Saturday, May 31, 2008

Scolari hints at Ronaldo move to Real Madrid...

Luiz Felipe Scolari has allowed himself to be dragged into Real Madrid's odious and seemingly increasingly desperate attempts to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, speaking to the press at Portugal's Euro 2008 training camp, 'Big Phil' said "I have said to him that in soccer it is not lived on the memories and that there are to take the opportunities when they arrive, because perhaps they do not return in life". Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that Marca - Real Madrid's unofficial mouthpiece reported the story.

The sooner Ronaldo ends this speculation by committing his immediate future to United the better, that may not happen until after Euro 2008 but after the Champions League final the player did say that he would make a statement in 15 days time. We live in hope that he is true to his word and then perhaps we the fans can fully focus on new player acquisitions.

Friday, May 30, 2008

United to bid for Richard Dunne?

There has been a lot of rumours suggesting that the Red Devils will try to sign Manchester City defender Micah Richards, but that looks very unlikely given that he recently signed a new deal, added to which the Blues would want a lot of money for the young England defender.

However, Richard's team-mate Richard Dunne is available for a reported £5m fee after refusing to sign a new long-term contract.

The 28-year-old was the fans player of the year, but a move to United would be less than popular with the City fans. According to the latest news, Spurs are the favourites to land the player who was once dubbed the 'honey-monster'.

Apart from fearing a fan backlash, would Richards fancy playing second fiddle to Vidic and Ferdinand? My own view is that Richards wouldn't fancy his chances of dislodging either player, and that a regular first-team place would be his preferred option at this stage of his career.

The Irish international would be a great player to have on the bench especially with United just having sold Pique. Silvestre is also expected to leave the club this summer which could leave United short of top quality cover in the centre of the back four.

Arsenal have the most to lose under FIFA's new quotas...

The news that FIFA's delegates have backed Sep Blatter's 'six-plus-five' proposals on player quotas will surprise few observers of the beautiful game - FIFA is after all his personal fiefdom.

If the FIFA president get his way by 2012-13, Premier League teams will only be able to field five foreign players.

If the 'six-plus-five' ruling is eventually imposed it could impact massively on Arsenal, with the Gunners often fielding teams without a single Englishman. Contrast this situation with the United team that started the Champions League final, the Red Devils had six Englishmen in their starting line-up - but of that number four were purchased for a total not far off £90m which backs-up Arsene Wenger's argument that English players are too expensive.

The good news is that the European Commission says that FIFA's proposals on imposing quotas is discriminatory and illegal. Vladimir Spidla, Europe's Commissioner for Equal Opportunities says "We're giving red card to the rule".

However, Blatter is determined to push through his latest big idea, but given that the proposal is against Community legislation it appears that for once the FIFA president will not be getting his own way.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

United legend set to join Chelsea?

Reports in the press are claiming that Mark 'Sparky' Hughes is in the frame to replace Avram Grant at Chelsea. If we are to believe the stories on the vacant manager's position there's only four big names who are being seriously considered; Mark Hughes, Roberto Mancini, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Didier Deschamps. Out of the list of potential candidates only Hughes and Scolari are currently employed following the news that Inter Milan sacked Mancini earlier this week.

One theory that is being bandied around by the media is that Peter Kenyon is backing Hughes to become the next Chelsea manager, you can imagine why that might be the case.

The West London club have had three managers' so far in the Abramovich era; Claudio Ranieri the infamous "tinkerman", the media darling and cocky Jose Mourinho and then Avram Grant who was the exact opposite of his predecessor - the Israeli coach was on a loser from day one, he would have been sacked even if Chelsea had won the Champions League.

So you can sort of understand why Kenyon might be backing Hughes who has many qualities, he gets on with it quietly, he's known to be quite hard when the need arises and he doesn't go blabbing to press every five minutes. However, Hughes lack of managerial experience in Europe could count against him.

The Welshman is of course a former Blues player and he's currently managing Blackburn Rovers, but there's a world of difference between his current situation and the one he'd be walking into at Stamford Bridge should he accept the job if offered.

For a start, as far as the first team is concerned Hughes has total control at Ewood Park, that wouldn't be the case at the Bridge with owner Roman Abramovich interjecting with his own views on the style of play and on player acquisitions plus selection issues.

There's an argument which suggests that Hughes would be mad to give up his current job where all things being equal he could stay for a very long time. Why give up the security of the Blackburn job for the none-stop media scrutiny and pressure that comes with the Chelsea position? The answer to that is simple, the big jobs don't come around that often and Hughes may feel that now is the right time to move up to the next level.

Hughes might well have is eye on replacing Ferguson at United, but there's no guarantees that he'd be offered the job. My own gut feeling is that Hughes would jump at the chance to become the next Chelsea manager, but I also believe that he might live to regret it should he be appointed. Sam Allardyce took the Newcastle United job to better himself, he was out on his ear not long after and hasn't worked since.

Ronaldo to follow Van Nistelrooy route to transfer list?

According to Marca, Cristiano Ronaldo can put himself on the transfer list in doing so he will make the first definitive step towards a move to Real Madrid. Marca claim that former United star Ruud Van Nistelrooy took the same route out of Old Trafford. However, United fans will know that there's a big difference between the Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy scenarios.

Fergie wanted the Dutch striker out of the club, largely because in his last season he appeared to lose his desire to play for United and he'd started to cause problems in the dressing room, ironically with Ronaldo of all people.

However, many United fans will be alarmed to learn that under Article 17 of Fifa's transfer rules, a player who has signed a contract when aged under 28 can break his contract after three years. A player who is 28 or over, he can break his contract after just two years. Compensation is payable, but crucially if Ronaldo took this route his destiny could lie in his own hands.

In 2007 Andy Webster, the Scotland defender broke his own contract with Heart's when he moved to Wigan Athletic, which set a landmark precedent for players to "buy" out their contract using a Fifa ruling which has been described as "the new Bosman".

But until Webster's case, no player had ever tested the rule. Webster, subsequently moved on from Wigan to Rangers on-loan, compensation of £625,000 was eventually agreed.

So in theory Ronaldo could actually take the same route leaving United and Madrid to agree compensation.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Calderón on the run after United's FIFA threat over Ronaldo...

Real Madrid president Ramon Calderón has made a half-hearted attempt to rebuild the damaged relations between his club and Manchester United over the Spanish Champion's continued pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Manchester United are furious with Madrid over this issue, so much so that the club have issued the threat of reporting Real to FIFA. The United manager has also made it clear that he believes Madrid have no moral's and just in case Calderón was in any doubt about the depth of his anger Fergie also weighed in when adding that Barcelona had more morality about them. Ouch.

Ramon Calderón responded "We have not done, nor we are going to never do nothing against the will of a club friend as it is the Manchester. Real Madrid does not have anything to do with this subject. The relation with the Manchester is magnificent."

The saga looks set to continue, The Daily Mirror is today claiming that Fergie could even be set to fly out to Swizterland to Portugal's Euro 2008 training camp in a bid to ensure that Ronaldo knows that he is wanted and that he will not be leaving United.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pique sold on the cheap and with Fergie's blessing?..

The fact that Gerard Pique has been sold back to Barcelona will be greeted with a certain amount of dismay by many United supporters, because since he first arrived at the club the young Spanish defender has only ever been a bit-part player, but this season when opportunities have come his way he has looked comfortable and so eyebrows will no doubt have been raised at today's news that Pique has been sold to his former club for £5m.

It's not as if the transfer fee amounts to a lot of money, added to which reports claim that United could be about to offload Sivestre this summer too, which if true leaves the Reds with just Wes Brown who is a recognised centre-half for cover for Ferdinand and Vidic.

Clearly Fergie believes that the club can cope without Pique and it remains to be seen if Jonny Evans who spent most of the season on-loan at Sunderland will be recalled. Evans was sent to Sunderland after failing to impress earlier in the season, specifically after the Carling Cup defeat at the hands of Coventry City. It cannot be ruled out that Fergie will also offload Evans and move to sign another central defender.

One thing is for sure, Fergie has made it clear that no player is sold unless he wants them out which is precisely what happened with Beckham and Van Nistelrooy. We are left to assume that for whatever reason Ferguson has given his blessing to Pique moving on, only time will tell if this is a good move or not, but the United manager doesn't often get it wrong where young players are concerned.

Marca and Real Madrid say the ball is now in Ronaldo's court...

Marca is today reporting that Ramon Calderón has said that Real Madrid's work is done as far as trying to recruit Cristiano Ronaldo is concerned. The Spanish club are basically saying that Ronaldo needs to instigate his own move and that they are in no hurry. The report suggests that Ronaldo needs to now force this issue. Last week Fergie went on the attack accusing Madrid of lacking morals where transfer talk is concerned, it was an entirely appropriate response by the United manager.

Some expert pundits believe that the player is being pushed by his agent to fight for a new and improved contract - from that perspective a lot will depend on how far Ronaldo wants to push the issue.

So far Ronaldo has only dropped hints about his long term desire to play in Spain. Given that we are now appear to be entering the crucial phase of this saga it remains to be seen what the Ronaldo camp will do next.

