Archive for the 'Legends' Category

28
Oct
10

who will be United’s next goalkeeper?

reina couldn't resist a smile when he heard he may be leaving the dippers

reina couldn't resist a smile when he heard he may be leaving the dippers

The number one jersey at United has been one fraught with difficulties over the past forty years.  For every Alex Stepney, there’s been a Jim Leighton, for every Peter Schmeichel a Massimo Taibi. In fact if you look a the list of ‘keepers that have played for United, just in Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign you’ll realise that it’s not always been the easiest position for the United manager to fill.

Proven Premier League stars- Mark Bosnich, World Cup winners- Fabien Barthez, up and coming potentially world class stoppers- Tim Howard, and future England number ones –Ben Foster have all failed when it’s come to minding the space between the sticks at Old Trafford.

Edwin Van Der Sar’s arrival at United, finally gave the fans and no doubt Fergie, the chance to breathe a huge sigh of relief. After all United fans had seen more than one or two duffers don the goalkeeping gloves for the Reds and there’d been a few horror stories along the way- Porto at home, Arsenal away, the 3-3 with Southampton,- you know what I’m talking about.

Replacing VDS should not be underestimated, it’s one of the most difficult tasks Fergie will ever face as, as previous ‘keepers have shown, just because you’re good doesn’t mean you can handle the pressure at United. Many keepers who’ve struggled at United have gone on to be reliable, dare I say even world class stoppers somewhere else, just look at Tim Howard for example.

With so much importance being, rightly, placed on VDS’s successor the rumour mill has been going into overdrive with stories of the nest ‘keeper ‘destined’ to be heading towards Old Trafford.

The latest nugget suggests that Spain’s second choice and beach ball lover Pepe Reina could be a new target for Fergie to set his sights on. Roy Hodgson has already wubbished such claims insisting that his number one, who signed a new deal in April is going nowhere- especially to the arch rivals down the M62.  So who is coming to United as the next number one? There’s been so many rumours it’s difficult to keep track so I’ve tried to narrow it down to five who could have the unenviable job of filling VDS’s gloves.

5. Pepe Reina. Liverpool. It’s a far-fetched rumour but it’s still doing the rounds so I’ll give it some credence, although not much. Could Reina really come to United? It’s highly unlikely, after all having signed a new contract only months ago, it would be up to Liverpool to sell him and that’s never going to happen.

The recent takeover by ‘good’ American owners, means that the Anfield outfit will probably not have to sell any players to balance the books, least of all one of their best ones to United. Could Reina do a job at Old Trafford? Probably. Although he is highly thought of and no doubt a very good stopper, he does like the occasional blunder and with any United keeper having large parts of the game where he’s not called upon, his concentration may be a slight worry.  Personally, I’d prefer it if United went for someone a little but more reliable and a little less scouse-infected.

4.  Shay Given. Manchester City. This may seem equally as far-fetched as the idea of Reina joining the Red and White Army, however there is a part of it that makes sense. Given is highly unlikely to want to stick around seeing the twilight of his career off by keeping Roque Santa Cruz warm on the City bench. He’s a proven world class keeper who has shown, not least in the 4-3 that he can produce stunning saves at the drop of a hat. The only problem to any such move would of course be City themselves who are about as likely to sell any player to United as they are to sign Wayne Rooney- but you never know. At 34, Given wouldn’t be a long-term signing but he could arguably do a job for at least two seasons if the unthinkable happened.

3. Igor Akinfeev. CSKA Moscow. Akinfeev is Russia’s international keeper and at only 24 years of age already has an impressive 34 caps. Fergie’s long meant to have been an admirer of the Russian and there’s little doubt that a significant bid could tempt CSKA to sell him. The only question mark would be could he handle the pressure of life at Old Trafford? That’s pretty impossible to tell unless he actually signed but there’s every reason to believe a player who’s stock is constantly rising could well be the man to take over from VDS.  There’s been talk of Russian team mate and part time agony uncle- check out his blog it’s hilarious- Andrei Arshavin trying to convince him to go to the Emirates. Whether Arshavin is successful remains to be seen, but if Akinfeev did end up at Old Trafford, I for one wouldn’t be complaining.

2. Maarten Stekelenburg. Ajax.  The Dutch stopper was one of the few players to emerge from the Holland team with his reputation enhanced following the world cup- despite their run to the final. Stekelenburg has taken over from VDS in the Dutch goal so replacing him for United may seem like a logical step- after all Ajax is also a former club of the United keeper. Standing around 6 foot 6 Stekelenburg is certainly one of the tallest keepers in world football but like VDS is pretty adept at getting down quick and as he proved in the World Cup final the big stage doesn’t faze him.

If Edwin has a quiet word in his ear then Stekelenburg may well be Fergie’s big summer signing, he has already ruled out a move to Arsenal- who seem to be in the hunt for every goalkeeper who’s currently playing.

1.  Anders Lindegaad. Aalesunds FK. Lindegaad has apparently caught Fergie’s eye recently after an impressive display for the Danish national side against Portugal. Although, he only played an hour, replacing the injured Thomas Sorensen, Lindegaad made some world class saves, including a stunning one to prevent Nani. United’s goalkeeping coach Eric Steele was despatched to Norway, where Lindegaad ply his trade obviously otherwise that would be just pointless, to give the keeper the once over and was apparently very impressed. With Fulham and Spurs  supposedly in the hunt, it’s highly likely if Fergie does want him, he may have to move in the summer regardless of whether VDS is retiring or not. One advantage that Lindegaad may have over some of the others on this list is his relative small price- plus the fact that barely-known Danish keepers are pretty well thought of at Old Trafford.

