Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Moaning Bayern get a taste of their own medicine as Schweinsteiger sees red...

When it comes to being on the wrong end of bad decisions in the Champions League, Manchester United know all about that. A dreadful Turkish referee wrongly sent-off Nani last season when United met Real Madrid - that decision was so bad, one has to wonder if foul play was at work - because the decision to send-off Nani had nothing to do with football, but it led to United being dumped out of the competition.

The same thing happened two years ago, when Frank Ribery conned the referee with his 'dying man act' on the Old Trafford turf; on that occasion, it was hapless Rafael who saw red and once again a beleaguered United defence eventually caved in under the weight of numbers.

 So pardon me for not being too upset when Schweinsteiger got his marching orders after receiving his second yellow card in last night's Champions League quarter final. Rooney had jumped over the challenge of Schweinsteiger, but in so doing he did a 'Ribery like' stunt-man roll. It should not have been a booking and once again the referee played a potentially significant part in a Champions League tie.

 The first leg of what looked on paper at least anyway to be a proverbial bye for the German champions, ended in a 1-1 stalemate. IT could have been so different if Danny Welbeck had taken one glorious first-half chance after being set free by Rooney, but he didn't. Welbeck, had a perfectly good goal wrongly disallowed early in the game because the referee deemed his boot to be too high when he had initially brought the ball under control. The fact is, Welbeck's boot never touched Martinez - it wasn't a rash challenge; Welbeck had exhibited a fair amount of skill when beating a couple of Bayern defenders with his spinning turn, before lashing home a right-foot half-volley from the edge of the Bayern penalty area. But once again, United were on the wrong end of bad decision making by yet another poor referee. A moment of skill and what should have been a good goal was ruined by incompetent refereeing. United will in all probability go on to lose the tie next week in Germany. At least on this occasion Bayern have something to moan about.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Planes, stunts and ****s: Players indiscipline costing Moyes and United.

United are preparing to face Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter final, sadly, it is likely to be yet another humiliation. Bayern are a cut above Man City, who themselves recently strolled to an all too easy three nil victory at Old Trafford. Before that, it was the turn of United's other bitter rivals Liverpool who enjoyed another romp and goal fest. Can it get any worse? Probably yes, when the Bavarians are the visitors to Old Trafford on Tuesday night.

Saturday at least brought some much needed respite for under fire coach David Moyes, who had to endure the embarrassing spectacle of a controversial fly-past. Most of the talk before and after Saturday's 4-1 win over Villa, centred on the 'Moyes-out' banner, enough said, but the speculation over the United manager's future rumbles on an it will continue to do so over the coming weeks.

There has been no shortage of finger pointing with suggestions from the media and hints from Moyes, that Ferguson is partly to blame for the shambolic state United find themselves in. The ageing squad bequeathed to Moyes clearly had many weaknesses. But would Ferguson and his former backroom team have failed as badly as his replacement and Co? Michael Owen 'wrote' an interesting article over the weekend in which he made his views very clear: "sacking Rene Meulensteen, Mike Phelan and Eric Steele remains the single biggest mistake to date". Owen's views are of course shared  by many, it isn't a case of hindsight either as many journalists, pundits and fans alike all voiced the same concerns when the news first broke.

And yet throughout this troublesome season, the players have to a large degree been getting away with it, but the players are every bit to blame as Moyes. Winning is a collective thing, as is losing - everyone has to take responsibility for their actions. Some of United's defending has been woeful to put it bluntly.

Paul Scholes, criticised Rio Ferdinand and Danny Welbeck (among others) for Dzeko's second goal in the recent derby - and rightly so - it was as if Rio didn't give a flying *uck. Then look at Rafael, against Liverpool and Aston Villa on Saturday: the Brazilian got booked for a poor challenge and then just a few minutes later gave away a penalty from which Liverpool took the lead. Against Villa, Rafael once again found himself out of position - he predicatbly gave away a foul in a dangerous area and again the visitors scored. We should also mention Fellaini, United's tallest player - surely he should have positioned himself in the middle of United's defensive wall, instead, he nearer the end and that made it easier for Westwood to score. Felliani was also guilty of elbowing an opponent in the Villa game - just as he was against Liverpool for which he should have been sent off. Buttner, managed to get himself booked for slapping Albrighton for diving and once again - this was another case of indiscipline. It really isn't good enough and Moyes needs to hammer those who let the team down, this indiscipline and unprofessionalism is leading directly to goals for the opposition.

Rafael was substituted at half-time against Villa, and he is likely to miss the first leg of Tuesday's cup tie, frankly, no matter who replaces him, he is no loss at pressnt as he has become a liability. The end of the season can't come quickly enough for this red.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Time running out fast for Moyes and United...