For their part, United have remained tight-lipped about the prospect of a new and improved deal. The club's official position is that the player is under contract for another four years, but they haven't given any indication if there is any scope to review Ronaldo's current contract. United will no doubt want to further extend Ronaldo's contract should they be willing to enter into negotiations, which could prove to be a major sticking point from the player's perspective.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Madrid's "amazing contract offer" to Ronaldo...

The war of words between Manchester United and Real Madrid continued this week, with the Spanish club once again floating stories via the press that they are doing all they can to capture Cristiano Ronaldo.

In repsonse, Fergie attacked Real Madrid when stating that the Spanish club have no morals, you cannot really argue with that given that despite the fact that Ronaldo is a Manchester United player, Spanish Sports paper Marca - the unofficial press organ of Real, is today claiming that Real Madrid will offer Ronaldo £7.5m net per year to sign for them. On top of that, it's claimed that Ronaldo will receive 50% of all revenues derived from the sale of image-rights from within Spain and 100% world-wide.

If the story is actually true, then United might be forced, to pay up to £10m a year just to keep the player, that's assuming that the club would be willing to match Real's reported offer.

It cannot be ruled out that this latest story is the work of agents, one theory that is being bandied around is that Ronaldo and his team are looking for a massive pay increase. But with four years left on his contract, should United give in to agent power and pressure from Madrid given that Ronaldo will surely already be the club's highest earner? That is a question that only David Gill will be able to answer in the weeks ahead.

Gill has stated categorically that the player is going nowhere - and given that Fergie has also made it publicly clear his biggest star is staying put only a complete and embarrassing turnaround could change that stance. Any move for Ronaldo would no doubt be 'over Fergie's dead body' or words to that effect as far as the United manager is concerned.

It was also interesting to learn that Ronaldo has made it clear that Fergie is one of the reasons that he is still at the club, there's clearly a strong bond between player and manager.

When asked about the possibility of Ronaldo staying put earlier this week, Fergie was clear that the player is going nowhere, added to which he has hinted strongly that he will remain United manager for the next three years, which ties in with Ronaldo's contract expiring.

All of the Real talk must be a bit unsettling for the player, but from what we have seen of Ronaldo he looks perfectly happy and judging by the player's demeanour in Moscow, if anything the bond between Ronaldo and Manchester United appeared to become even stronger following that Champions League win this week.

My own personal view is that a lot will depend on the player's desire to stay and the last point about him appearing to be happy leads me to think that Fergie and Gill are right.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

United stars set for talks...

It's been a pretty good 48 hours for United fans; it started with the Reds deservedly winning the Champions League on Wednesday and earlier today, young United star Fraizer Campbell helped Hull City secure their place in the Premier League next season by supplying the killer ball for Dean Windass to score the only goal of the game against Bristol City at Wembley. Campbell looks every inch a United player in the making, he has pace, he has vision and he's gifted.

In other news Patrice Evra is set for talks early next week about extending his contract with the club, the French left-back has been outstanding this season and a new deal is well deserved.

United are also being strongly linked with Cardiff City's highly rated youngster Aaron Ramsey, no official move has been made yet but it could be a case of watch this space.

Meanwhile, there is some disappointing news to report on the future of defender Gerard Pique, as it's being reported that talks about him returning to his former club Barcelona are at an advanced stage. Whether or not United will try to work some sort of swap deal for another player is open to speculation. Samuel Eto'o is a name that has been bandied around with the Cameroonian star being heavily linked to several Premier League clubs.

Terry guilty of spitting on Tevez?

A lot has been written about John Terry since he slipped and missed that penalty in Moscow, personally, I had no sympathy for him whatsoever given that he led the pack of Chelsea players who rounded on Carlos Tevez.

The Argentine had put the ball out of play knocking it back towards the Chelsea goal - in doing so he was only doing what the Chelsea players had already done twice. What followed was a total disgrace and Terry being captain needs to have a long hard look at his own behaviour given that he led the finger pointing.

However, it now emerges that Terry may have committed the most vile of football crimes by spitting on Tevez. UEFA could be about to use video evidence against the Chelsea captain, TV footage appeared to show Tevez wiping the back of his neck following the incident. If found guilty, even those who have defended Terry's disgraceful behaviour on the pitch will find it hard to defend his actions. I hope Terry receives a long ban - he deserves it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

United Champions of Europe: Poetic justice done as Chelsea's intimidation backfires...

Manchester United deservedly became Champions of Europe last night in a final that for once really did live up to expectations with both teams performing close to their very best. It was the first European final between two English clubs and a lot had been written in anticipation of what many feared could turn out to be a dull game, as was the case when the same two sides met in the FA Cup final last season.

United started the game looking and the more confident of the two teams. Ferguson had picked what many fans would agree was the Reds best team with Tevez playing up front along with Rooney.

Ferguson isn't known for his tactical nouse, but he really had done his homework when telling Ronaldo to weigh in the Chelsea's stand-in right-back Michael Essien. Time and time again, Ronaldo combined with Patrice Evra to find a way round the African star. The only way that Chelsea could stop Ronaldo was to foul or block him.

Carvalho later tried to take Ronaldo out with a cynical tackle, that could worst case; have broken the United star's ankle - for which the Portuguese defender could easily have been red carded.

Luckily Ronaldo was able to play on and throughout the match the multi-award winning winger was unplayable, it was fitting that he should open the scoring with a headed goal that was worthy of any final - the fact that it was Ronaldo's first against Chelsea made it all the sweeter.

The move that led to the opener pretty much summed up the difference between the two sides up and until that point. Scholes, who'd been a bit unlucky when getting booked for a clash with Makelele which resulted in the United veteran sustaining a facial injury, linked up neatly with Wes Brown deep inside the Chelsea half, the Reds right-back cut back and then crossed expertly with his left foot, Ronaldo made a towering leap above Essien and headed beautifully beyond Cech who was left rooted to the spot. It was a move of the highest technical order and Ronaldo's execution was clinical.

IF that opening goal had the fans on their feet, what followed was nearly as good with United looking extremely dangerous when launching two attacks that could easily have led to a three-nil lead as the Reds put Chelsea on the rack.

On 34 minutes the Reds started what turned out to be a stunning attack from deep within the United half as the ball was swiftly played out of defence, before Rooney delivered a pin-point long ball to the feet of Ronaldo, who once again left the Chelsea defence for dead, on this occasion his cross found the head of Carlos Tevez - only for Cech to make a great save, the rebound fell to Michael Carrick and his central drive went straight at the Chelsea 'keeper - either side of him and it would have been a certain goal.

United had really started to turn the screw when this time breaking down the right flank and once again it was Rooney who turned provider with a brilliant low driven cross that went jsut beyond the reach of Carlos Tevez - only the faintest of touches was required to further extend the Reds well deserved lead.

However, Manchester United have a well earned reputation for do it the hard way and somehow from a position of more or less total control we allowed the dour scrappers that are Chelsea back into the game with a horrible goal on 43 minutes, which was aided with two lucky deflections before Lampard had the simple task of passing the ball into an empty net.

Quite unbelievably, Edwin van der Sar had chosen to wear blades instead of studded boots, it later transpired that Chelsea's backroom team hard worked out that to do so could lead to players' losing their footing on what was a dodgy surface - which is precisely what had happened on Chelsea's equaliser. It beggars belief that United and their backroom team could fail to recognise such a basic technical detail, given that there had been so much talk about the state of the playing surface leading up to the final.

The Dutch stopper later fell over for the second time, but on this occasion it didn't end in a goal. The first half had ended all square, but Chelsea hadn't really been in the game and they were extremely lucky not to be three-one down at that point.

Somewhat predictably, Chelsea came out after the break visibly the stronger of the two teams as they went on to smother the life out of the game as only they can. Whereas in the first-half the Reds passing was quick and slick our play became scrappy and disjointed, as the game looked to be heading Chelsea's way with United becoming ragged.

The onlooking Red Army must have wondered how much longer the Reds could hang on against a team who are experts at grinding out results even when they're not playing that their very best.

Drogba, who had barely done anything of note until this point, sparked into life with 13 minutes remaining as he turned and curled a wicked shot that thankfully bounced to safety off the woodwork. If Chelsea's equaliser had more than a slice of good fortune about it, on this occasion it was United's turn to be very lucky.

It had been fairly clear for most of the second period that Scholes needed to be replaced, he had done his job brilliantly in the opening period, but his legs had gone, and it was fitting that Ryan Giggs eventually came on to replace him.

Quite why it took Fergie so long to make the change was a good question to ask at that point. Many fans would have no doubt been screaming at the United manager to take action but he'd left it until the 87th minute before making the switch.

Rival boss Avram Grant had also left it late before making his changes as Salomon Kalou was sent off for the disappointing Florent Malouda. Frank Lampard then hit the United woodwork after good work by Ballack and again the Reds could consider themselves to be extremely fortunate to be still in the game.

As the final headed into extra time, it became more of an even contest with United once again mounting their own attacks. Ryan Giggs was only denied by John Terry who somehow managed to head to safety - it would have been a certain goal but for the intervention of the England defender.

Rooney, to his disgust, was replaced by Nani, but in truth it was the right decision, save for the fact that the United striker would almost certainly have been a penalty taker should the match end in the dreaded penalty shoot-out, as was looking likely.

