Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Fergie and Jose setting different agendas...

IN the space of just three days Fergie and Jose Mourinho have both committed their futures to their respective clubs. First it was Jose, stating that the only way he's leaving Stamford Bridge is either when his contract expires, or when he gets sacked "there is no third way". Then it was the turn of Fergie to take time out to send out his own threat to stay on for two more years.

In Mourinho's case, the message is clear 'I'm not going quietly', but considering the Chelsea manager has a contract until 2010 and considering what he's won for the Blues, then you might expect he's on solid ground, but seemingly not, why else would he be so bold about his future?

So even though the Blues have won the Carling Cup and perhaps yet more silverware this season, there must still be a huge element of doubt about him remaining in charge next season, his message wasn't just directed at the Chelsea fans, but more importantly to Roman Abramovich. If Mourinho does leave this summer, his departure will be interesting to say the least, given the way he conducts his one man PR campaigns.

As far as Fergie goes, some are speculating that he's only saying this to 'gee-up' his players, in other words "you lot better keep on playing 100% flat out every game, because I'm staying for a while longer", added to which media reports claim that the Red Devils could have a big summer clear out this summer. You argue the latter adds weight to Fergie wielding his big stick. I personally think it's fair to suggest that Fergie might be playing mind games with his players, but he will want to convince Ronaldo to stay put and his own future could be key to that, if the threat of staying on is real, and it keeps the Portuguese winger at United then great.

Mourinho is whistling in the wind though, as there is only room for one true king at Stamford Bridge, and when you are as wealthy and powerful as Abramovich, that could never be the manager and so no amount of carping to the press will change that.

Jekyll & Hyde United do it again......

So then United will face Boro in the FA cup quarter final at the Riverside next month, and Fergie will be hoping that the Reds wont need another replay as we did against Reading last night in what was a thrilling game at times. From Fergie's perspective we flew out of the blocks and raced into a deserved 3-0 lead after only six minutes.

John Motson, longstanding BBC commentator and he of the sheepskin coat said "I've never see anything like it", and after King Ole had notched the third goal quite beautifully "Stevel Coppell is on the phone, he must be changing the system!", to which match summariser Mark Lawrensen said "no he's calling a cab". Before the game had kicked off 'Lawro' had said "Reading will never get a better chance of beating United", that bold statement was in tatters after the Reds opening salvo.

To be fair to Reading, they came back at United and made a real fight of it, this was largely due to United playing like only they can, what other team can score three goals in six minutes and then go on to nearly throw it away?

For long time followers of United, this is how it seems to have been forever, no matter which era you care to mention, it seems we've always been the same, often beautiful to watch when attacking teams then leaving fans on the edge of their seats as we display our Jekyll & Hyde like characteristics going from good to bad. It was ever thus.

One other thing which doesn't seem to change is United fans giving stick to Alan Shearer, during those lulls in the action and post match, you could hear the 4,000 travelling Red Army giving the former Newcastle man some serious stick, the BBC commentary team seemed quite amused by it, Ian Wright, former Arsenal star, and Gabby Yorath in particular were having a good laugh though.

All in all it was an entertaining game, sack FA Cup replays? I don't think so.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Chelsea win Carling Cup, but Arsenal score moral victory.

Forget about the brawl at the end of this game, those who go on too much about that are in danger of missing something very important which happened at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday, and yes we all know Drogba once again pulled Chelsea out of the **** with his brace of goals to secure the fizzy pop cup AKA the Carling Cup - Arsenal cannot handle the big Ivorian striker, it is as simple as that.

What I for one will remember more than anything from this game was the way Arsenal's young players took apart Chelsea for the first 20 minutes or so, the Gunners were so much on top it was unbelievable, Jose Mourinho and his side were rattled and looked totally lost and out of it, in boxing parlance they weren't on the ropes, they were flat out on the canvas waiting for the towel to be chucked in, then Drogba stepped in to save the Blues.

Sure it's true that no one remembers the losers in cup finals when looking back through the record books, but given Arsenal's almost total domination of Chelsea for large chunks of this game, the future looks very bright for Arsenal, and less convincing for Chelsea. If you can take a moral victory from defeat then make no mistake Arsene Wenger's side did just that. Mourinho's side had at times been given a football lesson which they will not forget. All things being equal it would be brave man who backs Chelsea when these sides meet again in May in the league.

The thing is, the Western London side have never really entertained in the same manner that United and Arsenal have at times, Chelsea's game is all about organisation and power, while the Red Devils and the Gunners have more fluid midfields and in United's case more width down the flanks.

For my money Chelsea have gone backwards this season, selling Duff was a mistake or should I say not replacing him with a better player was a big mistake. Robben isn't used often enough and while Chelsea do have world class midfield players, it's a case of too many bandmasters in the centre.

Mourinho may have won more trophies of late, but he's never been credited as a manager who produces attacking teams which entertain, out of Ferguson, Wenger and Mourinho, Jose is the pragmatist of the trio.

Mourinho and Chelsea's domination of the Premiership looks to be on the wane, even as a United fan I have to say that it was nice to see some young players teaching Chelsea's fancy dans a thing or two.

Wenger doesn't get the credit he deserves for the way he puts sides together, I personally do not like the man, nor the fact that there's barely any British players in his squad, but football isn't a popularity contest and Wenger looks as though he's building another excellent side from the Gunners perspective.

United maybe on top for now, but a lot will depend on the Reds retaining Ronaldo's services for next season in terms of our chances of fighting for the title again, though it is true that United may have more goal scorers than any other side in the top flight at present, but we do rely too much on Ronaldo at times, in contrast Wenger no longer relies on Henry, if United do lose Ronaldo that will be the challenge for Ferguson next season, to find a way of compensating the loss of a brilliant young star. Wenger looks to have cover in all departments, so with grudging respect I have to say the Frenchman is doing a fine job.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ronaldo the showman blows away Fulham

Sometimes in football you do not always get what you deserve, today at Craven Cottage that happened on and off the pitch, on it United were poor throughout and clearly this was due to the midweek game against Lille, to put it bluntly the Reds looked a bit knackered.

