon.
With United currently struggling to fill the holding midfield role with a reliable performer, you would guess that they are in the market for such a player. The box-to-box spoiler with that little bit of class on the ball, a player who can stop attacks and start them in one movement, a player United have not truly had since they were lucky enough to call Roy Keane their captain and stalwart center midfielder.
One player who quite obviously ticks these boxes is the Italian Daniele De Rossi. Technical skill, a ferocious will to win, a proven mental strength and the FIFA World Cup medal in his personal trophy cabinet attest to these things. De Rossi has all the attributes of a champion, which is exactly what Manchester United need.
Their reliance on the steadying vision of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes has become a weakness at times this season and contributed to a deterioration of their ability to confront opposition teams to the fullest extent. Ferguson has outlined defensive problems for this, and on occasion their defense has looked far below the level that has come to be expected.
A qualifying factor here, though, is the inability of the United midfield to pull their weight. Ferguson has repeatedly attempted to remedy this with varying combinations and varying levels of success and failure.
There have, of course, been partial successes. The use of Wayne Rooney in a more true midfield role has yielded benefits, as has the return to fitness of Darren Fletcher and the continued progress of Anderson. These things have briefly feathered over the cracks in the United setup, like a quick redecoration before a hasty real-estate sale.
Over time, though, it has been witnessed that United do not have the best midfield in the park. In some games they have squeaked through with the points and in some they have not. The glaring example in the "not" column is, of course, the home defeat suffered against Tottenham Hotspur. They were undone in a first-half midfield battering that saw them concede the initiative and the game.
You would imagine Roy Keane looking on with a strange bemusement, as in his day, the United midfield was very rarely second-best, and if it was, it was because they were playing against a midfield that contained another truly world-class player—say, for example, Patrick Viera.
This odd trend of incomplete team units has been noticeable in the EPL during fixtures this season, and also in the last few, for that matter. Teams are fronting up with sides that are outlandishly talented in certain areas of the park and severely lacking in others. Still, though, whether because of outright freakish natural ability or sometimes sheer luck, they have still been able to sneak out with the points.
Historically, United have made a bit of a nuisance of themselves in this sense. The simply phenomenal form of Cristiano Ronaldo was something that gave them a massive advantage over a few seasons, taking the focus off areas of the team that were weaker than they had been in many years.
They did, of course, manage to win the league again after Ronaldo had left, though this was helped by the fact that their nearest challengers were below par, with Chelsea at times disjointed, Arsenal likewise and Manchester City still experiencing teething problems.
Despite their EPL triumph in the 2010-2011 season, United's midfield deficiencies were exposed for all to see in the 3-1 mauling they received in the Champions League final against Barcelona. They were literally played off the park, in the middle of the park, by a midfield combination that was simply too good.
The remarkable thing the next season was United not addressing this in the transfer window that followed this result. There was no major midfield signing. Perhaps this had something to do with Ferguson's belief in his players, but it also may have had something to do with United's capacity to purchase strong and seasoned players.
Even more remarkably, United were able to challenge for the title in an extremely robust fashion, despite their obvious lack in the midfield areas. Paul Scholes was called out of retirement and restored a stuttering United midfield to the extent that they lost the league on goal difference on the final day, underlining his quality, but also again papering over the problem of United's threadbare midfield resources.
Once again, it was assumed by many that United would opt for strengthening the middle of the park. Instead, the major signings were Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa. Both players are making a visible difference, Van Persie in particular, his goals a key factor in their current position atop the table.
The telling thing is that several times this season, United have struggled in the midfield and not asserted the authority that has been over the years a hallmark of their dominance. They have conceded early on in many games and at times been at disarray in the face of concerted opposition efforts to interrupt their flow of possession—subsequently struggling to set a platform of midfield stability in several fixtures.
Danielle De Rossi could well be the man to change all of this. His ability is proven on the greatest world stage, a 60th-minute substitute in a torrid second half when the Italian national team won the world cup on penalties in 2006, he himself scoring the third penalty.
Recently, he was a key squad member in their march to the European Championship final earlier this year. With Roma, his only professional club, he has won two Italian Cups and the Italian Supercup, a small return in the club game for a player so obviously capable of excellence.
United could well be able to tempt him their way, as they currently challenge again on three major fronts and have a team consisting of former champions and a manager in Ferguson who has won all there is to offer in the club game.
De Rossi would seem to be just the player that United need, in that he plays the game they do—technical ability crossed with intention and desire to triumph. His strength, maturity and versatility as well would be great assets to a United midfield that at times has looked rather frail.
At this stage, he has been mentioned as a possible candidate for a move to crosstown rivals Manchester City, but to this writer, it seems as if he would be the perfect remedy for Manchester United's current ailment.
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