Archive for the 'Champion's League' Category

03
Dec
10

Why I’d still take Mourinho over Guardiola at Old Trafford

Pep was unimpressed by Jose's Sammy Lee impression

Pep was unimpressed by Jose's Sammy lee impression

The recent 5-0 thrashing of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team has seen the Nou Camp boss’s stock rise even higher by many in the media.

Before ‘El Clasico’ many expected a tight, close match with both teams perhaps concentrating on nullifying the other’s attack rather than focusing on their own. Some pundits even expected Mourinho to outsmart Guardiola just as he had done in the Champion’s League several months earlier.

Well how wrong some of them- and I say ‘them’ because I went for a Barca win, even if I did predict a 1-0- were as a Messi-inspired Barca simply ran riot over Real. It was dubbed as being a battle of the games two biggest stars in Messi and Ronaldo and that may have been true as the Argentinean dominated a game while his Portuguese counterparts most noticeable moment was a push on Guardiola which nearly sparked a mass player brawl.

While most of the focus was on the two superstars of World football, many people, myself included were intrigued to see which coach would win the tactical battle.

Mourinho’s had a fairly successful time so far since he arrived at the Bernabeu, prior to the defeat at the Nou Camp, his record in La Liga was played 12 won 10 drawn 2, while he’d coasted through his group in the Champion’s League.

As usual for the self-titled ‘Special One’ he’d managed to grab a few headlines for more than just his results. His gamesmanship during the Champion’s League game against Ajax where he ordered Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos to get themselves sent off was arguably the most talked about football incident of the past few weeks.

Mourinho’s antics didn’t go down too well with those lovely chaps at UEFA who hit him with an unsporting conduct charge and according to sources in the Spanish media, the Real board were equally unimpressed.

Mourinho will have to learn that even success on the pitch is sometimes not enough at Real and members of their hierarchy expect the coach to behave in a certain way.

When it comes to ‘behaving’ how the club would like Pep Guardiola could write several books on what’s expected of a Barcelona manager. The Barca boss hasn’t just delivered stunning success since he was elevated to first team coach, he’s also done it dressed like a catwalk model- male one obviously otherwise he’d look daft- and has been adept at keeping the fickle Barca money men and media happy.

It’s been something of a dream tenure for Guardiola with the treble delivered in his first season and the La Liga retained last season. Of course there have been disappointments, such as the loss to Internazionale in last season’s Champion’s League and the relative failure of marquee signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Despite these setbacks Guardiola is still regarded as a star at the Nou Camp, after all his career as both player -where he won six La Liga titles and the Champion’s League- and manager has been a huge success. Knowing the club as he does though, Guardiola will be under no illusions about how long he expects to be in the job.

The Barcelona job is not one you’d apply for if you were thinking about long-term security- only three managers have lasted five years.

There’s been recent rumours that the best dressed coach in the history of world football could be heading to United one day as Fergie’s successor. There’s also been reports that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City may have their wealthy eyes on him.

Money isn’t a big part of Guardiola’s life though, in fact when he delivered the treble to Barcelona his wages were less then the majority of Premier League managers. While the oil-funded blue parts of Manchester and West London could offer him a lot more than he would get at Old Trafford, the chance of managing one of the other biggest clubs in the world may be too tempting to refuse.

Let’s be honest when you leave Barcelona there’s no places you can go that are truly considered a step up but United is at the very least a step sideways.

While I would welcome Guardiola at Old Trafford -especially if he could convince Messi to come with him- I think Mourinho would be a better choice.

The reasons for this are simple:

Unlike Guardiola, Mourinho has proven himself as a top manager at no less than three clubs in three different countries and could well do it with a fourth at Madrid. Many criticise his arrogance but I think it would actually serve him well at Old Trafford- after all almost everyone hates United anyway and do we really care? NO.

The ‘us’ against the rest of the world mentality that Mourinho instills in his players would be perfect for United as we’ve never pretended to be popular with other clubs, fans or sections of the media.

There’s also Mourinho’s knowledge of the English game, which proved particularly useful to him last season as he outwitted Chelsea.

Like Guardiola, Mourinho would probably be courted by City, but would that represent the challenge he’s looking for? He’s already taken a club with money to the top of English football and it could be argued that by joining another ‘money-powered’ revolution he’d merely be going over old ground.

The biggest challenge anyone could face is replacing Sir Alex Ferguson and that would make normal man baulk at the prospect of coming to Old Trafford. Mourinho isn’t normal though, he’s special.

Guardiola’s work at Barcelona has been amazing but the Ibrahimovic signing may just have underlined why Mourinho is a little bit shrewder than his rival. Getting Samuel Eto’o and a pile of Euros for a player not nearly as good was the best bit of footballing business since Fergie rang Sgt Wilko.

If United were to get either Mourinho or Guardiola it would be a massive coup and they’d arguably be the envy of most of Europe, as either coach is easily in the top three- no prizes for guessing who’d be the third.

