Friday, November 30, 2007

Striker boost for Reds....

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Could Keystone Cops defending cost Keane his job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ferguson pays price for tinkering...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

Kaka says Ronaldo should receive top award....

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

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

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

Vidic could miss Bolton game...

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Jonny Evans set for Sunderland?

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

United set to agree double deal....

Wes Brown and Patrice Evra could both be set to agree new deals, which is great news for the club and the players alike. Brown has been in superb form of late while filling-in for Gary Neville at right-back, the England man can of course also play in the centre of the defence and news of the reward of a contract extension which will keep him at the club for the next four years will be received well by United fans.

The same can be said of Patrice Evra's new five-year-deal which is reportedly worth £15m.
The Frenchman has done very well after a somewhat shakey started which left some fans questioning Fergie's decision to buy him, but having seen off the challenge off Heinze, Evra has become a fans favourite with his lung-bursting runs down the left-flank. The former Monaco and Nice player has had to work to cope with the physical side of the Premier League, but he looks very much at home now.

Fergie signed Evra and Vidic in the January '06 transfer window, which just goes to show that you can buy well in that period, though both players needed time to bed-in and those remaining months of the '05-'06 season must have helped enormously in that respect.

Beckham set to join Arsenal in bid to extend career..

A report in the Times claims that David Beckham is set to train with Arsenal in a bid to maintain his fitness over the winter, while at the same time the LA Galaxy star will be hoping that he can also help England qualify for Euro 2008 and in doing so further extend his England career. For that to happen, Israel have to do England a favour against Russia on Saturday night - a victory for Russia is likely to end Beckham's international career, the same can be said of manager Steve McClaren, his future is very much in the balance.

If Russia fail to win against Israel and England then go on to beat Croatia next week then Beckham is very much likely to be among McClaren's Euro 2008 finals squad. Reports claim that former Manchester Untied star has had offers to train with Watford, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal – who are all based near his home Beckingham Palace in Hertfordshire – the MLS close season, lasts until February.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Clinical United see off plucky Rovers - but is this really Fergie's best squad ever?

Blackburn came to Old Trafford on Sunday with a plan to stifle the Reds free-flowing football by getting stuck in, and for much of the opening period it looked like their plan might succeed as the visitors were marginally the better side. Samba's first half curling drive shaved the woodwork, but that was as close as Mark Hughes side came to scoring all afternoon.

Having overcome their early season lack of goals, United have been averaging four goals a game of late at Old Trafford, but minus injured Wayne Rooney who has been prolific, the questions most observers were asking was who would score the goals and how would the Reds cope without the England striker.

As expected Louis Saha started the game, but he had little impact, he played like a man who'd been the recipient of bad news, which he had as earlier on in the week Ferguson had confirmed to him what many - no doubt including the player already knew - that from now on, the Frenchman would be a substitute. Whether or not this was a wise decision is a mute point - don't all players need competition for places?

Fergie says that Louis took the news well. I find that very hard to believe personally. Apparently the manager explained his reasoning by saying it's because of his injuries. The thing is Saha has done well in his last two outings and has looked good when coming off the bench and has shown no signs of injury.

If Saha was sulking against Blackburn, Reds fans will be hoping that he soon snaps out of it, as Fergie's squad is going to be fully tested and strikers are of course thin on the ground.

Thankfully, the player of the season Ronaldo looks to be getting close to his lethal best in front of goal and he was the man who killed the game in the space of two first half minutes with a well taken brace.

The first was a towering header from an excellent Giggs corner from the left. Ronaldo's effort gave Friedal no chance as the American stopper was left helplessly rooted to his line as the ball powered into the top corner.

The second goal came from a typical United counter attack with the ball being moved quickly through midfield, Saha made his most telling contribution of the game when he played the ball to Tevez and the Argentine's incisive pass inside the box found Ronaldo who calmly slotted his second of the game which effectively ended the game as a contest.

Blackburn huffed and puffed, David Dunn got his marching orders for two yellow cards, much carping ensued, but those decisions had no bearing on the final outcome as there was no way back after Ronaldo's double salvo.

Once again Anderson and Hargreaves looked the part, they are working like Trojans in that engine room and Giggs had a very good game too, he looked like his old jinking self at times.

The back-four looks solid and so it comes and surprise to hear that the manager is today saying that this is his best ever squad. Others like me remain to be convinced about that statement.

