Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ronaldo shines as the big selection debate resurfaces....

United returned to action last night when Portsmouth were the visitors to Old Trafford, the Reds needed to win to go back to the top of the table after Arsenal had regained pole position the night before.

From the start of last night's encounter, Ronaldo looked very much up for it, the Portuguese winger had been controversially sent off when the two sites met at Fratton Park earlier on this season in a game that finished 1-1.

For the first 15 minutes in particular Ronaldo looked like a man on a mission, he was at the centre of everything which was good about the Red Devils attacks, so it came as no surprise that on ten minutes he opened the scoring with a brilliant goal. The Reds top goal-scorer linked up with Nani on the left, first he cushioned the ball with his chest back to his compatriot who returned the ball into space behind a Portsmouth defender, Ronaldo ran onto the ball picked his spot and placed his shot underneath the body of England 'keeper David James.

Three minutes later United who were swarming all over the visitors like a red rash, were awarded a free-kick twenty five yards from the Pompey goal, up stepped Ronaldo who blasted the ball up and over the wall and into the top corner giving James no chance again, the Portsmouth keeper never even moved, the ball was hit so hard he wouldn't have even seen it until it hit the rigging.

At that point in the game, fans will no doubt have been thinking this could turn out to be a cricket score, as the Reds link-up play had been first class. Portsmouth for their part were rocking and one or two of their players could have been forgiven for looking for any metaphorical port in a storm.

However, as the game went on and despite United continuing to create chances and dominating the game, too many players in Red shirts played the wrong ball as the Reds play became over intricate.

At half time Harry Redknapp made a couple of changes and the visitors improved second half, but it did not alter the general pattern of the game with United dominating and creating the better chances. Rooney who didn't have one of his better games was guilty of poor finishing on more than one occasion.

Scholes, Carrick, Park and Nani had started the game in preference to Tevez, Anderson, Hargreaves and Giggs.

Scholes, who played well, was replaced by Anderson on 62 minutes, the latter went to be arguably alongside Ronaldo the stand out player on the night. While Scholes plays clever incisive balls to feet, Anderson works like a Trojan and covers the ground like a March Hare. The former Porto star's introduction and the performance that followed will have no doubt have given Fergie an awful lot to think about this week prior to the Reds next game when they face Spurs in North London.

On the evidence of last night, Anderson seems to be fine about being left out, the Old Trafford fans have started to sign his name too, which is always a good sign that things are going well. But it remains to be seen how Fergie will keep all of his stars happy.

Tevez, when he eventually came on for Rooney on 73 minutes had the look of a brooding cave-man, but as ever, he gave his all in the cause of winning for United.

Hargreaves for his part, one suspects will be just happy to be playing his part after such an injury ravaged season. The former Bayern midfield player replaced Ronaldo on 73 minutes, he was introduced as an insurance policy to ensure victory.

Against Pompey Fergie had appeared to give Ronaldo a free role at the expense of leaving out Tevez, with the largely ineffective Park filling in for the Portuguese winger on the right. The burning question is what will Ferguson do for the remainder of the season? Will the United manager go for the legs, skill and industry of Anderson or will he opt for the silky skills of Scholes? Will Fergie start with both of them by deploying just Rooney up front - many Reds fans, and me included, believe that this is the worst of all options.

Graeme Sounnes said at the beginning of the season that he thinks that Fergie does not know what his best team is. If that is true, and I for one agree with the former Rangers manager, then Reds fans will hoping that the manager solves this puzzle and comes up with the right team for the bigger challenges that lie ahead.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bizarre: Man City and Newcastle make it a week not to forget...

Last week Manchester City shocked just about everyone with the goings on at Bramall Lane, but few should have been that surprised at the result.

However, FA Cup ties against the likes of Sheffield United away are rarely easy - the Blades have knocked out the Red Devils in the not too distant past. But losing because of a bunch of balloons could only happen to City, surely?

Perhaps the biggest question of all is what were the City fans doing taking balloons to a Championship club in the first place? Visiting fans, had according to at least one City supporter on fan site embarrassed the club: "In taking balloons to Sheffield, we looked like a non-league club on our big day out".

As if the sight of Michael Balloon, sorry Ball, wasn't bizarre enough came the news that Dennis Wise was to join Keegan at Newcastle. Surely nobody outside of Mike Ashley's inner circle would have dreamt that could ever happen?