With Fergie showing no signs of retiring just yet, then there’s probably nothing to worry about for at least another season or two, but there’s always the question if Guardiola or Mourinho were to become available, would Fergie consider moving upstairs? I doubt it, very much and neither one is likely to be going anywhere very soon.

However there’s no reason why Fergie wouldn’t speak to the circus that is the Manchester United board and point them in the direction of Spanish football”s most successful bosses, when he finally does hang up his hairdryer. Either one would be great but for me Mourinho would be perfect.

26
Nov
10

Does FIFPRO shortlist highlight United’s flaw?

Carrick and Scholes could be the key to United's season

Carrick and Scholes could be the key to United's season

The shortlist for the worldwide football players union Fifpro team of the year were announced yesterday and despite what every British news outlet has been stating, it Gareth Bale wasn’t the only nominee from the Premiership.

With no less than 16 players from the English Premier League making the 55 man list, Manchester United and Chelsea are the best represented with six apiece. For United, Edwin  Van Der Sar, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov all make the list.

There can be no denying that having six players shortlisted for such a prestigious award, voted for by fellow professionals is pleasing and indicates the quality that Sir Alex Ferguson has at his disposal. However without wishing to sound like a miserable b*stard- although I probably will, the fact that not one United midfielder made the shortlist seems to highlight a problem that’s been niggling at the back of my mind for some time now.

Having no midfielders represented on the shortlist is by no means a disaster and doesn’t even mean that there aren’t any players that don’t truly deserve to be their – after all these types of lists and teams are all fairly subjective. You could argue that Paul Scholes or Darren Fletcher deserve to be on the list, but at who’s expense? Maybe Javier Mascherano didn’t have the best season at Liverpool, but he did Captain Argentina to the world cup and also secured a move to the Nou Camp so it was hardly a disaster. Kaka took a little while to get going at Real Madrid but 8 La Liga goals in 21 starts last season, followed by a decent world cup means his place is more than justified.

Of the midfielders who ply their trade in England, Frank Lampard and  Cesc Fabregas had superb season’s and truly deserve their places.  Michael Essien despite his injury problems was still an important part of Chelsea’s title win and has done well so far this season- regardless of his needless sending off against Fulham.

As for Steven Gerrard, last season was hardly a success for his team and this season hasn’t been much better- I really enjoyed writing that- but there can be no denying that if it wasn’t for him Liverpool would be in a far worse position and his performances have often been excellent- I didn’t enjoy writing that.

The point is, there’s not really any midfielders who don’t deserve to be there, which worries me slightly from a United point of view. If United are to challenge for the top honours in Europe- then they’re going to have to face the names on this list and beat them. The likes of Xavi, Esteban Cambiasso, Thomas Muller and Xabi Alonso will need to be dealt with if the Champion’s League trophy is to make its way to Old Trafford.

Then there’s the Premier League battles ahead, Sir Alex Ferguson has already stated he believes the title could be decided by United’s games against Chelsea and the midfield tussles often hold the key.

While I’d always fancy United to put up a strong showing against the title holders, the double loss to them last season cannot be ignored- despite the poor decisions by certain officials.

Looking at the midfield of United there are two players who stand out as being world-class and arguably contenders for the Fifpro list. Paul Scholes has shown at the back end of this season and the beginning of this one that he’s still one of the best midfielders in the world, the only problem being his age and ability to play twice a week. Darren Fletcher has at times shown why he was so sorely missed that night in Rome and if he can find consistency against the smaller teams I wouldn’t bet against him making the Fifpro 2011 team.

Of the other players that make up United’s midfield, there’s only Michael Carrick who could be considered potentially world class. Carrick is United marmite, with his supporters insisting he’s one of the finest midfielders in Europe, with a passing range comparable to anyone and the ability to dictate the pace of games.  His detractors however, point to his errors against Bayern Munich last season and his somewhat erratic appearance record since as proof that he’s not really good enough to dominate the middle of the park.  Whatever your view on  Carrick, personally I’m a fan, there’s a doubt whether he’s even truly won his place in Fergie’s strongest XI back yet, so the argument as to just how good is he is remains somewhat moot. Anderson just hasn’t progressed since his first season and while he still may have a future at Old Trafford, he’s not at the level of world-class yet. In fact it still remains to be seen whether Mr Luis De Abreu Oliveira will actually make the grade at United.

Then there’s also Owen Hargreaves, who if he was fit would be there or there abouts when it comes to the top midfielders in Europe, the only problem with that is he hasn’t been fit for over two seasons now.

United have had a somewhat mixed start to the season, I say mixed because despite the fact they’re still unbeaten there’s been one or two games where the performances have been a little lacklustre. However, being joint top of the League, through to the knockout phase of the Champion’s League and yet to taste defeat is ostensibly a superb start to any clubs season. My concern lies with whether United have the midfield to face a truly big team and beat them.