The final then descended into scenes of complete chaos when Carlos Tevez played the ball out of play when hitting it back towards the Chelsea goal following another bout of player cramp. The Argentine was immediately hounded by the Chelsea team with John Terry and Didier Drogba leading the pack.

It was entirely appropriate that Tevez had played the ball back towards the Chelsea goal, given that the Blues had started the trend earlier in the game when the roles were reversed.

What followed was poetic justice, first of all Drogba received his marching orders and quite right too. He had made the mistake of raising his hands in the mêlée - and only a complete amateur does that at any level of football.

Drogba had been unlucky not to score in normal time, he is a truly great player, but at the same time he has the annoying habit of trying to run the game when constantly carping to the officials.

The Ivory Coast star was at it throughout the game, just after the half-time break millions of fans around world watching on TV witnessed him appearing to give the referee yet more advice.

Ferguson, who is never short of opinions, interjected - the incident just added to the theatre of the occasion, but when Drogba eventually went for an early bath - few will have had any sympathy given his conduct. Drogba has no doubt played his last game for Chelsea - what a sad way to go out, as a loser and in such circumstances - especially given that he would have later been a Chelsea penalty taker.

Full time came without further incident. Anderson had replaced Brown in anticipation of the shoot-out. United fans must have feared the very worst when our star player Ronaldo then missed his penalty-kick.

Ronaldo had tried to trick Cech by stopping on his run-up and then starting again, but the big Chelsea 'keeper made a fine save when diving to his right. The Reds were just two penalties away from losing this final. The masses of onlooking fans must have thought we'd really blown it at that point.

Van der Sar was not making matters any better, given that he could have saved Chelsea's next penalty, but instead of saving it the ball went through him and into the net.

Next, it was the turn of Hargreaves and then Nani who both scored confidently and great credit to them for that - given what has happened in the past when United have been involved in shoot-outs. Many Reds fans' will have been replaying the nightmare vision of us losing the final there and then, but no, the tension was to carry on for just a while longer.

The thought of losing in such circumstances was too much to bear for the millions of United fans watching on TV, but for those who'd travelled to Moscow with all the expense incurred it must have been a truly excruciating feeling.

It was then the turn of 'iron-man' John Terry to seal United's fate, but miraculously just as he went to strike the ball, he slipped in the manner of Edwin van der Sar - had he not done so, he would surely have won the Champions League for Chelsea.

Terry will no doubt relive that miss a million times before he dies, so close and yet so far.

Personally, I couldn't help think that Terry had been made to pay for his part in the Tevez fracas earlier - he had led the finger pointing, intimidation and bullying. Again it was a case of poetic justice being meted out.

The shoot-out headed into the sudden death stage. Anderson and Kalou were successful from the penalty spot before Ryan Giggs coolly converted, in doing so transferring all of the responsibility onto another substitute, Anelka, this time Van der Sar did everything right when diving low and saving to crown United as kings of European football once again.

It was a truly nerve racking finish to what was a very good final. United ended their Champions League campaign unbeaten. We played the better football in the final; we thoroughly deserved the win, even though a penalty shoot-out isn't a satisfactory way to end any game.

The result will thankfully lead to the end of this Chelsea team as we know it. On top of which in winning this final, Fergie has finally exorcised the ghost of Jose Mourinho.

This current Chelsea team will I strongly predict implode. Reports claim that among others, Carvalho, Makelele and Drogba will be leaving the club – as good they are – they won’t be missed by Chelsea’s rivals. Good riddance.

In the view of many fans, Chelsea represent everything that is bad about football, both on the pitch and off it. It is to be hoped that the Chelsea players' take a long hard look at their disgraceful behaviour last night, which largely led to their own downfall when surrounding and bullying Tevez for which they paid a very high price.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Marca claiming that Ronaldo has held talks with Real Madrid...

A Spanish newspaper is today claiming that Ronaldo is keen to play in the white of Real Madrid. The United winger has made it clear that one day he dreams of playing in Spain, and last week the Portuguese star stated that he would discuss his future after the Champions League final with Chelsea.

Ferguson has been asked about Real Madrid's reported interest and both the club and manager has stated that the player is going nowhere.

In theory, United are very much in the driving seat, but according to Marca, Ronaldo has already held talks with representatives of the Madrid club and is keen to explore the possibility of a summer switch to Spain.

IF Ronaldo demands a move United could be in a very tricky position - there is no point in keeping a player against his will, so despite what the club are officially saying a lot will depend on what the former Sporting Lisbon star wants.

Ferguson has gone on record stating that if he was putting a bet on Ronaldo staying then he'd put a very big bet on, although this was in jest, Reds fans will be hoping that the United manager is right and that the player stays with the Red Devils.

Today's related links:

Rooney can win Champions League for United

United have lucky dressing room in Moscow

1999 Champions League final revisited - my story

Rooney has knowhow to gun down Chelsea...

It's the day of reckoning for United and Chelsea, the talking is nearly over, later this evening in Moscow one of these teams will be celebrating winning the Champions League - for the loser it will be total devastation.

Having followed United since 1970, I have experienced the build up and know all about all the Reds previous finals. In 1968 against Benfica, I was just ten years of age - I was 5oth this year - those who follow United will understand the significance in relation to the 50th Anniversary of the Munich air disaster.

A lot has been made of the fact that this current United side has the chance to mark the 50th anniversary of that fateful air-crash by winning the Champions League. However, United legend and crash survivor Bobby Charlton was quick to play down the Munich link earlier this week when saying that the players have a duty to go out and win the trophy by playing the United way. How true.

One or two of the current players have also spoken out saying that they are keen to make up for the many previous disappointments in Europe under Ferguson. The problem is, we've heard this many times before. All too often when it has really mattered in Europe our players have collectively and individually let themselves down. Talk is cheap.

Unlike in 1999, United's passage to the final hasn't been what we United fans have come to expect in terms of free-flowing attacking football with goals a plenty. We overcame Barcelona after being more or less totally outplayed in both legs, we defended well, but in all honesty we'd been given a football lesson. Thankfully the Catalans could not finish. Yet the day after reaching the final we even had a few Liverpool fans saying they could appreciate United's performance...

So we go into the final against Chelsea, a team who know how to win ugly - their style of play isn't for the purist, they are the masters of total pragmatic football as laid down by Jose Mourinho. I suspect that even Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich doesn't like watching them that much given that he reportedly craves for a more attacking style of play.

Given the opposition, it is probably too much to expect that we should be treated to a free-flowing slugfest of a final. For this reason, we are no doubt set for another battle, as Chelsea always seem to suck the life out of the game. Thinking about playing Chelsea is like thinking about a trip to the dentist, not something to look forward to as it's usually always painful on the senses.

But let us be positive, United do have the ability to unlock the Chelsea back four; we have the skill and pace of Ronaldo, the work-rate and guile of Tevez coupled with the power, knowhow, and technique of Rooney.

The former Everton striker has just released a revealing Nike video in which he gives us an insight into his dedication to his craft.



Rooney talks about the importance of having a good first touch, and this could be key against Chelsea whose defenders don't usually give forwards a second chance. But the England striker has the skill to capitalise on any mistakes as he showed recently at Stamford Bridge with a superbly taken goal after being gifted the ball by a Chelsea defender.

If I have a dream, it is that the final finishes 1-1 after 90 minutes and then like in 1968 United go on to win 4-1 in extra time with Rooney scoring twice and Ronaldo and Tevez getting in on the scoring act.

The United players have travelled to Moscow as heroes; we are hoping that they return as legends.

Come on Wayne, you know how to do it la...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Red Devils have the 'lucky' Moscow dressing room...

According to the groundsman in charge of preparing the pitch for the Champions League final in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, Manchester United are in the lucky dressing room. The Sheffield United fan groundsman has claimed that over 90% of the winning sides have changed in the said dressing room.

Full Story

However, the state of the pitch surface is another matter, apparently the ball is likely to bobble. Chelsea could be viewed as having a slight advantage on a dodgy pitch given their longer ball style with United playing more of a passing game.

Rooney can win it for United

Read my own story on how the 1999 Champions League final unfolded - another lucky omen?

1999 Champions League Final revisited, my story...

IT was the Sunday morning when we left Manchester Airport for Gerona, the plane was supposed to be full of holiday-makers, but perhaps not surprisingly it appeared to consist mainly of Manchester United fans who were heading to Barcelona for the Champions League final where we would face German club Bayern Munich. The previous day the Red Devils had secured the double when trouncing Newcastle at Wembley. If we could overcome the Bavarian club, a historic treble was very much on.

Our travelling party on the Gerona flight consisted of six people, though we were to meet up with Peter and his other half in Barcelona. Of the party of eight I was the only one who didn't have a ticket for the final. I actually had a match ticket, but I'd promised that to my then 16 year old son, his seat was located in the 'Gods' - the top tier the Nou Camp. Although my son's match-ticket only cost £12, it was priceless given we had waited 31 years to reach this stage of Europe's premier club competition and so the demand for tickets for this game was not unsurprisingly unprecedented.

