Posts Tagged ‘Manchester United


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.


Gary Neville is a Red……..he hates everyone.

Scholes almost wished he hadn't scored the derby winner

Sometimes life throws up little surprises that really make your head spin, volcanic ash, Lib Dems in government-sort of- Alan Shearer saying something remotely interesting. One thing that never ceases to surprise is the predilection for spouting agitating nonsense of a certain Mr Gary Neville.

It seems Neville can’t go more than a few weeks without making some arbitrary comment about footballing matters that more often than not don’t really concern him.

His latest vitriol was aimed at England manager Fabio Capello following the Italian’s decision to omit Wes Brown from his World Cup squad.

Speaking to the Times of Malta Neville stated:

“I’m slightly surprised in some ways that there is only one right-back in the entire squad, but I’m probably more surprised Wes Brown isn’t in the 30, to be honest.”

It seems Neville either doesn’t regard Jamie Carragher as a viable option at right-back or has simply forgotten that the Anfield vice-captain can fill that position.

As a United fan, I’m a big admirer of Wes Brown. During the double winning season of 2007-08 Brown played more games than anyone else and was superb throughout the entire campaign, which culminated in him setting up Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal in the Champions League final. I remember him bursting on to the scene in 1998-99 and performing admirably against the likes of Barcelona. However one criticism I have of Brown is that when he returns from injury it often takes him a few games to get back into his stride. The beginning of this season was a case in point as against the likes of Birmingham and Burnley Brown really struggled. If he was to be suddenly called upon in a big world cup game he may be a real liability and I personally would hate to see him at fault for costing England the chance to progress and being lambasted by the over-zealous media.

You could argue that Brown is more used to playing at right-back than Carragher is so therefore should be on the plane to South Africa. However while that may have been true in the past, this season Sir Alex Ferguson has used Brown almost exclusively at centre back, preferring Rafael Da Silva, John O’Shea and Neville himself in the right back slots.

There is of course the possibility that the Manchester United skipper was actually surreptitiously criticising the national coach for not picking Neville himself. It must have really pained Neville to see a member of his favourite team Liverpool edge him out of the squad- even more so when that player had previously retired from the international scene. While many, myself included thought Neville may have done enough to be taken as Glen Johnson’s understudy Capello obviously otherwise.

Questioning the national coach’s decision making is one thing but just in case Capello was not particularly bothered by Neville’s comments, he decided to go one further by insulting the Italian’s decision to try and coax Paul Scholes out of international retirement. Neville said:

“Capello spoke to Scholes to try and bring him back into the squad, but Scholes retired a good few years ago from international football and he’s not the type to go back on that.

“I’m not surprised Capello tried to get him out of retirement because if there’s one player I would try to pull out of retirement, it’s Scholes.

“Capello maybe got a bit desperate at the last minute and wanted Scholes because he’s still probably the best midfielder in England, but Scholes decided to stick to his guns.”

Again, while you can see Neville’s point that Scholes would be a useful part of the squad- his form for United the past few weeks has been vintage- the question remains is calling Capello ‘desperate’ really necessary? The answer is arguably no.

Neville just can’t seem to help himself, and while you could argue that similarly to the earlier comment he’s merely praising one of his team-mates, the whole thing seems rather pointless, merely designed to generate more anger his way. As soon as I saw the headline ‘Neville questions Capello’s squad’ I could picture nearly all of England rolling their eyes in disgust.

Neville always seems to have something to say and even United fans can sometimes find him slightly embarrassing.

Since injuries stopped him from being a permanent member of the United team, Phil’s more outspoken older brother seems to have decided to make himself the club’s unofficial spokesman.

You could argue- in fact I have in the past- that he’s less of a spokesman and more of a ranting clown, randomly spouting garbage to anyone who cares to listen or print his at times semi-moronic dribbling.

This season he’s done himself –if no one else- proud by criticising Carlos Tevez- not worth the money, Liverpool –deserved what they got in Europe, Chelsea- not an exceptional season and now Capello.

While I can often agree with Neville, in fact in nearly all of what he’s said I can see his point, the question is why does he always feel the need to say it?

