Archive for the 'unsung heroes' Category


Five things we learned from United v Arsenal

Park scores yet another goal against Arsenal

Park scores yet another goal against Arsenal

It’s all becoming a bit predictable whenever United have faced Arsenal in recent years. Ji Sung Park will get a goal, Arsenal will lose the midfield battle, in fact it’s become such a walkover in that department for United that the term ‘battle’ is somewhat misleading.

United’s defence will cope admirably with whatever’s thrown their way and Wayne Rooney will successfully lead the line all by his lonesome. Oh and United will win. Arsene Wenger entered the post match press conference with a weariness to him that must come from the frustration of having to explain why his team cannot make the step up and beat the ‘top two.’ In fact when one journalist asked him that very question – even going as far as to say “thrashed by Chelsea” Wenger looked ready to jump over the microphones and batter him. Instead the Arsenal manager simply retorted- after a long pause and the sort of stare that would make many men apologise for such an incredulous question and ask him one about his glorious ‘Invincibles’ side instead- “you know about football, I don’t need to tell you, you know it all.”

However despite Wenger blaming the football pitch for the latest loss to his old rival, there can be no denying that Arsenal’s record of one win in ten against United, tells you that there’s a reason the Gunners haven’t won the title in six years.

 So what did we learn from last night’s game other than some people are willing to be told what to chant while others aren’t? Here’s five things I picked up:

 1.  Anderson is finally looking like the player United bought from Porto. As soon as Mr Luis de Abreu Oliveira stormed up, chest puffed out in Moscow and blasted the ball past Petr Cech, nearly every United knew what there’d been signs of during that season- Anderson was made for Manchester United. Yet during the last two seasons question marks have been raised as to whether Anderson would ever make the grade. There’d been stories of falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson and rumours that the Brazilian would actually be heading for the Old Trafford exit door.  Anderson, picked up from where he’d left off against Blackburn last night with a commanding performance that seemed to dominate the game.

 Anderson was simply awesome last night- creating chances, breaking down Arsenal and moving the ball forward with the confidence you’d expect from a Brazilian footballer. Before the game all the talk was of Samir Nasri and whether Cesc Fabregas would start, but after the game all the talk was of the brilliance of the Brazilian.

 2. Rio Ferdinand is the difference between 1st and 2nd. Last season the England skipper managed just 12 league games as United missed out on the title by a point- remember that John Terry. This season he’s already managed almost as many and its no coincidence United are top of the league and looking odds on to win back “their trophy”. All the United defence were immense last night and any one of them could have staked a claim for man of the match.

 For me though Ferdinand was worth his accolade, Nemanja Vidic may wear the armband but the true leader on the pitch was Ferdinand who on his day is still the best defender in the business.

 3. The press don’t know anything. According to reports that I’ve read over the past few weeks, then the likes of Anderson, Ji Sung Park and Michael Carrick are all going to be sold to an alien space monkey from the planet Dairy Lea- okay so I made that last bit up. It seems that Fergie was set for a clear out and the aforementioned trio were top of the ebay list. The only problem is no one bothered to tell Fergie of his imminent sale and it now looks about as likely as Carlos Tevez still being at Manchester City next season. Anderson, Carrick and Park have played important roles in these past few weeks and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue.

 4. Rafael is the right right back. I’ve said it so many times its becoming tedious but I’ll say it again, it’s time to let Rafael Da Silva have the right back slot full time. I’m a big fan of Wes Brown and would love to see Gary Neville make his 400th league appearance this season, but there’s no reason not to play the young Brazilian week in week out. He’s used in the big games so why not the smaller ones? Rafael has been a real breath of fresh air this season, fitting into the defence with ease, marking the greatest player in the history of world football out of the game and bombing forward and supporting the attack like a man possessed. There’s always been the feeling that if United could find an equal equivalent to Patrice Evra on the right side then the defence would be perfect. He may not quite be up to Evra’s standards yet, but there’s no denying Rafael is gradually getting there.

5. Wayne Rooney is back to his best. What? He missed a penalty, he hasn’t scored from open play since 1997, he’s scouse. There can be many reasons why not everyone would agree that ‘r Wazza is back to his optimum performance level but I actually believe he’s practically there. The penalty miss aside Rooney was superb last night and if you cast your mind back to the same fixture last year, when everyone was drooling over him, he played just as well last night as he did then. It doesn’t matter who’s scoring for United as long as someone is and no one knows that better than Rooney. The goals will come, it’s inevitable, but in the mean time the performances have been sublime. Last night saw Rooney picking out some wonderful passes, leading the line well and generally looking like one of the world’s best strikers.

The ball from his penalty kick may still be circling the earth’s orbit but Rooney’s contribution last night was everything you could want from him.


Five things we learnt from Manchester United v Spurs.

Even from this view it was obvious the ref had not signalled a free kick

Even from this view it was obvious the ref had not signalled a free kick

Prior to Saturday’s game a Spurs fan I know called his team’s visit to Old Trafford, a ‘trip to the theatre of refs.’ While Mark Clattenburg may have helped cement that moniker in the minds of the Spurs faithful, there was a lot more to grasp from Saturday’s game than just Nani’s bizarre goal.

Before the game there was a lot of speculation surrounding which United right back would be given the unenviable task of marking Gareth Bale, who is now universally accepted as the greatest left winger in the history of world football.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who seems to love throwing Rafael Da Silva in at the deep end, chose the young Brazilian, and also gave former Spurs midfielder Michael Carrick a rare Premier League start.

With Chicharito starting alongside every Spurs fans favourite Bulgarian up front, the omens looked good for  an exciting and attacking game. With the likes of Rafael Van Der Vaart, who many United fans feel should have been wearing a Red shirt on Saturday and Luka Modric lining up for Spurs, then this game definitely did not have nil nil written anywhere near it.

