Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why one-eyed Wenger is bad for English football...

Apparently, Arsene Wenger, the manager who sees everything when it suits his agenda concerning challenges or decisions which go against Arsenal, but then sees nothing at all when his own players transgress the laws of the game has given what Mihir Bose (BBC Sports Editor) has described as a 'brilliant speech' to 500 guests at the Emirates stadium.

Wenger told the assembled guests that he believes that having a quota system for home-grown players would be a recipe for promoting mediocrity in the Premiership. On the contrary, the whole point of bringing in a quota system is to protect the long-term interests of the National Association concerned, in this case we are talking about England's long-term future.

There's no doubting that Wenger is one of the best, if not the best at spotting talent from DVDs, and Sven Goran Eriksson isn't doing a bad job of that either at present.

However, the fact is Wenger is French, he has no long-term interests in the English game as a whole. Yes, he is 100% committed to the Arsenal and they are an English club, but it does not follow what is good for Arsenal is also good for the long-term future of the England national team.

West Ham United have done a fantastic job over the last decade when it comes to nurturing young British players, and much as it pains me to admit this Man City appear to be doing a much better job than United on this front at present. Both West Ham and Man Ciy are proving that it can be done if the clubs work hard enough instead of managers like one-eyed Wenger spewing out ill-thought out judgements about young English players.

No doubting I'll get a few Gooners telling me to mind own business, but if every club adopted Wenger's attitude towards home-grown players quite simply there would be no England team in a few years time.

Spot the Englishman.

For the record here is the Arsenal team that won at West Ham on Saturday:

Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Senderos, Clichy, Hleb (Eboue 31), Fabregas, Flamini, Diaby, Adebayor (Silva 79), Van Persie (Bendtner 88).
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Denilson.

And here's the team that faced Newcastle in midweek:

Arsenal: Fabianski, Justin Hoyte, Eboue (Diaby 64), Senderos, Traore, Diarra, Denilson, Song Billong, Walcott, Bendtner, Eduardo (Perez 90).
Subs Not Used: Mannone, Lansbury, Gavin Hoyte.

Has Fergie sent Jonny Evans to Coventry for Carling Cup defeat?

United were deservedly dumped out of the Carling Cup this week then they lost 2-0 at home to Coventry City. After the game the United manager said he was 'flabbergasted' and 'shocked' at both the result and performance and hinted that recriminations would follow by saying that only Danny Simpson would stay with the Reds and in January the rest of the youngsters would go out on loan to other clubs.

By default Reds fans have been left to presume that Gerard Pique, Dong, Phil Bardsley and Jonny Evans will be shipped out to other clubs.

It's all well and good Fergie throwing tea-cups and hissy-fits around the dressing room and then sending our young players to all points of the compass, but it wasn't that long ago that United were scratching around for central defenders after Vidic, Ferdinand and Sivestre picked up injuries.

On top of which Jonny Evans was given assurances in the summer that he'd play an active part of the first team squad this season following his very successful loan spell with Sunderland who wanted him to sign permanently.

Sadly going off Fergie's comments post the Carling Cup exit, it looks like Jonny Evans et al have been metaphorically sent to Coventry...

We the fans hope that the manager isn't being short sighted as he clearly was last season in allowing so many talented young players to go out on loan. Rossi is another who United could have done with when they were scratching around for strikers.

Added to which it begs the question will Jonny Evans fate be that of his Northern Ireland team-mate and former United starlet David Healy, who is currently one of the top goal scorers in the Euro Championship qualifying rounds.

United have largely got away with Ferguson continually throwing teams together in the Carling Cup, this week they came unstuck. In the wake of what was largely a poor performance and rather than sending his young charges packing, Fergie should accept some of the blame because he is the one who believed that the team he put out against the Sky Blues was good enough. It clearly wasn't good enough. Instead of accepting his own shortcomings selection wise, it looks like short-sighted recriminations are the order of the day.

It's worth adding that I have yet to speak to a Red that believes Dong has any sort future at United and here again what is the United manager doing retaining the Chinese youngster when the likes of Rossi have been sold?

Many fans believe that keeping Dong at the club is more to do with cynical media exposure in his homeland rather than anything relating to his limited abilities on the pitch. Here again Ferguson is at fault and few that I have spoken to would argue if Dong was off-loaded permanently.

ANALYSIS: United win 1-0 again, but they aren't convincing...

Birmingham City became the latest victims of another one-nil-defeat to the champions on Saturday night as United leap-frogged neighbours Man City who'd gone second in the table behind Arsenal earlier on in the day. Ronaldo sealed the victory after pouncing on a defensive mistake midway through the second period. In truth, a draw would have been a fair result.

After the game former United hero and now Birmingham boss Steve Bruce said that his team would never have a better chance of beating the Reds, and he was right too because his team were the better side when it came to creating chances.

The home team pressed United into making mistakes of which there was quite a few. The normally reliable Scholes, Evra and Ferdinand were giving the ball away in dangerous areas of the pitch and that put the Reds onto the back foot. Ferdinand made up for his errors by making one first-half goal-line clearance. United lost Edwin van der Sar through what looked like a foot injury, his replacement Kuszczak had to make one fine save at his near post from Ferdinand's deflected header.

Meanwhile at the other end, the travelling Red Army had little to shout about as Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo weren't in the game. Much will be made of United's one-nil victories this season, because it is very unlike the Reds.

Normally the Reds can be relied upon to entertain and attack teams both home and away, but it isn't happening right now and if United have ambitions of winning anything this season they are going to need to improve massively on what we've seen so far because as a team and on an individual level it isn't happening.

So why haven't United started the season well? For starters key players were missing early doors due to injuries and suspensions. The absence of Rooney and Ronaldo haven't helped and now Hargreaves is missing and in my opinion we need him in the side every week as it gives Fergie more attacking options.

As we have already seen this season Fergie has started some league games with Carrick on the bench when Hargreaves has been available. The reason for this is quite simple. The former Bayern star has a fantastic engine, he must cover the combined ground of Carrick and Scholes, not only that but he tackles better than them both too. Hargreaves is the real thing when it comes to central midfielder players.

Against Birmingham Scholes was playing too deep for much of the game and he needs to be receiving the ball higher up the pitch. Scholes hasn't been helped much of late by the hapless Ryan Giggs who for the second game in a row gave the ball away virtually every time he touched it. For some reason the Welshman isn't looking where he's passing the ball at present. Granted Giggs did supply the cross for Tevez to open the scoring against Chelsea last week, but he did precious little else that was positive against the former champions. Against Birmingham Giggs was nothing short of embarrassing and by giving the ball away constantly this broke up United's flow going forward.

There is other issues which need to be addressed. The Reds are too narrow at present, we have no width especially on the left. If Giggs is going to be played at all, he needs to be used wide left and if it isn't going to be the Welshman, then it needs to be Nani. On the opposite flank Ronaldo is coming inside too much, he also needs to keep the opposition stretched.

It is still very early days for the Tevez, Rooney partnership, but at present they aren't making enough intelligent runs off the ball. Here again United are too narrow for much of the time and this is why they are playing too many tippy-tappy short passes in confined spaces.

It isn't that Tevez and Rooney are static, it's more complicated than that, they are trying their collective socks off, but so far we've seen little evidence of the near telepathic understanding that makes for really good strike partnerships.

Currently Rooney and Tevez are playing as two individuals and they are not working as a pair. If the Reds do not improve up front, Fergie might well soon decide to bring in Saha who gives the Reds more options with his height and speed. Tevez or Rooney could then drift out wide left and cut-in from the flank, so far the manager has not tried this option, largely due to the problems already mentioned.

Fergie has the players, what he needs to do now is get Hargreaves fit and then start fine-tuning.

Roma are next and they are currently by all accounts the best team in Italy, another 7-1 win would do nicely, but this Red will settle for another 1-0.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Fergie on Anderson: 'He might not be ready for 1st team for 12 months'..

Earlier this week before the Reds Carling Cup exit I suggested that maybe Fergie and his backroom team had some reservations about Anderson's ability to slot into the first team, hence his lack of appearances for the club.

United fans will not need reminding that the spectre of another Brazilian flop Kleberson still lingers large at the club, the fear is that United might have once again totally misjudged another South American player.

Anderson was hugely disappointing especially in the second half against Coventry City as were the rest of the United players on Wednesday night to be fair.