In 1999 the Reds had four top strikers - that isn't the case right now. Added to which, and as good as good as the new midfield partnership is looking, isn't it a bit early to be suggesting that Hargreaves and Anderson are better than Keane and Scholes? Is Van der Sar really better than Schmeichel?

Whether or not he is being serious, one thing is for sure, if this squad starts slacking I'm fairly certain that the manager still has the fire in his belly. Fergie is still very much up for it and the players will know that too.

United 2-0 Blackburn

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The rise and rise of the quiet man Mark 'Sparky' Hughes...

Later today United take on Blackburn Rovers who never give the Reds an easy ride, it is a game that both teams will be desperate to win, the Reds only need to draw to go top of the table, albeit until Arsenal play at Reading on Monday night.

It is of course a Lancashire derby and there's no love between the two clubs or supporters, that is apart from the fact that one of our all time greats is their manager, none other than the Welsh Dragon and the man of iron that is Mark Hughes.

Like all true Red legends he always gets a great reception by the faithful, win, lose or draw, Hughes will leave Old Trafford today with his reputation and standing among the fans very much in tact, it could well be further enhanced as Blackburn are playing some decent football and proving difficult to beat (apart from in Europe).

There's talk that Sparky could eventually go on to replace Fergie. There's no doubting that the quiet man his doing an excellent job, whether or not the United board view Hughes as a potential candidate to replace Fergie is a good question. Certainly among the fans he'd be a popular choice. Perhaps his lack of experience in Europe as a manager might been seen as a potential barrier. Time will tell.

As far as today is concerned United fans will be hoping that Brad Friedel doesn't have another brilliant game as he usually does against the Reds.

Saha, the man who was earlier in the week told that he faces bench warming duty for much of the season, comes in to replace injured Wayne Rooney.

Fergie is likley to start with his strongest side which should see both Hargreaves and Anderson filling the two central midfield slots, with either Giggs or Nani playing wide left.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ferguson's top 21 clangers...

Fergie celebrated 21 years in charge of United on November 6th and earlier this week we highlighted our top 21 moments under his stewardship.

Here we present our top 21 Fergie clangers.

This assignment has been quite tough, largely because of the manager's superb record during this lengthy spell.

All lists are subjective and fellow United fans will have their opinions together your own version of the list. You might not agree with some of the players listed here, so as ever, send us your comments, together with your own views..

21 Signing David Bellion - He might be scoring goals now in France, but he
was never going to be a United player. An appalling error of judgement

20 Signing Djemba Djemba - So bad they named him twice

19 Sacking the club doctor. Mike Stone was well liked by everyone at United,
he even helped Fergie out of a tight spot in court over a possible driving
conviction by giving evidence in support of the manager, but he was shown
the door - many say that the fall-out was over the injury to Wayne Rooney and the speculation surrounding England and the striker's return date

18 Signing Kleberson - He probably wasn't given enough time at the club, but
he didn't do enough when chances came his way

17 Karel Poborský - Another one who didn't do enough to justify the faith shown in him by the manager

16 Signing Ralph Milne - Many Reds say that Ralph was United's worst ever player. Harsh?

15 Signing Masimo Taibi - He started badly and got worse

14 Signing Veron - An undoubted talent, but the player let himself down during much of his time at United. He has to be included in the list because ultimately he turned out to be a bad buy with United losing a fortune on the player.

13 Appointing his brother Martin as a scout

12 In 1995 Fergie publicly blasted fans group IMUSA who were campaigning for lower ticket prices. This was the first time Fergie would score an PR own goal with the United fans, but it wasn't to be his last

11 Publicly threatening to retire in 2001 which eventually affected the players performance on the pitch

10 Falling out with McManus and Magnier over a horse

9 The grey kit fiasco at Southampton when the manager said that the players
couldn't see other because of the colour of the strip and promptly made them
change at half time. The Reds still lost the game 3-1

8 Playing 4-5-1 at home in the Premier League against also-rans

7 Continually falling out with the BBC. All managers should face the cameras and speak to the fans. Fergie has had several run-ins with the corporation. The latest ban on the BBC concerns a documentary about football agents and one of Fergie's sons. The manager previously sued Match of The Day magazine after they'd published an article in which he was described as a bully. There was another ridiculous argument with the BBC when he stormed out of an interview after he had TOLD them not to ask questions about the sending-off of Roy Keane, John Motson received the famous hairdryer treatment that day and the interview came to an abrupt end after he'd enquired about the Irishman's record, it was the third time he'd been red carded at United

6 Losing to Porto in the Champions League quarter final and in doing so
leaving out Ronaldo of the first leg

5 Publicly supporting the Glazer family and then saying fans shouldn't expect
to have a say in the running of their club - which contradicted his earlier
support for fans group Shareholders United

4 Losing to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League semi-final

3 Putting down Brian Kidd in his autobiography - this was an act of betrayal
to a loyal servant of the club and a friend

2 Selling Jaap Stam and replacing him with Lauren Blanc

1 Consistently failing in Europe

Friday, November 09, 2007

As Berbatov to United talk reignites: Why it's unlikely to happen...