The three toughest fixtures United have faced so far this season- at least on paper, are arguably, City and Valencia away and Spurs at home. All three games were against top quality players, yet for me the real test for United is yet to come.

My concern is do the Reds have the midfield personnel to beat the Chelseas, Real Madrids and Barcelonas of this world? When Rafael Van Der Vaart signed for Spurs, more than a few United fans felt he may be the answer to the creative force in midfield the team is crying out for, especially when Scholes isn’t playing. Ditto Mesut Ozil.

While there’s no point crying over absent Germans- in fact its usually a time for rejoicing- the question marks surrounding United’s midfield department still remain. Tom Cleverly could well find himself thrown into first team action once his loan spell at Wigan ends, but even the most optimistic United fan will have doubts as to whether the youngsters ready to push United towards Champion’s League or even League glory.

The January transfer window is pretty useless to United in terms of drafting someone in for the Champion’s League as most of the top players will already be cup-tied, however Fergie may decide that buying someone who can do a job in the League and allowing Scholes more time to focus on Europe could be a worthwhile idea.

Although it’s obvious United still have a strong squad and some of the world’s best players, the lack of a real midfield superstar may prove to be the difference between a good season and  a great one.

Here’s the Fifpro10 list in full:

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy/Juventus), Iker Casillas (Spain/Real Madrid), Petr Cech (Czech Republic/Chelsea), Julio César (Brazil/Inter), Edwin van der Sar (The Netherlands/Manchester United)

Defenders: Daniel Alves (Brazil/Barcelona), Gareth Bale (Wales/Tottenham Hotspur), Michel Bastos (Brazil/Olympique Lyon), Ashley Cole (England/Chelsea), Patrice Evra (France/Manchester United), Rio Ferdinand (England/Manchester United), Philipp Lahm (Germany/Bayern Munchen), Lúcio (Brazil/Inter), Maicon (Brazil/Inter), Marcelo (Brazil/Real Madrid), Alessandro Nesta (Italy/AC Milan), Pepe (Portugal/Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Spain/Barcelona), Carles Puyol (Spain/Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Spain/Real Madrid), Walter Samuel (Argentina/Inter), John Terry (England/Chelsea), Thiago Silva (Brazil/AC Milan), Nemanja Vidic (Serbia/Manchester United), Javier Zanetti (Argentina/Inter)

Midfielders: Esteban Cambiasso (Argentina/Inter), Michael Essien (Ghana/Chelsea), Cesc Fàbregas (Spain/Arsenal), Steven Gerrard (England/Liverpool), Andrès Iniesta (Spain/Barcelona), Kaká (Brazil/Real Madrid), Frank Lampard (England/Chelsea), Javier Mascherano (Argentina/Barcelona), Thomas Müller (Germany/Bayern München), Mesut Özil (Germany/Real Madrid), Andrea Pirlo (Italy/AC Milan), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany/Bayern München), Wesley Sneijder (The Netherlands/Inter), Xabi Alonso (Spain/Real Madrid), Xavi (Spain/Barcelona).

Forwards: Dimitar Berbatov (Bulgaria/Manchester United), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast/Chelsea), Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon/Inter), Diego Forlán (Uruguay/Atletico Madrid), Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina/Real Madrid), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden/AC Milan), Lionel Messi (Argentina/Barcelona), Diego Milito (Argentina/Inter), Arjen Robben (The Netherlands/Bayern München), Ronaldinho (Brazil/AC Milan), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal/Real Madrid), Wayne Rooney (England/Manchester United), Carlos Tévez (Argentina/Manchester City), Fernando Torres (Spain/Liverpool), David Villa (Spain/Barcelona).

25
Nov
10

Is Berbatov becoming a cause for concern?

Berbatov- desperately wanted for past crimes

Berbatov- desperately wanted for past crimes

” Dimitar Berbatov, one look at City and he said…..” well, you know the rest. Manchester United’s number nine has enjoyed the sort of Old Trafford career you’d associate with Andy Cole- before the treble.

Almost every United fan was pleased with his signing, especially after City tried to hijack the deal at the 11th hour, but some have since doubted the wisdom of it. The Bulgarian’s first season was a success- at least for the team- as United lifted an 18th League title and reached the final of the Champion’s League.

However even from early on in his United career, Berbatov had his detractors, his first season may have been successful in terms of what the team achieved but there were question marks raised as to whether he did enough personally. Part of the reason behind these doubts was his goalscoring record, Berbatov managed 14 goals in all competitions for United, which was seen a something of a disappointment especially as it was less than he’d managed the previous season with Spurs.

Another issue some United fans had with the new number 9 was his languid playing style, which in comparison to Wayne Rooney and a certain Argentinean gentleman, looked rather lazy.

These voices were in the minority though, as most United fans appreciated the different qualities Berbatov brought to the United side, his number of assists- nine in that first season- and the fact that the team achieved success which was the most important thing. There were also the flashes of brilliance the Bulgarian showed that only underlined what a special talent he was. A piece of skill against West Ham at Old Trafford was spoken about for months and I remember watching the game at Old Trafford against Hull, where Berbatov absolutely dominated the game, laying on chance after chance for his strike partners.