Although it is very early days for the 19-year-old Brazilian, worrying noises are coming out of Old Trafford on the back of his poor, albeit it, limited performances so far.

The former Porto player was taken off at half-time on his largely inept debut against Sunderland and since then apart from the Coventry game he's made one cameo appearance against Sporting Lisbon when he replaced Giggs late on in the Reds Champions League opener.

Following on from that defeat in the Carling Cup a report in the Guardian is claiming that Fergie is saying privately that it could be 12 months before the Brazilian is ready for the first team.

The United manager said that he was flabbergasted with the Reds midweek performance, but if this report is true, football fans and pundits will be totally astonished and flabbergasted at this news.

United have shelled out £18m for Anderson, at that price he should be the finished article and not a youngster with promise.

Fergie fears for £18m man Anderson

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Reds fans silver lining to Carling Cup exit...

Much will be made of United's shock Carling Cup exit after Coventry City dumped the Reds out of the competition on Wednesday after Maltese star Mifsud scored in either half in front of a reported crowd of 74,055 fans.

After the game Ferguson said that he was 'flabbergasted' and everyone is 'shocked'. The manager doesn't believe in publicly blaming individual players and last night was no different.

However, Ferguson did hint that he was disappointed with his young players. Defender Phil Bardsley was taken off at half-time and much talked about Jonny Evans was then switched to leftback, as Wes Brown was introduced to shore up the back four but it didn't stop the visitors scoring a killer goal on 70 minutes. Coventry's goal hero Mifsud should have scored a hatrick, as he hit the woodwork and missed a sitter when Tomasz Kuszczak the United keeper pushed the ball into his path late on, but he somehow failed to find the target.

There is undoubtedly cause for concern about this defeat as United splashed out £36m in the summer to sign Nani and Anderson and they did not impress on the night. Nani's passing and final ball was woeful. There is concern about the lack of strength in depth in the striking department at the club from the first team to down to the reserves. Dong simply doesn't look like he's going to make it at United, and Fraser Campbell is another who doesn't look as though he has a long term future at a club where the expectations are so high.

In the bigger picture though, despite the defeat and the concerns over the performances of young and new players alike. United's first team squad despite lacking quality striking options in depth is as good as any in division, but playing in four competitions would have stretched Fergie's playing resources to their limit and so if United can do well in the league and the Champions League by winning either or both, the we the fans can look back at the Coventry defeat and say they did us a favour. That may or may not turn out to be a forlorn hope, time will tell.

On another disappointing night on the pitch there something of an ironic bonus for United's cash-strapped fans. Clubs around Europe will no doubt look at last night's attendance figure at Old Trafford in total bewilderment. Here we have the Carling Cup, aka the Mickey Mouse Cup, yet the Reds attracted a crowd of approaching 75,000, albeit 11,000 of them were following the visitors.

What the figures do not tell you is that many of the 63,000 or so Reds fans didn't even want to be there as this season the club has forced season ticket holders to join United's much maligned automatic cup scheme, which stipulates that fans have to buy tickets for all first home games including the Carling Cup.

At least those fans who cannot really afford it wont have to fork out any more cash this season for Carling Cup tickets - so there is a silver lining to that defeat for many home fans.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Anderson, the new Scholes or the new Kleberson?

Hands up all those Reds that thought Anderson was going to be the new Paul Scholes. At least that is what this Red was expecting to see, but somewhat worringly eight games into the season and so far Anderson has started only one game in which he was dragged off at half-time after what only be descrided as a very poor performance against Sunderland.

The Brazilian then came off the bench to replace Giggs against Sporting Lisbon, in both games, the former Porto player looked anything but a samba star in the making, his passing was dreadful, especially against Sunderland.

It is very early days as far as Anderson is concerned, he's had the relative luxury of being able to bed-in while Nani, another new recruit, was pressed into action pretty much from the off when United were down to the bare bones of the squad. The fans might have expected Fergie to send his new recruit into battle sooner that he'd have liked. But that did not happen.

The slight concern is that just perhaps having looked closely at the £18m man in training, maybe Anderson isn't quite living up to expectations. Hence his limited appearances for the club so far. It isn't that long ago that Kleberson another Brazilian arrived at the club for a fee of around £6m only for him to leave the club without making any impact at all. The Brazilian's exit led to suggestions that United bought 'the wrong one' due to scouting report error - which is a totally ridiculous suggestion if ever there was one and cannot be taken seriously.

Anderson has cost an awful lot more than Kleberson and so there should be absolutely no doubt about his ability, but there's more to it than just playing football. At least that is what we've been told countless times about new arrivals - they need to settle in - then there's the language problem to overcome and of course everyone is different...and so it goes.

However, you do wonder if Fergie has been casting a slightly envious eye over Elano at rivals Man City. He too is Brazilian and looks as though he could turn out to be one of the buys of the season, he was bought for a fraction of the fee United shelled out for Anderson. Elano is a superb play-maker, he would have been perfect for United and dare I say could have replaced Scholes.

United fans and Fergie will be hoping that Anderson isn't the next Kleberson. The Reds take on Coventry City in the Carling Cup this evening, perhaps the Brazilian will get his chance to show us the fans why we agreed a fee of £18m to bring him to Old Trafford. Jonny Evans the highly-rated young Northern Ireland defender will start the game, so it should be worth tuning-in.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rivals Chelsea to fall apart?

In the aftermath of Jose Mourinho's dramatic exit there has been much speculation about the real reasons that lay behind the parting of the ways. Going into the game last weekend one big United fan that I have spoken says that he feared a backlash. It did not happen. Van der Sar didn't have to make a save - when was the last time you can say that about a visiting Chelsea team at Old Trafford?

Against Rosenborg and in the other games when Chelsea haven't won recently, the Blues were creating chance after chance, but that wasn't the case against the Red Devils. Sure United have an excelllent defence and we were at home. Ruud Gullit the former Chelsea manager and player, said that he thought something was missing from the Blues performance. Didn't we all think that? I did.

According to one tabloid story, Mourinho had visited the consulting rooms of his medical department to see if there was anything that could explain John Terry's apparent dip in form. This is of course speculation and I do not watch Chelsea week-in, week-out, so I cannot comment on his performances. But if the stories about Terry and Mourinho falling out are true, and if Terry isn't the player he has been over the last few seasons then Chelsea could fall apart because the England captain and Didier Drogba - who were are told wants out of the club - have been the rocks of the former champions team for the last three seasons.

The tabloid press are of course predictably having a field day at Chelsea's expense. The Sun printed an outrageous story today claiming that Barcelona's samba-star-in-chief Ronaldinho has 'already agreed' a five-year deal worth £58m to join Chelsea - but has yet to decide if he will move to Stamford Bridge. So on one hand it's agreed but it's not decided. Go figure.

No doubting Chelsea will continue to dominate the headlines, but you do get the feeling it might not be for running away the league and winning trophies, in the short term at least anyway.

Big Sam Allardyce puts his big foot in it over Michael Owen injuries..

Big Sam Allardyce is a man who knows his stats, when he went along for his interview for the England manager's job, word has it that he took along four laptops to show that he is man who isn't afraid of using technology alongside traditional coaching methods in bid to get the very best out of his players. We are told that Big Sam and his backroom team leave nothing to chance when it comes studying the opposition in the search for any perceived weakness.

At the weekend Sky Sports were given a guided tour of Sam's new club Newcastle United. We the viewers were shown the revamped gym. Before the big man and his backroom team arrived it wasn't a nice place apparently. Allardyce is proud of his record of keeping players fit, while at his former club Bolton his players only missed on average 2.6 games per season through injury. At Newcastle last season the average time out through injury was nearly eight games a season.

Sky's reporter asked Sam if he'd been in charge of Michael Owen for longer would he have kept him more injury free? Sam replied, that with no disrespect to anyone else, 'yes he would'. Low and behold the following game Owen picks up a serious injury. Perhaps Sam will think twice before tempting fate next time.

Arsenal top-brass talking sense over takeover talk...

It isn't often that anyone from the world of football comes out with sense when it comes to talk about taking over our biggest football clubs. So it has been somewhat refreshing listening to the views of Arsenal's top brass, namely Peter Hill-Wood and Danny Fiszman who have both recently stated categorically that they are not willing to sell-out to those parties who are only interested in furthering their own ends by taking over the club that they clearly love.

