Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jip Jaap Stam calls it a day and leaves United fans with fond memories...

Former United great, Jaap Stam, now of Ajax, called a press conference on Monday and announced his retirement from football at the age of 35. The big Dutchman says his lack of commitment and physical problems have led to the decision.

Those who witnessed his United career will find that hard to believe.

Jaap Stam signed for United in 1998 from PSV Eindhoven for a record fee for a defender, €17 Million (£11 Million) after we had surrendered the previous title to a late season surge by Arsenal.

For those who didn’t have the pleasure of seeing Stam play in a United shirt, let me use an analogy. Imagine a combination of our two current centre-backs, Ferdinand and Vidic. The undoubted skills and flair of Rio, the willingness to play your way out of trouble along with the toughness and mettle of Nemanja. The no-nonsense approach and readiness to hoof the ball into Row-Z if the need arises, but most of all, the enthusiasm of which both show in abundance (especially, this season). Jaap Stam was all these plus much, much more.

His first season with the Reds was the unforgettable Treble Season, of which he more than played his part and became a firm favourite with the fans. Stam played 49 games that season – 30 in the league – 6 in the FA Cup (he also came on as a substitute in the final) and all 13 European games. Incredibly, he only ever scored one goal for United (for those anoraks amongst us, Jamie Carragher has scored more goals for the Red Devils).

He played two more full seasons for United when, after playing in the Charity Shield and the first league game of the season, he was sensationally dropped by Sir Alex Ferguson. Then, a few days later, came the bombshell, quite out of the blue, we learned he’d been sold to Lazio.

Of course, the rumour mill sprang into action. The official version, was that it made good business sense to receive over £15 Million for a 29-year-old who had started to suffer with regular injuries. This appears to “add up” as United had just forked-out an astonishing £28 Million for the services of Juan Sebastian Veron.

Others, including myself, suggest that, for reasons best known to himself, Stam had criticised the Neville brothers in his autobiography and suggested that Fergie had encouraged players to dive, and possibly the final straw that Fergie had “tapped him up” before signing. As with the Whiteside/McGrath affair early on in Ferguson’s Old Trafford reign, the boss will not stand for anyone causing friction and disharmony in the dressing room.

Whatever the reason, he was history - the King is dead, Long Live the King - we signed Lauren Blanc – the football equivalent of selling a Ferrari and replacing it with an old Ford Capri (once stylish but now with poor bodywork and a knackered engine).

United had a poor season in the league, losing nine games and finishing third, 10 points behind champions Arsenal (although, had we won our penultimate game against them, we would have won the league had we won the last game versus Charlton). That season we also we succumbed to losing on away goals to Bayer Levekusen (the Middlesbrough of German football) in the Champions League Semi-finals, missing out on a Hampden Park final against Real Madrid (a game that I’ve dreamed of since being a schoolboy).

Of course United had to shell out a fortune to acquire Ferdinand to plug the gap left by Stam. We went on to reclaim the Championship.

Stam eventually left Lazio, after serving a five month ban after testing positive for the banned drug Nadrolone, and signed for AC Milan. He was part of the team that ended United’s Champions League hopes in the San Siro a few years ago. In January 2006 he signed for Ajax on a two year contract. He was immediately named as captain.

During his international career, he played 67 games for Holland scoring 3 goals (why only one for us?).

Most United fans will remember Jaap Stam as one of the greatest centre-backs the club has ever had. He was never sent-off for us and his intelligent defending allowed others to develop their game. Personally, I will always remember him for his gargantuan display against Inter Milan, both at home and away during our European campaign in 1999.

Whatever the true reasons behind his hasty and bizarre exit from Old Trafford, I’m certain all Red’s will wish Jaap all the best and thank him for his contribution to United’s cause in his, all too brief, United career.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ronaldo's bold prediction while Gary Neville is set to return...

We are not yet out of October and already Cristiano Ronaldo is predicting that United will retain the Premier League title and that the reds will go on to become the Champions of Europe for the third time. There's no doubting that United could go on to fulfil both predictions, but in order to do so Fergie will need a fair bit of luck in avoiding injuries to key players.

It wasn't so long ago that the Reds were deprived of all of their first-choice central defenders due to injury. Saha is another who seems to be almost permanently on the treatment table.

Those will elephant like memories will no doubt be able to recall former United striker 'Pancho Pearson' who always seemed to sustain hamstring injuries - though it's doubtful that Saha will ever be a massive fans favourite as the former Reds number nine was back in Tommy Doc's days as United manager. We will settle for the Frenchman being fit and available for the remainder of the campaign, because make no mistake we will need him.

On the subject of forwards, I mentioned earlier on in the week that Fergie must be planning to sign a new striker, not least because Ole has had to sadly call it a day. Anelka's name keeps on cropping up in reports, but with Bolton in such a dire state, it makes you wonder if they'd allow him to leave in January. There is of course the added problem that whoever Fergie signs will have to be available for the Champions League, Anelka has played in Europe this season already and wouldn't that make him cup-tied?

How about pushing out the boat by making Sunderland an offer that the Black-Cats cannot refuse for Kenwyne Jones? He is the nearest thing that I've seen to Drogba. His powerful style would give United a different option to the subtle inter-play that we're currently enjoying between Rooney and Tevez.

It's doubtful that Sunderland would allow the Trinidad and Tobago star to leave under any circumstances, given that he alone will more or less guarantee the club's safety in the top flight. Make no mistake though, Jones is going to be very hot property and so it is only a matter of time before stories linking him to the big four clubs start to make the back pages. Don't rule out United trying to broker some sort of player plus cash deal. Keane remains a big fan of young Reds defender Jonny Evans and there's talk of him going back on loan to Sunderland, United also have fringe midfield players like Fletcher and so just maybe there's a deal to be done for Jones.

Regarding Ronaldo's bold prediction, Owen Hargreaves is another key player and if he can keep fit, he could quickly form an excellent central midfield partnership with the hugely impressive Anderson in the Red Devils engine-room. United currently have Park and Scholes out injured and the latter is still obviously a hugely influential star, but of course the injury to the 'Ginger Prince' has given opportunities to Anderson and the returning Hargreaves to gel to together - so it isn't all bad.

Meanwhile there's some great news to report on our very own 'shop steward' one Gary Neville who has been out injured since last season. Despite Gary being out for so long, no other United player has laid claim to his place in the team, but Wes Brown has been doing an excellent job of late, so it looks like Neville's right-back slot is still very much his own if he can stay fit.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Liverpool fans no longer laughing about United's debt mountain..

When Manchester United were taken over against the best wishes of the supporters and the old PLC board by the Glazer family, Liverpool fans were among the first to ram home the 'USA, USA, USA' chants. The gloating soon stopped when the Liverpool fans learnt that their club would also be taken over by American owners.

However, the Liverpool Reds new custodians weren't a bit like the Glazers', that much soon became clear. For one thing the Glazers' don't do PR, they do not believe in dialogue with the fans and paying customers. This alienated them from the start and did nothing to dispel the fears that United's new owners had anything but self-interest at heart behind their decision to push through what was effectively a hostile takeover of the club. As a result of the change of ownership United are now massively in hock to the banks.

The Liverpool Reds were given assurances that the new owners weren't going to make the same mistakes as the Glazers'. It has to be said, Tom Hicks and George Gillett have done a fantastic PR job because they were welcomed with open arms by the old LFC board and fans alike. This was in marked contrast to what happened down the East Lancs Road at United.

Not only that, but the Liverpool fans were led to believe that the club wouldn't end up massively in hock to the banks like United, because funding would come largely from the new owners own pockets. On top of which tickets for the new stadium would be priced for 'all pockets' - again this was in marked contrast to what is going on at United where the fans have been on the wrong end of huge price-hikes.