The home side had the better of the chances in both halves, McBride had deservedly given Chris Coleman's side a first half lead, but Ryan Giggs put United on level terms before the break with a well taken goal after being put through by Rooney.

The second half story was the same as the first with Fulham creating several great chances, the pick of which fell to Radzinski whose header crashed against the bar, when it looked easier to score, if anyone was going to win this game it looked like it could only be Fulham.

Then with the game deep into the dying minutes, Cristiano Ronaldo collected the ball in his own half, he raced down the left wing beating two Fulham players who dived in, but the flying winger was too quick for both of them, Ronaldo cut inside the penalty area and hammered his low shot into the corner of the net, but it was aided by a slight deflection, that was the story of the day.

Reds fans were clearly delighted having forked a scandalous £45 to be there, so it was rough justice for United fans today and perhaps for Fulham too.

This result was 'massive' in the big scheme of things and that was evident as Fergie danced on the pitch with the United players and his back room team at the end of this absorbing game.

Reds must take chances to put pressure on Chelsea..

United have the chance to go 9 points clear of Chelsea today, providing the Reds do not slip up against Fulham. On top of that the league leaders visit Anfield next weekend and another victory would extend our lead to 12 points over Chelsea.

IF as I expect, Chelsea lose on Sunday in the Carling Cup this weekend and United do indeed win their next two league games then for the first time in two seasons the heat will be on Mourinho and his men, and interestingly his players have today have spoken out about the amount of pressure being applied by Roman Abramovich on Mourinho, the word 'crushing' has been used in one report.

All Reds fans will be hoping that Fergie gets it right selection wise and puts the heat on Mourinho.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Jose Mourinho - the BIG I AM...

Over the last 12 month's Arsene Wenger and Jose have been sparring via the media, Mourinho somewhat hilariously called Wenger a 'peeping Tom' at one point, making reference to the Frenchman's telescope.

Earlier this week Wenger took time out to question the money being lavished on Chelsea by Roman Abramovich, no doubt that Wenger had his motives, after all he likes to take rival managers for a spin his wind up car now and again.

This weekend Chelsea and Arsenal clash in the Carling Cup final and for the record, I for one am backing Arsenal to win this one, just call it a gut feeling. Prior to the big weekend clash Jose has been talking to the press about himself and not surprisingly he's talking up his own credentials. The interesting thing is while talking about his success in England and back home in Portugal not once does he mention his players. One thing that you cannot say about Mourinho is that he lacks modesty and so if Chelsea do fail to win this weekend, you do wonder what the reaction of Jose 'the big I am' will be.

The big I am in good form.

United fans protest about price of tickets...

Reds fans are to set to protest about the price of tickets when the United take on Fulham this weekend, Pete Boyle, who's been following MUFC since 1977 is urging all fans who attend the game at Craven Cottage on Saturday to boycott food and drink inside the ground.

Enough is enough, Boylie has called for fans to take action

I hope the Glazer family are aware of this protest, because while United tickets for home games are not the most expensive in the land at present, the way things are going and with the Glazer family putting United into masses of debt, it surely wont be long before we see another price hike. Further to this the BBCs online chief sports writer Mahir Bose posed the question how much longer will it be before the walls come tumbling down on the Glazers and United? Bose stated that Glazer doesn't appear to be doing very much about reducing the clubs huge debts, sure the team are doing well but what will happen if there's a dip? The Glazer family should listen to people like Bose because he's talking sense. Football is going further and further away from its grass roots and when that happens there's a serious danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

United edge out Lille as crowd disaster is narrowly averted...

A late second half goal by Ryan Giggs was enough to secure a hard fought win on French soil as United beat Lille 1-0 in the Champions League in Lens on Tuesday night. The only goal of the game came about when the Welshman took a free-kick quickly as the Lille players were still trying to get themselves organised, as they did so the ball flew into the keepers top left hand corner of the net leaving the stopper Tony Sylva grasping at thin air. The referee Eric Braamhaar quite rightly gave the goal, but the home players lost the plot and several started arguing with the officials, what happened next was simply outrageous. The Lille players decided they'd walk off the pitch, the French are of course famed for taking industrial action and withdrawing their labour, but it left many observers saying they'd never seen anything like this before. Quite.

On a night which had earlier looked to have all the hallmarks of another potential crowd disaster, the players waking off was the last thing the game needed. During the first half, the United fans who were behind the goal spilled out onto the pitch. Initially the ITV commentary team suggested 'it was just a few idiots running on to the pitch', the police response was to baton the fans, as if that wasn't bad enough, the cops then started lobbing tear gas into the crowd. In point of fact, the United supporters end of the ground looked to have too many fans in it and people were getting crushed, which is why some fans were trying to escape the crush.

In the wake of this sorry episode many questions will be raised about the policing and stewarding. For starters, did the police know fans were getting crushed? If they did know, then why did they start tear gassing supporters? IF they didn't know about the crush, then why didn't they know? It seems on both accounts the police and the Lille match stewards both look guilty as hell. Following the disasters of Hillsborough and Heysel, we the fans were led to believe that security and the fans safety was of paramount concern, however, what happened in France last night serves to warn us that clearly some clubs like Lille and in particular the French police haven't taken on board those issues as what happened was totally unacceptable.

After the game Alex Ferguson blamed the Lille manager for orchestrating the player walk-off, stating that they are a 'disgrace' and the club should be chucked out of the competition. You can understand Fergie, because following the brief walk-off, the home fans started pelting the United stars with missiles as predictably the atmosphere turned ugly. Here again, questions need to be asked about the levels of security inside the stadium, because we've not seen scenes like that in England for a very long time, any fans taking such action would be ejected and more than likely banned for life. Are French football fans allowed to do what they like inside the stadium? Are the French police above the law? On the evidence of last night and other games involving French clubs this season, it seems that maybe so.

In their defence no doubt Lille and the home supporters were still aggrieved for referee Eric Braamhaar ruling out a second half headed goal for a push on Vidic, but the TV replays clearly showed that there was contact, and in any case, that is no excuse for the players walking off like a bunch of big babies.

