Sunday, December 30, 2007

End of year horror show as Reds pay price for complacency...

Manchester United ended the year with a horror show of a performance at Upton Park on Saturday when they deservedly went down losing 2-1 after being a goal in front, courtesy of a first-half headed Ronaldo goal, which was scored against the run of play on the counter-attack.

Going into the game, Fergie had left out Wayne Rooney and Anderson in preference to Saha and Fletcher and there was no Edwin van der Sar for the third game in a row. Had the missing trio been in the side from the start it may well have been a different story, but they weren't and West Ham were good value for this victory as they wanted it more than the United players.

United missed the chance to make it 2-0 when Ronaldo's second-half penalty went horribly wrong when blazing wide, not long after Aton Ferdinand equalised from a corner with a good header before Upson scored the winner on 82 minutes with another headed goal from yet another set piece. After the game Ferguson said that United had not performed and hinted that he was less than happy about the manner of the two West Ham goals which came from set-pieces.

However, in a bid to win the game it appeared as though Fergie tried to shut-up-shop and defend their slender one-nil lead when he replaced Tevez with Anderson on 64 minutes. Fans were left to speculate on the logic behind this decision, no doubting it was designed to rest control of midfield from the Hammers but to also close down the game, but with over 25 five minutes remaining on the clock it was far too early to start running the clock down. As things turned out it was a tactical howler by the United manager as it led to the Hammers having even more of the ball as the Reds only had the totally ineffective Saha up front.

The Hammers often seem to reserve their very best performances for the visit of Manchester United, Hammers fans and Reds supporters will be hoping that they continue in the same vein against the other top teams when they visit Upton Park this season.

As a result of this setback and Arsenal thrashing Everton at Goodison Park, it's the Gunners and not United who start the new year in poll position, if the first half of the season is anything to go by it looks like it's going to be a fantastic race to the finish.

If there is an upside to this setback, it comes in the hope that Ferguson finally realises that he cannot afford to tinker too much with his starting line-up. Anderson must start every game when fit, because he is head and shoulders above Carrick and Fletcher as is Hargreaves. Against West Ham the Reds never really controlled midfield and of course whoever dominates the engine room often wins the game.

Against the Hammers there was no Wayne Rooney who was left out of the squad completely which left United with no striker on the bench. Once again there is talk of a Rooney 'injury' but the suspicion is that Fergie had sanctioned his own 'mini-winter break' for Wayne. It's likely that Rooney will be back for the Reds against Birmingham which if true will only add fuel to that theory.

The battle for top-spot is so tight that some Reds would like to see Fergie starting with his strongest eleven every week and follow the Mourinho trend rather taking the tinkerman trail. No matter what team Fergie selects though, to a man they will have to match the opposition players for effort which did not happen against the Hammers on Saturday.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fergie backing for Big Sam - why talk is cheap...

Predictably and not for the first time, Fergie has backed one of his managerial mates who is coming under fire following a string of poor results. Newcastle have been punching well below their collective weight and their fans expectations for decades and in a somewhat patronising attempt to help his buddy, Fergie has stated that Newcastle have never recovered from the 5-0 thumping of Manchester United a few seasons ago when Keegan was their manager. The Geordies will just love Fergie for saying that.

Let us not forget that Fergie also backed another of his mates David "my young boys" O'Leary, who at the time was managing Aston Villa. Fergie's backing for O'Leary came at a time when the Villa boss was under fire following a run of poor results which led to abuse from their fans. It should also be noted that the Reds boss had sold Villa, Djemba-Djemba, of who some fans say he was so bad that they named him twice. Eric is now on loan at Burnley.

Fergie also sold Alan Smith to Newcastle and in doing so he recouped most of the £7m transfer fee that he'd forked out to acquire him from Leeds United. It was a decent piece of business from the Reds perspective, but one which Newcastle fans may well have mixed views on.

So while it's all very well Fergie talking the talk, it's not beyond him to offload unwanted stars when the need arises, because his actions have spoken louder than words when it comes to 'helping his mates' on occasion. So Fergie's platitudes should clearly not be taken that seriously.

Fergie has also gone on record telling fans of Manchester United that they should not expect any say in the running of their club, perhaps he should be told to keep his nose out of other clubs business.

On the wider point about sacking managers, as Fergie would no doubt concur, it's the club owners who have to make those decisions. These top-flight managers are in most cases multi-millionaires, no one should feel a grain of sympathy for any of them. On that note, what could be better than seeing Shearer fall flat on his face should he replace Big Sam?

One thing is for sure, Fergie cannot question the football knowledge of Mike Ashley the Newcastle owner, given that the Manchester United manager has expressed his support for the Glazers on so many occasions.

Friday, December 28, 2007

United to benefit from African Cup of Nations?

There cannot be that many Chelsea or Arsenal fans who think that the African Cup of Nations is a worthy tournament given its god awful timing, it starts on January 20th and runs until the February 10th. The winners of the 2008 competition, which is being staged in Ghana, will represent CAF at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup - another pointless FIFA competition? Why can't the 2008 competition be played in August when the average temperature is at its lowest point in the year? Or is that too simple for FIFA and the CAF?

No doubting Fergie and many other United fans will be quite happy about the fact that the international football calendar is out of sync with European football, given that United could be among those Premier League clubs who might benefit from rivals like Chelsea and Arsenal losing so many star names for a crucial period of the season.

Some clubs will no doubt think twice about signing young players from the African continent due to the timing of the African Cup of Nations.

Arsenal will lose the following:

While Chelsea could lose:
Obi Mikel

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Liverpool preparing to hoist white flag of surrender ...

If United win their match at Upton Park on Saturday they will go into the New Year as league leaders, they will also no doubt be many pundits favourite to retain the Premier League title.

Meanwhile bitter rivals Liverpool currently lie nine points adrift of the champions, albeit with a game in hand, but if United should win against West Ham on Saturday and Manchester City beat Liverpool on Sunday at Eastlands it will surely mark the end of another fruitless title challenge by Rafa Benitez's team, if indeed it can be described as such.

It was only a few months ago that many in the media were writing-off United as they languished near the foot of the table, while at the same time many supporters were no doubt punting on the Merseyside Reds to finally win their first Premier League.

Liverpool last won the title in 1989-90 when it was the old first division championship, ironically the Margaret Thatcher era also came a crushing end in the same year as she was eventually replaced by John Major.

The early 90s also marked the end of the cold-war and the Soviet Union. East and West Germany were reunited and the early 1990s saw in the beginning of what was to become known as globalisation. It was a case of out with the old and in with the new, it was also a time for change on the pitch as United replaced Liverpool as the dominant force in English football.

While Liverpool fans are quick to remind United supporters that their club has won the European Cup/Champions League five times, they don't like being reminded that it is likely to be 18 years since they last won the thing which they crave the most, the league title.

United fans wont be banking on another league title victory just yet, but with the prospect of yet more problems for Arsenal and Chelsea with both clubs having players who will be involved in the African Cup of Nations in January and February, the champions look like a good bet

For Liverpool, they will surely be preparing to hoist the white flag of surrender above Anfield as the long barren run without a league title to celebrate is likely to continue as they look enviously on at United.

Keane in search of wise men as his team fail to close stable door...

The Reds heaped yet more pressure onto the shoulders of rookie manager and United hero Roy Keane on Boxing Day as Fergie's side took full advantage of the Black Cats generosity to make it a very happy Christmas for all followers of the Red Devils as the visitors ran out comfortable four-nil winners.

The Sunderland defence once again left open the proverbial stable door for Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha and then Ronaldo to score first-half goals in a game that in the end amounted to little more than a training exercise for United.

The manner of the first goal will give Roy Keane and his defenders nightmares, as Rooney was allowed the freedom of the Stadium of Light to score too easily. It was a goal that was fully in keeping with the Panto season and the home fans would no doubt have been shouting 'he's behind you' as Rooney found himself in acres of space which gave him enough time to place his drilled effort beyond Gordon. In point of fact the £9m 'keeper got nowhere near saving any of United's goals, so clinical was the Reds finishing.

United were all easy on the eye as they picked-off Sunderland at will with their swift counter-attacking football. It came as no surprise that thirty minutes into the game Louis Saha doubled the Reds lead after another passage of slick first-time passing, as once again the Sunderland back-four were opened-up in a move which ended with the Frenchman skillfully prodding home his first time effort leaving Gordon stranded on his line.

While it was good to watch for Reds fans it was another very uncomfortable afternoon for the home supporters and their manager who must now surely be feeling the heat after his team sunk to second from last in the table. Of the bottom eight sides in the Premier League only Boro and Sunderland have yet to sacrifice their manager...

Just before the break, Ronaldo added to Sunderland's miserable Christmas with a picture-book goal from fully 25 yards when he crashed home arguably his free-kick to date for United. All too often the Portuguese winger opts for power alone with his arrow like straight drives, but this time he went for finesse over brute-force when he curled his drive around and over the Black Cats wall. Fantastico.

Somewhat predictably United eased-off the gas in the second half after Fergie no doubt called off the dogs in a bid to save Sunderland and Keano further embarrassment. However, the Reds weren't done with as Louis Saha converted a second half penalty after Nani had been felled the box.

United had arrived at Sunderland looking for three points that would see them go top of the league table. Keane for his part, must now surely go in search of at least three wise men in a bid to stem the flow of goals which if not checked could see the Black Cats relegated again. It is not looking good for Keane or Sunderland.

For United, they head into the New Year in the number one spot and top of the tree after Arsenal failed to win at Portsmouth and contrary to Fergie's recently expressed view, it looks like it's going to be a two-horse-race between the Red Devils and the Gunners.

Monday, December 24, 2007

It's all set-up for a Boxing Day cracker as United look to put more pressure on Arsenal...