So what did we learn from Saturday’s late kick off other than Rio Ferdinand is already suffering from the preferential treatment which seems obligatory for all England captains?

1. Ji-Sung Park is going nowhere. There’s been a lot of rumours that the South Korean Captain would be heading out of the Old Trafford door come the summer, or even January depending on who you believe. Park’s not had the best start to a season and with all this talk of a summer spending spree to placate Wayne Rooney’s need for bigger names at his next birthday party, many believed Park may sold.

However on Saturday Park showed what many United fans have known for a long time- that he’s one of the best squad players you could wish to have. He may not have the skill of a Nani or the pace of an Antonio Valencia, but he has the determination and energy of a fully fit Owen Hargreaves and was simply awesome on Saturday. Always willing to track back and get in a tackle, and carrying the ball forward and attacking the space with gusto, Park played like a man possessed. With Darren Fletcher- who I’ll get to later and Chicharito also seeming to think any loose ball was property of Manchester United, the Spurs players had their work cut out all afternoon.

Throw in a great run and shot that hit the post early on in the game and you can call it one of Park’s best performances for some time.

2.  Michael Carrick, where have you been? A few days ago on this very site, I labelled Carrick, along with Park, one of the most underrated United players of all-time. At the time of writing I had to acknowledge it may have seemed an unpopular choice as Carrick had been going through arguably his worst spell at Old Trafford and still hadn’t seemed to recover from the Bayern Munich game. Saturday’s performance however was exactly what Carrick is capable of and should be doing week in week out. Carrick seemed to grow in confidence as the game wore on and benefited from having a Scottish terrier alongside him who was willing to do a lot of the running. Carrick’s never been the sort of high octane player like a Fletcher, Hargreaves or a Roy Keane and sometimes he gets unfairly judged because of that.

It was his sloppiness that had been the reason for most of his criticism at the back end of last season and probably cost him his chance of replacing Gareth Barry in the England side for the Word Cup.

Saturday’s game was an example of what Carrick can do, quietly going about his job, passing the ball about nicely and always giving his team mates an option. Carrick remained fairly disciplined as well knowing when to venture forward and when to sit back knowing the dangers that the Spurs midfield possessed. It may not have been the sort of performance that has you drooling and screaming his name- hopefully not at the same time, but if Carrick can do it consistently then like Park, talk of a summer transfer may be premature.

3. Dimitar Berbatov is entitled to an off day. The same fixture last season saw many in the crowd at Old Trafford on Berbatov’s back almost before he touched the ball. This time round Berbatov had arguably his worst performance of the season but everyone seemed to accept this is going to happen. While his touch may have let him down and he seemed to spend more time arguing with Nani than linking up with him, Berbatov is not considered the lazy waste of money and space, he was at times last season and there’s no doubt that he’ll put this off day behind him and be back on song soon.

The fact the supporters are now forever in love with him thanks to a hat trick against the relegation battlers from down the M62 means that unlike last season, one or two mistakes, or even one or two off days won’t have everyone calling for his head.

4. Darren Fletcher could be the difference. If United are to win the title then they’re going to need more performances like this from the Scottish skipper. Fletcher was awesome, with the sort of energised display that Bryan Robson or Roy Keane would have been proud of. Fletcher played as though it was a cup final, battling for every ball, chasing seemingly lost causes and never shying away from tackles. Everyone knows that Fletcher is capable of this type of performance- just ask Cesc Fabregas- but he seems to only save it for the special occasions.

If Fletcher can emulate this showing week in week, then United would have a far better chance of regaining the title. Too many times this season Fletcher’s seemed subdued slightly and not always managed to get to grips with certain games. As he showed on Saturday  Fletcher’s one of the best midfielders in Europe on his day and if he pulls out the ‘barnstorming displays’ more regularly then United could be going one better than last season.

5. ‘Running down the pitch don’t know which one’s which viva Da Silva’. Rafael could have been forgiven if he’d have struggled to get to grips with Bale, after all he’s not exactly been United’s first choice right back this season. However no one bothered to tell Rafael how amazing, awe-inspiringly wonderful Bale was, as the young defender did an admirable job of marking the ‘Welsh wonder’, Ryan Giggs should have trademarked that name when he had the chance, out of the game. Although Bale did have one good run and shot, which was more down the middle than down the left wing, he was nowhere near as dangerous as he has been at times this season.

Rafael even had the audacity to get forward now and again causing Bale to have to track back and help deal with him- the cheek. Rafael is far from the finished article and was subbed after an hour for Wes Brown- who got a massive cheer when he went through Peter Crouch. But as Saturday showed, he’s got a bright future ahead of him and is not afraid of taking on the world’s best wingers.


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.


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


Ten Things United Must Do To Win Back ‘Our Trophy’

Will we be seeing scenes like this at OT come May?

Will we be seeing scenes like this at OT come May?

With last season’s title race going right down to the wire with Chelsea edging it over Manchester United by a single point every game counted towards the title. This summer has seen a distinct lack of major transfer activity from either club with Chelsea having something if a mini-exodus and bringing in only Yossi Banayoun, while United have made two additions, in Chris Smalling and a certain diminutive Mexican who’s already grabbed a few headlines with the most bizarre Wembley goal since Emile Heskey’s last one. The question is are the new signings enough to bring the trophy back to Old Trafford, just what do United need to do to wrestle the title back from West London and is Dimitar Berbatov ever going to revert back to his headband? Here’s a list of ten things which need to happen for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to overtake Liverpool in the title winning stakes.