Lille should be booted out of the Champions League and the French police should be sued for their gross incompetence.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Why European failure must haunt Ferguson...

ON the eve of United's game with Lille, one of the teams who ensured United did not progress through to the knockout stages of the Champions League last season, Fergie stated that United's record in Europe isn't good enough. It isn't good enough.

While Fergie is correct about this seasons Champions League being wide open, it's worth pointing out that it's been wide open since 1996, that year, the much unfancied German side Borussia Dortmund beat United 1-0 home and away in the semi final, the Germans went on to win it. That was Fergie's first big missed opportunity in the Champions League.

The following year, United under achieved again, this time against Monaco with the Reds going out on something of a whimper by losing on away goals. Real Madrid went on to win the competition buy beating Juventus 1-0 in the final.

But then for once United finally punched their weight in Europe in that never to be forgotten season of 1998-1999 when they swept all before them. Whatever else happens during Fergie's reign, that night in Barcelona will always be remembered as the Reds came from behind to beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the final with Sheringham and Solsjkaer scoring goals which will be forever etched into the memory banks of all who saw that dramatic game. A few fans including George Best had given up and walked out of the stadium, not me, I'd taken my then 16 year old son to that game, we like the many thousands of Reds fans inside the Nou Camp that night were totally gripped by the tension as the clocked down towards 90 minutes, and when it did all hell broke loose as Teddy Sheringham scored an unlikely equaliser in the dying moments, we didn't have time to celebrate the goal as Ole struck European gold by grabbing the winner as the Germans were left weeping on the pitch.

The United goals came after 90 minutes, and in the very week it would have been Sir Matt Busby's 90th birthday, and also in the last Champions League final of the 1990's.

Apart from the goals, I remember looking at that clock inside the ground, as it hit 89 minutes the scoreboard showed it was 1-0 to Bayern, the next time I looked at that clock, it was on 91 minutes and it read United 2-1 Bayern. It was a football miracle if ever there was one.

The following year turned out to be arguably United's second big missed opportunity to win the Champions League with United going out to the eventual winners Real Madrid in the quarter final. The Reds had failed to capitalise on a 0-0 draw in the away leg, which is a game we should have won, and in the return leg at Old Trafford Real went on to win 3-2.

In 2000-2001 Bayern Munich beat United home and away in the quarter final and then went on to win the big one to make up their disappointment of losing to the Reds in '98-'99. United really let themselves down against the Germans that season. Collectively we got what we deserved, which was nothing.

Next came Fergie's third big missed opportunity as once again the Reds whimped out against German opposition, this time losing on away goals to the much unfancied Bayer Leverkusen in the semi-final. Bayer lost in the final against Real Madrid. United should have at least reached the final that season.

In season 2002-2003, the reds once again came up against Real Madrid, this time in the quarter final. In the first leg, Raúl González and a Luis Figo gave the home side a comfortable 3-1 win, with Van Niselrooy on target for United. The result left United with a mountain to climb at Old Trafford in the return leg. A game in which United's hopes were all but blown away by Brazilian Ronaldo who scored a memorable hatrick which effectively blasted the Reds of Europe, to their credit, United fought back to win the game 4-3, but once again we went out on away goals.

Then came United's fourth big missed opportunity in 2003-2004, as United met Porto in knockout round of 16. United somehow lost the first leg 2-1 away in Porto and so all was set for the Reds to blow away the Portuguese in the return game at Old Trafford. But Ferguson dropped a real clanger with Ronaldo, his most dangerous player as he left him out of both starting line-ups, it was quite simply a baffling and stupid decision. Scholes also had a perfectly good goal ruled out, but United had edged ahead as they took a narrow one nil lead into the last ten minutes, which would have been enough to see us through to the quarter final. Alas in the dying moments Costinha popped up late on to equalise and send United crashing out of Europe, it was arguably one of Ferguson's worst nights in European football. Porto went on the win the competition, but few would agree that they were a better side than United that season.

The following year United fell again at the group of 16 stage, by deservedly losing both legs to AC Milan. To make things worse arch rivals Liverpool made a comeback of Lazarus proportions in the final against AC Milan. The Liverpool Reds had been given a football lesson in the first half, going in at the break losing 3-0, it was the most embarrassing first half display in any European Cup final, ever, they were thrashed. What followed in the second half was unbelievable, as the Italians once again surrendered and went on to lose in a manner which in many ways was actually worse than Liverpool's first half performance.

Then last season, Fergie's men couldn't even get beyond the group stage as Barca won the final 2-1 against Arsenal.

So yes, this year's Champions League looks to be wide open, but do not try kidding us Fergie that this is anything new. United under Fergie have under achieved in Europe given the size of the club, the resources and especially when considering who has knocked us out of the competition on occasion. Let us hope that United do not slip again this season. Winning the big one this season would be a fitting end to Fergie's trophy laden time at United.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Wenger wants to scrap FA cup replays, why he's wrong.

As if having virtually no English or British players in the Arsenal squad isn't bad enough, Arsene Wenger wants to scrap FA cup replays. I don't agree and neither do many other fans of the FA Cup. Sure replays are a pain for the top clubs with so many big games over a season, take United who could only manage a draw with Reading on Saturday, the Reds have many difficult looking games coming up in both the league and in Europe and we could certainly do without the Reading replay, but FA Cup replays have given us many great games down the years and taking them away would devalue the FA Cup.

Who will ever forget United's FA Cup semi win over Arsenal in that historic treble winning season of 1999? And of course FA Cup semi final replays have now been scrapped now, thanks to the collective carping from clubs and managers alike. For the sake of the future of the FA Cup we need to keep replays.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Huge games on the horizon...

This week United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all have difficult looking away games in the Champions League. The Reds face Lille and have a score to settle with the French team from last season, after the midweek clash in France, United travel to Craven Cottage to face Fulham, and before heading to Anfield for arguably the most important league game we've had with Liverpool for quite some time, United taken on Reading in that FA cup replay - a game which United could have done without, but for all the carping about replays, I think the FA cup needs them. After locking horms with the Scousers, both clubs will face Lille and Barcelona respectively for the return leg of the double header in games which will decide which sides go through to the next round of the Champions League.

