Buying Sneijder to replace Scholes is tactically unconvincing

Despite the staunch refusal of Inter Milan’s technical director Marco Branca on Tuesday evening regarding the potential sale of Wesley Sneijder to Manchester United, speculation is still rife that United have indeed made a breakthrough and some media outlets claimed that David Gill has even travelled to Milan to finalise a £35 Million deal.

This would be the latest addition to Manchester United’s active summer in the transfer market that has drawn many parallels to the spree in 2001 which was caused by Roy Keane’s disillusionment with the direction the club was heading. That off-season saw the arrival of Ruud Van Nistlerooy, Diego Forlan and Juan Veron for a total of £74 million. For this latest episode in sustained spending, for Keane, see Wayne Rooney, whose threats to leave the club back in November seem to have the desiring effect in which to spend the big money, the total outlay currently standing at just over £50 Million. For Van Nistlerooy and Forlan, see Ashley Young and David De Gea, while for Veron, read Wesley Sneijder’s protracted move.

It is the general consensus that Veron was a flop at Old Trafford and many will class the £37 million that Ferguson traded to Lazio for the player as one of the Scot’s most infamous of errors, but this is a harsh misconception. Veron was signed at a time when Ferguson was beginning to come to terms with the need to adapt the 4-5-1 formation, especially in Europe after his side had been so ruthlessly disposed of by Redondo and co the year before, the night where Roy Keane was made to look amateurish in a 3-2 home defeat by Real Madrid. United were in a period of transition.

Ferguson knew the 4-4-2 that had served them so wonderfully in the treble year was beginning to become out-dated and a switch to a 4-5-1 was needed, which was alien to United’s players at the time and Veron, due to the magnitude of his transfer, took the brunt of the criticism. The Germans had undertook a move into 4-5-1 territory years before and it is no coincidence that United were knocked out of Europe in 2002 by Bayer Laverkusen’s 3 man midfield, led by the imperious Michael Ballack. It was a game in which Veron, unprotected and outnumbered, performed poorly in, and his career in Salford never really recovered.

That is not to say that Sneijder will be a flop, and to use the case of the bearded Argentinean to illustrate that Ferguson is misguided in signing from abroad would be incredibly unfair. The one criticism of the move though is tactical and it may involve a change in style that will compromise Ferguson’s philosophy of having genuine width at all times. You see, Sneijder is generally seen as a replacement for Paul Scholes, and therein lies the crux of the argument that the move to fit the Dutchman in at Old Trafford may be non-straightforward.

Sneijder is often deployed in the hole just behind the striker; he was used behind Diego Milito in Internazionale’s Champions League winning side of 2010, while he played off Robin Van Persie for the Netherlands at the World Cup. This is a position that is occupied currently by Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford, and further congested for competition by the signing of Ashley Young. Scholes did not play as a trequartista, he played a lot deeper in a midfield two, and used his range of passing to launch attacks from inside his own half. These often involve long, diagonal balls out wide from a deep position and it is best to use an FA cup tie at Southampton last season to illuminate the point. United struggled in the first half in a 4-3-1-2 system, in which they were devoid of any natural width and found themselves a goal down. Scholes struggled to find anyone out wide in a narrow formation and it was not until Ryan Giggs and Nani were introduced did United look like turning it around and both goals were produced on the flanks, once Scholes was allowed to play his natural game.

Sneijder’s game is a lot different to the deep lying playmaker role that Scholes expertised in. The Dutchman is the link man to the striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation that he played with both Inter and Holland and needed defensive midfielders to protect his creative nuance in both teams; Esteban Cambiasso and Thiago Motta in Italy, while Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong did the job for the Oranje. At United, it is likely he will be required to play deeper, alongside Micheal Carrick or Darren Fletcher, while Wayne Rooney retains his role as second striker behind Javier Hernandez. That one of the reasons for his sale is that there is no role for him in Gian Pero Gasperini’s planned 3-4-3 system is a worry in that it suggests the Italian coach does not think he can play in a central midfield duo.

 An argument to say Wesley Sneijder would not be a good signing for Manchester United because of this would be invalid, he is one of the most exciting players in Europe and he would be a dramatic statement of intent from the Champions. But success for him here is not guaranteed and history dictates that £35 Million on a tactical gamble at Manchester United can easily fail. Samir Nasri’s technique and delicacy would have been a better option if it means fielding a player in a two, but a player of Sneijder’s quality, a Champions League winner, a winner of the Spanish and Italian leagues and a World Cup finalist, is certainly not a bad alternative. However, the jury is very much out.

Adam Gray – follow me on Twitter; @MonkeyLunch21

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