Keegan wasted no time in showing who is going to be the boss when he made it clear that the former Leeds manager will report to him. This double-act could turn out to be like watching the Krankies in Panto... "he's behind you Kev". The show must go on and on...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Off key United edge Spurs out of FA Cup...

United had to come from behind to beat a much improved Spurs side at Old Trafford today, after Robbie Keane had given the visitors a well taken lead on fifteen minutes. The deadlock was broken following an excellent arrow like pass from Michael Dawson who found Lennon on the right wing, the former Leeds winger came inside Patrice Evra who had the misfortune to slip on what was a very poor Old Trafford pitch, Lennon's cross evaded Wes Brown who should have better at the near post and Rio Ferdinand was ball-watching as Keane was allowed to ghost-in unmarked to score. It was a bad goal from United's perspective, the Reds definitely missed Vidic who was out due to picking up a virus.

United hit back on 38 minutes after excellent work by the Reds best player of the opening period, Ryan Giggs. The Welshman got himself into an advanced position deep in the Spurs penalty area, Dawson tried and failed to effectively clear a lofted high ball, the big defender's header fell kindly to Tevez as Giggs held off the challenge of Dawson for the Argentine to score in the corner with a low drive.

Despite having most of the ball in the opening period, United were being caught on the break and were lucky not to concede a second goal just before the half-time interval after Jenas burst through the United back four unmarked, luckily for the Red Devils Van der Sar made an excellent save pushing the ball to safety.

Early in the second half the visitors had more chances to have taken the lead but as the game went on United gradually started to look the stronger side. On 64 minutes Ferguson replaced Carrick when Scholes returned from his three month injury absence and the ginger prince showed few signs of rustiness with one or two assured passes to feet. Scholes put through Tevez with a trademark incisive pass which created a half decent goal scoring chance, but like many of United's attacks until that point, it came to nothing

When United's second goal finally came, it resulted from another high ball into the Spurs penalty area, but this time from the boot of Van der Sar whose long punt ended with Dawson handling the ball to deny Rooney. The referee had no choice but to send off the Spurs centre-half before Ronaldo converted the resulting spot-kick.

Berbatov nearly equalised for Spurs after out-foxing Wes Brown which ended with the England defender flicking the ball onto the base of Van der Sar's far post, it was another narrow United escape. Two minutes from time Ronaldo killed-off any hope of a Spurs comeback when his bobbling deflected low drive slipped under the grasp of Cerny in the visitor’s goal.

Anderson came on when replacing Tevez late on in the game and once again looked every inch a United player. Hargreaves had a decent second-half, barring the opening 10 minutes as went on to be arguably the Reds star performer for the remainder of the game.

It's far too early to be talking about winning another treble, but United will have to improve massively on this performance if they are to achieve that lofty goal. At least there will be no more ill-advised jaunts to far flung destinations in the name of money-grabbing before the season's end.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Memories of 1995-'96: Keegan’s revisionism runs out of steam...

Being a United fanatic, no obsessive, I will always remember the 1995/6 season with great affection.

We’d dispensed with the services of Ince, Hughes and Kanchelskis and replaced them with home grown youth squad members, now household names – Beckham, Scholes, Butt, to name a few.

The season didn’t quite get off to a flyer. 3-0 down at half-time at Villa Park. Even after dominating the second half we still came away defeated 3-1. Match of the Day that evening gave birth to the, never to be forgotten, faux pas by a certain Mr Hansen. “You don’t win ‘owt with kids”.

Three games (two home wins) later these “kids” outplayed, outfought and generally dismantled the “champions” Blackburn in their own back yard. A night away match to rival any in the ensuing years.

However, there were no visions of impending greatness’ or glory, certainly not this season. A run of five winless games from the end of November into December, which included damaging defeats by our two fiercest rivals Liverpool and Leeds, appeared to put paid to any title aspirations. The FA Cup looked our best bet after Rotor Volgograd and York City had ended our UEFA and Coca Cola cup dreams at the first hurdle.

Wednesday 27th December came the possible turning point. Newcastle, top of the league, by some distance, were the visitors to Old Trafford. On a bitterly cold night, I think it’s safe to say that Newcastle received a 2-0 hammering – it was a tremendous performance by the Reds, typified by Roy Keane.

