Generally speaking I look forward to April; the long, dark nights are receding, the sun shines that bit longer and flowers start to bloom. All in all, there’s a sense of renewal and anticipation in the air. Unfortunately, spring also heralds the time of year when Sir Alex Ferguson cynically begins his tapping up of our best players.
Last week it was Gareth Bale; now Fergie is casting his rheumy red eyes over Luca Modric. To lose one player to Man United is misfortune, two careless; but to lose our Croatian playmaker would be nothing short of tragic. For all we know Ferguson may have designs on both Modric and Bale. I wouldn’t put it past him – United are in serious need of new blood and I’m sure they won’t make the same penny pinching mistake as last year when Owen and Valencia were the only summer signings at Old Trafford.
What really irks is the timing. This is a pivotal point in the campaign that will go a long way toward determining whether we compete against the likes of Barcelona next season or a bunch of part-time Icelandic fishermen via the Europa League. The last thing we need right now is one – or two of our most important players having their heads turned by Sir Alex’s press pals.
To add insult to injury, it appears that United are willing to include Michael Carrick as part of the deal. Gee thanks! It’s a bit like a guy who steals your girlfriend magnanimously offering to act as matchmaker after he’s grown bored of her – you wouldn’t really want to would you?
Nobody would doubt that the loss of Michael Carrick was a bigger blow than the departure of the Bulgarian sulk; Carrick’s incisive passing combined with some important goals played a significant part in our finishing fifth before he left for Old Trafford. But if Ferguson is willing to let him go, it’s only because he’s convinced he’s no longer of use in his master plan.
Ferguson’s pursuit of our best players is by no means unique; the bottomless financial pit formerly known as Manchester City is reportedly after James Milner from Aston Villa (the first of many no doubt). This isn’t just about improving their own squads, it’s also a way of de-stabilising rival clubs at a point when, if parity has not been yet reached, then is certainly edging closer.
The sale of Carrick affected the balance of our side the following year. True we retained fifth place, but surely we would have improved on our previous effort with a settled, consistent side that had grown to know each others’ games even better?
Of course, even if Modric and Bale are experiencing the time of their lives and have no intentions of departing White Hart Lane until they’re old and wizened, you can bet your mortgage their agents are engaged in clandestine negotiations as I write. If one or both is set to leave then it’s vital that Levy doesn’t hold out until the arse end of August for top dollar; we don’t want to be scrabbling around for second or third rate replacements from Lithuania two weeks into the new campaign.
Even if we do qualify for the Champions League, the lure of Old Trafford may sadly prove too much of a temptation for Messrs Modric and Bale. It’s going to take us several years of consistent involvement in the CL before we can realistically mount a serious challenge, whereas United have been at the summit of European football for well over a decade. Ferguson knows the cards are stacked in his favour and if he really wants to bring Modric and Bale to Old Trafford there‘s very little Redknapp or Levy can do to stop it.