Posts Tagged ‘Manchester United’

Alexander the Great?

He’s almost untouchable in terms of criticism, actually knighted by the queen for his services to the game and for the last 24 years has managed to keep his club right at the top of international standards, but with recent poor results and unconvincing transfer buys Alex Ferguson’s recent decisions have to be at least analysed, if not called into question.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Ferguson and he is for me probably the best of our generation at least but there seems to be a kind of apprehension by football analysts and journalists to criticize Fergie, and perhaps understandably so. Winner of the premier league 11 times, the F.A. Cup 5 times, the League Cup 4 times, the Community Shield 9 times, the Champions League twice, the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup, UEFA Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup and FIFA Club World Cup once each, the trophy’s are there as proof of his worth and it can be difficult to argue against them.

But its interesting to note how the signing of Portuguese striker Bébé was written about as

United's newest signing Bébé

a Cinderella story rather than the major £7.4 million gamble that it really was. According to the Manchester United official website Fergie didn’t even view the player but instead admitted it was an impulse decision to sign the player, following advice from the club’s scouts in Portugal and by former Reds’ assistant manager Carlos Queiroz. Of course the Man Utd website doesn’t note how soon after Bébé’s arrival he was struggling to even get on the reserve team and hasn’t really shown the promise the Red Devil’s scouts have promised he would.

But then again it has been a major change for the young player and perhaps he hasn’t had time to ‘settle’, as the old excuse seems to go. But there are plenty of other recent signings Fergie has made that have had their chance to settle such as the Da Silva brothers, Gabriel Obertan, Michael Owen, and Owen Hargreaves. Hargreaves alone cost United £17 million in 2007, how much in medical expenses has he cost them since then? Fergie has probably got his worth out of Michael Owen however, seeing as he got him on a free transfer and he has scored 12 goals in 37 appearances. But there was a reason none of the top clubs could be bothered paying his salary; simply because he’s getting older and prone to injury. Gabriel Obertan is meant to be an attacking winger/striker but in only 14 appearances since joining in July 2009 for reportedly £3 million the French player has managed zero goals and is now, you probably guessed, injured. The Da Silva brothers Raphael and Fabio have also failed to really play to the standards that are required of Manchester United defenders. A lack of positional play seems to be there main problem, getting sucked towards the ball and a lack of awareness of the opposing striker’s runs, traits barely good enough for the Manchester United reserve team never mind playing in Champion league matches.

It is easy to think that these players are young and to give Ferguson the benefit of the

Hernandez - probably Fergie's most promising buy since Rooney

doubt considering his record but when you look at other players around the same age as these it becomes a little clearer that they are under performing. Gareth Bale has won four different young player of the year awards since 2007 and has excelled for Tottenham Hotspur but no attempt was made by any of Fergie’s scouts to sign him even though he is the same age as Obertan, has already scored more goals than him, set up countless goals and isn’t prone to injury. How could a player like that be overlooked by these world class scouts? Are they too busy scouting in Portugal for the likes of Bébé or Brasil for the next Da Silva brothers? The 22 year old Mexican Javier Hernandez is the only recent buy that Fergie has made that looks promising. Two goals in 7  matches and a good performance in the World Cup have impressed onlookers and worried defenders making him look a great prospect for the club.

But another way you could look favorably at Fergie’s signings and think highly of him is to

Rooney - United's biggest shirt seller

note how he refuses to buy ‘shirt sellers’ like other major European clubs do. The likes of Real Madrid and even now Barcelona seem hell bent on buying the biggest name so they can stick his name on their shirt. The transfers of Thiery Henry and David Beckham to American Major League Soccer seem to be solely for this reason. And if you think that this might be a bit far-fetched an example is Rooney’s recent decision to try to increase his salary from £100,000 to £170,000 a week because he is the clubs biggest shirt seller even though he is completely under performing, not to mention already a millionaire.

Whether Fergie manages to get his team out of the bit of a mess they are in now looks to me to be his greatest test. The way they are playing now reminds me of the way Liverpool were playing about 3 years ago, getting by just because they believed they should win not because they were good enough to actually win. But as the poor results mount up that winning mentality which is so crucial for the top teams begins to fade and all sorts of other troubles mount up as well. So how Sir Alex will fair this season remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, its still hard to bet against him.