We went on to win seven of our next 10 games, including a famous, somewhat fortunate 1-0 victory at St James’s Park, where Schmichael probably had his best game for us. The final game of this run was a 1-1 draw at QPR with Cantona scoring an injury time equaliser. This put us top of the league and the dreaming began.

Eight games to glory – we won seven of them, the only “blip” being the grey shirt fiasco at Southampton (even the most ardent of Reds are embarrassed by this excuse).

It was undoubtedly an exciting season; Newcastle finished second, some four points behind us but could still have snatched it on the final day. We finished as top scorers in the league with 73 (Newcastle 66) and only Arsenal had a better defence.

To put the icing, cherry, brandy, champagne and white chocolate sauce on the cake, we won the FA Cup beating our close friends from the wrong end of the East Lancs and city got relegated.

Seasons don’t come better that this – or so we though until 1998/99.

However, listening to Kevin Keegan’s interview on Sky Sports today, I’ve got it totally wrong. He claims that the Arsenal side of today are the closest thing to his Newcastle side of that that season “the only difference is that we ran out of steam”.

Kevin, me old son, you’re doing United (and Arsenal) a great disservice and injustice by claiming such a preposterous thing. Yes, you did have an exciting, attack minded team but where was the intricate passing similar to Arsenal? I certainly can’t remember it.

The young United, despite being 12 points behind you at one point, stuck to the task and played some scintillating football, please give us some credit and stop wallowing this nostalgic nonsense.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Has the sun baked Ferguson's head?

United have been sunning themselves away from the dreadful Manchester wet weather over in sunny Saudi Arabia on a money grabbing mini winter break. The Reds went down losing the 3-2 to Al Hilal, however, the match was of little significance given that the game amounted to a PR exercise. No doubting the players and manager have enjoyed this break from their regular training regime with the added bonus of a few rounds of golf.

Meanwhile, rejuvenated Spurs, fresh from devouring rivals Arsenal in the Carling Cup semi-final are apparently looking forward to running United off the park in the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford this Sunday. Only after this game will the fans be able to judge the impact of the somewhat controversial sojourn to the sun. IF the unthinkable happened and Spurs dumped the Reds out of the FA Cup, the 'cool £1m' they made from their holiday jaunt will seem like small beer given what they Reds could have netted from a few more lucrative home games in the Cup.

While in Saudi Fergie has been talking to the press at length. First off he waded into Liverpool's American owners in support of Rafa Benitez, who has in turn been reportedly seeking help from the League Managers Association, regarding the turmoil which surrounds the comedy that is the Anfield ownership saga. No doubting in a bid to in part stir it up, Fergie entered the debate and says that it must be a concern for Liverpool if Rafa quits with so many Spanish players on their books, this is true. Where would the Scousers be without Torres this season? Mid-table, I'd say.

However, while the Scousers have a fair few Spaniards on their books, the Red Devils have a Portuguese enclave. The recent addition of Angolan striker Manucho takes the number of Portuguese speaking stars at United to four. You can also add the two young Brazilian defenders who are expected to sign. So it would be a reasonable question to ask, what would happen if Carlos Queiroz left United?

Many United fans also have grave concerns about the Glazer family and their debt laden regime. While matters on the pitch appear to be fine just now, the verdict of anyone with a grain of financial sense realises that the Glazers' have little alternative but to sell United on and soon - either that or perhaps try to refloat the club on the stock-market, but that seems unlikely, given the debt situation.

Cash strapped United fans are suffering at the sharp end of huge increases as the Glazer family ramp up prices. No word from our illustrious leader on this nearer to home and thorny issue. So in short, if you live in a glass-house do not throw stones.

Then today we are hearing that Fergie has spoken out again, this time about two undoubted all-time United greats, Giggs and Scholes. Of the latter, he says that the Ginger Prince's return gives him the confidence that the Reds can go on to win the league. Dangerous talk indeed. True enough, Scholes is a genius on his day, but with the arrival of players like Tevez, Anderson and Hargreaves, who will make way for Scholes?