So far, so good, perhaps too good? Doesn't it all sound a bit like a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale made up for the children? Because now it has emerged that the new owners have been negotiating a refinancing package with US bank Wachovia to fund escalating costs for their new stadium as Tom Hicks confirmed: "The new financing deal will be completed in the next 30 days." The talk is that Liverpool will be saddled with United like debts of £500m.

You do wonder what the old Liverpool board are now thinking about their decision to sell-out to the new owners. At least at United it was made clear that the Glazers' were not welcome.

Refinancing can often be the sensible thing to do in business, but Liverpool fans are now rightly concerned that the original personal debts of the American duo are about to be transferred onto the club. As ever the devil will be in the detail and time will tell exactly what lies ahead for the Liverpool Reds and their new owners.

Arsenal's Peter Hill-Wood has recently made it clear that this new breed of owner investors are not welcome at his club, personally I hope that the Gunners don't follow the path that Liverpool and United taken.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Transition from the class of '92 nears its conclusion, but is the jigsaw complete?...

Perhaps Fergie's greatest achievement at Manchester United has been his ability to create great new teams. All the very best managers down the years have had this ability.

Matt Busby had it at United, he created three great sides. Busby was appointed as manager of the club in 1945, the Reds had no ground due to Old Trafford being bombed in the war. Home games were played at rivals Man City's Maine Road, but like a phoenix rising from the ashes the Red Devils won the FA Cup in 1948 and then a after an incredible forty one year wait they secured the league title in 1952.

Busby's second great team, the famous Busby Babes, won the league title in '56 and '57, but the heart of that side was ripped out in the Munich air disaster in 1958. So once again Busby had to go back to the drawing board and this time he came up with the holy trinity of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and 'the boy from Belfast' Georgie Best to create arguably United's greatest ever side who finally went on to lift the European Cup in style in 1968.

Bill Shankly at Liverpool had the ability to recreate greatness. Arsene Wenger has done it with Arsenal and now many Reds will be thinking that Fergie could now be on the verge of creating his third great team, some fans even say it could be his fourth, because the historic treble-winning side of 1999 was a very different team to that which helped secure the double-double in 1995-'96.

What isn't in doubt is the fact that the class of '92, who've been at the centre core of the manager's first team for over a decade and includes current stars such as Paul Scholes and Gary Neville are very much on the way out - you can add the name of Ryan Giggs, but he has been an ever-present during Fergie's reign at the club - which in itself is quite remarkable.

This ability to transform and recreate and at the same time keep on winning on the pitch really is something special and perhaps only after Fergie spits out his final piece of match-day chewing-gum and brings down the curtain on his time at United will we the fans really appreciate what he's achieved at the club.

For the most part, Fergie's reign at United has been about evolution rather than revolution, but back in the summer of '95 it was most definitely a case of revolution with players such as massive fans favourites Paul Ince, Andre Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes all being sold on.

News of the moves sent shockwaves round the football world. One Sunday tabloid printed a graphic of a shattered light bulb and a fragmented club crest together with the headline of 'Will the last one out turn out the lights'. Personally, at the time I thought our glorious leader had really lost the plot.

But Fergie had a bold plan that centred on the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the likes of the Neville Brothers and Nicky Butt. This group of players had become known as 'Fergie's Fledglings' and it didn't start too well for them on the opening day of the new season in '95-'96 when despite putting on a great show they went on to lose 3-1 against Aston Villa. That season ended, like many others under the stewardship of Fergie, in glory, as the Reds secured their second league and cup double and in doing so, pundit Alan Hansen was made to eat his words after he'd famously said 'you win nothing with kids'.

However, since the summer revolution of '95-96, by and large, it has been a case of transition, this has largely been possible because Fergie has been able to rely upon those former Fledglings while at the same time bringing in new players and easing out those who were deemed surplus to requirements.

There has been controversial moves, perhaps none bigger than the sale of Japp Stam to Lazio in '2001-'02. That particular transfer turned out to be an unmitigated disaster and eventually cost United £30m to put right when they acquired Rio Ferdinand.

Move forward to 'Red October' 2007 and Fergie's latest incarnation has scored four goals in four games, which equals a club record that stretches back to '1907-'1908. Once again the critics who just a few weeks ago were asking questions about the manager have been proven wrong as the Reds are now lording it over the rest of the Premier League, if only until Arsenal face Liverpool later in the day.

So how good can this current team eventually be? That is question that will be answered in the weeks ahead. Some will argue that United still need to add at least two new players before the jigsaw is complete. A new striker must be in Fergie's plans and maybe a new right-back too. Interestingly, yesterday the Reds were linked with another Bayern Munich star in the form veteran defender Willie Sagnol, that could be just newspaper talk, but United do need to find a long-term replacement for Gary Neville.

What looks to be beyond doubt is that the manager has bought well over the summer with the likes of Tevez, Anderson, Nani and Hargreaves all looking like United players who will help to ensure that the best attacking traditions of United are guaranteed for the future while the transition from the class of '92 comes to its glorious conclusion.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Prospect of mouth-watering fireworks display against Arsenal looms large..

United equalled a club record today when they trounced 'Boro 4-1 at Old Trafford, it's only second time in the Reds history that they've scored four goals or more in succession, the last time was season 1907-08. The questions about United's early season goal drought seem like a distant memory now and from languishing near the foot of the table just a few weeks ago, Fergie's side sit once again proudly at the top of the league, if only for 24 hours as next weekend's challenger's Arsenal prepare to meet Liverpool.

The media and fans alike will of course now be eagerly looking forward to the clash with the early season league leaders at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners have a young team and look to be getting better by the week, but like United they've not had it all their own way in the season's early exchanges. Against Sunderland recently, the Gunners didn't look too clever at the back and Roy Keane will believe that his side deserved at least a point that day. They had their moments of fortune against Man City too in another game that Wenger's side didn't really deserve to win.

However, both United and Arsenal look to be right on song now and with no midweek game for the Red Devils after being dumped out of the Carling Cup, Fergie now has to decide who will stand down to make way for fit again Owen Hargreaves who despite the Reds return to goalscoring form of late is very much needed in that engine-room.

Against Dynamo Kiev in midweek United were pretty impressive going forward, albeit against a side seemingly intent on self-destruction by allowing the visitors too much time and space, but at times Fergie's side looked venerable to the counter-attack and that is why the return of the former Bayern star is much welcomed. Hopefully he will close the door in the face of the opposition should the Reds lose the ball going forward.

Anderson is another new player who has already shown what he is capable of, the Brazilian has been outstanding in this last few games. Perhaps the biggest compliment anyone can pay the little man is that we wont miss the injured Paul Scholes. Some fans now believe that Anderson and Hargreaves should be paired together in the centre of midfield, this is what many supporters see as Fergie's long-term engine-room. The idea certainly has merit as Anderson and Hargreaves can tackle, pass, and score goals and they both get up and down the park better than just about any other players in the squad.

Arsene Wenger has his own box-of-tricks in the form of Fabregas, who already is looking like a stronger runner in the player-of-the-year stakes. The Arsenal manager has and his team will fancy their chances of putting one over Fergie.

For their part United supporters will be no doubt be hoping that Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez & Co have saved a few tricks and treats for Wenger's team, and the prospect of putting on an extra special display against the Arsenal in the capital is indeed a mouth-watering prospect.

Fergie, who still relishes every opportunity to rub Wenger's nose in it, will no doubt already be plotting to bring down the Gunners and make no mistake he's got the munitions to do the job. One thing we can be sure of is that there will be fireworks on and off the pitch in North London next weekend.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Reds shine against Kiev but Anderson is the brightest star...

United went into their Champions League game with Dynamo Kiev knowing that victory would more or less secure their place in the knockout stages of the competition. Paul Scholes missed the game due to sustaining a knee injury and Patrice Evra pulled a muscle in the pre-match warm up.

