Keep Your Enemies Closer: A Q+A with The Busby Babe

Julian Finney - Getty Images

Our good friend Gene Um over Manchester United's resident SBNation Blog, The Busby Babe, was kind enough to field some of our questions and offer his insights ahead of Sunday's fixture.

Our good friend, Gene Um, over at The Busby Babe, SBNation's resident Man United blog, has been kind enough to sit down and answer some of our questions leading up to Sunday's exciting fixture. You can find my responses here.


Q: I spent a little time working for the Buccaneers as an intern one summer, so the Glazer's relationship with Man United has always fascinated me. What is the current fan consensus on the big chiefs up top? How do you feel about the club's financial stability for the future? Would you say the prognosis is positive or negative when it comes to the Red Devil's front office?

A: To be quite blunt, the Glazer's ownership has been an absolute disgrace and the club has managed to win trophies in spite of them and certainly not because of them. Perhaps to some there is the perception that Manchester United supporters have no right to complain because money has been spent recently to bring in, for example, the likes of Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, David de Gea, etc. in recent summers. However, what most don't realize is that prior to this past summer, the club's net spending in transfers had only been about £50m total over the past five years -- far less than the £25m per year that was initially indicated by the Glazer's. To put this in perspective, consider these net spending totals by other English clubs in that same timeframe: Manchester City £418.9m, Chelsea £155.9m, Liverpool £83.3m, Aston Villa £68.4m (!), Spurs £66.7m, Stoke City £59.7m (!). When you further consider that the Glazer's are paying £40-50m annually in interest due to the nature of their leveraged purchase of the club, it's enough to make most supporters vomit.

Long term, I'm not too concerned due to the enormous revenue streams and the front office has done extremely well to grow the Manchester United brand worldwide. The terrific financial football blog, The Swiss Ramble, has written about the club's finances quite a bit and that author is far more qualified than me to assess the club's finances in detail. The takeaway I get is that fans shouldn't bee too concerned in the long-run but in the short-term, damage is certainly being done -- hopefully, that doesn't eventually bleed into the long-term because momentum is so important in football. The Glazer's selling in the near future to proper owners would certainly be welcome by all supporters. I don't know if that's happening any time soon though. :(

Q: What is the fan sentiment in regards to the striker overload at ManU? How do balance the likes of RVP, Chicarito, Rooney, and Kagawa? Do you think Sir Alex has done a good job with the balance of such a loaded front line?

A: Although manager Sir Alex Ferguson has claimed in the past that he's never used a 4-4-2 during his 25+ year reign at the club, he certainly has always been in the need of four or more quality strikers. He generally has always done well to get everybody games due to heavy squad rotation (Dimitar Berbatov would certainly disagree though). For the most part, I think the fans understand this. There's balance in the strike force now because RvP and Chicharito are good options as more pure No.9's while Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa tend to operate more as secondary strikers -- the latter in fact is more of an attacking midfielder than he is a striker. Danny Welbeck is another fantastic option as his versatility allows him to feature in a number of positions and in various formations. So overall, the balance is very good and there's variation in choices. And because of the constantly congested fixture list, and with the Champions League often bringing about two important matches in a week, there's plenty of games to go around.

Q: Speaking of SAF, what do you think about the idea that since Mancinni's hand flapping incident last year, SAF has lost a little bit of his "swag?" The invincibility aura around ManU, and especially around Sir Alex himself, seems to have diminished significantly over the last few months. Even though you're still obviously a powerhouse (and the finest at pulling out gritty wins). What are your thoughts on the status of the Manchester Mistique?

A: Roberto Mancini can do all of the hand-flapping he wants -- he can also continue to deploy his side in his experimental back three that continually brings about laughable results. I recently read a piece in the Guardian basically asking a similar question to this. My thoughts are these: Ferguson has continually faced challenges in his United career and there have been formidable challengers such as Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho -- two managers who've achieved far more than Mancini -- and eventually, he has always overcome them. To those doubting the legendary manager, I caution to do so at your own peril. United certainly have big concerns right now in regards to their performances and squad and perhaps Ferguson won't be able to overcome this City challenge prior to his retirement. I certainly would never bet against Sir Alex Ferguson though.

