Saturday, September 30, 2006

Premiership review...

Liverpool lost 0-2 at the Reebok Stadium against Bolton courtesy of goals by Gary Speed and Ivan Campo. Prior to this game Rafa Benitez the Liverpool manager complained about Bolton's over physical approach to previous encounters with 'The Trotters'. Whether or not this inspired Bolton today is open to debate, but you can be sure Sam Allardyce the Bolton manager will have made reference to the Liverpool managers comments prior to the game.

Elsewhere, Didier Drogba continued to leave Shevchenko in his his shadow at Stamford Bridge as the Ivory Coast star gave his team an early lead in the 1-1 draw with Aston Villa. As the first half wore on the home side came under pressure from balls from the flank and Agbonlahor equalised with a header on 45 minutes. Both sides had chances to have won the game but in the end a draw was a fair result.

Arsenal gave the performance of the day at the Valley where it finished 1-2, Darren Bent gave Charlton the lead on 21 minutes, but Dutchman Robin Van Persie equalised on 32 minutes. It was a richly deserved goal as the visitors were the dominant force throughout the first half. On 42 minutes Van Persie scored a 'wonder goal' to seal the points for Arsenal who ran out fairly comfortable winners to make it five league wins on the bounce on the weekend that Arsene Wenger the Arsenal boss celebrated 10 years in charge of the club.

At Goodison Park, Everton drew 1-1 with Manchester City, once again Andy Johnson scored for 'The Toffees' but City fought back strongly late on in the game and hit the post before Micah Richard's volleyed home a rocket of a shot to give Tim Howard no chance.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Shankly - a legend remembered...

IT's 25 years to the day that former Liverpool legend and manager Bill Shankly died following a heart attack, seven years after quitting as Liverpool manager. Those who knew him closely say he was never the same man after he'd left the club.

At the time the then Prime minister, Harold Wilson said this "I was at Downing Street this morning when the news that the building society interest rates were to remain unchanged had been announced. That was the good news. Then came the bad - that Bill Shankly was to retire. There will be much weeping in the hills and dales of my constituency tonight - except among Everton fans."

For those who don't know much about Shankly, he was one of 10 children, the son of an Ayrshire coalminer. Shankly was a tough man as you'd expect given his upbringing, but his wit was the stuff of legend. He was great mates with another great Scottish manager, the famous Sir Matt Busby of Manchester United. IF Liverpool didn't have a midweek game and United were playing at Old Trafford Shankly would often be there to watch the match. Such was his affinity with Sir Matt.

But the rivalry between United and Liverpool was every bit as fierce back then as it is today.

During one pre-match team-talk ahead of a home game with United at Anfield Shankly went through each of the United team rubbishing their abilities starting from the back with the goalkeeper, at the time it was Alex Stepney, according to Shankly he was rubbish. Shankly then moved on to Tony Dunne, United's right-back - he also was rubbish. He went through the whole team until he got numbers 9, 10 and 11 and then he said. "That leaves Law, Best and Charlton and if you cannot mark three players then we may as well pack up!". This brought howls of laughter among the Liverpool dressing room and broke the tension, such was the genius and wit of Shankly.

I doubt there will be another Bill Shakly. RIP.

The clock ticks for Fergie, Glazer and Tony Blair...

Sir Alex recently stated that he'd had a chat with United's owners, the Glazer family, and that they'd agreed he'd be staying on until at least the end of next season. This isn't a situation that all United fans agree with. Fergie has done wonderful things for United, no one will ever forget that, and yes, we will be forever grateful.

However, some United fans and me included, would like to see Fergie leave sooner rather than later. The reason for this, isn't anything to do with a lack of loyalty. Quite simply, Fergie has nothing left to prove, it is time to go.

I suppose it's a bit like Tony Blair scenario. The prime minister had previously talked about staying on for a good chunk of Labour's term in office, that all changed as Blair has been effectively evicted from office by his own party members and supporters, ironically, I don't agree here at all.

Unlike Blair, Fergie is safe as long as United look like qualifying for next seasons Champions League and barring a disaster of Titanic proportions, it looks like United will progress into this seasons knockout stage of the same competition. United's best chance of winning some silverware this season is in the domestic cup competitions, because they aren't capable of mounting a serious title challenge, the squad lacks quality strength in depth.

As far as Fergie's potential replacements go. I have three names on my short list. Martin O'Neil, Mark Hughes and Alan Curbishley. The latter recently hinted that he'd be to ready to return to English football at a leading club in October. Quite who Curbishley is thinking of is open to speculation. It could be cash strapped Leeds United, it would seem unlikely that it would be United.

Hughes is doing a solid job at Blackburn 'there's no question about that' as Fergie would say. He knows United inside out and has an air of authority about him. You can imagine the players having total respect for him and of course Blackburn took all six points off United last season - you'd have hoped that wasn't lost on the Glazer family...don't hold your breath.

Then there's Martin O'Neil, if it wasn't for the fact that he's at Villa he'd be the favourite. Like Mark Hughes, Martin's teams aren't renowned for playing attacking cavalier football of which United fans have been used to. Winning the title when managing Celtic is hardly big news is it? It is the bare minimum expected of any half decent Celtic manager. Who will ever forget Celtic legend Billy McNeil aka Cesar, relegating Manchester City and Aston Villa in the same season, then returning to Parkhead to win the Scottish title. Set against this, it's quite hard to measure O'Neil's managerial career to date. I view his time in Scotland as the wilderness years. It doesn't compare to what Fergie did while at Aberdeen where he broke the domination of Scotland's big two. That was a real achievement.

Whoever eventually replaces Fergie will soon realise that the fans won't accept negative pragmatic football at United. What United need now is a younger hungrier manager, the three candidates named are arguably the best that the British game has to offer.

I don't see any equivalent of Dr John Reid emerging from the pack, but unlike Tony Blair, as of this moment we have no replacement in waiting.

Perhaps United should have gone for Hiddink last summer, he was my choice. One man who I suspect wont be getting the job is Fergie's assistant, Carlos Queiroz. It is understood that Roy Keane and other players weren't happy with his dull tactics and his influence around the club, this it's thought this in part led to Keane's bust-up and departure from United. Again though, it will come down to the Glazer family, do they have their finger on pulse, and could they go for the cheapest option in promoting Queiroz, to save money not having to pay another club compensation?

It's a great pity that when Fergie does eventually go, he wont be taking the Glazer's with him, they are of course a much bigger problem than Fergie. Those in the media who have recently supported the Glazer family should remember that this summer United were the Premiership's lowest net spenders in the summer transfer window.

United have also been penny pinching by sending out as many players on loan as possible, take Rossi going on loan to Newcastle. This at a time when United only have Saha and Smith, both players have suffered terrible injury problems of late, set against this it seems odd to loan out Rossi.

As far as many clued-up reds are concerned, the clock is ticking for Fergie, and for United, with Glazer having recently shifted the bulk of his debt from the Glazer family and onto United. And so even when Fergie goes, we know the problems wont be solved, far from it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Neville hints at change of tactics....

Following the 1-0 win over Benfica, Manchester United skipper Gary Neville has given an interview to the Sun in which he says that United need to change tactics in some games and adopt a more pragmatic approach “We are very aware of what happened last year — we didn’t respect the opponents in our group. You have to show respect to the teams and the players you are playing. I think you saw against Benfica this time that we have done that.

“You could see from the start we are starting to realise you have to show an incredible amount of respect.

“Hopefully the Arsenal game was a realisation for us. We realised you can’t go out and play full attacking football against top teams. You need to respect them first and earn the right to win the match".

Those of you who read this blog will know that during the opening period in Lisbon, Neville sought clarification from United's bench against Benfica asking who was playing in the holding role.