Meanwhile, Chelsea face Porto in Portugal this week - Mourinho's old club of course, while Arsenal travel to PSV, and before the return legs in London, Arsenal will face Chelsea in another massive game, and again this will be arguably the most important game between these two sides for some considerable time.

On paper Liverpool look to have the most difficult task facing the current Champions of Europe, Barcelona, but bickering off the pitch at the Nou Camp this week could give the visitors much encouragement about their chances.

None of the English clubs will want to concede goals this week in Europe and they will all be hoping to put themselves into a position whereby they can finish the job in the return leg without needing to climb a mountain.

United's game with Lille is a really tricky one, and we aren't known for doing things the easy way, but with the Liverpool game prior the return game with Lille very much in everyone's thoughts, it will give the Reds more incentive to try and win the game in France this week, thus relieving a bit of the pressure for the game at Anfield. I can only see Liverpool losing against Barcelona, but they may even get a draw, United, Chelsea and Arsenal shouldn't get beaten and could win their European games.

Coppell defies critics as Reading hold United...

So then all the pre-match media carping was answered by Steve Coppell's Reading as they held United to a very creditable 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in the FA Cup on Saturday.

As ever, elements of the media got their proverbial knickers in a twist over Coppell's pre-match announcement that it was likely he'd be fielding a weakened side against the Reds.

Perphaps in future the media will appreciate Coppell's professionalism, because his team did him and Reading proud and fully deserved to take United to an FA Cup replay.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Glazer family to decide Ronaldo's future...

Fegie has let it be known that the Glazer family will decide whether or not Cristiano Ronaldo will still be a United player next season. It is believed that Barcelona and Real Madrid are planning £30 million-plus offers for the player. “We always refer things to the Glazer family because they’re the owners,” he said. “But I’m very, very confident [they would reject a bid].”

The interesting thing is that Ferguson didn't say Ronaldo would not be sold, as he has done recently, as has CEO David Gill, so it appears as though United might be ready to consider what will be a huge decision for the club. It's also interesting that Fergie is putting the pressure on the Glazer family by stating clearly that it wont be his decision.

To say the fans will be livid if Ronaldo is sold would be an understatement, which will be made worse by the fact that the faceless owners back in Tampa will be the ones who decide.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cristiano Ronaldo to join Barcelona?

Earlier this week Carlos Queiroz ruled out Ronaldo joining Real Madrid this summer, United's assistant manager knows all about Madrid of course having managed them for a brief spell. So Reds fans will be hoping that Queiroz is right about this. However, Real Madrid are a club who do not give up easily and worryingly they usually get what they want. Take the David Beckham transfer, we the fans started hearing all the rumours in the tabloid press about the then England captain joining Madrid - which is exactly what is happening now with Ronaldo - the difference is this time United do not want to lose Ronaldo, he's nowhere near reached his prime.

United realised that Beckham had already reached the top of his game and it wouldn't be too long before the decline started. Beckham had decided he wanted out too and wouldn't agree to sign a new contract which had been on the table for some time, so he had to go.

IF Ronaldo moves, it wont be the end of United, as I've mentioned a few times on this blog, we've lost Cantona, Best, Charlton, Law and Beckham and the Reds go on, but Ronaldo is different. All those players mentioned had given the club wonderful service over a number of seasons. Ronaldo is the heartbeat of this current United side, he's top scorer - which for a winger is unbelievable, he's created many other goals too.

IF he goes this summer the effect on this current team will be felt hugely and no manager, not even Fergie will be able to replace him like for like, because as Queiroz rightly says he is arguably the best in the world at present, a player who is also at United and nowhere near his prime.

Interestingly while Queiroz says Ronaldo won't join Madrid, he made no mention of Barcelona, does this mean that the United assistant has concerns over that possibility? I think so.

Whatever happens this summer, I know one thing, the rational United fans among us will thank Cristiano for what he's given the club, he didn't have to sign that last contract, he could have walked then, to his credit he did not. He could have walked following the Neanderthal England threats after the World Cup, he did not. We have to remember where he's come from and he was always going to go back to that part of Europe at some stage. My advice to United fans is to prepare for the worst this summer, but let us hope us Reds fans have title success to console ourselves with...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Barcelona falling apart - Ronaldo please take note..

The latest news coming out of the Barcelona camp, is that they are being torn apart by internal politics, at least that is according to Samuel Eto'o, who has recently returned from a serious injury, the Cameroon star says one half of the dressing room is supporting the president, the half is supporting another faction.

Presidential elections dominate Barcelona and Real Madrid, with would be candidates jockeying for position and the fans votes ahead of these often bruising elections. It's often the case that promises that cannot always be fulfilled are made in a bid to gain crosses on the ballot card. Barcelona thought they'd signed Beckham when he was about to leave United, that one didn't come off for them and of course Figo signed for deadly rivals Real Madrid a few seasons before that along with fat Ronaldo. They say that the Barca / Madrid rivalry is perhaps the most bitter on the planet, but no way would you get two top United or Liverpool stars signing for their North West rivals, quite simply it would never happen, so in those terms the Barca / Madrid rivalry isn't even on the same page.

One does hope that our very own Cristiano Ronaldo is taking note of the internal bickering at the Nou Camp, last week Barcelona's snouts in the media published a not so heavily disguised invitation to Ronaldo to join them next season "we have the perfect environment in which to train, it never rains, etc, etc". At least at United the players are all pulling together, the same cannot be said of the players at the Nou Camp. Apparently Ronaldo has told one of his closest friends he will not join either club... (pay no attention to this, these so called friends more than likely do not exist).

Later this month Liverpool take on Barca in the Champions League and news of this latest fall out will be welcomed by the Anfield camp, and ever since the draw was made I've thought Liverpool stood a good chance over knocking out Barca, not because the Liverpool Reds are a better side, but because they can grind out results.

Naturally I'll be hoping Barcelona sort out their internal problems and do the business, because when they are on top form they are the most attractive team to watch in Europe and in any case I've always preferred style over grit and determination.