Of the top three United have what looks, at least on paper, to be the easier of the Boxing Day fixtures with a visit to relegation threatened Sunderland for a game that kicks-off at 3pm, while league leader's Arsenal face Portsmouth later that evening. There is of course no such thing as an easy game in the Premier League and Roy Keane's team will be chomping at the bit for their manager who will in turn be looking to put one over on his former boss and ex-team-mates.

During the Old Trafford meeting between the two teams in September, Keane who until that point had been more Father Ted on the touchline rather than the raging mad-axeman like warrior of his old United playing days lost it when decisions went against Sunderland. It was the first time this season that the latent aggression which lurks just beneath surface had manifested itself, but few will have been surprised. Nor should they have been given the man demands that every player gives 100% on and off the pitch in the cause of winning.

Since that Old Trafford meeting which United won one-nil courtesy of a late goal by Saha, Keane's Sunderland have really struggled and in some games like on Saturday against Reading they have not had the rub of the green on the big decisions. Keane was rightly furious with the officials at Reading who saw fit to rule that the ball had crossed the line, yet after umpteen replays no one can be sure of that, but in awarding the goal Steve Coppell's team took the spoils and once again Keane had the pained look on his face of a man who'd just had his wisdom teeth extracted with no anaesthetic.

United fans will be hoping that Keane can keep the Black Cats up this season so while a win for the Reds is vital there will no doubt be mixed feelings for the club's former captain. For his part, the Sunderland manager will be no doubt be banking on a some good fortune against his old club in the belief that lady-luck has to smile upon him and his players sooner or later. Whatever happens on Boxing Day, Keane has cemented his place among the true Old Trafford legends.

Meanwhile, Arsenal who were not at their collective best in Saturday's win over North London rivals Spurs travel to Portsmouth who were on the wrong end of a 4-1 tonking at Anfield on Saturday. However, Pompey were not as bad as the scoreline suggested and they will give Wenger's side a tough game. In many ways, it might actually suit Ferguson if both United and Arsenal go on to win their respective Boxing Day fixtures as the pressure will mount on the Gunners as the weeks go on with the Red Devils breathing down their necks in second place.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

United thankful for another early Xmas present from Merseyside as Ronaldo ends Toffees unbeaten run...

United have been in action at Old Trafford in the 12-noon kick-off against Everton. The Toffees had gone 13 games unbeaten prior to today's visit for what was another very important Premier League fixture.

Ahead of the game, the United manager had sprung a few surprises with his team selection as there was no Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand or Owen Hargreaves, who we are told were all 'injured'. But there was no signs of injury where the star trio are concerned in the Reds last outing when they managed to pinch all three points off the other big Merseyside club Liverpool last weekend when Tevez did the damage.

So was Ferguson trying to be clever again by resting players in a bid to give everyone a game at this busy festive time? In the end it did not matter as United managed to somehow sneak a late, and in some ways a fortuitous victory. The deciding goal of three came late on in the game after Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar had what can only be descibed as a rush of blood to his head when sticking out his leg to bring down Ryan Giggs when the Welsh wizard was running away from goal and the ball was on his right foot. It was an act of madness and one for which the visitors paid a high price as Ronaldo converted the resulting penalty.

From the start of this game, Everton had the look of a team who were on an unbeaten run, they worked tirelessly all over the park when closing down anyone in the famous red shirt.

It took a piece of sheer brilliance to finally carve open the Toffees back four on 22 minutes when Ronaldo controlled a cross-field ball from Tevez on the edge of the area, in the blink of an eye and with little space to work, the Portuguese winger dropped his shoulder and then curled his left-foot drive round an Everton player before it flew beyond the reach of former United stopper Tim Howard in the visitors goal.

However, not long after David Moyes side were on level terms and at this point many reds will no doubt have been left questioning Fergie's team selection after Tim Cahill got in between Vidic and Evra to powerfully head home Pienaar's cross from the left wing. Perhaps if Fergie had not tinkered with his defence United might not have conceded that equaliser, as there had been effectively three changes in a back-four that has looked solid all season.

The rest of the game was nip and tuck and a great deal of credit must go to Everton who restricted United to few clear-cut openings, perhaps the most memorable chance of the rest of the game came late on in the first-half after Ryan Giggs and Ronaldo linked up twice before the Portuguese winger blazed just over the visitors cross-bar for what could have been one of the goals of the season.

Everton probably deserved a draw but Moyes will know that at places like Old Trafford you get punished when you make mistakes as did Steven Pienaar late on to hand Fergie and his team a get out of jail card and an early Christmas present. Coming on the back of last weekend's win over Liverpool, it has been a very good week and now United fans will hoping to make Keano's festive period one to forget when the Reds visit Sunderland on Boxing day.

While the victory had a huge slice of good fortune about it, Ferguson did at least make some positive moves with his substitutions in a bid to win the game when replacing Carrick with Saha late on and in fairness he also dropped Giggs back to midfield where he helped to steady the ship and keep United moving forward before going on to help win the match with that vital spot-kick.

Man of the match: The quite brilliant Ronaldo, who was closely followed by Ryan Giggs who was also very good throughout. The Welshman used the ball extremely well and barely wasted possession all game.

Friday, December 21, 2007

United sign new striker, but it's not all good news....

Subject to a work permit being granted, United are to sign a 24 year-old striker known as Manucho, real name Mateus Alberto Contreiras from Petro Athletico. The Angolan has been on trial with the Reds for three weeks and he's done enough to suggest that he deserves a contract.

If Manucho turns out to be a useful acquisition it could prove to be a very smart signing and it will prove that Arsene Wenger isn't the only one who can unearth gems' for next to nothing. Time will tell on that score. Fergie had this to say on this latest import "We have had Manucho here for a three-week trial and have been impressed enough to offer him a contract.

"He is a tall, agile, quick forward and through contacts that Carlos (Queiroz) has, was brought to our attention around six months ago."

United supporters will be hoping that Manucho doesn't turn out to be another Dong.

Meanwhile four United fans have been jailed in Rome for their part in the disturbances prior to the Reds recent clash with AS Roma. The four fans have been given the maximum sentences for this type of alleged offence - up to two and half years each. Apparently it wasn't even a proper trial and the United supporters have been effectively jailed without getting the chance to defend themselves.

A British Embassy spokesman has said that in the past these sentences have been suspended, but at this stage it is not known if this will be the case, so the four look likely to spend Christmas in an Italian jail.

It comes as no surprise to learn that no Italian's have been given custodial sentences despite the fact that four United fans were stabbed. So much for Italian justice.

Better news to report on the Champions League draw as the Reds will face the French champions Lyon (BBC Radio Five live today said it was Lille - oh dear, never mind).

While Lyon is a tough assignment, the Reds will play away first which is always a bonus but United will need to be at the collective best to beat the French outfit. The Reds look to have a decent draw where British clubs are concerned with Liverpool facing Inter and Arsenal facing AC Milan, while Chelsea face Olympiakos and Celtic have to overcome Barca.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

United to swoop for star duo?...

Reports in Germany have been claiming that United could be eyeing a raid on Bayern Munich with two big star names reportedly on Ferguson's wanted list. 30 year-old right-back Willie Sagnol has fallen out of favour with Ottmar Hitzfeld, the French defender picked up an injury back in April and has struggled to regain his place in the side, added to which Bayern could be about to sign a Brazilian defender in the January transfer window which could increase the pressure for places in the Bayern back-four.

The Reds have injury concerns over Gary Neville who of course remains United's first choice right-back when fit, but the England defender has struggled to recover from a dreadful series of injuries and there will be concern about this ability to make a full and long-term comeback. At 30 years of age Sagnol would be very much a short term buy, but Fergie could get three good seasons out of the veteran French defender so providing a deal could be done there could be something in the stories linking Sagnol to United.

Sagnol's team-mate Philipp Lahm is also being strongly linked to United, but Bayern would surely demand a huge transfer fee for the 24 year-old who scored the opening goal in the 2006 World Cup. Patrice Evra has cemented his place in the Reds starting eleven after ousting Gabriele Heinze. The Frenchman is according to reports looking to extend his contract with the Red Devils, which hopefully should not be too much of a problem with him putting in consistently top performances of late. Evra is without doubt the most improved player in the United squad this season. A move for Lahm seems unlikely given the likely fee. A more likely target could be Reading defender Nicky Shorey who has been linked over the last few weeks.

Meanwhile Jonny Evans finds himself at the centre of rape allegations after the players Christmas party at a central Manchester hotel went horribly wrong. Apparently the Daily Mirror has bought the story...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ronaldo the prince who will never be king?..

It comes as no surprise to learn that Kaka has been voted FIFAs World Player of the Year for 2007. This news comes on the back of the Brazilian picking up the award of European Player of the Year at the beginning of December. Few, if any, would argue that both awards are richly deserved as the AC Milan player scored 10 goals in the Champions League last season on the way to winning the trophy.

Kaka polled 1,047 votes, Messi 504 and Ronaldo 426. The votes were drawn from national coaches and captains.

It begs the question will Cristiano Ronaldo ever make the transition from prince to king? To stand any chance of it happening United will have to win the Champions League again.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Apache strike unravels one dimensional Liverpool as the Reds end rival's title challenge....

The champions went briefly back to the top of the Premier League table courtesy of the only goal of the game scored on the stroke of half-time when a clever first-half Ryan Giggs corner in front of the Anfield Kop found the feet of Wayne Rooney, who was left totally unmarked on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area, the United striker's first time low drive was converted by Carlos Tevez who cleverly flicked the ball passed Pepe Reina who had no time to react.

Sky Sports expert pundits said that they thought United had planned the short corner routine after studying the way the Liverpool back-four marked opposing players inside the box. If indeed that was the case it was top marks for Fergie and his backroom team.

