Archive for the 'Managers' 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.

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.

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.

04
Oct
10

five things we learnt from United’s game at Sunderland

Anderson gets involved in a Malbranque and Cattermole sandwich- poor lad

Anderson gets involved in a Malbranque and Cattermole sandwich- poor lad

Manchester United may remain  unbeaten but their away form continues to disappoint as
Saturday’s match at Sunderland can really be considered yet another missed opportunity.

Although like previous trips on the road there were positives, not even the best MUTV-style spin can hide the fact that no wins in four away games is simply not good enough for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. Forgive me but I for one am a little tired of trying to ‘look on the brightside’ as Chelsea edge further and further away at the top of the table-and let’s not even mention the noisy neighbours.

When a Liverpool defeat is the highlight of your footballing weekend, you know that certain issues need to be adressed and its time for United to deal with them before its too late. Yes Sunderland are a good side- just like Fulham, Everton and Bolton- but you cannot win league titles by failing to win your away fixtures and watching City leapfrog over United in the table merely underlines the fact that something’s not right.

Of course, as I’m thinking of getting tattooed on my forehead ‘its not all doom and gloom’ but like Mickey Phelan’s penchant for wearing shorts no matter what the climate, United’s  failure to beat what is essentially a mid-table team is getting rather troubling.

So what did we learn from the trip to the second-best Stadium of Light in football other than the fact that it’s becoming compulsory to put ‘draw’ on the accumulator coupon next to a United away game?

Rafael is the present not the future. Rafael Da Silva picked up where he left off in Valencia with another quality display at right back. Okay he made the occasional mistake but how else is he going to learn if he’s not given the chance to make them? When it comes to mistakes the young Brazilian has a long way to go before he matches the amount John O’Shea can usually muster, so it looks like it may be time to give him a proper run in the side. Defensivley Rafael can be a tad worrying but that will surely improve and the lack of an outstanding candidate at right back- even though I think Wes Brown is world-class, but for some reason Fergie doesn’t agree- it is now time to give the youngster his chance.

Saturday’s performance was another reason why its now time to give Rafael the run he deserves, he may be young and occasionally a little reckless but he’s a quality player and a real threat going forward, as someone once sang ‘the time to hesitate is through.’

Too many strikers can get messy. I’m all for having five options up front but if United are going to make the most of them then Fergie needs to work out the right ones to use for the right games. Michael Owen  was totally anonymous in the first half and while he can lament the lack of service- rightfully so- it was obvious United would have benefitted from the energy of Chicharito or the class of Dimitar Berbatov. I realise that Berbatov had played a mid-week game as a lone striker and Fergie may have felt he was not up to ninety minutes but surely if he can play one half he can manage two. United looked a far better team when Berbatov was on the pitch- ditto Chicharito- and had either of them been given more minutes then we may have seen a different result.

Darren Fletcher needs to improve. Sunderland seemed to work out fairly quickly that keeping Paul Scholes quiet was a surefir way to stifle the brunt of United’s creativity. With Scholes was being closed down within seconds of recieving the ball it meant that it was up to others to try and conjure up something in midfield. Anderson gets stuck in but is still yet to get back to full fitness. The game was crying out for Fletcher to do more than just tackle people and give the ball to Scholes. At the start of the season I claimed that if United were to regain the title then Fletcher had to raise his game against the so-called ‘lesser teams.’ Put him against Chelsea or Arsenal and Fletcher’s like a man possessed, however he needs to do it more consistently. There is an argument that he’s merely a defensive midfielder not responsible for creating attacks. However we’ve seen Fletcher influence games in the past, moving the ball forward and it was crying out for something similar at the Stadium of Light. Like the game against Bolton the Scottish skipper seemed unwilling or unable to generate any sort of attacking moves and United suffered because of it.

Rio Ferdinand is vital. If United are to win the title, then they’re going to need Ferdinand for at least the majority of games. Rioferdy5 as he calls himself on twitter was back to his commanding best and United looked a lot better because of it. While Jonny Evans has done an admirable job filling in for Ferdinand he’s not quite in the same class and despite the fact that Nemanja Vidic was wearing the captain’s armband it was Rio who seemed to be marshalling the defence. United’s second successive clean sheet with Ferdinand back in the starting line-up is no coincidence.

Patrice Evra should not be ‘rested.’ Some may disagree- as they always do with a lot of what I write- but for me Evra is the world’s best left-back and is absolutely fundamental to the United team. Although he’s not looked as sharp since the World Cup -debacle- he’s still an immense threat going forward and the prospect of him and Rafael getting down the wings on the overlap would have been a scary one for Steve Bruce’s men.  In the second half we even saw Vidic getting down the left flank- my mate called it ‘disorganised’ I called it ‘total football.’ I’m aware that Evra played midweek but I feel dropping him was a gamble that backfired as although O’Shea did put in the -extremely- occasional cross he’s never going to be as much of a threat as Evra.