It could only happen at Barcelona or Real Madrid, often kings on the pitch, but jokers off it..

Monday, February 12, 2007

United announce permanent Munich memorial ..

David Gill, United CEO and Glazer stooge, has announced that the club are to create a `substantial, permanent memorial' in honour of the victims of the Munich air disaster of 1958. February 6th, 2008, marks the 50th anniversary of that fateful day when the Reds lost so many loved sons.

Gill has yet to announce exactly what form the memorial will take, but the disaster in etched into the memory of most fans, with the story of what happened being passed down from father to son and from Red to Red, so that day will always be remembered by United fans. It's too early to pass judgement of the merits of the proposed memorial, that will be done once we know what the club plans to do.

What we don't want to see is statues or the memorial being situated anywhere near the forecourt, or within easy reach of those who'd go out of their way to defile the memorial and sadly there are many rival groups of Neanderthal fans who'd take the greatest of pleasure in doing so, such is the bitter rivalry from the likes of Man City, Liverpool and Leeds United fans, so the club must ensure that they do not give them the chance.

Tick, tock, tick, tock, the penny drops about rising ticket prices.

The Manchester Evening News and The Sun have joined forces to promote a campaign for cheaper match tickets to watch our national game by putting together a petition.

However, some people have been warning that fans would be priced out of watching their respective teams for quite some time, I refer to the United fans who were totally against the Glazer family takeover of the Red Devils. The popular misconception is that these fans were just anti Glazer because of who he is and because of his loathsome reputation, the latter did not help him one bit, but the fans overriding concern has always been about the future of their club and keeping ticket prices affordable for all. So tick, tock the penny has dropped and now at least the media have got involved - how long they will keep up the pressure remains to be seen, the cynic in me tells me that this may well be just another sales led PR offensive in a bid to increase circulation figures. Time will tell on that score.

Apparently the FA and its CEO, Brian Barwick, have spoken on this issue and his comment that 'this is a matter for the clubs regarding ticket prices' is typical of the hapless organisation that it is. On top of that Barwick knows full well that the FA have been ripping-off fans for years at FA Cup finals and even semi-finals. Ticket prices for the new Wembley for big games will be sky high and out of the reach of many working class fans. Instead of taking a lead on ticket prices, the FA among the worst offenders when it comes to over-charging. They are a disgrace. Barwick isn't speaking out because he's too embarrassed to do so knowing he'd get torn to shreds for being a hypocrite.

Secondly, all these takeovers of Premiership clubs, these new owners are taking over these clubs so that they can milk the fans for all their worth. The Glazer family is the worst example of this - they see United as a cashcow and that is why they paid so heavily to gain control of the club, but it can surely only be a matter of time before United tickets are the same price as Chelsea's, reason being matchday income is by far United's biggest earner and so the only way Glazer will recoup some of his huge borrowings is by ripping-off the fans even further, all the while taking the game further away from its grass roots.

Instead of turning up and paying these inflated prices, more fans need to vote with their feet, we cannot complain if the fans just keep turning up, if we carry on doing that, then the likes of the Glazer family will believe everything in the garden is rosy. It will be exactly the same at Liverpool with Gillett and Hicks in charge and the same at Villa, these new owners weren't interested in football a few years ago, now they are here because they see there's money to be made by exploiting our supporters, anyone who believes otherwise needs to wake up and smell the coffee. It isn't just the clubs which have been taken over recently either, Fulham have announced that United fans will have to pay £45 for the Fulham v United game.

While I applaud any action to stop the gross exploitation of our national game, I seriously doubt these club owners will take any notice of a petition. Many of these people running clubs do not understand football or the fans, the only thing they understand is money. The game needs to be brought back to its grass roots by keeping it affordable for all, but I for one wont be holding my breath.

IF you would like to sign the petition you can do so here.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The all time Manchester United Ugly XI...

We've been receiving your votes on this very subjective issue, and so we have decided to revisit the all time Manchester United Ugly XI to update the list.

Down the years the Red Devils have had some good looking stars play for the club and thankfully we've not had that many whose photos would give young children nightmares.

So here is the United Hall of Horrors:

No1. Roy Carroll - aka 'Daffy Duck' - goalkeeper

No.2 Steve James - the story goes that 'Plug of the Bash Street Kids' was modelled on the defender's looks

No.3 Maurice Setters - a hard looking player whose looks did not deceive - defender. Setters made 'Chopper' Harris look like Frank Spencer - so tough tackling was he.

No.4 Nobby Styles - World and European cup winner in '66 and '68 respectively. One of the Busy Babes, an all time United legend. Nobby was like a Jack Russell terrier; always there when it mattered, biting at ankles. These days all the rage is teeth-whitening, in Nobby's day it was fashionable not to have any teeth - 'half-back'

No.5 Mike Duxbury - this is probably his best ever photo - midfielder

No.6 Ashley Grimes - midfielder

No.7 Peter Beardsley - some say that only a mother could love this face - forward

No.8 Wayne Rooney - some call him Shrek, others call him fat b******, but to United fans, he's simply the best thing to ever come out of Merseyside; he might not have the looks of Beckham or George Best, but the boy can play - forward

No.9 Joe Jordan - AKA count Dracula - he came from Leeds United, he broke their supporters hearts when he signed for the Red Devils. When Joe had his teeth in he did some modelling, not many would believe that going off this photo - forward

No.10 Carlos Tevez, he's cunning, he's lightning quick, he comes from Argentina, he looks like he could be a James Bond villain, and he has teeth that could open a tin of corned beef - forward

No.11 Luke Chadwick, a cert to be included in most observers ugly XI? A framed photo on the mantlepiece would surely make a useful fire-side guard?

Keep on sending in your suggestions, the Hall of Horrors is open to review.

Arsene Wenger and the dangers of foreign ownership..

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager and a man with a masters degree in economics is well placed to talk about the concerns that fans and many media pundits share over the direction England's leading clubs are taking by going down the road of foreign ownership.

