It is a bold claim, and especially so for a young player who has so far struggled to live up to the high expectations that accompanied his £25m move from PSV Eindhoven last summer. Andrei Kanchelskis, though, is insistent, and considering the Ukranian regularly tore full-backs apart with his devastating wing-play in arguably Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest United side, then who are we to argue?
His analysis on the specialist art is well worth listening to, with an expertise amassed from playing in Ukraine, England and Scotland for nearly two decades at the very highest level.
And that makes his assessment of Anthony Martial, the Reds’ other big-money exciting prospect, all the more pertinent. “Martial is no out and out winger like Ryan Giggs was in his early days. His best position is attacking down the middle, that is where his future will be.”
There will be many Stretford End residents who heartily agree, though sadly for the 13 times Premier League champions the debate has been rather moot of late, with Louis Van Gaal’s side rarely threatening in the attacking third whether that be out wide or central. Tuesday night’s 3-0 triumph over Stoke hints at better things to come, and will certainly have been a relief for the Dutch coach whose pragmatism was beginning to test even the most patient of supporters. Kanchelskis is sympathetic to the paying public who are used to more ambitious fare.
“I can understand the fans’ frustration because for a long time Manchester United dominated English football and the Premier League and won trophies. There have been some difficulties for the club after Sir Alex Ferguson, who was obviously a great man and worked for a long time at Man United. The fans loved him. Now that’s finished they have made some changes and they have lost their intimidation factor.”
“If you get the ball out wide with wingers and play more aggressive there is more chance of scoring goals. Now it’s normal for Manchester United to keep possession, pass, pass, backpass. There is no attacking. This is a different system and now it is cautious. We played 4-4-2 with wingers – myself, Ryan Giggs, Ronaldo, David Beckham. There were so many good wingers. But Van Gaal doesn’t want to play with wingers.”
He may not hug the touchline in the style of a traditional number 11, but one creative talent Van Gaal has given a chance to this season is Jesse Lingard. His emergence on the United left has been a rare bright spot in a largely disappointing campaign, but Kanchelskis clearly remains sceptical on how much impact the home-grown 23 year old can have.
“I know he is a good player but not so consistent. He plays well one game, then the next his level drops, followed by a poor game. Great players maintain their level. You need to play at a certain level for Manchester United in every game like Dennis Irwin, season after season. Lingard must be consistent if he is to make it at Old Trafford.”
It can safely be assumed that these enacting standards will be required next term should the red half of Manchester wish to challenge their neighbours City and more so after the Blues confirmed this week they have secured the services of Pep Guardiola.
The Bayern boss arrives with a gold seal of excellence, having won the Champions League on two occasions and transformed the modern game as we know it. Kanchelskis insists however that England will ultimately prove to be the managerial maestro’s litmus test.
“The midfield he had a Barcelona maybe made it easy for him. In Spain there are only three teams so there is a high per cent that you’ll win the league. At Man City it is different because there are five or six clubs and even big surprises like Leicester City. So in England we will see if he’s a good coach or not so good coach.”
Guardiola in the City technical area will add even more spice to next year’s Manchester derbies and, having played in several himself, Kanchelskis will be well aware of what will be at stake. Yet for the likeable 47 year old nothing compares to the hostility and passion that emits from a local affair 200 miles north.
“I’ve played in a lot of derbies – United v City, Everton against Liverpool and in front of 100,000 fans in Moscow - but for me Celtic v Rangers was the best atmosphere and the toughest to play in.”
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United to win 2-1
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