Oh dear, only 24 hours after Berbatov says that all the talk of him wanting to leave Spurs because he's unhappy is untrue and just when Spurs fans might have hoped that the issue has been put to bed for a few weeks, and then what do you know, his brother pipes up and says 'he's outgrown Spurs and wants to join Manchester United'. Is it a PR disaster, or is it part of a cunning plan on the part of the Bulgarian striker and his camp? Time will tell on that front.

The latest gossip doing the rounds about Spurs and Berbatov, is that he might have become unsettled due to competition for places. I find that scenario hard to believe, he's been around long enough to know that it's healthy to have players fighting for places in the starting eleven.

Expert pundit Graham Souness reacted to this theory by adding that if he eventually ends up at Manchester United, he will have plenty of competition for places. How true.

One thing is for sure, there's been too many stories about Berbatov appearing in the press about him being 'unhappy', it surely must be a case of no smoke without fire.

So what are the chances of him pitching at Old Trafford this January? Slim is my own view. Here's why. Ferguson for sure wants a new striker, but he's building a new team and the last thing he needs right now is someone who will want assurances about his place in the side. For one thing, the manager cannot give any guarantees with Rooney and Tevez clearly being his preferred strike partnership. That said, it didn't stop Fergie telling Alan Smith he'd only be used as a striker before signing, only for the former Leeds man to end up in midfield.

You could understand Berbatov expecting to have some sort of assurances about his probable place in the side, he's older and has more experience than Rooney and Tevez. However, Fergie may well prefer to sign someone who wont expect to start every game and be less demanding - it all adds to the pressure of management, only this week Fergie went public stating that he's finding it hard to leave out players like Fletcher.

That said, if Berbatov says that he would be willing to fight for his place, then there's a slim chance it might happen. However, Spurs have a fair record of pulling United's collective trousers down when it comes to transfer fees. After the Reds had completed the signing of Michael Carrick for silly money, sources close to Spurs let it be known that they'd have accepted a lot less, now that was really taking the p*** - it might have seemed funny at the time, but the stunt may have soured relations between the two clubs and it could lead to problems in further negotiations. So the transfer fee would be another potential stumbling block.

There's also the possibility that United might offer a player in exchange for the Bulgarian, Fergie might want shut of injury prone Saha, even Michael Carrick could be up for grabs with the summer signings of Hargreaves and Anderson. Though the arrival Ramos is surely more likely to lead to players from Spain or South America arriving at the Lane in January. So while the Red Devils might well prefer a player plus cash exchange, I think Ramos will have other ideas (that's assuming he's actually got a say on new players).

All in all and for the reasons outlined above, my gut feeling is that Berbatov will not be coming to United in the short term, not to play for the Reds at least at any rate. I do rate the Bulgarian though, his style is different to the likes of Tevez and Rooney. He would be a good signing if a deal could be done.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Is this the worst football merchandise ever ?

The suit pictured on the left has been lent to the Manchester City Museum by a fan, it was available in the mid to late 70s - you couldn’t make up the story.
It was originally owned by a fan called Ronnie Ashworth of Rochdale, he also bought a matching cardigan - the whole lot cost Ronnie £30

He then became a Man City bingo agent and used to go door-to-door in the suit selling bingo cards.

You could buy the suit from the City souvenir shop outside Maine Road, fans had the option of off-the-peg or made to measure.

The cost of sartorial elegance?!
Blazer £16.50
FLARED trousers £8
Cardigan £6.50
Tie: £1.65
Quote from Ronnie: "I couldn’t ask for anything more!"

Fergie's United career: Top 21 highlights...

This week Fergie celebrates 21 years in charge of the Red Devils. You either love him or loathe him, but his record of achievement speaks for itself.