Despite hinting that he would return at the weekend, Owen Hargreaves didn't figure in Fergie's squad for a game that turned out to be something of a walk in the park. For their part Dynamo looked demoralised and out of sorts, they have already sacked one manager this season, and going off Kiev's performance against United it wont be the last.

The hosts afforded the visitors time and space and when you do that against players of the quality of United then eventually you will pay the price and that is precisely what happened with the Reds rattling in three goals before half time.

It was all very nice to watch, Ronaldo's header in the first half was the pick of the United goals, it came after Giggs evaded the attentions of two defenders to pick out the footballer of the year who scored with a towering and well timed header which left the keeper helplessly rooted to his goal-line.

Before that Ronaldo goal, United had raced into a two-nil lead courtesy of another headed goal by Rio Ferdinand on eight minutes from another cross by Giggs, then Wazza Rooney doubled United's lead on 18 minutes with a tap-in, which had a hint of offside about it.

Just when we Reds looked like they'd take full advantage of Kiev's generosity, United's back four were found wanting from a corner when John O'Shea totally lost Rincon who scored with a well timed header on 33 minutes.

The Kiev goal did not stem the flow of United attacks with Anderson in particular standing out as the Reds star performer. The little Brazilian was popping up all over the field, one minute he was defending deep and running the ball to safety, the next he was supporting the attack and spraying passes to the front three. The former Porto star very nearly scored himself - if he had it would have been richly deserved for a man of the match winning performance.

Ronaldo effectively killed the game off on 68 minutes from the penalty-spot before Bangoura scored a late consolation goal from distance.

The partnership of Rooney and Tevez looks better by the game and Ronaldo is starting to spark and United have Hargreaves, Carrick and Saha to call upon. All of a sudden things are really looking good for the Reds, the questions about why the goals had dried up have all been forgotten with Fergie's side finding their attacking collective stride, in short normal service has been resumed.

Paul Scholes is a new injury concern, but United do have cover and so even if he's out for a few weeks, his loss wont be too much of a setback.

On this form it will take a very good team to knock United out of Europe and some Reds are already genuinely talking about making plans for Moscow next May.

Final score Kiev 2-4 United

Fergie to make few changes for Kiev...

United, leaders of Champions League Group F are set to take on Dynamo Kiev in the Ukrainian capital. If the Reds can win this one, then they will have gone a long way to securing a place in the knockout stages of the competition.

The latest team news is that Louis Saha is out along with long term injury victim Gary Neville, but apart from that the Reds are pretty much at full strength. The manager has ruled out wholesale changes and has confirmed that Vidic and Ronaldo are likely to start. Pique will stand down as the Serb defender returns to play alongside Rio Ferdinand, Fergie then has to decide who makes way for Ronaldo, take your pick from Nani, or Giggs. It also means that Owen Hargreaves is likely to be on the bench.

Meanwhile there has been overnight reports of trouble in Kiev on the eve of United's clash with Dynamo. At least one United fan has been hospitalised after two bars were reportedly wrecked by Kiev supporters.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Kenwyne Jones to save Keano's bacon...

Rookie Sunderland manager and Reds legend Roy Keane eventually went on to spend an eye-watering £32m in the summer transfer window and until he pinched Trinidadian star Kenwyne Jones from Southampton, it looked for all the world that the Black Cats were going to be pretty much down among the Premier League dead-men as the season went on.

You wouldn't normally use the term 'pinched' given that Keane had spent £6m on a striker from the Championship, but the impact Jones has made in short order has been nothing short of spectacular and comparisons with Didier Drogba are now being made. It is a fair comparison too.

Jones is big, strong, immense in the air and he looks like the real deal. So much so that when and not if, Sunderland are asked about his availability the asking price will be at least triple what the Black Cats shelled out to buy him. Providing Jones avoids injury, he alone will virtually guarantee Sunderland's place in the big league this season - because without him, they will struggle in front of goal.

Questions about Keane's apparent transformation from the player that was at times the Devil incarnate to Father Ted are being asked - exactly what has brought about this transformation? On Sunday against the Hammers we were given a rather large clue. Keane's team didn't get what they deserved against West Ham, they ended up on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline, all the while the Irishman remained a picture of calmness apart from the roll of his shark-like dead eyes when the home team scored after his back four didn't clear their lines. But on the upside Keano knows that he's unearthed a real gem in Jones who once again scored a majestic goal and that is why he can knowingly take defeat on his grey chin. Sunderland will be ok this season, they will stay up largely, thanks to the big man up front.

I'd like to see Jones end up at United where once we had the pleasure of watching another star from Trinidad, one Dwight Yorke. Happy days.

Will Fergie tinker against Kiev?

I think it was Graham Souness who said recently that Fergie didn't actually know what his best team is currently. I agree. The thing is, Anderson, who in truth none of us were that sure about following his first couple of games for the Reds has really impressed in his last two outings. So much so that Fergie now has a fair degree of head scratching to sort out regarding exactly who will make the starting line-up when the Reds take on Dynamo Kiev in a game whereby United can virtually finish off the job of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League on Tuesday night in Kiev.

Hargreaves could be back in contention for a starting place and it would be completely in keeping with Fergie's record of tinkering if the former Bayern star was restored to shore-up the midfield, because if there is a weakness in the side that thrashed Villa on Saturday night, it is that we didn't have a defensive holding player on duty.

There is an argument which suggests that Anderson needs to retain his place in the side to help build his confidence, and this will be in the manager's thoughts when weighing up what is best for the team and the player.

Another consideration will be whether to select Nani or Giggs, both had a hand in Saturday's goals. The former Sporting winger, supplied the ball for Rooney to equalise and Giggs scored late on aided by two deflections before Stuart Taylor palmed the ball into the top corner for what was a very scrappy goal.

In truth, there's not a lot to choose between Nani or Giggs, the latter showed early promise in his first few games but of late he has been wasting possession. You can say pretty much the same of Giggs.

Over the weekend Opta revealed some startling stats about the passing accuracy of both Tevez and Rooney, the pair of them barely wasted a ball during that victory at Villa Park. In sharp contrast, especially Giggs was poor in this respect. His Opta stats would surely have made for grim reading.

Perhaps Fergie will start the game in Kiev with both Hargreaves and Anderson and then bench both Nani and Giggs. As we have seen in the past and especially in Europe, you need to retain possession of the ball and certainly if I were in charge this is an option that I would consider. Fergie might well ask Anderson to raid down United's left flank, with Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo up front in a 4-3-3 formation.

Mark Clattenburg must be 'rested' following Merseyside derby horror show...

How bad was Mark Clattenburg's refereeing performance in the Merseyside derby? Appalling I'd have to say. It was only a few weeks ago that Rob Styles was dropped following the award of a controversial penalty to Chelsea at Anfield, when Steven Finnan was harshly adjudged to have brought down Malouda inside the Liverpool penalty area.

In that game Styles had a real stinker, he appeared to book Michael Essien twice, but then stepped back from giving the second yellow card, there was yet even more controversy surrounding John Terry.

Liverpool would no doubt come out with the old adage that over a season luck evens itself out and there is an element of truth in that when you compare what happened in both the Merseyside derby and the draw with Chelsea.

But what about the referee? Surely Clattenburg cannot get away with such an inept performance? The second Everton penalty appeal for the foul on Joeleon Lescott was so blatant it beggars belief that the referee did not see it, he did clearly see it, but for some reason he didn't give the decision. Carragher's foul wouldn't have been out of place in the wrestling ring.

There was other huge moments on controversy. Take for example Kuyt's kung fu lunge on Phil Neville. Everton eventually finished the game with just nine men, but if Clattenburg had applied the letter of the law Kuyt would have been off and then that would have changed the whole complexion of the game.