As for Ryan Giggs, following the arrival of Nani, he has had to fight for his place arguably more than at any other time since Lee Sharpe was at the club. Many United fans have long thought that Giggs lacked competition for his place in the side and it's great to see that he can still do it. After coming on as a sub at Reading apparently he made 45 second-half sprints - that's more than the likes of Berbatov puts in a game.

On the wider point of winning the title, and following the departure of Mourinho, Fergie may well be tempted to tinker with his starting eleven, we have seen some evidence of this already this season. With Scholes set to return, it is to be hoped that Fergie continues to pick his team on merit rather than have his thoughts clouded by misty-eyed views on what Scholes has achieved for United. Let us also hope Scholes rises to the challenges set by Tevez, Anderson, Hargreaves and Carrick.

Given the amount of talking Fergie has been doing this week, one could be forgiven for thinking that the sun has baked his head, he has even been quoted saying that he couldn't ever see Scholes and Giggs retiring and to cap it all he also says that he knows that Capello will make sure that Beckham becomes an England centurion.

Even if Fergie is being somewhat whimsical on the future of Scholes and Giggs many United fans would love to agree with his sentiments, no matter how unrealistic. On Beckham attaining his 100 England caps, the question has to be asked, has Fergie undertaken a crash course in mind-reading in Saudi? More likely it sounds like the manager is suffering from the effects of a mild case of sun-stroke, let us hope that by the time Sunday comes around Fergie has recovered and that he stops talking like a sentimental father figure and reverts to a ranting touchline maniac.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New striker green light?

For those who of you Reds who have not yet bothered to tune into the African Cup of Nations, which kicked-off earlier this week, then you may well want to put that right because United's latest new signing Angolan striker Mateus Alberto Contreiras Goncalves - more popularly known as Manucho, 24, is on duty. Onlooking United supporters will have enjoyed watching United's new striker as he scored against South Africa last night with a spectacular first-half headed goal after superb work by team-mate Flavio whose clever flicked cross found Manucho inside the South Africa penalty area, the finish was exemplary.

Manucho was signed from Angolan club Petro Athletic, United's assistant manager Carlos Queiroz has been credited with discovering the African striker. However, the deal is subject to Manucho acquiring a work permit, the goal against South Africa will do his chances no harm at all and journalist Henry Winter suggested that the goal could signal the green light for the deal to be sealed.

Angola is a former Portuguese colony and so Manucho will have no problem conversing with United team-mates Anderson, Ronaldo, Nani and of course coach Carlos Queiroz.

The African striker arrived at Old Trafford earlier this month and after impressing on his three week trial Ferguson said: "He is a tall, agile, quick forward and through contacts that Carlos Queiroz has, was brought to our attention around six months ago."

Comparisons are being made with Chelsea's Didier Drogba who is on duty in the same competition playing for the Ivory Coast. It's a little early to speculate exactly how good Manucho can go on to be, but the early signs are encouraging. Against South Africa it wasn't just his goal which stood out, the United new boy showed a good touch and awareness around the goal. The United move could turn out to be a great piece of business by the Red Devils, until now Arsene Wenger has been the master of acquiring Africa's top talent for knock-down fees. United fans will be hoping that Ferguson and Queiroz have unearthed another diamond and ironically Angola is well a known source for producing the precious gem stones.

African Nations Cup fixtures:

Thursday, 24 January 2008
Ghana v Namibia, A, 19:30
Guinea v Morocco, A, 17:00

Friday, 25 January 2008
Ivory Coast v Benin, B, 17:00
Nigeria v Mali, B, 19:30

Saturday, 26 January 2008
Cameroon v Zambia, C, 17:00
Egypt v Sudan, C, 19:30

Sunday, 27 January 2008
Senegal v Angola, D, 17:00
Tunisia v South Africa, D, 19:30

Monday, 28 January 2008
Ghana v Morocco, A, 17:00
Guinea v Namibia, A, 17:00

Tuesday, 29 January 2008
Ivory Coast v Mali, B, 17:00
Nigeria v Benin, B, 17:00

Wednesday, 30 January 2008
Cameroon v Sudan, C, 17:00
Egypt v Zambia, C, 17:00

Thursday, 31 January 2008
Senegal v South Africa, D, 17:00
Tunisia v Angola, D, 17:00

Sunday, 03 February 2008
Winner Group A v Runner-up Gp B, Quarter Final,
Winner Group B v Runner-up Gp A, Quarter Final,

Monday, 04 February 2008
Winner Gp C v Runner-up Gp D, Quarter Final,
Winner Gp D v Runner-up Gp C, Quarter Final,

Thursday, 07 February 2008
Winner Q/F 1 v Winner Q/F 4, Semi-Final,
Winner Q/F 2 v Winner Q/F 3, Semi-Final,

Saturday, 09 February 2008
Loser SF1 v Loser SF2, 3rd and 4th Place Play-Offs,

Sunday, 10 February 2008
Winner SF1 v Winner SF2, Final

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Munich air disaster - 50th anniversary: United make a hash of preparations.