The real critics of Berbatov found their voices last season as with the departure of Carlos Tevez- go on then I’ll say his name, but only once- not to mention Cristiano Ronaldo, many hoped Berbatov would step it up a gear and form a successful partnership with Rooney. While Rooney went from strength to strength, Berbatov at times struggled, so much so that he was left out of the majority of big games as Sir Alex Ferguson preferred to use Rooney as a lone striker.

Part of the problem for Berbatov came from four main points:

1. A certain Argentinean couldn’t stop scoring at City and many saw the arrival of Berbatov as having led to his departure.

2. Rooney was a lot more energetic in every game, sometimes even running past Berbatov to chase balls the Bulgarian had lost.

3. Berbatov was seen by some as having not stepped up to the plate, to use an Americanism I promise never to use again, when Rooney was out injured at the end of the season.

4. United failed to win the League or emulate the previous two seasons successes in Europe.

For each of these points though, there’s a case to be made in defence of Berbatov.

1. Berbatov’s arrival had nothing to do with anyone leaving, if you don’t want to fight for your place then you shouldn’t be playing for United anyway. It was nonsense created to try and gain a modicum of sympathy from United fans, who were more than a tad disappointed someone would leave the club to got to ‘bitter’ rivals, for more money.

2. Wayne Rooney is a lot more energetic than almost any other striker on the planet and Berbatov has never been that sort of player anyway, you can’t expect a 28 year-old to suddenly change the entire way he plays football.

3. Berbatov did score twelve goals last season- a ratio of one in every two starts not a bad return and for some of them games Rooney was absent.

4. There were many reasons you could pin point on why United failed to win the League last season- seven defenders being out for Fulham away, poor decision by the linesman for the Chelsea home game, Burnley’s goalkeeper having the game of his life. To blame Berbatov would be shortsighted and unfair, it also doesn’t help  a striker when he’s in and out of the side and expected to single-handedly win League titles at the end of the season.

In the Summer it was widely expected that Berbatov would leave, but Fergie stuck with him and not only did he retire from International football to concentrate on his United career but he also looked good in pre-season, giving fans a bit of hope that he may finally have the sort if season no one can really criticise.

Following the 3-2 home win against Liverpool it seemed that Fergie’s faith had been more than well rewarded, in fact you’d be amazed that how many boys born the next few days in Manchester were called Dimitar. Berbtov’s hat-trick meant that he could join the likes of Diego Forlan of being guaranteed a place in the hearts of all of the Old Trafford faithful- no matter what he did from then on.

The problem is that since that game Berbatov hasn’t done much at all, in fact he’s put in, on one or two occasions, performances that have been almost shockingly bad. Again though, it must be noted that for every bad thing the Bulgarian does, there’s usually something good that follows it. Take the Spurs game for example, for me that was his worst performance in a United shirt arguably ever, yet only a few days later against City I thought he was excellent and didn’t get the credit he deserved.

People will always use Berbatov’s goalscoring record as proof of how he’s not been good enough at United, however he often brings more to the team than just scoring goals. His link up play with Nani this season has at times been mesmerising and he can keep hold of the ball and bring other players into the game as well as anyone at Old Trafford.

Although a striker’s job should always be primarily to score goals, the fact that no less than 17 United players have scored this season, should indicate just how much the goals are being spread around the team and Berbatov is part of the reason for this. One of the reason’s United failed to win the main honours last season was an over-reliance on Wayne Rooney and this seems to have more than been addressed.

However despite the obvious positives Berbatov has of late, there are certain things which can not be ignored. No goals in ten games is not good enough despite the fact others are scoring. The main problem seems to be Berbatov’s attitude and demeanour, for the game against Rangers he at times looked frustrated and at other times almost disinterested.

One of my main criticisms of Berbatov since he arrived at Old Trafford is the way he can snap at some of the younger players. I remember him berating Kiko Macheda last season for an errant pass and feeling a  bit disappointed. After all shouting at 19 year-old’s is hardly going to help them. Last night against Rangers Berbatov was at it again waving his arms about and shouting at others, when maybe he should have been looking a little closer to home at why he was getting no real joy.

I’m still a big fan of the Bulgarian and think United do need him if they are to achieve success, but he needs to regain his form sooner rather than later if he doesn’t want to be forced into a supporting role. With Rooney back from injury and Chicharito already proving he’s not going to take time to find his feet, Berbatov may struggle to find a regular place in the first team.

With Michael Carrick seemingly back in Fergie’s good graces, then it wouldn’t be too surprising if the United manager reverted back to the 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation he preferred for the big games last season, and that could leave Berbatov warming the bench.

If Berbatov really is to be considered a success at United, now’s the time for the number 9 to truly prove his worth.