1. More goals from midfield. While many a United fan is quick to point out the deficiencies of Berbatov and even Ferguson has lamented the injury to Michael Owen that robbed United of his services for the business end of the season, the fact remains the midfield did not score nearly enough goals last season. Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nani managed 24 league goals between them, the same amount that Frank Lampard scored. While certain players –Fletcher for example- are not in the side to score goals, while Giggs and Scholes can hardly be expected to hit double figures at their age- it is still obvious United need more goals coming from the midfield department. If Rooney continues to operate as a lone striker –as he did for much of last season- then someone behind him needs to step up. Personally I’d like to see Nani and Valencia weighing in with a few more this time round.

2. A bit more stability in the starting XI. I fully understand that with United chasing honours on four fronts, the need for a large squad and a bit of rotation but surely it’s time for a little moderation. It seems every week there’s a new right back, its 4-5-1 then it’s 4-4-2, Berbatov starts, grabs a goal, then is dropped for the next game, Anderson’s in, then he’s out again, ditto Ji Sung Park. Admittedly injuries and the ages of certain players have to dictate Fergie’s thinking and the days of the man on the street naming the Saturday’s starting XI are long gone. However it could be time to give some players more than just one game in every three, and try and get a bit more cohesion going between certain ones. I’ve said it before and it may sound crazy but unless Rio Ferdinand can get back to proper full fitness, I’d make Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic my starting centre backs for every game. Stability has often been the key to United’s success and maybe a bit more is needed.

3. Give youth a chance. With Tom Cleverly not going out on loan, and the Da Silva twins and Macheda getting a chance both at the end of last season and in this pre-season then could we now see a few youngsters starting more than just the Carling Cup games? Hopefully yes. If United are not going to buy Mesut Ozil- to be honest I don’t think they will- then why not give either Darron Gibson or Cleverly the chance to have a run in the side. After all despite what a certain Scottish pundit may have claimed you can win things with kids. United have bags of experience in every department so throwing one or two youngsters into the mix shouldn’t lead to disaster and what better way for a developing player to learn than to play alongside the likes of Scholes, Giggs or Rooney.

4. Darren Fletcher to raise his game. At first this may seem blasphemous, after all ‘super Daz’ was one of United’s best performers last season, putting in the sort of barnstorming displays you’d associate with Roy Keane. However the reason I think he should raise his game is simple- because he can. While there’s no denying against the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, Fletcher bosses the midfield so much he even had Arsene Wenger complaining of his ‘anti-football’- so basically tackling people then- but against lesser opposition Fletcher can occasionally be a little less influential. I know it seems harsh to criticise such a dedicated player but let’s be brutally honest, there are times when his passing can go awry a little too often, and despite what I said earlier about him not being in the side to score goals that doesn’t mean he can’t. His brace against City and his superb volley – or should that be superlative strike- in the home game against Everton show that Fletcher knows where the goal is. I know he’s quality I just feel that if he were to perform against the likes of Sunderland as he does against the top teams, he could well be the difference between second and first.

5. Michael Carrick. This one doesn’t need a Fletcher-type apology or explanation, it’s shockingly simple. He’s got to start performing consistently. Carrick’s been at Old Trafford for four seasons now yet amazingly the jury still seems to be out on him. Three title winning campaigns would be enough to put most players in the pantheon of club legends but Carrick has a knack for going missing when he’s needed most and sometimes making costly errors. The games against Wolves away and Liverpool and Bayern Munich at home were cases in point. While Carrick’s mistakes in the first two may have been academic his failure to deal with the danger in the Champion’s League, then getting caught dilly-dallying on the ball, cost United two goals, and to some critics the tie. While I think there was more to it than just Carrick, the fact that he was dropped from the United side after his similar blunder gifted Liverpool an early Old Trafford lead, may mean that Fergie is running out of patience with a player who should now be hitting his peak not going backwards. If he doesn’t perform well at the beginning of the campaign, I feel it’s time to give someone else a chance.

6. Beat their title rivals. Ok this may sound like the sort of obvious statement you would associate with David Pleat but it’s true. The past two seasons have seen United lose home and away to their nearest rivals. In 2008-09 they got away with it mainly due the fact that by the time Liverpool came to Old Trafford and won 4-1, the title race was all but over. Last season however, even a draw in either game against Chelsea would have been enough to see United win the title for a record breaking nineteenth time but it wasn’t to be. United have usually performed well against their title rivals and there’s no doubt that a man has proud as Ferguson will be looking to regain that tradition this season. Winning against your rivals doesn’t just give you a points advantage it can often help psychologically convince you that you’re the better team and it’s time United took the edge on both counts.

7. Believe the hype and give Chicharito a proper run. I’ve tried not to get over excited about Javier Hernandez, but it’s been about as difficult as liking Ashley Cole as the ‘Little Pea’ shone in both the World Cup and United’s pre-season. Whether he’s banging in screamers against Argentina or using his teeth in the Community Shield, it’s obvious that he’s class and rather than wrapping him up in cotton wool or saving him for special occasions like the nice china, Fergie should unleash him and let him stake a claim for a regular starting place. He’s been compared to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, which is a bit unfair, but if he is going to be another ‘baby-faced assassin’ then he should at the very least be an obligatory substitute coming on after 60 minutes in every game.

8. Improve the atmosphere at Old Trafford. Whether United have money or not chanting and singing is still free- mind you give it time and they’ll probably charge us- so there’s no excuses for having a lack of noise at Old Trafford. United still have the highest attendance in the League, yet at times away fans of a mere few thousand are out-singing 70-odd thousand Reds. ‘We want Glazers out’ is one chant that seems to be heard without any problems but it’s hardly likely to motivate the team. While I’m not saying that shouldn’t be sung, I’m merely stating that the fact remains personally I’ve been a bit embarrassed by the lack of atmosphere at OT at times and think a bit more noise wouldn’t go amiss. United may have only dropped eight home points last season, but if they can get the sort of atmosphere you hear against City going every week, then there’s every reason to feel they won’t drop any. This isn’t something the club should be culpable for, it’s up to the fans and don’t worry I’ve brought plenty of vuvuzelas back from South Africa so message me and I’ll send you one.