22
Oct
10

Why United should go all out to keep Wayne Rooney

Rooney realises he's just posted his new address on facebook

Rooney realises he's just posted his new address on facebook

He’s overrated, he’s a flat-track bully, he’s not been playing well for months anyway, he’s not scored a screamer in years, with the money we’ll get we can rebuild half the team, he’s only had one prolific season, he’s scouse.

The reasons why Wayne Rooney’s departure wouldn’t be such a bad thing have been doing the rounds among Manchester United fans ever since Sir Alex Ferguson revealed the stunning news on Tuesday.

It seems last season’s top scorer and a player who only a few days ago was revered as United’s talisman and one destined to join the holy ranks of the likes of George Best, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Eric Cantona, as a true United legend, is now a useless, overweight, waste of space. A man who’s greed for money is matched only by his greed for pies and who would actually be doing United a massive favour by leaving at the earliest juncture, to give the Reds the maximum profit and allow Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes to carry on leading the team.

Well despite trying my hardest to convince myself that Rooney leaving Old Trafford is not such a bad thing, I’m sorry but I’ve failed miserably and am now in fact more convinced than ever of the need for United to try and keep him. Although it looks highly unlikely, especially considering the actions of the hate mob who surrounded his house last night issuing death threats and acting like total morons, I for one think if there’s any chance of keeping Rooney, United should do whatever it takes.

It actually amazes me that people seem to think the loss of Rooney would not be that much of a disaster for United, that bigger and better players have left and United have always bounced back and will do once more.

Well let me make one thing clear, United with or without Rooney, will survive of that there is no doubt. United have survived the worst disaster imaginable only to come back stronger. United have gone over a quarter of a century without a title only to win 11 in 18 years and have seen countless players leave for ‘greener pastures’- possibly with cows in them- only to cast an envious eye over at Old Trafford as their former colleagues go from triumph to triumph.

Manchester United will always be one of the world’s biggest clubs, without or without Wayne Rooney. However my problem isn’t for the long-term prospects of the club as a whole- although I like every other United fan have more than a concern about the Glazer situation, my worry is can United afford to lose their best player and still challenge in the short-term? If Rooney goes then United won’t just be missing a player who’s gone from unsung selfless grafter in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo to prolific leader over the space of 12 months, they’ll be losing one of the few true superstars in world football.

It’s easy to use Rooney’s form as an excuse for him not being missed but as is often said ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ and Rooney will without a doubt come out of the barren spell he’s wallowing in, with venom, sooner or later.

Last season United missed out on the Premier League title by two points- okay it was one and goal difference but you know what I mean- and had Rooney stayed fit towards the end, then the title would no doubt have been staying at Old Trafford.

Ditto the Champion’s League, if it wasn’t for the injury Rooney picked up in Munich, it’s safe to say United would have been facing Internazionale in the final, after all the semi’s against Lyon would hardly have been a major task. Rooney was immense last season and actually improved on the superb player he’d been in the previous two seasons.

There’s no reason why once he gets over the poor form and lack of full fitness that’s been dogging him since that seminal night in Munich, that Rooney can’t go on to get even better. After all at only 24 years of age he’s five years away from his peak and there is no end to just how good he could become.

I know as a United fan this is a very risky statement, as if Rooney joins City I’ll be forced to stand by it to the City fans I know who’ll be rubbing it back in my face, but I’ve got to be totally honest and say I believe Rooney is an exceptional talent that would walk into any team.

What’s going on behind closed doors between United and Rooney is anyone’s guess, but with the club’s statement of ‘no real developments’ and the drama of the United hate mob laying siege to his house, then the likelihood is that Rooney’s almost certain to leave.
If there is a slim chance that Fergie, David Gill or whoever can convince Rooney to stay then they should definitely take it. I know there’s a lot of anger at the way Rooney has acted and I’m thinking of selling Paul Stretford voodoo dolls at the next United home game, but if a bit of pride can be swallowed and a deal reached then I’m praying United make it.

In the past when big players have left such Paul Ince, Mark Hughes, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, David Beckham, and Kleberson, United have simply found new ones to replace them usually through the youth system or the young signings. I think the same could definitely happen again if Rooney left. Kiko Macheda, Chicharito and Danny Welbeck could all have bright futures at United but I can’t see them leading a title charge for at least another two seasons.

The worrying thing about Rooney leaving is that, Fergie may only have three or four seasons left in him at United and if this is a similar situation to 2003/04 where the rebuilding process began and took three years, then by the time it’s done he may be ready to retire. Call me a sceptic but I think there’s far too much deadweight in the United squad at the moment- I’ll leave the names for another blog, and losing Rooney may be the start of a massive overhaul that could take a while.

Let’s not forget that three of United’s most experienced and important players are not going to be around in two season’s time. Rooney is the type of player you can build a team around and despite the money United may get for him, who can they buy that’s in a similar class?

United will go on whether Rooney’s leading the attack or someone else, but there’s no doubt that with him in the team the future would look a hell of a lot brighter.

21
Oct
10

Deconstructing Rooney’s Statement

Rooney writes out another statement regarding the need for lower carbon emissions

Rooney writes out another statement regarding the need for lower carbon emissions

Wayne Rooney’s statement was delivered to the world’s press yesterday with the sort of fanfare usually reserved for general election results or the announcement of who’s been voted off the Xfactor. Within minutes of Rooney releasing his excuse, sorry, reason for wanting to leave Manchester United, millions of United fans around the world were analysing every word, sentence and nuance to see what exactly was going on in the mind of the player formerly known as a fan’s favourite.