I'm not one who advocates interfeering with the rules of the game by introducing stop-start video-replays, because it is an imperfect sport and that is part of its beauty. But when the referee has such a howler as Clattenburg did at the weekend, then like Styles before him, he should be dropped, if only to reflect on what was a real stinker of a performance.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Reds stage comeback to thrash Villa...

United were in action this evening when they took on the much improved Aston Villa and they needed to win after Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea all won their games earlier in the day.

Vidic was absent from the Reds starting line-up along with Ronaldo, Saha and Hargreaves. Brazilian Anderson was selected alongside the ginger prince Paul Scholes in the centre of midfield while Nani and Giggs were deployed on the flanks, up front the gruesome twosome of Tevez and Rooney were paired together.

Villa started the game well and had United in trouble early in the opening period and went ahead with a hugely controversial header from a corner when Gabriel Agbonlahor opened the scoring, however the home side clearly had a player who was offside, but the linesman and referee Rob Styles gave the goal. Not long after, Villa had another good chance to score but this time the ball ran to safety after Laursen failed to connect, if he had he would have almost certainly have made it two-nil.

From that point on United took complete control with Tevez and Rooney linking up superbly and in midfield Anderson also looked at home again alongside Scholes in the Reds engine room.

The equaliser finally came about when Nani found Rooney at the far post after he ghosted in unnoticed behind the Villa back four, it was a simple but a very good goal. The Reds took the lead when Tevez threaded a quick ball into Rooney who wasted no time in despatching his shot beyond Carson. Just before the break United made it three-one when Pique's guided header was only partially cleared the ball only for it to fall at the feet of Rio Ferdinand whose shot found the back of the net after it first bounced up off the turf.

The second period started like the first with the visitors in complete control. United had Villa on the rack almost constantly as they ratched up the pressure, but despite opening up Martin O'Niell' side they couldn't finish them off.

Midway through that second period Nigel Reo-Coker received his marching orders after he collected his second yellow card, harshly in the view of the Villa manager who was left clutching at straws in his post-match interview.

Six minutes later Carson also went for an early bath after bringing down Tevez inside the box. Rooney took the resulting spot-kick, but Stuart Taylor made what was a relatively easy save diving low to his right - it wasn't to be his last save as not longer after he denied Tevez when the Argentine should really have scored.

The fourth and finally goal had comedy written all over it, Giggs who hadn't had a good game, nipped in between two players inside the Villa box, his effort on goal was deflected twice before it beat stand-in keeper Taylor, the Welshman looked slightly embarrassed when he claimed the goal.

From then on it was just about Fergie giving players such as Ronaldo, Fletcher and O'Shea a run out as United ran down the clock.

Ferguson will be very pleased with the result and overall performance. In particular the manager will no doubt be drooling over the partnership of Tevez and Rooney which is really starting to blossom, likewise Anderson looked very good playing alongside Scholes.

The Reds are showing signs that they are really getting into the groove now after a somewhat surprising low-scoring start to the season.

Man of the match Tevez - bring on Kiev.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why Jose Mourinho is unlikely to work for England...

So following defeat against Russia it looks like England wont qualify for the 2008 Euro Championship Finals, let the recriminations begin.

Steven Gerrard has said 'blame me' for the defeat, for missing that sitter, boy wonder Micah Richards could have scored too, Paul Robinson is another who is taking stick, the list goes on.

Somewhat predictably manager Steve McClaren is the man who is really feeling the heat, and so it goes.

The sad fact is that the FA do not decide when it's time to replace the manager, that's the job of the media. They hound-out managers, exactly as they did with Sven and countless others down the years.

The FA's job is largely one of admin, they write letters and sign the huge pay-off cheques (using the fans money) when another one bites the dust. The FA are mostly pathetic and pitifully weak and so they will do what the media tells them to do.

So what is likely to happen now, somewhat predictably, out-of-work media-darling, Jose Mourinho is now being touted by the press as a replacement for Steve McClaren.

Love him or hate him, Mourinho isn't unlike former Forest legend Brian Clough, he too was linked with the England job once upon a time, but back then, as Clough himself later confirmed, the FA were frightened to death of giving him the job.

I have no doubt that the FA would indeed give Mourinho the job if he wants it, not because the FA have moved on from Clough's time, but again because the press are setting the agenda.

But assuming for one moment that Jose did take up the challenge, would he be right for England? There's no questioning his ability as a top manager, but he's never managed at international level with all the constraints that come with the job. You cannot dictate to players that you only see for a few weeks of the year, when you do have them you cannot manage them as you might at club level. International management is a whole new ball game.

Not only that Mourinho would bring in his own backroom team, there would be wholesale sackings, does the FA have the stomach for such a change? The England team would be run more or less exclusively by a de facto Portuguese regime. This sort of thing might be ok for the emerging football nations, but hell, didn't we invent the bloody game?

One might ask the question, does anyone including the FA actually care who runs the team as long as its successful?

I'm not convinced Mourinho and managing the England team would be match made in heaven. But if it did happen, Jose would at least be afforded a great deal more respect that previous managers such as Graham Taylor whose head was eventually transformed into a Turnip by The Sun's art desk, in today's edition of the paper McClaren's head has been copied and pasted into rugby ball.... And the FA listen to the press. The whole thing is a circus and a joke.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why it would be a crime to return to standing at football grounds...

For those among us that advocate the return of standing areas to football stadia, I have a message - you have either got a very bad memory or, worse still, a highly selective one.

From a supporter that can vividly remember standing at matches, in certain situations, was certainly no fun and, in many cases, downright dangerous. Do any Red's recall going to Derby's old ground, the baseball ground in the seventies? Thinking back, I'm glad to have got out alive.

One of my greatest moments of watching United (and there have been many) was an FA Cup 6th round replay against Wolves at Moleneux in 1976. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the South Bank at Moleneux was the largest standing area in the country at the time. United fans packed, sardine like, into every nook and cranny. It was a marvellous occasion with us coming back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 after extra time. Only retrospectively can I mention just how appallingly dangerous this situation was. Close on 20,000 celebrating Mancunians, falling over each other. It was so packed some had difficulty in getting back to their feet. Going to the toilet? forget it. By the time you'd have made it to the loo, it'd have been too late and forget about ever getting back on the terraces.

The last great "United we Stand Together" was in January 2001 at an FA Cup game at Fulham. They weren't in the premiership then and had no need to comply with the set rules. Yes, it was a great atmosphere and yes, I did enjoy the camaraderie. What can't be dismissed is that had anyone fallen over in this crowd, there would have been a concertina effect and Lord knows what would have happened to the "weakest link"?

Of course, the Hillsborough disaster was an extreme case. However most football fans, whilst disturbed by the disaster, were not in any way surprised. It was a case of when, not if. Incidentally, I've been in the Leppings Lane end when there was an even larger crowd - there go by the grace of God.

It took far too long for the football stadia of this country to reach this century with decent, safe facilities. It would be an absolute crime to go back to the dark-ages.


Do United fans want to see a return to standing areas in Premier League grounds?

The BBC recently commissioned an NOP survey on the state of English football. Among other things fans were asked whether or not they think match-tickets are too expensive, not surprisingly, 85% of respondents answered 'yes, tickets are too expensive'.

The BBC wanted to know if real football fans are being priced out of following their favourite club, and given that 85% of respondents said that 'yes tickets are too expensive' one might have assumed that many of those questioned may have been die-hard traditionalists, but think again because another question was 'Do you object to football fixtures being moved from the traditional Saturday 3pm kick-off? 32% - responded in the affirmative, but an incredible 62% - replied No.