9. Take the burden off Wayne Rooney. Sounds simple doesn’t it? It’s a bit like saying score more goals than the opposition or win more games than your nearest rivals, but the fact is, United cannot win the title with Rooney alone. When Cristiano Ronaldo was scoring goals like they were going out of fashion, a large part of that was down to Rooney. Last season Didier Drogba had Lampard to help him out, Arsenal will no doubt have Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas this time round. Rooney needs someone to weigh in with not just their fair share of goals but also assists and being another option that players look for when United are attacking. Berbatov, Hernandez or one of the midfield, it doesn’t matter but when Rooney’s fit and playing it shouldn’t mean that if he has a quiet game so do United. When Rooney’s out, it’s time for someone else to perform; no doubt all eyes will be on Berbatov who came up short against Chelsea and Blackburn last season. Whether or not this will be the Bulgarian’s season remains to be seen, but someone needs to give ‘r Wazza a hand.

10. Play Edwin Van Der Sar in every league game. VDS performance in the Community Shield was yet another in a long list of exemplary shifts between the sticks at Old Trafford. The Dutchman was injured for the beginning of last season and Ben Foster was preferred to Tomas Kuszczak and all but ended both his United and England career with a series of inept displays. A loss away to Burnley and a disappointing home draw to Sunderland came on Foster’s watch, while Kuszczak oversaw the home loss to Aston Villa and the away loss to Fulham- although to be fair the entire defence was injured for that one. Van Der Sar may be 40 but if he can manage the league games and Fergie rests him for the cup ones, he may just be the difference between another near-miss or making United the most successful ever team-at least domestically- in England.


Wes Brown’s decision the right one for him and United.

The two Browns, at least Wes timed his retirement right.

The two Browns, at least Wes timed his retirement right.

News that Wes Brown has decided to retire from international duty has been met with a mixture of disdain and incredulity from many both inside and outside Old Trafford.

The ‘hardest man in town’ has called an end to his international career after 23 caps, which considering he made his England debut 11 years ago is hardly a great amount.
Brown stated:

“After a lot of thought and with a very heavy heart, I have decided the time is right for me to retire from international football.
“At the age of 30, I feel it is right for me to stand aside and let younger players come through, which allows me to concentrate on my club career.
“I regard it as an honour and a privilege to have represented my country at every level from under-15s upwards. I have always been very proud to play for England and wish them well in future tournaments.”

Brown’s decision comes just as Paul Robinson made his to also retire from England, although he stated it is more to do with being way down the pecking order than any wish to concentrate on his job at Blackburn.

While Robinson’s decision was a little surprising, after all as Robert Green showed, even a mediocre season can get you a place between the sticks for England when Capello’s in charge, Brown’s was actually pretty pragmatic.

Brown has never been a real first choice for England either at right back or centre back, due to either his injuries or having Gary Neville in his way. Since Neville more or less dropped out of the international scene Glen Johnson has emerged as the preferred choice at right back for Capello.

The world cup may well have been the final straw for Brown when it comes to England. After seemingly working his way back into the international fold under Capello, Brown was omitted even from the provisional 30 man squad for South Africa. Although he had recently returned from injury, the fact that the England manager chose to coax Jamie Carragher out of retirement and take a player who’d played a lot less football and has severe knee problems in Ledley King may well have irked the quiet defender.

Gary Neville wasted no time in questioning Capello’s decision to leave Brown out-although call me cynical I feel he may well have been having a dig due to his own omission but as with most things concerning ‘r Gary, who knows.

What amazed me about his world cup omission was that last season Brown played all his football for United at centre back and did a fine job as with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic missing large chunks of the campaign he was called into action a total of 26 times. Admittedly that hardly constitutes the term ‘mainstay’ but considering United’s defence was the best in the country and Brown put in some marvellous performances- Stamford Bridge for example- then for me he was a far better option than either Matthew Upson, Michael Dawson, Ledley King or Jamie Carragher. Like King and Carragher he has international experience but is capable of playing more than one game a week and didn’t need convincing to play, like Carragher he can play at right back or centre back but is far better in either position, and unlike Upson and Dawson he is truly world class. I know many Tottenham, West Ham and Liverpool fans may disagree but other than King, I think Brown is the more naturally gifted defender.

Regardless of whether he made it into the World Cup squad, another major factor which seems to have swayed his thinking towards retirement is Brown’s falling down the United pecking order.
When everyone is fully fit, Brown can no longer be guaranteed the right back spot that he made his own during the successful 2007-08 campaign. What is even more worrying for the ginger-ish- haired one is that even when the likes of Ferdinand and Neville are injured, Jonny Evans and John O’Shea, not to mention even Rafael Da Silva, seem to find themselves starting games with Brown often on the bench.

Sir Alex Ferguson loves to rotate his squad but certain players are pretty much guaranteed to start every game, or at least the big ones, if they are fit. Patrice Evra seldom gets rested and when he does it’s usually for an ‘easy’ Champion’s League tie or the Carling Cup. Fergie has pointed to France’s version of Leon Trotsky’s huge appearance record over the past few seasons as a reason for giving him an extra week off recently. Vidic is another defender who is only really rested when he’s either just returning from injury or it’s not a truly testing game. Ditto Rio- although if he’s fit he’ll play due to the rarity of the occasion. Brown is nowhere near this level of importance to Fergie, yet in 2007-08 he appeared more than any other United player- including Cristiano Ronaldo.