Hill-Wood who until recently kept his thoughts largely to within the confines of the Arsenal boardroom also took time out to dish out a few slaps to Peter Kenyon by telling the Chelsea CEO that his current club will never be as big as United or Liverpool. Quite right too.

In speaking out and putting Chelsea and Kenyon in their places, Hill-Wood was stating the obvious, but it needed to said and it was good to hear someone talking sense.

David Dein and his 'partners' may well eventually gain control over Arsenal, but you have the feeling it wont happen unless it's over Hill-Wood's dead body.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

United get big decisions but they deserved to beat Chelsea

Chelsea came to Old Trafford today for their first game minus Jose Mourinho after he parted company with the club earlier on in the week. The football world wanted to see how his former players would react, in truth they worked very hard and they will no doubt argue that every big decision went United's way.

The game in part hinged in two very big decisions, a poor tackle on Evra by Mikel for which the referee Mike Dean sent him off mid-way through the first halt and then a late penalty award right at the death, when Louis Saha was brought down by Ben Haim.

In truth both decisions were very harsh, the Mikel sending-off was one those tackles that often go unpunished. Joe Cole committed an even worse foul on Ronaldo in the second half but he only received a yellow card for his troubles. So it was somewhat surprising that Dean had sent off the Chelsea midfielder in that opening period. For the penalty award Louis Saha made a meal out of the contact of which there was some, so here again Chelsea will feel hard done to.

However controversial those decisions were United did create by far the better chances in the opening period. Early in the first half Rooney brought the very best out of Petr Cech when his curling right foot effort from 25 yards looked all the way as if it was going to end up in the back of the net, but the Chelsea stopper pulled off a superb save to deny him.

Evra had a good shout for a penalty turned down when Joe Cole brought him down before getting the ball. Ryan Giggs elected to try and lob the ball over Cech instead of heading the ball into a virtually open net.

Then Vidic beat Shevchenko and Terry with a trademark powerful header only for it to sail into the grateful arms of Cech. United broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time when Giggs and Tevez linked up as the Apache planted his header beyond the reach of the Chelsea keeper. Up and until that point both Giggs and Tevez had been quite poor and in truth they didn’t improve after that crucial passage of play.

The story of the second half was that of the first with United dominating possession but without creating any clear cut chances, apart from when substitute Saha was put through only to shoot instead of squaring the ball to the unmarked Rooney who would have surely scored if the Frenchman hadn't elected to shoot. Chelsea did come back into the game as it wore on, but without seriously troubling Van der Sar.

The game ended as it had started in controversy when Saha converted the penalty to hammer the final nail into Chelsea's coffin, but who cares as United won and as a result are now second in the league.

Marco van Basten was among Chelsea's guests which will no doubt fuel speculation that he could soon replace Avram Grant as the new Chelsea manager.

Kenyon and Terry villains behind Mourinho exit?

In the wake of Jose Mourinho's Stamford Bridge exit the press have been looking for the real reasons why the club parted company with arguably the best young manager in the world.

According to one Sunday tabloid report, the breaking point was the 1-1 draw with Rosenborg in Chelsea's group B Champions League game earlier this week. It has been claimed that Jose Mourinho blamed John Terry for the visitors goal at half time, but the England skipper wasn't having any of it, this in turn we are told led to Peter Kenyon allegedly reporting to the Blues board that Mourinho had lost the dressing room. It's a good tabloid story, but it must surely be absolute rubbish. Rows between players and the manager happen all of the time - even if a heated discussion between Mourinho and Terry took place, this would not equate to charges that Mourinho had lost the dressing room.

Perhaps even more bizarrely it has been claimed that Roman Abramovich has been giving tactical advice to the likes of Michael Essien after the draw with Rosenborg. Sure, Roman owns the team and he's entitled to give his opinions on the game, but I cannot for the life of me see him undermining Mourinho in such a direct manner in front of the rest of the Chelsea squad which is what has been claimed today.

Our sensationalist tabloid press are having a field day at Chelsea's expense, it has to said they fully deserve it, as the sacking of Mourinho and appointment of Avram Grant will surely come back to haunt the former champions in spades.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Chelsea in turmoil ahead of big United game..

Rival's Chelsea are still in a state of shock following the surprise departure of Jose Mourinho after only a few games into the new season, there was talk that the controversial Portuguese manager might have been replaced in the summer by Guus Hiddink, but when Chelsea won the FA Cup it seemed inconceivable that the Blues would part company with their coach.

The fact that Mourinho's exit has happened so suddenly was alluded to by Peter Kenyon at the unveiling of Chelsea's new manager Avram Grant at today's press conference. The Chelsea CEO intimated that nothing had been planned and everything happened more or less out of the blue, but insisted that there had been big no bust-up.

Chelsea chairman Buck went on to confirm that differences between the owner and manager had led to this parting of the ways, which comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following the story over the last couple of years.

Overall it was a very unconvincing performance by Chelsea's chairman and CEO as they failed to give satisfactory answers to many questions from the floor. According to Kenyon, as far as the players are concerned it's 'business as usual'.

One thing that did come out of the press conference was that Bruce Buck wouldn't confirm or deny that Mourinho has a clause written into his contract stopping him from managing another Premier League club. The assembled hacks tried their best to prize an answer out of Buck on this point, but the Chelsea lawyer would not confirm or deny the existence of such a clause, which no doubt will lead to sugestions that yes indeed Jose Mourinho will be blocked from a quick return to the Premier League.

Mourinho has spoken to the media this evening and he has hinted that his next club will not be in England although he would like to manage another Premier League club, he has also confirmed that he will not be taking a job within the Portuguese national team set-up. Reading between the lines it is almost certainly the case that Mourinho's next club will be in Italy.

As for Sunday's game with United. The Red Devils still have a few injury problems, Owen Hargreaves and Gary Neville are both injured and Carlos Tevez and Nani are pressing for a starting place in the Reds line-up.

Fergie says he will miss Jose Mourinho, but gets his facts wrong..

Ferguson has somewhat predictably said that Mourinho's Chelsea departure will be a loss to the Premier League, he says that he will also miss the challenge of pitting he wits against the former Chelsea manager.

Fergie went on to suggest that if you look at the results between the two sides during Mourinho's reign there was 'nothing in it'. Not true.

Chelsea won 5 out of ten meetings between the two clubs, United won once in the league and once on penalties in the Community Shield.

Reds fans will be hoping that rather than attempting to rewrite history Fergie ensures that United go some way to redressing the balance results wise by thumping Chelsea this weekend thus inflicting more misery on the Blues.

FA Community Shield Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United 05-08-2007
English FA Cup Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United 19-05-2007
English Premier Chelsea 0-0 Manchester United 09-05-2007
English Premier Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea 26-11-2006
English Premier Chelsea 3-0 Manchester United 29-04-2006
English Premier Manchester United 1-0 Chelsea 06-11-2005
English Premier Manchester United 1-3 Chelsea 10-05-2005
English League Cup Manchester United 1-2 Chelsea 26-01-2005
English League Cup Chelsea 0-0 Manchester United 12-01-2005
English Premier Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United 15-08-2004

Mourinho to be United's next manager?

Jose Mourinho leaving Chelsea is without doubt one of the biggest stories in football for a long time. Predictably we are being told that several key players including Didier Drogba are furious. It seems his most loyal players might follow him out of the door. The big question is where to?

Yesterday, Mourinho and his team were locked in discussions about his settlement package. Today we have been told that all contractual matters have been resolved. Apart from agreeng the huge pay-off for the remainder of his contract, you do wonder if Chelsea have inserted a clause stating that Mourinho cannot join rivals Manchester United. If it happened that would be an even bigger story than leaving Chelsea.

As all football fans will be aware, Ferguson is on a rolling contract and he could go at any time, possibly as early as next summer. It could be a case of perfect timing, that's if United fancy Jose and he fancied the challenge of managing a proper football club.

Should such a move happen, I'm not convinced the appointment would be greeted with deep joy as far as the massed ranks of the Red Army are concerned. Jose's teams do not play in the best traditions of United. What's more Mourinho is something of a loose cannon and here again would this be to the liking of United's owners and senior management team?

Mourinho's record is one of success and lots of it, but there's a trade-off between winning and style. Jose would actually be more suited to Liverpool, who by tradition have a built teams that have been greater than the sum of the individual parts, that ethos was laid down by Shankly and it still true to a point today, though obviously to a much lesser extent in their recent barren years, sans Premier League titles.