It’s not merely his words that cause outrage amongst opposition fans, his goal celebrations- running towards Liverpool fans, gestures- giving Tevez the bird and even snubs- refusing to shake then-Manchester City goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel’s hand before a game, all seem the actions of a die-hard black shirt rather than a club captain.

The attitude that often pervades among United fans is ‘us against the world’ and many of Neville’s supporters would no doubt argue that he’s merely embracing this ethos. After all if I’m totally honest the sight of former Liverpool players, pretending to be objective about United on nearly every football programme can often grate as can some of the national media’s love of all things London.

Neville could be a welcome antidote to much of this if his credibility wasn’t so tarnished by his often childish churlishness.

Part of the sad thing about all this is due to his antics many people have become clouded when it comes to Neville’s footballing ability. People can easily dismiss him as merely some form of village-idiot forgetting how good he actually was and still can be.

Neville actually made the England team before his mates David Beckham and Scholes, playing every game -bar the semi-final where he was suspended-in Euro’ 96.

He was also instrumental in United’s dominance during the nineties and noughties, making nearly 600 appearances and winning every major honour there is in the game.

People have been waxing lyrical about Patrice Evra recently, yet for me Gary Neville was every bit as good in his heyday, getting forward well linking up with Beckham- then Cristiano Ronaldo. He was also excellent in defence, the timing of his tackles and his all-round energy enabling him to cope with practically any left winger in the world.

It seems though that much of this is in danger of being forgotten as Neville seems more concerned with making himself everyone’s least-favourite United player.

He’s entitled to his opinion and as club captain of one of the biggest clubs in the world he’s always going to have people willing to listen, I for one just wish he’d try and do what most players who are hated do- let his football and success do the talking.


Would an injury-free season have ended differently?

Dirty German title costing b..........

As the dust settles on what some commentators have labelled ‘the most exciting premier league season in recent memory’ but what turned out to have an all too familiar feel to it, the time for excuses, explanations and blaming can begin.

Gianfranco Zola has already fallen victim to the season’s post-mortem and few would be surprised if there wasn’t a few more managers joining him in the dole queue very soon- or at least at the airport, eh Rafa?

One of the first things many fans –unless they support Chelsea- will point to when explaining why the season hasn’t been an unmitigated success is the old favourite ‘injuries’. If it wasn’t for injuries England would have won the world cup a record-breaking 12 times by now, injuries also stopped United completing a hat-trick of trebles during the noughties, prevented David Beckham becoming Sir David this summer and cost David Cameron the majority he needed. Probably.

There’s an old saying in football about bad decisions even-ing themselves out over the course of a season and while anyone outside the top four will probably agree that’s a load of old tosh, can the same be said for injuries? Obviously not.

The real question is if the top 3 teams in the premier league had been injury-free all season, would the title have ended up anywhere other than Stamford Bridge?

Well let’s look at them one by one.

First up must surely be Arsenal- simply because I’ve decided to do this alphabetically. The loss of Robin Van Persie for five months was a huge blow to the Gunners and one which in a perverse way, may have actually relieved some of the pressure on Arsene Wenger. Many Gooners will cite RVP’s injury as one of the main reasons Arsenal never quite mounted the title challenge they threatened to do at certain stages this season. Losses to Chelsea –twice- Man U- twice- Wigan, Man City, Blackburn, Sunderland and Tottenham meant that Arsenal finished 11 points behind the champions. Yet how many of those losses, can be attributed to the injury to RVP? Well Manchester’s City and United both beat Arsenal with the Dutch forward in the team, earlier on, as did Blackburn and Wigan at the back end of the season. Was Van Persie the difference between the title going from West London to North?

I’d argue not, after all Arsenal’s problem has been more than just scoring goals, in fact that’s arguably been the least of their worries. A lightweight midfield far too often out-muscled or ‘anti-footballed’ as certain Frenchmen may say seems to be a much more prominent reason for the Gunner’s shortcomings.

Of course, Arsenal have had more than just the loss of RVP to contend with, Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas and Aaron Ramsey have all missed key parts of the season.

While Ramsey’s loss was particularly bad, more for the manner of his injury than for the void he left in the team, Walcott when he has played has been inconsistent to put it mildly. As for Fabregas, by the time his injury came about, you could argue Arsenal were already practically out of the title race anyway.