Brown knows that if he’s not careful he could find himself fourth choice right back and with the recent signing of Chris Smalling, possibly fifth choice for a centre back spot. Playing for England may not entirely prevent him from gaining his place in the starting XI but if he were to pick up an injury on international duty, would Fergie be as understanding or patient with him as Brown would hope?

Brown has two years left on his United contract, by which time he’ll be 32 and if he wants to ensure the next two seasons at Old Trafford aren’t spent keeping the bench warm or being an important member of the reserves, retiring from international football may be a step in the right direction. United have reaped the benefits of Paul Scholes decision to retire from England as the –truly- ginger haired one is still going strong –as he showed by winning man of the match in the ‘Community’ Shield.

England and Capello may regret Brown’s decision but I have a feeling that United and the defender himself won’t, the question is will Rio be joining him?


Why Fergie doesn’t need to panic.

Is this United squad capable of winning more than just the Carling Cup?

Michael Carrick, Rafael Da Silva, Wayne Rooney’s eagerness to stay on, Bayern Munich’s gamesmanship, the referee affecting Darron Gibson’s run up for a shot-the list of excuses/reasons/lies for Manchester United’s Champions League exit is almost endless. Following last night’s game you could have claimed Gordon Brown’s election announcement was behind United’s exit and someone would have agreed with you. The 90 minutes played Wednesday night, well the last 47 of them, have become for many, yet another reason to start believing that it’s the end of an era at Old Trafford, that United are 3,4, or even 5 players away from being kings of Europe, or the premier League for that matter. With the Glazer’s debt, the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, not to mention a certain Argentinean, the noisy neighbours getting noisier, the weather being miserable and Blanche from Corrie passing away, it’s been an annus horribilus for the red half of Manchester.

Well excuse me for pouring dandelion and burdock on that particular chip barm but things at Old Trafford aren’t as bad as they may seem. Yes, I’m an optimist- I even believe England will win the World Cup-and no I‘m not smoking crack- but if we take a minute and assess the situation are United really that badly off. I’m not talking about in terms of everyone else, of course United could be a lot worse off, no I mean in terms of the playing squad, does Fergie really need to have a summer clear-out/ spending spree? The United manager recently said he wasn’t going to and I think he may be right.

First of all there’s the money, I realise many of you may now be saying- with some justification “does he even have any money to spend?” Well the answer to that one is -I’ve absolutely no idea, sorry not exactly an exclusive, insightful revelation I admit but let’s face it does anyone outside the club management and owners really know if United do have a transfer kitty of any sort? I will simply say this, Fergie is a manager who is more than just a paid employee, he’s as big a part of United as any player who’s ever played under him and then some. He doesn’t just want to see United succeed he lives for it, hence the reason he’s still going strong when by rights he should be stood in the middle of a school road holding a giant lollipop giving oncoming traffic the hairdryer treatment. If there was genuinely no money at all and the club was totally bereft of any ability to operate in the transfer market, I suspect that the man who took on the previous owners over the matter of horse semen, would be more than willing to air his grievances.

Anyway, regardless of whether there is money in the Old Trafford coffers or not the point I’m making is this, the current squad is not as far behind the top teams in Europe as some may feel, that despite the ageing of Giggs, Scholes, Neville and Van Der Sar, United still have a strong squad with some very good youngsters waiting in the wings.

First of all, there’s the goalkeeping department, which is the one area I would like to see Fergie spend money on if at all possible. But even if he can’t VDS still probably has a season left in him, after all he’s been playing pretty well of late, so it can hardly be a matter of urgency to replace him.

Then there’s the defence, United have Chris Smalling on the way, who depending on what you believe may have been brought in to replace Nemanja Vidic. Even if Vidic does decide that the sangria is sweeter on the other side, then United still have, Smalling, Wes Brown, Jonny Evans, and England Captain Rio Ferdinand who are all capable of playing at centre back. In the full back positions there’s Patrice Evra of course, John O’Shea, plus the Da Silva twins. Many will criticise Rafael for his sending-off against Bayern, and while it was foolish, and undoubtedly turned the game, there were some positives from the Brazilian’s performance. He marshalled Frank Ribery to near anonymity in the first half and will surely learn from his mistakes. The sending off may just be the tonic to make him tone down his rashness slightly, after all you could see how gutted he was as he left the field. As for Fabio, again he’s a youngster who’s showed promise and if injury’s go United’s way, probably can be edged into the team gently over the next two years rather than thrown in somewhat at the deep end like his brother. That just leaves Gary Neville of course who may well stay around Old Trafford for the rest of his life to complete his mascot duties and maintain his quest to be the most hated United player ever.

It’s in midfield where many feel Fergie simply must buy someone, and that someone must be someone big, or a big someone if you like, which is practically the same as someone big I just wanted an excuse to use the word someone one more time in this sentence. There I’m done. There’s no doubt that the midfield does look a little lacking, particularly in the goalscoring department at times, and that the ageing Paul Scholes has yet to be truly replaced. Add to this the fact that Ryan Giggs is actually one of the last remaining Busby Babes and you can see there are areas where perhaps a blank cheque book would come in useful.