16
Sep
10

Always look on the bright side of life

Anderson found scouse humour somewhat strange

Anderson found scouse humour somewhat strange

It’s been a somewhat disappointing start to the season for Manchester United, with last-minute goals conceded, a season-ending injury to a star player and former big issue sellers –rather than German superstars -joining the club.  

However while missing out on Mesut Ozil, and being a few minutes away from a perfect league start is annoying it is far from the end of the season- unfortunately the same can’t be said for Antonio Valencia.  No amount of optimism or sugar-coating will hide the fact that the Ecuadorian’s injury is a massive blow to United as he was one of the shining stars in last-season’s campaign.

I’ve still not been able to bring myself to watch it on television- I was sat near enough when it happened to see all I want to of that horrific injury and the reaction of the Ranger’s players said it all.

My main concern with Valencia is not whether we see him this season but that he’s able to re-capture the form he showed last season and this isn’t a Neil Webb –ask your dad- type injury that robs him of a lot of talent.

The feeling around United following the non-event that was a goalless draw against far inferior opposition is that the start to the season has been something of a letdown with needless points dropped, Wayne Rooney making the news for all the wrong reasons, not to mention the –still- ongoing saga of United’s number four.  Some fans –including me- are beginning to resemble the cast of Eastenders, looking ready to burst into fits of rage or just sink into a mood of melancholy at the drop of any more points.

While Owen  Hargreaves is looking about as likely to play for United again as Carlos Tevez, the squad at Old Trafford still has enough quality to challenge for major honours- at least in theory.

The names Rafael Van Der Vaart, Tom Cleverley and Ozil have been spoken about more in the past few days by many United fans and while any of those three would be useful to the squad there’s still a wealth of talent available.

Anderson and  Michael Carrick have yet to really figure this season and both players know that this could be their last season at Old Trafford if they don’t step up their game. While I’ve been critical of both players in the past, I still think they’ve got enough talent to play a big part and hopefully they will.

When it comes to the points United have dropped- and believe me I was as frustrated as anyone at the final whistle of both away games- it’s still not as bad as it may seem.

Chelsea of course have gotten off to a flier but considering their form at the back end of last season and the fixtures they faced can anyone have expected anything less?  

The likes of Wigan, WBA, Stoke and West Ham are the sort of games Carlo Ancelotti would probably have chosen as his first four of the season if he had the choice. Now I’m not getting into any conspiracy theory here that Chelsea have deliberately been given an easy ride but let’s face facts no one can really have expected the Champions to drop points against those teams.

United’s two away fixtures have been  more difficult than any games Chelsea have had so far this season and while the manner of the draws is frustrating there’s still a chance that Ancelotti’s men may return from both grounds with less than maximum points.

It must also be remembered that from the corresponding fixtures last season, United took no points whatsoever, so it’s not all doom and gloom just yet.

While the draw with Rangers was without a doubt one of the most boring 90 minutes I’ve witnessed since England took on the titans from Algeria it’s still need to be put into perspective. Yes, Sir  Alex Ferguson should not have changed ten of his players from the previous game and yes that is the sort of match where the term ‘banker’ could not be more apt- unless applied to someone who works in a bank of course- but you’d still expect United to top their group.

Going to places like Valencia, Glasgow and anywhere in Turkey is never easy for teams but they’re hardly the cream of Europe and quite frankly if Fergie’s men can’t get a result from those games then the Champion’s League is beyond them anyway.  I fully expect Fergie to realise the limits of which players he can and cannot leave out- he’s already admitted as much about Dimitar Berbatov – and play a much stronger side in the remaining games.

When it comes to Rooney- although his performance against Rangers was subdued- he’s shown enough in the game against West Ham and for England that he’s putting his World Cup and subsequent  ladies of the night debacle behind him and getting back –slowly- to being the striker we all know he is.

Fortunately for Wazza unlike last season, this time round he actually has a world-class partner who’s playing like he is actually world –class so it’s not all up to him to provide United’s goals.  Berbatov’s start to the season- while far from perfect has been a massive improvement on last term and he’s looking sharp.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, United lost the title last season not due to defensive frailties but simply because of an over-reliance on Rooney- Chelsea had Frank Lampard to lighten Didier Drogba’s goal load- who did United have?- other than possibly ‘own goals.’

If Berbatov can hit 20 goals this season then United stand a good chance of seeing the title return to the ‘Theatre of Dreams.’

The main worry defensively is the recent penchant for conceding late goals, what united need is a world-class defender with bags of experience who can help steady the ship, oh erm hang on. The return of Rio Ferdinand is exactly what’s needed and if he can stay fit then the one really worrying factor of United’s play this season could be resolved.

Even the Valencia injury may not be season-ending with recent reports indicating he could play a part at the back end of the season.  There’s also Gabriel Obertan to return who may well rise to the challenge of filling one of last season’s members of the PFA team of the year’s boots. Obertan has show signs in the reserves that he’s the real deal- now’s his chance to prove it.  