As Wenger rightly points out these new owners will be looking for a quick return on their investments, and surely only a complete and utter fool would believe otherwise? The Arsenal manager has also talked about the late Jack Walker, former owner of the club he loved Blackburn Rovers, and Dave Whelan the current owner of Wigan Athletic, both men fullfilled every fans dream of having a major say in their respective football clubs by actually owning them.

Things have changed though and more than ever before football clubs are being run as businesses, gone are the days of the local businessman who made good taking over his boyhood club, being rich is no longer enough as David Moores, the former Liverpool owner would no doubt agree.

To own a top flight football club these days you need to be super rich and following the recent Liverpool takeover it was interesting to note that many fans were searching to find out exactly how rich is Tom Hicks. The reason for this is that many supporters don't actually care who owns their club, they only want success on the pitch, and if the new owner has more cash than the last owner and he's or she is willing to invest that money, then great, it's a case of 'the king is dead - long live the king'. So anyone who says that English/British fans are in any way against foreign ownership on the grounds of nationality is I'd say completely wrong.

On the subject of being British or English, many fans would take issue with Wenger over his policy regarding English players.Wenger talks about the traditions of Arsenal at a time when the club barely has a English player in either the first team or come to that the reserves, clearly the traditions of Arsenal have gone out of the window on that score and Wenger cannot blame that on foreign ownership.

New Liverpool owners raise spectre of Super League..

During the press conference to announce the Liverpool takeover George Gillett made it clear that making money wasn't the number one priority, that claim sounded very good as did much of the PR offensive which followed. However, now that the dust is settling we are beginning to see more stories appearing in the press about what may lie ahead for supporters of Liverpool and for the English game at large...

Perhaps the most interesting thing of all is the fact that Gillett and Hicks can see an end to the collective tv deal which is currently in place, indeed they are openly talking about the day when tv rights are unbundled. In fact Gillett and Hicks are talking about bundling Liverpool tv rights with their North American sports franchises "Put Liverpool together with the Stars, Rangers, Canadiens and a NASCAR team we’re buying and we can answer the needs of any potential client whether in Europe, the States or Far East. We’ll be able to show the world something new and different.” says Gillet.

Personally I believe the collective offering is the best deal for the Premiership, added to which it would take two thirds of the clubs to agree to scrap the existing contract to change it, and that would be akin to Turkey's voting for Christmas.

Scrapping the existing deal would only benefit a few clubs, most certainly United and Liverpool. Chelsea cannot even sell out their home games and so it's by no means certain there's enough demand for their own tv deal. The point being that it's highly unlikely the likes of United and Liverpool would be able to broker a deal which would satisfy the rest of the clubs and the Premiership.

What would happen if the clubs couldn't come to an agreement? Are we talking about the leading clubs forming a breakaway Super League, if so, who would be in that league?

A European super league simply would not work, and in any case it's already here in the form of the Champions League. We've been reading about the creation of a Super League for years, but no one has ever thought about asking the only people who matter - the fans, and so there's no evidence that there is any appetite for a Super League of any sort.

A smaller number of clubs in the style of the Scottish Premiership wouldn't work either, four United v Liverpool games in a season would be too many as the meaning of these heavyweight clashes would be diluted over a short period of time.

Added to which attendances across Europe are down and matches in front of half filled stadiums isn't good for the game, yet in contrast at United they sell out every home game.

Supporters of English clubs love the inter-club rivalry which has a rich history and surely only someone who doesn't understand our national game would even consider changing that. But here we are in 2007 and the two best loved clubs in the land have owners from the USA - in football terms another planet, a country where owners of clubs think nothing of moving the franchise to another state...

So for fans of English clubs we now have a potential nightmare scenario on our hands, as we have people in charge of our biggest clubs who are openly talking about bringing to an end the very thing that holds together the Premiership.

Gillett said he wasn't interested in making money as his first priority, but just a few days later it emerges that the same man is talking about 'dreaming' of the day when he can bundle Liverpool and NASCAR rights together... yes indeed folks, the world of football is well and truly on the road to nowhere if that happens.
Unbundling of the Premiership is on the cards...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

United scrape past Charlton...

United left Cristiano Ronaldo out of their squad today as he was supposedly suffering with a cold and as a result the Reds only managed to narrowly beat Charlton 2-0, a result which rival manager Alan Pardew rightly said 'flattered United', a first half goal by Ji-Sung Park and a late second half goal by Darren Fletcher sealed yet another vital three points, as rivals Chelsea kept the pressure on the Reds by beating Boro 3-0 at the Bridge, in doing so Chelsea broke a record for being unbeaten at home for three years in the league, Mourinho has been in charge for most of that period and at his previous club Porto he was unbeaten in the league for the previous three years. Quite an amazing record.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Arsenal confirm Colorado Rapids link-up...

Arsenal have confirmed that they've agreed a deal with Major League Soccer outfit Colorado Rapids. Arsenal on their part will be looking to further exploit their marketing opportunities in the US.
Deal confirmed

Ronaldo hints at Reds exit..

Cristiano Ronaldo has added to the speculation about his future by stating he doesn't know where he will be playing in six months time. By default this means he's not committing himself to Manchester United. Regular readers of this blog will know that I've been posting that Reds fans should be preparing themselves for a summer exit.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Spineless BBC website attacks England manager..

The BBC sport website is excellent, but hiding behind a cartoon character to attack England manager Steve McClaren is nothing short of disgraceful and coward like.
Rather than display the authors real name the site takes the easy way out and uses the name of 'Robbo Robson' to air controversial views. IF the BBC online sports editor had the courage of his or her convictions then Robbo wouldnt be used for this sort of cheap and coward like attack.

United set use golden handcuffs to retain Ronaldo..

According to the latest news on the grapevine, United are set to offer Cristiano Ronaldo a huge new deal in a bid to keep him at Old Trafford, this news follows intense speculation that the players agent has been speaking Real Madrid and Barcelona about Ronaldo joining them next season.

