Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year: 'No new signings'...teddy out of pram time...fans won't be surprised

Ferguson has dropped a big hint that Kiko Macheda is set to go out on loan, possibly to another Premier League club. The decision to allow the Italian to move on another club for six months makes sense given that Macheda has dropped down the pecking order following the arrival of Havier Hernandez. Ferguson has also let it be known that Danny Welbeck and Mame Biram Diouf will remain on loan at Sunderland and Blackburn respectively.

The United manager has ruled out any new signings in January, but he hinted that Tom Cleverly could be recalled from Wigan, due to the absence of Ji-Sung Park who is away on international duty with South Korea. With United short of cover in midfield, how ironic would it be if David Beckham returned to United for a short loan spell? It would make perfect sense, but the question is, would Fergie actually be up for such a move?

It's true that both Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic were signed in the month of January, as was Henrik Larsson, Tosic and Manucho, but Ferguson rarely makes significant forays into the transfer market during the winter window.

The single biggest concern for Ferguson is central midfield where the United squad lacks quality strength in depth. Everyone in football is aware that Paul Scholes cannot carry on for much longer, but as we head into 2011 those hoping for quality additons to the squad will be disappointed.

Given his recent starting selections, it appears that the United manager has lost confidence in the ability of Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick to boss a two man midfield, this in turn limits Ferguson's tactical options; we saw evidence of this in midweek when United travelled to St Andrews and Ferguson stuck with a European like 4-3-3 formation - Birmingham City are in the bottom three - yet it was if United were facing Real Madrid.

The current situation is this: Even against medicore Premier League opposition such as Birmingham City, Ferguson appears to have little confidence in his players to start with 4-4-2 on the road.

It's true to state that Anderson has shown signs of improvement over the last month or so, but it remains to be seen if he will prove to be good enough to hold down a regular starting place - whatever the improvement, it is extremely unlikely the Brazilian will ever be anywhere near as good as Scholes at his best.

The fact is, Ferguson has missed out on players like Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Ozul and to arguably to a lesser extent Rafael Van der Vaart - the star trio were all available and for the right money, but United failed to make a decisive move for either of them and perhaps worryingly, as far as we the fans know, the club wasn't even contacted about the availability of Van der Vaart.

United return to action tomorrow on New Year's Day with a trip to West Brom, it remains to be seen how Ferguson will approach this game especially given the League leaders inability to win away from Old Trafford.

United's problems in midweek against Birmingham were many; we had left footed Ryan Giggs on the right-wing and we had Wayne Rooney playing on the left with Berbatov down the middle, United wasted possession cheaply on too many occasions and as a result, the first-half performance was very disjointed. If United are going to hold off the challenge of Manchester City then there has to be a big improvement when playing away from home.

Fergie chucks his Teddy of out his pram...

Alex Ferguson has been celebrating his sixty-ninth birthday today, 24 hours after recalling three on-loan youngsters from Preston North End. Ritchie de Laet and Joshua King were due to return to United next week, but midfielder Matty James was supposed to be on a season-long loan; few will be surprised at news of this decision following the sacking of Darren Ferguson, the now former Preston manager. Preston are rock bottom of the Championship and as a result they look like relegation certainties.

According to reports, Preston were notified that the Premier League leaders were recalling the three youngsters via a terse fax, which left the Lancashire club in no doubt that 'United' were upset about the sacking of Darren Ferguson.

Few people cross Ferguson Snr and get away with it; the United manager hasn't spoken to the BBC since 2004, following a Panorama investigation into his dealings with his son Jason and the Elite Agency. It is doubtful anyone from Preston will be receiving any messages of goodwill from Fergie when the clock strikes midnight tonight.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

United cannot rely on one Berbatov moment of brilliance, on night when Fergie gets approach all wrong...

United were in action last night at St Andrews, from an attacking perspective, the performance left an awful lot to be desired. Few genuine goal-scoring chances were created by either side, it ended 1-1, as a result United are back at the top of the table ahead of Manchester City, but only on goal difference, though the leaders have two away games in hand.

In some ways, it was a very uncharacteristic performance as United were unable to breakdown a well organised Birmingham defence. Ferguson elected to start with Rooney and Berbatov up front with Giggs in support in a 4-3-3 formation. Rooney isn't yet back to his brilliant best and against Birmingham, it was another case of huffing and puffing his way through a game in which he didn't score or even come close to scoring. Unlike last season, Rooney isn't getting on the end of crosses of which there were precious few against Birmingham.

United didn't get many decent crosses into the box, and that was in no small part down to the fact that Nani was absent through injury. Matters were not helped by Rooney playing on the left with Giggs on the right flank.

Whenever Giggs received the ball, predictably, he tended to cut inside onto his left foot and apart from one first-half mis-directed right-foot cross which forced Ben Foster into a brilliant finger-tip save, there was nothing from the right flank. It was same story on the left wing: neither Rooney or Evra managed to create a telling cross all night long.

Rooney played quite well though; he almost always retains possession as he did against Birmingham and he worked back tirelessly and defended extremely well.

Part of the problem was the formation; for some reason, Ferguson is approaching what should have been another 'bread and butter' Premier League away game as if United were playing away at the San Siro - when in fact we were playing a team who were in the bottom three.

