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Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick are all out of contract this summer, with only the latter confident of agreeing a new deal

SPECIAL REPORT
By Liam Twomey

It is just five years and five months since Manchester United were last champions of Europe, on a night of glory and vindication for Sir Alex Ferguson and his blooming young team in the driving rain of Moscow. For the fans who will watch the club’s 2013 vintage take on Real Sociedad at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening against the backdrop of a worst ever start to a Premier League season, however, such memories may already feel like ancient history.

Ferguson had built one of United’s all-time great sides, and a growing list of achievements reinforced their claims. A third consecutive league title had been secured that season, while two more would follow in the next four years. Twice in the next three, his men proved themselves inferior only to the untouchable brilliance of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in the Champions League.

THE OLD GUARD
Man Utd's ageing heroes

Nemanja Vidic
Age: 32, Years at club: 7

Rio Ferdinand
Age: 34, Years at club: 11

Patrice Evra
Age: 32, Years at club: 7

Ryan Giggs
Age: 39, Years at club: 25

Michael Carrick
Age: 32, Years at club: 7
Half a decade on, many of the key pillars of United’s most recent golden era remain in place. But the architect has gone, and the ravages of time have taken their toll. Nemanja Vidic turned 32 on Monday, while centre-back partner Rio Ferdinand is less than a month from his 35th birthday. Patrice Evra and Michael Carrick are 32, Ryan Giggs is 39. All five are out of contract this summer.

United traditionally make decisions on whether to grant extensions to players over 30 in October and November and, so far, only Carrick can be confident of extending his stay at Old Trafford. He wants a three-year deal, while the club are offering two years with an option for a third. A compromise is expected to be reached within the next fortnight.

Evra, who has been left in no doubt of his worth in the eyes of David Moyes by the Scot’s brazen pursuit of Leighton Baines and Fabio Coentrao in the summer, is almost certain to depart. Indeed, in a startlingly frank interview with Telefoot last weekend he hinted as much. “Manchester United would like me to finish my career there, but this is something personal,” he revealed.

Of the five, Vidic is the one United are likeliest to try to cash in on in January. There have been few better servants at Old Trafford, but the Serb has proved incapable of being the same player since that devastating cruciate knee ligament rupture sustained against Basel in December 2011. If no suitable offers present themselves in the New Year, the sense is he will be gone in the summer.

Ferdinand’s fate is far from certain. His decision to join Greg Dyke’s much-maligned FA Commission is indicative of a mind already beginning to contemplate a life out of football boots; as, perhaps, is a succession of worryingly listless displays on the pitch in recent weeks. If he wants another season, Moyes will insist he earns it before approving any extension to his £120,000-a-week deal.

Awe-inspiring dedication and longevity mean Giggs will be allowed to choose the timing and manner of his transition to full-time coaching. Already employed at times as Moyes’ Champions League consigliere by virtue of his vast experience, the Welshman will assess closer to the summer whether he is still contributing to the team. At present, more than a few would suggest not.

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The performances of United’s veterans this season have, for some, confirmed suspicions that Ferguson, ever the Seer, swapped chalkboards for memoirs at the right time. Sooner rather than later Moyes must begin the rebuilding process in earnest – a realisation that makes the fact there is, as yet, no coherent transfer plan for next summer or even this January all the more concerning.

Baines, who turns 29 this December, is highly capable but would be an expensive and, at best, medium-term replacement for Evra. Ander Herrera’s buyout clause is £10 million above the £20.5m United are willing to pay and, given that Basque players of his quality are few and far between, Athletic Bilbao are understandably unwilling to haggle.

United are also monitoring the noises coming out of the Robert Lewandowski camp, but Moyes cannot act with certainty on striking targets until the future of Wayne Rooney is resolved. The player has so far rejected contract talks fully aware that, with every passing month, his chances of forcing through an exit on his terms grow stronger.

Looking beyond specific targets, there are wider concerns over whether the despised Glazers, having taken a more hands-on approach to club finances since the departure of chief executive David Gill, would sanction the kind of lavish spending required to fill the widening cracks and build a team boasting the “five or six world-class players” Moyes admits he needs to challenge for top honours.

All of which means qualification for next season’s Champions League, and all the financial rewards it brings, is paramount. Moyes will surely be satisfied if, even as a parting gift to the club they have served so long and so well, his veterans help give him the means to build its next great side.

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