I personally doubt Mourinho will replace Fergie, but it will no doubt be up for discussion by United's power-brokers.

There would be other huge problems to overcome. Assuming Mourinho wanted the likes of Drogba and Carvalho to join him. And assuming Chelsea could not stop Jose from joining United for one moment, they'd move heaven and earth to stop their players moving to the Reds.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mourinho to manage Portugal next?

According to a report on Sky Sports, Jose Mourinho could be set to take a role within the Portuguese national team. Sky have spoken to someone who has known Mourinho since he was a boy and he says that he is 100% sure that Jose is set to be installed within the Portuguese national team set-up.

Fillipe Scolari is currently in charge, but there has been speculation surrounding his own future.

In a separate report, Sky's Spanish football correspondent says that Valencia might be interested in Jose.

Mourinho sacking: Good for football, bad for Chelsea...

Hands up all those who saw the Jose sacking coming. I didn't. Yes, I've been reading the usual turgid and often sensationalist press headlines following a relatively slow start for Chelsea to the new season 'Jose under pressure' etc, etc. But sacking any manager at this stage of the season is totally ridiculous, and sacking someone who has been as successful as Mourinho has been at Chelsea is complete and utter madness. It beggars belief.

The thing is, what Chelsea need to understand, if they don't understand already, is that rival clubs and fans up and down the land will be rejoicing at this news.

Chelsea had the most money with one of the best, if not the best young manager in the world. It was a powerful combination, too powerful I'd have to say. Which is why from United's perspective and that of making the league more open in terms who can win the Premier League title, the sacking is good news.

So I'm quite pleased about Jose's departure, because Chelsea have scored a very poor own goal, which will lead to many more changes of manager in the not too distant future. Avram Grant wont be in charge for long of that I'm fairly certain.

Will the likes of Drogba stay now that Mourinho his mentor has left the club? You can ask the same of players like Carvalho and Essien. Because one thing you can bet on is that Mourinho wont be out of work for long. He will no doubt soon be in charge of a top Italian or Spanish club and then will his favoured players follow him? Don't bet against that happening.

The reaction of the Chelsea fans to this news will be interesting too, they could turn on Abramovich, but they'd be stupid to do that. The last thing Chelsea needs is for Roman to fall out of love with the club as well as Jose Mourinho. Here again, the rest of us will hoping that Abramovich folds up his tent and moves on to his next big idea, in doing so putting Chelsea back where they were before he arrived, on the road to nowhere and bankruptcy.

One rather large concern that I have now about this turn of events is that the Chelsea board in sacking Mourinho might have by default handed the title to Liverpool. Now that would also be bad for football, at least from a United perspective.

Sporting fans show class unlike United...

Manchester United somehow managed to scrape a 1-0 victory over Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League on Wednesday night. The Reds had Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for the win, his second half headed goal was United's highlight on the pitch in an otherwise disappointing performance.

Having scored against his former club Ronaldo bowed as if by way of apology to the home supporters, who in return stood and applauded him in appreciation of the gesture. It was a mark of respect from both the player and the home fans who later gave the United winger a standing ovation when he was withdrawn late on in the second half.

While the Sporting fans were showing class in the stands, their team was having the better of things on a surprisingly poor pitch that was cutting-up at every challenge for the ball. The pitch problems didn't seem to bother the home team, so much so that but for Edwin van der Sar in the United goal Sporting would have been two goals to the good. The Dutch stopper made two top-class saves, one in either half.

At the other end Ronaldo was by far United's best attacking player on the night as once again the Reds tactics in Europe left a lot to be desired, as did the overall performance of United's midfield and forward line.

Ryan Giggs was supposed to be playing in a five-man midfield, but in truth he looked lost and in the first half especially on the few occasions when he actually touched the ball he gave it away. Scholes was marginally better, but his passing was off-key too as was the totally ineffective Nani and Michael Carrick. On the night collectively, United's midfield was not much short of a shambles in an attacking and passing sense, the only plus point was that they did get behind the ball quickly when the opposition had the ball.

Ferguson had opted to start the game with just Rooney up front with Ronaldo supporting from midfield, but it simply did not work and Rooney was all too often left isolated.

Personally I'm hoping that once Hargreaves is fit again United will go with a 4-4-2 because against Sporting, and it has to be said on other occasions when Fergie has gone with 4-5-1 it does not seem to work.

If United had someone like Drogba, then playing with one striker might be an option, but the truth is they don't have a Drogba. Saha is the nearest thing United have to a proper out and out target-man. But Fergie isn't going to leave both Rooney and Tevez on the bench is he?

Apart from Ronaldo's goal and Van der Sar's saves, the other major plus point on the night was that the partnership of Vidic and Ferdinand, which is looking better by the week, as once again they were rock solid.

While United did not play well as a team on the night, they got the thing that mattered most, a win on their travels, which is the best possible way to start a European campaign.

Going into the game Graeme Sounses commented 'I honestly don't think Fergie knows what his best team is'. Quite. The thing is, the United manager has been without key players until this week. Now Fergie has the luxury of having a virtually fully fit squad barring Hargreaves and Neville, but both should be back soon and in an attacking sense United can only get better.

However, Fergie has to get his formation right in Europe. In 1999 United won the Champions League with two strikers up front in Yorke and Cole. We need to get back to that, because that is the United way. We do not do boring negative football well, we never have and I doubt we ever will.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Platini presents another unwelcome and unworkable idea...

Ever since he won the election to become UEFA's new president Michel Platini has been making suggestions for 'improvements' to Europe's premier club competition, the Champions League.

He first mooted the idea of reducing the number of clubs from four to three for Europe's top leagues. This predictably went down like a lead balloon. That was Platini's first bad idea and not surprisingly the leading clubs including the G14 were quick to tell Platini that his idea stunk.

Next the former European footballer of the year suggested that winners of the domestic Cup competitions should be allowed to enter the Champions League at the expense of the club who finished fourth in their respective leagues. Again, Platini was told that his idea wasn't a good one by the G14.

Platini's very latest big idea comes in letter form, apparently he's written to Gordon Brown telling the Prime Minister that there's too much money going into the game. What does Platini expect the government to do about this 'problem'?

Football Clubs are run as businesses and as such they have obligations to fulfil, as do any other businesses, which include completing tax returns and profit and loss accounts etc, etc.

Expecting Gordon Brown and his government to do anything about the running of the professional game is like believing in father Christmas. The idea is plainly ridiculous and once again Platini is in danger of being looked upon as a tiresome would be dictatorial meddler.

Not only that, most English fans would no doubt agree that foreign ownership and the new money that has been sloshing around the Premier League has largely benefited the clubs concerned.

On the field of play, where it really matters, Aston Villa have looked better this season than they have done for some considerable time, the same applies to Liverpool and Manchester City.

Portsmouth are another club that has a new foreign owner, they have already drawn with United and Liverpool, I predict that they will go on to have a good season.

So let's look at the those clubs who aren't doing well. Tottenham for starters. They've spent a fortune, but they're near the bottom of the league but they are run by a Brit in Daniel Levy. Derby County and Bolton are also owned by Brits both clubs are currently finding the going tough.

Others like West Ham United and Reading are really struggling, both clubs have succumbed to foreign ownership. So on the face it, it doesn't really matter who owns these clubs, those that are well managed and run are doing well, the others less so. That is the nature of football and always has been. The size of the transfer fees involved are undoubtedly much, much larger but the principle remains constant.

The amounts of money coming into the game are not in my humble opinion the problem. It's the mismanagement of funds that can often lie at the heart of the problem when things go wrong horribly at football clubs, that and clubs over-stretching themselves in financial terms.

A case in point was Leeds United who in 2001 were competing in the Champions League semi-final, but things went horribly wrong not long after when they failed to qualify for the Champions League.

The Yorkshire club had banked everything on qualifying for Europe's premier club competition and when it did not happen, the walls came tumbling down and Leeds have been in free-fall ever since having dropped two divisions.

The owners of Leeds United were not foreigners, they were die-hard born and Yorkshire bred. Led by Peter Ridsdale, the Whites former chairman and his board were responsible for putting their club into hock with the banks and anyone else who'd lend them money to fund their massive spending. It was a gamble that failed big time.

Another case in point is my beloved United. Many people within the game and those who understand finance fear for the future of Manchester United under the current ownership of the Glazer family.