In a season of too many lows and disappointments, Manchester United hit rock bottom on Sunday as they lost 3-0 at home to bitter rivals Liverpool. Steven Gerrard converted two penalties and Luis Suárez compounded a thoroughly miserable day for the home fans when he finished off the champions by hammering home the final nail in United's coffin and with it went any lingering hope of finishing in those lucrative Champions League places at the end of the season.

With the game all but won and to add yet more salt into United's gaping wounds, Nemaja Vidic was sent-off after he was adjudged to have tripped Sturridge in the penalty area. Gerrard failed to complete a hat-trick of penalties when hitting the foot of the post from the resulting spot kick.

TV replays suggested that there had been minimal contact,  truth be told, Vidic had been outwitted and beaten for pace; Gary Neville, who normally avoids criticising United players had no sympathy for his former team-mate when he said "when you go down inside the box, you leave yourself wide open".

Liverpool should have been awarded a fourth penalty when moments later Michael Carrick lunged at Sturridge; having already awarded three penalties and having failed to send off Joe Flanagan and Rafael when both should have received their second yellow cards for a succession of professional fouls and handball respectively, referee Clattenburg must have felt he couldn't give an unprecedented fourth penalty against United (who says the visitors never get them at Old Trafford?).

As perhaps to be expected, David Moyes later suggested that the decisions went against his team, but he would say that; what else was he to say after such an embarrassing home defeat against Liverpool, of all teams?
As a team, both individually and collectively, United were a total shambles from start to finish. In contrast, Liverpool looked confident from the start and were always on the front foot as they pressed whenever a United player had the ball. Perhaps worst all, there was too little effort and a distinct lack of passion from those entrusted to wear the famous red shirts. United were clueless pretty much throughout this one sided encounter, that sadly is the brutal truth of the matter.

From pretty much the first minute, too many United players were too slow to react as they dithered on the ball and predictably lost possession cheaply. Fellaini was perhaps the worst culprit and as the game progressed, his performance didn't really improve. To compound matters, Mata wasn't in the game and nor was Januzaj, both had been detailed to occupy United's flanks - but that tactic hasn't really worked and it didn't work against a well organised Liverpool team. Frustratingly, and on paper at least any way, a forward line of Van Persie, Rooney, Januzaj and Mata looks as though it should be good enough to at least give any visiting team a few headaches - but as borne out by a succession of unacceptable home performances.

Granted, Ferguson left Moyes with plenty of issues to resolve when he finally retired, but it's hard to believe it was just over 12 month's ago that the former United manager uttered the following words .."The options we've got now all round the park, if we can keep everyone fit, are as good as I've had in my time here". For the record, that was January 26th, 2013, United had just dumped Fulham out of the FA Cup.  In truth, only the gullible believed what Ferguson said back then about the squad. Many United fans are of the opinion that midfield has been an area of concern ever since Roy Keane left the club under a cloud. For whatever reason, Ferguson failed to address those midfield concerns; instead he 'made do' by squeezing every last drop out of veterans Scholes and Giggs.

Whatever we think of Moyes, surely few would argue that IF Ferguson was still in charge of the same players, the team would not find itself facing the prospect of missing out on Champions League football next season and would the same players have capitulated so badly against Liverpool and without so much as a whimper? One can of course point to the 6-1 thrashing by City at Old Trafford on SAFs watch, but in the context of his tenure and his trophy winning record, Ferguson has no case to answer - other than the suggestion that he insisted that Moyes retained the nucleus of his squad for 12 months following his retirement - if indeed that is true.

Having splashed out the best part of £65m on Fellaini and Mata, and having secured Rooney's future, the worry is Moyes does not appear to have a tactical plan for the future. The team are not creating enough quality goal scoring opportunities at Old Trafford. The defence and central midfield are in need of serious surgery. Fellaini looks completely out of his depth and Mata hasn't gelled with his new team-mates.

With so much work to do and based on the money invested so far and with no real direction, is it fair to ask would you trust Moyes to spend £200m on new players?

Also consider Moyes judgement on Fellaini - a player the manager knew very well from their time together at Everton. Fellaini should NOT have been a gamble, but it looks like it's a case of £27m flushed down the transfer toilet. I sincerely hope I'm wrong on that score and Fellaini comes good, but will he?

If Moyes is lucky, he might be given until next Christmas to justify Ferguson's faith in him, but given the recent spineless performances against Liverpool and Olympiakos and with City on the horizon, you have to wonder if Moyes will be replaced in the summer if not sooner.

If Moyes stays, many changes need to happen. Carrick is not the long-term answer in central midfield, and Fellaini looks out of his depth in the United engine room. Januzaj and Mata need to either improve the defensive side of the game, or else Moyes needs to find a system that suits both of them and one that includes Rooney and Van Persie. Wherever you look in this United team, you see problems and it's going to take a lot of money to put matters right.

Monday, January 06, 2014

United's Panto season looks set to run and run....