Here we present our own top 21 Fergie highlights at United:

21 The decision to play the reserves/youth team in Carling Cup games (and then losing to Coventry – saving fans from having to fork-out for the much maligned Automatic Cup Scheme)

20 The selling of RVN, some Reds viewed this as a disaster at the time but it made the team revert to playing the style of football other clubs (are you reading this Chelsea?) can only dream of. Winning the title back as the ultimate bonus – in doing so, stopping Mourinho et al making it three in a row

19 Winning the Cup Winners Cup back in ’91 – after all the success since then, this victory rarely gets a mention now. However, back then it was a massive achievement and occasion – plus it got United firmly back on the European map

18 The signing of the “unknown” Ronaldo

17 Having the balls to introduce a bunch of "kids" in 1995/6 season (“You will win nothing with kids” – Alan Hansen)

16 Doing the double that same season (and rivals City going down) – does life get any sweeter?

15 The signing of Brian McClair – Not every Red’s favourite player but undoubtedly, the first United great goal-scorer since Denis Law. Also a loyal servant, still with the club

14 The dropping of Jim ‘Dracula’ Leighton, and restoring the late Les ‘The Cat’ Sealey. For Fergie it could well have been a case of it’s either him or me

13 His “winding up” of Kevin bloody Keegan which accumulated into the unforgettable outburst – still makes us snigger to this day

12 His comment on rivals Liverpool “My greatest achievement was knocking those bastards off their perch”

11 The signing of Peter Schmeichel, possibly United greatest ever ‘keeper

10 Standing his ground amidst controversy and selling McGrath and Whiteside, in doing so putting to an end the booze culture within the club

9 The signing of Denis Irwin, one of the great “unsung” heroes

8 The signing of St Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – enough said

7 The signing of Keano, perhaps the only possible replacement for Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson

6 The signing of Cantona - not only did this transform a good team into a great one, but it broke the hearts of rivals Leeds United too

5 Finally breaking free from the Albatross of not winning the league in 1992-‘93

4 Ignoring all the pleas from United fans to replace Giggs in the ’99 cup semi final replay with Arsenal – the rest is history

3 Changing United from a “nearly” team and national laughing stock into champions (and being nationally despised)

2 His (and Kiddo’s) celebrations when Bruce scored the injury time winner against Sheffield Wednesday - although there were still 5 games to go, no one in football was in any doubt that the title was coming back to Old Trafford after a 26 year wait

1 Of course, the treble season. Great players, unforgettable matches, superb team and ending up as Champions of Europe - magnificent

All lists are subjective, so send us your own list or views on the above.

We will be posting Fergie's 21 worst United moments later...

Pete Bug & James Ryddel

Chicken Kiev roasted....

Some say that Oleg 'The Horse' Luzhny is still mentally scarred from the six-goal thrashing that his former club Arsenal suffered on a visit to Old Trafford a few seasons ago. Others say that he was just plain chicken. They were among theories as to why the Dynamo Kiev manager left out his top goal-scorer and Rincon who scored in Kiev against United a couple of weeks ago. All we know is that United dished up another four goal feast and roasted Kiev again.

In truth despite the goals, it wasn't one of those memorable European Old Trafford nights. As Wayne Rooney later said 'it was a bit like a training session because Kiev hadn't come to play'.

Going into the game Fergie had said that there'd only be two to three changes, in point of fact he made five. At the back, out went Ferdinand and Brown, in came Gerard Pique - who opened the scoring from a first-half Ronaldo free-kick, which was firstly headed on by Michael Carrick who had been restored to midfield, the ball was then deflected onto the Spaniard who scored with a well directed header into the corner. Danny Simpson came in to replace Brown and he had a decent game, the highlight of his night was a second-half shot from which he nearly scored.

Darren Fletcher was restored to midfield and he worked hard without being outstanding, but it was that sort of night, United only had to do enough to easily beat a fairly down trodden looking Kiev side. Carlos Tevez made it two-nil before the half-time break when he linked up superbly with Rooney, the star-duo played a quick one-two which unlocked the visitors defence and the Argentine's finish gave the keeper no chance.

At half-time, Fergie felt so confident that he sent on Tomas Kuszczak, Van der Sar was apparently suffering with a toe injury. The second half was like the first, pretty much another walk in the park. The Reds extended their lead when Nani who'd replaced Giggs was found lurking wide on the right with an excellent ball by second half substitute Saha, the Portuguese winger played in a lovely dipping curving cross to the feet of Rooney who's stolen in unseen behind the visitors central defenders, Rooney rarely misses in these situations and he did not disappoint as he crashed home a fizzing drive to make it three-nil.