The next on the list is Chelsea, even though they won the league, in the purposes of fairness the question must still be applied to them, after all winning it by a point against one of the most beatable United side’s in recent years is hardly totally convincing.

The most prominent loss for Chelsea was Michael Essien who has been missing for much of the season. While Jon Obi Mikkel has come in and done a fine job, there can be little argument that he’s not a patch on Ghana’s finest. Then there’s also the loss of Ashley Cole for most of the business end of the season, which would affect any team in all honestly.

Cole is one of the best left-backs in the country and his importance in the Chelsea team cannot be underestimated. There’s also the loss of Jose Boswinga of course, but the form of Branislav Ivanovic has not only negated that argument but in all probability made Boswinga’s loss actually Chelsea’s gain. Had Essien and Cole been fit then maybe Chelsea would not have been beaten by Tottenham, but as last season proved and the season before in the Carling Cup, Spurs are capable of giving any Chelsea side a run for their money.

There’s also the losses against Everton and Man City but they were more down to defensive lapses by John Terry coupled with some ‘hilarious’ goalkeeping thrown in the game against City. Let’s not forget as well that Aston Villa were able to defeat a full-strength Chelsea team early on in the season. The loss of Essien probably did cost Chelsea points somewhere along the line as he’s that good a player.

All this of course is moot as Chelsea didn’t need any more points the other teams did, so the real question is could Manchester United have caught them without the loss of certain personnel?

Well United have at times this season, been awful regardless of whoever’s been playing. The main defeat that many United fans will look to as an example of where injuries took their toll was the loss to Fulham. United were missing seven, yes seven, defenders which even Roy Hodgson admitted was a major factor for Fulham’s emphatic win.

However while a three-man defensive unit consisting of Ritchie De Laet, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher is hardly awe-inspiring, let’s not forget that last season Fulham were able to beat a full strength United side- albeit after Paul Scholes was dismissed and it’s not inconceivable that it could have been achieved this time round.

Losses to Burnley, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Liverpool came when United had practically full strength teams, the only missing men were Edwin Van Der Sar and every physio’s favourite Owen Hargreaves.

The loss of VDS early in the season may well have contributed to some lost points, particularly in the home draw against Sunderland, but to blame any losses on his absence is probably unfair.

As for Hargreaves, while Darren Fletcher and to a lesser extent Michael Carrick have made his loss, less felt there’s no denying that a fully fit Hargreaves is better than either player, just look at a 2007-08 DVD if you need any proof. The question is would his fitness have given United the extra 2 points they needed to lift the title? Most definitely. But then again a fully fit Michael Essien would have no doubt elevated Chelsea’s points tally above 86. On a final United note, the most important injury of the season was surely Wayne Rooney’s prior to the home game against Chelsea, had Wazza been fit would the outcome have been different? Who knows, you would think so but to be fair United have been that inconsistent this season it’s not as certain as many would believe.

You could analyse games one-by-one all day long there’s not just the losses to contend with but also the draws, not just the injuries but also the decisions.

The fact is even Spurs could claim that without the lengthy injuries to Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon, not to mention Ledley King’s erratic appearances, they would have been able to mount a title challenge. While we can debate the ‘what ifs’ all day long nothing’s going to change the fact that Chelsea are the title holders……unfortunately.


What was the PFA awards ceremony all about?

Rooney and Milner- trying their best to look *rsed.

Watching the PFA player of the year awards the other night was about as entertaining as watching the Eastenders or Hollyoaks omnibus depending on which one it is your missus insists on watching on a Sunday.

First of all there was the live ‘entertainment’ at the ceremony, which began with Gabriella Cilmi, you know the woman who brought you, erm, well that song something about not being sweet, yeah that’s the one. Well, she performed her latest ‘hit’ entitled ‘I am a woman on a mission’ or something to like that, with a team of dancers while footage of some of the nominees scoring goals was shown on a screen behind her.
The sight of Wayne Rooney power-heading the ball past a helpless ‘keeper as our Gabby warbled ‘I am a woman on a mission’ seemed ridiculously comical. Talking of comical, there was absolutely nothing comical in Jeff Stelling’s performance as presenter. His jokes went down quicker than a skinny centre forward in the penalty box – in fact that rubbish metaphor I just used was just the type of garbage Stelling was delivering with all the conviction of confessing sex-offender. It was painful stuff which only seemed to get worse as the evening progressed.