However, as so often has been the case down the years, as a spectacle it wasn't a great game to watch, with neither side controlling the first half. Ironically in that opening period Liverpool's best chances came after Edwin Van Der Sar made two major errors of judgement when going for cross balls which should have been left to the United defence to deal with. Thankfully, the little Brazilian Anderson was on hand to save the Dutch stopper when he cleared off the line, on the second occasion Fernando Torres blazed wide to the relief of the 3,000 strong travelling Red Army.

In the second half Liverpool had the lions share of the possession and referee Mark Halsey gave nearly every 50/50 decision to the home side, but despite penning United in their own half the home team could not find a way through the Reds rear guard.

As for United on too many second half occasions they fell into the trap of hitting the ball long in the style of Liverpool who throughout the game had reverted to lumping it down the park. From a technical point of view this game was not one to remember for the purist. The second-half only produced one really clear-cut goal scoring opportunity for the visitors when Ronaldo - who had a very poor game - found Rooney free on the edge of the Liverpool six yard box with only Reina to beat, but sadly the United striker pulled his shot wide of the target, the move was worthy of a goal and deserved a better finish.

Ryan Babel came on for Liverpool late on in the second-half and his introduction gave the Reds one major scare when he beat his man cut inside and fired just wide of the far post, but it wasn't to be as United hung on for that vital win which widens the gap between United and Liverpool to nine points. The result means that for Rafa Benitez the title race is all but over and perhaps Liverpool may well reflect on how much of their game centres of hitting the ball long, at times it was like watching England.

Ferguson was in reflective mood after the game saying that it was difficult for the referee Mark Halsey, but time and time again the man in the middle gave the big decisions to Liverpool but luckily for United and Fergie it was the Reds day, despite the best efforts of another very poor referee.

The London derby later in the afternoon finished up with Arsenal going back to the top of the league table courtesy of a first half headed goal by former Chelsea defender William Gallas and the news for Chelsea fans just got a whole lot worse with the news that John Terry has suffered a suspected fracture.

Sky Sports TV had billed the day as Grand Slam Sunday - an epic day - in truth it was anything but that, with both of the day's games leaving a lot to be desired. However, for United supporters the taste of victory is always sweet when it comes at the expense of Liverpool because there is no such thing as a bad win at Anfield.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Reds gearing up for new year sales, as Heinze talks of revenge....

Reports claim that there could be some activity in the January transfer window with Reading's left-back Nicky Shorey reportedly wanting to join the champions after refusing the offer of a contract extension.

United currently only have one specialist left-back in the form of Patrice Evra who ousted Gabriel Heinze who eventually moved on to Real Madrid after his preferred option of joining Liverpool was blocked by the Reds. The former United left-back has angrily spoken out about the champions blocking that transfer to tomorrow's opponents Liverpool. The Argentine says that he has no problems with the United fans, but it's a different story where the club's directors are concerned. The Real Madrid defender would like to meet the Reds in the Champions League and he says that his current team would be favourites.

Meanwhile, struggling Sunderland continue to be linked with Jonny Evans, team-mate Wes Brown is also said to be high on Roy Keane's wanted list. Ferguson recently hinted that some of his younger players could go out on loan and that option is more likely where Evans is concerned as Gerard Pique appears to have overtaken the young Northern Ireland international in the Old Trafford pecking order.

As for the future of Wes Brown a lot will depend on how much Sunderland offer and whether or not the player fancies a move to the North East.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Capellogate: Consultations of spin...

So following on from the rather lengthy, but ultimately pointless, consultation process which saw 'Wallace' of 'Wallace and Gromit' lookalike fame AKA Brian Barwick, talking to everyone about who should be the next England manager we have arrived at Fabio "where's my coat?" Capello. News of which has been greeted with a large degree of scepticism and dismay from among others the League Managers Association and former England players alike including Steve Coppell, Paul Ince, Gerry Francis and Tony Adams.

To be honest no one will be or should be that much surprised about the appointment of yet another foreign manager, because as we know the FA are a hapless bunch who lurch from one disaster to another. They just had to find a big name to replace the former manager Steve McClaren.

But what has led to the powers that be appointing a man who barely speaks our native tongue? Because on this point Arsene Wenger has this week hinted that it is perhaps more important to be able to speak English than any other managerial attribute, including that of technical knowledge, of which Wenger says Capello has plenty. It is well documented that Wenger had also gone on record saying that he believes the next manager should be English. So clearly the Arsenal manager did not back Capello.

No doubting Ferguson would have said the same, that is, if the FA couldn't get Mourinho...who of course does speak English well, plus he knows the players. So Fergie didn't back Capello - and if anyone believes otherwise - then why wasn't he quoted on this prior to this news? Make no mistake the FA would have made sure we knew about it if it actually happened.

So the truth of the matter is that when it comes down to it, this whole interview process has been nothing more than an exercise in spin in a bid to cover the sweaty backsides of the FA.

Reading between the lines it seems none of the leading managers or indeed former England stars backed Capello from the start to take the job. Perhaps Gromit thought it was a good idea?

United strikers plotting another Merseyside raid...

United will be hoping to add Steven Gerrard's woes by pinching another three points off the Scousers as happened the last time the Reds played at Anfield. The man who did the damage last season was our very own artful Irish dodger, big John O'Shea, who stole in to score the only goal of the game which secured a somewhat fortuitous late victory and a very welcome three points.

For rivals Liverpool it has been a mixed week for Gerrard in particular with a thumping victory in the Champions League against Marseille. However, the personal joy was short lived with the news that Gerrard had just become the sixth Merseyside based big name player to have his mansion robbed.

In the wake of this latest but all too predictable burglary, Rafa Benetiz has been talking about the need to improve security off the pitch, but this weekend's clash could also prove to be a timely reminder that he also needs to add a new central defender or two to this squad as the Merseyside Reds have looked pretty shaky in some games at the back this season.

United have the strikers to capitalise on any slip-ups and ahead of this Sunday's huge game at Anfield on Sunday Louis Saha has been speaking about the intense atmosphere which always surrounds this absorbing fixture. The Frenchman said "Without doubt, it is the most intense atmosphere for a Manchester United player.

"I have played there a few times now but the win we had there last season was amazing. That is one of the greatest feelings I have ever had as a footballer.

"My main memory of last season is that the win at Liverpool kick-started us towards the title. It proved we were strong enough.

"We are going there much earlier in the season this time and there is still a long road ahead. But it does give us a chance to show exactly how good we are."

Meanwhile team-mate Wayne Rooney says that he's plotting to add further daylight between the Champions and Liverpool.

"Obviously, Liverpool away is a massive game, probably our biggest of the season.
"It won't decide the title but it is a chance to put some daylight between us".

Thursday, December 13, 2007

United fans on sharp end as Italians once again fail the security test...

Once again Reds supporters have been attacked and stabbed by cowardly knife wielding Italian scum prior to the AS Roma vs. United game in Rome last night. We were led to believe this would not happen again following the appalling scenes of last season when visiting fans were attacked by both the locals and the police. Sadly and predictably, it happened again with several supporters sustaining 'serious' looking facial injuries.

At least one supporter was reportedly attacked by a policeman prior to the game which ended in a creditable draw. It could have been much worse, visiting fans can be thankful that they didn't find themselves on the wrong end of a Carabinieri bullet, unlike the Lazio fan who was killed recently. There's no point in saying that something will only be done when someone gets killed - as clearly little or nothing happens in Italy even when there's a fatality and as we saw last night the violence carries on unchecked.

No doubting that UEFA will come down hard on United again, but Reds supporters have an excellent recent record when travelling abroad and surely it's no coincidence that yet again trouble flared up in Rome.

Many fans will no doubt be amazed to learn that despite the appalling behaviour of the Carabinieri, Roma "stewards" and "Roma fans" UEFA has awarded the Champions League 2009 Final to Rome - which must be in Europe's top three worst cities when it comes to football related violence.

The joke that is UEFA, recently fined both United and Roma for the events of last season and then we learn that the city has been awarded this prestigious final - what sort of message does this send out to Italian football? What is the Italian phrase for "corruption and brown paper bags stuffed with Lira"?

Of the match itself, despite fielding a team which lacked experience in the back four United were marginally the better side without creating too many clear cut openings.

Gerard Pique gave the visitors a deserved first half lead from a corner. The Spaniard's header was the Reds main first-half highlight in a game that wasn't as dull as some feared it might be with both sides having little to play for. Nonetheless it did not stop the Italian TV director spending an inordinate amount of time showing gratuitous crowd shots. Viewers learnt as much about the latest Italian headwear of choice as they did about the stars on display in the somewhat sparsely populated Olympic Stadium. For those looking for fashion tips and if you did not see the game, beenie hats and bandanas appear to be the current di-rigour.

United's own fashion icon (tee he) Wayne Rooney looked pin-sharp and dare I say slimmed down. 'Wazza' had a decent game without unduly troubling the Roma back-four, apart from a fantastic second half one-two with Louis Saha that should have ended with United making it 2-0 only for the Roma stopper deny the Frenchman. Not long after the home team levelled through Mancini after Roma boss Spalletti made several late changes, by which time Rooney had been taken off and safely wrapped in cotton wool for his return to his native Merseyside for that huge game on Sunday when United visit Liverpool.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fergie fans flames of transfer row as Queiroz is branded 'persona non-grata'...

The row over the future of talented young midfield star Miguel Veloso has taken a twist following suggestions that United might be interested in signing yet another Sporting Lisbon star at some point in the not too distant future.

The man at the centre of what has turned out to be a public spat is Carlos Queiroz who in the run-up to the recent clash between United and the Portuguese club, for some reason allowed himself to fall into the trap of appearing to suggest that, yes, the Red Devils fancied Veloso.

Sporting Lisbon's chairman, Filipe Soares Franco hit back when launching a verbal attack on Fergie's assistant stating that Queiroz's conduct was `ethically and morally, very low' and at the same time he branded him `persona non-grata.' Strong stuff.