Ronaldo wasn't having the best of games, he looked to be fairly frustrated at times as players overlooked him when shooting instead of playing him in. Rooney was guilty on at least one occasion, but the player of the year got in on the scoring-act late on with a trademark run down the left flank, before cutting inside then outsmarting the full-back with one of his tricks which put him in on goal before finishing in style.

Fergie who has now been manager of United for 21 years cannot have had many easier European nights and many in the media are saying that it could the Reds year again.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

George Best the superstar and member of MENSA...

Not many people know that the boy from Belfast, the late and truly great George Best was at one time a member of MENSA. His sister Barbara has made the revelation in her book Our George which tells the inside story of living with her football mad brother who spent every spare moment of his time playing with the ball.

Best came to Manchester at the age of just 15, apparently he was so shy that his mum and dad had to take him to buy a pair of long trousers.

The book contains a wealth of previously unseen family photographs, documents and correspondence 'much of it, deeply poignant' between George and his family.

BBC interview with Barbara Best

United's kit-man Albert lays into news-man....

Albert Morgan, Manchester United's kit-man has reportedly laid into Stuart Mathieson, the Manchester Evening News journalist who covers the Red Devils. The incident took place after the 2-2 draw with Arsenal last weekend at the Emirates Stadium. Morgain has been quoted as saying he's no longer going to buy the newspaper because it is "full of f***ing city".

According to the Times and in response Mathieson told Albert that if the newspaper had more access to the players and the manager then United would be given more coverage.

Fergie is famous for handing out bans to the media and you wonder if the Manchester Evening News could be next.

Fergie seeks rule changes ahead of Kiev clash...

Ahead of United's home game with Dynamo Kiev, a game that should the Reds win will secure their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League, Fergie has spoken about his desire to have the rules changed with regards to the numbers of permitted substitutes. Currently the number is five and only three can be used, Fergie wants that number increased to seven.

To make his point and to explain his reasoning behind the proposed rule change, the United manager used the example of Darren Fletcher, who he says was 'fantastic' against Kiev when the two sides met recently, but last weekend against the Gunners there was no place for Scotland's captain, not even on the bench.

After nearly 21 years as United manager you'd have thought that maybe this sort of thing would be water off a duck's back, in all honesty it probably is and what the manager is doing by speaking out is appearing to show a degree of sympathy for his fellow countryman.

To be clear, the United manager is not asking to field more subs he just wants more players on the bench. So is there any likelihood of this this happening? I actually think Fergie's request will fall upon deaf ears, managers already have nearly half a team to choose from, so I do not see the Reds supremo receiving much support to increase the current number for the purpose of effectively massaging bruised ego's.

Assuming that the Reds put qualification to bed this evening at Old Trafford, Fergie will then have the opportunity to tinker in the remaining Group F games.

The United manager says that he will make two to three changes for the visit of Kiev, Michael Carrick could start, if that is so, expect either Hargreaves or Anderson to be rested. The other changes could see Saha and Nani coming in for Tevez and Giggs respectively.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fergie's verbal volley at Wenger and Benitez...we need compromise, not point scoring...

Fergie is at it again, he's stirring it up with rival managers Arsene Wenger of Arsenal and Liverpool's Rafa Benitez, and once again I find myself agreeing with the Knight of the Realm, who says that in principle, Sepp Blatter's proposal to introduce a player quota system is a good thing. Perhaps not surprisingly, few big names from the world of football and those in the media appear to publicly agree with Fergie and Blatter.

The fact of the matter is that anyone and everyone who has a view on the game has allegencies to one club or another, we are all fans of football. So it came as no surprise that many pundits responded negatively towards Blatter's latest big idea. Yet these are the very same people who go looking for answers when our national team fails.

Fergie says that Arsenal will shout the loudest on this thorny issue and he's right, they will. Wenger is a great manager, of that there's no doubt, without his brilliance, no way would the Gunners be playing at the gleaming Emirates stadium, which in the view of some United fans is now the very best in all the land.

The Frenchman is not only brilliant when it comes to finding new players, but he's also no fool when it comes to signing cheques and agreeing to pay over inflated transfer fees.

The Arsenal manager has few weaknesses, save for perhaps his record when it comes to developing young British stars.