The amount of 'respect' United afforded Benfica led to the home side out-shooting the visitors by 6-1 in the first half. Clearly, whatever the pre-match plan was it hadn't worked, as United could easily have gone into the break being a couple of goals down. Granted it did improve second half and United did go on to win.

No matter how welcome and much needed the result was against Benfica, many reds will be hoping that United don't try to emulate the Liverpool of old and more recently Chelsea. It still irks older Liverpool fans when United fans say to them 'Liverpool were never the same team once they scrapped the back-pass rule'...

More recently Jose Mourinho said he'd be happy to win 1-0 every week if he had the option.

United fans realise how important winning is, but we're used to attacking football. Please don't ever forget that Gary and Fergie.

Champions League looking wide open...

The results after Champions League matchday 2 leave United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Valencia, Lyon and Bayern Munich with six points apiece. Liverpool and Barcelona are both on four points each with Real Madrid on three points after their impressive 5-1 win over Dynamo Kiev.

From that group of clubs will come this years winner's, of that we can be fairly certain.

Sadly, but realistically, I think we can discount Manchester United, they aren't serious contenders, the same can be said of Real Madrid and Valencia. Of the rest, Lyon and Bayern both sold stars players this summer and so both must have weakened their chances of lifting the trophy, buy if I was going to choose an outsider, it would be Lyon, so they are my outside tip to win it this year.

Arsenal did well last year and must fancy their chances, as must Liverpool who look to have made a couple of good signings this summer. A lot will depend on the luck of the draw, but I expect both clubs to reach the semi-final this year along with Chelsea and Barcelona.

Despite their slightly below par early season performances, I really think this is the year that Chelsea will lift the trophy, they can only get better and ominously they're winning without their new signings firing on all cylinders.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Saha strike produces white hankies for Santos...

In Portugal you know that you've had a good night when the opposition fans start waving their white hankies at their manager before the end of the game. That is what is happened at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday night as United beat Benfica 0-1, courtesy of a Louis Saha wonder strike. The Frenchman had been largely anonymous until that point, when late on in the game Ronaldo found him in the channel on the right, Saha cut inside a defender an then unleashed a powerful left foot drive giving Quim no chance. It was a goal out of nothing.

Up and until that point United had offered little in the way of efforts on goal. United's best player by some distance was Ronaldo, he was beating man after man, only to eventually take on one too many and lose the ball, such is the way of things with Cristiano.

Rooney was once again jaded, giving the ball away cheaply and looking a shadow of the of the player he is. He wasn't helped one bit by his manager, who stationed the England striker wide left. Though to be fair, I doubt Rooney would have faired better anywhere on the pitch last night.

In the bigger picture, and when Rooney is back to his best, playing him out of position isn't the answer to United's problems that were every bit as apparent as they have been over the last few years. The win over Benfica was United's first away victory in the Champions League in nearly three years. In truth, going off last night there's nothing to suggest that United have learnt anything from their recent failings.

United were disjointed all throughout the first half. Fergie, we were told, deployed
a new system to snuff out the Benfica attack. Saha was on his own up front. O'Shea was supposed to be screening the back four leaving Scholes and Carrick to attack.

The plan didn't work. Carrick was getting too far forward and Scholes the more skilful and attacking player was deeper. As if that wasn't bad enough, at one stage in the opening period Benfica were out shooting United by 6-1.

The captain Gary Neville asked the bench for clarification about who was playing where. In truth, at this level that is pure comedy and the stuff of Sunday league football. It shouldn't be happening. As an attacking force apart from the odd Ronaldo raid, United were disjointed and looked like a team of strangers. It was as bad as that.

United improved marginally in the second period and ran out fairly comfortable winners once they'd scored. Benfica are not the side they were last season, they are 12 points behind Porto in the league and once the goal went in, their heads dropped a bit. That was the signal for the home fans to produce the dreaded white hankies for Fernando Santos the Benfica coach. The Portuguese club have had 5 different managers in four years, going off last night it might be 6 in the not too distant future.

Last night's victory will not mask the obvious problems that beset United. We don't have a tactical plan, we lack cohesion from front to back and Fergie doesn't know how to get the best out of Rooney in Europe.

United at least have the luxury of having relatively comfortable looking fixtures which should see us going further than last year.

As for Sir Alex Ferguson, I get the feeling that this could be his last Champions League campaign. United won't win the Champions League, but at least the reds should reach the knockout stage before we unfurl our own white flag of surrender as we have done all too often since we last won the competition back in '99.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fergie backs Rooney and Ronaldo to come good..

Fergie is backing Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo to come good ahead of the Champions League clash with Benfica in Lisbon this evening. Rooney hasn't scored in the Champions League since scoring a hat-trick against Fenerbache on his Champions League debut in February 2004.

The United manager has pointed out that Rooney hasn't quite got his sharpness back having had little action in the opening weeks of the new Premiership season. Rooney was of course suspended along with Scholes for the first three league games. What Fergie is saying, is quite right, but as ever when a player with a profile like Rooney goes slightly off the boil, it's big news for the media.

A case in point was the BBC 606 site, whose chief online sports writer, Phil McNulty, ran a debate last week in the shape of an article asking 'what was wrong with Wayne Rooney?'. Some 606 members responded by asking Phil, was it a quiet news day... The debate was pointless. Everyone with a grain of sense knows that Rooney will come good. It's a question of when and not if.

Fergie also took time out to praise Cristiano Ronaldo, who he says has been United's best player thus far this season. Ronaldo picked up a one game suspension in the Champions League for his one figured salute to the Benfica fans, after being taken off in the same fixture last season.

Let's hope the players don't let Fergie and the fans down in Lisbon tonight, otherwise, the hacks will be filling their columns with yet more pointless debates.

Monday, September 25, 2006

European spotlight to shine on Ronaldo...

On Tuesday United return to the Estádio da Luz, the home of Benfica and perhaps better known as 'The Stadium Of Light' where United fans will be hoping that the reds make up for last seasons huge disappointment of finishing bottom of the group and being knocked out of the Champions League.

One player who will be relishing this particular game is Cristiano Ronaldo, who of course is returning to his native country, though in fact, he was born and lived on the island of Madeira.

During Ronaldo's early career with Lisbon's other big Sporting Lisbon, Ronaldo was often the brunt of the jokes, because of his thick Madeiran accent. The mickey taking hasn't really stopped as far as the Benfica fans are concerned, as Ronaldo was substituted for United against the Portuguese outfit last season.

Ronaldo has had a difficult time over the last 13 month's, his father passed away last August and of course Cristiano is currently the victim of a hate campaign launched by English fans up and down the country for his part in the Wayne Rooney sending off during the World Cup match between England and Portugal this summer. As if all this wasn't enough, Ronaldo had to return home recently to visit his sick mother.

This week Ronaldo and United fans will be hoping that the winger leads United to victory and in doing so helps put the club well on the road to the knock-out stage of the Champions League.

AS far as Ronaldo will be concerned, there's no better place to shine this week than The Stadium of Light. United fans will be hoping that Ronaldo has the last laugh this time, because he's had a rotten time of it and I for one hope that the lad lets his feet do the talking and shows the rest of Europe and English fans just what a great talent he is.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lord Stevens report not looking good...

Lord Stevens report into 'bungs in football' is the subject of press speculation this morning. The News of The World are claiming that the former police commissioner has been 'shocked' at the level of complexity involved in many football deals.

Apparently, Lord Stevens has looked into 350 deals and has recommended that 80 transfer deals should be looked at in greater detail, with the aid of financial accountants, who it's hoped will be able to help unravel the money trail. Manchester United and Bolton are being linked to the 80 deals that will come under further scrutiny, if indeed Stevens gets the co-operation he's seeking.