Well call me a mentalist but I actually don’t feel United have too much to worry about in the midfield department at Old Trafford- unlike the hair and beauty department which is shocking. Yes Scholes and Giggs are old, but that still leaves, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Anderson, Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ji-Sung Park- not to mention Owen Hargreaves-hopefully, one day. Add to that list Gabriel Obertan and Darron Gibson and you have a pair who could be called upon for lesser games and give the others a bit of a break. It may not have a Ronaldo or a Roy Keane but that midfield still has lot of quality and in Valencia and Nani in particular two players capable of tormenting defenders who’ve shown signs of late that they may just be United players after all. Fletcher’s been outstanding for much of the season, and while the jury is still out on Anderson and Carrick can be a little quiet in the bigger games, if Hargreaves does return, the midfield may well be one of the strongest in Europe.

That just leaves the strikers, well Wayne Rooney’s obviously rubbish but other than that waste of space United have Dimitar Berbatov who still manages to put in quite a lot of good performances when he’s called upon, plus the youngsters Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck. While I’m not sure Welbeck has what it takes, I’ve seen enough of Macheda to believe that, injuries permitting-like any other footballer I suppose- he could make the grade at Old Trafford and become a real legend.

Many cite some of this season’s poor results as an example of how United are in decline, well let’s not forget, there’s been a ridiculous amount of injuries in defence at times, not to mention getting used to life without a 30-40 goal a season player, and United are still only out of Europe on away goals while down to ten men, and two points behind Chelsea in the league. Hardly a total disaster.

So there you have it, everything’s rosy at United, there’s no need to worry, and go about spending millions of pounds the club doesn’t have. Even if Chelsea do win the league, United will still be in the Champion’s League next season, with a good squad and some young players who’ve gained some valuable experience this time round. As many fans at Old Trafford know “It could be worse, you could be……..”


Which managers can survive the battle for fourth place?

The contest for fourth place in the premier league is becoming almost as exciting as…. err…the battle for first place in the premier league. With Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, Aston Villa and possibly Everton –stranger things have happened- all battling it out for a place in the Champion’s League the repercussions for three of the clubs managers could be very similar.
First of all, let’s get the two managers out of the way whose jobs are more than safe regardless of where their team finishes.

David Moyes will be at Everton next season even if they fail to win a game from now until May- which going by current form is about as likely as the Scot taking a job at Eastlands as a ball-boy. Should Everton by some miracle actually achieve fourth place then it will be the greatest shock in modern football since Craig Fagan scored a goal. Everton and Moyes, will probably be happy to finish the season in the form they’ve been showing recently and look forward to the next campaign with confidence.

Martin O’Neill, like his colleague over at Goodison Park, is under no real pressure to deliver fourth place to Villa- at least not job wise. Should Villa fail to qualify for the Champion’s League, you’d be pretty surprised if the board decided to get rid of O’Neill. Despite some rather disappointing results recently, the pocket-sized manager is still one of the most respected in the game and you’d expect him to improve the squad in the summer and try and finally achieve what he’s been threatening to do for the past two years and end the ‘top four’ domination of the top four league places.

It is when we get to the other three teams in the fourth spot ‘mix’ so to speak that we see there’s the chance that some, or maybe even all of them could be joining the dole queue in the summer.

The safest one would appear to be Harry Redknapp, after all when he took over the Spurs side early on last season they had just endured their worst start to a season since time began and his predecessor had helpfully sold off almost the entire strike force. This season Spurs have at times looked awesome, with 9-1 victories, bag loads of goals- including several hat-tricks and a cup run all making it a time to remember. Should Spurs lift their second piece of silverware in almost a decade in the FA cup then Redknapp can rest assured his job will be safe. However there’s a slim chance- and I say slim more from what I’ve been hearing from Spurs’ fans rather than any league tables- that should Tottenham, fail to land any silverware and finish outside the top four then ‘Arry could be on his way. It does seem highly unlikely that a manager who has taken a team from bottom of the premier league to the top five or six, in less than two seasons would be shown the door but is it really beyond the realms of possibility? Redknapp is 63 years-old and has recently admitted taking pills for his heart and has also had worries over allegations of tax evasion. Again I don’t think there is much chance of Redknapp leaving WHL in the summer but if the board, who’ve backed him magnificently in the transfer market decide they may be better off giving a younger coach a chance to succeed where ‘Arry failed he could be on his way. Redknapp often strikes me as a manager who has to be doing something constantly, whether it’s signing players, giving interviews, or making funny gestures, he seems to be constantly ‘on the go’ and you’d imagine the only way he’d leave WHL is if he was dragged out kicking and screaming.

Rafa Benitez on the other hand, is almost certain to be shown the exit door from Anfield should Liverpool fail to win fourth spot-regardless of how much kicking and screaming he does. Excuses and time seem to be finally running out for Benitez and even though this season he has been hampered by a lack of real financial clout due the ongoing Hicks-Gillette saga, you sense that it is a matter of months rather than years before he’s finally shown the door. His one possible saving grace could be the Europa League, but even if he wins that it will not give him Champion’s League qualification so the real question is ‘would winning the Europa League pacify the fans?’ Somehow I doubt it, especially if Liverpool fans have to endure Manchester United- who many believed they’d be challenging for the title again- lift more silverware. Benitez must realise that winning fourth spot is practically essential to him keeping his job, a club with a history such as Liverpool’s cannot stomach being out of Europe’s top competition for what is essentially a season and a half. Out of any managers mentioned Benitez is the one who needs fourth spot the most.