In defence of Queiroz, Ferguson has hit back saying.

"We have never been interested in Veloso at any stage. He is not what we need,"
"We have six midfield players so why should we be interested?
"When we went for Nani and Ronaldo we spoke directly to the club, so why we wouldn't we do this again?".

Fergie is clearly trying to dampen the raging transfer fire and the flames which are lapping up the trouser leg of Queiroz. But Fergie's view certainly makes sense as the Reds are indeed well off in the midfield engine room at present. If however Paul Scholes called it a day next summer and maybe Fletcher or Carrick was allowed to leave the club then things might be different.

Capello appointment: All aboard the comedy train for another mystery tour...

So here we go again, the FA look set to appoint another foreign England manager. Having sacked Steve McClaren, we were told that lessons had been learnt on his appointment and that this time things would be different...

Leading managers such as Ferguson were consulted as part of the revamped vetting process, predictably we were told that the United boss thought that Mourinho was the right man to replace McClaren. However, Jose isn't ready to turn his back on club football right now, but it didn't stop him from playing the media like a well used fiddle to flush out interests from Europe's biggest clubs.

Last weekend the News of the World ran a somewhat amusing exclusive. Rob Beasley, massive Chelsea fan - and one of Jose's hacks of choice - wrote a very funny story claiming that the self anointed 'special one', had over the space of 24 hours decided to take the job only for him to change his mind on Saturday morning. You really could not make it up and yet the laughable News of the World had the brass nerve to devote the whole of their back page with this exclusive story that when decoded was really confirming what many of us suspected all along that they didn't have a f****** clue what was happening. Jose had been toying with Beasley et al, by pulling down their collective trousers. It serves these fawning tail-wagging hacks right is my view.

Following on from the Mourinho pantomime comes the news that Fabio Capello will be the new England manager. Now I have nothing against the former Real Madrid coach, he's obviously got the credentials, only a fool would argue otherwise. But take a look at the list of World Cup Winning nations and one thing stands out, Brazil, Italy and Germany have all won the trophy several times, none of them have been managed by a foreign coach. I strongly suspect that none of those nations mentioned would even contemplate having a foreign coach, the very idea would rightly cause outrage among the populous.

It's one thing for an African nation to appoint a bloke who looks like the former lead singer of Abba to be their manager, it should be quite another for former World Cup winning nations such as England. However, that is where we are, this is what it has come to. England are in fact officially rubbish and we have known that for a very long time.

In football you get what you deserve and England will get the same. Does anyone seriously believe, for even half a minute, that Capello will change the culture and attitude of English football? Does anyone believe that Capello will succeed where others have failed? If the answer to both questions is NO, then we might as well have saved ourselves the embarrassment of making English football look even more foolish than England already look. Capello will not be able to change English football from the grassroots upwards. Italian footballers are generally better technically than English players, this stands out when comparing defenders especially. God damn it, the Italians are even better at cheating which is considered as part of the game - winning is everything - in England we have this half arsed idea about gentlemen and players. This is partly is why we have a sideboard full of full fourth and fifth prizes and it is why the Italian's have won the World Cup four times. Capello isn't the answer he is not even close to it.

It's interesting to note that one man (recently voted the best manager of all time) who was consulted on the next England appointment was more or less completely ignored by the media and the FA. I refer to none other than Arsene Wenger who said the next manager should be English.

It's worth pointing out that prior to McClaren getting the job, I was personally in favour of Scolari, but I have since changed my mind and I agree with Wenger. Capello wont make the difference - we will get what we collective deserve and such we might as well stick with an Englishman.

Give me Steve Copell over Capello any day.

Rooney v AS Roma - no red mist or new injuries please...

So United are set to take on AS Roma in a game of little significance with the Reds having already secured their passage into the knockout phase of the Champions League by winning group F along with Roma who finished runner-up. No doubting the Italians will want to avenge last season's 7-1 mauling, which must still hurt, as will to a lesser extent the 1-0 defeat earlier this season. So there is something to play for.

When the two sides met in October at Old Trafford Wayne Rooney was the man who scored the match-winner. Tonight in the eternal city, Rooney will skipper a side that will be largely drawn from reserves and youngsters. The former Everton striker has suffered two serious injury setbacks already this season, the last thing United or Fergie needs right now is for Wayne to collect any new injuries, or to get himself sent off in a game that should in theory cause few problems for either side. However, football is a funny game and as we have seen from time to time when the dreaded red mist descends Rooney can lose it. Please do not let it happen tonight Wayne.

Saha, Nani, Fletcher, Brown and O'Shea are included in the squad along with Rooney and the manager will be desperately hoping that all of his senior players come through his this game unscathed ahead of the titanic clash with Liverpool at the weekend. Should Fergie lose Rooney due to events in Rome then the United manager will be left cursing his decision to play the England striker.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Veloso transfer tapping-up 'row' storm in a teacup?

Reports claim that United's chances of signing Miguel Veloso have been damaged because Sporting Lisbon are upset about Carlos Queiroz speaking publicly about the Reds interest in the player. Fergie's assistant manager did not, as far as I recall, say that the player would soon become United player, Queiroz was merely responding to a question from a journalist about the club's reported interest. Perhaps Queiroz could have been more tactful by avoiding giving a direct answer, but having already received £30m plus from United for Ronaldo and Nani, it seems unlikely that Sporting would turn down a big offer for another of their young stars should Ferguson press home his reported interest next summer. Judging by his own comments, Miguel Veloso clearly wants to come to United which always helps to oil the transfer wheels.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Weekend of contrasting fortunes for two of Manchester's finest...

It was another one of those very wet weekends in Manchester, and one of contrasting fortunes for two of the city's finest sons, for both it will be one which will never be forgotten, but for very different reasons.

For Ricky 'The Hitman' Hatton it was a case of tasting defeat for the first time in 44 professional fights as he was knocked-out in Las Vegas by Floyd Mayweather Jr. In the wake of Hatton's first defeat, respected voices within boxing circles are telling the Hitman to retire. By all accounts, the step up in class and weight was a step too far for the little man from Hattersley who says that his pride more than the punches has been hurt.

Meanwhile 12 hours previously and five thousand miles away in the rainy city, the adopted son of Manchester that is Ryan Giggs celebrated his 100th league goal on Saturday for the Reds as the Champions narrowed the gap to just one point at the top of the table when they brushed aside relegation candidates Derby County 4-1.

Cristiano Ronaldo denied Carlos Tevez the opportunity of scoring a hatrick as the Portuguese winger scored late on from the penalty-spot after being hacked down on a rain sodden Old Trafford pitch. Before that Tevez scored in either half with two well taken goals, his first was similar to the Giggs opener in that both players were in the right place to capitalise on any openings when lurking on the edge of the visitors six-yard-box. It was a case of perfect timing and positioning for the Welshman and the Argentine.

In his post match interview, Fergie said that he wasn't totally happy with the Reds passing, but given the state of the pitch he was rightly very satisfied with the victory - nothing less was expected given the Rams plight.

However, while this fixture may well have looked easy on paper, Premier League games of this nature can turn out to be a case of 'sheep to the slaughter' for the visitors or they can be coupon busting disappointments as was the case when Sunderland took a point off United a couple of seasons ago during that woeful campaign which ended with the Black Cats being relegated.

One player who has seen it all before is Ryan Giggs. The Welshman has divided opinion among fellow Reds on his undoubted abilities like no other United player that I can recall in recent times. Throughout his United career Giggs has often been quite brilliant but also very frustratingly annoying on other occasions. What is beyond doubt is the Welshman's sublime record.

Apart from this glittering collection of silverware, Giggsy has several lesser known claims to fame, such as he remains the Premier League's all time top goalscorer for a none striker. He scored the United's quickest ever goal against Southampton (15 seconds) against Southampton in 1995.

United fans voted his FA Cup semi-final replay match winner as the Reds greatest ever goal when he beat four Arsenal defenders (Lee Dixon twice) along the way.

The Welshman has the privilege of being the only player in the Premier League to have been named in an episode of the Simpsons.

To date Giggsy has scored 144 goals for the Reds from 731 games and he has 284 assists. Ryan very nearly made it 145 United goals against the Rams on Saturday with a wonderful second-half left foot effort that just went beyond the far post. Long may it continue.

United fans will have many fond memories of their top Giggs moments. What in your view is his most important league goal? Ryan scored a match winning brace late on against Southampton when the Reds were one down as Fergie side eventually ran out 2-1 winners in a game of huge importance in that defining season of 1993 when United ended that 26 year wait to finally secure the league title.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fergie set for transfer swoop?

With the transfer window set to open, reports are linking United with two left-backs, the latest name to emerge is Branislav Ivanovic (23). the Serbian defender is currently playing for Lokomotiv Moscow, reports claim the fee could be as much as £10m which seems like an awful lot of money for a fullback (we will always make comparisons to Dennis Irwin who cost the club buttons to sign but went to on to become a red legend). Ivanovic is under contract until December 2011 and it's thought that Fergie will no doubt have consulted Vidic on his fellow Serb who is another international.

The Reds have also been linked to Reading's Nicky Shorey who is apparently stalling on signing a new deal. Shorey has 18 months remaining on contract.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Should Rob Styles be rested again?...

Referee Rob Styles has landed himself in another controversy following his decision not to award Manchester United a penalty when Cristiano Ronaldo was brought down by Fulham keeper Niemi on Monday night. The Reds eventually ran out two-nil winners courtesy of a well taken Ronaldo brace. Ronaldo was on a hatrick when the former Saints keeper brought him down inside the box - it was a clear penalty - yet Styles booked Ronaldo for diving.

As a result of the yellow card the Portuguese winger now faces a possible suspension at some stage in the season. Ronaldo made the mistake of applauding Styles for the poor decision and no doubting the FA will take the easy way out by saying the player had been booked for dissent which was not the case as the referee had already brandished his yellow card before the winger reacted.