United know they wont be able to replace Ronaldo like for like, but we said that about Beckham too and before him it was Cantona and before him George Best, all where irreplaceable in their own right, but United have always found another way of playing without these geniuses, the same will apply to Ronaldo if he so chooses that this summer is the time to quit the Red Devils, and make no mistake there is every chance Cristiano will feel he cannot turn down these giant clubs. Ronaldo will always be drawn to the warmer climates of Europe given he's Portuguese - and so it is a matter of when and not if he leaves the club.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Tom Hicks not included in America's top 400 rich list...

I have noticed that there's been quite a lot of interest in Tom Hicks who along with George Gillett annouced that they are taking over Liverpool FC, like his fellow American, and despite being very successful like Gillett the name Tom Hicks does not feature in the Forbes top 400 rich list.
Forbes top four hundred rich list, no mention of Gillett or Hicks...

New owners compare 'Liverpool Reds' to Boston Red Sox..

Liverpool fans are today coming to terms with the news that their board have agreed to recommend the proposed takeover by George Gillet and Tom Hicks. Former players Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson have given their blessing to the deal saying it's good news and that most fans only care about winning and not who owns the club, but they do not represent the hardcore fans who have followed the club from the terraces, and somewhat surprisingly we've seen little public evidence of the hardcore fans venting their collective spleens about this deal, especially given the reputation of the city's militant labour force who've been involved in so many industrial disputes down the years. However, David Moores stayed away from the club yesterday...

I actually think this deal happened so fast that many have been taken by surprise at the speed of events and I strongly suspect many fans would have been delighted if the DIC deal had gone through, it didn't and now the club are entering into a period of change and to a degree uncertainty about the new owners and what they will do.

First impressions of the new owners were actually quite good as the duo took full advantage of the opportunity to give a live public press conference. However, there was several toe curling moments and some cause of concern as the word 'franchise' cropped up rather a lot and at one point George Gillett compared the deal to buying the Boston Red Sox, it was just like one of those Budweiser adverts on tv - comedy gold.

Perhaps of more of a concern was when asked where the money is coming from to purchase the new stadium, Gillett shrugged and laughed: “We don’t know yet”!

To cap it all the new owners claimed that making money was nowhere near the top of their priority list. Frankly that has to be an insult to the intelligence of any Liverpool fan.

The new owners have also made it known that they aren't averse to stadium naming rights, personally I see nothing wrong with this form of raising revenue - especially if it helps keeps the price of tickets down.

So what sort of revenue would the new owners be looking for from any stadium naming rights? The 'Liverpool Reds' might look to use Arsenal as a benchmark. The Gunners have recently moved from Highbury (AKA the Library) into the new Emirates Stadium, a deal worth £100m which runs until 2020-2021 and includes an eight year shirt sponsorship deal.

The fact that Liverpool's shirt sponsorship deal with Carlsberg runs until the end of the season gives the 'Liverpool Reds' owners the flexibility of offering the same sponsorship opportunities as Arsenal, who sold both the naming rights and their shirt deal to one sponsor.

However, Manchester United signed a £56m shirt deal over only four years with AIG.

So there's no doubt about it, the 'Liverpool Reds' franchise is one to watch re future developments on and off the pitch.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Glazer paved way for Liverpool takeover...

Without any shadow of a doubt the Glazer family takeover of the Red Devils has helped George Gillett and Tom Hicks acquire Liverpool, not in any direct sense, but the fact that Manchester United, LFCs greatest rival were taken over by a USA outfit will have given the board of the Merseyside club more confidence about what they were doing in inviting these two businessmen from across the pond into the Liverpool boardroom to enter talks about taking control of one of Europe's most well known clubs.

Like Malcolm Glazer, both Gillett and Hicks are completely alien to the world's greatest game - this in part is why so many Liverpool fans have deep misgivings about the new owners, but like United fans it is the uncertainty of not knowing what the new owners will do in the future, will the club thrive or simply limp along in a sea of debt?

Further to which reports suggest that the takeover will be heavily financed by the banks - again much like the United deal, but the Gillett-Hicks borrowing wont be anywhere near the levels of the Glazer family at United, which will be a crumb of comfort for some.

In the aftermath of the DIC deal collapsing LFC will want to know why exactly they pulled out, because to many this was by far the best option that would have given Liverpool huge financial muscle.

Also like the Glazer deal, ultimately it will be results which dictate how successful the takeoever will be judged, if Liverpool are winning trophies on a regular basis then all might be well, but if they don't and admission prices rise as they surely will then questions will be asked.

Big Phil Scolari denies Ronaldo to Barca report

Earlier this week 'Big Phil' Scolari, former Brazil national team manager and Portugal boss was quoted via the media telling Cristiano Ronaldo that he'd be better off playing for a club like Barcelona, where team work is of more importance rather than at a club where he's treated like a superstar, and that Barcelona was the perfect environment in which to train because it hardly ever rains, the sunshine etc, etc. The good news is that Scolari now says he knows nothing of this story and in typical fashion says "I don't have any explanation on this matter, for what they wrote or didn't write. What I say goes in one ear and out the other."

The inference of the original story was that Manchester United isn't club where team work is all important, which is of course complete rubbish. Take United's thumping 4-0 away win over Spurs at the weekend, United had four different scorers which included Vidic a centre half and three midfield players, after every goal the whole team came together to celebrate.

What happened on Sunday against Tottenham has been largely been the story of United's season with the goals being spread around the team. The reds have scored 61 goals in the league so far and Ronaldo the top scorer has only got 15 of them, added to which no less than 15 different players have registered on the scoresheet.

There is a unity about this United team which suggests that they might well win back the title from Chelsea.

Scolari appears to have been misquoted, but more likely this is the work of Barca's friends in the press spinning for all their worth. Perhaps United should retort by telling Ronaldinho that he'd really be better off in Manchester, where he would be treated like a superstar, but in a great team, sadly we cannot match Barcelona for the weather though, we'd have to employ Billy Liar to spin that one.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mourinho to Madrid talk hots up as hacks get busy...

According to the laughable Daily Star Jose Mourinho has told Real Madrid that he will be their next manager if the club can secure the services of Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo.

Obviously it must have been a very quiet news day on the Star sports desk as this rumour has all the hallmarks of journalistic creativity at its worst. There's no question that Mourinho's future is in doubt and any club in Europe would want Ronaldo right now. However, the problem with transfer rumours of this nature, is that no one is going to deny it, or confirm it, or come to that bother to do anything about it.