23
Sep
10

Five things we learnt from United v Scunthorpe

Phelan tells the streaker to get back in position

Phelan tells the streaker to get back in position

Watching Manchester United reserves- apart from Rio Ferdinand- turn over a mid-table Championship side is hardly enough to give us an insight into the key to Champion’s League glory. However despite all the changes Sir Alex Ferguson made – I don’t care whether Mickey Phelan was on the sidelines we all know who picked the team- and the ease with which United won there were still valuable lessons to be learnt. While the rest of the Premiership’s big boys-bar Arsenal- were licking their wounds and labelling the Carling Cup ‘unimportant,’ United’s romp gave some if it’s fringe players the chance to grab the limelight.

Michael Owen may still have a future at Old Trafford and Bebe is not the anti-christ- despite what the Daily Mail may claim- are just two points we were able to garner from United’s fairly routine Carling Cup victory.

Chicharito does not need to be waiting on the wings. Javier Hernandez has been compared to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and it seems Fergie has decided to do to the young Mexican what he occasionally used to do to the young-looking Norwegian and stick him out on the wing. Fergie has also done this in the past with Danny Welbeck and it hasn’t been all that successful and I believe Welbeck’s first-team performances have suffered because of it. During the Rangers game I noticed that when Michael Owen came on, Chicharito was moved out to the wing and I hoped it was just a one-off to accommodate three strikers for the final ten minutes as United searched for a winner. Last night however with Owen, Kiko Macheda and Chicharito all starting it was fairly inevitable that one of them would be shifted out wide and the smart money was on it being the Little Pea. Chicharito shone at the World Cup as a striker and to see him being used as a wide player is an obvious waste of his talents. Although it was far from a terrible performance by the Mexican it was obvious from early on that this isn’t a position that suits him and hopefully we wont see him there again too often.

Chris Smalling is growing bigger. Okay so its against Scunthorpe but what the heck I’m going to get a little bit carried away and say that Smalling has really impressed these last couple of weeks. His performance against Rangers was solid- although admittedly even my wheelchair-bound grandma could mark Kenny Miller- especially with Rio next to her- but he still did well. Last night his performance at the back was solid but he also showed glimpses of what he’s capable of going forward. He took his goal superbly and looked extremely comfortable on the ball- dare I even say Rio-esque. The thing with Smalling is it was almost expected that he’d take a long time to settle into life at United as since signing for the club his performances for Fulham had been dare I say Titus Bramble-esque. Smalling is coming along nicely however and with two full ninety minutes under his belt plus a cracking goal – dare I say it was Rooney-esque- okay I’ll stop that now- his confidence will surely be sky-high. Who knows could Jonny Evans be looking over his shoulder in the next few months?

Tomas Kuzszcak is not the answer. Whoa! I hear you scream, a so-so performance in the Carling cup is no reason to pour dandelion and burdock on the chip barm that is Kuszczak’s United career. However I feel that the young Pole has never quite convinced either Fergie or many of the United faithful that he’s the man to replace Edwin Van Der Sar. The fact Fergie preferred Ben Foster at the beginning of last season showed that Kuszczak needed to win the United boss over and the ‘keepers recent comments that he would be willing to move away from Old Trafford to gain first-team football can hardly have helped. Last night Kuszscak looked a little dodgy on crosses and should have done better for Scunthorpe’s second goal. While it is hardly likely to be the final nail in the coffin of his United career it could well turn out to be one of them.

Owen is not a Jamie Carragher loving past it scouser who should be shipped off to Villa just yet.
A few weeks ago I questioned whether United really needed Owen anymore, with Macheda, Chihcharito and a couple of other strikers who’s names escape me occupying the Old Trafford dressing room. Following his decision to once again don a Liverpool top then his anonymous cameo against Rangers I was practically convinced it was time for him to leave. However Owen’s well-taken brace showed that there may still be a future for him at Old Trafford- Fergie may also feel his experience and finishing ability could be useful to some of the young strikers to learn from. Of course Owen could well be off to join his old boss Gerrard Houllier at Villa in January, but following last night’s performance, plus the fact Fergie still seems to hold him in high regard, it may be a little longer before we see every United fans second favourite scouser leave Old Trafford.

Bebe is not the second coming of Ali Dia. Contrary to some of the -mainly- Daily Mail’s reporting Bebe is not the disaster he’s been labelled. Quite why there has been so much negativity around a player who is a real ‘rags to riches’ tale- quite literally- is beyond me but the Portuguese winger’s fifteen minute cameo was enough to see he does have a lot of talent. The signs were there against Aston Villa reserves last week but with a few tricks, lightening pace and the confidence to run at players and shoot from distance, Bebe is showing that he’s a quality player. Whether he’ll figure much this season remains to be seen but Tiago Manuel Dias Correia is definitely an exciting prospect for the future.

21
Aug
10

Will Fergie call time on his bbc feud this sunday?

Fergie pondering whether he can handle Jonathan Pearce's questions

Fergie pondering whether he can handle Jonathan Pearce's questions

There are some interesting clashes in the Premier League this weekend, a rampant Chelsea side is to visit a shell-shocked Wigan and the surprise package Blackpool visit the Gunners looking to ‘do a Hull’ and pull of another major upset, this time at the Emirates.