However, I had some hopes of securing a ticket for the final while in Spain as one of our group had a contact - no less than a Barcelona director. During the knockout phase of the competition we had been told that there would be no problems acquiring tickets if the Reds should reach the final. We had been led to believe that Barcelona could receive up 20,000 tickets and so there'd be no problem should United get to the final. But, when we flew out of Manchester on that Sunday morning, all I had was a half decent forgery in my back pocket, it would have to be used as a last resort.

An hour into that Sunday morning flight, a middle aged ticketless United fan asked me "have you got a final ticket then?" I answered him by saying "no, but I was hoping to have one later in the week". As things turned out we were staying in the same hotel - that Red who I'd never even met before later said to me that he was the luckiest man in the whole of Spain as he ended with my son’s £12 match ticket.

Our contact had finally come up trumps on the Tuesday before the game, there waiting at the ticket office was four tickets on the halfway line - the best tickets in the stadium. From having seven tickets between our party of eight - we had 11 tickets. Unbelievable, but 100% true.

Prior to arranging our trip back home I had told a few other Red mates that we might have spares, but they all turned down the chance of coming to Spain with us. They were totally gutted when they later discovered what had happened.

We sold the £12 ticket to the ticketless Red on the plane whose first question was "do you have a ticket then?" Two Irish Reds who we'd never met before had the remaining spares.

Myself and my son would be together in the United end of the Nou Camp, centrally in the middle tier - position A.

Come the day of the game we took the bus and then the train from Lloret de Mar to Barcelona. United and Bayern fans mingled without any problems. It was a glorious sunny day. We spent the afternoon drinking and enjoying ourselves down the Ramblas and again there was little or no trouble, it was the most perfect day.

Getting into the Nou Camp that night was another story, the police were struggling to control the huge numbers of fans outside the ground. We later discovered that there was as many Reds outside as there was inside the Nou Camp.

Once inside we were totally awe-struck at the magnificence of the stadium, its steep tiers reaching up ever skywards. The Nou Camp is a truly fitting venue for any final and to be there on that night of all nights was a truly magical and unforgettable experience.

The game kicked-off and somehow we conceded a soft-goal from a free-kick. Worryingly, United were not playing as they had done in the previous rounds. Gone was the all-out attacking style that had led to us scoring so many goals. Instead, we looked nervous and apprehensive. At half-time, I had a conversation with a few Reds confidently saying that I believed if we scored one, we would score two and go on to win the game.

The second-half started and there was no sign of the substitutes, the fans sensed that Fergie needed to make changes, but he didn't do so and as the game went on Bayern started to look the stronger of the two teams. Then at last Fergie sent on Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Edward Paul 'Teddy' Sheringham - almost immediately we had a couple of half chances, which were not taken.

With the game looking beyond us and with ten minutes remaining, I spoke to the those Reds again saying "it isn't happening". We really thought that the game was very nearly up. Carsten Janker had hit the United crossbar. The Germans players had started their victory celebrations early when waving to their expectant fans.

We fans didn't know this at the time, but the Bayern colours were being pinned to the Champions League Trophy. With just a few minutes to go Lennart Johansson had started to make his way down to the presentation area in readiness for the final whistle.

Then United attacked down our left wing, the Reds fans seemed to sense that it was now or never. United won a throw-in, before it was taken, I had looked up at the big digital clock in the Nou Camp which was bang on 90 minutes. A huge roar went around the ground as the United fans gave it one last massive effort to will that ball into the Bayern net.

Gary Neville took the throw-in from which we won a corner and then all hell broke loose as Sheringham equalised after Giggs had initially miss-hit his shot. Within seconds of the restart, United were on the attack again and won another corner, now it was turn of the "smiling assassin" Ole Gunnar Solskjær to put the ball in the Bayern net.

Amidst the mass of sprawling bodies and sheer unbridled joy, I somehow managed to compose myself enough to once again look up at that clock, when I'd last looked on 90 minutes we were losing 0-1, but now it read 92 minutes 2-1 to United. Was this really happening I asked myself?

It was all over for Bayern. Their players were on the pitch on their knees, some of them in tears. The Germans didn't know what had hit them, they must still wonder how they lost that game in such circumstances.

We eventually left the ground after celebrating for what seemed like ages. We had arranged to meet our drivers' outside the Cathedral, Segrada Familia. All public transport had been cancelled, no doubt for fear of trouble and so we had a very long walk. Even the Spanish seemed to be genuinely pleased that United had won the game - some Spanish dustbin men who were working into the early hours were chanting "Manchester, Manchester".

The next day, we bumped into two old Dutchmen, on realising that we were English fans they'd said to us "did you see the game - some of the Germans were crying?!" There's no love lost between the Dutch and Germans and the spectacle of Bayern losing in such a manner had clearly been the highlight of their day.

Our hotel was full of Reds, some had been to the game like us, but many had been unable to get back to Lloret. It turned out that many of the travelling Red Army had slept on the Ramblas - they must have slept soundly in knowledge that an unprecedented treble had been won.

It wasn't until later the following day that we also realised that there was a fair few coincidences surrounding this epic match; It was the last final of the 1990s, on the very day we lifted the trophy it would have been Sir Matt Busby's 90th Birthday, as he was born on 26 May 1909. United equalised in the 90th minute. Was it really meant to be?

If anyone is looking for omens for the game in Moscow, I also have another coincidence for you as five days before the 1999 final an old mate had asked me to attend an evening with George Best as guest at Old Trafford. I haven't been out socially with that lad since 1999, not until this Saturday night just gone that is - which again was five days before the clash with Chelsea in Moscow...this time, he's going to the final and sadly I won’t be...



Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ronaldo sending out mixed messages about his future....

First the good news, according to the latest reports Cristiano Ronaldo isn't going to quit United this summer and that's despite his comments earlier this week that he will talk about his future after the Champions League final.

Coming on the back of that speculation which the player himself instigated by talking openly to the Spanish media, and much to the relief of United fans around the world, the Portuguese winger has been quick to once again clearly state that he is indeed happy with his lot at Old Trafford, citing that Fergie is the main reason that he's staying put.

Meanwhile, other media reports in Spain are claiming that Ronaldo is angling for a massive new pay deal. United fans will have mixed views on this if true, on one hand many will be saying give him the deal that he wants, but there will be others - no doubting including Fergie and the club among them who believe the player is going about this the wrong way, when giving the impression that he might want to move elsewhere. As Fergie has pointed out in the wake of the latest transfer talk surrounding Ronaldo, Real Madrid need no encouragement where speculation is concerned linking them to stars like the United winger.

It remains to be seen what the exact truth is, but if we can take Ronaldo for his word then it seems that he will stay for as long as Fergie is still the manager. On that latter point, there has been a great deal of speculation suggesting that should United win the Champions League Fergie could himself call time on his own future at the club.

The only thing that we know for sure at this stage is that United must win their next game, once the dust has settled we will find out what the real truth is concerning both the player and manager.

Platini vows to bring Glazers' debt laden regime to book...

UEFA chief Michel Platini has stated his intention to stop heavily debt laden clubs from competing in Europe. If the former European & World footballer of the year gets his way, in future all clubs will need to demonstrate that they are operating on a level playing field by balancing their books - failure to do so will mean that they will not be granted a license to play in European competitions.

It comes as no surprise that Manchester United are currently way out on top of the unofficial world club debt league, following the Glazer family's debt led acquisition. Real Madrid, Liverpool and Arsenal also feature in the top half of the table.

Platini's grand plan will find some support from within the ranks of the disenfranchised United fans who have been priced out following their beloved club, due to the ever-increasing prices at Old Trafford.

However, there will also be those who question the reasoning behind what could be viewed a UEFA led moral crusade against what is largely an elite list of English clubs, especially given that Real Madrid have dominated Europe while at the same time their financial mismanagement has been largely ignored by UEFA.

Platini and his allies claim is that this group of all powerful clubs have been winning while at the same time building huge sums of debt, but it could be even argued that isn't strictly true in a European sense as when United and Liverpool won the Champions League they were both debt free. In the case of Liverpool, there hasn't even been a huge investment in the team.

As far Manchester United are concerned, we have the dubious honour of being recently named as the richest and at the same the most laden of them all. However, United's debts have reportedly been transferred back on to Red Football, the Glazers' investment vehicle used to acquire the Red Devils.

Given that United could have annual operating profit even with their debts, any UEFA ruling on licensing would seem on the face of it be hugely complicated. United could potentially be penalised because of the financial largesse of their parent company. Would such a licensing scheme be even legal?

It's also questionable how popular such an idea would be surely the clubs themselves would have to approve such a proposal. Earlier this year the powerful G14 was disbanded following an agreement by FIFA and UEFA to pay compensation to clubs following injuries to players.

This latest threat from Platini will no doubt lead to some of those former G14 members thinking that disbanding wasn't such a good idea after all. However, the G14 will be replaced by the recently formed European Club Association which has 103 member clubs.

It is being reported that Bayern Munich's vice-president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has been busily campaigning to get Platini to bring about an end to the current situation whereby clubs are seen to be winning while at the same time building huge sums of debt.

Ironically, Rummenigge will also be the first chairman of the new formed ECA, so at least Platini will have at least one powerful ally. On the flip side, even the suggestion of a Champions League minus Manchester United, Real Madrid, Arsenal and Liverpool seems frankly crazy and to even suggest it could eventually lead to another Platini idea consigned to the waste basket.