The point I’m making is that while it’s not been the start many United fans were hoping for, it’s far from the disaster certain people- including those in the press who love to see United fail- would have us believe.

What United could really do with is a home game against an arch-rival who are really struggling, to get the mood and confidence buzzing around Old Trafford again. If only we had a game like that coming up……………

22
Jul
10

can United really afford to lose Vidic?

Will Vidic be joing Ronnie at the Bernabeu ?

Will Vidic be joing Ronnie at the Bernabeu ?

Sir Alex Ferguson’s insistence on not signing any players this summer will have been met with a collective groan from many Manchester United fans. However the United manager’s refusal to clarify that Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic will be at staying at Old Trafford will be met with more than just a groan, maybe even a scream or two.

With both Real Madrid and Barcelona reported to be interested in Vidic, Ferguson when asked about the transfer speculation gave the rather inconclusive answer: “I can’t clarify it at all.” Hardly the emphatic denial United fans want to hear.

Vidic had been a rock for United since signing for the club in 2006 from Spartak Moscow for the bargain fee of £7 million, striking up one of the best defensive partnerships in Europe with Rio Ferdinand.

Over the past two seasons with Ferdinand experiencing various injury problems, Vidic has managed to strike up a partnership with Jonny Evans, particularly last season, which saw United concede less goals than any other team in the Premiership.

There are two major worrying factors when it comes to Vidic leaving Old Trafford- at least from a United point of view. Firstly with Rio Ferdinand’s injury problems- he started a mere 12 league games last season- United now face the prospect of Jonny Evans and either Wes Brown or the untried Chris Smalling as the new defensive partnership. While I’m a big admirer of Brown, the fact is he has also had his fair share of injuries and his most successful season for United was at right-back.

As for Smalling, asking a player who’s only made a handful of Premier league appearances to come straight into the United team, is a bit much and may well lead to disaster.

The second worrying element is this recent trend of United losing the crux of their 2008 double winning team. This was a side which looked as though it could go on to challenge for major honours for at least the next three or four years, without needing much changing. However since that wonderful night in Moscow, United have seen, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez leave, Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves, suffer injury crisis’s and now it looks as though Vidic may be departing. Not to mention the fact that elder statesmen Edwin Van Der Sar, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, can’t be expected to carry on for much more than another season or that the jury is still out for Anderson and Michael Carrick seems to have regressed.

Fergie is well known for rebuilding United sides, but at the age of 68 can he really build a fifth great team, following the classes of ’93, ’96, ’99 & ’08?

There is another element to this saga as well which is the attitude of the immensely popular Vidic. The words “He comes from Serbia, he’ll f*cking murder ya!” are sung regularly at Old Trafford and with good reason- not because they’re true of course I’m quite sure Vidic has never committed a homicide- probably. No, Vidic is popular because he’s a real get-stuck-in type defender reminiscent of Steve Bruce back in his heyday, he might not be the quickest but what he lacks in pace he makes up for in his reading of the game and his fearlessness in the tackle.

Vidic has grown as a player at Old Trafford and it hasn’t always been a smooth progression. Against Liverpool and Barcelona two seasons ago he made costly errors in the two most important games.

While the loss to Liverpool turned out to be academic- although as someone who attended that game it is still my worst memory of a visit to Old Trafford, allowing Samuel Eto’o in to score in the Champions League final all but ended the game as a contest. While there’s little doubt in my mind United were never going to win that game, as Ryan Giggs rightly stated they just: “simply didn’t turn up” Vidic’s mistake no doubt opened the door for the Catalonians.

United and Fergie though stuck by Vidic, there was no real criticism for him coming from old Trafford, although many a so-called expert on Sky Sports or Match of the Day were quick to question his big-game temperament. Three successive sending offs against Liverpool only helped to pour petrol on that particular fire.

The point is though United and Ferguson have stuck by Vidic when others were questioning him, yet it seems the player has no such qualms about throwing the loyalty shown to him back in Fergie’s face. Every player of course has the right to move on, especially when they have helped their club to a host of major honours, but what is so disappointing about the whole Vidic saga is some of the reasons being bandied about for him wanting to leave. The most ubiquitous one is the idea that Vidic’s wife is unhappy in Manchester. Well call me a narrow-minded Mancunian but surely Manchester is at least as good as Serbia if not a tiny bit better. This reminds me of the time Paul Ince departed Old Trafford supposedly because his wife wanted to move to Milan- it amazes me how tough players can be so hen-pecked. Surely if Vidic was happy at Old Trafford he could convince the Mrs there’ll be plenty of time to live in Spain once his contract finishes. Speaking of his contract another rumour is that Vidic is unhappy that United have stalled with making him a new offer. If this is the case then I for one hope Fergie rectifies the situation and offers the Serbian a new deal, as losing him may be the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to United trying to regain ‘our trophy.’