Yet one contest shines out from the others as being a true battle of wills, a David v Goliath type encounter, except they’re both Goliath, a real clash of the Titans. In one corner is a true footballing colossus, winning everything and anything over a glorious period unsurpassed in the modern era, in the other a giant, an integral part of the British game that has touched every fan at least once over the years. I’m not talking about West Brom versus Sunderland- although the similarities are obvious, no this match is even greater -it is of course, the big showdown between Sir Alex Ferguson and the BBC.

The past few years on Match of the Day have been noticeable for two things, Gary Lineker has slowly but surely gotten a little bit less inoffensive -okay I know that means more offensive but it just didn’t seem the right way to describe his grating smugness- and the post match interview of either Carlos Quieroz and now Mickey Phelan have rivalled only Alan Shearer’s analysis in terms of inducing boredom.

Ever since the BBC’s Panorama programme dared to suggest that Fergie’s son Jason may be involved in underhand dealings as a football agent, the United manager has refused to even entertain the idea of speaking to them. Not even Henry Kissinger and Kofi Annan combined could muster enough diplomacy to tempt Fergie to end his feud.
Fergie has said of his ongoing quarrel with ‘Aunty’ :

“The BBC is the kind of company that never apologise, and they never will apologise.

“They did a story about my son that was a whole lot of nonsense. It was all made-up stuff, brown paper bags and that kind of carry-on. It was a horrible attack on my son’s honour and he should never have been accused of that.

“But it is such a huge organisation that they will never apologise. They don’t even care if you sue them or whatever, because they are so huge and have insurance. They carry on regardless and it’s breathtaking.”

Now unless the entire BBC boardroom get down on their knees and beg Fergie for forgiveness while simultaneously singing ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’ by Elton John, then is seems unlikely the somewhat stubborn Scot will back down. After all, Fergie’s a staunch socialist from Govan who in the past has taken on every one from almost every single opposition manager to even the owner of United – not the Glazers unfortunately but previous one John Magnier – apparently over the matter of horse semen. The fact is Fergie is famous for not backing down, he runs Manchester United like no other manager in a top European side, almost without having to answer to anyone, his success and the longevity of it have afforded him an unparalleled status within the club not seen since the days of Sir Matt Busby over forty years ago.

The BBC seemed to be gaining the upper hand in one of the longest feuds the corporation has ever had with any leading football manager, by way of the Premier League introducing a new rule whereby each manager will have to attend a post match press conference and speak to all members of the press, including the BBC. Fortunately that idea is not going to be implemented until next season, the reason I say fortunately is because I believe it would be a recipe for disaster forcing Fergie into anything. Can you imagine the monosyllabic answers he’d grudgingly give if he was forced to.

MOTD Interviewer: “Sir Alex you’ve just seen your side beat Liverpool at Anfield with six goals from Gary Neville, how does it feel?”

SAF: Long pause………..“good.“ Forcing Fergie to give interviews would not be conducive to gaining interesting responses or an insight into what he’s thinking, it would basically make cr*p telly which defies the entire point. The best solution to the entire stalemate would of course be for Fergie to put his anger aside and try and forgive the BBC and move on, but that is easier said than done as the manager obviously feels very passionate about what he saw as an erroneous and damaging accusation regarding his son’s integrity.

There has been a few suggestions though that Fergie is actually thawing slightly towards the BBC, call it getting soft in his old age, or just fed up of only speaking to MUTV and Sky after the more successful matches but there have been whispers that he may agree to an interview with MOTD very soon.

David Gill has, again only allegedly, been in secret talks with the Beeb to try and see if some sort of reconciliation can be reached. Quite what these talks involve is anyone’s guess, perhaps its an offer for Fergie to appear as a host on Have I got News for You in exchange for his compliance.

I do understand Fergie’s grievance, after all it can’t be nice seeing your son accused of illegal activity by the same corporation your expected to do interviews with every week, but isn’t it now time to finally put it all behind him?

Fergie’s proved his point, since 2004 when he first stopped giving them interviews he’s won three titles and the BBC has not been able to speak to him about any of them, nor the games that were involved. Listening to Mickey Phelan almost repeat the question put to him as an answer is as pointless as it is tedious. No disrespect to Phelan who’s done a great job as both coach and assistant manager at United, but do we really want to hear from Joe Biden when Barack Obama is in the next room?

Fergie says he wants the BBC to apologise, he said:

“The thing with the BBC is they never say they are sorry. … just say sorry, they were wrong. That’s all they have to do and I told them that. Sometimes even the BBC has to be big enough to do that. I forgive easily. I don’t hold grudges at all.

“What I’m doing with the BBC isn’t a grudge, it’s a stance. There’s nothing wrong with saying you are wrong about something – it’s a quality.”