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Of all the games in this opening weekend of Premiership action, the one that stands out the most is Monday night’s clash between newly-promoted Newcastle United and Manchester United. While most people would say Liverpool v Arsenal  is a bigger game (and it is), the Magpies 102 points in last year’s Coca-Cola Championship proves they are an interesting prospect for their new season in the top flight.

Roberto Di Matteo may find things tough at West Brom this season

We have seen some contrasting fortunes from the two other newly-promoted teams so far, Blackpool’s 4-0 demolition of Wigan shows what a tight, well-organised squad of players can achieve, while West Brom’s capitulation at the hands of Chelsea reminds us that the smaller teams must know their limits – ordinary footballers forced to play beautiful football will always fall short when faced with the reigning champions. Newcastle are an altogether different prospect, with Argentine internationals Jónas Gutierrez and Fabricio Colloccini in their ranks, the Black and White will not be in awe of their Old Trafford surroundings. Kevin Nolan was the best player in the Championship by some distance, while up front, they have a genuine successor to Alan Shearer’s boots in the young Andy  Carroll.

Carroll: Part of a new era on Tyneside

The history between the Toon and the Red Devils goes back to the mid 90’s, when Kevin Keegan’s side was 12 points clear at Christmas, only to collapse in the later stages of the 96/97 season, handing the title to United in the process.

These two videos sum up what is best about the mercurial north-east side, the first is Keegan’s infamous rant towards the end of that season, with their rivals closing in. The second shows what happened on October 21, 1996, a day which lives long in the memories of fans.

Once Keegan had left, his side slipped into gradual decline, with Kenny Dalglish and Ruud Gullit guiding the Magpies to mediocre mid-table finishes, and successive defeats in the ’98 and ’99 FA Cup. Things took a significant upturn when Bobby Robson was appointed manager in 2000, and they finished fourth the year after, and made the top five twice more during his tenure. Then, perhaps predictably, as the veteran Geordie made way for Graeme Souness, things fell apart once again. The Scotsman’s short stay left a bad taste in the mouths of fans, especially with the club hemorrhaging money through the permanently-crocked Michael Owen, who cost £17 million and made just 71 appearances in four years. Souness was followed by Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce, Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer, which brings us right up to the present day, with Irishman Chris Hughton.

Hughton has won many admirers with his calm outlook in difficult times

Gone are the days of spending daft money on the likes of Owen, Hughton has moulded a team primarily out of good, up-and-coming English players. The signings of James Perch, and Dan Gosling should prove very good investments indeed, while the addition of Sol Campbell should give their traditionally shaky back-line some muscle. 35 year-old Campbell had come in for some criticism about his weight in recent weeks, but going by last season’s performances for Arsenal, he’s still got it.

Ashley: Unpopular

All of these pragmatic, sensible signings do make the typical Newcastle fan yearn for a bit of folly though; the likes of Faustino Asprilla, Carl Cort, Hugo Viana, and of course Michael Owen are all part of an era that will probably never return to St James’ Park. With the notoriously penny-pinching Mike Ashley in charge of finances, Hughton doesn’t have much to work with. Still, if they can finally complete the loan signing of Hatem Ben Arfa from Marseille, they will have pulled off the biggest transfer coup of the summer. He will join a long line of tempermental French wingers to serve the club. David “40 fags a day” Ginola and Laurent Robert have gone down in the club’s folklore, and Ben Arfa’s style of play really suits the English game.

So, how will they actually fare out this season? Well, they are nowhere near Sir Bobby’s great team of the early noughties. At the moment, their strengths lie in midfield; the typical line-up this year will be Gutierrez, Barton/Smith, Guthrie and Lovenkrands/Ben Arfa, with Kevin Nolan just behind a lone striker. Compared to a typical ’03/’04 midfield of Robert, Speed, Jenas and Solano, (plus Shearer and Bellamy up front), so there’s still a long way to go. I have often said, having followed them closely in the Championship last year, that they would have come around 12th in the Premiership with the form they were in. Now, with a few extra signings under their belt, and a new winning mentality forged during tough times last year, they should (in theory at least) do pretty well. Well worth putting a fiver on them staying up anyway.