While it’s quite obvious Rooney didn’t sit down in front of his Macbook and write the statement himself before emailing it to the press, it’s obviously the crux of why he wants to leave- at least in public.

So what did Rooney’s statement tell us? Well he wants to leave that much is certain but are the reasons for him leaving valid? Looking over the statement fully, it seems as though Rooney’s memory and argument is just a tad selective to say the least.

It begins…..

 
 “I met with David Gill last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad.
I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.
I was interested to hear what Sir Alex had to say yesterday and surprised by some of it.
It is absolutely true, as he said, that my agent and I have had a number of meetings with the club about a new contract. During those meetings in August I asked for assurances about the continued ability of the club to attract the top players in the world.
   Here seems to be the main argument, in fact you could say it’s the only argument Rooney is making, that United cannot continue to attract the top players. Well that would indicate that in the past United have attracted the world’s top players, yet is this the case?

Looking back over the past six years, since Rooney joined United, the players who’ve come to Old Trafford have not always been the best in the World, but have more often than not grown into that bracket. Some of United’s best signings during this period have not necessarily been ‘stars’ as such-although they certainly are now.

Fergie’s most astute signings in the period since Rooney joined United were arguably Edwin Van Der Sar, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic who went to Old Trafford for a combined fee of around £14.5 million and United had little competition for their signatures.
United have spent big money on the likes of Anderson, Nani, Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves and of course Dimitar Berbatov and there’s no denying that these players were all sought after but were they considered among the ‘top players in the world’?

Anderson and Nani were seen as potential future stars, while Carrick was a highly thought of England fringe type midfielder whose £18.6 million fee left many feeling United had overpaid slightly. As for Hargreaves, he certainly was considered a top midfielder but even before he went to United, his injury problems were well documented. As for Berbatov, he was a shining star in the Premier League and the noisy neighbours were certainly interested, but it’s questionable as to whether he was really considered one of the world’s top strikers. He was probably a rung below the likes of Rooney, David Villa, Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres as being one of the truly top strikers in world football. Of course there was also a certain gentleman from Argentina who arrived, but the fact he was signed on a loan deal from West Ham or whoever the fook owned him, speaks volumes as to his standing in world football at the time.

The point I’m making is that since Rooney’s arrival United’s signings have often been ones that will grow in time, or players who aren’t quite attracting the rest of Europe’s elite but are still capable of doing a good job. Rooney’s argument that he wants to leave Old Trafford because he doesn’t feel the club will ‘continue to attract the ‘top players in the world’ is slightly flawed as United often don’t really go for the very top players.

Fergie has been bitten once with Juan Sebastian Veron who was considered one of the world’s best midfielders and came with a price tag that seemed to underline that fact to the tune of £29.1 million. However Veron’s time at Old Trafford was something of a disaster and he ended up leaving for just over half that fee, mainly due to Chelsea’s reckless spending in the early phase of the Abramovich era.

When Rooney claims its anxieties over the ability of the club to attract the world’s top players which is making him leave, it’s as though he wants Fergie to change his whole transfer policy and suddenly start bidding for big name players. Let’s not forget even a certain Cristiano Ronaldo was not a real star when he arrived at United- in fact I along with more than a few other fans were disappointed when we learnt it wasn’t the man now known as ‘Fat Ronaldo’ that was signing.

If Fergie had gone out last summer and spent £40 million on the likes of Joleon Lescott and Emannuel Adebayor would that have convinced Rooney of United’s ambition? Perhaps a £45 million bid for Zlatan Imbrahimovic would have made the scouse striker stay. The only problem with any of those signings is they’d arguably not improve United’s team one iota and been a complete waste of money, but hey at least it shows ambition.

To be fair to Rooney he’s actually not the first talismanic striker to leave Old Trafford due to a percieved lack of ambition by the club in regards to transfers.
Believe it or not Eric “The King” Cantona actually cited the same reason as part of his decision to retire. This is an extract from Fergie’s book Managing My Life:

 
 
“He [Cantona] was totally straightforward with me. He did want to finish….When I asked him again why he felt that way, he was not as vague as he had been previously and specified two recent trends at Old Trafford that had left him disillusioned. He said he felt he had become a pawn of Manchester United’s merchandising department and that he was not going to accept such treatment any longer. His second complaint was that United were not ambitious enough in the purchase of players. I had a lot of sympathy with him on both counts.” 
Of course there’s a world of difference between Eric’s retirement and Rooney’s desire to leave for greener pastures. After all Cantona wasn’t seeking more money elsewhere, or a club with more ambition, he’d more or less had enough of football and the lack of signing top players was simply one of his reasons. The fact Fergie sympathised said it all, at that time -1997- United hadn’t been ambitious enough in the transfer market. However the signings of Jaap Stam and Dwight Yorke, less than a year later would certainly address that issue.

The reason I mention Cantona’s comment is because it’s worth noting that Rooney hasn’t been the only one who’s had thoughts like that while being United’s star player. However, Cantona was leaving football altogether and was at a club that hadn’t won the CL twice in the past 11 years not to mention the league 11 times out of 18. There’s similarities between the two statements but there’s also a lot of differences, especially in the context of the times they were made.