The problem is for the BBC to say sorry may mean some from of admission of wrong doing which could undermine the whole reputation of the Panorama programme not to mention its validity. Panorama is regarded as one of the leading lights in investigative journalism and to say sorry for a story it ran would be against much of what it stands for. Fergie could take a leaf out of his mate Sam Allardyce’s book, who also refused interivews with the BBC after the same programme accused him of wrongdoing but eventually relented after having proved his point.

The game against Fulham on Sunday may well be the first MOTD interview from Fergie in over five years, although if United lose, it may well be time for Mickey Phelan to face the BBC once more, I just hope that regardless of the result we once again see the United manager on a programme that is still essential viewing for many fans.

18
Aug
10

Five things we learnt from Man United’s victory

Berbatov- I always knew he'd come good...honest

Manchester United‘s fairly routine victory over newly-promoted Newcastle was hardly much of a surprise considering the gulf in class between the two teams. While Newcastle didn’t exactly roll over and die they hardly troubled last season’s title runners-up, so the question is what exactly did Monday’s night’s match tell us about Sir Alex Ferguson’s men? Scholes is still mint, Wazza’s not there yet, are just a couple of things that I noticed. Here’s a list of five things that the ‘return of Monday Night Football’ showed us about United.

1. There’s still life in the old guard. Paul Scholes produced the sort of passing masterclass that would have had Xavi tipping his hat in admiration. While his tackling is still diabolical- he recieved his almost olbigatory booking in the second half- the ginger one’s ability to pick out a killer ball is second to none. Scholes picked up from where he left off at the back end of last season, in fact it’s arguably where he’s actually been leaving off for the past 16 years, picking defences apart and dictating the pace of the game. When a commentator asked Fergie, if Scholes was actually getting better following his MOTM performance in the ‘Community’ Shield the United manager laughed: “We can dream”…..well maybe we can.
Scholes wasn’t the only member of the Old Trafford Dad’s Army to remind us of his class, Ryan Giggs’s small cameo was enough to add yet another feather to his bow this time in the form of extending his record of scoring in every season since the Premier league started- and a couple more before.
Surely rather than just United abolishing the number 11 shirt when Giggsy retires, the Premier League should also close down the competition as a mark of respect to the real-life version of Roy Race.

2. Wayne Rooney needs more games. It may sound like the opposite of what many have been saying over the past few months, but in reality Wazza looks short of match fitness rather than being tired. While he may have -accidentally- set up Darren Fletcher’s goal, Rooney’s passing, shooting and general play was far from what he’s capable of and the fact he’s now gone thirteen games for club and country without a goal, is one record the striker will not be looking to add to. Rooney also seems to be playing with less abandon, almost a little angrily- just ask Nani who was on the end of a rollicking for losing the ball rather than laying it off.
Being subbed is also something Rooney hates, even when he’s injured, but he may need a couple more 60-minuters to get him back in the swing of things- hopefully just in time for the visit of Liverpool in mid-september. It’s been a difficult time for last season’s PFA player of the year, and as soon as he can get settled back into his stride the sooner everyone -including me- can start drooling over him again- erm actually thats a scary thought, let’s just say ‘admiring him once more.’

3. Dimitar Berbatov is not a useless lazy b*stard. At some point almost every United fan has questioned whether Fergie needed his head testing for sticking with the Bulgarian, yet Monday night was an evening for those who defend him to point to as evidence of his value. Not only did Berbatov grab the opener but rumour has it he actually tracked back a few times as well, which almost caused several thousand simultaneous heart attacks inside Old Trafford. With Rooney not yet on top form United need someone to step up and its time for the Bulgarian to justify his manager’s faith.
The statement “There’s no questioning his ability” is one which almost exclusively is used as a pre-fix for every column devoted to United’s number nine but it’s true. Last night, despite a couple of wasteful efforts, Berbatov had the sort of game United need from him, keeping hold of the ball, passing it about nicely and getting on the scoresheet. While it wasn’t perfect it was a good start and if he continues the form he showed in pre-season and now United’s opener, then Berbatov may just silence his critics and make Fergie’s faith seem more than justified. Expect a lot of United fans to be claiming “I always knew he’d come good” if he does.

4. Javier Hernandez is not the second coming. Arguably the only shock of the evening was the fact that Chicharito didn’t get on the scoresheet. Despite looking lively and running his heart out, the Mexican’s 30 minutes on the Old Trafford pitch never really looked like producing a goal. Such was the hype surrounding Little Pea that almost every United fan- myself included- must’ve been expecting him to score within minutes. However he showed that while he’s obviously talented he is gonna need to time to get used to life in the Premiership, whether Fergie risks starting him in an upcoming game is doubtful, but with Rooney perhaps needing to be brought back to match fitness somewhat cautiously, Chicharito was may get a few more opportunities from the bench in the upcoming games. One things for certain regardles of whether he scores or not the crowd’s reaction to when he came onto the pitch shows that he’s certainly got the fans buzzing and hopefully the Solskjaer comparisons wont just stretch to getting I’D’d at the cinema.

