David Moyes wants to sign Leighton Baines – either because Moyes feels comfortable around former Everton players, or because he reckons Evra is past his best (and Evra is definitely past his best). In either case, here are three alternatives to the ludicrously expensive Baines.
Patrice Evra: Pundits love telling the story of Patrice Evra’s Manchester United debut – Evra was substituted at halftime – because it reinforces the conventional wisdom that Certain Players Take Time To Adjust To The English Game. Since joining United from Monaco, Evra has become the team’s most reliable defender, its token South Africa 2010 troublemaker, and Nemanja Vidic’s vice-captain. More important, Luis Suarez once called Evra a “negrito” to his face, in front of hundreds of TV cameras, and yet Evra (who, by the way, is getting slower every week) insisted on shaking Suarez’s hand when Liverpool visited Old Trafford later that season. What a guy.
Fabio da Silva: When the da Silva brothers arrived at Old Trafford in 2009, Fabio was the player fans wanted to watch, the star of all the Brazilian youth teams, the hard-tackling, penalty-scoring heir to Roberto Carlos. (OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But it’s true that Fabio was supposed to be much better than Rafael.) Last season, Fabio warmed the QPR bench; according to Joe Jordan, “he will have learned a lot.” Jordan seems to subscribe to the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” worldview, which is great, I suppose. I happen to subscribe to the “if you train with Clint Hill every day, eventually you’ll turn into Clint Hill” worldview, and Fabio’s performance against the Singha All-Star XI wasn’t exactly encouraging. Then again, it’s important not to read too much into matches featuring the Singha All-Star XI or, for that matter, any team named after a beer. We’ll see.
Alex Buttner: In theory, Alex Buttner is a whole lot of fun. He’s fast, aggressive and occasionally scores goals. He did this against Wigan (on his debut, no less). And a disturbingly large proportion of Manchester United’s fan base probably thinks his name sounds kind of funny. But here’s the thing: Buttner is a left-back in denial, a defender with pretensions. He’s the David Luiz of Old Trafford – except that he’s a lot less talented than Luiz. Buttner moves from one position to the next like a schizophrenic butterfly, often leaving the entire left flank unoccupied (Nani doesn’t track back, and I’m pretty sure Manchester United Football Club is contractually obliged not to bother him about it). Buttner is reckless, and he hasn’t earned his mohawk.
This portrait of Manchester United’s defense is not particularly flattering. Still, it’s hard to get excited about transfer targets like Baines – unless, of course, you’re a Bob Dylan fan – especially since United has also been linked to Thiago Alcantara (going to Bayern), Gareth Bale (probably staying at Spurs), and Cristiano Ronaldo (not in a million years). But United needs Baines almost as much as it needs a Yaya-esque midfield enforcer and a skinny Wayne Rooney. This is Moyes’ first Manchester United transfer window; he better not mess it up.