After announcing the lower league teams of the year to applause which varied from polite to disinterested to insulting, there was another live entertainment performance this time from the rifles who underlined the bizarreness of the entire proceedings by covering Billy Joel’s ‘We didn’t start the fire,’ but with a football spin, so we treated to lyrics such as ‘City cash all he said was derby clash’ while pictures of the Carlos Tevez poster and Michael Owen’s injury, sorry ,Fergie-time winner were screened. There was also references to Emmanuel Adebayor’s celebration against the Gunners, and the whole ‘handshake-gate’ episode which no football reference would ever be complete without. To be fair to The Rifles their performance was fairly good and compared to Gabby’s it was at least relevant but the evening seemed to be crying out for a Peter Kay –let’s really take the p*ss out of some footballers- type comic rather than some mildly amusing football rhymes.

Talking of mildly amusing, Stelling never quite reached the dizzy heights of that but did soldier on with a smile unlike those of us viewing this at home. Lucas Radebe was next up, who was receiving the PFA Merit award, we were shown footage of Radebe, in his Leeds United heyday as well as interviews with his managers and coaches not to mention various South Africans. The only disappointment was that Nelson Mandela couldn’t come on, repeating his line from Invictus sort of : “Lucas, thank you for what you have done for this country.” To which Radebe could have replied: “No Mr. President, thank you.” Now that would have been memorable, even without Mandela the PFA could have at least tried to get Morgan Freeman.

The nominees for PFA Young player of the year were announced and this is where we really are into pantomime season. Now I’m not saying that James Milner didn’t deserve his award, but looking at the nominees only one man seemed to fit the idea of a young player- or at least one who’s not been around for five years. With Cesc Fabregas, Wayne Rooney and James Milner having about fifteen years worth of Premier League experience between them, it seems a little unfair that any of them should win the award. Surely Joe Hart who has not only had a blinding season but was also nowhere near the Premier League, when Rooney first won the award back in 2005, would have been a more deserving recipient. Milner may be young in years but in experience he’s an old pro. To be fair to Hart at least he turned up, none of the other losing nominees did. Milner and Stelling then engaged in an excruciating bit of banter, which was rescued only when the Villa man, turned the event into an ode to Martin O’Neill’s greatness, while the little Irishman looked on like a proud Director watching his Leading Actress at the Oscar’s as she gives him all the credit while collecting her Academy award.

The Premier League team of the year was announced, and had very few surprises, although perhaps Frank Lampard may think otherwise. Then it was down to business or as Jimmy Greaves, presenting the PFA player of the year award termed it: “The biggest forgone conclusion ever.” Or words to that effect, to be honest I was barely awake by now such had been the drivel of the past hour.

Wazza came up collect his award and actually did manage to raise a few laughs. Firstly by commenting how his bigger bald patch was the reason behind his large amount of headed goals. He then ensured any ideas Liverpool had of trying to beat Chelsea next weekend went out of the window by cracking that they were “chasing a Europa League place.” To all of which Stelling cracked up with just a hint of jealousy in his eye that Rooney had outdone him in the laughter stakes- almost a more difficult task than scoring 34 goals this season.

Forget the world cup, the real football showcase starts here. Remind me not to bother next year thank you very much, unless Gabriella Cilmi’s performing again, “I am a woman on a mission, ye-eah”, it’s very catchy.


Is Fergie wrecking England’s world cup hopes?

Rooney- every reason to be looking knackered.

Wayne Rooney ‘s season, has been one of personal triumphs, regardless of how the League campaign ends, his goals, performances and all- round heroics, mean that he will be able to look back over 2009-10 with a degree of satisfaction.

It’s not just that Wazza has stepped out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow, carried the United team so often that he’s in danger of resembling Peter Beardsley, or finally ended his fondness for rushes of blood to the head. It’s that in a season when United have been by their own standards, quite often p*ss poor, Rooney’s been able to maintain a title challenge that by rights should have been dead and buried at Christmas.