Why, you might well ask, didn't the United manager start with 4-4-2? There are several possible answers to that question; United didn't have two fully fledged wingers to choose from (if that was Fergie's rationale, then what about Obertan?), or was it the case that our manager thought playing the extra man in midfield would help secure victory as opposed to another draw (a flawed theory if true)? The truth of the matter is that Ferguson clearly doesn't trust any two of his midfield players to start away games in a 4-4-2 formation - and that is a glaring issue that has been apparent for quite some time.

Whatever Fergie's reasoning for choosing to start with 4-3-3, it was totally the wrong approach. In the first-half, even with the extra man in midfield United were guilty of giving the ball away cheaply, which happened time and time again. With the danger of stating the obvious, United were not stretching Birmingham on the flanks, so on many occasions the option of playing the ball wide left simply wasn't there for our midfield and defenders because Rooney tends to drift inside and out, added to which Berbatov and Rooney were not paired together.

But despite what was a very disjointed opening period, United eventually took the lead through Berbatov on 58 minutes and what a goal it was. The Bulgarian is in a rich vein of scoring form and the one he scored against Birmingham was as good as any this season.

Giggs started off the move from just over the half-way line with a well directed pass to Berbatov, who then out-foxed his marker, Roger Johnson, when taking him out of the game completely with a deft flick to the wing, Darron Gibson played the ball back inside to the on-running Bulgarian who ran into the Birmingham penalty area and then fired low and hard beyond Foster. It was a goal of the very highest quality.

The goal settled United down and a passage of good possession play followed, but the visitors were undone late on when Lee Boyer scored a controversial equaliser; the referee didn't spot the obvious foul on Ferdinand in the build-up, nor the hand ball and the linesman waved away the offside appeals.

In summary, despite being top of the league, United's away form could cost us dearly and worringly, neighbours City are banging in the goals especially away from home where they are strongest.

Manchester City have played most of the leading contenders at Eastlands, whereas the 'draw on the road specialists' United have to travel to Anfield, The Emirates, Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane. United's away form could cost us the title unless it improves, but there's precious little sign of that happening at present.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chelsea on the slide: United must not get complacent, are City the biggest threat?..

With Chelsea losing against Arsenal on Monday night and with United winning 2-0 against Sunderland on Boxing Day, the festive season has, so far, gone well for Ferguson. United take on Birmingham City at St Andrews tonight; the leaders have a two point advantage over neighbours Manchester City and Arsenal.

City take on Aston Villa at Eastlands later this afternoon and if they win and United fail to take at least a point from tonight's clash with Birmingham, City will head into 2011 as league leaders. The jury is still out on City's chances of winning the title, but they could yet prove to be United's biggest challengers.

Big spending Manchester City will continue to be a talking point, but at the beginning of the season, Chelsea were tipped heavily to retain the title, and after getting off to a flying start the West London club looked like a good bet, however, following the recent axeing of coach Ray Wilkins, Chelsea have stumbled badly. It would be a mistake to write off Chelsea, because they haven't been playing as badly as their results would appear to indicate.

With Chelsea dropping points and with the emergence of City along with Spurs, it is turning out be a fascinating season, despite the fact that the Premier League has undoubtedly lost some of its shine.

While United's results have been very good, the level of performance hasn't always been what we the fans (aka spoilt bast*rds) have become accustomed to down the years; the reason for this is quite simple: Ferguson failed to replace Ronaldo and Tevez, then factor in the recent Rooney saga, and it's quite easy to see why United do not pose the same attacking threat of two seasons ago.

A week ago, Ferguson admitted that he didn't know how his team has remained unbeaten, it was an honest and fair comment to make because United have been lucky in some games this season, but in football you make your own luck and winning instills confidence as well as self belief.

United appear to have the momemtum and so it is vital they maintain it, especially with Chelsea dropping points. With the very real danger of stating the bleeding obvious, United must continue to take maximum points over the coming weeks, if they do that, they will continue to pile on the pressure which has been steadily building on our main rivals.

With United currently looking like a good bet to win back the title, many expert pundits are talking about what could be the beginning of the end for Chelsea's ageing squad and quite possibly for manager Carlo Ancelotti too; that situation should serve warning to United because with all in the garden looking rosy right now, we cannot afford any complacency, because if that happens City and Arsenal are well placed to take advantage.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

24 Not Out: the greatest manager of all time?

Today is a historic day for both Manchester United and its manager Sir Alex Ferguson as he surpasses Sir Matt Busby’s in becoming the longest serving manager in the club's history.

On a day that United's fixture against title rivals Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge, was postponed due to the snow it is, perhaps, fitting that there was nothing that could overshadow this astonishing achievement.

It is a sad indictment of the game that achievements such as these are so rare in a culture of mass turnover of managers is something we have become accustomed to. Just ask Sam Allardyce. Just ask Chris Hughton.

This is, however, an extraordinary reign which stems almost a quarter of a century. Ferguson has now been at the helm of the Red Devils for 24 years, one month and 14 days, overtaking the great Sir Matt Busby in the process.

Ferguson succeeded Ron Atkinson as manager of Manchester United in 1986, having enjoyed success as manager of Aberdeen in Scotland. Upon his arrival he was quick to point to his fellow compatriot's achievements and vowed to follow in Busby's footsteps, placing an emphasis on nurturing youth and bringing them through the ranks.