Q: The midfield has been a tad concerning for the Red Devils so far this season. While Giggs and Scholes look like ageless wonders, the future of Manchester's center mid has to be concerning. What are your thoughts for possible remedies to the midfield plight of Sir Alex? On a somewhat related note, I had Tony V. as the player of the year last season, so I'm thinking the flank is well taken care of.

A: The center of the park is certainly concerning. Paul Scholes is still world-class on his day and quite simply, there will be no replacing the legendary midfield maestro when he decides to hang up his boots. For now, I'm simply trying to enjoy each appearance he makes. Ryan Giggs on the other hand, is deservedly held in the same high regard as Scholes but he -- as blasphemy as this will sound to United supporters -- has become a liability at times on the pitch. Last weekend versus Spurs, Giggs attempted only 10 passes (at a woeful 50% success rate) and he was substituted off at half-time -- that pretty much sums up how it has gone for Giggs this season and last.

United have a plethora of technical players in central-midfield (Scholes, Giggs, Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick) but they haven't had a proper player to screen for those passers since Darren Fletcher was healthy a few seasons ago. Ferguson has indicated recently that football has changed and if you can keep possession, then there is not really the need for a traditional ball-winner. The thing is though, there are certain sides where the possession battle will be even against or where United will struggle to keep the ball. In those cases, a more physical presence is required -- whether that be through combativeness, energy, and/or pure strength. This is why United is prone to be overrun and Newcastle United fans surely are aware of this after what Yohan Cabaye and Chiek Tiote impressively did to us last season. Bottom line, Ferguson needs a combative central-midfielder that can offer up protection in the center of the park. It is not the fault of, nor the responsibility of, Scholes and Carrick to prevent from being overrun. We have piano players, but we need piano carriers.

Q: Both have played wonderfully, but in your opinion, who has been a more vital new addition, Kagawa or RVP?

A: I've watched Borussia Dortmund play quite a bit in recent seasons so I was very excited when we were linked to Kagawa and even more so when United signed him. The club hasn't had this sort of playmaker in recent memory. I wasn't terribly excited about the RvP signing when it occurred but I definitely wasn't opposed to signing a genuine world-class player. Since then, I've become incredibly pleased about both signings.

RvP's finishing has been, as most would expect, terrific and he's been a match-winner. He also has a fantastic footballing brain. Thus far, I'd say he's been the more vital addition if we're comparing him against Kagawa. However, the Japanese international has been tremendous at times too and when he goes missing during games, it's not really an indictment on him. More so, as previously mentioned, United haven't had this sort of playmaker in recent seasons and it appears that the squad is trying to get used to playing with a player of this ilk. For the next few seasons, if he can stay healthy, RvP likely will bag goal after goal and hopefully he'll remain a world-class No.9. In the long term, it's possible that Kagawa will surpass him in terms of their deals from a business point of view -- United did well to get him at a terrific price and his ability and mental makeup appears to be class and he should go on to have a terrific career in England.

Q: Where would ManU have to finish in the following competitions to constitute a "successful" season: League? (The Vitally Important and Prestigious) Capital One Cup? FA Cup? Champions League?

A: Personally, I couldn't care less about the Capital One Cup. Although, it has traditionally been entertaining in that it's been an opportunity for Ferguson to blood in youngsters for their first-team debuts. It's been 9 seasons since the club has lifted the FA Cup and I would be very pleased if we could make a deep run and possibly win it. Now that we have the secondary competitions out of the way, a 'successful' season would occur if the Premier League was won. Re-establishing dominance in England is the clear aim right now. Unfortunately, I don't think United have much of a chance to lift the Champions League trophy. However, they must get out of the group-stage this season and if that is achieved, the hope will be for favorable draws in the knock-out stages. They certainly would be underdogs versus the Spanish giants and there a handful of other European clubs where I wouldn't fancy our chances.

Q: Finally, a prediction for Sunday's fixture?

A: I'm not big on predictions because Ferguson's selection choices and tactics are always difficult to predict ahead of a match. I'll be a good sport though and offer up a 2-2 prediction for Sunday. I envision a lot of chances for both sides.

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