Sir Alex Ferguson, knows a thing or two about football. Yes I know that’s something of a controversial statement- right up there with Emile Heskey could do with a few more goals, or Adrian Chiles is getting annoying- but oblige me. Fergie realised quite a while ago that Rooney isn’t just important to United’s title challenge, he’s essential. In fact I’d argue that United would have a greater chance beating one of the better teams in the league by playing without a goalkeeper than they would without WR10 – well it worked for Ronaldo so I thought I’d give it a go, but it just sounds like a post code in Worcester or somewhere, so I won’t do it again.

With some of the results United have achieved – or should I say the teams playing United have achieved- when Rooney’s been missing, it’s obvious no match can be taken for granted. This isn’t like the good old days of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer- backed up by a free-scoring midfield. Then Fergie could rest any combination of two of those and the other two would step in and do a job. This isn’t 1999-2001. If United are to win even the supposed ‘bankers’ this time round, more often than not every Stretford Ender’s favourite scouser has to be on the team sheet.

Don’t get me wrong footballing colossus’s such as Bolton and Wolves have been put to the sword without Rooney- well Bolton were, Wolves were unlucky. But as Blackburn proved, without Rooney United are not so much a ‘force to be reckoned with’ as a team bereft of a leader, goalscorer, threat or idea. They need Rooney, like Frank Ribery and Carlos Tevez need to be good at football to attract beautiful women- although in Ribery’s case even that isn’t enough- allegedly.

Lately we’ve seen Rooney being picked when he could obviously do with being rested, and the results have been mixed. Against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford, he seemed okay to begin with but then following a dirty, clever, know-exactly-what-his-weak-spot-is-so-hit-him-there-type of challenge, by Mark Van Bommel – he was effectively a passenger for the rest of the game- until he was subbed far too late for my liking.

Then after being rested against Blackburn, which surely meant he was in absolutely no condition to play whatsoever, he was back for the Manchester derby.

It’s here that the real depth of the problem facing, Rooney, Fergie and in-turn England, comes to light. Before the game it was rumoured that England’s brightest star, had needed fluid draining from his ankle to be able to play. Now I’m no doctor but surely if someone requires fluid draining from any part of their body then their certainly not fit enough to be running round a football pitch in one of the most hyped-up games of the season. Even if ankle-fluid-draining-gate is untrue, the fact is Rooney looked far from his normal self at Eastlands, so much so that he didn’t even look all that surprised when the bench decided to bring him off.

The point I’m trying to make, is that against Bayern and City, he arguably should not have even been in the squad. He obviously needs rest and is not getting it at the moment and highly unlikely to get it until the season ends.

You could argue that even a below-par Rooney is better than a fully fit somebody else- Dimitar Berbatov for example, but then if you can’t trust your £30million plus striker to step up when he’s needed then whats the point of him being there?

Against Bayern Munich, for every man that says Rooney being on the pitch, at least following his injury was a mistake, there’s someone who thinks he was right to play, as it brought space to others, because Bayern were so wary of him. There’s also the point that Fergie did ask Rooney of he was fit to carry on and got the ‘thumbs-up’ signal which is universally accepted in almost every country as meaning ‘happy days’ or something to that effect- except in Bangladesh, Iran and Iraq where it’s obscene- in case you were wondering.

Then there’s the derby, yes Rooney was subdued slightly but United won and surely the ends justify the means, even if he wasn’t on the pitch when the winner was scored.

So what should Fergie do, rest Rooney and see United lose? No. Of course not, but there must be a real danger that the way things are going Rooney may end the season being wheeled out-literally- against Stoke on the final day.

As long as United are in the title race- which could well go all the way to the last day and Rooney says he’s fit, which barring an amputation he’s always going to claim- in fact even then I think he’d argue a case for playing- a bit like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail “it’s only a flesh wound.” Sorry , I digress, yes, Rooney will always want to play and Fergie will always play him, at least for the next two weeks.

