Google Manchester United every day and you will see fresh rumours about who Sir Alex is supposedly going to buy in the January transfer window.
Most of them are absolute rubbish, either because United were never interested in the player anyhow or for a variety of other reasons, such as:
- Too old
- Too expensive
- Wages too high
- Would never move to United
- Would never leave their existing club
- Not good enough
- Not enough experience
- United don't need any more cover in that position
- Not desperate to play for United
- Wrong attitude
- Poor disciplinary record
- Likely to be away on international duty all the time (e.g. Africa Cup)
- Too one-dimensional or inflexible
- Too slow
You make the rest up.
If you listen to what Sir Alex has said and what he has done in the transfer window in the past, particularly in recent years, there are plenty of clues to his strategy.
So people get frustrated when he doesn't buy this player or that player, but as we said before, this isn't fantasy football. Sometimes you buy sheer talent for a lot of money and get plenty of headaches, like Mario Balotelli.
And why do you think Sir Alex really didn't buy Carlos Tevez? He may be very committed on the football pitch when he wants to be, but apart from the complications of his ownership while he was at United and his playing and salary demands, could attitude have been a problem?
Sir Alex Ferguson's dream player in January
There are certain attributes and characteristics that seem to be forming a pattern especially with Manchester United's recent signings.
Robin van Persie, Antonio Valencia, Javier Hernandez and Angelo Henriquez are good examples of a humble manner and it being a privilege to play for United.
Alex Buttner, Javier Hernandez and Ashley Young have real pace.
Shinji Kagawa, Van Persie, Nani and Anderson have great technical ability.
Van Persie, Kagawa, Nani, Anderson, Hernandez, Henriquez, Powell, De Gea, Buttner, Januzaj, Rafael and Fabio are all two-footed.
None of them are "big time Charlies" or too big for their boots; not even Nani, he's just lost his way.
So Sir Alex's dream player would be aged about 20/25 with a strong physique, great technical ability, able to play in more than one position, intelligent in both a general and footballing sense, experienced, able to attack and defend, tackle and head a ball if possible and not Cup-tied for the Champions League.
Oh and "value" for money, therefore probably not costing more than £15 million or so.
So who would be a brilliant January signing?
Sir Alex's scouting network looks at hundreds of players every year. As the signing of Javier Hernandez showed, the scouting team goes into the player's background and attitude and ideally meets his family as well as determines his technical and physical excellence.
Take David de Gea, for example. United scouted several goalkeepers and it was well-known that Manuel Neuer and Hugo Lloris were under consideration.
The Spaniard was probably bought because his shot-stopping was exceptional for any keeper, let alone a 20-year-old. His distribution and kicking skills were also paramount. No doubt Eric Steele convinced Sir Alex that the claiming of crosses and catching under pressure could be taught, whereas his instincts and reaction speed could not.
So United probably saw another Petr Cech in the making. The Chelsea keeper had his share of bloomers in his early years but is now one of the best and most respected goalkeepers in the world.
With a multitude of players under consideration and some of those potentially available, apart from the factors we described above, what would decide Sir Alex to move for a player now, rather than in January?
The immediate possible need
Three factors would be paramount right now:
- Whether a player he has earmarked for the future becomes available at the right price
- The forthcoming Champions League knockout "season"
- Any urgent needs within the squad
It will no doubt have irked Sir Alex that Crystal Palace won't let him have Wilfried Zaha before the summer, for at least two reasons:
- He now has to keep Nani until the summer and
- He suddenly has some immediate needs within his squad
To deal with the latter first.
More worrying is the condition of Ashley Young. Some fans don't rate him, but he is a competent winger who can play on either flank and cut in and score goals. He also gives defensive cover, which has been important on Patrice Evra's flank.
In addition there is a suspicion that Antonio Valencia may be carrying a niggle, because his recent form has not been good. His and Young's absence may be the basis of Sir Alex's tactics and lineup against Spurs on Sunday.
Twenty-year-old Wilfried Zaha is an obvious like-for-like replacement for Nani. He can play on either wing, can dribble and beat a man and has real pace. He can score goals and has also played as a striker.
That means he ticks all the boxes for Fergie, which is why he is paying up to £15 million for the player.
Sadly, he would also meet an immediate need for United with Young having been ruled out for at least four more weeks.
But he is not coming until the summer and, assuming that Jesse Lingard and Mats Daehli are not ready, somebody must provide cover on the wing.
Nani was poor against West Ham but will now get his chance. Valencia wasn't much better and should play on the right.
But United aren't going to go out and buy another winger. Especially because they could also play Welbeck, Rooney, Kagawa or even Buttner or Evra out there if needed.
So who might Sir Alex buy, if anyone?
There is no need in defence. All five top central defenders are fit. Buttner covers Evra and Jones or Smalling can cover Rafael.
Equally there is no need for a striker. Even if Rooney, Welbeck and Hernandez were all sidelined, Kagawa can play "in the hole" behind Van Persie.
Everybody knows United need another central midfield player. Some people keep banging on about a defensive midfield, but Sir Alex doesn't believe in them, preferring holding midfield, i.e. Michael Carrick.
But with Darren Fletcher out until at least next season, what happens if Carrick is injured? Would Cleverley, Anderson or Powell deputise? Or maybe even Rooney? But surely not Phil Jones?
With Paul Scholes likely to retire soon and Michael Carrick playing 49 out of United's last 50 EPL matches, the ideal would surely be a box-to-box midfielder?
So we have the blueprint for the type of player Sir Alex might be tempted to buy:
- Young but experienced
- Technically skilled and with pace
- Able to play in midfield as playmaker and/or box-to-box
- Available now and not Cup-tied
- An investment for the future
So who, if anyone, fits the bill?
James Rodriguez, Victor Wanyama, Christian Eriksen and Nicolas Gaitan do not fit. They are ECL Cup-tied. Nor does Daniele De Rossi, who is too old.
But Kevin Strootman does. Still we've banged on about him for weeks and weeks.
Sir Alex is playing a fluid system that requires great technical skill, pace, close control, flexibility and the ability to interchange.
Whether alongside Carrick, Cleverley or Anderson the ideal player who fits all the above criteria would seem to be Benat Etxebarria of Real Betis.
As you can see from the video, he has all the required capabilities. The fact that he has broken into the Spanish football team says it all about his ability.
He is a creative midfield player happy coming from deep, who can tackle and intercept. He also takes a mean free kick, so why not penalties also. He has scored 14 goals in his 86 appearances for Betis so far.
He just about fits the financial criteria because even if United had to spring his release fee he would not cost more than £16 million. He is also 25 with a wealth of experience and has only 18 months left on his contract.
Fingers crossed. Oh and Juan Quintero comes a close second.
So who do you think would fit the bill as the perfect January buy and meet all the required criteria above?