The thing is, I am a traditionalist, I do not like all-seater stadiums. Yes, we all feel sorry for those who died at Hillsborough, but that disaster was entirely avoidable. The Taylor report that followed recommended all-seater stadiums. However much stadiums have improved and they have, the same chaotic policing and opening of gates could still result in another disaster even at an all-seater stadium and so I'd argue that policing outside football grounds is just as important as having adequate safety measures inside football grounds.

A case in point - 2007 Lille v United: An injured United fan being carried after the police and stewards allowed too many fans into the all-seater Stade Felix Bollaert - which is a modern ground that opened for the 1998 World Cup.

Safe standing in football grounds is a viable option as has been proven in Germany in the Bundesliga.

I would also like to see most games kicking-off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. Football was by tradition always played on a Saturday afternoon. Sunday was a day of rest, a day for family gatherings and dinner before the return to the full horror of work. Those traditions have been affected by TV schedules, as has family life in part due to those who run our national game.

I also don't not like the fact that working-class fans are being priced out of following United.

When I was a lad (and all of that) you were brought up to follow the team that your old man followed, and when you were old enough you went with him. Back then, and by then I mean in the 70s, you did not need a match-ticket, (unless it was an 'all-ticket match) you could decide to go to the match on a Saturday morning. Wonderful.

At that time season tickets were virtually unheard of, because for one thing you could not buy one - they were virtually priceless. That's unless someone died and you were lucky enough to be a relation, or a very close friend, and then you'd take up that season ticket, which is why not so long ago they reckoned that several thousand season ticket holders had in fact died, which was true.

United eventually cottoned to this, the club then held an amnesty for a short period so that the current holder of what had become a family heirloom could have the correct name printed on the season ticket.

Move the clock forward to the current situation, post the Glazer takeover, those season tickets that had always been expensive have now reached the point whereby many traditional fans can no longer afford to follow United at all. The option of just turning up before the game went out of the window a very long time ago, as has taking your son, unless you have serious spare cash.

Over the last few seasons there's been 'fears' that Premier League attendances have been falling which they have to a point, but the attendance figures at many clubs have been going up and down while at United the full house signs have been constant.

Yes, Old Trafford is full every home game, but it is no longer full of traditional fans, what's more many fans have been forced to buy tickets which they might not otherwise want. I refer to the controversial 'automatic cup scheme' which stipulates that you must, want them or not, buy tickets for all home games.

Those season tickets that were not so long ago family heirloooms can now be bought by any Johnny Come Lately, Tom, Dick or Harry. So in a nutshell, it may all appear to be rosy at United, that's if you are willing to conveniently forget about the club's massive debts, but scratch underneath the surface and many fans are very unhappy about what is happening to football and in particular at United.

So what hope is there for those fans like me who feel like dinosaurs, yearning for a return to standing on the terraces with your mates and for 3pm Saturday kick-offs? Sadly not a lot I fear.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Giggs gets new deal - now he must go out and prove he can still do it...

Even though Ryan Giggs performances for United have been a bit patchy this season, it's great to hear that the United winger has been given a one year extension to his current deal which will now run until 2009.

There cannot be many players at any level of football who have stayed at one club for over 20 years, but that is precisely what Giggsy has done. It's a remarkable story in an age where loyalty in football is virtually unheard of.

For me and no doubting many United fans the Welshman's finest moment came at Villa Park in that FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal in 1999. Whatever else Ryan does in the remainder of his United career we will never forget that magical mazy run which left virtually the whole of the Arsenal team on their collective knees after he smashed the ball passed the helpless David Seaman in goal, in doing so securing United's place in the FA Cup final. It was quite simply a brilliant run and one which ended with Giggsy revealing his full length chest-rug. Marvellous.

On that night United had come back from the dead to win with only 10 men against a very strong Arsenal team. There was many other crucial moments in that unique treble winning season, but for me that Giggs goal was the pick of the bunch.

What would we Reds give for Giggsy to do it all over again? Will anyone ever score a goal in such important circumstances again? I have my doubts on that one. (And before anyone writes in, I know that there's no more FA Cup semi-final replays)

It's likely that from now on we will be seeing less and less of the Welsham as players such as Tevez, Nani and Anderson start to find their feet at the club, and it will be a sad day when Giggs finally calls it a day. Before then Reds fans will be hoping that Giggs gets the chance to prove that he can still do it at the highest level for the remainder of his contract.

Men who play with odd-shaped balls and 'fans' who boo their own players...

This blog has temporarily fallen asleep during another unwelcome Premier League hiatus while International football and 'Rugger' takes centre stage. During the build-up to England's Euro Championship's Group match with Russia in Moscow there's been so little news to comment on that I've even been contemplating writing about those men with who play with odd-shaped balls, but then again maybe not...

So instead let us discuss what has become the ugly side of the beautiful game and specifically those so called 'fans' who boo players like Frank Lampard. He doesn't get booed by the Chelsea fans, but of late, whenever he's been selected for England a large vocal section of the numpties who follow England have been booing the midfielder every time he's gone near the ball. He's even been booed while warming up.

Booing your own players isn't anything new where England fans are concerned, the little Inglunders have a history of booing United players down the years. David Beckham, became a figure of hate for the mob after he was sent-off during the 1998 World Cup Finals, our so called gentlemen of the press didn't help matters when stirring up tensions. It was ever thus.

Beckham eventually won the hate mob over with his performances on the pitch for England and that is precisely what Lampard is going to have to do if the mindless booing is to stop.

Quite why Lampard gets booed and Steven Gerrard, another international under-achiever, does not is hard to understand.

I'll be glad when we get back to Premier League action perhaps then we will be able to forget about the boo-boys and those who play with odd-shaped balls for a while.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Belgrade fans having it large before derby...

Football has been largely sanitised in England due to the Taylor report that followed the Hillsbrough disaster, but the atmosphere in all-seater stadiums all too often leaves a lot to be desired and that is why I'd like to see a return to some standing areas in our big grounds.

Here's some amazing footage from the recent Belgrade derby, I'm not sure we should go this far.

The Alcatraz firm (or Gravediggers) having it large

Wonderkid swoop talk surfaces...

It's another quiet news day folks with it being an international weekend, so it comes as no surprise that The Sun is doing a spot of transfer kite flying with United supposedly set to splash out £7m for Patizan Belgrade's 17-year-old striker Stevan Jovetic. The Montenegro international has scored six goals for his club side this season.

Here's a question, supposing for one moment that this story is actually true, how come United always have to pay over the odds when signing players? Compare and contrast with Wegner at Arsenal, earlier this week he was linked with signing a brilliant young Spanish player, but the fee will reportedly be only £700,000.

Wenger is not only a brilliant manager, he's also an economist, he is the Gunners equivalent of a tight-fisted chancellor who spends club money like he'd no doubt spend his own - like a miser. Without his prudent buying and selling of players, it has been said by Peter Hill-Wood the Arsenal big-wig that Arsenal wouldn't have moved to the Emirates Stadium.

Strikers will always come at a premium price, but I cannot help feel that United's reputation precedes them when it comes to acting daft with the cheque book.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

When the sun goes down on our Empire...

Sir Alex Ferguson arguably the greatest football manager in the history of the game. He has brought consistently good football to the club, he has made legends and ultimately brought lots of silverware.

If you think about how short careers are in football and compared them to dog years, his time at Old Trafford has probably been around 80 years, a long time in the beautiful game. However, we all know that nothing lasts forever not even Sir Alex’s glorious reign and at some point it will end. I suspect that another Champions league trophy will bring a rather more abrupt end to his time as manager. This leads me to hope that someone with a shrewd eye is giving careful thought to his, hopefully, successful successor.

There have been calls for Fergie to go in the past, admittedly quiet calls from isolated corners. I for one have not been one of them. My opinion is based on loyalty and appreciation. For he has earned my respect, I will wait until he decides to go. It is not for me to turn against someone who has done so much to make me happy and frustrated.