Granted the Gunners do have a few former English players that are plying their trade in the Premier League, so it isn't all bad, but the feeling is that a club such as Arsenal should have more home grown English players.

On Benitez, well he's not been at Liverpool for as long as the Frenchman has been at Arsenal and so personally I think Fergie is being a tad harsh on the Spaniard. Fergie could have singled out Harry Redknapp or Sam Allardyce, but they are his mates...

My own view is that United, Arsenal and Liverpool need to do more when it comes to finding and developing young English or British players. Carping on and slagging each other off doesn't solve the problem.

In principle though, both Fergie and Blatter are right in what they are saying about the need to introduce a quota system.

The devil should be in the detail though, and in my view, clubs should be expected to field a minimum of at least three to four home grown stars. United suffered badly due to the old quota system when the manager had to leave out Cantona, Schmeichel and Kanchelskis in a game in which we were trounced by Barcelona 4-0 in 1994-'95. That was before the Bosman case which in part led to the current system.

Back in 1994 by definition a foreigner was anyone who is not eligible to play for the international side of the country in which the club team plays.

Five foreigners could be named on the teamsheet, so long as at least two of them are "assimilated".

An assimilated player would be a foreigner who has played club football in the country of the club iquestion for 5 years. At least three of those years must have been spent playing youth football.

What I'm proposing here would be a compromise whereby at least three to four home grown English players would have to be named on the teamsheet, there's a big difference to the old system which saw United destroyed in the Nou Camp in 1994-'95.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Why Fergie needs to sign a new striker....

There's no denying that the Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez partnership has proven the critics wrong, they said they were too similar and that it was unlikely to work, but so far, it has worked and well.

However, as we saw against Arsenal at the weekend, sometimes you need to change things and there's no denying that the introduction of Louis Saha made a difference and it led to United taking that second half lead, only for it to be tossed away at the death.

On Saturday it was Tevez who was replaced by Saha, the Frenchman is definitely good enough to hold down a regular place in the side if he's fit, and if the manager gives him a fair chance, but you cannot help but feel that Fergie has earmarked the former Fulham striker down to play a supporting role from the bench for the remainder of the season.

The question is, when the games come thick and fast and there's no time to recover from injuries - which seem to affect Saha almost all of the time - what happens then, with United only having three players for effectively two positions?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to sadly call it a day due to injury and of course Rossi was sold in the summer.

United fans and the manager are desperately hoping to win the league and the Champions League again this season, for that to happen the manager must surely try to sign a top striker in January. My own personal choices would include Kenwyne Jones from Sunderland, he's not cup-tied and would give the manager a different option.

IF anyone else has a suggestion for a new striker, then let's hear about it.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fergie 100% right to question referee Howard Webb...

Immediately after the game with Arsenal had ended and before Fergie had given his post-match interviews I posted that the United manager will be upset with Howard Webb for the blatant fouls on Louis Saha - but somewhat strangely the referee gave the decisions against the French striker, which gifted Arsenal possession and indirectly led to the Gunners taking a point at the death. Sure enough later that afternoon, Fergie did indeed have a go at Webb stating that he'd made some very poor decisions when Saha was clearly fouled.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that another referee Mark Clattenburg was 'rested' following an appalling lack of judgement in the Merseyside derby, granted Webb's indiscretions were less controversial in that the incidents in question took place on or around the half-way line. Clattenburg should have awarded two penalties to Everton and he should have sent off Kuyt.

Webb's bizarre decisions yesterday may not have happened in the penalty area, but nonetheless the end result was the same, the final-score was affected by poor officiating.

That said, I personally think a draw was a fair result and I do not advocate introducing video evidence on such issues. Referees will make always bad decisions from time to time, the game is not perfect and that is part and parcel of football, as is the controversy, which often envelops us all. However, when they get such easy decisions wrong, it is entirely correct to question why this happened.

Fergie says that Webb has the potential to become a very good referee, and I again I agree here. But if he's going to go on and become our top referee (it shouldn't take much to achieve that when you think about it, there's not a lot of competition) then he cannot afford to continue to get it so wrong as he did late on in what was a very big game.

Webb's card has been marked for sure, I hope that what happened yesterday was something of a one-off.

Questions will certainly be asked if it happens again in another United v Arsenal game if Webb is appointed as the man in the middle.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sloppy United allow Arsenal to slip off the hook...

The big game at the Emirates stadium finished up two apiece and in truth a draw was just about the right result as neither side deserved to take all three points.