The final part of Rooney’s statement, arguably is the most contradictory.

 
 I have never had anything but complete respect for MUFC. How could I not have done, given its fantastic history and especially the last six years in which I have been lucky to play a part?
For me it’s all about winning trophies – as the club has always done under Sir Alex. Because of that I think the questions I was asking were justified.
Despite recent difficulties, I know I will always owe Sir Alex Ferguson a huge debt. He is a great manager and mentor who has helped and supported me from the day he signed me from Everton when I was only 18.
For Manchester United’s sake I wish he could go on forever because he’s a one-off and a genius.”
  

If Fergie’s a genius and United have always won trophies under him, then why does Rooney want to leave? Fergie shows no signs of retiring for at least the next few years and as he’s stated himself his health is fine. Had Fergie announced he was retiring at the end of this season or even the next one, Rooney’s statement would make sense, but he hasn’t so it doesn’t.

Rooney’s statement has been seen by some as simply yet another reason why the Glazer family have to be removed, after all, it’s surely the debt they saddled the club with that’s caused Rooney to believe the club can no longer compete. However, while the debt and the interest are a joke, Rooney seems to have forgotten that United are not usually ones for making record-breaking bids for the world’s top stars.
Although, Fergie has been willing to splash that sort of cash on occasion- Rio Ferdinand, Rooney himself, it’s been extremely rare and not happened at all of late.

Whether more will come to light as to how much wages and signing-on fee have dictated remains to be seen but Rooney’s argument that United lack the ability to attract top players, seems a little hollow.
United lacking ambition? As Fergie succinctly put it last night following United Champion’s League win:

“Have I not won 30 trophies?”

 

 

 
20
Oct
10

Time for United fans to show Rooney what he’ll be missing

Rooney - on his knees, no doubt a position a few United fans would like to see him in

Rooney - on his knees, no doubt a position a few United fans would like to see him in

October 20th 2010 mid afternoon, just after dinner time- or lunch if you’re a bit southern will go down in history as a JFK-type ‘where were you when you heard the news’ type moment for all United fans.

It was a real ‘say it ain’t so’ event, when Sir Alex Ferguson told the world what some had expected, many had doubted and nearly all could not believe: Wayne Rooney didn’t want to be Manchester United player anymore.

I myself was working for a Manchester radio station busy stood in the rain asking members of the public what they thought of the imminent budget cuts. I got the news from a delighted scouse mate who phoned me with the news.

Not wanting to play into my -only- scouse mate’s hands I responded with the following series of lies:
“He’s overrated anyway, he’s been sh*t for months, I think it’s actually a good thing ‘cos we could use the money to buy 3 or 4 much needed players.” I was that convincing, I almost believed myself.

As I stood in the Mancunian rain, like thousands of other United fans, a whole host of thoughts were running through my head.
“Will he really leave? Will he go to the bitters? Will he be gone by January? When will it ever stop raining?!”

A call from the office ordered me to Old Trafford to ask fans around the ground for their opinions. A piece of cake I thought, until I was given one final stipulation- “try and get Mancunians, we need some Manc voices.”

Now despite the myth that’s often perpetrated by nearly all City fans, the one that seems to have become law to anyone from outside Manchester. All Mancunians do not support City, there are plenty of United fans in Manchester, in fact there’s hundreds of thousands. Finding a Mancunian at the United Megastore at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon is fairly difficult, a bit like finding a scouser in full time employment- not unheard of, just extremely rare.

I arrived at the ground and was struck by the fact that the number of reporters actually outnumbered the amount of fans or passers-by. Sky Sports, were there along with an assortment of national and local journalists.

I asked one reporter how it was going? Had he managed to speak to many people?
“Mainly Irish and foreigners.” He said, with a look of disappointment.
“Any Mancunians?” I asked hopefully.
“Not one.” He replied inevitably.

I decided to interview whatever fans I could get my hands on feeling that at least some voices were better than none. There were one or two people going from interview to interview, as though they were on the red carpet at the oscars, basking in their fifteen minutes.

I grabbed the nearest person who didn’t have a camera stuck in his face. My question was simple “What reaction do you think Rooney will get the next time he plays for United?”

Over the next two hours I spoke to about twenty fans, some were even Mancunian, and the responses varied from “we’ll get behind him as always” to “He’ll get booed as soon as his name’s mentioned.”

Part of the problem was everyone still seemed unsure of Wazza’s motives and more importantly his destination.

One bloke stuck his head out of the car as I was interveiwing someone and shouted “f*ck City!” Although I was annoyed I had to start again, I couldn’t help but agree.
If Wayne Rooney did the unthinkable and went to the noisy neighbours, then it would be a disaster for both United and the striker himself.

The reason it would be a disaster for United is that despite his poor run of from Rooney is still one of the world’s top players. He’s in that exclusive club that includes the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Didier Drogba.
A player who on his day can carry an entire team and crucify any defence in the world. If United lost him to City then I think its safe to assume the balance of power in Manchester would shift.

Losing Carlos Tevez to them was one thing as despite his blistering from since he arrived at Eastlands, Tevez was only in and out of the United line-up, as much a substitute as he was a starter. Tevez was a good player for United of that there can be little doubt, but he wasn’t a Rooney. The scouse striker almost single-handedly carried United to the title last season and if it wasn’t for his injury against Bayern Munich- that now seems to have somehow altered the whole course of his career- who knows what could have been acheived.

Put Rooney in City’s team and not only will United lose arguably their most gifted player but City will finally get that true member of the elite that they’ve been missing.