Never the less plans must be made in preparation for that sad day. Who will be the successor to the throne? Well off the top of my head I can think of four possible runners.

I think the fans choice would have to be Roy Keane. However, Keano is a relative baby in the managerial world and although he has had a fantastic start to his career still needs to prove himself in the top flight.

I would like to see him stay in the premiership for a couple of seasons with Sunderland avoiding any relegation battles and preferably end up in the top half of the table. There is no doubt that he has some talent, how many could have took over the mantle at a struggling Sunderland with a points handicap and still gone on to get promotion in their first season as manager? He is definitely a vote from the heart.

Next on my list is probably the favourite and sensible choice, Mark Hughes. Another former legend at United but with a more experienced managerial pedigree than Keano. He has had a glittering and experienced football career to date both at home and abroad. He has experience at managing his country Wales and whilst doing so brought them right up through the football rankings.

The most important point to note is that he is doing a good job at Rovers and appears prepared to stay with the club and work at it. I want success at United to come from the foundations, from team building, over a period of time, so that it will last. I do not wish to see a quick fix solution like at Chelsea which is just a house of cards. So with this in mind Hughes has to be the thinking fans choice and is surely ahead in the polls.

My next choice and indeed my personal preference is probably a little controversial for some die-hard Reds however if Ferguson was to go unexpectedly tomorrow I think that there is one man who could fill the void immediately and with great success. The problem lies in the fact that he would probably never come. Nonetheless I think he deserves a mention.

Arsene Wenger. A man with a proven track record and with many of the desired characteristics mentioned so far. Loyal to his club, successful, his teams play great football, which is something that we at United expect and most importantly he has a fantastic eye for talent. Talent spotting is an area where I think he tops Fergy. Wenger in my opinion could walk into the Old Trafford job tomorrow and our success would continue unbroken.

The fourth candidate is a bit of a wild card and is only mentioned really due to the current state of play in club football. Jose Mourinho. Currently available and if I am honest I would enjoy the “up yours” to Chelsea his arrival would bring. But that is just the child in me and if I’m honest I have reservations about his longevity. As discussed we need someone who we can rely on through thick and thin. Someone who can guide us through bad times as well as good. I have no doubt that “the special one” has special talent but is he too temperamental for United? His style of football would be another concern, the fans at United expect football with flare. Would Jose just turn United into a Chelsea in Red? I also never quite forgave him for the way he talked about taking the Chelsea job just after the champions league final with Porto. Still in place at Chelsea was the manager at the time Ranieri, a good manager and a gentleman who deserved to be treated with more respect by both Chelsea and Mourinho.

One things for sure whoever the “heir apparent” is will depend as much on timing as anything. I would expect whoever lands the job to be around for a few years so not leaving opportunity for a queue to form. So will Keanos career just be ripening nicely say in two years if Sir Alex decides to go or will Hughes be having a bit of a relegation nightmare at Rovers?

Whoever it may be I hope that we the fans will be able to look forward to many more sunrises at the Theatre of Dreams. Long live the King!

Red Star Belgrade souvenir sold as controversy rages..

A Red Star Belgrade souvenir given to all United players at a banquet following the Busby Babes last game prior to the Munich air disaster has been sold at auction for over four times its reserve price for £4,100. The unknown seller who was given the souvenir as a 50th birtday present by his father, who it is claimed, found the it some four to six weeks later a quarter of a mile from the wreckage, says he is dismayed that some people have attacked his father over the sale.

Auctioneer William Andrews defended the sale, saying: "I am very happy with the history of the plate.

"The owner is a bit dismayed that people have attacked his father but it hasn't changed his outlook one bit.

"He is going to make a donation of a percentage of the sale of the plate either to a charity of Manchester United's choice or even to go to local schools so they can buy tickets for local school children to go round the Manchester United museum."

For their part United have said that they would have liked to have been offered the souvenir for display in the club museum.

Reds fans will be hoping that the msytery buyer at auction held at Ludlow Racecourse does the right thing and donates it to the club.

BBC news tv report from 1958 following the crash

Sold to the highest bidder.

Charlton upset at sale

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ronaldo writes off Chelsea...

Cristiano Ronaldo has been talking to the press again, prior to the recent Roma game he made the mistake of telling the press that an un-named Roma player had begged for mercy during last season's Old Trafford encounter when United hammered Roma 7-1. Perhaps not surprisingly he was given the elbow and a black-eye 24 hours later when the two sides met.

Today the United winger said that you cannot write-off Chelsea, but then he went on to do just that: "Chelsea without Mourinho, that's a completely different team.
"You can never write Chelsea off, but I have a feeling that this will not be a good season for them."

Ronaldo was talking to Austrian newspaper Heute.

Premier League players slow to get hand in pockets for Nurses

Premier League players and managers who were slow to agree to donate one day's pay for hard-up nurses are in the news again, because after eventually agreeing to the initiative some of them have been slow to cough-up. Those who haven't yet got their hands in their pockets haven't been named and shamed at this juncture and they have until December to pay up.

Full story

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

We want our Red Star Belgrade plaque back...

After close on forty years of supporting the Red's, it still amazes me how some Manchester City fans are so bitter and twisted where the subject of anything to do with United is concerned.

Take for instance the latest revelation that a plaque given to United by Red Star Belgrade at a banquet directly after the game in February 1958 has suddenly re-surfaced and is being auctioned.

This plaque disappeared after the fateful crash a day later. It is now up for auction, after, it would appear, one of the rescue team, a British Aid worker, "retrieved" the plaque from the smouldering wreckage, and for reasons best known to himself, decided to take it home and keep it hidden for 50 years.

After the understandable outrage from Old Trafford some blues have contacted the Manchester Evening News with their usual anti-United bile.

One City fan has written in claiming that United have "exploited" the crash for 50 years. Another one suggests that United want the plaque back so they can display it in the museum and profit from extra admission charges. Bizarrely, one even condones the auction and profiteering of a crime for the simple reason United are not a British owned club.

Let me retort. It doesn't matter if your team is owned by a family of introverted American businessmen, a Russian gangster or even a former prime minister of an Oriental backwater with a dodgy Human Rights record. Something of ours was stolen, it doesn't matter how long ago - we want it back.

What cannot be disputed is the fact that whoever the dispicable person was who stole the plaque they were guilty of one of the most heinous acts of looting. What would be made of a fireman who came into a house to extinguish a blaze and helped himself to a family airloom?

There is also no doubt about the real owners of the plaque - it belongs to
Manchester United and should be returned immediately. End of story.

I feel saddened that some of these City fans still refer to us as "Munich's" and chant obnoxious and disgraceful songs about the disaster at derby games. Have they no idea that one of their greatest ever players, Frank Swift, also perished in the 1958 Munich air-crash disaster?

It's a sad indictment of our society when, just because of the hatred born out of seething jealousy, some of these imbeciles have nurtured about our club, they actually take the time and effort to write (I'm also surprised that some of them can) to a newspaper condoning an abhorrent criminal act while having pathetic little digs at United.

Will they ever learn?


Wenger vision and the quota system...

The Times is engaging its readers on Arsene Wenger's appalling record when it comes to the low numbers of English players in the Arsenal squad.

This current debate comes on the back of Sepp Blatter's recent threat to take on the EU over the possible re-introduction of quotas regarding the numbers of foreign players who are allowed to play in national associations across Europe both in domestic and in UEFA competitions.

For the record, UEFA introduced their original 3+2 ruling in 1991, a system which allowed clubs to field three foreign stars, plus two 'assimilated' players. On top of which National associations throughout Europe had their own individual rulings in place pertaining to the numbers of foreign stars.