Furthermore, Stevens is offering to personally visit the headquarters of FIFA in Zurich to request further help and assistance.

From the outside looking in, you do wonder exactly what Lord Stevens has found, because if he's 'shocked', then we are left to assume he's found some evidence of wrong doing. Or, is it the case that he's shocked at the level of secrecy? You also wonder what help FIFA can be on this issue.

Stevens has been working on this inquiry since last March, granted he's looked at 350 transfer deals, which must accountant for the bulk of his time. However, the omens for his findings don't look good this morning.

Firstly, we have a leak to a national Sunday newspaper in which the names of Manchester United and Bolton have been smeared. Both clubs are of course easy targets. There's been plenty of speculation surrounding Sir Alex Ferguson and his son, who was a football agent and has been involved in several United deal's over the last few year's. Bolton's name has been dragged through the mud this last week, following the Panorama expose, so it's easy to point the finger of guilt at 'The Trotter's'.

The leaked story to the press smacks a bit of desperation. Could it be that someone has decided to leak this story in a bid to gain maximum publicity ahead of any official statement about the Stevens report? Could it also be the case that in point of fact Stevens hasn't uncovered any significant new evidence of wrong-doing, and in a bid to make it look like something is 'going on' easy targets have been named to make it look like something is 'going on'?

The fact that Stevens is offering to personally visit FIFA in Zurich doesn't impress me at all, it sounds like a bit of a jolly actually. This adds no weight to the story. Shouldn't Stevens have contacted FIFA et al already if this was an avenue that might lead somewhere? I personally cannot see FIFA being of much use on this issue and again it smacks of somebody trying to add weight to the findings of the investigation.

Panorama did at least find some real evidence of corruption within the game with three different agents implicating several clubs. It remains to be seen what the FA and Premier League will do about that evidence. Those with the games' interest at heart will welcome anything that leads to any rotten apples being exposed.

What football doesn't need now is smear campaigns without hard evidence.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Reading test United's paper thin squad...

Ronaldo denied Reading a historic victory today with a stunning goal late on in this game and in doing so earned United a 1-1 draw. The Portuguese star saved United's blushes after Steve Coppell's side had taken the lead early in the second half from the penalty spot, after Gary Neville handled inside the area, a harsh decision maybe.

United had their chances to have won the game, most notably through Richardson who when presented with a golden chance, completely missed his kick. Scholes went close too, but Reading fought hard and made United work for their share of the spoils.

Fergie had started the game with Saha on the bench, the official line is the French striker is nursing a hamstring injury and of course United are away to Benfica in midweek. So Fergie, decided not to risk him.

The fact is United's squad is paper thin and what happened today illustrated that perfectly. United started the game with Rooney and Scholes up front, both are second strikers and are not out and out centre forwards. Fergie's failure to replace Ruud Van Niselrooy is now being brought into sharp focus. Quite simply United don't have enough fire-power up front to mount a serious title challenge. Ferguson's assertion that he was happy with his squad will be put to the test in tougher places than the Madejski Stadium this season, the United manager could well live to regret those comments.

United are already two points behind the champions in the league. United fans and Fergie will be keen not to slip too far out of view of Chelsea's rear view mirror like last season, when the reds drifted some 13 points behind the blues before Christmas.

What's more it could turn out to be a very bad 10 days for United if they lose against Benfica, and if that happens the alarm bells will start to ring for certain.

Friday, September 22, 2006

New investors linked to West Ham United...

I have always been led to believe that owning a football club is the road to financial ruin. Yet over the last couple of years Roman Abramovich acquired Chelsea, the Glazer family purchased Manchester United, Randy Lerner has bought a controlling interest in Aston Villa, Russian businessman Alexandre Gaydamak captured Portsmouth and there's strong speculation linking West Ham to MSI, the London based media and sports group.

The latest news on this front concerns Israeli businessman Eli Papoushado, who has confirmed he is willing to help fund a £100m takeover of West Ham United. Financial experts believe that new television football deal, which kicks-in next season is the main driving force behind some of the latest moves.

Many fans and people in the media have concerns about foreign ownership of so many clubs. The fans want to know what is the driving force behind this sudden surge in interest in our national game. Abramovich has wealth which is almost beyond belief and so he's not looking to cash-in financially, quite the reverse. I doubt there'd be too many complaints if the rest ploughed similar amounts into the clubs mentioned here.

Personally, I have grave reservations about Glazer at United, much of the money he used to buy United was borrowed money and now he's transferred much of the debt to Manchester United. The debt is now some £675m with annual interest payments alone of around £62m. Quite simply United cannot afford to service this debt and at the same time keep pace with Chelsea and others in the transfer market.

United has the biggest supporter base, the biggest ground capacity by far, and the biggest turnover financially, yet this summer Manchester United were the Premier League's lowest net spenders in the transfer market. This has left United with a squad that is too thin and therefore the reds wont be able to mount a serious title challenge this season. Watch this space.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Cinderella clubs...

Man City, Fulham and ‘Boro fans will no doubt be fuming after their sides were knocked out of the Carling Cup on Wednesday night by lower division clubs.

City fans won’t need reminding that it’s now 30 years since they last won a trophy. For blues fans, getting knocked out of any cup competition isn’t exactly big news – they just say ‘typical city’, and so it goes. The chances of City winning the FA Cup, or come to that anyone out of the ‘big four’ winning it must be nearly as remote as winning the National Lottery.

Added to which Chelsea’s domination in the league has resulted in the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal putting more emphasis on winning what many fans still refer to as the ‘Worthless Cup’, aka, the Carling Cup formerly the Worthington Cup, though in fairness to Liverpool, they’ve always taken the competition seriously.

It’s quite depressing if you think about it, at least prior to Chelsea’s domination the rest had a bit of a chance of winning the ‘Worthless’!

I’m not suggesting that there’s nothing left to play for this season for last night’s losers and the rest of the Premiership’s Cinderella clubs. The reality of modern football means that the Cinderella clubs prioritise on maintaining their league status and then with luck hope to secure entry into Europe via the UEFA cup.

IT hasn’t always been like this, there was a time come the beginning of a new season that you really didn’t know who’d win the league and cups. Yes, I can remember those days, and to be honest, despite the many improvements of today like pitches and new stadiums, in purely sporting terms, it was better then.

Harking back, here’s a cup question for older fans:

Chelsea, Spurs and West Ham could do it. Man City and Everton could do it. Arsenal are desperate to do it… Man Utd might rather not do it. Celtic and Liverpool can't do it, but Rangers can. There’s one other British team that can do this…
What is it, and who is the other team?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

BBC censorship overkill.

Over the last 48 hours I have submitted two artcles to the BBCs revamped 606 site.

My first article (Panorama asking the questions) relating to BBCs Panorama expose 'Football's dirty secrets' was pulled. Reason being? I was told the article had broken 'house rules'. The following extract was the reason given:

"*Break the law, or condone or encourage unlawful activity. This includes defamation and contempt of court."

I couldn't see anything remotely wrong with the article, so I edited it slightly and resubmitted the article.

Low and behold, the article was rejected again. Extract:

"Your message has been removed because of the ‘contempt of court’ section of the above House Rule.Once a suspect is arrested for an offence, or offences, legal restrictions apply. The 1981 Contempt of Court Act makes it a serious criminal offence, once someone's been arrested, to publish anything which could prejudice their trial."

At this point I was not only baffled but annoyed. So I called the BBC and eventually got to speak to someone in the sports department. He explained that the BBC had decided not to publish anything in relation to the Panorama documentary for fear of ramifications. It was later confirmed that there was nothing wrong with the article.
The hogwash from the moderator, was precisely that. Hogwash.