He endured a difficult beginning to his managerial career at Old Trafford. With inconsistent league form and a lack of trophies, Fergie was reportedly on the verge of being dismissed but was saved, it is widely believed, by a Mark Robins goal that saw United win 1-0 away to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup on January 7, 1990.

Ferguson has since admitted that it was at this stage during his reign that he was "for the first time, feeling uncomfortable about his position". Before Robins' goal, United had not won a league game since mid-November. The feeling of disenchantment was clear for all to see as a banner was unfurled at the Stretford End that read "3 Years of Excuses and Its Still Crap Ta Ra Fergie!". The victory against Forest may not have saved Ferguson's job but it bought him valuable time.

United went on to win the FA Cup that year, beating Crystal Palace in a replay, becoming Ferguson's first piece of silverware. The first trophy Sir Matt Busby won was also the FA Cup, some 27 years earlier, in 1963.

This FA Cup win was to the springboard for continued success at Manchester United under the stewardship of Ferguson. His first piece of silverware was swiftly followed by the European Cup Winners Cup and the UEFA Super Cup after beating Barcelona 2-1 and Red Star Belgrade 1-0 respectively, in 1991.

A domestic league title still eluded Ferguson and his team though and in the 1991/1992 season they finished runners-up to bitter rivals Leeds United in the old First Division. The following season heralded the start of a new era at Old Trafford and for Sir Alex.

The introduction of the Premier League saw a break-away league that formed the top-tier of English football, made up of 20 clubs. Having finished runners-up to Leeds the season before, Ferguson was keen to bolster his squad and, in doing so, made of the most significant and shrewd signings in the club's history.

Sir Matt had one 'king' playing for his United team in Denis Law and Fergie thought it was about time he had one. Paying Leeds £1.2million to acquire the services of Eric Cantona raised eyebrows at the time but over time Cantona was to become the new 'king' at the Theatre of Dreams.

Ferguson, with the help of Cantona, ended United's 26 year wait for a domestic league title and became the first Champions of the Premier League. This was repeated the following season but the 1994/95 season saw Blackburn Rovers pip Ferguson's men to the title on the final game of the season. It was a sad season for Manchester United as they had to say goodbye to the greatest manager they'd known as Sir Matt Busby died, aged 84, in 1994.

This failure, and the heartache of Busby's death, only spurred Sir Alex on though and in the 1995/96 season he guided United to their first ever League and FA Cup double. This achievement was undoubtedly made sweeter as it was the season in which emerging talents such as Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville and Phil Neville became integral components of the team. Following United's 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season lead to former Liverpool player and pundit Alan Hansen famously saying "you'll never win anything with kids". He's never been able to forget that comment.

One of Ferguson's greatest achievements came in the 1998/99 season. It was no secret that he wanted to win the UEFA Champions League, after all Sir Matt had won it in 1968. By the time the final arrived, United had already clinched the Premier League and the FA Cup. Ferguson and his players were standing on the edge of greatness. A double was magical, a treble was unthinkable. Trailing 1-0 to Bayern Munich in a packed Nou Camp in Barcelona with injury time fast approaching, it looked as though United had missed out on European glory. United won a corner and, as Beckham's cross was headed to the edge of the area, Ryan Giggs' scuffed shot was bundled home by Teddy Sheringham to draw level.

With seconds of injury time remaining United won another corner. Beckham whipped in a cross which was glanced on by Sheringham only for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to stab the ball past Oliver Kahn in the Munich goal. United were delirious, Munich were broken. Ferguson had done it, he'd won the treble and in the most dramatic of fashion.

Ferguson, like Busby before him, was knighted for his services to football in 1999. He followed this personal accolade up by becoming the first manager to win three consecutive Premier League titles. This record is still intact.

As the third round of the FA Cup of the 2010/11 season approaches with a date with Liverpool at Old Trafford, the trip to Forest in the same competition, in 1990, must seem a million miles away for Ferguson.

Since winning the FA Cup in 1990 he has guided Manchester United to 11 league titles which now has them tied with Liverpool on 18 domestic league titles. He has lead United to five FA Cup victories, four League Cup's, an Intercontinental and FIFA World Club Championship trophy and two Champions League victories.

Surpassing Busby's record in Europe was another astonishing achievement in Fergie's reign which was made better as it consisted of a nail-biting penalty shoot-out win over domestic title-rivals Cheslea in Moscow in 2008. Ferguson missed out on becoming the first team to retain the Champions League, since its re branding, when they were beaten 2-0 by Barcelona in Roma in 2009.

When Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford he promised to share the same vision as Sir Matt with the inclusion of youngsters from within being the key to success. It is fitting then, that on a day that Ferguson becomes the longest serving manager in Manchester United's illustrious history that David Beckham, one of the products of the Ferguson regime, is to be awarded the BBC Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Sports Personality of the Year ceremony.

When Sir Alex Ferguson arrived at Manchester United he vowed to follow in the footsteps of Sir Matt Busby. He’s done just that.. And then some.

It's Panto season: Tevez, the villain, set to sign for United? "Oh no he isn't!"

