In the season of 2009/10 Wayne Rooney really was head and shoulders above every other United player in terms of performance levels and consistency.
For the duration of the domestic and European campaigns he lead the line and struck fear through defenders in the premiership week in week out; in fact it isn’t too far fetched to say he was ahead of every other player in Europe in terms of delivering impressive displays and to top it off he bagged himself a season record of 34 goals. He was much deserving of his Player of the Year accolade.
Despite Rooney being a shining light, United missed out on silverware and were criticised by fans and media alike for being heavily reliant on Wayne. In for criticism came the rest of the strike force and in particular, Dimitar Berbatov, who was failing to live him up to his £30m pricetag that had been splashed out on him a year previous.
Also on the naughty list fell Michael Owen – not many people expected him to play a massive role for United but after his last minute winner against Manchester City, he set himself up and we expected to see the Owen from World Cup 98 – it did not materialise. Nani and Valencia, although fans favourites and not out-an-out strikers, were also expected to weigh in with more goals than they delivered.
One year on and what a contrast – Wayne Rooney has 14 goals and although has not hit the goal scoring heights of 09/10, is still Sir Alex Ferguson’s main man and when he ticks, United tick.
Dimitar Berbatov has netted 21 goals season and is the premier leagues leading scorer; Young Mexican Javier Hernandez who was relatively unknown when Ferguson signed him before the World Cup, has been a huge success and having struck 20 goals so far in his debut season has without a doubt been a great asset to the side. Michael Owen, although struggled with injuries this season has still made an impact – not necessarily in the goals department but by offering alternative dimensions to Uniteds attacking play when available – sometimes the reputation of Owen is enough to scare a defender into a mistake.
Then there are the strikers on loan – Danny Welbeck has been inspirational at Steve Bruce’s Sunderland and earned himself an International call up (for England not Ghana). Kiko Macheda has been a regular in the Italian Serie A side Sampdoria and Mame Biram Diouf has regularly impressed at Blackburn.
So the question that needs to be asked before we go into the 2011/12 campaign, possibly defending a premier league title and champions league triumph is, with four top strikers at the club, and three on loan who all have the capability to make a name for themselves on the biggest stage, who will be the odd man, or odd men out?
I think it is safe to assume that Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez will be at the club next season, not only because of their performance levels but also because of their age. However, as strange as it may seem with Berbatov being the leagues top scorer, at the age of 30 and seemingly no longer a definite in the starting 11, maybe Ferguson will cash in on the Bulgarian. Had it been Rooney who lost his first team place, being 25 there is a huge amount of time and a massive chance he will force his way back in – with Berbatov it just does not seem likely. Would he be happy to sit on the bench?
Michael Owen is at the end of his current deal at United and maybe after two years at the club and not making a first team place his own, he might look elsewhere to get regular first team football. I think his situation is dependent on which loan striker returns; If Danny Welbeck or Kiko Macheda return, I believe they will be further up the pecking order than the former Liverpool man, and any self respecting footballer would not be happy to be fifth or sixth choice, especially one who was once European Player of the Year.
Looking at it from another angle is asking the question, will Danny Welbeck, Kiko Macheda or Mame Diouf be happy to return to the club knowing a minimum of two strikers will be ahead of them in Fergusons preference? Do any of these young strikers have it in them to fight for a place? Further more, will Javier Hernandez keep up his fine form or will his game be found out by defenders, going into his second season?
Ultimately the decision is down to Sir Alex Ferguson and he has never been a man to let sentiment get in the way of making bold decisions when it comes to showing world class strikers the door; Just ask Mark Hughes, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Dwight Yorke, Andrew Cole, Louie Saha and Diego Forlan. All household names, all completely different scenarios, all adored by the United faithful, all departed from United when the manager felt it was the right time.
Having seven top class strikers is every managers dream, not knowing which ones to keep is our managers nightmare.