Of course Vidic is under contract until 2012 and United could always take a leaf out of Arsenal’s book and simply refuse to sell him, although as Fergie has shown in the past, once a player wants to leave Old Trafford, it doesn’t take long before they’re gone.

10
May
10

United’s near-miss shouldn’t hide the truth.

Hopefully those ribbons won't be on for too long.

Finishing runners-up in the league, getting knocked-out in the early stages of the FA Cup and a quarter-final Champion’s League exit hardly a good season makes at the ‘Theatre of Dreams.’ A Carling Cup win, while pleasing, is not really the sort of accomplishment United fans will be shouting at Liverpool fans come next season- although City fans now that’s another story.

It’s safe to that a season which saw seven league defeats, everyone’s least favourite Yorkshire men coming to Old Trafford and dumping United out of the FA Cup, plus losing twice to Chelsea, will not be a DVD release-type of year looked back upon decades from now with the same reverence as 1998-9 or 2007-08.
The loss of Ronaldo and a certain Argentinean got the season off to a somewhat sombre start which wasn’t helped by an early loss away to relegation certainties Burnley.

United’s season never really got going- at least not in the league, in the past the most successful team in Premier League history have remained just that by stringing together awe-inspiring winning runs- usually when other teams have faltered. It’s not been uncommon for United to put together an 8 or 9 match-winning run or maybe a record-breaking run of clean sheets.

This season United’s best winning run in the league was five matches, which while hardly pathetic is not the sort of dominant cavalier charge that has put would-be title challengers in their place in seasons past.

It isn’t really United’s lack of a long winning run which prevented the Premier League title remaining at Old Trafford for a record-breaking fourth consecutive season- and more importantly to many fans 19th title win in total. Losing twice to your nearest title rivals is not necessarily a recipe for disaster, after all last season Rafa Benitez’s men did the double over United yet still failed to prise the trophy from Sir Alex Ferguson’s grasp, but the two losses to Chelsea this season more or less sealed the titles fate.

While it is deeply disappointing to come so close to the title- and making history to boot- there is a need for some sober reflection on how the defending champions never quite put forward true title winning credentials.

Losing to Everton, Fulham, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Burnley not to mention twice to Chelsea is the sort of statistic unheard of at United and while many excuses can be found for each loss- injuries, poor decisions, missed penalties etc, there’s no denying it’s not good enough.

Which brings me on to my point, had United won the league, it would only have papered over some of the cracks which need addressing.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article on these very pages urging Fergie not to panic and try and replace half the first-team as some more over-exuberant observers had been advocating.

While I still stick by the idea that United are only one or two players away from being the best team in the land there are certain factors which cannot be ignored.
First on the agenda and this may go down like a BNP joke at a Bar Mitzvah but I’m going to state it anyway, the atmosphere at Old Trafford at times this season has been shocking. Getting out-sung by around one-fifteenth of the supporters in the ground is a bit of a joke and no matter how much I’d like to pretend the Old Trafford faithful are the loudest in the land, it simply doesn’t ring true. Too many times this season opposition fans have been the far too audible while many United supporters have been far too quiet. I’m not going to get into the whole prawn-sandwich debate but from the times I’ve visited Old Trafford this season, I’ve often left disappointed with the atmosphere rather than the result.

Secondly there’s Rio Ferdinand. I honestly feel I don’t need to explain this but for anyone visiting from another planet or Chadderton, allow me to elucidate. 24 league starts in 2008-09 was something of a disappointment softened only by the emergence of Jonny Evans as a true first-class defender. This season half that number of starts is practically useless, as soon as Rio comes back into the team, he’s out again, which does nothing for stability not to mention confidence. United need Rio fit and playing regularly and if that’s not possible then they need to sign a top defender who can play week in week out. Chris Smalling is not the answer, at least not in the near-future. If United do not sign a top defender- after all they’re hardly easy to come by then maybe Fergie should give Evans a real chance and make him a regular starter- regardless of whether Rio’s fit or not. This may sound crazy after all Ferdinand is still one of the best defenders in the world, but it may give the defence much-needed stability. It could also see Evans grow in confidence and become the player he’s shown signs of over the past two seasons.

Thirdly Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen- for the purposes of brevity I’ve lumbered them both together. Neither can be truly relied upon to perform for United at the highest level, Owen is far too injury prone while Berbatov is far too p*ss poor prone. If United are to have any form of striking plan-b then, a new striker must be top of the agenda. Kiko Macheda has the potential to become a world-beater but next season may be a bit to soon for every United fan’s favourite Italian.

Finally there’s the attacking central midfielder that’s been missing at Old Trafford ever since Paul Scholes stopped being the force he once was. To be fair to Scholes in the past few games he’s been United’s best player but he cannot be relied upon to do it week in week out and has not been the goal-scorer he was for about 4 seasons now.
Antonio Valencia and Nani look more than up to the task on the wings, and there’s the prospect of Gabriel Obertan carrying some of the form he’s shown for the reserves for the first-team next season. Let’s not forget Ryan Giggs and Ji-Sung Park of course, who can still do a job albeit not regularly- at least not in Giggs’s case.