The whiff of fear associated with the Old Trafford visitors' dressing room which lingered for so long during Ferguson's tenure has long since evaporated, it has been replaced by the sound of laughter. For good reason, the home of Manchester United used to be known as a fortress - it isn't anymore, given under new manager David Moyes, the champions have lost four of the last six games on the hallowed turf and we are still in the first week of January.

Make no mistake, the Panto season is in full swing - the only thing missing from recent home performances by 'the champions' is the smell of greasepaint and fancy dress costumes.

The latest ignominious defeat against Swansea, resulted in United being dumped out of the third round of the FA Cup. Just like the previous home defeat against Spurs, it was another error strewn defensive display.

Sunday's late afternoon matinee didn't take long to get into full swing, just 12 minutes into the cup-tie, and despite of the collective groans of "he's behind you", Rio Ferdinand, in his starring role of Mother Goose decided to waddle off towards the half-way line; that unwise sojourn left a gaping hole down the middle and a simple punt down field led to Routledge lobbing the advancing De Gea; It was a well taken goal, but in truth it was all far too easy for the visitors.

In fairness, Ferdinand was returning from a spell on the sidelines due to injury, or alternatively, depending if we are to believe the scurulous rumours, was axed for leaking team news to the media. Whatever the reasons for his prolonged absence his performance left a lot to be desired and once again there was a distinct lack of leadership at the heart of the United defence.

Sawnsea's joy was short lived as just four minutes later, Hernandez expertly guided home a superb left wing cross by Buttner. In seasons gone by the equaliser would have been the signal for a siege on the visitors' goal, but like so often this season that did not happen. United huffed and puffed throughout the remainder of the first-half, but frankly looked for long periods like a team of disjointed out-of-sorts strangers.

Despite what David Moyes said in his post-match interview, United did not dominate the match or indeed the second-half which proved to be just as poor as the first. Januzaj lifted the crowd on 63 minutes when he replaced, Valencia who was largely anonymous, like too many of his teammates. In Januzaj, Moyes has a real diamond and he at least will give the fans some hope for the future in what is fast turning into a dismal season.

Ferdinand went off injured on 76 minutes, and was replaced by Fabio - his short-lived cameo appearance ended after just three minutes, as the Brazilian was given a justified red card by referee Mike Riley, for a dangerous over the top lunge at Jose Canas.

The sending off did have a bearing on the outcome, given it led to a reshuffle in the United defence. In the 89th minute, Routledge beat Darren Fletcher with a surging run into the United penalty area and his pin-point cross from the byline was expertly headed home by Wilfried Bony. While it was another good goal by Swansea, questions need to be asked about Smalling's positional sense; the former Fulham defender was caught badly out of position when marking Adebayor against Spurs in the previous home game and on Sunday he was once again found wanting.

Smalling has been caught out more or less every time he has been asked to play at right-back, and his heading ability and positional sense are a major cause for concern at centre-back. While castigating Smalling, for his part in Bony's winner, one should also mention Jonny Evans who was caught flat-footed and rooted to the spot, as he was on the opening Swansea goal.

Looking forward to the rest of the season,(if that is the correct expression) it is looking increasingly likely that United will miss out on Champions League football next season. On top of which this blog does not expect Moyes to make the necessary squad changes in the January transfer window. For now at least, we can expect United's Panto season to run and run.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Manchester United's first summer post Ferguson is fast turning into a farce: Is Ed Woodward to blame?

It wouldn't be understating it to say that Manchester United's first summer after Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement has turned into a complete and utter farce where new signings are concerned.

Even with the full backing of someone like Sheik Mansour, David Moyes would be faced with a very difficult challenge; in the remote possibility that you need reminding, Ferguson is the most successful manager in the history of British football. David Moyes cannot rely on an oil rich sheik; he has to rely on the backing of the Glazer family and David Gill's replacement, United vice-chairman Ed Woodward.

While this is Moyes' first summer in charge of United, the same can be said of Woodward - but unlike his vice-chairman, Moyes' cannot go hiding in the comfortable sanctuary that is the Old Trafford boardroom when things go horribly wrong on the pitch and the way things are shaping up there's every prospect of that happening at this juncture.

Based on the evidence and actions of Woodward to date and from the outside looking in, it
appears as though there was very little sensible planning with regards to acquiring quality players who would make Manchester United stronger, post Fergie.

David Moyes has gone on record stating what the fans already know (and truth be told, have known since Roy Keane departed) that midfield is the single biggest area of concern. So what have United done about adding genuine star quality in midfield this summer? Well for starters, quite a lot of talking to the media on the subject of transfers, but as we all know, talk is cheap. All this talking has been an unwelcome change of policy - a departure from the norm - and it leaves United wide open to all manner of accusations when things go badly wrong, as you are about to on.

Where's Woodward? Another tale of transfer woes...