This latest incident comes on the back of another recent poor Styles display in the game between Liverpool and Chelsea after which the referee was 'rested' for poor decision making. In that game Styles wrongly awarded a very soft penalty to Chelsea.

The FA set a precedent by punishing Styles and having done so, there needs to be some consistency. Which raises the question should Styles be rested again? If the FA has a grain of sense they will strike-off Ronaldo's yellow card as the result was not affected by the none award of the penalty - the real damage was the yellow card and surely there has to be some sympathy for the player on this occasion given it was a blatant spot-kick.

This latest decision must be a concern for all concerned because clearly this was another easy to decision to make and yet again Styles got it completely wrong. Earlier on in the week Fergie stated that he fears standards of refereeing are in decline, after this latest howler many will agree.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mourinho to United anyone?

The other day I posted an article on Jose Mourinho about him being linked to the vacant England manager's position, there's been plenty of speculation suggesting that former Chelsea boss wants the job. As ever though, the truth of the matter is that the media hasn't got a clue as to what Mourinho's true intentions are. Some reports claim that the 'special one' is using his fawning friends in the press and the gullible FA to flush out interest from Italy's top clubs. This is a plausible suggestion in my view as Mourinho surely isn't daft enough to be tempted into the taking the poisoned chalice that is the England job.

Mourinho we are led to believe cannot coach in England for a couple of years, which would rule him out of taking over from Fergie should he suddenly throw in the towel after United lift the Champions League next May. It could happen. If it did happen, those who are charged with replacing Fergie, namely the Glazers - who by the way were subjected to a ketchup sauce attack in Manchester by disgruntled fans this week - would have the massive task of finding the right man to replace him.

If he's not already in harness at a big Italian club, then surely Mourinho would have to be in the frame. But would United and the fans want him? I have my doubts personally. Sure Jose is a winner, but his philosophy doesn't match United's best traditions of playing attacking football. Jose's teams win, but often it can be ugly, which is still in evidence at his former club when the Blues revert to route one football lumping the ball onto the granite forehead of Didier Drogba as they did against West Ham at the weekend.

A more likely destination if Mourinho does return to manage in England is Liverpool, which is a move that has been mooted in the press of late. My personal view is that Mark Hughes will become the Reds next manager.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

It's Aston Villa v United in the 3rd round of the FA Cup again...

United fans will be reasonably happy on hearing the news that the Reds have been drawn against in-form Aston Villa in the third round of the FA Cup. The champions demolished Villa 4-1 at Villa Park in October, but Martin O'Neill is doing a fine job and his young team are a match for anyone in the Premier League as they showed against Arsenal on Saturday when narrowly losing to the league leaders.

United beat Villa 2-1 at Old Trafford in the third round last year and it will be the fourth time in seven seasons that the two clubs will have met in the FA Cup.

The champions also beat Villa in 2002 and 2004.

Kaka wins top award after rule changes as Ronaldo comes runner-up..

United's Cristiano Ronaldo came, not surprisingly, runner-up to AC Milan's Brazilian star Kaka who has been named World footballer of The Year after winning the most votes to secure France Football magazine's prestigous Ballon d'Or award.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi came third in the voting.

Not a lot of fans will be aware of the recent rule changes which coincided with this year's competition. The Ballon d'Or came to being in 1955, prior to 2007 the award was more popularly known as the European Footballer of The Year. The rules stated that nominees had to play for a club within UEFA's jurisdiction, and until 1995 all nominated players had to be European.

However, from 1995 until 2006 all players at European clubs were eligible. In 2007 France Football magazine announced that they had opened to the competition to players from across the globe making it a truly international award.

On winning the 2007 Ballon d'Or Kaka secured the most votes from the group of 96 journalists of which and for the first time, only 53 were Europeans. The judges had to choose five players from the list of 2007 nominees. Each of the five selected nominees is then awarded either one, two, three, four and five points.

Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten of Holland and Michel Platini of France are the only players who managed to win the award three times. With the recent rule changes the competition has surely become a lot harder to win.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mourinho for England: Why José would be right to turn down the job...

So Fergie is apparently going advise the FA on who should replace Steve McClaren. Not that Brian Barwick is going to ask me, but my personal view is that the red hot favourite that is José Mourinho would be mad to accept the job when he has the pick of virtually any position he chooses. Here's why.

The England job is a poisoned chalice as every manager since Sir Alf Ramsey has found out to their cost. Apart from perhaps Bobby Robson, none of the former England coaches have left the job with their reputation intact. Following the 1990 World Cup, Bobby Robson eventually went on to manage Barcelona. However, even so the former Ipswich Town boss had was unmercifully hounded by the British press during his tenure as England manager. In 1998 following a draw in a friendly with Saudi Arabia one headline screamed "In the name of Allah, go", there were many other occasions when Robson was hammered by the press - it comes with territory. Ironically while at Sporting Lisbon who he joined in July 1992, Robson worked alongside a Portuguese interpreter by the name of José Mourinho.

Another former England manager Graham Taylor suffered the indignity of having an image of his head artworked into a turnip by the Sun Newspaper. Many will feel that Taylor was the wrong man for the job, but this theory only holds water for those who truly believe that England have been punching below their weight since 1970. Which is questionable at best in my view given the lack of technical skills of English players in general.

The press will have the fans believe that Terry Venables is the messiah, when it comes to tactics and the technical side of the game, but if that was the case Barwick et al would not be consulting a Scotsman about their next appointment. Venables would be the obvious candidate every time, but he is not and rightly so on this occasion.

In weighing up his options Mourinho will take everything into consideration. The former Chelsea manager isn't stupid and he knows that unlike with club football, his hands would be largely tied. He cannot go out and bring in who he likes as you can at club level. Mourinho would not be able to go out and deploy his brand of percentage football when needs must, because England do not have a Didier Drogba.

Not only that the self anointed special one has a hard earned reputation as a winner and perhaps above all else this will be his overriding consideration. Can he actually make a difference by transforming serial losers into winners? If Mourinho comes to the conclusion that, no he cannot, as I expect he will, given the limitations of the job, then he will rightly turn down the FA's huge offer - reported to be a staggering £6m a year.

José Mourinho doesn't the need the FAs cash and while the reported money of offer is ridiculous, this will not be the deciding factor. He would be mad to accept the position is my view. The depth of talent isn't there at present and even Mourinho cannot change that.

IF on the other hand Mourinho's massive ego gets the better of him, then just maybe he can be persuaded to take the job on in the misguided belief that he can succeed where so many others have failed miserably.

IF Mourinho did accept the job offer at least then Barwick and the FA will no doubt feel that they have done as much as they can do in the search for the right man to replace McClaren. That view may well be correct in some ways, but the problems which beset English football go way beyond the appointment of the next manager. Mourinho may well hold that view privately which will be another consideration.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Striker boost for Reds....

Wayne Rooney looks set to return to action on Monday night when United entertain Fulham. By that time the Reds could well be six points adrift of the pacemakers if Arsenal win at Aston Villa on Saturday night.

United have no new injury concerns and no doubting Rooney will replace the hopelessly out of sorts Louis Saha who could do little right in the win over Sporting Lisbon in midweek.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

'Transfer target' drops massive come and get me hint....

Despite the fact that the Red Devils are spoilt for choice in their midfield engine room at present, stories continue surface linking United with Miguel Veloso of Sporting Lisbon who was of course in action at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

The Portuguese club are unhappy about Carlos Queiroz confirming the Reds interest, following on from that Ronaldo and Anderson have both added their weight behind a potential move to United next summer.

The player himself has done nothing to calm the waters by dropping a massive come and get me hint to the Reds when Veloso said "If a great offer came from England it would be impossible to turn it down, but for now my head is 100 per cent focussed on Sporting. Yet I'm not going to hide the fact that playing alongside Cristiano and Nani is one of my dreams."

United wouldn't have it all their own way if the player was available for transfer, as Real Madrid are among those who are said to be monitoring the situation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Unimpressive win secures group F, but doubts persist.....

United managed to secure a victory at the death of their Champions League tie with Sporting Lisbon at Old Trafford last night, but they were not impressive, especially in a lack-lustre first-half in which the visitors not only took the lead but were also the better side.

Right-back Abel opened the scoring early in the first half when he took Kuszczak by surprise when cutting in from the right flank and firing low and hard beyond the keeper at his near post. Not good at all.

Things could have been a lot worse though for United if Leidson's goal not long after the first hadn't been wiped out for offside, wrongly as replays later showed.

The Reds looked disjointed pretty much all over the park in that opening period, Ronaldo was trying to do too much and kept on losing the ball. Saha looks really out of sorts and rusty and as a team it simply wasn't happening.

It came as no surprise then that Fergie changed it at half-time taking off Fletcher and Nani for Tevez and Giggs. United were much better in that second half, the introduction of Tevez in particular gave the champions more power and pace going forward. One of the most impressive things about the Argentine is his tireless work-rate, he never gives up.

United were by far better side from that point onwards as the visitors tired visibly. There was only one moment of concern for the home team when Veloso who has been much linked to the Reds of late, turned quickly and fired goalwards in one movement from fully 25 yards and luckily for United his effort landed safely on the roof of the netting in front of the grateful Stretford End.

The Reds drew level on 61 minutes after excellent work by arguably United's best player on the night Patrice Evra, who had not for the first time won the ball and powered down the left flank, his ball into the box eventually landed at the feet of Saha who in turn laid it off to Ronaldo, his shot was deflected off a defender and then Tevez before finding the net. Evra was the man who should take all the plaudits for the goal for his trademark lung-busting run which led to the opening.

Saha was eventually replaced by Hargreaves on 79 minutes, the groans of the crowd were audible and getting louder each time the Frenchman lost the ball, which was pretty much every time he touched it, though he did play a part in the Reds first goal.

