Elder statesmen may hold key to United’s title bid
But despite a squad packed to the rafters with players under the age of 25, United fans are hailing the evergreen talents of a 35-year-old left winger and eagerly anticipating the return of a reliable Dutch keeper three years his senior.
The two men could be crucial to their hopes of a fourth consecutive Premier League crown.
Ryan Giggs has arguably been United’s best player this season, while Edwin van der Sar will be welcomed back by many fans who have been less-than impressed by England keeper Ben Foster’s start to the campaign.
Following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid, a World-Player-of-the-Year-sized hole has been left in the United set-up. The Portuguese wizard made a habit of conjuring goals from nothing and rescuing points that had long-since been given up.
While Wayne Rooney has done his bit to plug the goal-scoring gap, netting seven times in United’s early season skirmishes, it is Giggs who has stepped up to the plate when the Red Devils have found themselves in trouble.
He may not have the scorching pace of his youth – that departed long ago – but he still retains that precious ability to change a game.
Already this season, in matches against Tottenham, Stoke and Wolfsburg, where he grabbed his 150th goal for the club, the Welshman has hauled his side out of danger with crucial goals and important assists.
There were times last season when some United fans were suggesting he was past his best and should step aside, but the dissenting voices have now slipped back into the woodwork and been replaced by near universal admiration.
At the other end of the pitch, United have conceded goals at a rate that will undoubtedly have bothered Sir Alex Ferguson, as demanding a manager as they come.
Foster has been heir apparent to Van der Sar since a successful loan spell at Vicarage Road thrust him into the limelight, but United fans remain unconvinced he will claim the role long-term. One United blogger suggests it is possible he could be shipped out of Old Trafford all together before long.
England fans worried by the lack of an obvious successor to David James will hope Foster’s recent mistakes are little more than a hiccup and a good run of form in the run-up to this summer’s World Cup will see him book a place in the England squad.
Whether or not his place on the plane to South Africa is deserved or just an indictment of England’s current crop of keepers, only time will tell.
And if Giggs and Van der Sar are anything to go by, he will have plenty of time to prove his doubters wrong.
PHOTO: Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs gestures during a training session at the club’s Carrington training complex in Manchester, September 29, 2009. REUTERS/Phil Noble