The reasons it would be a disaster for Rooney, are that not only will he never be able to walk through the streets of Manchester without receiving some form of verbal abuse, his reputation will be one of the ultimate Judas, but more importantly, he will be leaving a team that was built around him, a club that loved him and fans who adored him.

Other players have left United in the past and lived to regret it, as one fan ironically stood next to the United Trinity statue said to me yesterday: “In a few years time, Rooney should sit down with the likes of Scholes and Giggs and compare medals, and I bet he wont have as many.” Rooney leaving United is his right but the least he could do for the fans is not throw it all back in their face by leaving for a few quid more to one of their arch-rivals.

However, going back to my original point, as many fans said to me yesterday, they’re already willing to give Rooney abuse. This though could be music to Manchester City’s ears, if Rooney wants the ultimate reason to join City, then United fans making his time at Old Trafford a living hell, could just be enough to make him head to Eastlands.

If there’s any glimmer of hope of convincing him to stay then the fans need to show him why the likes of Giggs and Scholes have stuck around for their entire careers. Getting behind Rooney and proving that the fans still love him could well make the young striker change his mind, after all a few months ago he seemed set to stay at United for life, there’s always the chance he could change it back.

Even if it doesn’t change his mind back, it will still show Rooney and the rest of the world that the one thing you can never accuse United fans of is not having a bit of class.

It may be difficult for some fans to chant his name, knowing that he could be wearing bitter blue one day, but I for one will be giving him the same support I give any United player. It may stick in my throat a little but the ‘White Pele’ hasn’t lost all the Old Trafford faithful just yet.

13
Sep
10

five things we learnt from United’s draw with Everton

"your exit points are here and here"

"your exit points are here and here"

Manchester United’s defeat, sorry draw against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday was tagged as a shining example of the drama of the Premiership by some in the media. For many United fans however it merely underlined certain frailties that haven’t been addressed since the Fulham game and left a bad taste in the mouth.

While following that disappointing result at Craven Cottage- from a United point of view, there were still some positives to be taken, it’s a little harder to keep your chin up when your side gives away a two-goal lead in stoppage time. It was so painful that I couldn’t put myself through it again on MOTD , me and a mate actually debating whether to watch a sky + recording of X-factor his missus had taped when we got home from the pub. Eventually though it was time for some honest reflection and while it still makes me feel slightly sick, it’s not time to buy a City shirt and sell my soul to the devil just yet.

There are several lessons to be learned from Saturdays game and none of them involve Wayne Rooney- that’ll be the last time he gets mentioned in this article I assure you. Evra’s human and men approaching middle age get tired are among two of the things we learned from Saturdays game at Goodison.

1. Kill or be killed. While three goals is usually enough to see United beat even the strongest of attacking sides, there can be no denying that there was ample chance to put the game well and truly to bed before the final two minutes. Both Dimitar Berbatov and Nani- it’s him again- could have, well should have, done better with chances they had when the game was at 3-1.

What’s particularly frustrating about it was that both players are capable of doing much better than they did with their final opportunities and it was a case of being far too lackadaisical and treating the game as though it was won. There’s no real excuse for not making sure. Berbatov has been on fine form of late and its seems harsh to apportion any of the blame for United’s failure to win at his door. It still grates though that what should have been a simple goal for Ryan Giggs or Nani had the Bulgarian squared the ball, ended with a rather timid shot that went wide. Nani’s decision making also again was called into question, as he also wasted a good chance at the end when he had better options.

2. Patrice Evra is human. It’s been a long, long time -in a galaxy far far away- that I can recall saying the words ‘Evra had a ‘mare’ but unfortunately on Saturday he did. Not since his debut against City can I remember my favourite United player looking so out of sorts. It was a strange sight to witness and not one I want to see again, but United’s left back gave the sort of performance that you’d associate with John O’Shea on a very bad day. It was totally out of character and hopefully not something we’ll see again soon. Why was Evra so bad? Well he’s had his fair share of bad press since the World Cup plus his appeal against his five match French ban was recently turned down so that may have affected him. Perhaps Fergie should have rested him for an extra week following the World Cup and he is actually suffering from a bit of fatigue. Either way United need all their top players performing to the best of their ability with some more tough games coming up. On Saturday Evra showed that he’s not infallible, let’s just hope it was a minor blip rather than any real problem the Frenchman is suffering from.

3. Rio’s return can‘t come quick enough. The name on almost every United fans lips at full time, was not Wayne..sorry I almost forgot, was not any missing striker, it was that of Mr Ferdinand, who’s return now seems to be more vital than ever.

 The freedom with which Cahill managed to score Everton’s second was slightly worrying, the fact that Mikel Arteta had enough time to make a brew before he banged in the equaliser was shocking. A few people pointed the finger at Jonny Evans for either -or both- goals and while I think it was a team -lack of- effort that contributed to them rather than one individual there’s no doubt that Rio’s return would help sort the defence out no end. The question is will Ferdinand be-in true Take That style- back for good? After all a man who last season was behind Ledley King in Premier League appearances can hardly be counted on to play the majority of games.

 In the past I’ve actually advocated giving Evans a chance even if Rio’s fit just because the Irish defender stays fit and would benefit from a stable run in the side. However, even I have to admit that it would be foolish not to put a fit Ferdinand back in the side. His organisational skills or ‘silks’ as he calls them on twitter, were sorely missed at Goodison. While were on the subject of changing the defence, is it not time to forget about playing Gary Neville in difficult games?