Today, I thought I'd try again and so I submitted a second article "The sack race.." (see below). In the version I sent to the BBC, I didn't mention Sam Allardyce by name, but incredibly they still removed the subtle hint about him at the foot of the article, they did this not once, but twice!

After complaing to the BBC via email, they eventually allowed me to include the last sentence, stating that the moderators were wrong. When I first submitted the article it was actually marked as a 'Manager's Pick' which is a minor accolade. This was subsuently removed and the article wasn't published where anyone would find it. No doubt because the moderators had been over-ruled.

The BBC were clearly fearful of Joe Public airing their own views on the excellent Panorama documentary, even though as I write this piece, the BBC's main sport site has 17 different articles about this subject. It smacks of the Kremlin and cold war Russia. No freedom of speech for Joe Public and heavy-handed censorship. IT's absolutely mind boggling.

I have pulled the second article myself now, out of disgust, and I have posted the article on here, free of censorship and all of that.

The sack race...

Am I alone in thinking that for once, this could be the season where no Premiership manager gets the sack? Why would any fool think that?

Here's why. The three promoted clubs are among the favourites to be relegated - it was ever thus - but this season, all three clubs have managers that are either respected (Coppell), rated (Warnock) or viewed as up and coming (Boothroyd). I think we can rule those three out of the sack race, despite the possibility of relegation.

What about Southgate and Roeder? Both appear to be learning quickly and doing quite well. Both would seem unlikely candidates for the dreaded chairman's 'vote of confidence'.

We can rule out the 'Teflon' top four, of Fergie, Jose, Rafa and Wenger.

Coleman appears to be doing a fairly good job at Fulham, though last season, wasn't a great, especially away from home. I doubt Coleman will be going anywhere, unless he chooses to. O'Neill, Hughes, Moyes and Redknapp come into this category, they all have the luxury of the proverbial golden handcuffs clasped around them.

Martin Jol had a great season with Spurs last time out, they surely won't stay in the bottom half of the table for too long? If things take a turn for the worse, the pressure would surely follow and his position while looking safe for now could come under scrutiny. The same goes for Dowie at Charlton.

Which brings us to the most likely candidates.

Alan Pardew. The takeover talk surrounding West Ham puts him under added pressure and places him among the favourites. If sense prevails, he will stay.

Stuart Pearce. Not sure what to make of old 'Psycho'. From what I'm told, some blues think he can't cut the mustard. If things go pear shaped, he wont get sacked, but he might walk is my bet.

Paul Jewell, he too could be tempted by grass which might look greener, and having sold players Wigan didn't want to lose, he could be a victim.

That leaves one boss, Big Sam Allardyce, I don't know why but I get the feeling he will ride out the storm that is in danger of enveloping both himself and his club.

IT's a completely different story in the 'Championship', the sack race is well under way and they are dropping like flies, first the legend that is Bryan Robson at West Brom and today Kevin Blackwell at Leeds United, another one bites the dust...

Why football needs cleaning up.....

It's the morning after the night much talked about Panorama investigation 'Football's dirty secrets' was screened. The title was very appropriate, because the impression given was that corruption within football is rife and it isn't just managers who are involed.

It seems everyone from chief executives right down to the scouts have seemingly entered into this secret and murky world of back-handers and freebies. Something needs to be done.

Before yesterday I wasn't aware that many of the Premiership's clubs want to see a rule change, whereby players instead of clubs would pay agents. Some of the respected agents are claiming this move would solve a lot of the current problems, but apparently Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are against this move. Dave Whelan, the Wigan Atheltic owner, says this is because 'they fear they will lose their competitive edge'. I don't know how true that is, but if it is true, it seems ridiculous. Furthermore, if this rule change helps, then it must surely happen despite what the big four say. Apparently there's a meeting of the Premier League clubs in October where this will be sorted out.

Personally, I see big changes ahead for the clubs and the game. Clearly, the clubs and the hapless FA aren't capable of policing the game without some form of stringent regulation. IT remains to be seen what the fall-out will be. We are still awaiting the findings of the Lord Stevens inquiry into 'bungs' in football. Watch this space...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Panorama asking the questions...

I find it very interesting that screening of the BBC
Panaroma expose 'Football's dirty secrets' has coincided with the
findings of Lord Stevens inquiry into alleged corruption in football.

From what I gather, the Stevens inquiry has been ongoing since March
'06, whereas the Panorama investigation has been going on for nine
months. Let us hope, the combined time produces results.

I personally was disgusted with the 'News of The World' fake Sheikh
sting on Sven. Eriksson was entitled to discuss his future after he'd
finished as England manager. That episode was a low-point for gutter
journalism in my opinion.

The Panorama expose is very different, in the interests of our
national game, football fans will want to see any rotten apple's
exposed for what they are.

My problem is, and without wanting to pre-judge any findings, I very
much doubt there will be any concrete proof of guilt, because from
what I gather, the agent who made the allegations has since
back-tracked. The suggestion that up to six to eight top managers
might open to bungs, could well turn out to be a matter for the
courts. Which is what happened in the Eriksson case. I suspect this
story will go the same way with several managers possibly seeking
damages via the courts. Perhaps more likely out of court settlements.

IF the BBC ends up in court, I fear it's a match they cannot win. But
most football fans, I'm sure, will applaud Panorama for tackling this
issue. It is a price worth paying.

What a pity that the hapless FA is once again left watching on the touchline.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Fergie staying for 'two more years', says who?

Fergie has let it be known, he's staying on as manager until at least the end of next season, 'health permitting'. Apparently, Sir Alex has had words with the Glazer family, the clubs owners. So we are left assume that they are happy with it...

But what if United have a poor season, culminating in United missing out on Champions League football next season? It hopefully won't happen, but it could.
In my opinion, Fergie should have quit following the cup final defeat against Arsenal. He has nothing left to prove.

Fans from opposition clubs and those in the media may ask why Fergie shouldn't continue? There's a whole catalouge of reasons. Many, including me, believe that United finished second last season, pretty much inspite of Fergie. Tactically, United look to be going nowhere, especially in Europe.

Regarding transfers, he no longer appears to have that creative spark for finding players. Now, he only seems able to spot players who end up costing an absolute fortune. A prime example is Carrick - if Fergie had his finger on the pulse, we'd have got him from West Ham for around £2.5m, instead we end up paying up to seven times that from Spurs.

If matters on the pitch have given reds cause for concern, so have affairs off the pitch.

Many fans have been sickened by his public backing of the Glazer family takeover and his foot-in-the-mouth verbal attacks on sections of United's support.

United should have installed Hiddink or Scolari, instead the club dithered and allowed Fergie to continue, no doubt fearful of a backlash. Here again though, the Glazers lack of knowledge about the game let's them down, as many United fans have wanted Fergie out for a few years now.

It would be a crying shame to see Fergie sacked after all he's done. But at the end of the day, despite what Fergie says, results will decide his future, unless, god forbid, ill-health sees him off.

Papering over the cracks...

I have a reputation for being something of a 'Doomlord', because as with many things in my life, my glass is always half-empty, as opposed to half-full. At least that is how some people describe me.

The maxim isn't actually true where United are concerned. Reason being, I'd like to believe my views are balanced regarding the good and bad points about our performances.

At the outset before a ball was kicked this season, I predicted United would get off to a good/flying start. They did. However, as I have been pointing out in recent games, the back four has looked decidedly dodgy. But against Arsenal, it was the midfield that was none existent. So why did this happen?

