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Ferguson reopens a few theatres of war

John Brewin | ESPN FC
October 25, 2014
Are United prepared for an organised Chelsea?

English football's literary season continues. Just as the embers die on Roy Keane's firestorm from a fortnight ago, back comes his latter-day nemesis, Sir Alex Ferguson, with the paperback version of last year's blockbusting autobiography.

"United In Transition" is the name of the additional chapter to Ferguson's tome, released on Thursday. The former Manchester United manager has clearly struggled to wean himself off day-to-day involvement, and cannot resist reopening a few theatres of war to defend his own reputation.

"Chelsea started the current season as favourites for the title, with a squad that also had six players in their 30s," he writes. "I don't hear any grumbles about the age of their group."

Ferguson takes umbrage at suggestions he left behind a squad no longer fit for purpose at United. The revamped My Autobiography argues that David Moyes was bequeathed 11 good players under 25.

It is here that Ferguson's grasp of the facts can - again - be questioned. Chelsea's first XI actually contains only two players over 30, and Branislav Ivanovic only passed that milestone in February. Only John Terry is of the vintage of Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, all shown the door by United last summer after Moyes' meltdown.

Sir Alex Ferguson believes that he left his successors with a young, capable team but there's only been a small group of younger players who have contributed to Manchester United's results over the past two years © Getty Images
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That centre-back pairing, along with Michael Carrick in midfield, and Robin van Persie as centre-forward left a spine of advancing years, with Wayne Rooney, 29 on Friday and played relentlessly since he was 16, hardly in the flush of youth, either. Ryan Giggs was 40 and still one of United's best players when he hung up his boots.

The 11 supposed striplings Ferguson left behind hardly made for a stellar list, either. Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck, long signposted as Fergie's next fledglings, have been forced to seek fortunes elsewhere, as have Shinji Kagawa and Alexander Buttner, this week exposed as the player whose eating habits led to Moyes banning chips from pre-match preparations.

Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have hardly announced themselves as rightful heirs to Vidic and Ferdinand while Wilfried Zaha, Ferguson's final signing, is unlikely to ever make a United player of himself. That leaves only Rafael, Adnan Januzaj and David de Gea as serviceable options of the type that Jose Mourinho might turn to.

Chelsea's manager has always favoured the seasoned mid-late 20s campaigner over promising stars. Eden Hazard and Oscar, whom he refers to as "kids," are into their third campaigns at the club, having both been key players at the World Cup for their countries.

His summer additions - Filipe Luis, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas - arrived with miles of top-level experience on the clock. Such is the nature of Mourinho's quick-release recipe for success that he rarely turns to flaming youth as an option, unlike Louis van Gaal, the Sunday adversary who once gave a young Jose a chance.

"Before and after, he's one of my big friends and I will always be happy to see him," Mourinho said on Friday of the coach he understudied at Barcelona in the late 1990s. "If I had to choose important people in my career, for sure he's one."

Wednesday night saw the rarity of Mourinho talking of three teenage striplings after Kurt Zouma, Nathan Ake and Dominic Solanke featured against Maribor.

"Zouma is ready to play any match," Mourinho said of the 19-year-old Frenchman. "It is a similar situation to the one I had at Real Madrid with Raphael Varane."

Zouma can expect a watching brief at best on Sunday as Gary Cahill returns to partner Terry. June saw Chelsea get outbid for boyhood fan Luke Shaw. According to Mourinho, United offered vastly inflated wages compared to those put on the negotiating table at Stamford Bridge.

Luke Shaw has a lot of potential but at 19 years old, it's still too early to expect much from the developing left back © Getty Images
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Shaw is part of a United back line under reconstruction, in which Marcos Rojo and Rafael, 24, are elder statesmen over Jones, 22, and Shaw, 19. Monday saw West Brom take advantage of that quartet's callowness with both goals - from Stephane Sessegnon and Saido Berahino - seized on communication breakdowns.

United's attacking performance at The Hawthorns was perhaps their most coherent yet, but their jigsaw is way off completion. A combination of Fabregas and Costa, who must be expected to play, may smash it to smithereens. "In the Netherlands they say, 'That is another Kuche' or another biscuit," Van Gaal said on Monday. "By that I mean another level."

The Dutchman continues to request patience, using Mourinho as an example to further his argument.

"They are one of the top and so is Man City and Jose has worked more than one year with his team and he didn't win any prizes," Van Gaal said at his Friday news conference.

"You have to build up and playing like a team. I want my teams to do that. Play like a team for 90 minutes. We did that I think versus West Brom, but we made individual errors."

A repetition of those errors will surely see Mourinho's battle-hardened outfit home to victory. Whatever Ferguson believes he left behind, the painful transition being undergone at United keeps them hugely vulnerable to Chelsea.

This article originally appeared on ESPN FC

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