Michel Platini is seemingly in danger of fast becoming the most well intentioned but least effective administrator of them all, but in fairness, he has some way to go to over-take Sep Blatter on that score.

Full story.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ronaldo keen not to rock the boat until after the Champions League final...

Reading between the lines it seems fairly certain that Cristiano Ronaldo would like to move on to Real Madrid or indeed Barcelona; the only question is when and not if.

The majority of Reds fans have loved and supported the Portuguese star from the start of his United career, but we will have to accept and live with whatever Ronaldo decides is best for his future. We also have to remember that he did not have to sign his last contract extension. Ronaldo has known of Madrid's interest for quite some time, so we should show him respect, no matter what happens after the Champions League final next week.

Many United supporters were deeply unhappy with the way that David Beckham appeared to engineer his own move out of the club – at the time many fans believed that he had tried make the club look like the guilty party when all along his camp had been working his ticket out of Old Trafford. Like Ronaldo, Beckham wanted to sample life in another country and play for another huge club, you cannot blame them really.

However, unlike Beckham, Ronaldo is being open and honest about his long term intentions, this week he has spoken of his 'dream' to play in Spain.

Should our worst fears be realised this summer, then Ronaldo could be off to sunny Spain and quite where would that leave United? It would quite ridiculous to suggest that we will just replace him, as that is clearly impossible.

The media keep on banging on about Cristiano being 'the best player in the world' - that may or may not be true, but one thing is for sure, he's one hell of a player. No way would United have won the title without his goals, he has given the Reds so much it is almost impossible to quantify.

Losing Ronaldo is unthinkable and should it happen don't be surprised if Fergie also throws in the towel as his job would suddenly look ten times harder.

Whenever a United genius or legend moves on, the club have been lucky enough to eventually replace them. In the case of Beckham, we replaced him with Ronaldo, even though they play in the number seven shirt, like Cantona before them they are entirely different players.

All that United fans can hope for is that we will eventually find another fabulous number seven - after all, that is what the club have always been about, finding the most talented players who can go on to play the game the United way, long may it continue.

Whatever you decide Cristiano - we the fans salute you - at least I will, there is only one Ronaldo.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Arshavin the perfect replacement for Scholes - "Fergie, Fergie - sign him on"

Russian star Arshavin lit up Manchester last night in the UEFA Cup final when producing the game's only genuine moments of class, Zenit St Petersburg won two-nil, Arshavin was at the heart of both goals.

In truth, the match itself was like too many finals, with so much at stake, not that memorable and there were few technical skills on view. However, the Zenit number ten did more than enough to ensure that Europe's biggest clubs will be making enquiries about his availability this summer.

Rangers huffed and puffed their way through the match, but they had no answer to Arshavin who once again proved that he is the man for the big occasion. England fans will no doubt recall that he was the architect of the Three Lions downfall in the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

Paul Scholes is not unlike Arshavin in his style of play, both have the ability to unlock tight defences with killer passes, the 24-year-old Russian would be an ideal long-term replacement for the United midfield general.

As the song goes "Fergie, Fergie sign him on".

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

United to put 3,000 CL final tickets on open sale to members?

Officially United have around 1,000 Champions League final tickets that have been returned from season ticket holders. However, rumours have been circulating the city today suggesting that that up to 3,000 tickets could be offered to the club's 140,000 membership. United remain confident that they will not be returning any unsold tickets to UEFA.

David Gill had gone on record stating that United could have sold five times the club's initial allocation "We could sell well over 100,000 tickets for this final, so there will be a lot of disappointed people."...

Chelsea are thought to have sold far fewer tickets than United, though at this moment in time the exact numbers of unsold tickets is a matter of conjecture and speculation.

What we do know is that it's a desperate situation for many supporters who cannot afford to spend around £1,000 on a day trip. Understandably, fans of both clubs are not happy about the final being played in Moscow given the huge expense involved in getting there, added to which all of the city's hotels were booked up weeks ago.

There's also the question of UEFA acting responsibly with regard to football's carbon footprint - where is the sense in dragging 40,000 English fans across Europe to Moscow?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Time right for red hot Campbell and Fabiano?

It was a fantastic weekend for United fans, the Premier League title was wrapped up at Wigan. It was a nerve-racking game for all those who follow the Red Devils, but we got the right result and of course Chelsea faltered against Bolton - few had predicted the game at Stamford Bridge would end in a draw.

Manchester City even went down losing by an eye-watering score-line of 8-1 against 'Boro. Many Reds will have been so absorbed by events at the JJB that the City result was always going to be academic given both teams had little to play for, but still news of the result capped off what was a truly memorable day for United fans with a few added laughs thrown in.

The good news didn't end there though as those who were lucky enough to see Watford vs Hull City earlier in the day will have witnessed another treat in the form of young on-loan United striker Frazer Campbell, who went on to have an outstanding game for the Tigers who won two-nil. Campbell expertly laid on the first goal for Nick Barmby when pulling the back from the by-line; he also had a hand in the second goal and could have scored a couple himself.

Those United fans who follow the Reds youngsters will no doubt be hoping that Campbell isn't offloaded like David Healy. The big problem is that United are almost spoilt for choice in the 'second striker' department with Rooney and Tevez both coming into that category and course we have Ronaldo who can play anywhere up front - though his best position like Ryan Giggs is out wide.

However, Giggs cannot go on forever, therefore it's likely that Campbell will spend another season on-loan and if he continues to develop at the current rate Fergie will have a ready made replacement for the Welshman in 12 month's time.

While competition for places at Old Trafford is fierce in the wide positions, Fergie is looking to bring in another out and out striker; ideally the Reds will find someone with power, pace and skill - not an easy task - and many are rightly hoping that Angolan striker Manucho gets the green light for that work permit.

There was a further development on the search for a new striker today, with the name of Luis Fabiano being added to the list of potential new acquisitions. The 27 year-old Brazilian is thought to have a buy-out clause in his contract that could see him arrive at Old Trafford this summer for a knock-down £9m, but his club Seville reportedly have a prohibitive £46m price tag on the player who has scored 34 goals in all competitions this season. Most of the newspapers ran the Fabiano story today, which had all the hallmarks of originating from one source, probably the Press Association. Is there any truth behind the story as Fabiano has also been linked to Manchester City?

We have been led to believe that United have been watching the Brazilian all season, but again this could be paper talk as was the Michael Owen link to United at the weekend.

At this time of year, players' agents' will go the extra mile when talking to the press and their contacts with a view to brokering a big money move for their clients and course we are now entering the silly season where transfers are concerned.

I personally wouldn't rule out United's reported interest in Fabiano - the fact that respected sports papers like the Times and Telegraph ran the story suggests that somewhere along the line credible sources must have been consulted on this link.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Striker gamble ensures United are back-to-back Champions, again ...

United retained the title at the JJB Stadium on Sunday after Ferguson once again gambled on the fitness of Wayne Rooney. The England striker didn't look to be 100% match sharp against Wigan especially in the opening twenty minutes, but unlike against Chelsea recently, this time the gamble paid-off handsomely as the former Everton star went on to win the Reds a first-half penalty and then lay on the second crucial goal for substitute Ryan Giggs.

Going into the game reports suggested that Rooney was an injury doubt, and exit bound Louis Saha's inclusion on the bench as insurance was further evidence that the Reds had concerns over starting with Rooney up top.

Ferguson now has a nice break before the Champions League final in Moscow on May 21st; it will be long enough to ensure that the players are rested and fully ready for the clash with Chelsea who have their own injury concerns over Drogba and skipper John Terry.

However, all thoughts on Moscow were put to one side going into the final league game with Wigan, it was win or bust for the Red Devils and all the talk centred on what Steve Bruce and his players would do. "In the name of fair play" many in the media tried their best to ensure that justice was seen to be done - while at the same time the media managed to more or less completely ignore Bolton's duty to perform against title challenger's Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

The fear was that Wigan might roll-over for the Reds, those fears were completely washed away after the first 20 minutes at the JJB, with the home team edging the contest. United looked a bit nervy in the opening exchanges with Scholes and Carrick gifting the ball back to the other side and up top Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo were giving the army of visiting fans little to shout about.

Rio Ferdinand (my man of the match) was given the benefit of the doubt by referee Bennett with a dubious looking hand-ball decision inside the United penalty area. United would have had few complaints if a spot-kick had been given.

Then on 33 minutes a United attack led to Rooney being decked in the Wigan penalty area and this time the referee pointed to the spot. Ronaldo scored in some style to ease the Reds nerves, but not long after Scholes who had already been booked made another late and stupid trademark challenge, worst case it could have cost United the title, but bizarrely Bennett only lectured the former England star on this occasion.

There was the usual post-match inquest on Bennett's performance, this a referee who has made some awful decisions against United over the last few seasons, was he attempting to redress the balance somewhat, or was it that Bennett did not want to court yet more controversy given he'd sent off Ronaldo twice? Whatever it was the stopped Bennett issuing a red card to Scholes he may well be back on Fergie's Christmas card list.