That may sound harsh but I for the life of me can’t work out why Wes Brown has become a reserve team regular recently and also why he no longer seems a viable option at right back? People will say Rafael is too inexperienced but how is he going to gain big game experience if he doesn’t play in the big games. Like Evans It wasn’t Neville’s fault for the goals but is he really the best man for the job at right back? I think not.

4. We‘ve got a squad so we need to use it. Having three outfield players over 34 playing a full 90 minutes was a bit of a strange decision by Sir Alex Ferguson to say the least. Both Neville and Scholes looked a bit dead on their feet towards the end of the match, and had either or both been replaced then things may have been different. Neville gave the ball away for their third while Scholes failed to pick up Arteta, yet can we be surprised? Neville’s hardly had any match practice while Scholes has been ever-present this season. I can understand why Fergie took off Evra for Park, but I don’t see what harm it would have done to introduce Rafael or Darron Gibson- or both -for Scholes and Neville. Then there was Nani who seemed to disappear towards the end, leaving poor old Gary Neville totally exposed down the right hand side. Why Fergie was reluctant to change it, when there were obviously tired legs out there baffles me slightly.

5. Teams aren’t giving up anymore. In the past even away from home it’s not been unusual for certain teams to simply accept that they’ve lost the game when United are leading with only a couple of minutes left. I’m not claiming that teams cannot be bothered, just that some opposing players allow their heads to drop slightly in the closing minutes as they succumb to the idea that the game is now lost.

 However, this is no longer the case. As Fulham showed two weeks ago and now Everton have proven, teams are not going to roll over and die against United anymore. If United are to wrestle the title from Chelsea’s grasp- and for the record I’m not buying into the idea that it’s practically impossible after only four games and no defeats- then they’re going to have to prepare for battle. A result against United is still the premier scalp for many players, and the air of invincibility that Fergie’s men had a couple of seasons ago has long gone.

Teams are willing to fight to the death- not literally , unless its Wolves if the press is to be believed- so it’s time for United to roll up their sleeves and get ready for 94-minute slogs. Last season many a United fan -myself included-laughed at the ‘noisy neighbours’ penchant for conceding late goals- well if their not careful that particular affliction could become one associated with the Red half of Manchester.

10
Sep
10

“It was on his weaker foot…” so!?!

irwin- showing he can also use both arms as well as both feet

irwin- showing he can also use both arms as well as both feet

I’m no football expert, anyone that’s read any of my articles will no doubt testify to that, but I do watch a lot of it and am able to occasionally question certain things. Usually my questions are explained or answered within a short amount of time and I’m left to ponder new wonders such as ‘can I allow myself to get carried away with England’s start to qualifying ?’ or ‘When will Mick McCarthy stop being so excitable?’

One question though that I’ve had been pondering ever since I saw Jason Wilcox in an England shirt that has yet to be answered is ‘why can’t players use their weaker foot?’
It’s one of the most shocking aspects of professional football that men who can bend 30 yard free kicks round walls, can volley a ball on the turn past the keeper and into the top corner and can pick out a 70 yard pass that drops into a player’s stride cannot be trusted to even shoot when the ball is on their weaker foot.

Wait I hear you cry ‘most Premier League footballers can use their weaker foot’ Really? Let me ask you this how many times when watching a top player miss a decent chance have you heard yourself – or the commentator make the excuse ‘it was on his -usually- left foot.’ The thing that baffles me most about a lot of player’s inability to use their weaker foot is the simple fact that as a professional footballer you’d think that not using 50% of the feet available to you would be barmy. Take boxing for example, all fighters have stronger hands, but would a boxer not use his left at all because it’s his weaker one? No of course not, he’d train just as hard with his weaker hand as he did with his stronger one. So why don’t footballers do the same thing? Why are so many top class players unable to use their weaker foot for anything other than standing on?

Not all players are like this of course, anyone who remembers Denis Irwin will know that some players seem equally at home using either foot. Irwin was one of the few players who it was almost impossible to tell which his stronger foot was. He spent nearly all his Manchester United career in the left back position yet was actually naturally right-footed. If it wasn’t watching him on dead ball situations you’d never have guessed as his passing, crossing and even finishing with his left was world class.
One of the biggest debates you can get into with a United fan when it comes to which was the better team, player era, etc, is who’s the better left back Irwin or Patrice Evra? I’ll go for Evra because I’m blinded by love, but to be honest many would say Irwin shades it. When you consider that one of them is actually right-footed it seems amazing there’s even room for a debate.

Of today’s crop of players not many can be considered ambidextrous when it comes to the feet department. Look at the England national sides problems over the years with the left midfield position. It actually makes you wonder how any of us- myself included- can think ‘this is gonna be our tournament’ when we can’t even muster up a player who feels comfortable for one of the essential positions. Unlike some positions on the pitch such as the anchor or supporting striker role, which can be abolished with different formations, the left sided midfielder is fundamental.

Some of the names who’ve donned a three lions shirt in a bid to solve the problematic left wing position merely highlight how few top players can use their left foot. As well as the aforementioned Wilcox, there’s also been the likes of Kieran Richardson and Stewart Downing- neither particularly bad but are they honestly England class? Then there’s the host of players who’ve been played there out of position- Paul Scholes- yes you read that correctly Scholes, one of the finest central midfielders of his generation was actually moved over to the left wing to play in a system that accommodated Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in Euro 2004.