Much was expected from this match, so much so that sections of the totally ridiculous tabloid press had billed it as a title decider, it was never going to be that in the first week of November.

Whatever the lunatic fringes of the press had written in the build-up to this game, it didn't live up to expectations, with both teams largely cancelling each other out, but Arsenal had the Lions share of possession in the opening 40 minutes, while United's albeit limited attacks carried slightly more menace about them.

However, just as it looked as though the first half would end 0-0 up popped Wes Brown who robbed Hleb on United's right flank to supply a quick pass to Ronaldo whose cross was converted via a deflection off William Gallas.

Arsenal set about the second-half task of getting back into the game with a fair amount of gusto and when the equaliser eventually came, the source was once again a fullback as Sagna pulled the ball back for Fabregas to equalise after United's defence failed to deal with a cute chip into the box.

From that point on, the home side were marginally the better side, but they couldn't open up the United defence. The flow of the game wasn't being helped one bit by whistle happy ref Howard Webb, who didn't have one of his better games.

With twenty minutes remaining, both managers rang the changes, Wes Brown was somewhat surprisingly replaced by John O'Shea. For me both of the United fullbacks had been two of the Reds better players on a day where no single player really stood out for the visitors, save for perhaps Evra and Brown.

Saha came on for the largely ineffective Tevez and Carrick replaced Anderson, who'd worked hard for the team and did a pretty good job of tracking-back and tackling without imposing his authority on the game as he has in other recent performances .

Wenger responded with his own tactical changes, one them indireclty led to United taking the lead when Waltcott replaced Eboue, Evra took full advantage of Arsenal's right sided midfielder being withdrawn when he made a great run down the left, Saha played a quick ball into the box to find the Frenchman who in turn squared the ball and in doing so he completely bamboozled the Arsenal back-four to find the feet of Ronaldo who was steaming deep into the Arsenal penalty area to score.

United reached injury time leading this game, but somehow they allowed Arsenal off the hook as Gallas scored a very late equaliser after great work by Clichy down United's right flank.

Ronaldo should really have stopped the Frenchman, at all costs, but the Gunners rightback was allowed to power down the flank and cross the ball. The ball pinged around the box before Gallas's shot clearly crossed the line. A draw was the right result, but both camps will feel that they should have done better on what turned out to be a pretty good day for all four fullbacks.

Despite the share of the spoils, Ferguson will not be happy with the referee Webb who gave some very strange decisions against Saha in injury time which eventually led to Arsenal regaining possession when clearly the Frenchman looked to have been on the wrong end of yet more poor officiating by referee Howard Webb.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Arsenal v United: Where the game will be won and lost...

On the run-up to these big games there's always the usual clap-trap and platitudes emanating from both camps. This morning Edwin Van Der Sar has been talking up the Arsenal saying how impressed he's been with them since Henry was sold. Earlier on in the week, the press were full of stories about Fergie and how much he loves the rivalry with Wenger.

Let the truth be known the United manager cannot stand the Frenchman and I've had that conveyed to me personally from two people who not so long ago were working for the club and were very close to the manager, it isn't exactly news or a surprise is it?

The fact of the matter is that the fans love to hate each other too, because football is the modern day equivalent of tribalism. Admittedly, since the departure of our main tribal warriors, Messrs Keane and Vieira, the red-hot heat of battle on the pitch has been reduced from boiling-point to a gentle simmer. So there will be no repeat of players 'offering each other out' in the tunnel before a ball is kicked as we saw a couple of seasons ago in the same fixture.

When that game kicks-off on Saturday, all of the talking will have stopped, no more ******** about being impressed about each other and all of that. Only then will we see which of these sides, who try to play the game the right way, is likely to emerge as title winners at the end of the season.

The pundits will no doubt be split down the middle on the outcome, but I was surprised to hear Reds fan and Manchester journalist Steve Curry say that he thought Arsenal play the better football of the two sides.

My own view is that there's not a lot between these two sides. There wont be much in it, but it definitely wont be 0-0. For my money United have a better defence, a better forward line, more width and more aggressive midfield players in Hargreaves and Anderson.

Where Arsenal have a slight advantage is in their ability to move the ball quickly through midfield, they move it so quickly that the opposition often has little time to react. Mistakes are made in defence and this is where games are often won and lost, but the battle for control of the game rests in the engine-room and this area will obviously be crucial on Saturday, as it always is. Whoever controls midfield is likely to win the game, it is that simple.