Having already given United a penalty they were denied a cast-iron second-half spot-kick when Scholes was hacked down by Bramble and once again it was Rooney who'd supplied the killer pass, but this time Bennett gave the benefit of the doubt to Wigan. Steve Bruce later described the referee's performance as 'horrific', objective United fans couldn't argue really; the rest will not care one jot...

Giggsy came on to equal Bobby Charlton's all-time United appearance record and he fittingly hammered the final nail into Chelsea's title hopes when scoring on 80 minutes following United's best move of the game which again ended with Rooney supplying the killer pass.

The Giggs finish was exemplary, like the Ronaldo penalty it was coolness personified. The Welshman first checked that he was onside while at the same time realising that he was in space, before receiving the Rooney pass then turning after just one touch and firing smartly beyond the reach of Kirkland to send the Red Army into raptures.

The fact that Giggs has matched Charlton's record is nothing short of remarkable in the modern game; it was the perfect way to end to this game on what turned out to be a magical day.

Giggs is now being rightly held up as a model professional both on and off the pitch, the fans are hoping that he goes one better in Moscow and helps to secure that elusive Champions League trophy.

Back at the JJB the news just got better when it emerged that Bolton had equalised at Stamford Bridge and with it came the knowledge that the race for the title had been finally won.

The joyous scenes at the end of this game showed exactly how much this title victory meant to everyone at the club. Ferguson hasn't celebrated like he did at the JJB since the win in Champions League final in Barca in 1999. It's the perfect 10 now for Fergie and the speculation is that he might carry on until he's won another couple in doing so overtaking rival's Liverpool.

We can now look forward to the trip to Moscow with something to show for a season's hard graft, failure to do so yesterday was unthinkable given the task ahead.

The experts are saying this has been the most competitive top division in England ever. Few, perhaps only Liverpool fans would argue...

For most of the campaign Arsenal have played some great football and only ended up four points behind United. Chelsea after an unbelievable end to the season finished just two points behind the Champions. All three clubs have had to endure injuries to key players. Gunners fans will be wondering what would have happened if Eduardo had not had his leg broken. United lost Rooney and Vidic and Chelsea have lost Drogba, Carvahlo, Ballack and Terry.

Yet for all the injury problems coupled with the criticism of the Premier League, we had three teams in the quarter finals of the Champions League and two in the final.

For these reasons United can look back with pride at their wonderful achievement of retaining the title. As Mark Lawrenson opined on MOTD2 "They've scored the most goals, let the least in, United never give up, they always attack you - they only know how to play one way" and that isn't a bad summary even for a plastic Scouser...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Fergie 100% right to question media and "partying" Bolton players...

Fergie went on the offensive this week in a bid to redress the media's campaign to ensure that the Wigan Athletic players put on a good show against the Red Devils on Sunday at the JJB stadium. The United manager's gripe was that while the media have been quick to focus on Steve Bruce's players, few have questioned Gary Megson's Bolton stars who take on title challenger's Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the finally day of the season. Via his "spying network" Fergie revealed that the Bolton players have been out partying all week after they secured their place in the Premier League next season.

There is no love between United fans and those who follow Wanderers, so much so that I personally wouldn't be surprised if the Bolton fans at Stamford Bridge start cheering on the home team.

The same can be said of sections of the ABU media, who appear to be desperate for Chelsea to win the title given their incessant questioning of the Wigan players all week. Leading up the this final day of the season it has been an unbalanced media led barrage of questioning as far as Bruce and his players are concerned, while Megson and his players have been left to go out on the piss and live it up at the races.

On Sunday the talking will have to stop and then the United players will hopefully put on show worthy of the name champions, and if they do that all the hype will be blown away.

Top striker deals likely...

It's very nearly that time of the year again folks, the summer transfer window is set to open and with it will come the usual plethora of players who will be linked to Manchester United.But before we get into some of the names in the frame, how much will Ferguson have to spend this summer?

According to one recent report Fergie has up to £50m to spend on new signings, but let us not forget that the future of Carlos Tevez needs to be resolved, that deal could account for up to £20m.

The good news for United fans is that the player known as the "Apache" says he wants to stay, and he's in no hurry to sign - but with only one year left on his current loan deal, it seems likely that the Reds will have earmarked a substantial amount of this summer's transfer kitty to secure the Argentine's long term future.

There has also been no official news on what is likely to be happening in the transfer market from within Old Trafford - and that is how it should be - we don't want a repeat of our chief executive announcing to the world that the club are cash rich and ready to spend, as did Peter Kenyon prior to capturing Rio Ferdinand from Leeds United. At that time the West Yorkshire club were on their financial uppers, but it didn't stop United from shelling out silly money for a defender, over £3om to be precise.

The Ferdinand transfer was an abject lesson on how not to conduct a transfer, it is to be hoped that lessons were learnt, because down the years, United really have been their own worst enemies where inflated transfer fees are concerned.

Whenever the Red Devils come knocking enquiring about the availability of potential transfer targets the selling club almost always adds on a few noughts' - it is entirely our own fault, if you act daft, expect to be treated accordingly.

Another case in point being Jaap Stam's move to Lazio - we paid them £30m cash for Veron - in return the Italian club didn't stump up the £14m for "the big Dutchman" for about three years... I could go on and on...

So who are the names that Ferguson's most wanted list? As ever we can only speculate. Spurs Bulgarian striker Berbatov reportedly wants Champions League football next season, should United's interest be firmed up with a bid, there's no doubting the North London club will take the greatest of pleasure in pulling down our collective trousers on the transfer fee as they did with Michael Carrick - once he had signed for £18m, sources close to the club let it be known they'd have accepted a lot less - suffice to say Spurs could be about to double their money for a player they signed for £10.9m ...

However, there's has been suggestions that Berbatov sulks when not selected (another Saha?), added to which he doesn't track back in the manner of our very own "White Pele" aka Wayne Rooney. The Bulgarian star is also more than a bit lazy, but the boy can play and there's no doubt about that. My gut feeling is that Fergie would love to have him at Old Trafford, he's a big player for the big occasion, for this reason I can see United making Spurs an offer which they cannot refuse.

Samuel Eto'o name is being linked to all of Europe's top clubs - no surprise there given that Barcelona have parted company with manager Frank Rijkaard, but like the rest of the Barcelona players including Thierry Henry, he will want to see what the new coach has to say before making any decisions on his future. Another potential stumbling block stems from the fact that the Catalan club would want Ronaldo in part exchange - a request that would surely bring to an end any prospect of a deal? There's also talk that Samuel Eto'o is another complex character and is quite hard to manage. My own view is that both Samuel Eto'o and Henry are unlikely to arrive at United this summer.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's name has been constantly linked to United over the last few seasons, the Dutch striker would appear to fit the bill, he's the right age and he can score goals - 33 from the current campaign.

A recent report claimed that Huntelaar was keen to stay at Ajax under the guidance of Dutch legend Marco van Basten, but Huntelaar is 26 this year and given his age he can no longer be classed as "Europe's hottest young striker" added to which the Ajax star must have surely contemplated moving to a bigger stage. My own verdict is that this deal is possible - given it's likely to be the one that offers the best value for money.

Kenwyne Jones has risen to prominence since his move to Sunderland where he is currently top-scorer, but surprisingly he has only bagged seven goals this season in what is a struggling side.

Ironically, his move to Sunderland could potentially scupper any prospect of a dream move for Jones to a big club of because of the Black Cats likely sky-high transfer valuation.

Sunderland manager Roy Keane has not spent wisely in the transfer market and Jones is the club's most valuable asset. The Trinidad and Tabago star has been described as the next Didier Drogba - he's not quite that good and due to Sunderland's valuation, my view is unlikely.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Why Keegan is wrong on Premier League being boring...

Kevin Keegan is seemingly in trouble with Mike Ashley the Newcastle United owner for stating that the Premier League is in danger of becoming one of the most boring but great leagues in the world. We know what you meant Kev... The Newcastle manager was talking to the media following Monday's two-nil defeat to Chelsea and it's not the first time that Keegan has lost the plot somewhat on such occasions, it is understandable really following the heat of battle.

Ashley should not be reprimanding his manager for speaking his mind; Keegan is all about passion he speaks from the heart. The former European footballer of the year wants to see the Magpies up their mixing it with the top four - but he and Ashley both know full well that it is unlikely to happen. No doubting Ashley will be telling his manager to keep such views to himself in future, that's assuming he's still in the job after Friday's meeting in London.

The fact is the Premier League is like any other top European league - it is dominated by a few clubs - it's the same in Spain, Italy and Germany, it's up to the other clubs like Newcastle to try to break the monopoly of the bigger clubs. As we have seen this season it can happen, the big boys can be beaten, Manchester United have lost five games this season and we have dropped points a plenty when drawing games.

If Michael Owen had used his left foot and taken other chances against Chelsea, Newcastle could have won that game, but did not happen.

No doubting Ashley will be asking Keegan to clarify his comments - was it a public cash call to the Newcastle owner, or more likely was KK just venting his spleen following a hugely disappointing second-half display by his team? Whatever Keegan's motives "I'd like to be a Mole on the wall" (As Keegan said once said) at that meeting on Friday when the two meet to discuss those comments.