Then there’s been Gerrard himself, a player who’s made his name either just behind the striker or in the middle but yet again has been moved out to the left. Now you could argue that Scholes and Gerrard were moved simply to accommodate the Lampard/Gerrard ‘partnership’ – if you can call it that. But let me ask you, if we had a real top class left footed attacking player- or a right footed one who could actually use his left would it be possible to use the left wing position as a form of tactical quarantine zone, to stick players we don’t want to drop into so there still on the pitch just out of harm’s way? No. If we had a Ryan Giggs – it was inevitable he would have to get mentioned- then the England manager would be forced to play his strongest midfield pairing. Of course Giggs is just as guilty as any other player of being unable to properly use his weaker foot; he just gets highlighted because he’s naturally left-footed.
Players like Steve McManaman and Joe Cole have also been used for England on the left with varying degrees of success, it’s just a shame that over the years there haven’t been more who’ve been able to successfully make that position their own.
The point I’m making is that it still shocks me that so many gifted players are unable to use their weaker foot, youngsters are often encouraged to regularly practice with their weaker foot so why aren’t fully developed professionals?

Part of the problem may be that once you are fully developed its much more difficult to get accustomed to using your other foot, although considering many footballers spend hours training this argument is a little shallow to say the least.
Even someone like Wayne Rooney who is one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen, can still struggle to finish, what for him should be a fairly routine shot, with his weaker foot.

Part of the solution may be a weaker foot day in the Premier League where each player is only allowed to kick it with his weakest one, sounds crazy? Well so did playing Premier League fixtures in Africa but that nearly came about so you never know.

06
Sep
10

Premier league ‘cult hero’ XI

David May- rightly takes the applause after single-handedly winning the treble

David May- rightly takes the applause after single-handedly winning the treble

Following on from the most hated xi which seemed to upset almost everyone that read it is another team but this time made up of some of our favourite cult heroes.

The first question is ‘what is a cult hero?’ Well for starters, here’s what it isn’t- a truly great player that’s admired by everyone both inside and outside his club. Someone like Eric Cantona could never be a ‘cult hero’ because all United fans love him while fans from other clubs may at least have a grudging respect- I stress the word ‘may’ and obviously Crystal Palace fans are not among them.

No, a cult hero is the sort of player that not all fans love but the ones who do, adore with a passion. They’re the players that many of the opposition fans hate, or the strikers who’ve turned out for you team and scored one goal in twenty games which happens to be a winner against your arch-rivals. They’re sometimes the comical figures that we love to hate, the panto villain types that a core of us actually admire.

Then there’s that other type of cult hero, the genuine, decent talented player that for some reason never gets the respect of admiration of the mainstream media, so its left up to us fans to let the world know just how great they are. Cult heroes more often than not play the game we imagine the way we would for our club- what they lack in skill they make up for in effort, never giving up and always leaving the pitch having given 100%.

Most of these players may only play a handful of games for your club, others may be there for their for slightly longer, but they will always be admired for making supporting our team that little bit better. All of the players have played in the Premier League but some made their ‘cult hero’ status assured in Division One.

Goalkeeper – Les Sealey RIP “Sealey!” “Sealey!” “Sealey!” Could be heard from the stands at Old Trafford every Saturday- before ‘Super Sunday’ became compulsory for Manchester United- in the early nineties. What made the chant even more surprising was the fact that Sealey was merely an unused substitute for practically every game following the arrival of Peter Schmeichel. So why was he so popular with United fans- arguably more so than Great Dane. Well his first appearance had brought the FA Cup -at a time when United rated it- then there was his temper tantrum throwing in the Cup Winner’s Cup final when clearly injured he refused to leave the field. There were even stories of him threatening away fans who gave him stick during his warm-up. Sealey was a serious man and he may not have been the best of goalkeepers to stand between the Old Trafford sticks but he was definitely one of the most loved. News of his death from cancer left even the hardest of Stretford Enders with a lump in their throats. Sadly missed.

Left back- Julian Dicks -Arguably more fearsome than that other left backing ‘psycho’ Stuart Pearce, Dicks was the sort of player who could cause right wingers to feign injury before the game kicked off. A fearsome man who if he said it was Tuesday it was Tuesday but could also play a bit. Dicks scored an impressive amount of goals for a left back including 10 in the 95-96 season. Dicks may have accumulated almost as many red cards as he did goals at times, but he’s the sort of player that fans love, hard as nails, gets stuck in and and never gives up. Although his big money move to Liverpool didn’t work out and he never really threatened to break into the England team, there’s a lot of love for him in East London- as well as probably a lot of fear everywhere else.

Right back- Roland Nilsson– According to the Sheffield Wednesday chant numbers one to eleven were Roland Nilsson. Sometimes quietly going about your job in a consistent and unassuming manner gets you a mild respect but at Hillsborough it makes you a legend. While Nilsson is hardly likely to spring to the mind of most fans when naming the best foreigners to play in the Premiership, at Sheffield Wednesday he’ll always be top of the list. The Swedish international was a regular during the team’s ‘glory days’ of the early nineties which saw top five finishes and trips to cup finals as part of the norm. Men like Chris Waddle and David Hirst may have got the headlines, but no Wednesday player got as much affection from many of the fans as Nilsson. His managerial stint at Coventry was far less successful and his name certainly isn’t sung there. At Wednesday however he remains a cult hero.