Manchester United supporters have been angered by the club's insensitivity at the unveiling of a huge image of the Busby Babes which adorns virtually the whole of Old Trafford East stand facade. The image has been erected as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster in which eight of the Busby Babes lost their lives.

In an age where sponsors logos appear just about everywhere, the club took the somewhat controversial decision to include their main sponsors logo alongside the famed photo of the Busby Babes team line-up which was taken before a European Cup tie in Belgrade in February 1958 just prior to the air crash.

I'm not giving the sponsor yet more publicity by naming them here, but the irony is that in protesting about the point they have received a lot more publicity than perhaps they might have done otherwise, though it is publicity of the sort than any half decent organisation would not want, given the gross insensitivity of this error of judgement. United have effectively put a sponsors name on a memorial. It's a bit like including a sponsors logo on a grave stone. You simply would not do it.

As if including the sponsors name wasn't bad enough, the club also managed to get the words wrong in the famous Manchester United Calypso song which has been sung by the fans throughout the last five decades in memory of the Babes. To their credit the club have agreed to amend the wording which should read "...bunch of bouncing Busby Babes".

However, the club have stated that they see nothing wrong with including the sponsors name in this memorial tribute, this speaks volumes about the people who run Manchester United.

The lousy local rag that is the Manchester Evening News is also cashing in on the anniversary by producing a special supplement, you do wonder where the profits of this venture will end up, no doubting in the coffers of the paper's owners.

Meanwhile, the official Manchester City supporters club have sent a letter to United asking if prior to the badly timed derby at Old Trafford rather than have a minute's silence, fans should applaud the disaster. You do not applaud disasters, it is as simple as that and City fans will, for once, have to behave themselves. United should not be dictated to by numpties who have no sense of respect, decency or history. It is so bad that Man City fans have had to be reminded by their own club by letter than one of their own Frank Swift perished in the crash.

In repsonse to the request a spokesman for United said "It's a solemn event."
He added: "We don't think applause is the best way to commemorate the death of 23 people."

Manchester City supporters have a long history of letting their club and Manchester down when the two sides meet by mocking the 1958 disaster. Let us hope that for once sense prevails on February 10th when the two sides clash.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The goings on at 'England's most deluded football club' - Newcastle United.

With the very real danger of adding to the gross over reaction to the re-appointment of Kevin Keegan at 'England's most deluded football club' (alas I cannot lay claim at being first to pen that laugh line) Newcastle United, here's my twopenneth on this so called re-awakening of the "Geordie Nation".

A lot has been written about Keegan's return to his former stomping ground, and personally I've been a bit surprised at the breadth of the coverage. For example, The Times ran eight pages on the messiah's return. It's one thing for the Newcastle Chronicle to cash-in on Keegy's return by printing a special 48 page supplement (for the locals), but surely quite another for one such as The Times to give over so much space to such an appointment?

Of the coverage itself, much of it has been cutting and Keegan's record for quitting and consistently falling short has been the subject for many a sports columnists ire. The fact is Keegan returning to Newcastle despite his record of under achievement is clearly a bloody good story, hence the number of trees which have been felled in the name of printing special supplements and increased print-runs.

Of the messiah himself, he says that he is almost uniquely qualified to manage Newcastle; he says that he is the right man, because he knows the people up there - he knows the club. What utter nonsense. If that was the only criterion, then why didn't Mike Ashley give the job to someone who has been more in touch with football and Newcastle for the past few years - none other than Shearer himself? The answer to that is obvious, Shearer was judged to be not up to it right now - quite right too.