A draw would have been just about a fair result as the Reds didn't really create enough clear openings and Sporting's keeper pretty much dealt with everything that United could throw at him. That was until deep into injury time when Ronaldo took a free-kick from the edge of the box, the sheer power of the shot beat Rui Patricio all ends up and as United came away with the points.

Sporting will feel that they deserved at least a point and if not for the officials they may well have taken all of them.

United were not impressive on the night, perhaps most worrying of all was the mistake by the stand-in keeper and Saha who looks well and truly off the pace. Fergie needs all of his squad players to be on form for the remainder of the campaign and this is a concern, especially up front. United really are missing Wayne Rooney who is thankfully set to return next week. It cannot come soon enough.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fergie in a muddle as Reds are set to eyeball Sporting Lisbon transfer target number three..

Not for the first, or indeed the last time I suspect, Fergie was in something of a muddle during the press conference ahead of the Champions League tie with Sporting Lisbon.

The United manager spoke about Liverpool saying that they'd recovered and should qualify for the knockout stages of the competition. Go figure. Liverpool are third in their group and they have to play Porto at home and Marseille away, both are ahead of the scousers. Is that memory letting you down again Sir Alex?

Nonetheless Fergie has promised the fans that United will go out to try to win the game so that they finish top of group F.

Coming off the back of the Reds second league defeat of the season we United fans hope that the Reds will indeed turn on the style and quickly get back to winning ways. Which should happen.

You do wonder though if Fergie will be tempted to tinker again, do not rule it out as he has players who need games.

AS Roma can still finish top of the group if they win their next two games and United lose tonight. In truth it matters not a lot who wins the group. So there is an argument for Fergie using the next two Champions League games to give a few fringe players a game. What we don't want to see is the manager tinkering in league games as happened last weekend...

One player to look out for tonight is Brazilian striker Liédson da Silva Muniz, he could cause the Reds a few problems and of course Miguel Veloso who continues to be linked to United and a host of top European clubs including Real Madrid. The young Sporting midfield star will be on duty in what could turn out to be a very entertaining game and obviously tonight's tie will be another opportunity to run the rule over another reported Lisbon transfer target.

Fergie, Mark Clattenburg and the FA: Time to bring officials to account?

So the FA are charging Fergie with misconduct for his half-time tirade at referee Mark 'Clanger' Clattenburg at the Reebok. It was only a few weeks ago that the same ref was 'rested' following an appalling display in the Merseyside derby when he missed two blatant penalties for Everton. In short the referee had a an absolute stinker on that day.

Against Bolton on Saturday Fergie's beef with the same official was that the home team had been over physical. There will be some who suspect that Fergie was in part trying to blame the referee by deflecting the media spotlight away from his own shortcomings regarding his team selection having left out Anderson.

On top of which we have been belatedly told that Ronaldo who wasn't included in the squad which faced the Trotters because he was suffering with a minor muscle injury. Though this news only surfaced after the defeat so there has to be some element of doubt about the validity of the injury.

Even if we had been told that Ronaldo was injured prior to the game, Fergie has a record of tinkering with his teams down the years against supposedly weaker opposition. Thankfully, and this is largely down to the fact that contrary to his recent statement that is his 'best squad ever' - it clearly isn't - we have seen less tinkering since the emergence of the force that is Chelsea.

Nonetheless Fergie's tirade does raise a few questions about procedures. Firstly surely the FA needs to come down hard on managers for such behaviour, because if Mourinho or Wenger acted in a similar manner we United fans would view this as trying to seek an advantage by putting pressure on the officials at half-time.

Secondly, how bad does a referee have to be before he is punished? So far we've only seen referee's rested following blatantly poor decision-making, as was the case in the Everton v Liverpool game. Referee's do get assessed on a match by match basis.

However, the problem is for the fans and managers alike, we never get to see those official assessments and what's more can a ref be consistently be poor with no fear of punishment, unless he misses a blatant penalty?

Personally I'd like to see the these assessments published on a weekly basis so that we the fans know how each referee has been officially marked for his performance. If the referee has had a poor run of games then this should trigger some form of action be it 'resting' the official concerned or otherwise.

I'm not an advocate of introducing in-game technology or messing around with the rules, the emphasis needs to be on better decision-making and improvements on performance.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Could Keystone Cops defending cost Keane his job?

Premier League rubbing rags Derby County became the latest club to dispense with the services of their manager as Billy Davis received his marching orders (though officially Derby claim it was by mutual consent - whatever that means) after a pitiful return to the Premier League.

Derby County have the look of a ship that has been holed by an iceberg, no doubting the Rams board have moved before it's too late. Time will tell whether or not this latest sacking turns out to be akin to rearranging the deck-chairs on HMS Titanic. What odds on Steve "loads of money" McClaren returning to his former club?

Davis was of course a rookie Premier League manager, as is United legend Roy Keane whose Sunderland side defended like the Keystone Cops against Everton on Saturday when losing 7-1 at Goodison Park.

It wasn't so much that Everton played well, as they rightly did, but the Black Cats back four couldn't even stand up at key times, which led directly to at least two of the Toffees goals.

How difficult can it be for the players - aided by a small army of back-room staff to select the correct boots and studs for the conditions on the pitch? It's bad enough that players these days play in boots that resemble clown shoes without them performing like stars of the big-top.

United fans will no doubt recall that the very same thing happened last season in the semi-final of the Champions League in the San Siro against AC Milan. On the night it was tippling down with rain, but it was only the United players who were falling over - which again led to the home team taking the lead early on in the game after a passage of slip-ups and cock-ups. AC Milan had no problem playing attacking football on a rain sodden pitch. Our clowns couldn't even stand up.

If Keane isn't to become the seventh manager to part company with his Premier League employers this season, then things will have to change and quickly. There comes a point in troubled times when results are going against you, when all of the shouting and instructions from the manager starts to have little effect as everyone loses confidence from the board down to the players. This is clearly what happened at Bolton, Wigan, and Derby when Sammy Lee, Chris Hutchins and today Billy Davis walked out of the seemingly ever turning managers revolving door.

Football is in part an emotional business, but businessmen will only plough so much of their own money into supporting managers like Keane before hard headed decisions are made. There's no easy games in the Premier League, as United found at Bolton on Saturday, save for perhaps against Derby County who, ironically, face Sunderland this weekend.

Keane wont be panicking just yet, but he will know it is absolutely vital that his team takes all three points from the Rams game, as following that fixture they have some really difficult matches on the horizon with an away trip to Chelsea, home games with Villa and then the Red Devils on Boxing Day, in between those two massive games Sunderland travel to Reading.

Sunderland could easily be in the bottom two by the end of the year and if that happens I wouldn't bet against Roy Keane becoming the next managerial casualty early in the new year.

As a postscript to that scenario United's Jonny Evans might well have second thoughts about joining a sinking ship.

Fergie hints at cheap striker deal and Anelka link resurfaces...

No doubt still smarting from dropping his biggest clanger of the season so far when the manager rested Ronaldo and Anderson on Saturday, which resulted in three valuable points dropped at Bolton, Ferguson has been talking about the prospect of making the Carlos Tevez transfer deal permanent.

On the future of the Argentine the United manager had this to say "There is no question about his long-term future here," said Ferguson "The fee is in place. I won't tell you what it is but it is still cheap." Quite why Fergie has had to let it be known that the fee will be cheap doesn't seem like a very smart move given the deal has yet to be completed. It's surely an open invitation for the player's agent to up the asking price. The Glazers will be pleased with the manager...

Meanwhile, Bolton's goal hero against the Red Devils, le sulk, AKA Anelka is according the gutter press going to be the subject of a transfer battle between United and mighty City. While the Frenchman has most of the attributes to do the business in front of goal he comes with baggage, which is partly why he's had more clubs than Tiger Woods. Will United be his next move? We shall see.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ferguson pays price for tinkering...

Most English football fans went into the weekend suffering with a hangover following the disappointment of seeing England eliminated from Euro 2008. However, United apart, all of the leading clubs in the Premier League won their fixtures on Saturday to in part make up for the events at Wembley just a few days before.

For Reds fans the hangover carried on over the weekend as United somehow contrived to lose a league game at Bolton for the first time in 29 years, courtesy of an early first-half Anelka goal at the Reebok after Pique totally misjudged a cross into the box and the Frenchman was on hand to score with ease. The young Spanish defender was standing in for Vidic who'd picked up a back injury on international duty.

So come Saturday night United fans where left cursing the fact that the Reds had allowed the chasing pack to close the gap and worse still Arsenal had opened up a three point lead at the top of the table.

Many United supporters will no doubt be pointing the finger at Ferguson who it appears had forgotten that when Rooney and Ronaldo do not play the Reds do not offer the same threat going forward, this fact was underscored in the first few weeks of the season when we couldn't find the back of the net.

Only just a few weeks ago Bolton were shipping goals and looked like relegation fodder, so perhaps this led Fergie to believe that he could take liberties with the Trotters because he decided to leave out Ronaldo plus Anderson and of course Rooney is injured.

In hindsight it looks like a very bad decision (even madness perhaps) and it looks like a classic case of tinkering gone wrong. There was no reason to leave out Ronaldo and Anderson with United having secured their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Perhaps Fergie felt under pressure from the likes of Carrick, who has not been getting many games of late. Surely though the game with Sporting Lisbon was the game to play players like Carrick and Nani?

On Saturday it was only after Ferguson made changes in the second half when bringing on Anderson did the champions take control of the game. You don't always get what you deserve in football and against Bolton United should have at least taken a draw a point from the game, how Tevez missed a second chance from six yards out is as baffling as Fergie's team selection.

If the Reds go on to lose the league by three points or less, then we will look back at this result and wonder what might have been.