The January transfer window will soon be flung open, but sadly, our great leader has already let it be known there's little prospect of any new signings any time soon; but such small matters are routinely ignored by sections of Her Majesty's press and with little or no news to report due to the big freeze this weekend, it comes as no great surprise to read speculation suggesting that Carlos Tevez has been offered to Manchester United by a party closely connected with the wantaway City striker.

As is almost always the case where transfer speculation is concerned, there are no quotes from any of the parties concerned and surprise, surprise another unnamed source close to Manchester United has stated that there's no chance of Fergie bringing Tevez back to Old Trafford.

Hans Christian Anderson might well have been proud of this Fairy Tale, because that is exactly what it is: Tevez will not be re-signing for United. But then again, you really didn't need this blog to tell you that did you?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anderson signs new four and a half year deal at Old Trafford

Manchester United's Brazilian midfielder, Anderson, has singed a new four-and-a-half year contract following a string of improved performances.

Arguably the best player in a United shirt on Monday night, at home to Arsenal, the Brazilian midfielder has shown a level of consistency that has deserted him thus far in his fledgling United career.

Following a car crash in Portugal prior to the start of the season, doubts were cast over Anderson's future as it was alleged that he had been partying into the early hours with friends while recovering from a serious knee ligament injury. Given Sir Alex Ferguson's stance on this type of behaviour one can only assume that Anderson was subject to a serious dressing down on his return to Manchester. Perhaps this is what was needed.

Up until this point it would be fair to say that Anderson has flattered to deceive and that his consistency and level of performances have not been up to the standard expected of a Manchester United player. But, to gain some grain of perspective, he is only 22 years of age and, when he was signed from FC Porto, he arrived as an attacking midfield player. Since making his debut for the Red Devils he has been deployed as a defensive midfielder, restricting his natural attacking tendencies.

This could offer an explanation as to why he has only scored twice in his United career, one of which was a week ago in United's 1-1 draw with Valencia in the Champions League. It may also provide an explanation as to why it has taken until now, since arriving in 2007, for him to flourish. Though it may not be a coincidence that Anderson's improving performances have come at a time where he has been allowed a little more freedom to roam forward in support of the strikers.

Anderson was instrumental in United's 8-1 humiliation of Blackburn Rovers although this will be remembered, rightfully, for Dimitar Berbatov's five-goal haul. He was also present in United's horror show at Upton Park whereby the Carling Cup holders were on the wrong end of a 4-0 scoreline; Anderson was the only player to receive praise for his performance, Ferguson stating in his post-match interview that "Anderson was the only player up to standard tonight".

As mentioned previously, Anderson's following appearance resulted in a rare goal, and a display that received praise from this blog, versus Valencia.

Whilst it would be premature to throw superlatives at Anderson for his recent performances in the heart of the United midfield, there are signs that his attitude and application have improved. This can only be a good thing as the team enter a potentially decisive period of the Premier League season.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vidic the defensive rock the key to win over Arsenal...

United are back on top of the Premier League following last night's one-nil win over Arsenal. Park Ji-Sung scored the only goal of what was a hard fought contest on a slippery Old Trafford playing surface. Arsene Wenger criticised the pitch in his post-match press conference, stating the poor playing surface affected both teams; the Arsenal manager also said that United deserved credit for their defensive performance.

Park scored four minutes before the break from a deflected cross from Nani on the right; the South Korean deserves much credit for what was a very cute flicked header, one which gave Szczesny no chance. It's fair to state that until that point in the game, Park had given the ball away every time he'd touched it.

Park didn't have a great game, but neither did Nani on the opposite flank, Wenger was right to have a moan about the state of the slippery playing surface, because both teams made a lot of mistakes. At times it wasn't pretty and Arsenal had the lions share of possession in the second period, but it was United who created the goal-scoring opportunities.

It wasn't a night for the purist and at times United lumped the ball up in the air too often, but ironically, such a punt ended in a goal.

For their part, Arsenal pushed and probed, but most of their attacking moves broke down on the edge of the United penalty area and when the ball was actually delivered into the box it was Vidic who headed to safety.

Vidic was at his towering best, he barely put a foot wrong all night. United's Serbian captain was by some distance the man of the match. If United can keep on defending as they did against Arsenal then they won't be too far away come the end of the season.

However, from a United perspective from an attacking point of view, what we saw against Arsenal was in many ways very unsatisfactory; all too often Wayne Rooney was left isolated and United were left relying on the long ball.

The second-half was crying out for the introduction of Dimitar Berbatov, who not that surprisingly had been left on the bench; Ferguson prefers to start with a 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 formation against the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea - but as we saw last night - this tactic has its limitations. But, it was United who created all the chances and so Arsenal can have few complaints.

Rooney's dreadful second-half penalty was simply that, dreadful. It was one of the worst attempts at taking a penalty this season, he didn't look where he was putting the ball, he simply blasted it.

United won and deservedly so, but it's doubtful the same tactics will work so well when the leaders travel to Stamford Bridge next Sunday.

Finally, the Chilean Miners have been guests of Manchester United over the last 48 hours: The big rumour sweeping the city is that they have been advising Carlos Tevez on how to keep your spirits up when you're stuck in a sh*t-hole.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Same old story: Too much talking ahead of Arsenal clash...

United are preparing for Monday night's clash with top of the table Arsenal; the pressure has been building steadily as usually happens ahead a visit to Old Trafford.