What Keegan didn't say was that he knows that he is perhaps the only manager who will be given time by Newcastle's long-suffering, success-starved fans. That is the real truth of the matter and in so in appointing Keegan, Ashley has pulled off something a master-stroke. Ashley knows that he has bought time, and knows that he will keep the turnstiles ticking over while the messiah goes in search of miracles.

Despite being out of the game for a relatively long time, the former Newcastle striker and manager is viewed to be very much up to it and with the promise of 'unlimited funds', then surely this second managerial coming represents Keegan with one final last chance to prove his many doubters wrong. However, if Keegan fails with such huge backing and in the face of the challenge of United, Chelsea Liverpool and Arsenal, what will become of this so called football hot-bed that is the North East? Does Keegan's reappointment also represent one final chance for the North East to see a return to glory? By definition a Carling Cup win would be massive.

The odds of turning Newcastle around are stacked against Keegan and Ashley, it doesn't quite stretch to feeding 5,000 with five loafs of bread and two fish, but it isn't far off it. The story looks set to run and run.

Ferguson does Haka as Rooney and Ronaldo leave it late....

The general consensus of most United followers is that they certainly made hard work of their 2-0 victory over Steve Coppell's Reading on Saturday, in what turned out to be a decent game to watch with the Royals giving pretty much as good as they got.

Visits to the Madejski Stadium are rarely easy and it's a venue where the Reds have dropped points in the past, but with the home team playing offensive football from start to finish, it was a very open contest.

Not surprisingly United created a bag full of chances, the best of which fell to the Reds top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, but it took until the dying moments of the game to finally kill off Reading. Before that and late on in the second half, Wayne Rooney had opened the scoring with what was arguably the most memorable piece of skill on a day that wasn't without excitement or talking points. Up and until that point the Reds had really struggled in front of goal, as the Royals somehow managed to survive United's swift counting football. Steve Coppell had something of a makeshift back four on duty with key players away on African Nations Cup Duty. Centre-back Kalifa Cisse made one superb goal-line clearance from a second half Vidic header when the ball looked certain to be crossing the line, at that point it looked like it wasn't going to be the visitors day in front of goal.

With United having the Lions share of the ball and with time running out Fergie swapped Hagreaves for Nani as United when all out to get the vital goal. On 77 minutes the Reds were finally rewarded when once again Tevez and Rooney linked-up superbly as the former Everton striker finished instinctively with a deft flick of the ball which gave Hahnemann no chance.

Following the setback of that opening goal, Reading hit back at they might well believe that they should have scored themselves after creating several half chances which will have had watching United fans biting their collective finger-nails. However, Ronaldo finished off the Royals in injury time with a lung busting run which must have been fully 50 yards and ended with another clinical finish from the Reds top marksman.

On a day that should be remembered for the skill of Rooney and the power of Ronaldo, many fans will no doubt also remember this game for Ferguson's bizarre version of the Haka, which we are told was directed the Reading bench and in particular Wally Downs. Quite what had led to Fergie celebrating Ronaldo's goal in such a manner would be make for interesting reading. Fans have been left to assume that Wally Downs and Fergie had been exchanging views on Ronaldo throughout the game - whatever it was the spectacle of Ferguson ranting and gesturing "Up Yours" was a first for many seasoned observers of Sir Alex.

Another talking point was the presence of Fabio Capello, however, the new England manager appeared to disappear long before the end of the game and so if true he missed the vital contribution of Rooney. Going off the TV footage of Capello he actually looked bored rigid and he doesn't take notes during the game in the style of say Mourinho. Given that Capello knows so few English players, it really does make you wonder if the Italian is here purely to top up his pension.

On a more positive note Hargreaves once again looked good in midfield and the link up play between Tevez and Rooney looks to be getting even better and so Ferguson's plan to pair them together looks sounder by the game - and many in the media suggested that they were too similar. How very wrong the doubters were.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Has the football world gone mad?....

UNITED are top of the league again courtesy of the weekend's results which saw Arsenal (sans players on African Nations Cup duty, arf) draw at home with plucky Birmingham City, while the Red Devils thrashed hapless Newcastle United 6-0 at Old Trafford. As far as many Reds fans are concerned normal service has been resumed, but for supporters of many other Premier League clubs the story is quite different with nine managers having so far parted company with their respective clubs.