According to reports, Ed Woodward tried to sign Fabregas - the Barcelona reserve who still has very strong links with Arsenal, his former club; his agent is the son of the former Gunners' supremo, David Dein. Arsene Wenger is said to be Dein's best pal in football and the Arsenal manager has made it known that according to his information, Fabregas was never coming back to the Premier League this season. If Wenger knew that, why did United waste so much time chasing a player who is clearly unavailable?

Ed Woodward we were told, cut short United's gruelling / money grabbing world-wide summer tour to return to deal with urgent business. We were led to believe that business was in fact with Barcelona and Fabregas. Woodward has barely been heard of since, leading to cries of "where is Woodward"? Perhaps those reports were wrong and in fact he was signing a new sponsorship deal with Mister Potato?

Wherever Woodward is or was this summer, it's worth asking the question, did United actually know Fabregas was unlikely to leave Barca and if so were they leading journalists and United fans down the proverbial garden path? Did the club ever have any serious intentions of signing Fabregas who was never going to be available? We don't know the real truth behind the Fabregas saga, but we damn well know United have so far failed to back David Moyes -  a situation that is totally unacceptable as far as many followers of the club are concerned.

So who else is on David Moyes' transfer radar? 

The Fellaini and Baines saga...

From pretty much the minute the Scot was named as United's new manager, he's been linked with Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines; these names have been bandied around all summer, but apart from making 'insulting offers' for the Everton pair, very little progress has been made on either player.

A report in the Daily Mirror stated that Ed Woodward has written a letter of apology to Everton for the way the appointment of David Moyes was handled - can we expect a follow up letter with regards to his 'insulting offers' for Fellaini and Baines?

Fellaini and or Baines could still yet be United players come September 3rd, but don't stake your mortgage on it. It's also worth asking if Fellaini and Baines featured prominently on Moyes' wanted list, why didn't United make their move earlier? Because as far as we know, no other defensive midfield player is on the manager's wanted list. There appears to be no excuse for not trying to sign Fellaini sooner. As for Fellaini's expired buy-out clause; United did not agree with Everton's valuation, so again, there appears to be no room for excuses - other than haggling over the fee.

The Rooney saga....what really happened....or did it?

According to Ferguson, Wayne Rooney told him he wanted to leave Manchester United. Fair enough, he's a Scouser after all and we Mancunians' accept that as a professional he might want to leave, however, not to join a Premier League rival. Rooney is no Scholes of Giggs, he is not one of us is he? But let's make this clear, Rooney has been fantastic for United and let's not forget that.

United fans have been wondering why Ferguson went public telling the world that Rooney wanted to quit the champions - it wasn't the first time either. Several theories have been doing the rounds. Some say, Fergie was getting his own back on the player who caused so much fuss following his previous request to leave a couple of years ago. We don't buy that theory on this blog. More likely, we think Fergie got wind of Rooney's desire to join Chelsea and contrary to Jose Mourinho's 'ethical' claims, contact was made between the two camps (possibly as far back as 6 months ago when Jose first knew he was to takeover at Chelsea). Knowing he was about to leave his post as United manager and appoint David Moyes who himself has 'previous' with Rooney, SAF decided to go public so as not to give his replacement an even bigger problem.  

It was a massive dilemma for Fergie, in outing Rooney, he knew that he would be making life very difficult for the player; many fans have turned against the former Everton stiker as a result and Moyes has been left to pick up the pieces, but thanks to Fergie's actions, at least we know these problems had little to do with the new United manager, they'd been festering for a while.

For their part, Chelsea and 'ethical Jose' have said they will keep on trying to sign Rooney right up to the transfer deadline, but they also have a 'plan B'. To date, United have rejected two offers from Chelsea for Rooney, a third is anticipated next week.

It could be argued, Chelsea have unsettled Rooney to such an extent that it doesn't matter if he joins them or not, especially as Rooney is likely to miss Monday's clash with Chelsea - job partly done as far as Jose is concerned, especially if Chelsea secure all three points.

Then we come to the business of United's supposed interest in signing Mata as part of any deal with Chelsea to sign Wayne Rooney. To recap, United let slip that Chelsea had supposedly offered Mata and cash for Wayne Rooney, in their initial bid. In response, Jose Mourinho flatly denied those claims. However, rumours suggest Jose does not fancy Mata and that the Spaniard might well be available.

Enter Willian...
To bring this story right up to date, it looks as though Chelsea have beaten Spurs to punch to sign Willian from Anzhi Makhachkala, for £30m. Willian is a very highly rated Brazilian midfield star and it begs the question, just how many midfield players does Jose need at Chelsea? It looks as though Jose is buying players to stop his rivals from strengthening, and not for the first time either, at least that has been a suspicion aired in the not too distant past.

