By Greg Stobart at Old Trafford
Sir Alex Ferguson’s face in his post-match interview told the story: relief. The Manchester United manager knew his side had a lucky escape as they took another stride towards a 20th title with a 1-0 win over Fulham at Old Trafford.
Wayne Rooney’s eighth goal in his last six Premier League games made the difference to take United three points clear of rivals Manchester City at the top of the table. Yet Ferguson accepted he should have been forced to accept a point after Michael Carrick brought down Fulham substitute Danny Murphy with a clumsy tackle in the 89th minute.
|MODRIC'S TOTTENHAM CAREER
Manchester United are 7.0 with 188Bet to beat Blackburn 1-0 at Ewood Park on Monday night.
For large parts of the season, United have not looked like potential champions, but - more than any other club in the division - they are able to use their experience to grind out results.
That was the case on Monday night as they produced a one-paced, uninspiring display in which the midfield was never able to take control of the game against a team sitting in mid-table and with nothing but pride left to play for this season.
As great as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have been, they simply cannot be relied upon to dictate games on a weekly basis. A season in which United crashed out of two European competitions proved as much and this current squad would struggle to be title contenders under any other manager.
Ferguson, deep down, knows as much. The Scot has been looking for a central midfielder to replace Paul Scholes for the last couple of years, aware that a major upgrade is required if he is to prevent Manchester City from becoming the most dominant club in English football.
Luka Modric, the Tottenham playmaker, is Ferguson’s first choice to upgrade his team in the summer and would fit the bill perfectly.
The Croat has been on United’s radar since his first season in the Premier League and Ferguson made an enquiry last summer after naming Modric as his player of the year.
On that occasion, United accepted Tottenham’s stance that Modric would not be sold - at least not for less than £50 million - and turned their attentions to Wesley Sneijder. The Inter man’s £200,000-a-week wages meant a move to Old Trafford failed to transpire and he would need to lower his demands to revive a deal this summer.
But the man Ferguson really needs is Modric, a creative fulcrum proven in the Premier League and able to play deep in a two or three-man midfield, much like Scholes has performed since turning 30.
At 26, Modric will feel he may need to move clubs to secure his ambition of winning more trophies, not to mention a significant pay rise on his £50,000-a-week salary.
United would have no problem tripling those wages, and with Modric hesitating over a new deal they should be working as hard as possible now to entice the former Dinamo Zagreb man to the club.
Modric will not commit to a new contract with Tottenham until the end of the season, largely due to concerns over whether the Londoners will qualify for the Champions League and uncertainty over the managerial situation with Harry Redknapp expected to take over as England boss.
The stumbling block for United is likely to be the transfer fee. It would take at least £40m for Spurs to sell Modric and it appears unlikely that the Glazers will make such sums available for transfers in the summer.
Ferguson is understood to have a summer transfer kitty of between £30-35m so a move for someone like Lille winger Eden Hazard or Athletic Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez may be more realistic.
But Modric is the player United want and need, the kind of player who could help with the club’s ambitions to overhaul Barcelona as the best team in Europe within the next three years.
He provides everything that was missing from United against Fulham: calmness and skill in possession, a willingness to demand the ball in tight positions, the eye for a killer pass.
The mere fact that Scholes came out of retirement in January highlighted United’s failure to replace their legendary midfielder last summer.
They cannot make the same mistake this year, regardless of whether they win a 20th title. Modric is their man - and they need to move heaven and earth to get him.
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