All this leaves the question, will there be anything left of Wayne Rooney for South Africa? As the last World Cup proved an unfit Wayne Rooney is no good to anyone. Alternatively, is Fabio Capello faced with the same dilemma as Fergie? Leave Rooney out or play an unfit Wayne Rooney? Either option is fraught with problems.

One thing’s for sure, Alex Ferguson won’t be losing any sleep over England’s worries when it comes to WR10- okay so that really doesn’t work and I definitely won’t do it again. Many England fans however, may just have a little cause for concern.


Top Ten Greatest Manchester United Last-gasp goals.

Scholes doing what United do best. (Getty Images)

As the euphoria finally settled down for the red half of Manchester following Paul Scholes’s injury-time winner at Eastlands almost the entire commentating community were quick to remind anyone who would listen that this wasn’t the first time United had grabbed a late winner.

Over the years the sight of Fergie pointing at his watch subsequently followed by the naffest celebration in football history has become a common sight for football fans. For reasons I can’t be bothered to get into right now, United have made the last-minute goal something of an art form, consistently producing ‘back from the dead’ type goals when most teams would have given up.

It’s often said that United don’t do things the easy way and while opposition fans may look rather enviously at a club who’s fans main gripe is the fact that they have to go-through the mill on the way to countless trophies , there’s something to be said for that argument.
There’s no denying that being a United fan can often lead to a frustrating time- undeniably more than made up for by the end product. Just look at United’s three greatest triumphs and you’ll realise what I mean.

The European cup win in 1968 came in extra-time, the 1999 win came in injury-time and the 2008 win was courtesy of sudden-death penalties. Not exactly a walk in the park by any means.
Here’s a top ten list of united’s greatest last-gasp winners in my own personal order of merit.

10. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Vs Liverpool , FA Cup 4TH Round, 1999. Before he was ‘putting the ball in the German’s net’ Solskjaer was busy doing the same thing to every United fan’s favourite giro hunters from up the M62. Future United injury-time winner Michael Owen- we’ll get to him later- put the visitors ahead after only 3 minutes. With only a few minutes left, United equalized through the King of Pornography and occasional baby-sitter Dwight Yorke. The game seemed to be heading for a replay until Solskjaer decided he didn’t fancy a trip to Liverpool –and who can blame him? Almost as good as the goal was the sight of Liverpool assistant boss Phil Thompson rushing onto the pitch at full-time to remonstrate with the referee as a chorus of ‘sit down Pinocchio’ rang out amongst the Old Trafford faithful.

9. John O’Shea Vs Liverpool Premier League 2007. With United and Chelsea neck-and-neck at the top of the table and with Paul Scholes sent off, it looked as though Liverpool may take all three points and help keep the title at Stamford Bridge. With Rooney going off injured for O’Shea the omens did not look good. However despite it looking as though United may just get a draw they went one better thanks to the most unlikely hero. O’Shea explains:

“The winner in the 90th minute at Anfield in front of the Kop, Gary Neville has told me that it’s his dream and I have just gone and done it.”

Many a United fan would agree.

8. Mark Hughes Vs Oldham Athletic FA Cup semi-final, 1994. Before doubles were almost expected at Old Trafford, United seemed to be heading towards their first in the 1993-4 season. A defeat to Aston Villa in the League Cup final had scuppered the chance of a domestic treble- but surely a double would be more than enough recompense. A draw against relegation battlers Oldham- who would subsequently lose that particular skirmish- seemed a formality for a team that was on its way to a second successive title. Even the suspension of Eric Cantona didn’t seem enough to stop United from steamrolling over their poor –sort of- neighbours from Lancashire. Footballing colossus Neil Pointon gave Oldham the lead and they seemed to be on their way to a fairytale victory until a certain tree-trunk thighed Welshman did what he does best –volleyed an unstoppable shot past a hapless ‘Keeper to save the day for United. Incidentally I was a young teenager behind the goal who ended up with a bloody nose following some over-exuberant hugging from the stranger sat next to me. Brilliant.