Centre back- Brian “Killer” Kilcline– Although his only Premiership experience was playing for doomed Swindon, Kilcline makes this team for his time at St James’s Park. Kevin Keegan arrived at Newcastle with the team languishing near the bottom of the second tier and made the former Coventry hard-man his first signing. Never likely to trouble the England manager he did trouble opposing strikers who found the tough nut willing to stick his head in where most people would stick their boot. There have been may heroes at Newcastle and while men such as Shearer, and Macdonald may spring to mind as fan’s favourites there’s a core section who still thank ‘Killer’ for helping save the club from a trip to the third tier and not taking any prisoners in the process.

Centre back- David May – “David May superstar, got more medals than Shear-er” While that particular United chant may be more renowned for its accuracy than its rhyming shortcomings, it is still heard occasionally at Old Trafford. May joined United from Blackburn in 1994 and many were left confused as to why Sir Alex Ferguson played him out of position at right back. A switch to centre back left a few fans confused as to why Fergie played him at all as May struggled in his new surroundings. May became a cult hero at Old Trafford by leading the celebrations following United’s ’99 treble winning triumph at the Nou Camp- he was an unused sub. There are some at Old Trafford who claim May was actually underrated and a fine defender but as someone who was a regular during his debut season through to his last, I’m inclined to disagree. May was at times abysmal which makes the fact that he won far more medals than Shearer that little bit funnier and helped assure his cult hero status.

Left midfield- Steve Morrow – Heard the one about the player who got his cup winners medal before the final? Morrow was the match winner in Arsenal‘s league cup final victory over Sheffield Wednesday, so what better way for Captain Tony Adams to reward the Northern Ireland international than by breaking his arm on the post match celebrations?! Morrow subsequently missed the FA cup final some weeks later due to his injury. Morrow may have missed that final but he didn’t miss the Cup Winner’s Cup final a year later, where playing in midfield he produced a real barnstorming display against a Parma team that contained the likes of Gianfranco Zola and’Tino Asprilla, as the Gunners lifted the trophy. Morrow could play in several positions but for this team he’s left midfield. Morrow is now back at Arsenal assisting the clubs international academies- no doubt warning youngsters of the perils of over-exuberant celebrations.

Right midfield – Benito Carbone – The little Italian could play in a variety of attacking positions and could arguably be in this team for up to three teams. He was something of a fans favourite at Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Bradford City. He amassed a staggering 17 clubs during his career and was accused of being troublesome for certain managers but the fans often loved him. Villa fans appreciated his help in their 2000 FA cup run, which included some memorable goals. Bradford fans found him a small measure of comfort in an otherwise depressing relegation season, Wednesday fans could boast two of the leagues best entertainers when he and Di Canio lined up together. You couldn’t bank on him sticking around but when he pulled on the shirt of your club he could de devastating.

Centre midfield – Steffen Freund– A cult hero is often not the greatest player on the pitch but he might just be the one who puts in the most effort. Freund was and still is a popular figure among many Spurs fans. He may not have had the skill of a Ginola, the finishing of a Sheringham or the timing of the tackle that Sol ‘dont mention his name to Spurs fans’ Campbell had but in some ways Freund was superior to all of them. A defensive midfielder who knew exactly what his job was, Freund was the sort of player you’d get fed up of playing against as he just would not stop harassing, tackling and making a general nuisance of himself to you. Spurs have had a lot of heroes over the years but Freund gains special place in many fans hearts due to playing the game with the sort of passion you’d see in the stands.

Centre midfield – Georgi Kinkladze – “And all the runs that Kinky makes are winding” sang the Manchester City faithful to the tune of Wonderwall during the Georgian’s time there. He may have been inconsistent and been part of the team that was relegated but on his day Kinkladze could be quite simply devastating. With a range of skills and low centre of gravity that was almost Maradona-esque the midfielder brought a smile to City fan’s faces before Arab Billions made them the force they are now. One goal against Southampton where Kinkladze seemed to take on the entire Saints defence polled second in the Match of the Day ‘Goal of the Season’ awards. If ‘Kinky’ had the sort of players City possess now around him, then the clubs wait for a trophy would already have been ended. A true cult hero, that even a few opposition fans- myself included- had to admire now and again.

Striker Diego Forlan– I’ve already written an extensive article praising the man ‘from Uruguay’ so I’ll keep it brief. He may not have scored many goals but his two at Anfield cemented his place in United fans hearts. Add to that last minute winners against Chelsea and Southampton- including the infamous playing with his shirt in his hand incident and its no wonder just more than a few United fans were glad to see him pick up the Golden Ball in the World Cup this year.

Striker Carl Leaburn– Carl who? Well let me tell you something I’ve always been proud of the fact that I did actually see Leaburn score once at Old Trafford in a cup game. The former Charlton striker was so inept at scoring he actually made Emile Heskey seem prolific. Charlton fans even had t-shirts with ‘I saw Leaburn score’ printed on them- apparently they didn’t sell many as there weren’t a lot of people who had. Leaburn was so poor he actually scored his third goal in his 100th game. Leaburn managed to win over fans by inexplicably bagging fifteen goals in one season. In 2004 he came third in a poll of Charlton fan’s ‘best player ever’ so you can’t ever accuse Addicks of lacking a sense of humour. Leaburn eventually moved on to Wimbledon where he helped the Dons on their way to relegation with an actually worse goal scoring record than he had at Charlton .

Subs bench: Bruce Grobbelaar, Shaun Goater, Vinnie Jones, Tony Yeboah, Peter Beagrie, Luis Boa Morte, Ali Dia