All of which was despite the fact that in 1973 the European Court of Justice had ruled against such impositions on the grounds that it was a restriction of freedom of movement against EU citizens. However, in 1995 the Bosman ruling changed everything and with that out went the illegal quota system. Roll the clock forward to 2007 and back to the debate about Blatter threatening to take on the EU in a bid to bring back player quotas.

The media have really laid into Blatter over this issue stating that it will not work. The much respected football pundit Gabriele Marcotti has presented some very interesting arguments against the quota system, he says that any re-introduction would affect Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Times columnist says that as things stand a young player might opt to play for Wales because he has a Welsh grandparent, but the same player might think twice if it limited his chances of playing in the Premier League, I personally doubt that.

Here's why, take the example of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. At this moment in time there's only one well known Welshman at any of those clubs, Ryan Giggs. However, look beyond the 'top four' clubs and you will find that most clubs still retain a reasonable core of British players. The point being that situation is hardly likely to be affected by any reintroduction of quotas. Quotas or not, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes would still have risen to the top. Quality will always shine through.

Arsenal though under Wenger are a big concern when it comes to the lack of English players in their squad. Granted they lost Ashley Cole and currently they have Walcott, but this isn't largely tokenism when compared to the squads of Chelsea, United, West Ham, Aston Villa, Manchester City and perhaps to lesser extent Liverpool.

One thing is certain if Manchester United did what Wenger has done at Arsenal there would be a national outcry. Every phone-in would be jammed with ABUs complaining at every juncture, every time England lost or dropped points, United would eventually be blamed. How come Wenger gets away with it, is it because Arsenal are not such a big club?

However, to blame Arsenal alone would be wrong, because other leading across Europe are also guilty of following Wenger's open door policy to foreign players at the expense of home grown talent.

Wenger says quality is the key when it comes to selection issues - few would argue here. However, the quality of young British players seems to be dropping and this is the real problem. All clubs need to do more to create the next David Beckham's and Steven Gerrard's and not less, which rightly or wrong is how Arsenal are perceived as a club right now.

Wenger is a great coach, but his record of producing and retaining home grown English players isn't something that he can be particularly proud of. The Frenchman has produced some decent young players like Blackburn's David Bentley and Chelsea's Steve Sidwell, but they've been edged out by Arsenal foreign imports.

If every other club in the Premier League followed Wenger's policy quite simply there wouldn't be an England team in five years time. This is why I personally believe that we do need quotas to maintain the long term integrity of the national associations across Europe, but rather than have the old 3+2 system there should be a minimum of three or four Englishmen in every Premier team including Arsenal.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Report claims Anderson is going back to Porto on loan...

A week is a very short time in the mad world of football, and just a few days ago many fans were asking questions about new £18m summer signing Anderson. The worry was that just perhaps Fergie had dropped another big transfer bollock, the spectre of Kleberson and Djemba Djemba must still haunt the United manager.

What led to the speculation was Anderson's lack of first team outings thus far. In the games prior Wigan on Saturday, the Brazilian had been barely used and when he was on duty, like on his league debut against Sunderland he just did not look the part.

In the week that followed a report in the Guardian claimed that Fergie had told his backroom team that it might be twelve months before Anderson was ready for the first team, whether or not that report was true, it was an incredulous claim, but one which only added to the debate about the Brazilian.

Coming on the back of a first-class display by Anderson against Wigan on Saturday, there's yet more speculation with the Sunday Mirror claiming that the player is unhappy and wants to return to his former club Porto on-loan because he's not been able to break into the first-team.

You do wonder if this is another case of tabloid mischief-making on one of those quiet Sunday's given that there was so few games on Saturday in the Premier League. It wouldn't be the first time that a tabloid newspaper has made something up and it certainly wont be the last.

Perhaps Fergie needs to read out the riot-act again to our 'gentlemen of the press' - don't they know the rules by now though?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Shell shocked Wigan blown away 4-0 as the Reds finally get into the groove...

The Red Devils went into this league fixture on the back of many in the media asking questions about the lack of goals so far this season. Ferguson had an overnight central midfield selection headache due to injuries to Hargreaves and Carrick, as if to compound matters Saha then picked up an injury prior to kick-off in the warm-up so he missed the game.

In the end Ferguson opted to start with John O'Shea in midfield. However early in the first half Vidic sustained a head injury after colliding with Paul Scharner who later had another similar clash of heads with Patrice Evra. After much discussion the United manager eventually took off Vidic and replaced him with O'Shea, with Anderson coming on to shore up the midfield alongside Scholes.

Not long after the reshuffle O'Shea picked up an injury and he too was taken off and replaced by Danny Simpson, with Gerard Pique who'd started at rightback moving to the centre of the defence with Rio Ferdinand.

The net result of the re-shuffle and all of the changes was that United who'd started the game brightly enough became a bit disjointed and with Wigan parking their proverbial pie stall on the edge of their penalty area in a bid not to get beaten heavily the first half ended without too much goal action, though the recalled and on the day much improved Ryan Giggs created one great chance for Tevez to score only for the Argentine's effort to be blocked.

The Reds also had a decent shout for a penalty turned down when Brown made no attempt to play the ball when bundling over Ronaldo early in the game but ref Mike Riley seemed to be giving the visitors a little too much benefit of the doubt on the decisions.

As an attacking force Wigan did not offer that much, but the visitors nearly had a great chance to score when Paul Scharner was found lurking beyond Evra at the far post from a raking crossfield ball, but the Frenchman atoned for his positional error by making an unbelievable last-ditch chest-high recovery tackle clearance.

The second period started much like the first with United starting to pass the ball about with plenty of control. Giggs hit the crossbar with a good effort after being found at the far post. New boy Anderson at last started to show us the fans exactly why Fergie had paid a kings ransom to acquire him.

The little Brazilian looked much more at home than in any of his previous, albeit limited appearances so far, his passing was quick and incisive and he hit both long and short accurate passes. When the former Porto star lost the ball, which wasn't often, he was quick to try and win it back and he was nearly always there when the Reds needed him when defending.

When the breakthrough finally came it was a goal of the highest quality. Rooney received the ball just over the halfway line and his quick pass inside found the on rushing Anderson who dissected the Wigan back four with a lovely ball down United's right which found the feet of Tevez who raced in behind a defender, the Argentine held off the attentions of two defenders before he rounded keeper Chris Kirkland, only then could he fire home into the corner. It really was a fabulous opening goal.

It wasn't long before Ronaldo made it two-nil, Ryan Giggs crossed the ball from a short corner only for Wigan defender to deflect a header goalwards, Kirkland saved it initially but Ronaldo pounced to score with relative ease at the far post.

The Reds were starting to look rampant and Anderson, Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo all scented blood as they upped the tempo in a bid to end any further questions about the Reds ability to score goals. Wigan for their part didn't have a lot to offer, apart from when substitute Valencia brought out the very best in stand-in keeper Tomas Kuszczak when he made a great one handed save diving low to his right and then pushing the ball to relative safety.

United kept the visitors on the rack and deservedly scored another well worked goal, this time defender Gerard Pique played a lovely ball down United's left flank for Rooney to run onto and in turn his cutback found Ronaldo who hammered home his shot giving the keeper no chance to make it three-nil.

Rooney who'd worked hard all game long finally got the goal that he deserved when fullback Danny Simpson's beautifully weighed cross found the England striker unmarked inside the box and the former Everton man's powerful bullet headed finish did not disappoint the adoring Stretford End.

Ferguson will be especially delighted with Anderson and Tevez who worked like Trojans and really started to look at home at the club. There was other big plus points, Pique and Simpson did very well too. The fans and the media will talk about the goals, but importantly now Fergie knows he has plenty of genuine options regarding his squad, because much has been made about the lack of quality strength in depth at United. The revisionists are going to be busy says I in the weeks that lie ahead.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Carrick injury leaves Ferguson with a selection headache..