7,6 & 5. The Manchester Derby’s 2009-10. Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney & Paul Scholes.
The 2009-10 season may end up being one of disappointment for United but to soften the blow came a hat-trick of victories against the ‘noisy neighbours’ all courtesy of last-minute winners. In the first league encounter Ben Foster and Rio Ferdinand – obviously having put money on a draw did their best to ensure it happened. Unfortunately the most exciting interviewee since Muhammed Ali stopped giving them, stepped up and grabbed a late, late, winner- cue lots of moaning by City fans and another boring interview by Owen. In the League Cup second leg the game seemed to be heading into extta time before Wayne Rooney made up for what has been a miserable season for him by finally actually grabbing a goal. Although getting to the final of the League Cup is hardly the reason Old Trafford’s nicknamed the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – keeping the Manchester City trophy clock flag going made this goal all the more sweeter for United fans. As for Scholes’s late winner only time will tell how important it was, regardless of its worth in terms of the title, when it comes to bragging rights in Manchester it was essential.

4. Andy Cole Vs Juventus Champion’s League Semi-Final 1999. After a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in the first leg the odds seemed against United to say the least. After two early Juventus goals in Turin a United victory seemed about as likely as Luke Chadwick winning a modeling competition. However somebody forgot to tell Roy Keane the script as he went about producing arguably the finest performance by a United player in the past 2 decades. A vital headed ‘captain’s goal’ helped United on their way back, but what was most impressive was the way after being booked for a challenge on Zinedine Zidane and knowing he would miss the final Keano decided he didn’t give a f*ck- he wasn’t going to the Nou Camp, but United were. After Dwight Yorke had equalized to possibly send united through on away goals Cole made sure with this last-minute winner. “Full speed ahead Barcelona!”

3. Frederico Macheda Vs Aston Villa premier League 2009. After two successive losses including a home-thumping from the purse snatchers United needed a win to realistically retain the title and equal Liverpool’s record. Things seemed to be going according to plan when Ronaldo gave the Reds the lead. However, displaying appallingly bad manners Villa upset the applecart with two goals before Ronnie grabbed an equaliser. Everyone knew that only a win would do though. Cue a 17-year old substitute making his debut who scored not just a stunning strike but the one that kept the title at Old Trafford – and that’s a fact.

2. Steve Bruce Vs Sheffield Wednesday Premier League 1993. Before United made winning the title almost a premier league rule, there had been an unthinkable 26-year wait for it to come to Old Trafford. A John Sheridan penalty seemed destined to make it at least a 27-year wait. However, the man with the finest nose in football had other ideas. An equalizing header in the last-minute kept the title race alive, ahead of Ron Atkinson’s Aston Villa. However 4 hours into injury-time Bruce popped up again to score the winner and make Brian Kidd perform a celebration that often makes me wonder how he’s at Man City. Oh and ‘Fergie Time’ entered the dictionary.

1. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Vs Bayern Munich Champion’s League final 1999-In the words of Radiohead- ‘No surprises’ this is top. Any United fan on the planet would have difficulty not picking this as their favourite last-minute goal. Picture the scene, you’re Sepp Blatter, you hate English football and Manchester United even more, you’re glad to see that the superb example of German excellence Bayern Munich have beaten them. You prepare to go down from your royal seat to pitch level to hand over the trophy to the lovely Lothar Matthaus. You enter the lift, reliably informed that the Munich ribbons have already been added to the trophy, you go down, the lift doors open……………………AND SOLSKJAER HAS WON IT!!!
“Football- bloody hell.”


Could Jovetic be the new Scholes?

Jovetic waited patiently at the hairdressers for his refund.

Almost six months ago, Fiorentina midfielder Jovetic was linked with a move to Manchester United, following a series of dazzling displays.
Two goals against everyone’s favourite granny robbers from up the M62 meant, as Diego Forlan will testify, that he was more than welcome to ply his trade at Old Trafford.
The 20 year-old Montenegrin played down talk of a move away from Florence, insisting that although, United’s interest was flattering he was perfectly happy where he is.

Jovetic stated:

“I read about the transfer stories around me and am honoured by Manchester United’s interest but I am very happy in Florence.
At Fiorentina I have everything I need to grow and improve as a player. I have a contract with the Viola for another five years and I have no intention of leaving.”