5. The wings are rusty. While Rooney may not be anywhere near back to his usual best, the two wide men at times looked a little off the pace on Monday night with more than a few passes going astray. Although they were both still dangerous they weren’t at their best. While this hardly mattered against a Newcastle side that never truly got going, it would be a cause for concern against one of the top sides. Antonio Valencia’s showing in the ‘Community Sheild’ showed that he’s fit in physical terms and still a handful, but on Monday his control and distribution wasn’t quite up the high standards the superbly hair-styled one set last season. Nani was another player who didn’t quite look up to scratch, particularly considering that behind Scholes he was United’s best player at the back end of last season. While it’s hardly time to hit the panic button and submit that £45 mill bid for Frank Ribery, United need their wingers to be playing well this season if they’re to wrestle the title back from Stamford Bridge. A few more games should see both Nani and Valencia hitting top form- hopefully in time for the visit of a certain team from up the M62- or have I mentioned that already?

28
Jul
10

United’s Pre-season Given Added Edge By Fergie’s Comments

Fergie - lots to consider in the next few weeks

Fergie - lots to consider in the next few weeks

Staying up late most nights this week to watch my beloved Manchester United take on various ‘soccer’teams from the US -and Celtic- hasn’t been the most exciting of times if I’m perfectly honest. While the game against Celtic was entertaining the subsequent ones against Philadelphia Union and those other footballing titans Kansas City Wizards have been fairly dull and raised a few questions that a week ago I neither felt the need nor the inclination to address.

With Dimitar Berbatov producing the sort of performance everyone knows he’s more than capable of against Celtic, there were already murmurs of whether Sir Alex Ferguson may start him next season in a return to the old 4-4-2 formation that was once United’s perennial modus operandi. Then there was the game against Philadelphia Union, where despite playing well below-par United still managed to triumph- if you can call a friendly win in the US a ‘triumph’- mainly due to the poor quality of the opposition. Sunday night’s game against the Wizards of Kansas City was even more dissapointing than the one against Philadelphia as United succumbed to a side that had only ten men for half of the game. Of course this wasn’t a full-strength United side, mind you unless Wayne Rooney is on the pitch it never is, this was a team made up of reserves and youngsters. However despite this, a few questions have already been raised by certain sections of the press, in this game and the previous two.

Chris Smalling’s penchant for costly errors, which seemed to afflict him as soon as he signed for United, raised its ugly head against Celtic, which was quickly seized upon by the media as another example of a catalogue of mistakes the youngster has made in the past six months. Roy Hodgson joked that Smalling was “getting hismistakes out of the way” at Fulham, let’s hope from a United perspective he’s merely doing the same in pre-season. Although he’s hardly shone, certain apsects of Smalling’s game have impressed me, not least his aerial ability and his obvious pace.

Kiko Macheda’s anonymous performance against Union-or is ‘the Union’, raised a few question marks as to just how much United can rely on him next season, while Rafael Da Silva’s and Mame Diouf’s, not to mention Darron Gibson’s, lacklustre displays against the Wizards- or is it just Wizards-had certain Fleet Street members doubting their ability to be first-team players this season.

There’s already a bit of semi-hype about Javier Hernandez’s debut and how important it will be. Now I for one don’t think you can garner too much insight into any players ability from a friendly game in a different climate, against barely professional standard opposition- no offence Celtic fans. Yes, you can judge a player’s fitness and see how well certain partnerships are developing but by and large I think their fairly pointless in terms of player assessment.

Two seasons ago in pre-season both Frazier Campbell and Chris Eagles looked great, scoring goals and giving the defences of Kaizer Chiefs, Portsmouth and Espanyol no end of trouble. Fergie rewarded both youngsters by showing them the Old Trafford exit not long after.

Last year’s pre-season saw some at Old Trafford arguing the case for Anderson to be given free-kick taking duties following a cracker against Boca Juniors- I know, it seems unthinkable now.

With news that Fergie’s undecided as whether to include Anderson and Owen Hargreaves in the squad he submits to the Premier League though, it gives the pre-season friendlies an added edge as it could well be a chance for one of the youngsters on the fringes of the squad to stake a real claim.

With each game being something of a subsitute merry-go-round not to mention some shocking refereeing its seems a bit harsh to try and judge whether someone is ready for the United first-team based on these outings. However with the clock ticking as to when Fergie has to make a decision on his 25-man Premier League squad and it still being uncertain as to whether Hargreaves and Anderson will be fit enough to be included, the previously ‘pointless’ friendlies could actually go some way to dictating United’s season.

While that may seem a tad melodramatic, whoever is chosen for the squad will no doubt play some part in the upcoming months. With Fergie’s preference of constantly changing his starting XI as well as United’s ridiculously bad luck with injuries- though not as bad as Arsenal‘s before any of you Gooners start- it’s obvious every member of the squad will have an important role. Last season’s two-point title costing deficit had many United fans- myself included, lamenting every dropped point and wondering how failing against the likes of Burnley and Blackburn could have cost The Reds the title.