There has been no shortage of talking in the run-up what is often a bad tempered affair; we've read comments attributed to Patrice Evra, telling Arsenal that they are not good enough to win the title; we've also heard Samir Nasri stating that United have lost the Old Trafford fear factor. All this in the same week that United have threatened to ban any season ticket holder who is caught abusing Arsene Wenger by singing songs accusing him of being a paedophile.

For his part, Ferguson, has for once, tempered his comments; given United want to put an end to the anti Wegner chant, the manager obviously did not want to be viewed as the one who stoked the fire.

The fans love a bit of knockout about via the media ahead of these big games, but does it really add anything to the actually game itself? In years gone by rival managers have read out the comments from the other dressing room in their pre-match team-talk, but it's actually doubtful Wenger or Ferguson have had to use that tactic given their respective abilities.

The bad feeling that exists between both clubs and their supporters is very real and sometimes it leads to violence on the streets; Wenger, Ferguson, Evra and Nasri and Co never see this ugly side of football, but they are in part are responsible because they talk too much about such rivalries. To coin a phrase, they should allow their football to do the talking on the pitch.

Tevez set to quit City: His transfer to the "Bitters" was never just about money..

This blog slaughtered Manchester United and Ferguson for their bungled attempts at retaining the services of Carlos Tevez, who, as we all know, moved on to Manchester City in what turned out to be a very acrimonious transfer.

In the days and weeks that followed the Argentine's move to the club's bitter rivals back in 2009, somewhat predictably, news of the striker's defection to City provoked a mixed reaction from some United supporters "..he wasn't that good anyway", or "..he wasn't worth £25m" and finally "...he's just a greedy b*stard". Ferguson himself didn't help when hinting that Tevez was little more than a trier.

Well, since then, Tevez has silenced those who questioned his worth. United fans might not like it, but the Argentine has proved to be worth every penny of the then reported £25m asking price. Tevez has scored more league goals than Rooney over the last two seasons; City are above United in the table, but hopefully that situation will change following Monday night's clash with Arsenal when they visit Old Trafford.

As for Tevez, reports claim he has handed in a transfer request, because he is homesick. City have rejected his written request and Tevez has reportedly turned down wages of £250,000 a week. As we stated on this blog at the time, his move to City was never just about the money...

Tevez left United because Ferguson didn't commit to signing the player when he has ample opportunities to do so and instead he signed Berbatov, who last season scored 12 league goals compared to 23 from Tevez. Tevez also felt under valued by his manager, he found himself on the bench on many occasions, but no matter what, he always gave 100%. Tevez never openly sulked, during his time at Old Trafford. Ironically, the Argentine has had several touch-line spats with his new manager at City.

Tevez, has proven Ferguson and those United fans who questioned his worth wrong, so much so that only a revisionist would argue otherwise.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: a tribute to a true Old Trafford legend

In just over a month's time Old Trafford will bid farewell to a player who has written himself into Manchester United folklore, as he returns to the club which he left some 14 years ago.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer joined United from Norway's Molde FK for £1.5m in 1996 at a time when it was widely reported that a certain Alan Shearer was the main transfer target. Despite the low transfer fee, eyebrows were still raised at the thought of United buying a virtual unknown over a proven Premier League striker.

When Solskjaer arrived at Old Trafford it was expected that he would be used sparingly behind first team regulars Eric Cantona and Andy Cole in order to get him up to speed with the pace of the Premier League. But before journalists and pundits could roll out the almost cliched "one for the future" label , Solskjaer scored within minutes of his debut after coming on as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers.

Solskjaer rapidly became a fans favourite and, unexpectedly, a regular within the first team squad. His scoring prowess saw him score an impressive 18 goals in the league, a feat only beaten by Shearer and and Ian Wright during the 1996/97 season. His tally was helped by scoring four goals in twelve minutes as a second-half substitute in the 8-1 thrashing of Nottingham Forest. It was his ability to find the net as a substitute late on in games that lead to the endearing nickname of "the baby-faced assassin". Within his first season Ole had become an integral member of the League winning squad.


The following campaign saw the Norwegian striker hampered by injuries, only managing to score six league goals during the 1997/98 season. But it was the following season that was to be Solskjaer's finest.

Few would argue that Solskjaer's most memorable Manchester United moment came deep into injury time at the Nou Camp, Barcelona, in the UEFA Champions League Final of 1999.

Having scored an injury time equaliser through Teddy Sheringham, it looked as though United had forced Bayern Munich into extra time. The drama did not finish there though, as a David Beckham corner was flicked on by Sheringham and, as ever, Solskjaer was in the right place at the right time to poke home the treble-winning goal and, in doing so, write himself into United folklore.

Ironically, another defining moment in Solskjaer's United career was when he got sent off for a professional foul on Newcastle United midfielder Rob Lee in 1998 at Old Trafford. Having run two-thirds of the pitch to catch him, Solskjaer felled Lee knowing that he would be given his marching orderd but, in doing so, denied Newcastle an almost certain winning goal with the game all square at 1-1. United needed at least a point at the time to keep up with Arsenal in the hunt for the Premier League title. The fans immediately recognised that Solskjaer had put the team before himself, receiving universal praise from all connected with the club for his selfless act.