While that may seem to spell the end of the chance of a summer transfer to sunny Manchester, there’s always the possibility that Jovetic may have been telling his club what they wanted to hear.
After all no official bid had been launched so the transfer talk was just that. Talk.
The first question should be would United even want to sign one of Serie A’s most exciting players, after all that same moniker was attached to a certain Argentinean midfielder almost a decade ago.
Juan Sebastian Veron’s signing for United was one of the few times a real sort-after foreign player near the peak of his powers made the decision to go to Old Trafford. What should have been the icing on the cake for an already successful team turned out to be a near-disaster, I say near because Chelsea had the decency to save United half their loss- oh and Veron played well in the Champions League- occasionally.
Veron was that much of a disappointment Sir Alex Ferguson could be forgiven for never wanting another midfielder from Serie A ever again.
The fact is though, one of United’s biggest problems on the pitch isn’t going to simply go away and if it’s not addressed by next season then a title challenge may not materialise.

Paul Scholes has ceased to be the attacking force he once was for almost five years now, yes he can still pick out a pass and score the odd goal but he’s not someone you can rely on week in week out to produce goals.

Some have touted Darron Gibson as a possible successor and while this would save United a lot of money and bother, I’m not sure he’s anywhere near world-class despite a good goal against Bayern Munich.
United need someone who’s capable of carrying the ball, scoring goals and being a genuine threat against any team and for me Gibson just isn’t quite good enough.

United have an abundance of the same type of player- the holding midfielder. Both Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher can perform in the role, while Owen Hargreaves- if he ever does come back from injury- is one of the best players in that position in the world. What United need is someone to play in-front of the holding midfielder and give Wayne Rooney some much needed support- both in the goal scoring and the genuine-attacking-threat-through-the-middle department as well.
With Nani and Antonio Valencia on the wings United have players that can cause any full-backs a problem but in Carrick, Fletcher, Hargreaves, Scholes Anderson and Gibson there isn’t really a stand-out attacking force who would trouble a lot of defences.

Following the Bayern Munich defeat I claimed United were not that badly off in terms of the squad and that’s an opinion I stand by. However if there is one area where the team does seems to be missing something it is from an attacking central midfielder.

People may say a striker should be Fergie’s priority especially if as seems to be expected at the moment everyone’s favourite headband wearing Bulgarian has finally run out of time at Old Trafford.
The fact is though, if Rooney’s fit then 4-5-1 may well be the formation Fergie favours next season so signing a striker could well be pointless. Also as I’ve said before Kiko Macheda has impressed me immensely and I feel next season he may well prove he is a genuine United player.

What Chelsea- and even Arsenal have had over United this season is a goalscoring midfielder who can get well into double figures. Cesc Fabregas has stepped up when the Gunners needed him after Robin Van Persie’s injury and if he stays at the Emirates, those two together next season could be title winning attacking force. At Chelsea Frank Lampard still finds himself pointing to the heavens on a regular basis, so much so that Didier Drogba can afford to be rested occasionally and Nicolas Anelka can afford not to turn up now and again.
If United had someone who grabbed as many goals as the aforementioned midfielders then the ribbons currently on the Premier League trophy would be staying on it next month.

Jovetic’s goalscoring record is impressive with 11 goals for his club in all competitions which if he was at Old Trafford would make him the club’s joint- third top scorer – with own goals.

Of course the other question after whether United need him, is would he go there. Well as usual I’ve got an insightful revelatory answer of: I’ve no idea. Sorry but let’s be honest no-one knows what goes on in the mind of youngsters nowadays let alone Montenegrin youngsters who’ve had a storming season in Serie A. The only way to find out of course is to try and buy him, otherwise he’s never going to simply turn up at Carrington wearing a bib and demanding to be given the chance to play. The fact that Fiorentina are out of contention for a Champion’s League place may be enough to make Jovetic consider his future.

Although he may look a bit like the Neville brother’s ugly sister his goal scoring ability, plus his youth and attacking flair could make him just the sort of player to give United an edge that’s been missing for a few years now, and take just a little bit of the burden off PFA player of the year Wayne Rooney- let’s face it, it’s a foregone conclusion.
Whether Fergie would fork out what would no doubt be a fairly large sum to prize him away from Italy remains doubtful to say the least but I for one, wouldn’t be complaining if he did.