Sir Alex Ferguson has seen the future, and the future is Borussia Dortmund. The German team have taken their league by storm over the last few years while playing some of the best football in Europe. While there is no individual quality that defines this team, one that stands out is how they are overwhelmingly ‘modern’. They are a team perfectly adapted to the modern football landscape, where footballing intelligence and technical ability are paramount. The team is young and energetic, allowing them to press high up the pitch. Pressing is massive in modern football, so brilliantly illustrated by Barcelona. When Dortmund win the ball back their technical excellence, intelligent movement and the pace of the attacking unit facilitates a rapid and direct style. The result has been some exhilarating football from a young, technical, exciting group of players who have come from relative obscurity to dominate German football.
Ferguson had just bought the player who, while perhaps not the glittering jewel in the Dortmund crown, epitomises their style of play. United’s new man has wonderful technique and blistering pace, but its his footballing intelligence that sets him apart. His movement is sublime, drifting and floating, seemingly above the ebb of the game, popping up anywhere on the pitch, finding space with ease. His arrival is exciting not just as an individual, but as an indication of Ferguson moulding a new United. Throughout the United side you can find young modern players capable of emulating the Dortmund style.
In modern goalkeepers their distribution is a key quality, and David De Gea is one of the best there is. In Evans and Smalling there is a modern, mobile central defensive partnership that would allow the team to play high up the pitch, unlike the slower Vidic and Ferdinand. When Evra and Rafael play well (which should be more often) they are two of the most attacking and proficient full backs in the league. United’s midfield is seen by many as their Achilles heel. However it is an area of great potential. The still under-rated Michael Carrick is the perfect modern central midfielder, with his excellent reading of the game and passing ability. However the beacon of hope in the midfield is Tom Cleverly. As outlined here, he is a new breed of modern midfielder who could revolutionise United, as he began to last season before he was injured. And with the addition of Kagawa United have the makings of a fearsome attack. In Kagawa, Rooney, Young, Welbeck and Nani they have direct players of great pace and technique, but above all versatility. With this front six United could see a return to the fluidity in attack of 2008, where Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo interchanged seamlessly to devastating effect. 2008 was Ferguson’s last great team, and this could be his next.
It has been a slow process, a gradual evolution rather than a violent revolution. But Ferguson has brought together a group of players capable of fast, direct, technical and above all modern football. In the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City that ultimately lead to the loss of the title, United were sluggish and slow, limp and lifeless. They were unambitious and anachronistic. This new group of players Ferguson has nurtured can return the vibrancy and joy to United once again, can lift them from the drudgery of the past into an exciting future. United stalwarts of the past, Vidic, Ferdinand, Scholes, Giggs ect. still have important roles to play. However with the signing of Kagawa, Ferguson is ready to unleash the new United.