The Exodus Cometh

Posted by Mark Payne

Fabio Cardiff and Anderson FiorentinaGettyImagesFabio and Anderson were moved on in January, many more are likely to follow them this summer.

"Once you leave Manchester United, there's only one way you're going." Those were the words of former United midfielder Ray Wilkins just six short months ago. At the time, Wilkins was making the point that Wayne Rooney would be a fool to leave Manchester at this point in his career. Since that day in August, it is United themselves who have been headed in one direction.

Urban legend has it that when the infamous Kray twins were at the peak of their powers in London, they headed to Manchester to stake a claim for power in the world of organised crime up north. According to the tale, they were met at Piccadilly station by some of the city's more colourful characters and persuaded, physically and robustly, that they had better return to London. They promptly boarded the next train out of town.

Their hour in Manchester would have been a painful disappointment, but perhaps not as bad as the six-and-a-half years Anderson had squeezing into his United kit. The Brazilian midfielder has rolled up at purple-shirted Fiorentina this week and reportedly suggested that he and a number of other players would like to move on from Old Trafford.

It has since come to light that Anderson was misquoted but, to be honest, the falsely reported sentiment rings true. It is hard to see Patrice Evra remaining motivated after such public courting of Leighton Baines. In addition, Rio Ferdinand has played little over the past four months. They, along with captain Nemanja Vidic, have all given their best years to the club, and it is understandable if they wish to move on.

In their stead, they would leave Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans. The side would be covered at centre-back but would still need someone for the left-hand side. Those shifts would neither surprise nor perturb the vast majority.

The real problems would arise if United's best and brightest were on the way out of the club. Rooney appears to be close to signing a new deal and Juan Mata has just arrived. Keeping hold of players like Jones and David de Gea is crucial at this time.

Although it might be sacrilege to say it, United have possibly seen the best of Robin van Persie. He was stupendous last season; he won us the league. And has scored in his two games back. But he has the kind of injury record that would make Freddy Krueger shiver. I am not sure I would be pinning my hopes on his fitness for the next few years.

The last time United faced an exodus of such high-profile names was 1995. That summer, club legend Mark Hughes, lightning-footed Andre Kanchelskis and midfield maestro Paul Ince all departed the club. Hindsight should recognise what a truly special player Ince was. Genuinely two-footed, he went on to dominate for Inter in Serie A, which was the world's finest league in the mid-'90s.

Alex Ferguson was lambasted at the time, but he had aces up his sleeve. Andy Cole had been brought in from Newcastle with a 40-goal season to his name, and Roy Keane was ready to run the side from the midfield. As for a replacement on the right wing, a young man named David Beckham had just returned from a loan at Port Vale and would be given a chance.

Doom and gloom were predicted at the outset of that season, but United ended up winning the double. The situation in 2014, however, is far graver than that. United are almost in free fall right now. Their disintegration since the start of the season is worse than any dared predict.

There are rumours this week that David Moyes might swoop upon Manchester City for Jack Rodwell. Rodwell is a decent enough player, but he inspires little and seems to be an unimaginative target to aim for. His arrival is unlikely to convince Rooney to sign a new contract, for example.

The issue at hand is that United currently have too many players in the squad who don't want to be there. That alone is enough explanation for why they keep losing football matches. This season, they may have already lost too many to sit at Europe’s top table next time out.

Follow Mark on Twitter at www.twitter.com/markjpayne

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