These factors may have been brushed under the carpet had Steven Gerrard not bet half his wages on a Chelsea title win- I’m joking of course, although mainly to avoid libel. United really didn’t deserve to win the title, as I told my very few scouse friends last season ‘the table doesn’t lie.’ For United to regain the premier league crown it’s going to take more than Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez.

27
Apr
10

What has happened to Michael Carrick?

Carrick showing off his superb long finger

A few months ago, on this very site I wrote an article proclaiming Michael Carrick the unsung hero of Manchester United’s quest for more trophies.

At the time United had just seen off Manchester City n the semi-final of the League Cup, were still in the Champion’s League and well in the hunt for the Premier League title. While players such as Wayne Rooney, Darren Fletcher and ‘own goals’ were all given credit for United’s accomplishments, Carrick seemed to be short of any real praise.

I argued that Carrick was one of the best passers in the league, had won numerous trophies since his arrival at Old Trafford and could often dictate the pace of games. While all of those statements may still be true, there can be no denying that lately Carrick has been something of a liability to say the least.

Following the Champions League exit many fans, experts, pundits and Jim Beglin were quick to point out that Carrick was at fault for both Bayern Munich’s first two goals at Old Trafford. While the sending off of Rafael Da Silva was seen as the major reason for United’s failure, Carrick was arguably more to blame than the young Brazilian. The midfielder’s failure to deal with the danger for the first ball and get out-muscled far too easily, then lose possession dilly-dallying which led to the second, was almost inexcusable as unlike his poorly disciplined colleague, he wasn’t young and inexperienced.

Going into the Bayern game Carrick was coming off the back of a rather poor display against Liverpool in the league. It was his lack of composure, some may even call it dilly-dallying- I do like that word- that had led to Fernando Torres’s opener. That would have turned almost every United fan who’s at times questioned Carrick’s real value, totally against the Geordie if it weren’t for the fact that Ji-Sung Park and Wayne Rooney turned the game on its head.

Carrick hasn’t just underperformed in those games, going back a few weeks further to Wolves away, in the final few moments of the match a poor clearance by him had almost led to an equalizer for the midlands team. If it was not for Sam Vokes’s woefulness in front of goal then United would have dropped two valuable points and now be out of the title race.

It seems at a time when United need a man who has won the title every season he’s been at Old Trafford to step up, he’s suddenly started to fall to pieces. Saturday’s game against Spurs was a case in point. When Carrick replaced Antonio Valencia on the hour mark, the bloke in the seat next to me turned and said: “I hope he’s not gonna throw this away,” two minutes later Ledley King rose above him, without much difficulty and headed in an equaliser.

For whatever reason, Carrick has gone from a composed, midfield conductor to a panicky, weak, lightweight with a liking for dilly-dallying- I’ll stop using that word now, I think we’ve heard it enough- in the space of a few weeks.

The fact that Sir Alex Ferguson dropped Carrick for both the recent derby and the Spurs game tells us that the midfielder’s lack of form has not gone unnoticed by the United boss. It’s almost as if with the World Cup only weeks from now and United a Chelsea slip-up away from the title, Carrick has decided he neither wants a trip to South Africa or any more medals cluttering up his mantelpiece.

It may be that a long season has finally begun to take its toll on Carrick, that despite being 28 years-old his mind or body or both, have started to become fatigued which is causing him to make sloppy mistakes. It could be the pressure of having less match winners in the side and therefore more expectation placed on his shoulders has made him nervous. It could be that he’s simply lost the hunger and desire that he had two or three seasons ago due to the amount of success he’s achieved since his United career began. Or perhaps it just that with Newcastle’s recent promotion he’s realised that a consistent run of p*ss poor performances will result in a transfer to St James’ Park where he can re-join his family in the North East. Whatever the reason for his demise it could already have cost him his place in Fabio Capello’s squad.

Carrick is a player that it took me a long time to warm to. At first I thought he had a tendency to go missing in big games- a charge that still sticks- plus he didn’t get stuck in the way Darren Fletcher, Owen Hargreaves or Anderson did so I was never a big fan . However over the last three years he’s grown on me, I’ve learned to appreciate his good points– ability to pass etc, and if not ignore his faults- lack of goals etc, at least understand them, in the context of what it is he does bring to the team. This recent dip though, at a time when he’s arguably more needed than ever in his United career is becoming more and more difficult to excuse.

The sight of Owen Hargreaves on the bench on Saturday- along with Darron Gibson- may mean that Carrick finds himself playing no further part in this season’s final two games. If that happens, then while it may sound melodramatic, there could be the possibility that Carrick’s days as a first-team regular are all but over.

If he is given the chance against either Sunderland or Stoke to prove he’s merely experiencing a blip and get back to his best, then maybe he can not only salvage his world cup place but possibly even his United one.