Its rare to write a tribute of a modern day footballer without alluding to some sort of scandal or a part of their career in which they would rather forget. Apart from injuries, of which a long-standing knee injury was to get the better of him, Solskjaer does not have a blotched record in anyway. He truly is a rare breed of footballer.

A perfectionist on the training ground, according to his former team-mate Sheringham, and allegedly donating a percentage of his wages to UNICEF shows the mark of the man and the high esteem in which he is held by all connected. David Gill perfectly summarised Solskjaer in his testimonial programme notes as a player who " no-one has a bad word to say about...he is a fantastic ambassador to this club and to this sport".

Away from the pitch Ole uses his status within the game for the benefit of others. A patron of the Manchester United Supporter's Trust (formerly Shareholders United), he is also the ambassador for global charity UNICEF. In 2008 he became the youngest recipient of the First Class Knighthood in his native Norway, an accolade usually bestowed upon notable people of society in their later years.

Having scored 126 times in 366 appearances for United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, has left a lasting impression on the club and its supporters.
14 years ago no-one outside of Norway would have known who Solskjaer was. They do now.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

United v Valencia: Anderson and Rooney shine, while Berbatov and Carrick fluff their lines...

United were in action last night when Valencia visited Old Trafford for the final Champions League Group C game. Going into the game, Ferguson and his players knew no less than a point would be good enough to secure top spot; securing a point would avoid a potential meeting with Barcelona or Real Madrid, so it was vital that United did not lose.

With both clubs knowing that they had already qualified for the knockout phase prior to last night, some observers might have been expecting a damp squib, but it was anything but that as things turned out, both teams tried to win which made for a decent game on a good Old Trafford playing surface.

It finished up one apiece, but it was Valencia who took the lead. The opening goal was very much against the run of play; on 32 minutes, it was Pablo who punished United following a mistake by Michael Carrick, who lost possession near the half-way line.

Following a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Carrick appears to be back in favour at the expense of Darren Fletcher. Fletcher was only a substitute when United thrashed Blackburn 7-1 in the last home game, but he played the whole 90 minutes in the shocking 4-0 Carling Cup defeat to West Ham last week and it looks like Carrick might well have dislodged the Scot for now at least anyway. However, while Carrick is undoubtedly a better passer of the ball, he still makes silly mistakes from time to time; he is one of those players who wants too much time on the ball, which is precisely what happened in the build-up to Valencia's goal.

Apart from his mistake, Carrick had a decent game, but it was Anderson who was United's star performer in central midfield. Anderson has played in United's last three games; he was good against Blackburn and Valencia, but like Fletcher, the Brazilian was totally ineffective against West Ham last week.

It was fitting that Anderson scored United's equalising goal against Valencia, because he was the man of the match. In two of United's last three games, the Brazilian has shown signs that just maybe he could have a long-term future at the club, but consistency is the key.

United face Arsenal at Old Trafford next Monday and you can be 100% sure that Ferguson is wrestling with the question of who should start against the Gunners in central midfield. Last season you could have put money on the United manager starting with 4-3-3, with Rooney playing atop on his own, but following his recent fall from favour, things are not so cut and dried.

Dimitar Berbatov has been blowing hot and cold this season; he was superb against Liverpool when he scored that fabulous hat-trick a few weeks ago, he was brilliant against Blackburn when he bagged five great goals, but last night his touch totally deserted him - in fact, the Bulgarian had something of a stinker by his standards.

So Ferguson has to now decide not only who should start in central midfield against Arsenal, but also, who should start up front.

Don't be surprised if Berbatov finds himself on the bench again next Monday and Rooney starts up front on his own. Rooney played against Blackburn and Valencia; he looked very good in both games, he was very unlucky not to score against the Spaniards last night when his curling right foot drive rebounded off the cross bar in the opening period. Rooney rarely gives the ball away cheaply and passing around the opposition penalty area is exemplary, but of course the goals have to start to flow and that is another issue for Ferguson to mull over.

Arsenal are very strong in midfield and that is why Ferguson may well consider starting with just one striker.

Rio Ferdinand has given the United manager another headache, due to a slight hamstring strain, but at this point, reports suggest he will be fit to face the Gunners next week.

The da Silva twins played the whole 90 minutes last night and both did quite well, but Fabio needs to learn when to overlap his winger and when to hold back, because there was a couple of occasions when he went beyond Park and United lost possession - there is a very strong danger that against a better side United would be punished.

The only other talking point worth mention is the performance of Ben Amos, United's third 'keeper had a pretty good game against Valencia, but his kicking did give the home fans palpitations on a couple of occasions.

Bring on the Gunners.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Boris Johnson has taken revenge on ‘Don Corleone’ Blatter

Further to my earlier post on the failed England World Cup Bid and the revelation, by Martin Samuels, of the agreement, by our politicians, to allow the laws of this country to be circumnavigated by the FIFA mafia.

I read, in the Mail on Sunday, that Boris Johnson has taken revenge on ‘Don Corleone’ Blatter and the other FIFA delegates who destroyed England’s bid to host the World Cup by kicking them out of London’s Dorchester hotel for the 2012 Olympic Games.

“FIFA president Mr Blatter and his team had been invited to stay in exclusive £1,000-a-night suites at the five-star hotel for more than a week during the Olympics.