The Glazers have plunged United into a sea of debt to the tune of £660m and rising. Sadly, there's nothing the government can do about that either. The fact is that the club's American owners could only borrow such massive amounts because prior to the takeover United was so well run, it didn't have any debts at all.

United's only hope for the future is that someone comes in with a massive offer to buy out the Glazer family - you do wonder what Platini will have to say about that should it happen?

I'm sure that one day Platini will come up with something worthwhile. Perhaps the most interesting of all, is his bid to give football special status in European law. If that happens then UEFA might be able to impose rules about the numbers of overseas stars at any one club at any given time. As things stand there is a danger that British talent could be overlooked due to the influx of players from the continent.

Here's my own priority list for Platini:
All clubs to make provision to make football affordable to watch for all pockets. By definition, this would mean that 70% of capacity would be made affordable at each club. Without the fans, there will be no football in the future. They are the life-blood of the game not Uefa, the players or the managers.

Impose strict rules to ensure the safety of visiting fans across Europe. Be definition, this means that European home games are stewarded and policed properly.

Stop awarding European finals to clubs with stadiums that are clearly too small.

Award more tickets to the competing clubs in European finals and reduce the number of tickets that go to national associations and Uefa cronies.

Do more to ensure clubs develop their own home grown stars.

Spot the good idea: Platini's targets when he was first installed into his new job:

Gaining recognition of football's special status in European law
Developing all Uefa competitions, including Intertoto Cup, youth and women's championships

Combating racism, xenophobia and fraud (Talk is cheap where UEFA is concerned - let's see some stiff penalties being dished out and not the usual slap of the wrist from UEFA as so often happens)

Correcting inequalities and establishing equal opportunities

Reducing the maximum number of teams per country in the Champions League to three

In creasing co-operation with Fifa

A hands-on presidency and more decision-making by Uefa executive

Queiroz hints about quitting United...

United's assistant manager Carlos Queiroz had dropped a rather large hint that this coming December he's going to consider his future. As you'd expect, the likes of The Sun newspaper has translated this into 'Queiroz: I'll quit United'...

However, Queiroz is doing what everyone seems to do in football these days, that is, he is using the media to announce his apparent willingness to move to another club and with United taking on Sporting Lisbon in Portugal tonight, what better time to make an announcement about your future?

Queiroz has talked about Fergie's hints about him possibly being the next Manchester United manager. I for one seriously doubt that will happen, what's more, I believe that the former Real Madrid manager sees it that way too, hence his announcement. More likely a return to a Portuguese or Spanish club beckons for the man from Mozambique.

It might well be the case that Queiroz has got wind of changes afoot regarding Fergie's own future. Ferguson like his assistant, is on a rolling contract, partly to stop speculation about his own future, but if United do go on to win the Champions League this season then maybe he too might well bring down the curtain on his glittering United career. We shall have to wait until May to find out on that score - that's assuming that the Reds go all the way to Moscow for this season's Champions League final.

Chelsea and Liverpool fail to impress on a night of missed chances..

Chelsea were somewhat surprisingly held 1-1 at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night in their Group B Champions League tie with Rosenborg. Sans Drogba, Chelsea are not the same team, that much is clear, despite Shevchenko scoring a very good goal against the Norwegian's the Ukrainian striker does not pose the same threat as Chelsea's Ivory Coast star.

However, despite the scoreline Chelsea should have won this game by some margin, only the thickness of a post denied Malouda twice who was extremely unlucky on the night in front of goal. The Frenchman wasn't the only one who failed to register, as the home team somehow managed to squander a number of gilt-edged chances.

Poor result aside there was some plus points, none more so than Joe Cole who was once again outstanding for the home team in his new central role just behind Shevchenko.

Cole pulls the blues strings in the same way that an on-form Paul Scholes does for United. The Red Devils will need to marshal Joe Cole this coming Sunday when the two sides meet at Old Trafford.

After the game, Jose Mourinho who is forever the drama queen, went overboard about the Blues inability to convert chances. But the Portuguese manager knows only too well that the time to worry is when you're not creating them - and clearly that is not the case with Chelsea.

Mourinho hinted that Drogba will not be fit for the United game this weekend. Personally, I think Jose isn't telling the truth here and I for one will be amazed if Chelsea are not at full strength when they pitch up at Old Trafford for the season's biggest game so far.

While Chelsea should have been tanking Rosenborg, that certainly wasn't the case with Liverpool, who showed nothing like their early season league form against what can only be described as a very average looking Porto side in another game that ended up 1-1. Nonetheless, Liverpool should easily qualify from group A, as should Chelsea and Arsenal in groups B and H respectively.

United have a tough group for sure, with Roma currently lying top of Serie A and Sporting Lisbon have an excellent recent record against English clubs. Dynamo Kiev are currently third in the Ukrainian league and will no doubt pose a few problems for United who have an appalling recent away record in the Champions League.

Rangers and Celtic will have a real fight on their hands to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition. Celtic currently lie bottom of their group after being spanked 2-0 by Shakhtar Donetsk.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

United v Sporting: No Hargreaves but Rooney could be back....

The latest injury news ahead of United's first game in this season's Champions League with Sporting Lisbon is that Owen Hargreaves looks set to the miss the match due to suffering a thigh-strain. The former Bayern Munich midfielder is on the mend but he hasn't trained over the last few days and so it's likely he will miss the first leg in Lisbon on Wednesday at the Estádio José Alvalade.

Better news to report regarding the return of Wayne Rooney because it is highly likely that he will start the game after recovering from a broken bone in his foot. Rooney has gone on record (no doubt following pressure from his boot sponsor Nike) saying that his football boots are not the problem. Yeah right.

Silvestre is definitely out after breaking down at Goodison Park on Saturday with a knee ligament injury so Gerard Pique and Jonny Evans are on standby to fill in at left-back, but more likely Patrice Evra will revert to his normal position which will leave at least one of the United youngsters on the bench for what is going to be a very difficult game.

Altough Sporting Lisbon have pretty much a new team, they will be looking to progress to the knockout stages of the competition for the first time. The home team will be encouraged by their excellent home record against English sides, because they haven't lost at home in five encounters.

The Red Devils have a very patchy record on their travels in Europe, in fact they have won just two of their last 14 away games in the Champions League. If United are are to reach this year's final on the 21st May 2008 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, then they will need to start winning against the likes of Sporting.

Sporting Lisbon have one of the best youth set-ups in Europe, the list of players who've gone on to play for some of Europe's top clubs is very impressive and Ronaldo and Nani will no doubt receive a warm welcome from the home fans.

Sporting Lisbon coach Paulo Bento has several key players, across the back he has Anderson, Polga and Tonel. In midfield Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutino pulls the strings, while the goal threat comes from Marat Izmailov and Liedson.

Anyone who thinks game is going to be easy for United is deluding themselves, the Reds aren't firing on all cylinders currently, but they need to find their best form given the task that faces them in Lisbon and at Old Trafford on Sunday when Chelsea are the visitors. Bring them on.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Silvestre injury opens door for United youngsters...

Mikael Silvestre will miss the rest of the season after sustaining a cruciate knee ligament injury against Everton on Saturday. It's a massive blow for the Frenchman given that he's only just recovered from a shoulder injury which kept him out of the action for a lengthy spell.

United have recently sold want-away Gaby Heinze to Real Madrid, which leaves the Reds with just one specialist left back in Patrice Evra.

However, United have several young defenders pressing for first team action. Gerrard Pique came on against Everton as a substitute when he replaced Nani late on in the game and Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans is another who will be hoping that he can make a first team breakthrough this season after spending a season on loan at Sunderland. The Reds take on Sporting Lisbon this Wednesday in the Champions League and it's expected that both Pique and Evans will be in the squad that travels to Portugal.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

United win despite Fergie's baffling selection...

The Reds managed a somewhat fortunate 1-0 away at Everton on Saturday, courtesy of a late Vidic bullet header from a corner. Once again United did not play anywhere near their collective best but came away with all three points.

Despite travelling 21,000 miles this week to play down under for Argentina against Australia in Melbourne, Fergie decided to opt for Tevez in his starting line-up. Saha, somewhat surprisingly was left on the bench for 63 minutes until he replaced Giggs, while Tevez played the full 90 minutes. Baffling.