With two more friendlies, plus the Charity, sorry ‘Community Shield’- am I alone in dreading a trip to Wembley to see Chelsea bragging about winning both trophies?- before the season starts then four Premier League games before the squads need to be submitted, the next two games could prove vital to Fergie’s thinking. After all he may be reluctant to try and assess young players in the opening few league games, with every point being vital and weakened United sides failing to deliver in the past.

I just hope that with the heat, the added pressure, the poor refereeing and the brevity of some of their time on the pitch, some of the young United players out in the US manage to do themselves justice.

30
May
10

United’s youngsters end of season reports

Welbeck and Macheda- in happier times

With the season now well and truly done and dusted, there’s already been the post-mortem/transfer rumours/endless advice for Sir Alex Ferguson as everyone and his wife tries to see where it went wrong for United.

One idea that’s not been given as much credence as others is the notion that Ferguson should turn to his youngsters next season as United attempt to ‘win their trophy back.’
The problem is, as a happy-go-lucky MOTD pundit once prophesised ‘you don’t win anything with kids.’ That may have been the most infamously erroneous statement in football history but can we expect to see youth be given a chance next season at Old Trafford?
While its unlikely that Fergie will put the sort of trust in his younger players that he did in 1995/96 there are a few who’ve made genuine claims to become members of the first-team.
Let’s have a look at how some of them have fared and just what are their chances of actually making the grade.

Rafael Da Silva- At 19 years of age, Rafael has already shown enough potential to have many pundits claiming he may just be the heir-apparent to Gary Neville’s right back slot. With injuries plaguing both Wes Brown- who was mainly used as a centre back anyway and John O’shea Rafael found himself making sixteen appearances for United last season. While that is actually less than the previous season he has been plunged in at the deep end with mixed results. It’s in the Champion’s League that the Brazilian came under more pressure and scrutiny and many will cite his sending off against Bayern Munich as the turning point in United’s entire campaign. While he is still guilty of occasional rash challenges- City 1st leg at Eastlands- he is still obviously an extremely talented player. Better at going forward than he is at defending, there are signs that he is improving in both departments and if he can stop getting himself and United needlessly into trouble he looks as though he could make the grade and give the team an Evra-type at right back.
Rafael is progressing unlike his twin Fabio who’s despatched with the Keiron Richardson type hair do- and has only made three appearances for United this season as injuries have blighted his chances.
Grade- B minus – Tries hard, and has obviously got potential, just needs to channel his aggression in the right way on occasion.
Another future Patrice Evra- only at right back of course- a heavy mantle to lay on anyone but skilful quick and confident, if he works on his defensive shortcomings he could be the Brazilian Patrice.

Jonny Evans- It seems a bit daft labelling Evans a youngster seeing as he’s been a semi-regular fixture in United’s defence for two seasons now. At 22 though he is still fairly young and has arguably been United’s best youth product of the past decade. With 31 appearances last season- eight more than Rio Ferdinand, Evans has had to play more games than he really should have as Nemanja Vidic has also suffered with his share of injuries. Evans has been immense for United in many games and although he can occasionally be guilty of the odd lapse- erm just as Rio can really- he’s looking more and more like a magnificent defender. His stamp on Didier Drogba which inexplicably saw the Ivorian booked at Stamford Bridge also gave us one of the season’s funniest moments. If I were to be overly fussy then perhaps using his height at the other end of the pitch and threatening from corners would be a useful addition to his locker of talents but it’s a minor quibble in what’s been a great season for ‘the boy’ as Fergie calls him- along with every other United player regardless of age.
Grade- A minus – Fulfilling his early promise and becoming an integral part of the team.
Another future- Gary Pallister – well timed tackles and looking comfortable on the ball with a slight nit-picking criticism that a man of his height could grab at least the odd goal from a corner.

Darron Gibson – With 26 appearances and five goals to his name, it would appear that Gibson is settling into the first-team at United quite well. The same age as Evans the Republic of Ireland midfielder has found himself in the starting line up for some big games lately in both Europe and the Premiership. With a fierce shot and the confidence to use it, the best Gibson to ever play for United- Colin and Terry were sh*te- is putting forward a decent -ish claim to be Paul Scholes’s rightful heir. Then why am I not totally convinced? The thing that strikes me about Gibson is that sometimes, other than his shooting ability which is impressive rather than awesome he doesn’t always seem to influence games enough. Again, I may be being overly critical but there’s still a niggling doubt in my mind as to whether he is quite a Manchester United player. I hope I’m wrong as if Gibson does improve he could well do for United what Frank Lampard does for Chelsea. Next season is probably make-or-break for him.
Grade- B – Decent goal return and does seem to be going in the right direction, just a few nagging doubts over whether he is capable of moving up a gear.
Another future- Brian McClair- post 1992- could be accused of looking a bit slow at times but tries hard and chips in with goals.