Arsenal adopted a more fluent formation and flooded the midfield. Quite simply, United's midfield couldn't cope with the Gunners passing and movement. All too often Scholes and O'Shea were out numbered. The Arsenal midfield were able to play through our midfield too easily.

It wasn't just numbers that United lacked, it was legs too. Arsenal had Fabregas, Hleb and Silver. Arsenal's superior drive, energy and quick passing was what led to United's undoing.

United have been relying on Giggs and they'll be hoping Scholes comes good for the remainder of the season, but does he have the legs to cope for a whole season?

It wasn't just midfield where the problems lay against Arsenal, Rooney isn't fit and putting it bluntly, he's been a passenger in the last two games, he's been losing the ball too cheaply and isn't working hard enough for the team.

United are of course joint second with Chelsea - not a bad position to be in - we could be Liverpool near the foot of the table, but no one with a grain of sense should write-off Liverpool.

So what about the rest of the season? United should do well against most sides out of the top four, but as we've already seen, even against Watford, we can take nothing for granted. This is going to be a very, very tough season for United. A top four finish is possible, but it is by no means guaranteed.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

United out played by Gunners...

United lost 1-0 to Arsenal courtesy of a late goal by Adebayor, after Cesc Fabregas caught United's Cristiano Ronaldo in possession and Adebayor found the net from his threaded pass. United had a touch of fortune early in the first half when Gilberto Silver slipped when takiing a penalty after United's new keeper Tomasz Kuszczak brought down Adebayor inside the box.

In truth Arsenal deserved this victory, even Fergie admitted that after the game. United seemed to be heavy legged all over the park and in particular Scholes and Rooney looked off key. Rooney clearly is less than 100% fit. Whether this is due to his injury problems over the summer, or his lay-offs through suspension, it's hard to say, but it's a bit of a worry for United fans.

Arsenal controlled the midfield for long spells, which is contrary to Fergie's view of the game. After the game the United manager suggested the Celtic game might have taken a lot out of his players, but Arsenal had a difficult away game in Europe, so surely it was the same for them. It was a lame excuse. United did have chances to score, most notably through Ronaldo in the first half, his point blank effort was saved by the Arsenal keeper, taking the full force of Ronaldo's volley on his Teutonic forehead - if nothing else, it brought a few smiles to the United fans faces.

Earlier on in the day, there was more bad news for the red army as Chelsea beat Liverpool by the same margin with a wonder goal by Didier Drogba. Liverpool didn't deserve to lose and created by far the better of the chances. Another German, Ballack got his marching orders following a stamp on Sissoko.

It was a very good day for the Cockney's. United and Liverpool will be left to lick their wounds and reflect on poor performances and bad luck respectively.

Hargreaves confirms broken leg...

What is it with players who get linked to United, and then suffer terrible injury problems. Ruud Van Niselrooy was on the brink of a big move to United a few seasons back, only for the Dutchman to suffer knee ligament problems.

Now it's the turn of Owen Hargreaves, the England midfield star has confirmed he's broken the fibula in his left leg. The 25-year-old came off after 24 minutes of Bayern Munich's 2-1 league defeat by Arminia Bielefeld after colliding with opponent Thorben Marx.

When Van Niselrooy broke down, Fergie called Ruud to give encouragement and to confirm that United would still complete the transfer, once he regained his fitness. That cannot happen this time, because Bayern have rebuffed United's interest thus far. No deal has been agreed.

However, if history is anything to go by, Fergie will not easily give up his interest in Hargreaves. Ferguson, tried and failed to sign 'Larry White' (Lauren Blanc) umpteen times before the big Frenchman put pen to paper. Many reds will be hoping, that Hargreaves signs long before he's ready to collect his pension this time around.

In a bizarre way it might even open the door for a January move, as it's likely Hargreaves will be out for fairly lengthy spell. During that time, Bayern will be left to reflect on their bad luck concerning a home-grown player that they could have profited on handsomely only a few weeks ago. Bayern might also discover that they can play without Hargreaves during this spell. Ok, the last bit is clutching at straws. We live in hope, as ever...

'United to sign Torres next summer'...

Ok, it's a bit early to start punting next summers transfer targets, but it won't stop the popular tabloid press from trying to hook a few bleary eyed fans on a Sunday morning.

According to the People Manchester United will sign the brilliant young Spanish striker Fernando Torres next summer, after Atletico Madrid reduced his buy-out clause.

I will try to keep tabs on this story over the weeks ahead, along with any other transfer links to United.

Happy Harry under fire..

HARRY REDKNAPP has revealed that he is at the centre of the BBCs Panorama bungs expose allegations, which is due to be screened on Tuesday. The Portsmouth manager whose team is currently top of the Premier League table at the time of writing this article, says he's got nothing to hide, he's even encouraging everyone to watch it, such is his confidence of his innocence.

Redknapp, is from London's East End, he is what many would describe as a bit of a 'Cockney-wide-boy', you can imagine him playing the part of 'Dell Boy Trotter' in Only Fools and Horses. 'Dell Boy' was famed for ducking, diving and doing a bit of wheeling and dealing - ok, not a bit, a lot of wheeling and dealing.

In many ways Redknapp is exactly the same, his record as a manager has been built on melding sides together using players from here, there, and everywhere. As far has his imports are concerned often at knock-down prices. Unlike 'Dell Boy', Harry has always managed to maintain a level of success, whereas with Dell Boy, it always ended in on-screen tears.

It remains to be seen what evidence Panorama reveals. However, I for one don't expect Harry to be swapping his top of the range motors for a yellow three-wheeler van any time soon. Unlike Only Fools and Horses, I suspect the Happy Harry show is set to run and run.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Beckham feels England pain...

David Beckham has today spoken out about being discarded by new England manager Steve McClaren.

Beckham talks about his burning desire to prove McClaren wrong, but the Real Madrid star says he isn't sure that he will be able work his way back into the England squad.

Many, including me, thought McClaren had treated Beckham shabbily, because Beckham had done as much as anyone for his country over the last few seasons. In short, he didn't deserve to be discarded in the manner that he has been. No one, apart from McClaren and his inner circle is actually sure what lay behind the decision to axe 'goldenballs'. Whatever the reason, one thing is certain, Beckham's pride has been dented.

There is little room for sentiment in football, and few will shed tears for multi millionaire's like David Beckham, but if we forget about the fame, the money, his stardom and the circus that surrounds him, and instead we consider Beckham the footballer. Shouldn't he at least be given another crack at playing for his country? He is a consummate professional, and so even though he'll be 35 next time the World Cup comes around wouldn't it have only been fair to him to give him a chance under the new regime? I for one think so.

However, despite McClaren's suggestion that the door is still open for Beckham, you get the feeling that David Beckham's international career is over and he will end his playing days in Spain, but for his sake, you hope he won't be allowed to fizzle out like a flat San Miguel. He deserves more than that.

United v Arsenal preview..

United have been temporarily dislodged from the top of the table by 'happy Harry's' boys, Portsmouth, following a narrow 1-0 win away at Charlton on Saturday.

The reds will get chance to reclaim top spot if they beat Arsene Wenger's Arsenal when they visit Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon, prior to which the Premiership's other big two, Chelsea and Liverpool lock horns in West London at the Bridge earlier in the afternoon.

Both of tomorrow's big games are intriguing to say the least. Arsenal have really struggled in the early league games this season, but they're coming off the back of a good away win in midweek, in the Champions League against Hamburg.

United have started the best of the big four, the reds are unbeaten on 12pts and easily have the best goal difference. United have two serious injury concerns, as both Park and Giggs are out, but Ronaldo returns after being suspended in midweek. He will be key to opening the door. Fergie might well start with Richardson on the left, or he may even play Evra or Rooney on the flank.