This was part “of the charm offensive” designed to woo FIFA in the run-up to Thursday’s 2018 World Cup vote.But London Mayor Mr Johnson, the official host of the Olympics, has withdrawn the offer to demonstrate his fury at the way FIFA threw out England’s bid”


Forget ‘charm offensive’. We are accusing almost everyone and anyone of corruption. But was this not corruption, pure and simple? How on earth can anyone linked with our bid now claim that we are morally superior? We were in the business of ‘buying’ votes! We did not, obviously, offer enough!

We do need, as a matter of urgency, to take a look at ourselves. Let us have a full and frank Enquiry, chaired by an independent person with absolutely no links to football in particular or sport in general, into our bidding process from beginning to end.

Asking every member of the process from the President to the office cleaner, Who was approached in an effort to assist our bid and what was offered and what FIFA demanded. If, as it appears, Lord Triesmann was correct and members of our bid believed that the process was 'bent' WHY did we not withdraw then?


Let us remember that the good name of our country, England, is at stake and a lot of public money was used in this wasted exercise. The Enquiry should then make recommendations for the future direction of the Football Association of England.

BUT there is a real need for a thorough clean sweep of the Football Association well before we can call for the sewers of FIFA to be well and truly cleaned!


Strapworld.





But London Mayor Mr Johnson, the official host of the Olympics, has withdrawn the offer to demonstrate his fury at the way FIFA threw out England’s bid.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Football - a truly ugly game!

The angst in the English press and media this morning over the failed attempt to host the football world cup in 2018 is truly something to behold. .

Football has become such a money besmirched horror story controlled by a discredited and corrupt FIFA. Panorama, The Sunday Times and Lord Triesmann have all been proved right, although the issue of their timing has infuriated many people.

Our press are intrusive, but I would far rather have an investigative and intrusive press revealing corruption and criminal practices, than live in a country where journalists are murdered for writing the truth! Or a country which bans alcohol and Christianity yet expects football supporters to attend the world cup there! I can see the headlines already when Dutch, German and United Kingdom supporters are flung into jail for drinking alcohol! Or supporters dying from severe sunburns.

Just, for one minute, consider Qatar. It has 38 cities in Qatar although most of the population live in Doha, the capital. The bid reflects this. There are stadiums to be upgraded in Al-Khor, Doha, Al Wakrah and Al Rayyan plus stadiums to be built in Lusail, Doha, Ash Shamal, Doha, Umm Salal, Doha and Doha. Lusail, where an 86,000-capacity stadium will be built, is 10 miles away, as is Umm Salal. Al Khor, Al Wakrah and Umm Salal all of which have small populations of approximately 31,000. The official population of Ash Shamal is given as 5,400, less than Westward Ho! in Devon!! This place is getting a stadium with a capacity of 45,330!!

Then consider that Australia with its superb sporting traditions and stadia received just one vote! It is quite ridiculous.

The whole process is riddled with corruption. And countries which bid for this discredited tournament agreed to bending their laws to assist this corruption. As the excellent Martin Samuels of the Daily Mail points out “All you need to know about the men who made this decision is that FIFA requested, as a condition if England had mounted a successful bid, exclusion from a range of UK laws including one governing Banks and Foreign Exchange Operations. FIFA had asked for 'the unrestricted import and export of all foreign currencies to and from the UK' and, worse, they got it.”

Now, after the ball has been kicked away, our team is calling foul. Having been party to this disgraceful bending of laws, which would still be in place for you and me!
They are saying that the whole voting process should be open to all member countries and in an open vote. There is absolutely no chance of achieving change now. It would be classed as sour grapes by Russia and Blatter.

I will make one suggestion which we could do to stand alone, and invite other countries to support us.

Why not make all the changes to the rule book of the English Football Association that many have been proposing for years but have been resisted by Fifa? It seems to me that Fifa have wished to leave their officials with opportunities to change match results, something they may have been able to freely do in the years before present technological innovations. Other sports, where money is not the god, but rather the joy of the game itself, have accepted such technological developments and have been undoubtedly improved as a result.

Why not, alongside these changes, speak to the USA, Australia and any other country who may be attracted to a cleaner and more open International body and consider a break away organisation. Sir Stanley Rouse was the Englishman who made Fifa a respected voice. Let us endeavour to make football clean again.

Of course England will be excluded for a while from international competition, but I am sure it would not be long before other countries' football associations would take up the revised rule book whereby the best teams had equal chances of victory? And agree to an open and honest method of choosing countries to host a world cup.

Let us, at long last, look at the people who buy our clubs. Ask Parliament to bring in legislation to ensure that carpetbaggers, foreign billionaires and criminals are no longer tolerated as owners of our football clubs which mean so much to our towns and cities throughout the land.

As it is today, Football stinks. I am amazed people pay the money they do to perpetuate such inequitable rottenness. Let us take this opportunity to start the change.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all supporters clubs got behind this suggestion creating a grass root demand for a massive change in football in England.

Strapworld

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Lowly West Ham embarrass United following Blackburn Lord Mayors Show...

Manchester United were in action last night in the quarter final of the Carling Cup against depleted West Ham United; the Hammers have been struggling all season, their manager Avram Grant is said to be on the verge of being sacked. Ahead of the game - and ignoring the fact that United rarely have an easy time of it when visiting the Boleyn Ground, United will have fancied their chances of progressing into the semi-finals, especially given that so many West Ham first-team regulars were missing.