Anderson – Everyone’s favourite Predator impersonator has had a mixed season to say the least. Sterling early season performances against the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham- where he finally broke his league goal scoring duck seemed to indicate Anderson was becoming the player we knew he could when he made Black Lace fashionable again – sort of.
However the United wheels looked like coming off for the man who’d never looked like missing his 2008 CL final penalty, after a supposed bust-up with Fergie. Apparently Fergie had dished out the hairdryer treatment to the youngster following his inept display against Manchester City in the Carling Cup first leg. This act of playful Scottish banter didn’t go down too well with ‘r Andy who supposedly did what is compulsory for all Brazilian footballers and disappeared back to his homeland without so much as goodbye note. While rumours of his imminent sale did the rounds, Anderson returned to Old Trafford and was back in the first-team for all of twenty minutes before a season-ending injury. Like Gibson next season could well be his make-or-break one as its time for him to step up and fulfil his early promise.
Grade C minus- Must try harder as it may be time for him to go elsewhere regardless of his potential.
Another future – Nicky Butt- good at tackling and getting stuck in, probably not a United-career type but hopefully will provide a good few seasons worth.

Gabriel Obertan – With only ten appearances for the first team it does seem a little premature to be giving the Frenchman any form of appraisal but I feel we’ve seen enough to expect him to figure a lot more next season so why not? Obertan is one of the few United players who’s been talked about for what he’s done for the reserves- including a cracker against Liverpool, as his performances for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have often prompted Fergie to promote him. When in the first team Obertan has shown that he has skill in abundance and an energy that could well be utilised next season- most probably as a substitute. The pacy winger may well be given more than a season to prove himself as with Nani, Antonio Valencia not to mention Ryan Giggs and Ji Sung Park all ahead of him, he may have to make do with cameos to show his worth. While hardly setting Old Trafford alight, Obertan has made a decent start to his United career and looks very promising. If he can survive the rigours of English football, the Clairefontaine graduate may be the surprise package for Fergie next season.
Grade C plus- A solid start, and shows a willingness to try and get involved which will stand him in good stead at Old Trafford.
Another future- Nani or David Bellion only time will tell whether he can be the sort of livewire that his Portuguese colleague is- I’m a big fan, or he goes the way of Bellion and simply doesn’t have what it takes.

Danny Welbeck – Two seasons ago Welbeck appeared to be one of the few youth team strikers who’ve gone on to make it in United’s first team. Impressive displays earned him a start in the 2009 Carling Cup final, as the confident youngster made his case for being a valuable squad member. However fast forward to recent times, and things aren’t going quite as well for the Longsight-born lad. After being loaned out to Preston as Darren Ferguson’s first signing- nepotism? Never- Welbeck seemed to be making progress as he grabbed a couple of goals in his first few games. However a knee injury scuppered his chances of making further progress ending his season eight games in. When it comes to his performances for United, I can’t shake the feeling that he’s just not quite good enough, even though to be fair he has been used inexplicably as a winger for the first team on more than one occasion. Welbeck also has a problem with greediness, which while you’d expect it from a nineteen year-old striker, can at times frustrate. Whether Welbeck will be given more first-team chances next season remains to be seen, but he may find himself out on loan again.
Grade C minus- Seemed to have stagnated slightly after successful first season and injury prevented him proving his worth.
Another future -Frazier Campbell- sneaky feeling he may end up loaned-out until it becomes permanent.

Frederico Macheda – Despite an injury ravaged season that’s seen the Italian make only a handful of first team appearances, it’s still obvious he’s got a lot to offer. A perfectly legitimate goal against Chelsea -unlike the previous one scored in that game which was a disgraceful exhibition of linesman-ing incompetence – is all Macheda’s got to show for his efforts but its still at least something. While he’s not really improved on the previous season- to be fair though he did practically win United the league with his winner against Aston Villa so it was a tough act to follow, Kiko’s still shown glimpses of his class and I for one truly believe he’s got what it takes to make it at Old Trafford. At the age of 18 time is well and truly on his side. Fergie may use him sparingly next season but the potential is there for everyone to see.
Grade- C plus- Despite all his injury problems, the impact he made against Chelsea is enough to show that he’s still the real deal.
Another future – Ruud Van Nistelrooy- may not be at Old Trafford forever but I expect a lot of goals before he leaves.

22
May
10

Does Wayne Rooney really need an England strike partner?

Trying to pick out Peter Crouch with a cross was not easy

Wayne Rooney- those two words seem to occupy any article involving England’s world cup hopes and let’s face it rightly so.

Despite the talent named in Fabio Capello’s provisional squad Rooney is the one man who looks genuinely irreplaceable in the team. As Manchester United have found out this season, when you take Rooney out of your team even average opposition becomes a problem.

Looking at the England team on paper you could genuinely believe that even without Wazza they had a chance of going far. After all Frank Lampard, Steve Gerrard and erm, James Milner are among some of the top players in world football- sort of.

The trouble is that not everyone seems to replicate their club form for the national side, with Gerrard and Lampard often being rightly accused of failing to live up to expectations.