Arsenal have of course recently lost Ashley Cole to Chelsea, so Ronaldo should find it a bit easier to get behind Arsenal's back four. Officially, Henry is an injury doubt for the Gunners, but it will come as no surprise if he's fit to play.

AS for the other big game of the day. This game will be really interesting, Liverpool beat Chelsea in the Community Shield in August, and of course the season before last, Liverpool knocked Chelsea out of the Champions League, so there's a few scores to settle as far as Chelsea are concerned.

Chelsea have been winning this season, but they haven't been convincing. Liverpool are coming off the back of a derby day mauling by Everton and it's likely Rafa Benetiz will ring the changes, especially up front for Liverpool, new signing Kuyt is likely to partner Craig Bellamy. Those two could be a real handful once they get going.

I'm not a betting man, and to be honest I'm the world's worst at predictions. Tomorrow, I'm backing United to beat Arsenal, by the odd goal in three and I expect the other game to be a scoring draw.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Carrick - has Fergie got it wrong again?

Having seen Carrick play for United a couple of times, I'm slightly baffled as to what role Ferguson has in mind for the England midfield man.

Carrick isn't a defensive midfield player really, and many United fans have long thought that United need someone who can actually sit in front of the back four in the same way that Makelele does for Chelsea. Especially in Europe, where United have failed miserably so many times, often getting caught on the counter attack.

Carrick looks to be very similar to a player United already had on their books, Darren Fletcher. Both are rangy, gangly players, who can pass the ball quite well, both get around the park quite well. Neither is outstanding, for £18m shouldn't we expect a player that is a bit special?

IF we accept that United do need a defensive midfield specialist who can give our more creative midfield aces license to attack, then United didn't really need Carrick, because quite simply the numbers don't add up.

United's best player in pre-season and against Celtic was Paul Scholes, so by rights and on form, he must start every game when fit. Then we have Rooney who is an ever present. United's other star performer thus far, has been Ryan Giggs (admittedly injured at present) and of course we need balance on the right with Ronaldo. That leaves two places in the front six, Fergie could either go with two strikers or one.
And Fergie's preferred formations options are 4-4-2, or 4-5-1. Against Celtic, Fergie went with 4-4-2 with Carrick playing in the central role alongside Scholes and Rooney supporting Saha. However, if United wanted to adopt Chelsea's 4-1-4-1 using a defensive midfield shield, they cannot, because they don't have a player like Makelele.

All in all, this United fan thinks the Carrick signing hasn't brought anything new to the table, his arrival has clouded the issues. United will get away with it in the premier league for the most part, apart from possibly in the big games. In Europe, United could well struggle again without more disciplined defending and the extra man in front of the back four offers an added layer of security.

IF Fergie eventually goes for a defensive midfield shield in the January transfer window or next summer, it will more than likely mean that Scholes will be on the bench, because the manager won't be able to accommodate all this star names, unless he plays Rooney or Scholes in a wide position - which is a criminal waste and an awful compromise - which rarely work.

Carrick isn't a bad player, far from it, but it's difficult to see where Ferguson is going with his tactics in relation to the formation and the squad.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

United scrape past Celtic...

United went into their Champions League home game against Celtic with many pundits stating that it could be a walk-over for the reds. IT didn't happen. United won the game 3-2, but to the surprise of many, Celtic took the lead early in the first half through Jan Venegoor of Heselink, following a schoolboy error by Rio Ferdinand. The England centre back should have won his header, instead he allowed the big Dutch striker to somehow collect the ball and he easily beat the United keeper with a low drive into the corner.

Ferdinand wasn't the only one who made mistakes in this game. The referee had a stinker, wrongly booking Silvestre, for what was clearly a good tackle early in the game. Then a few minutes later the referee wrongly awarded United a penalty, when the Celtic keeper brought down Ryan Giggs inside the area. Replays showed the referee wasn't in the best position to make a decision, it was never a penalty. Saha converted the spot-kick to score his first Champions League goal of his career.

United then took the lead after Paul Scholes played the ball of the night to Saha who scored his second goal of the night.

Celtic hit back at United when Brown gave away a free-kick on the edge of United's penalty area, Nakamura scored a lovely goal with a lofted chip over the wall, to make it 2-2.

Jan Venegoor of Heselink then let United off the hook when he beat United's off-side trap, with Gary Neville, his marker, left stood appealling to the referee with his arm raised in the air, a la Tony Adams style. Luckily for United, the Dutch striker missed what was the easiest chance of the night.

Straight after the half-time break, United scored what turned out to be the winning goal of the game, once again it came from more mistakes - this time from both sides. First, Wes Brown gave the ball away, Graveson picked it up for the visitors, but he promptly gave it back to United and Saha received the ball on the edge of the area, his first effort was blocked, the ball came back to the French striker and his second effort on goal fell rather fortunately to Ole Solksjaer who'd replaced Ryan Giggs who'd go on off in the first half with a hamstring injury. Solksjaer had the simplest of tasks to tap home the winner.

United did have further chances to score, most notably through Wayne Rooney and Saha. However, United weren't convincing against a hard working Celtic side.

United took the points, but this was something of a moral victory for Celtic. For the second game in a row, United's defence looked decidedly dodgy. With Park out for three months and Giggs out for three weeks, United's squad is already looking stretched even at this early stage of the season.

Verdict: Yes, it was exciting, but the game wasn't of a high quality. United's shambolic defending will cost them dearly if they don't tighten up and quickly. Must do better.

Fergie confident of getting through Group stage..

Fergie's latest reaction to what has been a summer of transfer disappointments comes on the day of the Celtic home game in the Champions League.

Last season United only managed to score three goals in Group stage D, and that was with Ruud playing for the club. Van Niselrooy had been prolific in Europe and on the domestic front, yet having sold him to Madrid this summer, United failed to replace the big Dutchman.

Nonetheless and despite the lack of goals last season in the Champions League, Fergie says, it will take something 'strange' for United not to progress beyond the group stages this season.

Fergie told United Review: "I believe it will take something strange to stop us qualifying from our Champions League group this time."

United are in a very easy looking group this year, so United should progess beyond the group stage even without replacing Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

As for the rest of the season and United's hopes of winning more silvereware, many fans view the clubs inactivity in the transfer market this summer as 'strange' because they haven't replaced Ruud and they only signed one half decent midfield player.

According to the number crunchers, United are this summers lowest net spenders. Talk is cheap.

All not well in West London?

Unlike last season, Chelsea haven't hit the ground running. True, they've only played a few games, and also it's true many of their players were on World Cup duty, so perhaps it's a case of being slow starters this term?

However, during pre-season and the early games in the Premiership, they don't perhaps look as formidable as some had been predicting they would do with their summer acquisitions.

At present Chelsea have that square pegs in round holes look at about them. Last night they took on Werder Bremen in the Champions League, it finished 2-0 to the blues. The main talking point being, Ballack replaced Lampard as penalty taker. The German nearly bust the rigging with this second half spot-kick...

In his after match press conference, the media darling that is Jose Mourinho, explained why Lampard had been replaced by the German as penalty taker. Jose, it has to be said, looked a bit flustered, and dare I say, looks to be showing signs of pressure? Is managing Chelsea and its circus of big names getting to him?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Fergie in a muddle over Europe..

United are back in Champions League action this week when Celtic are the visitors to Old Trafford. Fergie will be hoping to improve on last seasons disappointment of finishing bottom of the group stage for the first time in over a decade.

Last season United only scored three goals in group D, and it was at home where the damage was really done. A victory at Old Trafford against either Villarreal or Lille would have seen United progress into the knockout stages, but the reds didn't even score in either game, ultimately, it was United's failure in front of goal that cost them a place in the knockout phase.