As things turned out, the holders were given a sound beating - the 4-0 scoreline didn't flatter the Hammers in the slightest. As is so often the case in the much maligned competition, Ferguson elected to completely change the starting eleven, from the one which thrashed Blackburn 7-1 on Saturday.

United started the match brightly and only a finger-tip save by Robert Green and a scrambled goal-line clearance denied a certain opening goal from Hernandez; but from then on, it was all about West Ham United who went on to capitalise on the sort of schoolboy defending that was so much in evidence in the early weeks of the season.

In something of an ironic twist of fate, former United full-back Johnathan Spector enjoyed his finest game since he arrived in England. Since Spector left United, he has become something of a cast-off, a nomad of sorts and he's seemingly surplus to requirements at West Ham, because according to reports he's off to the Bundesliga. Last night, the North American was thrust into a makeshift midfield, but as things turned out, the combination of Fletcher, Giggs and Anderson were no match for West Ham's hastily thrown together engine room.

United were abject in midfield; the service to Hernandez was in point of fact none existent. Quite where, Obertan was supposed to be playing is a fair question to ask, but it doesn't actually matter, because like Fletcher, Giggs and Anderson, the Frenchman produced all too few moments to remember.

Worst of all was Bebe: Ferguson cannot and surely will not, carry on this charade, the Portuguese winger who was brought to United at relatively great expense, will never be good enough for United and the manager will soon have to admit that he's made a gross error of judgement and cut his loses. Thankfully, Bebe's embarrassment was cut short at half-time to save further blushes all round, when he was replaced by Macheda - who it has to be said, did no better.

While stating Bebe will never be good enough, it's fair to add that neither will Kuszczak, at the other end: United's Polish stopper got nowhere near any of the four goals conceded; he should have done better. Earlier this week Ferguson confirmed Edwin van der Sar's long-term replacement will be new signing, Anders Lindegaard, 26, and he isn't exactly thrilling qualified commentators such as the Great Dane, aka, Peter Schmeichel who has gone on record stating that his fellow countryman simply isn't good enough.

Goalkeeping issues aside, the single biggest area of concern within the current United squad is central midfield. Darren Fletcher didn't feature against Blackburn last weekend, and to be fair, it's easy to see why given his abject performance against West Ham. Fletcher was guilty of committing several schoolboy errors - his distribution is usually the thing that consistently lets him down - but against the Hammers, it was his positional sense and marking, plus his lack of leadership. Fletcher was caught ball-watching and found himself on the wrong side of Spector for the opening goal.

Prior to that, West Ham had what looked initially like a very good goal disallowed, for off-side, but it was the correct decision as things turned out; in the build-up, Johnathan Spector the goal scorer, had waltzed through United's midfield unmarked - on that occasion it was Anderson who guilty of doing nothing. Thankfully, referee Clattenburg and his linesman came to United's rescue.

On 37 minutes, Spector doubled the Hammers advantage following a slip in the penalty area by the unfortunate, Fabio, but in the build-up, the North American ran with the ball from deep within the United half unchallenged with Bebe trailing in his wake. Spector scored to cap-off, what was for him, a thoroughly memorable first-half performance, one which turned out to be match winning.

Quite what Ferguson said in his half-time team talk would be interesting to know: you can be sure one of the questions was "who is supposed to be picking up Spector?". And when United fans reflect upon that question today, they will no doubt be thinking about the lack of quality in central midfield: A makeshift/rookie midfield player ran riot against United's supposedly stronger players.

It's also worth asking, why £80,000 a week John O'Shea had to be shipped off to left back early in the first-half: like Fletcher, Giggs and Anderson (given his hefty price tag) O'Shea was one of the senior players on duty last night, but against West Ham, just like the other experienced players he was guilty of failing to step to the mark.

On 56 minutes, the Hammers made it three nil, on this occasion Fabio was guilty of allowing the ball to be crossed into the box too easily and Cole punished flat-footed Jonny Evans. The final humiliation came not long after; Rafael replaced his brother, only for his twin to immediately perpetrate the same offence and the end result was the same, Cole scored and once again it was a case of yet more rank bad defending.

When Fergie reviews the TV replays, he will be horrified at the number of schoolboy errors: three of the four goals conceded were very similar; Fletcher and Evans were guilty of allowing the man that they were supposed to be marking to get to the ball first - you cannot do that inside your own penalty area, because chances are the ball will end up in your own net which is exactly what happened on three occasions.

In the wake of what was a sound beating, the headlines have predictably focused on what was an unexpected thumping win for the Hammers. From United's perpspective, the introspection will have begun, and while the defending is a concern, arguably, of much of more concern was the total lack of know-how, spirit and leadership especially given that so many so called senior players were on duty. While the defending was rank bad, United's central midfield was pretty much none existent.

For those seeking the smallest of crumb of comfort, the unbeaten run was always going to come to an end and so if you're going to lose, it's probably better to lose in the Carling Cup - no matter that United are the holders - the competition is little more than a distraction, albeit one in which the manager can blood untried players. But try telling that to United's 5,000 travelling fans who'd made their way to a snowy East London on what was a freezing night... those fans deserve much better.

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