That just leaves Roberto Mancini over at Eastlands, who’s done a fairly decent job since he took over at Manchester City from Mark Hughes – which may be the problem. The idea of a manager getting sacked after just five months when their team is in the top six would seem preposterous to most normal clubs. However since the sheikh rattle and roll brigade took over, nothing at City can be classed as normal. The club now has enough money to have ridiculous expectations, the owners are willing to bankroll any transfers regardless of how over-inflated they are, but you’d imagine they expect quite a lot of success in return- ‘decent’ may not be enough. Spending hundreds of millions on a ‘project’ and not seeing it in the top competition available may make the owners consider new management. This sounds overly harsh on Mancini who’s hardly had a chance to bring in his own players and has seldom produced a bad result. It would be a big surprise if the Italian was shown the exit door in the summer , the problem is with so much money being spent and the possibility that rent-a-banana Gary Cook could have some influence over who the owners entrust with their team anything seems possible. I personally expect Mancini to be at City next season, regardless of their final finish, the only way I could see him leaving is if the club not only fail to reach fourth spot but if another more successful manager becomes available. The irony may be too much to take if Jose Mourinho left Internazionale in the summer and was persuaded to replace Mancini again. Somehow I can’t see it happening but then again I never thought I’d see the day we were calling Manchester City ‘The richest club in the world.’

One answer to all these theories and conjecture is that all the aforementioned clubs simply swap managers. Get the chairman together and then put all the manager’s car keys in a bowl-like they do at certain parties, so I’ve been told- and whoever gets chosen moves to that club. Redknapp could carry on constantly buying and selling players at Liverpool, Benitez could lure Torres to Eastlands and Mancini could try a dark blue and white scarf at WHL, everyone could be a winner.


Patrice Evra……’I love you’

Evra- the best thing out of France since Eric

When the history of Manchester United in the 21st century is perused by our great-great-grandchildren there will be certain names who receive far more pages than others. Sir Alex Ferguson will of course, have several chapters written about him and also his son Darren who guided United to their first ever inter-planetary league cup final win, where they beat the Martian Champions. There will also be pages filled with the names of Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Federico Macheda –possibly.

One name is that is certain to be remembered many years from now by those who saw him play is that of Patrice Evra. One of the biggest debates by United fans from the nineties and noughties is not whether Wayne Rooney could have taken Roy Keane in a fight- my money’s on Keano but only just, but who was the better left back Denis Irwin or Patrice Evra?

Irwin was a true legend, the sort of player the word consistency seemed to have been invented for. Naturally right-footed, the Irishman played the vast majority of his games for United at left-back, winning every honour possible. There’s no doubt he was an integral part of United’s dominance in the nineties and even though a comparison with Evra would be tempting, I’m going to leave it for now and just acknowledge he was a great player.

No, the reason I feel compelled to write this article is purely out of a sense of gratitude for what’s turning out to be another accomplished season by United’s Senegalese-born French full back. This season you can’t speak about United- or Lionel Messi lately for some strange reason- without Rooney being mentioned immediately. There is no doubt that without Wazza –as his wife calls him- United would be battling it out with Villa and Everton for that Europa League place, he’s been absolutely phenomenal- even more so than Ronaldo was two seasons ago. There’s been enough pages written about Colleen’s fella’s greatness to fill several thousand fairly big boxes, so I won’t bother repeating the praise we all know he’s rightly received.

Not far behind Rooney in the canonization stakes has been ‘Super’ Darren Fletcher who’s been treated to some lauding praise all season as he’s finally shown what everyone –except me to be quite honest- at Old Trafford knew; that he is capable of being one of Europe’s top midfielders.

Yet despite Rooney’s goals and general amazing-ness, Fletcher’s energy and ability to keep such men such as Cesc Fabregas and Andrea Pirlo quiet, for me Patrice Evra has quite simply done it again. Since his transfer from Monaco four years ago, Evra- after a shocking debut against Manchester City- has become United’s most consistent player. He’s so good that he’s become the benchmark for the right back position to aspire to. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that I’ve heard ‘if we [United] had an Evra on the right hand side we’d be unbeatable.’

Evra’s ability to get forward is well documented as his surging runs often leave opposition full backs in disarray and he seems to have given Ryan Giggs a new lease of life. Let’s not forget that before Evra came to Old Trafford, many thought Giggs was ready for retirement whereas now he’s an integral part of the team again. Coincidence? I think not.

It’s this season though that Evra has really impressed, the reason is simple, many of United’s defenders have had problems at times and he’s been the one constant who seems to go about his business without any form of drama. With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic having injuries to deal with, as well as the all the problems with form that can be associated with such lay-offs, not to mention the merry-go-round that’s been going on in United’s right back position, it’s been Evra who’s been the only real constant presence in defence. While avoiding injury and being great going forward does not make you a great full back, Evra seems to have actually improved defensively this season as well. One of the criticisms I’ve heard levelled at the Frenchman is that defensively he can at times get found out. For me this is something of a misconception, because he’s that good going forward, whenever Evra makes any sort of mistake at the back or is beaten-which is seldom- it can often be exaggerated. Aaron Lennon is often mentioned as a player the left-back struggles against but at White Hart Lane at the beginning of the season Evra was immense- even after United went down to ten men. Lennon barely got a look in.

Rooney, took a while to get going this season, although that view may be very unpopular, I’m sorry but it’s true, yes he’s been brilliant for most of the season but in the first few months he was a little inconsistent.

Fletcher has been his commanding best for the majority of games, but there were a few times, again earlier on in the season, when against some of the so-called lesser teams he was a little quiet and could be a tad shoddy with his passing.

Evra though, has been nothing short of outstanding for practically the whole of the season. His ability to get forward, natural pace and skill, not to mention the fact that he always seems to just ‘get on with it’ – remember how he didn’t react to Michael Ballack’s elbow in the Charity, sorry Community Shield, make him special. Then there’s the solidity he brings to the defence, this may sound crackers but he’s my player of the year.

I know there’s the argument that it’s putting the ball in the net which is the hardest job in football- and Rooney’s done that at a near ridiculous level. Not to mention the fact that United could arguably lose Evra and still win a trophy but the same can not be said of Rooney. But in a year of Roooneymania –which will hopefully continue at the World Cup, I’m going to put my hand on my heart and say without any sense of embarrassment -Patrice Evra I love you.