But as a result of United's transfer bungling, what if Chelsea know how desperate United have become without any major summer signings, and what if they can now allow Mata to join United as long as they get Rooney? Why didn't United try to sign Willian, if they had done they could have given ethical Jose another two fingered salute. Whatever else happens, United must NOT sell Rooney to Chelsea,  to do so would be an act of suicide.

The post Fergie and David Gill era....

We know that David Gill didn't realy want anything to do with the Glazers', we know that because he said it at the last AGM, yours truly was there. Despite this, he did a good job under difficult circumstances and his partnership with Fergie was very productive; United were successful both and off the pitch.

We are heading in a new direction with David Moyes at the helm and with Woodward, hiding somewhere in the rigging. You have to ask yourself what was it that first attracted Moyes to the Glazer family? A solid performer in the Premier League accepted, but was it also David Moyes miser like spending record at Everton and if so, are United about to follow the Arsenal model of spending little and just fighting for one of those lucrative Champions League spots every season? It isn't as far fetched as it might sound, because on the evidence of what we've seen so far, post Fergie there's been a lot of talking but not much else.

All in all, it isn't looking too promising for United fans and David Moyes. So much has been promised, so little delivered in the way of serious backing for the new manager. Manchester United and Ed Woodward must do better, much better.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Top Ten Fergie memories to savour at Manchester United..

After 26 trophy laden years as manager of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson caught pretty much everyone by surprise with his retirement announcement. To their credit United fans have, in the main, embraced change as we look forward to what will hopefully be another glorious chapter in the club's rich history under new manager David Moyes. We look back at Fergie's time at Old Trafford and give you our Top Ten Fergie memories.

*The task of creating this list hasn't been easy; there's so many wonderful memories to savour. Everyone will have their own favourites and so we make no apology for omissions. **All lists are subjective.

1) 1999 - the never to be forgotten historic treble season. The crowning glory of Fergie's reign has to be that drama filled night in Barcelona on, May 26th, 1999. Anyone who was lucky enough to be there (and those who weren't) will never forget those dramatic last few minutes of the Champions League final as United broke the hearts of Bayern Munich with two late goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær. In the minutes that followed the drama of added time, Fergie uttered those never to be forgotten words "I can't believe it. I can't believe it. Football. Bloody hell".

2) 1999 - FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal at Villa Park.  United have been involved in several rousing replays, but none have matched the drama of that night at Villa Park. Ryan Giggs was the hero of 10-man United after Roy Keane had been sent off and Peter Schmeichel had saved a late Bergkamp penalty. Thanks to the FA ruining their own cup, there will be no more semi-final replays.

3) 1999 - Champions League semi final 2nd leg against Juventus. Cometh the hour cometh the man.
The man that night was Roy Keane. United were two-nil down inside the first 10 minutes, but as so often happened, the captain led the fightback with a towering header. Cole and Yorke completed the job as United secured their place in the final.

4) Fergie's vow to knock Liverpool of their f***ing perch - and he did, in some style. Thank you Sir Alex. The quote: "My greatest challenge is not what's happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch. And you can print that."

5) 1995-1996 "You'll win nothing with kids". For many, it was summer of discontent for United fans as Fergie swung the axe and out went Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis - all fans favourites. The press had a pre-season field day at United's expense. Some fans thought Fergie had lost the plot - a successful team had been torn apart and were replaced by 'Fergie's fledglings'. United lost the opening game of the new season at Villa Park and the sage that is Alan Hansen wrote off Fergie's young team with his now infamous quote "You'll win nothing with kids". United went on to overturn Newcastle's 10 point lead in the Premier League at Christmas to win the title - the gap stretched to 12 points. Fergie's ability to wind up his opponents is well documented; few will forget Kevin Keegan's public meltdown at Fergie, live on Sky Sports. United ended a memorable season and secured a league and cup double thanks to Eric Cantona's winner against Liverpool at Wembley and Man City were relegated, again. 

6) Fergie's goal celebrations. No one celebrated goals quite like Fergie and we are going to miss seeing him jump to his feet and enjoy the moment in his unique way. We canvassed Twitter to ask fans' for their favourite Fergie memories and his celebration following Paul Scholes winner against Man City in 2010 was a popular choice.
The Ginger prince gives City the coup de grâce in the Manchester derby with a glancing header.

Below: A wonderful photograph and a wonderful moment to savour.
7) 1992-1993 - Fergie's first league title win. They say winning your first league title is always the hardest and that certainly was the case for Fergie at Manchester United. United fans had to wait seven long years to secure that elusive first title win (in fact in total, it was 26 years since the club's last First Division title victory). United eventually won the title by 10 points, Aston Villa finished runner-up. Steve Bruce secured a vital win, with two late goals against Sheffield Wednesday in what later became known as 'Fergie time', however, the title was only sealed after Villa lost against Oldham.

The long wait was finally over, the scenes of jubilation inside Old Trafford have rarely been matched. That first title victory was the beginning of a wonderful period in United's history thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson.