To be fair to Lampard he’s been a little hard done by England-wise as I recall him being totally overlooked by many in the English press during Euro 2004 due to the emergence of Rooney. Lampard managed to score three goals yet with all the Roo-mania –to quote almost every tabloid from the time, poor old Frank barely got a look-in for what was a truly excellent tournament for him.

In 2006 Lampard was lambasted for not only missing his shoot-out penalty but also having more shots on goal than anyone else and still not scoring- a true victim of the cyber-age obsession with stats.

Gerrard is another one who’s been accused of being lacklustre on the international stage and has four less goals than his midfield partner despite having played one more game. While the last world cup was hardly considered a success for Gerrard it should be noted that he finished as England’s top-score- albeit with only 2 goals.

This season Gerrard has had a somewhat disappointing campaign whereas Lampard’s has been nothing short of phenomenal. Everyone talks about Didier Drogba being the key to Chelsea’s success and while this is no doubt true how Wayne Rooney must’ve wished he had someone of Lampard’s quality at Old Trafford to help with the goal scoring burden. 22 League goals from Lampard is only two less than Rooney himself and there-in lies a massive difference between the top two clubs.

Although Gerrard’s been poor by his standards nine league goals and seven assists in 33 games is not to be sniffed at –as Robbie Fowler used to say.

Gerrard’s also weighed in with a hat-trick of goals during England’s qualifying campaign so he’s hardly been a disaster on that front.

The point is both Gerrard and Lampard are still potential match-winners and must surely start for England in South Africa.

Fabio Capello seems to have a liking for Emile Heskey as Rooney’s strike-partner as he ‘brings out the best in him.’

For me this may have some truth but is a misleading analysis. Heskey may be better suited to partnering Rooney than say Jermaine Defoe or Peter Crouch but that doesn’t mean he has to partner him.

All season long Wayne Rooney has pretty much carried Manchester United almost single-handedly more often than not playing as a lone striker.

Against teams such as Manchester City, Liverpool, AC Milan and Arsenal –not to mention Chelsea away where Rooney played well and United were unlucky- Wazza led the line superbly, not only weighing in with goals but also holding the ball up well for the attacking midfielders to feed off him.

If Rooney was asked to do the same job for England I don’t see any reason why Lampard and Gerrard wouldn’t benefit by being encouraged to support him at the quickest given opportunity.

A five man midfield also allows Gerrard to fill the role he has done for Liverpool so often- playing just off the front man, rather than being pushed out wide which for me dilutes his effectiveness.

Then there’s the wide positions, with five in midfield you could have say Aaron Lennon or James Milner or whoever on the wings which is much more balanced. With this formation Capello can still accommodate a defensive midfielder-which he always seems to like- allowing Lampard and Gerrard to concentrate more on attack.

The argument is of course that Rooney as a lone striker is not as effective as he would be with a partner. Well here I’d argue that he is, after all anyone who’s seen United this season will know that Rooney has grown into the role. If you take the two Arsenal games as an example, at Old Trafford at times Rooney looked isolated and drifted a little bit too deep, yet at the Emirates he gave a master-class in not just passing and holding but also counter-attacking.

United have adopted a 4-5-1 formation for most of the big games which can be changed to a 4-3-3 of sorts when they’re attacking. This formation could work for England with two wingers from a five-man midfield linking up with Rooney when they’re on the offensive.

Then there’s the question of have any other strikers really done enough to convince they could really perform at the World Cup.

Emile Heskey’s record for Aston Villa this season is quite frankly abysmal with 31 appearances, 15 of which were starts and a paltry 3 goals and 2 assists. Heskey’s record for England is again nothing to brag about with one goal in his last seven starts. People will point to the fact that he’s also got 2 assists but when you’re playing alongside Wayne Rooney gaining assists is not that difficult as even Dimitar Berbatov will testify.

Jermaine Defoe has scored his fair share of goals for Tottenham this season, but 4 in his last 14 appearances leaves me for one feeling a little worried as to whether the season exertions have caught up with him.

Peter Crouch is probably the only striker in recent memory who is more prolific for England than he is for Spurs. Everyone’s favourite light-bulb changer only has 8 league goals this season, yet has appeared in every league game- with 21 of them starts. Yet Crouch’s goal-scoring record for England is better than even Rooney’s and this season his six caps have brought five goals. There still remains the question mark of whether he can perform against the top international sides has most of his England goals have come against small-time opposition.

That just leaves Darren Bent who has been prolific this season for Sunderland, yet for some reason doesn’t seem to have fully convinced Capello of his international worth. The smart money’s on Bent not even making the plane despite his 24 league goals.

Looking at Rooney you can say without any fear of getting laughed at that he’s one of the top strikers in the world, good enough to get into any team. However the same can not be said of any of his potential strike partners and the fact that two of them –Heskey and Crouch aren’t even regulars for their clubs speaks volumes.

My point is with the obvious quality Lampard and Gerrard possess and the ability of Rooney to operate as a lone front man- is it not time that Capello tried the 4-5-1 formula that’s seems to work at Old Trafford and bring out the best in the ‘white Pele’?