Given that United travel to Lisbon this week for a Champions League game on Wednesday, many like myself expected Saha who hasn't had much playing time this season so far to start the game, but somewhat bizarrely that did not happen. Ferguson is short of numbers up front and what happened at Goodison Park on Saturday suggests that the manager is not using his strikers wisely.

Once again United were without key players for the trip to Goodison Park, the Reds were missing United's best player of the season so far in Owen Hargreaves, but Ronaldo did return and got booked for his troubles along with Paul Scholes.

United lacked any sort of cutting edge down the middle against Everton, which has been the story of the season so far. In marked contrast to last season, the Reds are finding it hard to score goals and it remains to be seen how much longer Fergie will opt to start games without the only genuine number nine at the club in Louis Saha.

It seems fairly clear that Fergie's mind is set on staring games with Tevez and Rooney will no doubt join him once fully fit, which will leave Saha on the bench.

We will only know if the Tevez/Rooney partnership is going to work once they've played together for a few games, so the jury is very much out on that option even though we are mid-way through September.

Fergie was rightly delighted with the win against Everton, because as he says the Toffees will take points off the top teams this season so it was an excellent result even if the overall performance wasn't.

For a brief spell on Saturday, the Red Devils topped the table for the first time this season, only to be left in third place overnight after Liverpool drew with improving Portsmouth, Chelsea could only manage a draw against the vastly improved Blackburn and Arsenal went top after coming back from one down to win 3-1 at rivals Spurs in what was the game of the day.

United will need to start clicking soon because next weekend Chelsea are the visitors to Old Trafford for our first real six pointer of the season, before that United travel to Portugal to face Sporting Lisbon. United will probably have Rooney back for that game alongside either Saha or more likely Tevez.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Comedy analysis letting Setanta down...

For the second week running I watched a live Premier League game on Setanta Sports, this week it was Chelsea v Blackburn Rovers. The result was 0-0 and Blackburn fully deserved a share of the spoils.

Setanta are obviously feeling their collective way given this is their first season showing live Premier League games, but on the evidence of today their analysis both in the studio and live on-air leaves a lot to be desired.

The main talking point of the game centred on a disallowed second half Chelsea goal scored by Kalou - replays cleared showed that the Ivory Coast striker was half a yard off-side - the linesman and referee Howard Webb got the decision spot on.

However, Setanta's in-game match summariser Craig Burley wrongly stated that it should have been a goal - predictably so did Jose Mourinho in his post-match interview. The Chelsea manager somewhat childishly went on at length saying he now expects a phone call off Howard Webb apologising for his mistake. You can sort of understand the Portuguese manager getting it wrong, given he's not had time to see the replays several times over. There is no excuse for the whole of Setanta's studio 'experts' making fools of themselves in getting their analysis completey wrong as they did to a man stating that the referee had made a mistake in ruling the goal off-side.

Craig Burley made many mistakes throughout his analysis - his comments did not add anything to the game, as his insight and analysis was flawed, none more so when he criticised Shevchenko when his second half effort was saved by Brad Friedel - the fact is the Ukrainian striker was very unlucky not to score with his text-book header and only a superb save by the American keeper denied the Chelsea striker. Setanta's presentation is fine on the whole, but the station is currently being let down by sub-standard punditery.

As for the game itself, Chelsea huffed and puffed throughout the match and Jose Mourinho minus his talisman Didier Drogba tried to ring the changes. Chelsea's best player on the day was Joe Cole who appeared to have been given a free role. Normally Cole plays on the left side of Chelsea's attack, but against Blackburn he played in a more central position behind Shevchenko. Cole was very effective in pulling the Blues strings, but still the home team could not break down Rovers resistance. Mourinho switched to a three man back line late on when he pushed John Terry forward in a bid to unlock the Blackburn back four. It did not work.

In the end Rovers fully deserved their point and Mark Hughes looks to be doing a fine job, the quiet man deserves a lot of credit for his work. On the evidence of today at Stamford Bridge, Blackburn will continue to take points off the big four.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sporting Lisbon fans still love Ronaldo...

I have received an invitation from a Sporting Lisbon (Sporting Clube de Portugal) fan to ask a few questions and exchange views ahead of the Red Devils impending Champions League tie with his club. Unless you've been living underneath a stone you will know that United have signed two former Sporting players, firstly Cristiano Ronaldo and this summer Nani.

Nuno Neves is 32 years of age, he is a member of Juve Leo (Juventude Leonina) the Ultras of Sporting. He also writes a blog on his favourite team Bancada Sul

What was the general reaction of the Sporting Lisbon fans when it was revealed that Ronaldo and then Nani were to join United?

There was two different types of reaction. In the case of Ronaldo, in general we are sad with his exit, he already had an enormous potential and Sporting had the promise of a huge fee for a very young player. In the Nani's case, it was a good price too, but even so it was not so important to Sporting as it was when we sold Ronaldo.

Do the Sporting fans bear any grundges against the star duo after they joined United?

We supporters don't have any problems with the fact that they joined United, Sporting cannot compete with the economic power of Manchester United or the other rich clubs of Europe.

When Ronaldo and Nani return to face Sporting, will they receive a good reception from your fans?

They will have a enourmous reception, especially Cristiano Ronaldo who we have great care and consideration.

In 2003, United were supposed to have formed links with Sporting Lisbon, we the fans were told that this would lead to players being exchanged and more besides. However, in signing Nani this summer, the Red Devils had to invoke a get-out clause in Nani's contract. This wouldn't on the face of it seem to be the actions of two clubs who were in partnership. Were you the Sporting fans aware of the two clubs linking up? If you were aware, do you know if the two clubs are still working together in any way?

Well since that date, we Sporting fans, know the existence of that contract. In the time that it was linked, we thought some of dispensed players from United could came to Sporting squad, but we never exchanged anyone from Manchester United, to be sincere with you, we've never understood the link between the two clubs (JR adds - neither do we Nuno)

I understand that Sporting are not the team they were because of losing the likes of Nani and Ronaldo, who should United fans look out for when the two clubs meet?

Well, this is a new team this year, we have 10 new players, and there isn't yet a connection between all the players. But the best Sporting player is without a doubt Liedson. Here we say "Liedson resolve", it means "Liedson solves" or "Liedson decides"

How do Portuguese fans view Jose Mourinho and where do you see him managing in the next few seasons.

Well we have a love and hate relation with Jose Mourinho, we Sporting fans, never liked him. He was born to football as an assistant manager at Sporting when Bobby Robson was our coach, but eventually he went on to be the manager of Benfica and Porto - two teams that we Sporting fans hate. In one game when coaching Benfica, Mourinho did the finger salute to us the fans, when they scored a goal, this on the same day that that he was fired from Benfica. He didn't lose his job becouse of the teams results, he was going to sign a contract with Sporting, but we the fans went to Alvalade and said firmily that we did not want this kind of man leading Sporting. A few years later when he was Porto´s coach, he ripped off the team jersey of Rui Jorge, our left-sided defender in a game at the Alvalade. The incident took place in the dressing room, but it was something that we will never forget.

Nuno has submitted a review of Lisbon to the BigEasy Travel Guide for any fans who are travelling to the city.

Add your own Lisbon recommendations

Do most of Man City's local fans come from Stockport?

There's been many studies about which Manchester team has the most local supporters.

City fans claim that they are the local club with the most local fans.

Whereas United fans often claim that most local City fans actually live in Stockport.

City supporters love to claim that United supporters come from far and wide.

So today while doing my own reseach using Google Labs I thought I'd check out some search terms to see where the bulk of these fans live, at least those who have a computer and read up about their club - isn't that everyone these days?

Using the search term 'Manchester City' Stockport comes out with the highest number of searches, whereas for the term 'Manchester United', Manchester is the most popular UK city.

So there you go, according to Google Labs (Doesn't everyone use Google these days?), Stockport is indeed a hot-bed of Man City supporters and Manchester appears to be full of people searching for United news.

Also of interest is the fact that the takeover by Thaskin Shinawatra has made no significant impact in his native Thailand as there's so few searches using 'Manchester City' in Thailand that the term isn't even recognised by Google Labs...However, there is interest in Bangkok because the search term Thaskin Shinawatra does register in the lab results.

Stockport, Stockport give us a song!

No doubting City fans will soon be quoting the phrase 'lies, damn lies and statistics' to me.

McClaren and Heskey make critics eat their words...