Newspapers can virtually print what they like, anything which creates a juicy back page headline might get fans to buy the paper and the mug punters fall for it time and time again. File this rumour under unlikely.

The duplicity of Man City and Blackburn rovers...

Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers have been in the news over the last couple of weeks for reducing ticket prices, both clubs recognise that something needs to be done to keep the turnstiles clicking so that their respective stadiums aren't half empty on match days.

However, both clubs are guilty of duplicity because they are among a number of Premiership clubs who increase ticket prices for the visit of Manchester United. While City and Blackburn are to be applauded for their efforts in reducing ticket prices they clearly shouldn't be cashing in and making visiting fans pay over the odds, this is cynical duplicity of the highest order and the practice should be stopped.

Friday, February 02, 2007

New US tycoon linked to Liverpool takeover...

Liverpool supporters are rightly concerned about the proposed takeover by George Gillett as he was made bankrupt in 1992. However, it has now emerged that another US tycoon will hold a 50% stake in the club the new name in the frame is Tom Hicks, owner of the NHL franchise Dallas Stars as well as the Texas Rangers baseball team.

This is a stunning development and it reinforces what I posted yesterday about my reservations about Gillett being able to finance this deal on his own. I still believe the takeover will be a heavily leveraged buy-out.

News of the DIC deal falling through angered many Liverpool supporters, with some feeling that the club have to a degree been prostituted around to the highest bidder. You can understand that point of view as Gillett's first offer to buy the club was knocked initially, but the arrival of Hicks has apparently swung it for the US consortium.

As ever the feelings of the fans haven't been taken into consideration, but LFC fans have been given assurances by the clubs CEO, Rick Parry, that whatever the club decides it will be the best decision for the future of the club, quite where this fits in with Gillett being a discharged bankrupt is difficult to square.

From the outside looking in it might be easy to come to conclude that followers of Liverpool and Manchester United are to a degree xenophobic when it comes to foreign ownership of these huge clubs. That view is completely wrong, because judging by the reaction of many Liverpool fans yesterday while monitoring message boards, many were angry that the Arabs had pulled out due to discussions with the US tycoon George Gillett - so much for the special relationship and of course Anglo - Arab relations aren't exactly brilliant at present with Middle-East tensions.

The point is fans of these clubs couldn't give a toss where these people come from, they could be any nationality, as long as the would be owners have the where-with-all to take the club forward and at the same time to look after the fans interests by making tickets affordable for fans of all ages and income brackets.

So what can LFC fans look forward to? Even with Hicks on-board, Liverpool supporters can look forward to huge price rises for tickets over the next few years, but sure they'll get the new stadium and there will be investment in the team and some fans will be happy as long as the team are winning trophies, and if the US tycoons can bring back the title on a regular basis, then perhaps then and only then will the club supporters fully trust the new regime.

The irony of the Liverpool situation is that many fans of the Merseyside club were gloating when Malcolm Glazer took over Manchester United, they were among the first to come up with cheap digs at United. With the American backed takeover looking almost certain it appears that both sets of supporters having something in common and we wont be hearing "USA, USA, USA" next time United visit Anfield.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Scousers double dealing upsets Arabs as DIC pulls out...

Without any shadow of a doubt the biggest event on the last day of the January transfer window surrounded Liverpool with the news that DIC, the investment arm of the Dubai government, withdrew their offer to buy Liverpool FC due to the Merseyside club stalling following renewed interest from US multi-millionaire George Gillett.

My first reaction was that this was good news because the last thing United fans wanted was to see was Liverpool being backed by one of the richest men in the world in the form of Sheikh Mohammed. According to reports DIC pulled out because of Liverpool double dealing after they'd given their word on the Dubai deal.

The BBC sports editor Mihir Bose gave an interview to Radio 5 live and says "Mohammed is a very angry man and that is why he has pulled out. He was given assurances by Liverpool that they would go with them but the talk of other offers has unsettled him and he has pulled out. With Gillett it won't be like an Roman Abramovich deep pockets scenario."

Added to which early indications appear to suggest that Gillett will not be universally welcomed by followers of the Anfield club, it looks like it could be similar to the Malcolm Glazer takeover at United, though I doubt it will be that bad personally.

Having looked at Gillett's CV it doesn't make for good reading with the American going bankrupt at one stage and also buying and selling companies for profit. On top of this, Gillett isn't in the same league as Roman Abramovich or Sheikh Mohammed, he isn't one of the richest people in the world. Gillett isn't even listed in America's top 400 in the Forbes rich list. Apparently Glazer (ranked 160 in the rich list) has $2 billion and Gillet under $1 billion, to be precise at today's exchange rates around £437m - so where is his money from? Most of Gillett's wealth will be tied up in assets, so it is likely that Gillett is taking Liverpool down the same path as Glazer in putting the club into debt by borrowing vast sums of money.

The Forbes rich list, in football parlance, Gillett isn't even in the top division

Is Gillett into Liverpool for the long term, or is he after turning the club into a cash-cow then selling it on?

IF Gillett is putting Liverpool into serious debt, then it will only lead to increased ticket prices and the game moving further away from working-class fans and its grass routes, here I do sympathise with Liverpool fans.

Football is nothing without the fans and it cannot carry on like it is now with supporters geeting fleeced week-in, week-out, as sooner or later fans will start voting with their feet and we've seen evidence of that already this season with attendances falling.

Reds put Watford to the sword...

On Wednesday night United took on the bottom club Watford and as expected won 4-0, Ronaldo put United into a first half lead from the penalty spot after Solskjaer had been held, the home side should have scored more in the opening period but they had to wait until the second half when Lee scored an own goal from a Richardson cross. Substitute Larsson got the Reds third, a tap-in, and Rooney scored with another lob to see off the Hornett's.

Meanwhile Chelsea demolished Mark Hughes Blackburn Rovers 3-0 at Stamford Bridge, so it's no change at the top. The signs are though that Chelsea are slowly coming back to their collective best.