Whatever the outcome, Keegan is wrong, the Premier League might be predictable, but so is La Liga - how many times have Madrid won the league in the last 20 years?

The Premier League is a great league - only those who follow clubs that haven't won the title for a long time would argue otherwise. Sure, it's nigh on impossible for promoted clubs like Derby County to survive, but even the Rams nearly managed to beat United this season. The Premier League is exciting and it's competitive, if it wasn't the grounds would be empty.

The old first division did have more winners in the 60s and 70s, but Liverpool had periods of domination and we cannot turn back the clock.

For the record since 1990, England's top division has been won by five different clubs:
United, Leeds, Blackburn, Chelsea and Arsenal.

Here's a breakdown of the other top leagues in Europe since 1990:

La Liga - six clubs: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, De Portivo, Athletico Madrid, Athletico Bilbao (La Liga has been more or less totally dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona)

Serie A - six clubs: Inter, Milan, Juve, Roma, Lazio and Sampdoria (Dominated by Milan and Juve - six wins each)

Bundesliga - five clubs: Bayern Munich ; Stuttgart, Borossia Dortmund, Werder Bremen and FC Kaiserslautern (dominated by Bayern, nine times winners)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Why Chelsea's current form should give Fergie cause for a rethink...

United head into their crucial final league game of the season, knowing that nothing less than a victory will do with Chelsea breathing down our necks at the top of the table. This coming Sunday United face an improving Wigan team while Chelsea face Bolton - we cannot expect any favours off the Trotters.

The worry is that the Reds away form has been very poor over the last few weeks. Many supporters will rightly believe that the club should be champions already, but as we saw at the Riverside and at Ewood Park the Champions were unable to press home their advantage in front of goal when it mattered - in the end we were grateful for what turned out to be a crucial point in each of those nerve racking matches.

But now is not the time to ask how did it come to this - we are where we are, Fergie has to focus on the job at hand. Beat Wigan and we will be champions again - no one will care about those dropped points if we the job properly.

On rivals Chelsea, I'm fairly certain that thousands of Reds will have been watching them go on to beat Newcastle 2-0 on Sunday. It was at times painful to watch with St Michael Owen missing two relatively easy chances.

Chelsea could easily have been 2-1 down at the break, but when Viduka went off at half-time, I like many others feared the worst for the Magpies.

Those fears were fully justified, because pretty much right from the restart it looked like there was only ever going to be one winner - it wasn't those in black and white.

The concern for Fergie (or least it should be) is that the Blues midfield looks to be coming back to its very best, with Ballack, Essien and Lampard all looking razor sharp. Chelsea were so good in fact that they could afford for Drogba to have a bad day by his own standards.

Against Barcelona recently, the Reds midfield offered little resistance and here again Fergie must take action to ensure that the team that starts the Moscow Champions League final does not get overrun by allowing Chelsea too much of the ball in midfield. Answers on a postcard on how to go about that task...but I suspect Fergie will get it all wrong, given how many times he has failed against this current Chelsea squad.

My own view is that Reds midfield are not performing their defensive duties well enough away from home. This coupled with giving the ball away cheaply has been led to United losing possession too often - it stood out like tits on a bull against Barca.

Before that massive game we face Wigan and here again, it remains to be seen what team the Scot will start with, I suspect that there will be no Wayne Rooney – this is totally down to Fergie’s crazy gamble when playing the injured striker against Chelsea.

Whatever team the manager selects, it should in theory be good enough to win at the weekend – if only theories counted for anything.

What we know is this, to a man, the Wigan players will put in a lung-busting display to stop us – it happened at ‘Boro and at Blackburn – if our players do not match theirs for effort it could be a very difficult day.

Regarding other news...
On Vladimir Putin's decision to ease Russia's rules on visas for 72 hours, yes, this is very good news, but given that the final venue was decided ages ago, the whole business has been a total UEFA fiasco, it should have been sorted out much earlier. The match should never have been played in Russia is my own view.

Monday, May 05, 2008

"Follow, follow, follow, why I'm NOT going to Moscow" - the first All Prawn Sandwich brigade final

Many of those United fans who were unlucky to miss out on the drama of the 1999 Champions League final in Barcelona will no doubt have vowed that they would not make the same mistake next time, and of course the moment has arrived, it's the Red Devils vs Chelski in Moscow. However, for many of those supporters the joy of reaching this final has been soured when it emerged that only those with really deep pockets will be actually being going to Moscow. The flight costs are prohibitively expensive, around £800 for a day trip - for the whole day out it will be over £1,000. In perspective that's more than the cost of a season ticket at Old Trafford.

Alternatively you could take the Deutsche Bahn train from London for £540, en route you will stop at Berlin and Warsaw before arriving in Moscow on May 20th - but there's nowhere to stay as all the hotels are either booked up or else way too expensive for the average fan. No such worries for UEFA's shiny-arse fat-cats, the city council pre-booked 10 hotels. Nice.

There’s no shortage of match tickets on Ebay though, but they will cost you a cool £2,000. (I don’t suppose that for once, the ticket touts will get stung?)

Leading up to the final there was a lot of speculation regarding the prospect of United meeting Liverpool, the fear was that there might be trouble ahead with rival fans clashing in Red Square and elsewhere, but in the light of the sky-high travel costs and lack of accommodation it seems those fears were unfounded.

Is it not somewhat ironic that the only good thing about two English clubs meeting in the Moscow final is that there's likely to be little no trouble? We cannot rule out the Russian trouble-makers lobbing in a few Molotov Cocktails, but that's not the point.

This match between United and Chelsea is the first All Prawn Sandwich Brigade final in the competition's history and for this reason alone, UEFA should hang their collective heads in shame, as many ordinary fans cannot afford to fund this trip. UEFA, will more than likely be privately thinking that they've pulled off something of a masterstroke in deciding on the final venue of Moscow.

English fans are of course well used to being ripped off by our own hapless FA, but UEFA have really screwed over supporters this time, the very fact that the fans needed a Visa just to gain access to Moscow should have precluded the Russian's as serious candidates. But, let's get make one thing clear here, the decision to award this final to Moscow has nothing to do the match-going fans and everything to do with money.

Reports claim that UEFA have realised that they are looking to the East to further expand because they have maximised their earning potential. So much for this tripe about the keeping the so called football family together – which is a common theme often spouted by UEFA and FIFA.

Furthermore, when Platini got the top job he was quick to publicly state that the fans are the lifeblood of the game when saying:"We know that fans are the only ones who show fidelity to a club or team basically from birth to death". So this is how the UEFA supremo rewards the loyal fans - by effectively pricing them of the Champions League final. Talk is cheap.

For the record, like many other fans, I wont be attending the final, instead I will make do with watching the match at home on TV. It's my wife's birthday too - another good reason no to go, but it didn't stop me in 1999 :0).

IF anyone fancies registering their disdain, UEFA is keen to hear from you. (Not)
supporters@uefa.ch

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Lucas Neill contretemps sours great display by Champions...

Going into today's clash with West Ham United, the Red Devils needed six points from their remaining two games to ensure that they retain the Premier League title. Within three minutes of the kick-off the Champions were ahead through the player of the season, Ronaldo.

The multi-award winning wing-wonder raced down the right flank, put Lucas Neill on his backside with a trademark flick of the ball with the heel of his left boot, before slotting a stunning 39th goal of the season after running full tilt into the Hammers penalty area - the bad news for the visitors was that his 40th wasn't long coming -but the second goal wasn't anywhere near as spectacular as the opener with the ball bouncing in off his thigh from close range.

United looked to be really warming to the task on 26 minutes when Carlos Tevez scored one of the best goals of the season with rocket from fully 25 yards. The Argentine picked up the ball on the left midway within the visitor's half, before cutting onto his right foot and driving towards the Hammers goal and then he unleashed a thunderbolt, the ball flew beyond the reach of Green in the West Ham goal giving the former Norwich stopper no chance.

Game set and match - or so we thought, but just two minutes later Dean Ashton scored with a superb over-head kick. Wes Brown had failed to deal with a high ball on the edge of the United penalty area, the former Crewe striker had somehow managed to find some space between himself and Rio Ferdinand, his acrobatic finish was exemplary - even the United fans in the Stretford End applauded, just as the visiting supporters had when Tevez notched just a couple of minutes earlier.

It was turning out to be a jolly nice day and very entertaining game between two clubs who down the years have not got along so well, with the Hammers proving to be party-poopers on more than one occasion.

However, the mood turned ugly on the edge of the West Ham penalty area on 37 minutes when Nani appeared to headbutt Lucas Neill. There was no argument, the Portuguese winger had to go, but TV replays of the incident leading up to the clash showed that Neill could have been guilty of snidely 'pinching' the United winger when the two had become entangled. Nani's reaction was stupid, as the West Ham defender was clearly intent of winding-up the young Portuguese star - but it was the oldest trick in the book, and Nani fell for it hook-line and sinker.

Neill did not cover himself in glory in this sorry episode, as there appeared to be little or no injury following this so called 'headbutt' - yet the Australian went down as if he'd been shot with a blunderbuss like a big Sheila - and they call Ronaldo a show-pony...

The sending off made no difference as West Ham continued to be second best all over the park.

Despite being down to ten men, it was United who were the dominant force in the second period.