I love it when the media are left choking on their collective bile when it comes to back-tracking over a manager or player who've they've been busily crucifying following a run of indifferent results or performances.

One such case is that of England manager Steve McClaren. Here we have a manager who the media supported when he replaced Sven Goran Eriksson. The Swede was eventually eased out of his cosy chair by the News of the World in that disgraceful fake Sheik sting. Let us not forget that the press had been trying to oust Sven over a number of years, the Sheik episode was by no means an isolated incident. Every aspect of Sven's life was delved into by the gutter press in a bid to get him out of a job.

Events post Sven have been all too predictable. The new manager was supported by the media, but following the usual and all too often brief honeymoon period, and a spell of indifferent performances by the Three Lions, the media, led by the tabloid press were preparing to write McClaren's obituary.

The manager had two games in which to save himself, at least that was the media line. We were told that this week's results against Israel and Russia would decide McClaren's England future. No doubt to the dismay of the manager's many media detractors, as we know England won both games comfortably.

It's true to say that McClaren has somewhat stumbled upon the team which won so well this week, it is also fair to ask questions about what might happen when the likes of Beckham, Hargreaves and Lampard are fit. Gareth Barry in particular has played well.

However, the media have totally missed one glaring point about England when they've been busily slagging off McClaren, that is that since Shearer retired they've not had an out and out target man. As we know, the often much maligned Emile Heskey was brought back into the squad, again largely due to injuries and suspensions and here again the manager has been somewhat lucky.

As we know Heskey has been something of a revelation giving two excellent performances. But what has happened in the last two games, only backs up the point that I've been making for two years, that is you can forget about all of the other issues concerning Beckham and Lampard et al. England need a target man, Rooney and Owen while being very good players in their own right are too similar in many ways.

Leading up to the games this week, the likes of Martin Samuel in The Times, was questioning why England couldn't be more flexible regarding their formation. Guus Hiddink we were told is a man who often changes his formation, which is true and having sat through both games this week and having enjoyed then too for a change, I found myself thinking that if Russia also had a target man they might have got something out of the game at Wembley last night.

In the end it's all about players and partnerships, it isn't just about formations. Heskey and Owen link up well, on the evidence of the last two games, better than any other current options up front.

McClaren should be given a huge amount of credit for bringing back Heskey - let's be honest - when we heard news of his recall, many said McClaren is taking the ****.

The media can write what they like, but they need to recognise their own collective limitations. After all, if you cannot see that England's main problem has been the lack of a genuine number nine, then you really should not be questioning any manager.

Heskey isn't the long term answer to solving England's woes, but his performances have given the hacks and the know-nothing back-stabbers a rather large clue about how to go about solving them in the longer term.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fergie victim of September 11th attack...

Everyone dreads another terrorist attack on the anniversary of September 11th and yesterday was no different. Sir Alex Ferguson travelled by train to London for a dinner for the victims of the World Trade Center attacks, but the Manchester United manager was set upon by 40 year-old assailant at London's Euston station. Despite minor injuries to his legs, the United manager went to the function. Fergie's attacker is helping police with their enquiries.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

England win against Israel was partly down to a former local park keeper...

One of the most amazing football stories I've heard in quite some time came to light last week when I learnt that the man who is behind Manchester City's Academy set-up was until 1997 a local authority parks keeper - his specialist subject? Trees.

Jim Cassell, who rumour has it, is also a lifelong Manchester United supporter, is the man who is at the heart of City's burgeoning youth set-up, which along with West Ham United, must currently rank as the best in the country.

Cassell was the man who told City's former manager Joe Royle to select Shaun Wright-Phillips for the Blues for first team. Not long after the England winger was sold to big spending Chelsea. Micah Richards is another who has taken to the top flight of English football like a duck to water, against Israel last weekend, both players were on target for their national team as England grabbed a much needed three-nil victory. Cassell must have been a very proud man that day.

The City production line is continuing to produce talent at what must look like an alarming rate for rivals like United who until the last few years have been among the best at nurturing talent from an early age, but the worm has turned and now it's City who keep on churning out quality young players.

Manchester City and England can be thankful that Jim Cassell swapped his donkey jacket and wellington boots for his track-suit to pursue a full-time career in professional football. All too often we hear about the vast sums of cash which dominates the world of professional football, but here we have a man from a working class background who had a very run-of-the-mill job who went to make a real mark on the game at the highest level. It is an amazing story.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rooney back to face Everton?

Reports claim that Wayne Rooney could be back sooner than expected after breaking a bone in his foot against Reading in the opening game of the season. Initially it was feared that the England striker could be out for up to three months, but according to the latest news he could even be back this weekend when United take on Everton at Goodison park.

However, Louis Saha recently returned to goal scoring action after suffering with a spate of injuries which have dogged the Frenchmen ever since he arrived at the club and so the pressure is off United to bring Rooney back early. The Reds wont want to take any unnecessary risks with the £20m striker given that this is the third time that Wayne has fractured a bone in his foot. It's feared that if Rooney broke down after making a hasty comeback due to suffering a re-occurrence of the same injury the resulting lay-off could lengthy.

Fergie is unlikely to risk Rooney against his former club, unless Saha has another injury setback. However, Carlos Tevez is on international duty with Argentina who take on Australia in Melbourne on Tuesday and with United facing Everton in the lunch-time kick-off on Saturday, the Reds are unlikely to rush the former West Ham striker back into action after making a ludicrous 21,000 mile round trip down under for a friendly.

If the club's medical staff are happy with Rooney's fitness, he could be on the bench at the weekend in readiness for the Reds trip to Portugal the following Wednesday when United take on Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Glazers' borrowing out of control?

The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) is set to reveal a report to the City that claims the Glazers' interest on their borrowing has reached a colossal £100m a year. The Glazer family recently transferred their debts which helped to finance the purchase of the club onto Manchester United and fans should be extremely concerned about the news, as no football club can stand crippling interest payments of this magnitude.

A spokesman for the Glazer family has predictably denied the report. No matter, the report will make interesting reading. This latest news comes on the back of several stories which have suggested that the Glazer family could be looking for a way of the mess which they have created by selling United on to someone who can afford it, without the need for the massive borrowing.

MUST wants the Glazer family to answer questions about the clubs future, but the Glazer family do not engage with the fans, this attitude is in marked contrast to the openess of Liverpool's new American owners, Tom Hick and George Gillett.

Manchester United supporters have already seen huge price hikes for season tickets since the Glazer family took control of the club and coming on the back of this latest report, fans will no doubt wondering exactly where the club is heading.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Is Fergie's dig at Beckham way off the mark?...

Fergie was in his native Glasgow this week, for whatever reason he decided to open up about some of his former players. The United manager came as close as he ever has to admitting that selling Stam was a mistake. This is hardly news, we Reds know that, it was one of Fergie's biggest ever mistakes.

Many fans still believe that Stam was sold because of comments made about Fergie in his book, but this is not true as the manager later confirmed in a letter to Stam following his move to Lazio.

In this letter, Fergie told Stam that he'd been sold purely for financial reasons, which is what I personally believed all along as United needed to recoup some cash after laying out £30m to acquire Juan Veron.

At the time of Stam's transfer, Fergie stated that the decision was purely a football decision, which is only party true. What the Scot left out was that it was mainly to do with football finances, once again this led to fans and the media barking up the wrong tree following remarks by the manager which were left to interpretation as Fergie so often does.

While in Scotland this week, Fergie also took time out to have ago at Posh Spice, aka Victoria Beckham. The manager intimated that Beckham was never the same again after the two hooked-up. While Fergie's relationship with Posh was undoubtedly problematic, isn't it a little unfair on Beckham who despite his other half, went on to win the lot with the Reds?

During his brilliant United career I can only remember one incident when Beckham was dropped for matters off the pitch.

In February 2000, the former England captain didn't turn up for training on the Friday before our big game with rivals Leeds United. Beckham stated that his son Brooklyn was ill, but Fergie axed him for the away trip to Elland Road, a game which United went on to win 1-0 courtesy of an Andy Cole goal.

Beckham might well be hen-pecked and Posh wear's the trousers for sure, but it has never affected his performance on the pitch.

Despite Posh and the rows with Fergie, it was Beckham who chose to leave United, he was never forced out of the club, which has been confirmed by club director Bobby Charlton in his autobiography which was launched this week.