On the upside, surely Wayne Rooney cannot suffer any more injuries this season and it is to be hoped that this is just a blip in what will turn out to be a very successful season. If the manager is suffering from memory loss, the result at the Reebok will give him a timely reminder that he cannot afford to be taking liberties with anyone when the battle at the top of the table is so tight. Fergie wont do it again this season surely?

Friday, November 23, 2007

United boosted by Rooney return date news, not so good news on Vidic...

Manchester United have been boosted by the news that Wayne Rooney has returned to training and should be fit to face Fulham on December 3. It was feared that the England striker faced a lengthy spell on the sidelines after he was injured in a bizarre training ground accident, but he will be back sooner than expected ahead of the busy Christmas period.

The Reds take on Bolton on at the Reebok on Saturday and Carlos Tevez has insisted that he's not tired and that he's ready to play, we shall see how the Argentine copes as he must surely be jet-lagged after travelling back to his homeland to play two games for his country.

Not so good news to report on Nemanja Vidic who is suffering with a back injury which was sustained on the training ground while on international duty. United's medical staff have been assessing the defender ahead of the Bolton game and Gerard Pique is standing by.

Meanwhile John O'Shea has signed a three year contract extension, the utility player will no doubt continue to be plug any wholes in Ferguson's team when required.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Everyone barring FA blamed for England's failure...

Few will be surprised that Steve McClaren has been sacked following England's failure to get a result against Croatia at Wembley last night. The manager and his assistant Venables had their contracts terminated today because England failed to reach next summer's Euro 2008 finals. It is all so tragically predictable.

In time honoured fashion the blame game has started in earnest as the hapless FA announce that they will launch a 'root and branch' review as they go in search for the reasons behind the England team failing so badly. In reality, many football fans will believe this will turn out to be nothing more than talk as the FA launch yet another damage limitation exercise in a bid to look like they are actually doing something.

At today's press conference questions were asked about the position of FA chief executive. Remember that Brian Barwick is the man who made a complete hash of trying to appoint Philippe Scolari prior to Steve McClaren being offered the job.

At the time Scolari was still the Portugal manager and the World Cup was just around the corner, the Brazilian claimed that Barwick wanted him to agree to becoming the new England coach which put him in an impossible position. The British press got wind of the story and their intrusion and resulting publicity killed any chance of a deal.

In response to questions about his own future, Brian Barwick allowed FA board member Premier League chief Dave Richards to speak on his behalf who insisted that the McClaren appointment had been a board decision...(so perhaps they all need sacking too?).

The FA and Barwick have also been blamed for the poor state of the Wembley turf, which had clearly not recovered from the recent NFL game. Both the England and Croatia camps had complained about the surface prior to the game. Of the state of the Wembley turf one commentator said 'we will never see an NFL game at Wembley again'...(it isn't all bad news then?).

No doubting some will also blame the Russian millionaire who promised the best four Croatia players a Mercedes each if they got the right result.

So no stone will be left unturned in the search for answers to England's problems, at least that is what we the fans are being told.

Going into the Croatia game, the coach was without his big star names like Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry. The press had as per usual picked the team by telling McClaren who to select and like a lamb to the slaughter he followed their lead by dropping Paul Robinson and David Beckham in preference to Scott Carson and Shaun-Wright-Phillips.

The former England manager might will look back on those decisions and wonder if he'd done things differently then would he still be the manager, because on just eight minutes Carson made what can only be described as a schoolboy error when taking his eye off the ball in doing so allowing Nico Kranjcar's tame shot to slip beyond him into the corner on the net. Catastrophe number one.

As if that wasn't bad enough on 14 minutes a Croatia counter-attack carved open the England defence and Phillips was guilty of doing a Tony Adams impersonation when standing still holding his arm aloft appealing for offside, worse still he allowed Ivica Olic to run free to make it two-nil.

Phillips later missed England's best chance of the first-half before being replaced by Beckham at half-time. The Chelsea winger had not played badly, but at key moments he'd let himself and his country down as had Carson.

No doubting some will argue that the keeper atoned for the error which led to the opening goal by making a string of fine saves, which he did, but that double salvo really left England shell-shocked for virtually all of the opening period. That isn't an excuse, but a statement of fact on what happened and not what should have happened regarding those in possession of the England shirts.

England looked like they were going to turn the game around after Lampard converted a second half penalty and then Beckham's superb cross was finished in style by England's outstanding player on the night Peter 'the coat-hanger' Crouch to make it 2-2.

Alas it wasn't to be as Petric scored with a thunderbolt on 77 minutes, in doing so bringing down the curtain on McClaren and sorry England.

Few will be optimistic about this root and branch review given Barwick's track record, but it is to be hoped that if there is anything good to come out of failure of not qualifying for Euro 2008, it is that hopefully future generations of England players can play the kind of possession football displayed by the Croatian's at Wembley on what turned out to be a very dark day for the English game.

For that to happen it is going to take a lot more than sacking successive England managers. Premier League clubs will need to ensure that they have a core of English players within their squads and for that to happen the recently much talked about quota system may well have to be looked at again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Transfer talk hotting up: United and Arsenal in striker battle?

United continue to be linked with Miguel Veloso of Sporting Lisbon, the Reds are set to take on the Portuguese club in the Champions League next week and no doubting this will further fuel the speculation that Fergie is interested in acquiring yet another central midfield holding player.

So why exactly would United need Veloso given that they already have Owen Hagreaves and Michael Carrick? It doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, unless the Reds have concerns over the long term fitness of the former Bayern Munich star, or is it perhaps that Carrick could be sold back to Spurs in part exchange for Berbatov? Personally I cannot see the latter being the case, as I expect Ramos to follow Rafa Benitez in buying stars from Spain.

Fergie's most pressing problem is to find a new striker, so the stories linking United to Miguel Veloso are either speculation coming from the player and his agents or else the media - who not for the first time are being shall we say 'creative'.

On the search for new forwards and ahead of the weekend clash with Bolton. Carlos Tevez does not return from international duty until Friday morning and with Rooney being out injured it leaves Fergie desperately short of numbers having to rely on Saha and the jet-lagged Argentine - who by the way was sent-off in the 2-1 defeat to Colombia on Tuesday night in a World Cup qualifier. Don't be surprised if either Ryan Giggs or Ronaldo play up front alongside Saha against Bolton.

So will the manager try to sign a new striker in the January transfer window? Most fans will surely agree that he simply has to, but as ever the best players will be cup-tide for Europe, whoever it is that comes in will still be able to play in the Premier League.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is a name that has been cropping up in reports linking him with a move to the Red Devils, Arsenal are also said to be interested. The Ajax star is of course hot property with a number of European and English clubs said to be in the hunt for his signature. Unlike United, the Gunners appear to be able to conduct their transfer business without news spilling out onto the back pages, thus alerting rivals which can affect valuations and fees. The talk is that Huntelaar will cost at least £10m.

Berbatov remains a possibility for United, but there's been some recent speculation which suggests the Bulgarian striker might be lacking in appetite when it comes to battling for a starting place. Ferguson and David Gill have made it clearly down the years that there needs to be a desire to want to play for the club and this will be key when talking to the likes of Huntelaar and Berbatov.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

United supporters seeking government intervention over sky high ticket prices...

Supporters group MUST (Manchester United Supporters Trust) is seeking government intervention over the ever escalating cost of match tickets. Reds fans have seen the cost of season tickets rise sharply since the Glazer family took over the club. Minister for sport Gerry Sutcliffe has spoken out about fears that some fans are being priced out of watching the Red Devils.

In response multi-millionaire Sir Alex Ferguson made the mistake of once again scoring a PR own goal by pointing out that Chelsea and Arsenal tickets are more expensive, he went further by telling fans that if they weren't happy then they should go and watch FC United. It seems that Fergie has forgotten that it's the fans who've been paying his wages.

Sutcliffe is a United supporter, but the minister has concerns about the cost of watching top flight football at all professional clubs and especially those in the Premier League.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Kaka says Ronaldo should receive top award....

The press are awash with the news that Kaka is voting for Cristiano Ronaldo to receive the European Player of the Year award. George Best was the last United player to win the trophy in 1968, before him Bobby Charlton won it in 1966 and it was Denis Law in 1964.

It would be great if it happened, but will it? Surely Kaka himself will win it this year, Fabio Cannavaro is the current European Player of the Year.

Meanwhile, Steve Bruce is set to join Wigan Athletic after all parties agreed that this parting of the ways is the right thing to do. Speculation suggests that his new contract will be worth £8m over four years.

Vidic could miss Bolton game...

Fans favourite Nemanja Vidic could miss the Reds trip to the Reebok Stadium at the weekend as Serbia's scheduled Euro 2008 qualifier against Kazakhstan was postponed on Saturday due to snow in Belgrade. The match will now take place this coming Sunday.

However, depending on Wednesday's results in group A the tie with Kazakhstan could be meaningless in which case United and will no doubt press for Vidic's release from International duty so he can face Bolton on Saturday.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Transfer rumour of the day: Eto'o to United....

The tell tale signs that the January transfer window isn't too far away came in the shape of a totally ridiculous rumour in today's Sunday People in which it was claimed that Samuel Eto'o could sign for United in a swap deal that would see Louis Saha plus £5m moving in the opposite direction to Barcelona.

Fergie would no doubt love to have Eto'o in his squad, but does anyone seriously believe this deal could actually happen? There's more chance of seeing Adolf Hitler shopping in Tescos is my view.

Golan hits heights for Israel and England, but Tevez and Argentina show home nations how to play...

Going into the weekend's international fixtures many England fans will have been fearing the worst. We were told by the media that Steve McClaren and his team were done for. Not so, as Israel surprised many fans and the critics by beating Russia by the odd goal in three. Golan scored the winner on 90 minutes, in doing so ensuring England and their head coach were given a stay of execution until Wednesday when they face Croatia - a draw will be enough to secure a place in next summer's Euro 2008 finals.