In the press conference that followed the away defeat to Benfica, the reds final group D game, Fergie was asked about his future. The United manager, didn't respond directly to those questions, but he vowed to rebuild for this season. He also suggested it was the teams lack of experience which had cost United.

"We probably lacked that experience and ability and when we needed top players they weren't there," Fergie.

In point of fact, United were without Heinze and Neville, Keane had left the club mid November 2005, and he'd only played for 68 minutes in the 3-0 home win against Debreceni in the qualifying round. For the rest of the European campaign United had all their attacking options, minus Wayne Rooney, who was sent off in the away game with Villarreal, so Rooney missed the home win against Benfica and the 0-0 draw with Lille at Old Trafford.

Today, Fergie had this to say ahead of the Celtic visit. “I want us to rely on our ability and the experience we have in European games, particularly at Old Trafford.”

So last season, it was our lack of experience that cost us, and having vowed to strengthen the squad this summer, but then only adding Carrick - who has no Champions League experience, the United manager is saying our experience is the key, yet last year he blamed our exit on a lack of experience.... many fans will be confused, to coin a Fergism...'there's no doubt about that'.

Kiddo 'snubs Keane' ...

United legend Brian Kidd is set to return to football after winning his battle with prostate cancer. Kiddo will join Sheffield United's coaching staff, but Niel Warnock the Blade's manager, has confirmed Stuart McCall's position as number two at the club won't be compromised.

Unconfirmed media reports are claiming Kiddo turned down Roy Keane's offer of a similar position at Sunderland. It's being reported that Keane has been snubbed by the former United coach.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Chelsea and Arsenal misfiring...

The most bizarre sight of the day on Saturday in the Premiership this weekend came at Stamford Bridge where after scoring for Charlton against his old club, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink appeared to apologise to the Chelsea fans behind the goal, they responded by applauding their former hero...

You do wonder what would happen if Ashley Cole scored against his old club Arsenal? Cole came on as a substitute to make his home debut after his prolonged and protracted switch from North to West London. I doubt the Arsenal fans would applaud the England left-back should he notch against his former employers, I also doubt Cole will be apologising...

Cole's new team Chelsea picked up another home win against Charlton, who continue to struggle. It could have and perhaps should have been, an easier win that than the 2-1 scoreline suggested. Lampard missed another penalty ensuring it looked closer than it was.

Despite the win, Chelsea have looked unconvincing thus far this season, at present they have the look of a collection of expensive foriegn car parts that have been assembled to create a ground breaking new prototype, that doesnt quite look right in shape or form. As with the way with prototypes, they can look better on paper rather than on the road. Which is the way of it with Chelsea at present.

Granted they have a squad to die for and Mourinho will I'm sure add that vital fine tuning to turn this latest incarnation into a winning machine. It's early days yet, but continued development is going to be interesting. And as we saw with William Gallas, there's no room for unhappy passengers. Will Jose succeed in keeping his big star names happy?

As for Arsenal, they too are misfiring, and it was another disappointing performance and result, 1-1 at home to 'Boro. It terms of results, they haven't got off the starting grid yet. You do wonder how much difference moving into the new stadium has affected them. Apparently the new playing surface is 10 yards wider and longer than Highbury.

The former pitch was so small, I'm fairly certain they had to have special dispensation from the UEFA to use it. Many believed that the small Highbury pitch had given Arsenal a significant home advantage. No more.

Many United fans will be hoping Arsenal follow the same path as Southampton, whose old ground the Dell was a proverbial postage stamp, the Saints have been on the road to nowhere ever since...

Chelsea and Arsenal will get better. The race hasn't even started yet.

United edge out Spurs.....

So United beat Spurs 1-0 courtesy of another Giggs goal, it has indeed been a fine start to the season for the Welshman. Against Spurs, Giggs played up front as the second striker behind Saha. United started the game well enough and looked the better side in the early exchanges, but without creating any clear cut chances.

The only goal of the game came early in the first half when United were awarded a free kick just outside the box. Ronaldo took the free-kick and Robinson could only parry it. In fairness to the Spurs keeper, the sun was glaring right into his eyes, luckily for United Giggs was on hand to head home giving the sprawling England keeper no chance.

In between the goal and half time, United played some decent football, but gradually Spurs came back into the game and Van Der Sar had to make a double save from Dawson and King to stop Spurs from drawing level.

At one point during the second half Spurs had 68% possession of the ball, as the visitors took control of the game. United looked very disjoined with Richardson having a very poor game on the left and Ronaldo was largely ineffective.

Martin Jol, the Spurs manager, threw on Defoe and Zielger for Keane and Davids in a bid to change the game. Twenty minutes from full time Defoe missed a real sitter from six yards out after Gary Neville allowed Benoit Assou-Ekotto to cross to the unmarked Defoe, whose attempted header came off his shoulder and went wide to safety. A few minutes later Neville allowed Ziegler to cross to the unmarked Mido, but again United got out of jail.

Saha should have made the game safe late on, when he was set free, one-on-one with Robinson, but the Spurs keeper somewhat atoned for his earlier error on the goal by denying the Frenchman. If the game had finished up 2-2, no one, not even Fergie could have complained.

Verdict: United will need to improve greatly on this performance. At times, United's defending was woeful, especially in the air from set pieces. Spurs will get better, this is their worst start to a season since 1955.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Trouble between the sheets...

As United players turned up for training at Carrington on Friday morning they were greeted by two United fans with a hand painted banner in the form of a bedsheet with the message 'Fergie Out!' daubed across it.

IT isn't the first time that sections of United fans have turned on Ferguson. It happened during the early part of his 20 year stint at United. Ferguson turned things round on the pitch and has of course been been hugely successful, incredibly so, but times change and many United supporters have started to voice concerns about his tenure.

So what lies at the centre of the fans concerns? To those on the outside looking in, it might seem a bit odd that the manager of table topping United is coming under fire, but there's been growing friction between the club and its supporters over the last 12 months. The Glazer takeover remains at the heart of it for many.

Fergie has publicly backed the Glazers several times, this angered many fans. As if that wasn't bad enough, the United manager scored a huge PR own goal when last season he told a United fan to **** *** and support Chelsea. Last week he made a fresh attack on supporters, questioning their loyalty towards United.

Many fans are also deeply unhappy about the lack of big signings this summer. Reports claim the manager would be given around £25m per season, but that has never been confirmed or denied. What we do know is that United were the Premiership's lowest net spenders in the transfer market this summer. This situation is seen by the fans as a direct result of the Glazer takeover.

Sir Alex is beginning to look like a slightly beleagured figure following a very poor summer in the transfer market. And according to reports Fergie believes the Manchester Evening News is running a campaign to highlight his failings in the transfer market.

There isn't anything new about him falling out with the media, and in times of trouble, previously Fergie has adopted a siege mentality, it's been a case of 'it's them against us', the difference being this time, Ferguson is beginning to isolate himself from the fans by launching at attacks on them. It's never a wise move to fall out with your own supporters, as Tony Blair is finding out right now.

IT remains to be seen if the calls for the United boss to quit will grow as the season goes on, because despite being top of the league and enjoying clean sheets on the pitch, the carrington bedsheet has started alarm bells ringing as United have stepped up security at the clubs training ground.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Premiership managers facing new bung allegations..

It has been disclosed that the BBC's Panorama is set to reveal shocking new bung allegations regarding six Premiership managers. Ten clubs are involved, and it has been claimed that the wide-ranging allegations will rock the English game.

A BBC insider said: “It’s pretty strong stuff."