Beckham left United under a cloud and many like myself believe he engineered his own transfer to Real Madrid. Maybe Fergie still blames Posh for Beckham's move to Madrid - now if that is true, then I can understand him being somewhat upset about that saga.

No matter what Fergie has said about Beckham this week, the former England captain remains one of United's best ever players and nothing Posh can do or has done will alter that.

Another international weekend: Another snoozefest?

So this weekend England take on Israel at Wembley in the oh so important European Championship qualifier, victory will give the Three Lions confidence that they can progress further to the finals, but failure to win could be crucial in the weeks ahead, especially concerning Steve McClaren's future as manager.

The hacks have been circling like vultures waiting for their moment to see-off the former Boro manager. Our so called 'gentlemen of the press' were of course supportive of appointing McClaren, this after Sven Eriksson was fired following a tabloid campaign against the Swede. That episode ended when the News of The World tricked Eriksson into talking about his long term future in a disgraceful fake Sheikh sting.

So what happens if England do not qualify for the Euro Championship Finals? McClaren will be toast, that is all we can confidently predict for now. Then following the appointment of another new manager there will be the usual brief honeymoon period and then the inevitible tiresome tabloid sniping.

Personally I have felt for some time that England have one major problem, scoring goals. Since Shearer retired, England haven't had a world-class centre forward. That is their single biggest problem. There's nothing that managers, past or present, could do about that.

The lack of fire-power down the middle is the main reason that successive recent England teams have struggled to win games and score goals. Imagine what a difference someone like Drogba or Shearer of old would make.

But England do not have a world-class centre forward. Yes we have Rooney, but he is a second striker. No matter, we have to find someone to blame and as ever the tabloid press single out the manager. It was ever thus.

No doubting I'll be watching bits of the England game with tv remote control in my hand. Give me the Premier League any day rather than the predictable soap-opera like snoozefest that is watching and following England on and off the pitch.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Chelsea beaten at their own game...

I took in the Aston Villa v Chelsea game over the weekend and I have to say that the Villa impressed me, as their two-nil win over Chelsea was fully justified. When was the last time a Jose Mourinho team lost by a two goal margin?

Martin O'Neill has spent well over the summer months, the Villa manager has acquired the likes of Zat Knight, Reo-Coker and big Jon Carew. The former Celtic manager appears to be putting together the best Villa side for some considerable time, his team has a good mixture of youth and experience, plus pace and power.

Against Chelsea, Villa not only competed with the Blues big men like Drogba, but they won the important challenges, none more so than Zat Knight's header when he beat the blues strongman in-chief Didier Drogba from a corner to open the scoring. At the other end Drogba wasn't bullying the Villa centre-halfs, for once it was an even contest.

Villa attacked Chelsea down the flanks with real pace and going off this performance they will take points off the other leading Premier League clubs. On this day, Chelsea were beaten by a team who played them at their own game and won. Villa scored their opening goal from a set-piece and the second goal came from a quick counter attack.

I must add that once again Didier Drogba was guilty of trying to get an opponent booked for his disgraceful play-acting when pretending to have been elbowed in face. TV-replays clearly showed the big man up for what he is at times, a cheat. He's such a good player that he really does not need to do this.

Pundits right over Beckham and the club v country debate...

I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with BBC Radio 5 Live's Alan Green, but over the current David Beckham club v country situation I do agree.

Green has pointed out that apparently Steve McLaren allowed Beckham to play the full 90 minutes against Germany because the former England captain wanted to play the whole game. On returning at speed to LA to play for Galaxy, his club manager Frank Yallop did likewise, again because Beckham 'wanted to'.

Green also quite rightly pointed out that Beckham was clearly injured and so shouldn't have even been expected to fly home for what was only a friendly, especially given that he was clearly not fully fit and carrying an injury.

Beckham, as so often happens when playing with injuries, has now picked up a potentially more serious injury to his knee.

Another pundit commented recently that Beckham isn't apparently capable of looking after himself when it comes to matters concerning his fitness and decision making. It seems that Steve McLaren and Frank Yallop are also guilty of not using common sense. McLaren should have told Beckham not to return home for the game with Germany, it was ridiculous to allow him to do so under the circumstances. I have some sympathy for Yallop, given Galaxy's situation having shelled out so much money to entice Beckham to the USA, but again playing injured players is stupid.

Gabriel Marcotti says that Beckham should retire from playing international football, given what has happened of late I tend to agree with him. Something has to give. That does not alter the fact in my view Beckham was treated disgracefully by Steve McLaren when he axed the former England skipper. If that had not happened then things would be very different, for starters Beckham wouldn't be playing for Galaxy.

Setanta - what you need to know....

I decided to subscribe to Setanta Sports this weekend, I thought for £10 a month with no annual contract it sounded like fairly good value. However, having taken the plunge I discovered that there's also a £10 connection charge which is hidden in the small print. Quite why in this digital age of instant communications you have to pay a 'connection charge' is beyond me, could it just be purely a money-making ploy?

Not only that having become a subscriber I then discovered that Setanta will continue to deduct £10 a month from my bank account until I tell them to stop and I have to give them 30 days notice, which effectively means you are locked in for two months. Suddenly instead of being cheap it starts to look a little expensive.

I guess subscribers will have to pay the £10 connection fee each time they subscribe, but on that I'm not certain. My view is that many new subscribers will not even realise that they need to cancel if they don't want to continue receiving Setanta, added to which unless they read the small print they wont know about the 30 day notice period and once they discover these facts they will feel a little hard done by. That is how I felt anyway.

Setanta have paid a lot of money to get a slice of the Premier League action, good luck to them, but I'm not convinced about their marketing methods.

Moral of the story - always read the small print.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

United scrape past Sunderland to put more pressure on Keane...

United fans had been eagerly looking forward to the visit of Roy Keane and Sunderland ever since the fixture list was drawn. However, another red legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stole the pre-match reception with his farewell Old Trafford walk-on part to say his thank you to the fans who in turn reciprocated. Keane had left United under a cloud after famously falling out with his manager, but the waters have been somewhat calmed over the passage of time and everyone connected with United will be hoping that he can turn Sunderland around in his first managerial appointment.

Against United there wasn't a lot to suggest that the remainder of the Black Cats season will be anything but a backs-to-the-wall struggle as the visitors lacked any sort of creativity in midfield or punch up front, and that is despite the recent addition of £6m man Kenwyne Jones.

Keane will soon be able to call upon the services of another ex-United star in Andy Cole. Apparently Keane has nine players with former United connections plus two others on his management team taking the K-Club to eleven, so Sunderland is something of a reds old boys outpost.

The Black Cats have lost four games on the bounce and having spent £34m on players, fans and his backers alike will rightly be expecting results. Someone recently said that if you keep on buying first division players, eventually that is where you will end up and having watched Sunderland play four times this season that maxim is looking ominous for Keane and the Black Cats.

But what about United and their lack of goals? Against Sunderland in the first half especially the reds looked fairly clueless at times. Scholes, Wes Brown and new boy Anderson didn't play well at all. United were all too often guilty wasting possession and with no recognised striker up front the reds never looked like breaking down the Sunderland back four.

In midfield the reds had control but time and time again they couldn't find a way through. At half-time Louis Saha was introduced when he replaced the largely ineffective Anderson and straight away United looked more dangerous going forward. Saha brought about the save of the day, when he controlled the ball, turned and shot in one movement which resulted in a fine save from the excellent Gordon.

The goal eventually came from a set-piece when Saha headed a corner home to end Sunderland's stern resistance. However, in all honesty while the Reds can claim to have had the lions share of possession, they didn't test Gordon enough and Sunderland where comfortable all afternoon, which should be of concern to Fergie as the Black Cats are going to take some beatings on their travels this season.

Going off Roy Keane's reaction throughout the game, he looks to have lost that thin veneer of early season calmness and the old rage was all too often self-evident. If Keane is going to last the season he will have to learn to how to deal with the pressure of being a manager. Right now the signs do not good for Sunderland or the Irishman.

As for the remainder of United's season, once again Hargreaves looked very good and Nani is settling in well. Tevez is largely playing from memory, he badly needs resting and perhaps now that Saha is back the Reds will give the Argentine a break.

The good news is that Ronaldo will soon be back and Rooney wont be far behind him, perhaps then we will see the real United. Let us hope that we don't lose sight of Liverpool who are looking ominously good as I predicted they would be on this blog before the season start.