Few will have been surprised at the United result and performance given the plight of the Magpies who are in danger of going into free-fall if Mike Ashley the Newcastle owner doesn't quickly find the right man to replace sacked Sam "loads of money" Allardyce. So how funny was it to read that Kevin "the messiah" Keegan is being linked with a return to St James Park? Let us not forget that it was Keegan who allegedly resigned in the old Wembley toilets when in charge of England. Let us also not forget that it was Keegan who gave us one of the funniest post-match football interviews ever when he snapped in retaliation to Fergie's comments in the title race run-in that eventually ended with the Geordies Devon Loch like collapse as United went on to romp home in a two horse race. So yes, many Reds have fond memories of Keegan and so surely many will welcome him back - especially if Shearer is his nodding dog sidekick.

The off the field antics at Anfield haven't yet quite reached the comedy levels of those at Newcastle, but it's warming up nicely with George Gillette and Rafa "darling of the Kop" Benitez falling out in a very public way. It doesn't get much more bizarre when your employer let's it be known that they've been interviewing for your job. It's a wonder that Gillette didn't post an advert in the Liverpool Echo "We're hiring - Yes man manager wanted".

Many United fans cannot abide the Glazers who have a policy of saying nothing - they treat Reds fans like mushrooms when it comes to communication, we are collectively left in the dark for long periods but every now and again someone throws a wheelbarrow full of **** upon us in the form of huge price hikes. But oh, how the Scousers laughed at United with their witty "USA, USA" chants whenever the Red Devils visited Anfield. However, the laughing stopped earlier this week when George Gillette delivered his own brand of US culture to Rafa in the form of the threat of a bullet from his proverbial Colt 45. Now that was funny.

Liverpool, the club that was once a model for managerial stability now looks like it could soon be another soap opera - one could be forgiven for making comparisons with the Muppet Show and Statler & Waldorf dishing out untimely edicts from the comfort of the top tier. Let this show run and run say United fans.

Then of course there's England with their new manager who cannot speak English. This looks like being another comedy caper and personally I cannot wait for Capello's honeymoon period to end because it is guaranteed to end in tears.

If you were looking for final confirmation that the world of football has truly gone mad. United have only two fully fit strikers and Louis "man in bandages" Saha - yet according to the Reds CEO David Gill "we do not need to buy another striker". Go figure.

Friday, January 11, 2008

New striker talk returns...

The Red Devils are once again being link with Ajax star Klaas Jan Huntelaar. The latest rumours suggest that United could be forced to buy a new striker due to fears over Louis Saha and his appalling injury record. Fans favourite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was forced to retire only a few weeks into the season and this has left United short of quality forwards. The talk is that United will offer the Dutch club £12m for their prized asset, if a deal could be done for that price it would be excellent business.

Nicolas Anelka has been linked quite strongly with a move to the Reds, but he has now joined Chelsea, this latest move means that the Frenchman is according to Sky Sports News the most expensive football ever following his £15m switch to the West London club. Anelka's many transfers have cost in total over £87m. Some fans have been speculating that the former Bolton star is destined for life on the Chelsea bench, but the clever money is on Didier Drogba joining AC Milan in the summer. Watch this space on that score.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Big clubs using the media to drive transfer talk...

The January transfer window has swung open and not unexpectedly the Red Devils are once again the subject of plenty of speculation. Berbatov's name keeps on cropping up in reports linking him with a move to United. The latest stories centre on the Spurs manager hinting that it will cost the Reds over £30m to acquire the Bulgarian.

For a man who doesn't speak English that well it hasn't taken Ramos long to start using the media as a transfer tool in a bid to get the best deal for Berbatov (you do wonder if the quotes which have been attributed to Ramos have come from someone else...). If United agreed to pay Spurs this hugely inflated asking price for the Bulgarian then the North London club stand to make over £20m on a player who only cost them £10.9m - a very nice piece of business and do not rule it out, but a summer move would be more likely. Why didn't Fergie take a punt on Berbatov when he was available for £10m?

Talking of clubs who use the media to get what they want, Real Madrid are reportedly closing in on Cristiano Ronaldo. Depending on which report you believe, it will cost the Spaniards between £45m and £75m to capture the Portuguese star. A lot will depend on whether or not Ronaldo wants to quit United. He has always said that one day he would like to play in Spain, so it is a question of when and not if.