8) Beating Chelsea in Moscow in 2008 to win his second Champions League final. Though there was a huge element of good fortune with John Terry slipping at the vital moment when taking *that* penalty, it is a never to forgot memory, because we all honestly thought United had lost the cup.

9) Fergie's press bans and his handling of the media. Plus Fergie's ability to wind up his opponents. As far as we know, Fergie is the only manager who regularly banned journalists from attending his press conferences. He famously gave John Motson a serious dressing down when telling the BBCs meek and mild MOTD reporter in no uncertain terms that "you fuc*ing know the rules here". The rant followed the termination of a post-match interview in which the United manager had been asked a question about Roy Keane who'd been sent-off for the third time during his short time with the club. Quite simply legendary. We have already highlighted Fergie's most famous wind-up which led to - Keegan's "Love it" meltdown - but there have been many wind-ups down the years: Rafa Benitez, Gerrard Houlier, Roberto Mancini and Arsene Wenger have all been on the receiving end of Fergie's set-piece jibes.

10) Fergie putting United first; his dedicated work ethic, professionalism and his insatiable appetite for winning. As far as Fergie is concerned, United came first, second and third. The interests of international managers was in truth not his problem and because of this, he was in tune with the majority of United fans. Fergie is widely acknowledged to be among the best man-managers in the history of the game - that is just one of his many managerial qualities. Fergie's work ethic is well documented and he's a winner - his record speaks for itself. Fergie set the standards and lived up to them and for that we say thank you from the bottom of our collective hearts. Thank you Fergie. Please add your own Fergie memories.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The magnificent reign of Ferguson at Manchester United: It all hinged on one quite brilliant signing...

Manchester United have won back the trophy that they lost in such dramatic circumstances last May to local rivals Manchester City. This season's battle for the title was once again contested by Manchester's finest, but the end result couldn't have been more of a contrast; by the end of April, City had all but thrown in the towel and United's consistency saw the Red Devils romp home with games to spare. Job done.

However, the euphoria of winning the Premier League title for the thirteenth time has been overshadowed by Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to retire after 26 trophy laden years at Old Trafford. The thought of Fergie not being on the United bench next season is something the fans' are having to come to terms with and it isn't easy. It will never quite be the same without the man who has given United fans so much pleasure for the best part of three decades.

It's difficult to quantify what Ferguson has done for United; in terms of winning trophies it is easy, quite simply, he is the most successful British manager ever. But Ferguson's remit went way beyond managing the first team; from the beginning, the man from Govan has ruled everything to do with the playing side of the club with an iron rod.  Ferguson's control and leadership has given United stability - an all too rare commodity in the hire 'em 'n fire 'em Premier League.

Often arriving before 7am at Carrington, the club's training ground, Fergie's work ethic is well documented. Hard work is just one of many attributes, less often mentioned, but of equal importance is Ferguson's ability to keep everyone happy. Long after being sold, former United star Lee Sharpe went on record saying that Ferguson would drop players like any other manager, but unlike many of his contemporaries, he always made sure pride was left intact.

His ability to man-manage is rightly lauded, but perhaps slightly less so is his ability to spot a player.  If one player illustrates these characteristics perfectly, it was the signing of Eric Cantona in 1992. At that time, United were still struggling to win that elusive league title. In the summer of 1992, Ferguson had tried to sign Alan Shearer from Southampton and then David Hirst from Sheffield Wednesday, both without success; he eventually ended up signing Dion Dublin, who broke his leg just a few weeks into the season after completing his transfer from Cambridge United.

United faltered after making a promising start to the new season, but then to the amazement of his own players in November, Fergie signed Eric Cantona for just £1.2m. Former Liverpool captain Emlyn 'crazy horse' Hughes, described the signing as a 'panic buy'. Mark Hughes feared it might 'end in tears', while Gary Pallister wondered if Fergie had taken leave of his senses and had Cantona 'lost something' given the low transfer fee?

Despite only playing 15 games, the Frenchman had been instrumental in helping Leeds pip Manchester United on the finishing line to the league title in 1992. Cantona was a cult hero with the Leeds fans, but his relationship with Howard Wilkinson had become strained, so much so that a cut-price deal to bring him to Manchester was struck within an hour following a chance telephone conversation about the availability of Denis Irwin.

Howard Wilkinson famously said of Eric "He likes to do what he likes when he likes - and then f***s off. We'd all want a bit of that." While the Leeds manager had struggled with Cantona, Ferguson did not. The rest of the Manchester United squad soon realised that Eric had found his spiritual home - it was a match made in football heaven. The arrival of Eric helped transform a team of ‘nearly men’ into serial winners.

The importance of Cantona's arrival cannot be understated, and without doubt it was the catalyst that brought about an end to that long 26 year wait for a league title. The long wait finally ended when captain Steve Bruce scored two late goals against Sheffield Wednesday.