How ironic it would be though if McClaren and his team go on to win the tournament. I'd love that to happen personally because I want to see McClaren's critics in the media eating their own bile.

The manager can only play with the hand that he's dealt with and England have suffered with a lot of injuries, worse still, England do not have an out and out striker, which is their single biggest problem - this is contrary to the views our agenda setting rabid press, who believe that getting rid of the coach is the answer to everything.

Let us not forget that is was the disgraceful News of the World who conspired to get shut of the last manager Sven. With such a spineless and weak FA, the press are the de facto rulers of the English game -bullying and constantly cajoling from the sidelines until they get what they want. So thank you to Golan and Israel for giving the coach and England the opportunity to turn the critics in the press into revisionists.

Meanwhile events north of the border saw Scotland conspire (aided by the officials and a wee Scotsman) to shoot themselves in the foot in the first and ninetieth minute as Italy broke the jocks hearts by winning 2-1.

It turned out to be a night of excuses which is often the case in the aftermath of important games. The opening goal came after the visitors took a quick throw-in on the left which eventually found Luca Toni whose speed of thought and movement ensured that he got to the ball first on the edge of the six-yard-box in doing so flicking it beyond Gordon.

Former Celtic star Charlie Nicolas and Sky pundit blamed the goal on 'multiball', saying 'a little Scotsman picked up the ball and threw it back into play before Scotland had time to get organised'. A life ban on the cards for the wee man?

Scotland battled hard from that point on and deservedly equalised in the second half when Barry Ferguson - who was clearly off-side - scrambled the ball over the line.

As in the Israel v Russia game, the decisive goal came in the 90th minute after the referee had made the wrong decision, instead of giving the home side a free-kick, Italy were given the award on the edge of Scotland's box, Panucci then somehow managed to chest the resulting cross ball into the net, in doing so killing the game and the Scots Euro 2008 hopes.

After the game Alex McLeish the Scotland manager blamed the defeat and the late winning goal at the doorstep of the referee, he went further by suggesting that in big games the decisions often go against the smaller nations.

McLeish chose to completely ignore the fact that Ferguson's goal was clearly offside and that Italy had themselves been on the wrong end of a bad decision when the ref chalked-off a good goal for offside. So in the big scheme of things Scotland had one really bad decision go against them to Italy's two...

With no club football on the box this weekend, it came as a somewhat pleasant surprise to learn that Argentina were set to take on Bolivia in Buenos Aires for a World Cup qualifier and the second half was live on Sky Sports one. A chance to see International football played as it should be was not going to be missed.

United's Carlos Tevez was on duty and he was his usual industrious self, but this game was like watching football from another planet compared to the fare served up at Hampden Park and what we see from England all too often.

Argentina have yet to concede a goal in the qualifying games so far, and their short accurate passing was a joy to watch. Every Argentina player including the defenders were comfortable in possession as time and time again they moved the ball quickly around the bemused Bolivians.

The pitch at the River Plate resembled a cabbage patch, it was full of ruts. Had England or Scotland been tasked with facing Argentina on this pitch, they both would no doubt have spent a week complaining about the state of the surface, in doing so, talking themselves into making mistakes. There was no need for excuses though as the home side thrashed the Bolivians three-nil, there was barely a misplaced pass that I can recall.

While offering support to under fire McClaren, I'm sure that all fans recognise that English players need to improve on technique which is a process that has to start at the grassroots. However, a good starting point for any player or coach, even the National team coach, would be to study the Argentinean's collective lesson in passing and movement against Bolivia which was on another level to anything that England have shown since 1970.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Jonny Evans set for Sunderland?

With only a few weeks to go until the January transfer window opens, reports claim that Roy Keane could be set to make a fresh attempt to re-sign United's Jonny Evans. The Red Devils were knocked out of the Carling Cup by Coventry City in September and following that defeat Ferguson said most of his young stars would go out on loan as they had the previous season. The one exception was likely to be Gerard Pique who has impressed when given his chances.

The defeat against Coventry left the manager "flabbergasted" and he made it clear that he was not impressed by his young team that night. However, at one stage last season United were left without all of their choice back four due to injuries and with Evans, Pique and Simpson all out on loan it left the Red Devils short of cover. You might have expected that Ferguson would have learnt from the mistake, but seemingly not given his comments following that defeat at the hands of the Sky Blues.

Ferguson may well allow Evans to rejoin Sunderland but will the manager sell the player or will it be another loan deal? The manager hasn't made that many mistakes when allowing youngsters to permanently leave the club, but in the case of Evans it could well turn out be one that haunts him if the player fulfils his potential. The word is that Keane is preparing to spend big in January and it might well be the case that money talks - United are not selling club (unless they want to get rid of a player), I for one will be hoping that Fergie doesn't forget that should Niall Quinn come knocking with his chequebook.

Friday, November 16, 2007

As media firing squad clammer to pull trigger - who should replace McClaren?

With no game for United this weekend, our collective attentions will focus on the international scene once more.

England need Israel to draw or win against Russia on Saturday night and then McClaren's team have to beat Croatia next week if the Three Lions are to avoid missing out on a place at the Euro 2008 finals next summer.

In the build-up to these crucial games there has been a lot of discussions about overseas stars plying their trade in the Premier League and the likes of Steven Gerrard has joined Fergie in support of Sepp Blatter's quota proposal.

The FIFA big cheese wants to see more home-grown stars from the country of origin playing in domestic competitions like the Premier League. The idea hasn't gone down well with most of the media, so why exactly is that? How can it be that the manager who has won more domestic honours than any other in the British game can see the sense in Blatter's proposals, yet the media cannot?

One of the great ironies is that here we have a Scotsman agreeing in principle with Blatter for the long term good of the English game. Yet at the same time Arsene Wenger a Frenchman - who clearly has no interest in the England national team - does not agree with Blatter and yet the press who continually bang the international drum agree with Wenger on this issue....

In response to the England captain Steven Gerrard supporting under-fire McClaren and the quota system Matt Dickinson of the Times (surely an Arsenal fan?) devoted a couple of pages yesterday to attacking Blatter's proposal while at the same time plunging the knife in between McClaren's shoulder blades (again). Gerrard, we were told was looking for excuses. Hang on a minute Matt, could it actually be that the Liverpool star agrees with what many including myself see as a common sense proposal?

As if that wasn't enough, Dickinson added his own personal comment piece attacking the lack of skill and wit of the English, both on the pitch and on the touchline, he used matches between English journalists and their European counterparts to make his point. Which was a silly argument, but he made his point about the lack of skill.

The thing is critics like Dickinson will happily point out that England haven't won anything since 1966 and they say that prior to Wenger arriving together with the mass influx of overseas stars things weren't any better. That maybe so, but should England fail to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals - wont that say quite a lot about the current state of affairs?

The point being, we still haven't got it right, and despite the fact that the media darling that is Terry Venables says that he cannot see any reason to sack Steve McClaren, the press firing squad are clammering to pull the trigger.

Sacking the manager is the media's answer to everything, it always has been and it is why papers like the Times fills page after page in a bid to dictate the agenda to Brian Barwick and the FA.

Having loaded the gun, Dickinson realised that even if the FA sacks McClaren, there's no obvious replacement, he made reference to this in his comment piece. That's the thing, it's very easy to say get rid of the coach, less easy to come up with solutions which run far deeper than ousting the manager.

Perhaps the penny has dropped that even if the media get their way, there's no obivous replacement. Mourinho doesn't want the job, nor does Wenger or Fergie. Hiddink looks to be tied to the Oligarchs and Russia. Barwick, aided by the press, made a complete balls-up of trying to entice Scolari.

All in all, it's a mess but no doubting McClaren will get sacked and Blatter will be ignored but then what happens when England do not qualify for the next big tournament, will everything still be ok? No doubting the media will have all the usual anwsers in the form of a loaded rifle.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Berbatov top of Fergie's most wanted list as January transfer window looms?

So today former Spurs star Michael Carrick has gone public via the press telling Berbatov that he should follow him to Old Trafford. It's not exactly news that United want to sign the Bulgarian. It has been widely speculated that the Red Devils had an inquiry turned down for the striker last summer. Since then a lot has changed at the North London club with the sacking of Martin Jol and the arrival of his replacement Ramos, following on from the change of manager there has been the usual talk suggesting that Berbatov wants out, only for the striker to then say that all is well.

Only those within Berbatov's inner-circle will know the truth behind his intentions. What we do know is that it's only a few weeks before the January transfer window opens and Fergie has been given a wake-up call about the need to sign a fourth striker with the latest Wayne Rooney injury - which was sustained when the England striker came into contact with a 'metal object' in training -you do wonder if it was in fact Vidic's iron leg.

Personally, I'm not sure that Berbatov will fancy his chances of holding down a regular starting place and so a lot would depend on what Fergie has planned in terms of how he will convince the Bulgarian to sign, bearing in mind that Rooney and Tevez are his current number one strike partnership.

Perhaps the key to any deal will be the promise of rotating his four strikers, but Fergie has recently told Saha that he's very much third-fiddle behind Rooney and Tevez, which in some ways wasn't the brightest move by the manager, as competition for places needs to be fierce in all areas of the team and selection policy should be based on current form - it shouldn't be based on a pecking order.

No doubting Berbatov's advisors will have noted Fergie's recent comments about Saha and here again if the manager wants to sign the Spurs striker then he's going to have to go the extra mile by explaining how he sees the Bulgarian fitting into his selection policy.

Before any negotiations start in earnest, no doubting we shall be hearing a lot more talk from the likes of Carrick telling Berbatov that he should join United, it's all apart of the orchestrated courtship on the run-up to the transfer window opening.

I will of course be keeping tabs on all the stories linking potential new signings to United. Watch this space....