However, in a week when Ferguson has courted controversy by opening his mouth when shouting down the fans, the United manager did find time to rubbish the stories which have gone as far as claiming that the two clubs are involved in negotiations.

"I anticipated this," Fergie told the official United website.

"The thing about this story is that it has been claimed that David Gill has been speaking to Real Madrid. That is a complete lie.

"We have never spoken to them. The story depends on agents and their imaginations.
"At best it's mischievous, but I just dismiss it because it's nonsense.

While Fergie says the latest stories about negotiations are nothing but lies, it will be interesting to see how far the United manager will go in a bid to retain Ronaldo. Will Ferguson go public like he did earlier this week when attacking the fans? Or will the manager roll over when the Glazers' tell him what their decision is on the future of Ronaldo should Madrid push home their reported interest?

Of other transfer news doing the rounds and despite being short of a striker the stories concerning incoming transfer targets mainly centre on defenders. The latest name to be linked with United is Alan Hutton, the Scotland and Rangers right-back, who has just turned down an £8m move to Spurs. This has led to speculation that Hutton is waiting for United to come in for him.

Wes Brown has been standing in for Gary Neville for most of the season and United have this week let it be known that they've turned down an offer from Newcastle for his services. Is it a coincidence that reports are linking United with Hutton at the very time that Brown is stalling on a new deal? You do wonder what is going on, could it be that United have leaked this story to the press in a bid to get Brown to sign that new contract?

Meanwhile Jonny Evans has rejoined relegation threatened Sunderland. Clearly things have not gone to plan where the Northern Ireland international is concerned, hence this loan move to the Black Cats. It will be interesting to see if Evans can help stem the flow of goals that Roy Keane's team have been conceding.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New striker talk returns as January sales begin...

Reports in the press are once again linking United with Berbatov, but the bad news is that it's thought any offer for the Spurs striker won't happen until the summer. Fergie has recently gone on record saying that January is problematic and he's hinted that Europe is uppermost in his thoughts and of course the Bulgarian is cup-tied. Ramos the Spurs manager has also said that Berbatov is going nowhere, but as we have seen in the past the North London club will sell to United if the price is right.

Despite Fergie's views about Europe, the Reds still need to sign a new forward for the domestic competitions, this was highlighted against West Ham at the weekend when United needed to change the game, but they had no striker on the bench - which is a ludicrous situation for a club of United's size.

While the Reds are in need of a new striker whoever comes in has to be the right player and the last thing United need to do now is to make a panic buy - that is the danger when you're short of numbers and once again Reds fans might wonder about the wisdom of allowing Rossi to move on last summer.

January is of course by tradition the time of year when retailers try to off-load old and unwanted stock. The January transfer window is football's equivalent in many ways and it only came into being a few seasons ago, but many managers believe that the old transfer system worked better for the clubs and the players.

The Reading manager Steve Coppell has today voiced his concerns about the January transfer window, hinting that some of his players have been tapped-up and at the same time he has insisted that Nicky Shorey who has been strongly linked to the Red Devils is going nowhere.

Festive spirit falls flat as Fergie gives United fans last rites...

Following the narrow 1-0 victory over Birmingham City Fergie went on the offensive when blasting the home supporters for their lack of vocal support. However, no one should be surprised at the lack of atmosphere at this fixture. The night before everyone was out celebrating the New Year until the early hours of the next morning. For many fans New Year's Day is a time for recovering from the events of the night before, and for contemplating the horror that is the return to work. Many fans up and down the country will have been feeling like the proverbial living dead. Even the players who aren't allowed to celebrate like the rest us were off-key against Birmingham, it was at times a very lack-lustre performance by United.

Fergie has every right to complain, but the media are still going on about a similar ill thought out Roy Keane rant about the Old Trafford "Prawn Sandwich brigade" which was made in 2000, this phrase is still being used today to describe the Old Trafford crowd by some in the media.

No doubting some people will also be questioning the poor timing of Fergie's comments given the death of Motherwell captain Phil O'Donnell. Though I personally wouldn't say Fergie was wrong on that score. The fact is though that this game will not be remembered because of the wonderful first-half goal which was created by Ronaldo and finished by Tevez, but it will remembered as the game when Fergie likened this match to being at a funeral.