“I’m sure there are some people who are very nervous about it coming out. It could have massive repercussions for those involved.”

The documentary is set to be screend on Monday, 18th September.

A football agent is duped into believing he's discussing certain high-profile transfers with a foreign businessman, in fact it's a Panorama investigator...

I'm sure all right thinking football fans will welcome this type of investigative journalism, football needs to weed-out bent managers, it's hardly as if they're on state benefits and need the money is it?

I personally didn't agree with the News OF The World 'fake Sheikh' sting on Sven-Göran Eriksson, the then England manager, because he was talking about his future after he'd quit as England boss - he was entitled to talk to anyone he liked.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ruud hits out at Ferguson..

Following his controversial move to Real Madrid, Ruud Van Nistelrooy has hit out at the United manager, Alex Ferguson, claiming he'd been 'stabbed in the back', because he was dropped for the Carling Cup final against Wigan. United thumped Wigan 4-0, but Ruud remained on the bench for the whole 90 minutes.

Many United fans that I've spoken to about this departure have very mixed feelings. I haven't spoken to anyone who wasn't sad to see Ruud leave the club, the fact that it ended on a sour note surprised few reds. IT was the same with Roy Keane, David Beckham, Jaap Stam and more recently the club doctor Mike Stone.

With the very real danger of stating the obvious, football is at times a very ruthless business and players have always been treated like lumps of beef, getting sold to the highest bidder.

In Ruud's case, many fans had noticed that despite his goals, he wasn't quite the same player as he was a few seasons back. Ferguson has claimed to have talked Ruud out of handing in two previous transfer requests, before the eventual parting of the ways this summer. Added to which the players agent had been reportedly hawking him around Europe last summer. So clearly Ruud had been unhappy for some time.

Many reds were unhappy to see the back of Ruud, but they are equally unhappy at Fergie's apparent lack of planning to replace Van Niselrooy. United are left having to rely on strikers who have suffered terrible injury problems over the last couple of seasons. The club also loaned out Rossi - no doubt to cut down the wage bill.

United only have Saha who is an out and out number nine. The clubs other strikers are second strikers and I'm including Rooney in that bracket - he is of course among the very best in the world in that position. Now that RVN has gone, there's going to be even more pressure on Wayne to get the goals.

JR.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Fergie at centre of fan storm...

Sir Alex Ferguson further ignited the emtremely volatile atmosphere between himself and the hardcore anti Malcolm Glazer fans movement, by questioning their loyalties toward the club.

Within the 'The Official Manchester United Diary of the Season', Ferguson slams the fledging break away club FC United and their followers, by suggesting the North West Counties league club was about self publicity.

Fergie went on to say that during the takeover talks, some fans actually phoned him and asked him to resign. The United manager responded by telling the fans he had a duty to his back-room staff to remain in charge as many of them have been with him for between 10-12 years.

Quite where that leaves the recently sacked Mike Stone, the clubs former doctor who'd given 10 years good service to United and was respected by all is open to question?

Fergie reportedly sacked Mike Stone for continuing to do two hours a week at Manchester's Sports Science Institute, even though the work may have benefited the club. Furthermore, David Gill, United's CEO, had given his blessing to Mike to carry on the work.

It appears that Fergie has something of a selective memory when it comes to the definition of loyalty.

JR.

Ferguson 'doesn't like Argentine's'...

Javier Mascherano has claimed Ferguson is nervous about signing Argentine midfield players after his experience with Juan Sebastian Veron. Following his very patchy time at Old Trafford and an even worse experience at Stamford Bridge, has there been a bigger fall from grace in terms of star status in recent years?

Given the money wasted on Veron, you can understand Ferguson being nervous about signing another Argentine midfield player. United of course have Heinze, but Ferguson believes Argentine defenders are the best in the world, that is why he's signed Heinze. He trusts him.

Having seen bits and pieces of Mascherano, I think he could actually be just what United needed in some ways, he looks to be similar to Makelele, but technically looks to be a better player.

Ferguson has made it clear that United want to sign Owen Hargreaves, and I'd also be happy with Hargreaves - I'm not being revisionist here (unlike the tabloid press) because I've always thought he was ok. What gets me is why didnt Ferguson make a move for Hargreaves ages ago, instead he tried to sign Ballack - the player he later claimed 'wasnt right' for United.

Hargreaves is a better all round fit for United when compared to Mascherano, there'd be no language problems and he knows some of the United players already, and he's got a superior engine and gets about the park better.

JR.

Monday, September 04, 2006

UEFA passing the book on 'mystery backers'?

The mystery of who is actually behind London based MSI continues to be the subject of intense speculation.

Today UEFA has voiced its concerns about the need for complete transparency. UEFA director of communications William Gaillard told the Daily Telegraph. "The UK Government has a responsibility to start investigating."

Shouldn't it be UEFA who deals with this thorny issue, as opposed to the government?

There has been talk that MSI are being investigated in Brazil for money laundering, that of course would be a government issue, if it happened within the UK.

However, in July FIFA suspended the Greek Hellenic Football Federation, for allowing political involvement in its running of the sport. It seems political involvement is ok when it suits FIFA/UEFA...

JR.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

David Gill reveals United didn't want Argentine duo..

United's CEO, David Gill, has set the record straight regarding United, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. In an interview with BBC Five Live's Sportsweek, Gill told listeners that United were never interested in Tevez, and that they'd turned down the chance to sign Mascherano, not once, but twice.

Gill said that the club were interested in Mascherano, having watched him over the last 12 months, but Fergie had decided that he wasn't right for United.

Quite why Gill has gone public on this issue is open to speculation, one assumes it's because many fans are unhappy about the lack of incoming transfer activity this summer. Whatever the reason, in making the clubs position clear on the Argentine duo, Fergie and Gill have left themselves wide-open to even more fan fury especially if as expected the Argentine's set the Premiership alight with their skills this coming season. Watch this space.

JR

Friday, September 01, 2006

Fergie must regret publicly backing the Glazers..

IT's the day after the transfer window closed. United fans are now reflecting on what has been a summer of huge disappointments regarding incoming transfers. It has been reported that Ferguson would be given around £25m a year for spending, but no one is actually sure about the detail of his transfer budgets.

What we do know is that the club have actually spent very little, they may have even made a net profit after sales are taken into account. The latest names to leave are Liam Miller (free to Sunderland) and Rossi who goes on loan to Newcastle until January. The general consensus is that Ferguson has been told to reduce the wage bill by as much as possible and Miller was by all accounts a big earner, he also clearly wasn't anywhere near good enough to be pulling on the famous red shirt every week.

Reports also suggest the clubs debt is now a staggering £660m (that's more than some small African countries GDP), costing the club £62m a year in interest. IT remains to be seen how long the club carry this burden, given that not only does the club need to find an amazing £62m per year to service interest payments, but they also need to be spending wisely and big in the transfer market when the need arises. Suffice to say United are performing a very dangerous hire-wire act, many observers see no safety net and tears before too much longer, possibly within three years.

The question is, will Ferguson live to regret his sickening public brown-nosing of the Glazer family, he suggested that 'things are better' under the Glazer regime regarding transfers when compared to the old PLC days.

Those with half decent memories will recall one of the Glazers saying 'if and when we need to sign the next Wayne Rooney we will do it', well according to today's edition of the Sun, Ferguson is furious because he wasnt given the £14m to buy Carlos Tevez, 22, as a result the brilliant Argentine will now play for West Ham.

United fans have every right to feel disgust at what is going on at United with ever increasing season ticket prices all round and with little chance of competing for the games top honours, what with the managers hands tied behind his back.

Perhaps in future Ferguson will choose his words more thoughtfully.

JR.

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