Pulis, Hodgson and McLeish are the real ‘managers of the year’

Pulis- spreading some joy on the touchline.

When the manager of the year award is handed out in May it’s a pretty safe bet that Tony Pulis won’t need to hire a tuxedo. With Stoke currently occupying 11th place in the Premier League it hardly seems realistic to predict any prizes heading their manager’s way. The same can be said of Roy Hodgson and Alex McLeish, although there teams are sitting comfortably in mid-table they’re unlikely to win anything other than credit when it comes to awards.

Since the Premier League manager’s awards inception in 1994, the man in charge of the champions has been the winner every season- bar 2001 when the powers that be decided George Burley deserved a nod for guiding Ipswich to fifth. This year the chances are that Carlos Ancelotti will be lifting the almost irrelevant accolade unless of course Sir Alex, or maybe even Arsene Wenger can overtake the Blues at the top of the table. Yet would Ancelotti deserve to be classed as manager of the year for winning the title? Surely he would you cry after all he’d have not only stopped United winning a fourth successive crown, but also have done what no other manager since Jose Mourinho has achieved- winning the title in his debut season. Let’s look at the facts though, last season United won the league by playing worse than any champions in recent memory, this year they seem to be attempting to go one better –or worse- by winning the title by playing quite badly on a regular basis. If Chelsea do win the title, yes of course it’s an achievement but quite frankly a top Chelsea side would be out of reach for Fergie’s floundering team this year, not a mere four points ahead.

Then there’s the chance that Sir Alex does what he does best and wins yet another title just as people are writing him off. Well as I’ve just mentioned if that happens, it will be one of the least impressive title winning campaigns ever. A win is a win, of course and Fergie will have made history, yet again, so will receive the plaudits he’s become accustomed to. If, although it seems unlikely Wenger does manage to overcome the top two then he’ll have justified his transfer, reserve cup side, giving youngsters a chance, Sol Campbell, Manuel Almunia, playing football the right way, 35 passes before a shot policy. Everyone will no doubt be queuing up to tell him how they always had faith in him and his victory is a victory for football. Possibly. Yet he’d also have seen his side beaten in their own backyard, comfortably by both top rivals and endured some of the most calamitous goalkeeping since Gomes sorted his act out, plus Wenger would have won the title after trying and failing for five years. Whichever manager does lift the title there’s a good argument to be made that none of them would have really been at the top of their game, merely not as bad as their nearest rivals- admittedly requisite for reward, but uninspiring nonetheless.

Then there’s the 2nd tier of English football, ranging from Man City, Villa and Spurs. If any of these manage to beat Liverpool to fourth spot then there could be some justification for giving the man in charge the manager of the year award. However there’s a good reason why none of them would deserve it. Firstly at Man City Mancini inherited a team in a good position with an excellent squad, to give him an award for just over half a season’s effort would be a little generous. Martin O’Neill would seem like a worthy recipient but he’d have grabbed fourth spot because Liverpool would have declined rather than Villa upping their game, after all Benitez’s side have been a shadow of the one last season and off-field angst seems to have upset the whole club including the team. Harry Redknapp’s Spurs would have achieved the same, merely overtaking a distraught Liverpool team by default rather than amazing their fans with a consistent campaign, as numerous and articles have highlighted, Spurs have had a mixed season to say the least, regardless of how it ends. Of course if Liverpool do achieve fourth, then giving Benitez a manager of the year award would seem crazy considering the expectations many had of his team going one better then last season or at least mounting some form of title challenge.

That moves us into the 3rd tier of the premier league, ranging from Everton through to Sunderland. Moyes has done another fantastic job at Goodison with recent victories over United and Chelsea, making many wonder what might have been had they not started the season so badly. Moyes may well deserve to be named manager of the year- he’s won the LMA version more than Fergie- especially considering the injuries he’s had to deal with. The only reason he may not receive such recognition is that he’s also overseen, two derby defeats, an opening day mauling and several disappointing away losses. This season for Everton has been good, rather than great. Sunderland’s Steve Bruce would probably get the award if it was for honesty. Never shy of admitting when his team are poor, he’s found himself making a lot of admissions lately as Sunderland have been dire. Sam Allardyce at Blackburn has done a steady job but he’s merely lived up to what you’d expect rather than surpassed any expectations. Gianfranco Zola has had a bit of a disappointing season this time round- admittedly through no fault of his own as he’s had little or no money but it’s been disappointing nonetheless. Mick McCarthy has got some decent results at Wolves but the idea of listening to him give a speech is enough to stop anyone handing him any prizes. That just leaves the rest of the relegation battlers and the fact that they’re battling the drop should prevent any of their managers getting any awards-unless they give it Avram Grant out of sympathy so that he can sell it.

That leaves just my trio of real contenders. Pulis deserves plaudits for avoiding the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’ and actually picking up where he left off last season by making the Britannia Stadium a difficult place to visit and even picking up some points on the road. Hodgson has done it again, making his Fulham side one of the real banana skins in the league and he’s even managed the impossible by turning Bobby Zamora into an England contender. As for McLeish, his Birmingham side have been the real surprise package going on a twelve-match unbeaten league run and taking points off three of the top four this season.

Of course the season’s not over yet and as Hull proved last year, there’s always the possibility of a rapid free-fall happening at Birmingham, Stoke or Fulham. As this season has shown though, that looks highly unlikely. If the powers that be really wanted to give the Premier League manager’s award to someone who really deserves it, then they could set a new precedent by giving it to one of the managers who’ve managed to exceed expectations rather than just fulfil them; somehow though I doubt it.