David Moyes plans to add two further midfielders to his Manchester United squad during the next two transfer windows with the £27.5m capture of Marouane Fellaini the first step in the manager’s efforts to repair the damage caused by six years of near misses, bad luck and unfulfilled promise.
|Wanted man: Manchester United are set to return for Ander Herrera in January|
But for catastrophic injury and illness suffered by Owen Hargreaves and Darren Fletcher respectively since United last signed a recognised midfielder in 2007, the midfield problems that Moyes is so determined to address may not have arisen.
Had Paul Pogba been persuaded to remain at Old Trafford just over a year ago, rather than develop in the Champions League with Juventus, another problem may have been averted, easing the pressure on Moyes to address what has become the glaring weakness in United’s line-up.
But the reality is that Hargreaves, signed by Sir Alex Ferguson from Bayern Munich in 2007 as the heir to Roy Keane in the heart of United’s midfield, was unable to overcome countless injuries and Fletcher’s progress has been on hold for almost two by a chronic bowel condition.
Despite these setbacks, combined with Pogba’s desertion to Turin, Anderson’s inability to realise his potential and the ageing process that has taken away Paul Scholes and will inevitably soon do the same with Ryan Giggs, Fellaini’s arrival on transfer deadline day was the first time United had welcomed a midfielder to the club since Hargreaves and Anderson walked through the door six years earlier.
"The one thing we have lacked at Manchester United in the middle of the park is somebody powerful and strong," said former United midfielder Paddy Crerand.
"Down the years, we've had some magnificent players in midfield, like Roy Keane and Bryan Robson. And now, with Fellaini, we've got much more power and strength than we had last year, so I think he's a big asset."
But rather than arrive as the solution to United’s midfield problems, some observers have expressed doubts over Fellaini's ability to make a difference.
"He has presence because of his size and he’s dangerous at set-pieces," said former Everton manager Howard Kendall. "But he floats and he plays it easy.
"He's too safe with the ball for me and he doesn't hurt the opposition with a pass. I don't think he will improve Manchester United."
Fellaini is viewed by Moyes as the first part of the jigsaw, however.
With the Scot acknowledging the burden placed on Michael Carrick at the heart of United's midfield, and Tom Cleverley's battle to establish his best position, the manager set out to add at least two new players to that area of his squad this summer, with Cesc Fabregas the most high-profile and prolonged target.
Fabregas chose to remain at Barcelona, Ander Herrera's move from Athletic Bilbao became ensnared in red tape, while an ambitious move for Roma captain Daniele De Rossi failed to get off the ground.
This summer followed a familiar pattern, with Moyes enduring the same frustrations experienced by Ferguson during his foiled attempts to sign the likes of Wesley Sneijder and the emerging talents of John Obi Mikel and Aaron Ramsey.
But the alarm bells triggered by defeats, in the second half of last season, against Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea (twice), when United were outmuscled and overrun by the power of their opponents' midfield, led to the club's backroom staff and scouts identifying that as a crucial area in need of reinforcements even before Moyes arrived.
United are expected to return for Herrera, while they will continue to monitor Fabregas's situation at Barcelona and pursue him again in January if the former Arsenal captain loses his place at the Nou Camp.