Injuries to Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves have given Ferguson a massive selection dilemma ahead of the visit of Wigan Athletic on Saturday. The worry for the United manager is that Carrick could be out of action with a fractured elbow for up to six weeks. To compound matters for Fergie, Owen Hagreaves continues to be the source of frustration because of his run of niggling injuries. The net result is the Reds Devils have no recognised anchormen central midfield players to select from. Granted the manager can call upon John O'Shea, Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra or new boy Anderson. But none of that lot would appear to an obvious choice.

John O'Shea is a utility player, but his passing isn't of the highest quality and he can be slow on the turn. Giggs who has been axed of late due to his poor form isn't the right man to play in front of the back four, neither is Evra.

That leaves Anderson and the jury is very much out on him. No disrespect, but Ferguson should be selecting the Brazilian because if he cannot do it against Wigan, what hope is there for him? So for I hope Anderson does start the game because I want to see what he's made of and I want to see exactly why the club shelled out £18m to buy him.

Eureka! Has Blatter finally come up with a good idea?

The man who brought us the dreadful silver and golden goals and decided that players who take off their shirt after scoring a goal should be booked, to list just a few of his previous bad ideas has finally potentially come up with a good one. Though it isn't a new one or come to that original. The man from the land of cuckoo-clocks himself Sepp Blatter, the FIFA supremo, has decided that it's about time someone challenged European Union rules in a bid to impose a quota on foreign players within European teams.

Blatter says that too many foreigners is bad thing "When you have 11 foreigners in a team, this is not good for the development of football, for the education of young players, and there is a financial aspect, too."

No doubting Arsene Wenger had got wind of Blatter's forthcoming interview with the BBC earlier this week when he stated that quota's would be bad for the standard of the Premier League. He would say that wouldn't he?

Blatter clearly had the Gunners in mind when launching his verbal broadside, but Arsenal are by no means the only club in the UK who have fielded entire teams of foreigner players. It wasn't that long ago that the 'Old Firm' derby in Glasgow had no Scottish players' taking part. At that time the Scottish national team was very, very poor. The warning bells were ringing for the future of the Scottish game and big time.

Move forward to 2007 and things are very different with both Rangers and Celtic fielding British and Scottish players, their results have improved dramatically as have the fortune's of the Scottish national team.

There could be a big downside to the quota system though, if indeed it ever gets introduced. While it would be good for the long-term future of England, players playing in England from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will no doubt be treated as foreigners, which was the case back in the early 90s.

Back in 94/95 when playing in Europe there was quota system in place and against Barcelona it deprived the Reds of Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona for a game in the Nou Camp in which we were thumped 4-0. Many Reds blamed that defeat squarely on the three foreigner rule.

Now if Blatter intends to bring in this ruling for our domestic league's as well as European competitions, then players from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could lose out as they may well have a less of chance of breaking into say the first team of United.

The devil will as ever be in the detail concerning the numbers, but no doubting that the FA and Premier League will argue that British players should be treated as a special case.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Reds beat Roma, but Moscow final looks like a forlorn hope..

Manchester United came nowhere near producing the kind of football that destroyed Roma when they thrashed the Italians 7-1 in the Champions League last season, that was a one-off as we have been rightly told umpteen times going into last night's game.

Wayne Rooney won it for the Reds with a late second half pile-driver after Nani had found the England striker lurking on the edge of the Roma box, that was the most memorable moment in a game that didn't live up to expecations and one which was short of highlights and goal-mouth action as far as United were concerned.

United didn't seriously test the visitors keeper enough. Rooney had the Reds only other really meaningful effort on goal in first half when once again Nani was the provider, but Rooney's effort was high wide and not so handsome. The Portuguese winger also hit the crossbar with a second-half cross and Tevez hit a fizzing long-range low-rising drive from outside the box.

However, it had taken United 27 minutes to register a shot on goal, in a game that from the start looked like both teams would have settled for a draw. United had started the game well enough with a passage of crisp passing in the opening moments, but as the first half wore on the Reds became ragged with Scholes, Nani and Carrick all giving the ball away cheaply to Roma or else putting it directly out of play.

Scholes isn't looking anything like the player that we know he can be and he's playing too deep, often just a few yards in front of the back four. Carrick looks as though his confidence has been shaken by the arrival of Hargreaves and his subsequent benching, because his passing has been poor too.

Fergie had rung the changes going into the game, Giggs who has been awful in his last two outings was dropped in preference to Nani and Tevez was rested as Saha started.

Nani for his part did some things very well, but on other occasions he was sloppy when losing the ball in dangerours areas. Saha was starved of decent service and he also looked a bit rusty at times too.

Ronaldo was well marshalled by the Roma defence and so as an attacking force United did not function individually or collectively, apart Nani who managed to create two good openings for Rooney.

The visitors looked nothing special really, Totti spurned a decent second-half chance to score, but thankfully his lobbed effort sailed over the crossbar. Alberto Aquilani and Mauro Esposito had chances to score, the latter should have equalised late on but instead he blazed wide of Kuszczak's far post.

United had to hang on for the victory as Roma piled on the pressure, but in the end they just about deserved another 1-0 win. Going off recent performances United need to improve massively if they have any serious ambitions of reaching the final in Moscow next May.

Fergie doesn't seem to know what is best team is at present, too many players are playing well below their capabilities and this is not helping the manager one bit. The latest injury to Hargreaves who could be out for up to a month is a big blow because United desperately need him fit and firing in that engine room which is not functioning at present.

In perspective though, it would be wrong to ignore the positives which are that United are currently second in the league table, they are top of their Champions League group and they are not conceding goals and are winning - if not in the United way in terms of style. It would be all right for just about any other club to be getting 1-0 wins, but not United, such are expectations.

The Red Army would love to be making plans for Moscow, let us hope that doesn't turn out to be a forlorn hope.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Roma expects victory, but will they once again end up begging for the Reds mercy?

The time for talk is nearly over, as AS Roma are once again set to visit Old Trafford the battle scene of that fabulous 7-1 Champions League trouncing last season.

As ever we've had the usual pre-match hot-air emanating from both camps. From United we normally have Ryan Giggs or Gary Neville telling us the fans that this year the Reds will go all the way to the final, blah, blah, blah.

On the back of his woeful performances of late Giggsy is thankfully keeping schtum and of course our Gary has been out injured and so he too has more pressing things on his mind, like getting fit.

So it has been left to Ronaldo to put his big foot in it. On the eve of the game our Portuguese star has let be known that an unnamed Roma player 'begged for mercy' when pleading with him not to do any more fancy footwork, aka dribbling. You really could not make it up. It's not as if Roma needed any more of an incentive to wipe the bitter memory the last season's mauling is it? In true Basil Faulty style I guess we can forgive Ronaldo because he's from Portugal isn't he.

From Roma's perspective they too have been talking the talk, nothing out of the ordinary, Ludovic Giuly has said that his team-mates are looking for revenge.

United have injury concerns over Vidic, Brown and Hargreaves. I expect all three to start the game, call it a gut feeling. Van der Sar is out with a toe-injury.

Ahead of the game experts like Alan Hansen have been somewhat predictably telling us mere mortal fans that there will be no repeat of the same Old Trafford result. No exactly a difficult prediction that Al.

The only thing that I will predict with any degree of confidence is that when United visit Rome for the return leg of this double header is that the local police force will be just as useless as they nearly always are. Apparently AS Roma do not stop fans from entering the Stadio Olimpico with knives. Unbelievable, but true apparently.

Let us hope both games pass-off without too much trouble and that the emperor that is 'Ferguson the merciless' has cause to say that this was another of his greatest victories.