On 59 minutes Michael Carrick effectively ended the game as a contest after making a driving run from deep and then flashing a low drive that was deflected into the corner giving Green no chance.

Fergie used the last thirty minutes to give his squad players a run out. Giggs came on for the hard-working Park on 61 minutes, the Welshman is closing in on Bobby Charlton's all time appearance record for the club and he wasted no time in playing some lovely incisive balls that should have led to at least two more goals, for Hargreaves and Fletcher respectively - the latter had replaced Ronaldo on 64 minutes.

O'Shea came on to shore-up the back-line on 71 minutes when replacing Scholes, the Irishman was guilty of nearly gifting a goal -scoring chance to visitors, it was the only moment of concern in the second-period in which United had looked in any trouble at the back.

United fans must now await Chelsea's visit to Newcastle on Monday. Nothing less than a win for Avram Grant's team will keep the title battle alive.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Amazing new striker transfer talk coincidence?

With United set to take on West Ham United in a crunch Premier League match this weekend, is it not a very odd, yet timely coincidence that the comic that is the Daily Star is claiming that the Reds could make a summer swoop for Dean Ashton?

We are of course heading into the summer transfer window, in other words the silly season. It's bad enough on a Sunday when the downmarket papers print a tissue of lies and half-truths within their sports pages linking just about every well known star to your favourite club.

So what of this latest link, does it have any merits, could it actually be true? United have bought several players with links to the Hammers in the past and usually for over-inflated fees. While he was still at West Ham we could have snapped up Carrick for under £3m, instead Fergie dithered until we ended up shelling out nearer £19m to Spurs...silly money.

Then there was Paul Ince, AKA"Big-Time-Charlie" the self-styled 'Guvnor', and in that instance the stories in the press about him signing for the Reds were true, but it's fair to say at that time United had an awful habit of allowing things to slip via the press. Remarkably we signed Ince for only £1m - no wonder the Hammers fans hate him and United...

Of this latest link, Ashton is reportedly looking to secure a new deal, it therefore cannot be ruled out that his represenatives have leaked this story to the press with a view to prizing a better deal out of the club.

United most certainly do need a new forward as Saha will surely be sold in the summer. If Angolan striker Manucho secures that work permit the Reds problems could be solved at a stroke. But as an insurance policy we do need another top forward, and added to which we do need four top strikers, so would Ashton fit the bill?

Those with half decent memories will recall that Ashton is a product of Crewe Alexander, not that long ago he was being linked with the top clubs in the land, United were said to be interested as were Liverpool and Arsenal, but we did not make our move. So once again, if the rumours are actually true, we will no doubt end up paying double the £8m being touted by the Star... (like we do...)

Ashton is a decent Premier League target man, but I've seen milk turn quicker, one could say the same about Berbatov who is also being linked to United - the Bulgarian has more skill than Ashton, he is just as slow but more lazy, which is why I'm personally not 100% convinced about either of them, this is largely because I believe that to do well in Europe you need pace.

We could do worse than sign Jones from Sunderland who would give us a different option - he is the poor man's Drogba in the making. Jones has the power and he's built like a brick-shit-house like Drogba and he's as good as the Ivorian in the air, but he's a rough diamond right now.

The problem would be the transfer fee, Keane would be need to recoup a lot of money from any potential sale as his spending has been so woeful. Perhaps, the Reds could try to broker a swap deal that involved Jonny Evans?

Samuel Eto'o is top class, but in exchange, Barca would no doubt demand our 'jewel in the crown' Ronaldo in exchange and on that note I will have an update on the future of our wonderboy later ....

For now, expect a lot more names to enter the frame as the search for a new striker has only just begun. On a positive note to end, the Manucho deal came out of the blue, let us hope that Fergie et al surprises us again this summer. No matter how patchy Ferguson's spending has been over the last few seasons, we can all agree that last summer's transfer business was first-rate.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

How United can beat Chelsea in Champions League final...

Going off recent results between United and Chelsea there's no doubting that the London club hold the upper hand, because they've won many more games - so they should be the bookies favourites to win the final, but they wont be, because as ever, the punters will be lumping on United.

But, going off results between two clubs over the last few seasons, the odds are stacked against the Champions, to suggest otherwise would be ludicrous, which is why this Red would have much preferred it if we'd been tasked with facing Liverpool, who we've had no problem beating. For the record Chelsea have one six out of the last 12 meetings, United have won just two - excluding the Community Shield which the Reds won on penalties.

So if United are going to win the big one, how are we going to achieve that result? That is a question that many Reds will be asking themselves leading up to the final on May 21st (my wife's birthday)...

Ferguson knows how difficult the task ahead of him will be, which is no doubt why he was at the Chelsea vs Liverpool semi-final at Stamford Bridge last night. The Scot was on a mission looking for any signs of weakness in the Chelsea armour, anything that his team might exploit.

The United manager probably knows more about Chelsea than Avram Grant, but it wont make the task any easier as they are always formidable opponents. The Israeli coach has taken a lot of stick, but he's managed to do something that Mourinho did not do, that is get the team that Jose built to the Champions League final - his boss will be very pleased especially with it being played in Moscow.

The "special one" has gone, but this Chelsea current team is still very much of Mourinho's making, it has been built on solid foundations, wherever you look there's power. In midfield they have Essien - the Blues player of the year, then there's Ballack, who is now coming back to his Teutonic best and to compliment them, there is Frank Lampard who makes the Chelsea engine room tick - even the most die-hard United fans will have had some sympathy for the England midfielder last night given the circumstances.

Up front Chelsea have the most destructive centre forward in Europe, Didier Drogba. On Saturday against United, the Ivorian took out Nemanja Vidic with his knee, in doing so knocking out a few teeth - the Serb left the field on a stretcher suffering with concussion - he has yet to recover.

Against Liverpool last night, Drogba dispatched his marker Skrtel into the advertising hoardings early doors, then on 22 minutes Skrtel had to go off following another duel with the Ivorian. Aren't these "accidents" happening too often?

No matter, if United are going to win the Champions League then they will have to overcome everything that Chelsea will throw at them. The management might have changed at Stamford Bridge but the perception of Chelsea remains the same, which is that they are rarely pleasing on the eye, but they were never meant to be, and those who expect them to be are somewhat missing the point. As far as Jose Mourinho, the architect of total pragmatic football is concerned, it is a results business, winning is all that matters .

So how can United beat Chelsea in the final? For starters, it is guaranteed to be another gritty encounter, at one time we had some decent games whenever these two teams met each other, that was before the arrival of the self styled messiah Mourinho, since then it's been a war of attrition. It is the same for every team that faces Chelsea and United are no different.

If United are going to win "the big one" again , then they will have to match Chelsea with as much power and pace as we can muster. Ferguson has stated that Scholes will start in the engine room - this is largely for sentimental, rather than strictly football reasons, as the "Ginger Prince" missed out on the '99 final. On this issue Fergie's heart is clearly ruling his head - which cannot be a good thing with so much at stake.

Though the Scholes goal secured our passage to the final, it was only his second of the season and too often of late he has been a passenger in midfield, this is partly why Barcelona's stars found it so easy to walk through the United midfield in both legs of the semi-final. We had, to coin a phrase, "no legs" added to which we kept on giving the ball away.

Many United fans do not 4-3-3, the majority preference has always been 4-4-2, but against Chelsea, Fergie knows he has to match like-for-like and so it's likely that it will be a 4-3-3 formation.

Part of the key to winning any game lies in the battle for midfield, who controls the centre ground usually goes on to win the game. United have three players who can win the midfield battle; Hargreaves, who was awesome against Roma at Old Trafford when attacking from all over the midfield like Bryan Robson and he can defend too.

Then there's Anderson, who has the legs, skill and power to match anything that Chelsea muster and finally Carrick who can string it together.

Rooney and Ronaldo pick themselves, the question is who else should start? There is an argument for the industry of Park, but like Nani he has the infuriating habit of gifting the ball back to the opposition, time and time again.

Giggs, like Scholes has been going backwards in the latter half of the season, he too has been giving the ball away cheaply when selected.

It would seem then that there's only one other obvious candidate, which is Tevez, who was United's best attacking player against Barcelona this week, his energy was awesome and he could be given license to drift out wide left as he did so successfully while at West Ham.

United cannot go lumping the ball onto the heads of Terry and Carvalho, they need to get the Blues big men turning inside the Chelsea box, to achieve that result Ronaldo will have to skin Cole - which hasn't really happened to date. Then we need bodies flooding into their penalty area - as much as we love him, Scholesy, no longer does this like he used to, which is why I wouldn't select him to start.

At the other end. We cannot allow Drogba to dictate the play as he did at Stamford Bridge when the two sides met on Saturday, we need one in front and one behind whenever the ball is played to him. Stop Drogba and you will stop Chelsea - it's easier said than done, that along with not constantly gifting the ball back to the opposition is key as well as attacking in numbers at the right time.

Russia is noted for its battles in a historical context, and I for one fully expect a full blown conflict on the pitch and I'm hoping that the Reds go on to overcome the Blues in Moscow. United can win the final of that I'm certain, but it will only happen if we go out with the right game plan, team and tactics.

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