In 1993, Ferguson fought off competition from Kenny Dalglish and signed Roy Keane from Nottingham Forest - it was obvious his arrival would make United even stronger and it did with glorious back-to-back league titles. 

In January, 1995, Cantona was the attention of unwanted world headlines after he'd jumped into the crowd at Selhurst Park and kung-fu kicked Matthew Simmons. United suspended Cantona for four months - the FA increased than ban to 8 months. Everton went on to beat United at Wembley in the FA Cup final. Cantona threatened to quit English football, which led to Ferguson riding pillion on the back of a scooter around the streets of Paris in pursuit of his French talisman. What other manager would have gone to those lengths? Ferguson used his powers of persuasion to convince Cantona to carry on and thankfully he eventually agreed.

But in the summer of 1995 and to the fans absolute dismay, Fergie ripped up the team that had secured back to back titles and sold Paul Ince, Andre Kanchelskis and then Mark Hughes. The media had a field day. One of the tabloids ran a big story with an image of a light bulb alongside the headline "Will the last one out turn out the light" that was accompanied by an image of the club crest which had been split in two. From the outside looking in, it looked like United were imploding. United were about to lose three massive fans favourites.

A delegation of 'die-hard' United fans had a meeting Paul Ince, in the hope that sense would prevail. Nothing doing. Ince was sold to Inter Milan. Kanchelskis to Everton, and then Mark Hughes joined Chelsea.

For many United fans, the summer of 1995 was a difficult one. In the previous season, Fergie had blooded his fledglings in the League Cup. Despite what some fans thought at the time, the decision to sell the illustrious trio wasn't an act of madness, Ferguson had a plan. That plan was simple, he would replace a trio of top internationals with rising stars from the 'class of '92'.

Ryan Giggs had become the first of the fledglings to flourish when making his debut in 1991 and by the start of the 1992-93 season, the Welshman had carved out a regular starting place and it was his success that in part paved the way for the rest of the 'class of '92'.

The beginning of the 1995-96 season was something of a journey into uncharted waters - a hitherto successful team had been torn apart as Fergie started with a clean piece of paper. United went on to lose the first game of the new season at Villa Park, when going down 3-1. Match of the Day pundit, and former Liverpool skipper Alan Hansen aired his never to be forgotten quote "You'll win nothing with kids". Like many former top Scottish internationals, Hansen's voice carried authority - at least it did until then; those ill advised remarks have subsequently been rammed down this throat on many occasions.

United went on to overturn Newcastle's 10 point advantage at Christmas to win the title. Cantona wrapped up a League and FA Cup double at Wembley thanks to a memorable goal against Liverpool. In just one season, Fergie had not only ripped up a very successful team, but he'd built a new one. At the heart of it, was Eric Cantona.

The list of great United players who played under Ferguson is long and illustrious, but of all of them, Cantona is the most important. Cantona retired somewhat prematurely, in 1997, during that period United won the league title in 4 out of 5 seasons.
This blog will be looking back at the good and the bad times under Sir Alex Ferguson over the coming weeks. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fergie gets big calls right as Rodgers and Howard Webb get it horribly wrong..

The story of United's 2-1 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday can be summarised as follows: Van Persie, Vidic and Sturridge grab goal headlines, while Ferguson's big calls pay dividends as Howard Webb and Brendan Rodgers get it horribly wrong.

The game passed without too much controversy, that is it did, apart from the part played by Howard Webb and Liverpool's Glen Johnson, more on those two later.

The win over Liverpool ensured Manchester United maintained their seven lead over neighbours Manchester City in the Barclays Premier League. With justification, this fixture has been described as the most fierce in English football - to state there is no love between the two clubs and their respective supporters would be an understatement. Ahead of Sunday's clash, the media's attention rightly focused on Robin Van Persie and Luis Suárez, both have lit up the Premier League with spectacular goals aplenty and in the case of Liverpool's Uruguayan striker, controversy by the bucket load. As things turned out, the leading players didn't exactly follow the script. Suárez was kept in check by a well organised United defence, one that had Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at the heart of it.

While Suárez was largely anonymous, at the other end, Van Persie scored his 17th league goal of the season with another exquisite finish, one that gave Pepe Reina no chance on 19 minutes. A succession of neat passes on the left led to United opening up what had hitherto been a well drilled Liverpool defence for the brilliant Dutch master to apply another trademark finish.

United's goal-mouth pressure eventually paid off on 54 minutes when unmarked Patrice Evra got on the end of a curling Van Persie free-kick, his header was glanced on by Vidic who nodded home from close range.

Sturridge brought Liverpool back into the game with a goal on 57 minutes following a Steven Gerrard interception, to make it a much more even contest. But United had completely dominated the goal mouth action for the first hour and could easily have scored four or five.