So Fergie will be stressing to the likes of Ronaldo, Nani and Giggs that whoever gets selected must track-back when the Gunners have the ball, failure to do so could prove to be fatal.

I'm expecting that United will really go for Arsenal with a full frontal assault. The United players have had a full week to prepare for this one, they are in fine collective form. My prediction is 3-1 to the mighty Reds.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

PFA talking tosh over Liverpool star facing burn-out?

PFA chief Gordon Taylor has sprung to the defence of Steven Gerrard, stating that he fears England players like the Liverpool skipper will suffer because of burn-out. There's too many games we are being told.

For the record, Gerrard has played six times for either club or country in 18 days during October. Taylor says that too many players are suffering with foot injuries. I actually agree with him on this point, but my own view is this is down to the design of these lightweight carpet-slipper like football boots, which do not offer enough protection.

Apparently, Rooney has had to have 'special boots' designed by Nike. The fact that Nike have had to take action of this nature speaks volumes. It begs the question, how many other top-flight stars have requested similar boots? Surely it wont be just Rooney?

Added to which, United fans might well argue that Taylor is talking rubbish, our top players are used to playing three times in any seven days at this time of year. The Reds have just equalled that record of scoring four goals in four consecutive games, the last time they did that was back in 1907. In doing so, Rooney et al flew to Russia, and then the Ukraine, while Tevez has been clocking up the air-miles playing for Argentina.

However, no football fan in their right mind wants to see players suffering with foot injuries and or burn-out, but we have to remember that it's the same in the other big European leagues. Only in Germany do they have fewer teams in their top division, eighteen to be precise. La Liga and Serie A have 20 teams like the Premier League. All the while England have been getting dusted by other European nations and others when it really matters.

Taylor has stopped short asking for a reduction in the number of teams in the Premier League, but that is one way of cutting down the hectic schedule of games. Another suggestion would be to scrap the Carling Cup, but the clubs wont vote for that - because money talks. Perhaps it's time to think about introducing a winter-break as they do in Germany?

Whatever decision is made in the longer term, it wont make up for England's consistent failure on the international stage. The whole approach to coaching youngsters needs to be looked at in this country. As the FAs football ambassador Trevor Brooking has said many times, English youngsters are just not skilful enough. That is where the problem starts, at the grass-roots of the English game.

Micah Richards injury good news for Gary Neville? And why he may sign for Chelsea...

England manager Steve McClaren and Man City fans will be desperately hoping that Micah Richards knee injury which he sustained against Bolton during the Blues Carling Cup win isn't that serious. The young defender is set to have a scan on Thursday.

However, with Gary Neville set to return to action for United this week, it could well be a case of good timing as far as England are concerned as they still have a glimmer of hope of qualifying for the Euro 2008 finals if results go their way, for that to happen Israel need to draw with Russia and England need to beat Croatia.

Neville has been out for a long time though and he will no doubt need a few games under his belt before he gets back to something like full match-fitness. McClaren might well decide not to take any chances on either player if there's any doubt and if that's the case he could well opt to play Wes Brown or even Phil Neville at right back.

A lot fans and the media have been waxing lyrical about Richards since he burst onto the scene, many advocate that his best position is in the centre of defence where he plays for City. Personally, I'm not so sure about that. Against Arsenal recently at the Emirates stadium Van Persie gave him a lot to think about and eventually started to pull the strings which led to victory and against Chelsea at the weekend City were destroyed by Drogba et al.

From what I've seen, Richards has a lot to learn about playing in the centre of defence, all too often he relies on his pace to get him out of trouble on those occasions when he finds himself on the wrong side of forwards. This ok in the Premier League because Richards will get away with it most of the time, but at international level, he wont get away it. Against Russia recently in that 2-1 defeat, Richards played right-back and at times he was given the run-around by the hugely impressive Andrei Arshavin (were you watching Fergie?).

We all know what a talent Richards is, but he's by no means the finished article.
Regarding his future, City have been desperately trying to persuade the player to sign a new and improved contract. There's been a lot of rumours that he will end up signing for either Arsenal or United. Personally I don't see that happening. For one thing, Wenger would not pay silly money for a defender, no matter how good he is. City would not allow Richards to join the Reds - end of story.

That would leave only Chelsea or perhaps Liverpool. For me, if he doesn't sign that new deal, the only place he can go is Chelsea, who may well be soon ready to replace John Terry who is picking up far too many injuries of late.