Wary of Liverpool flooding midfield, Ferguson elected to start with Danny Welbeck instead of Hernandez. It was a wise decision, as Welbeck's mobility gave United's attacking play another dimension - one that included dropping back into midfield when required.

To the surprise of many, Shinji Kagawa started on the left, while Ashley Young was selected on the right at the expense of AtonioValencia whose form has been indifferent, to the puzzlement of many. While Kagawa and Young were out of their respective comfort zones - their presence gave United balance, both went on to make reasonably satisfactory contributions. Ashley Young was replaced at half-time due to injury with Valencia coming on as a more than adequate replacement.

In terms of goal-mouth incidents, it was a case of one way traffic with Liverpool riding their luck in a first-half that saw Tom Cleverley go close with a left-footed half volley. Van Persie and Welbeck failed to convert good goal scoring opportunities to extend United's lead. TV replays confirmed that United could and perhaps should have been awarded a penalty when Kagawa was brought down inside the Liverpool penalty area -  quite how the ball didn't end up in the back of the net during that passage of play beggared belief. Howard Webb and his officials clearly missed the foul on United's Japanese star - given the pace of the frenetic play it was a mistake that was more easily forgiven compared to other mistakes in this game.

For their part Liverpool while enjoying a fair amount of first-half possession, were toothless up front (no jokes about Suárez). Rodgers decision to play with just Suárez up front turned out to be a huge error of judgement. Sterling and Downing were equally as anonymous as Liverpool's lone striker. As a result it was far too easy for Vidic and & Co. to mop up the visitors unproductive attacks.

In truth, the game should have been all over as a serious contest at half time - the fact that it wasn't was down to a combination of poor finishing and Liverpool riding their luck. Rodgers made amends for his mistakes by sending on new signing Daniel Sturridge as a replacement for Lucas - who'd just been booked before the interval and on another day could quite easily have been sent off for a succession of professional fouls.

The additional striker gave United something to think about and as the second-half went on, the league leaders started to make silly mistakes with Carrick gifting the ball back to the visitors on several occasions.
Carrick and Cleverley were near faultless in the first-half, but for the last thirty minutes, they lost their grip on midfield as Liverpool fought back strongly.

Just three minutes after Vidic had doubled United's advantage, Liverpool hit back following a passage of sloppy passing when Steven Gerrard intercepted an attempted short pass between Cleverley and Carrick. It was classic Gerrard - the Liverpool skipper won the ball just outside the United box, he pressed forward and fired hard and low to De Gea's right, the Spaniard could only parry the ball into the path of Sturridge with Rafael left rooted on his heels, the former Chelsea striker made no mistake from close range and brought Liverpool right back into the game. From that point on, it was Liverpool who looked the more dangerous.

No doubt wary of what happened last season at home to Everton when United squandered a lead at Old Trafford, Ferguson attempted to combat Liverpool's midfield domination by sending on Phil Jones for Kagawa - a ploy that only worked partially.

Worryingly for United fans, Vidic was also replaced by Chris Smalling due to what looked like a knee injury. Having played all of his subs, Ferguson couldn't bring on another striker and while most of his decisions came off, United ended the game hanging on. It was a very nervy ending, but it could have been oh so different if Ferguson's strikers had taken their chances in the first-half.


This game didn't pass without controversy, but for once Suárez wasn't the villain on the piece - that role was taken by Howard Webb who needs to have a long hard look at himself in the mirror and maybe he needs to re-read the rulebook too.

Webb had a far less than perfect game. In fact, uncharacteristically, for Webb there was a catalogue of mistakes. He missed Vidic head the ball out for what should clearly have been a corner to Liverpool. He allowed Lucas to commit several professional fouls before eventually booking him on 45 minutes. He missed the foul on Kagawa that should have led to a penalty. Worst of all, and having already booked Glen Johnson on 75 minutes, he should have sent him off for a two armed rugby style take down on Valencia.

Fans understand the referee who shows leniency, especially in such big games - no one really wants to see a player getting his marching orders early on in the game, but rules are rules and inconsistency drives fans, managers and players to the edge of despair.

In the day's other big game in North London, City easily beat Arsenal - the two-nil final score somewhat flattered the Gunners' - it was a walk in the park. But the task was made all the easier on just 10 minutes when Mike Read sent off Laurent Koscielny for yet another rugby style take down on Dzeko. We can argue about the merits of that straight red card - but there can be no doubt that Johnson deserved a second yellow card for his challenge on Valencia at Old Trafford.

Liverpool fans might well argue that Vidic's goal was offside - but offside is often so contentious, it is a rule that is open to interpretation - some decisions are far easier to give and far more obvious, such as who touched the ball last before it went out of play and of course those rugby style challenges.
Howard Webb is without doubt our leading referee, but he let himself down on Sunday when he failed to apply the rules.

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