Thursday, 20 September 2007

2 more 1-0 wins keep United chugging along.

Problems with logging in means two match updates in one, with Sporting to follow.

Sunderland (Home) Win 1-0 (Saha 62)

van der Sar 6, Brown 6, Ferdinand 7, Vidic 7, Evra 7, Eagles 5 (Fletcher 6), Hargreaves 7, Scholes 6, Nani 7 (O'Shea 6), Anderson 6 (Saha 7), Tevez 6.

Another unconvincing home display but as time wore on some signs began to show. Saha looked energetic enough on his return, once getting the opportunity we saw an ever so slight glimpse of what Anderson is capable of with a stunning through ball to Tevez. The important thing was that we had to get the points on the board, which is what we did when Saha headed in from a Nani corner.



Everton (Away) Win 1-0 (Vidic 83)

van der Sar 7, Brown 6, Ferdinand 8, Vidic 9, Silvestre 6 (Nani 6), Ronaldo 6, Carrick 7, Scholes 7, Evra 7, Giggs 6 (Saha 6), Tevez 8.

Ominous signs that United are getting back to their best. Tevez looked the liveliest he's been, despite a trip to Australia, and the defenders coped admirably with the all too real threat of Andrew Johnson and our bogeyman, Yakubu. However few clear cut chances were created, save for a Scholes chance after an excellent pass from Tevez, and a Tevez shot that almost screamed into the top corner. Another Nani corner, this time on 83 minutes, swung perfectly onto the head of Vidic who cemented his man of the match performance with a thunderous goal.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Goodbye, Ole - a legend retires.

Who put the ball in the German's net? Solskjaer's finest hour

Simple moments of reflection can sometimes help you to see the bigger picture. While most United fans have been crying out for Anelka/Berbatov/Martins to sign, even Saha to return, one Old Trafford legend remained almost out of the equation. Yet, undoubtedly, in a recent period where United created chance after chance, what we really needed was a fit Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to turn what was a stuttering start into a winning one.

News last night that Solskjaer was set to announce his retirement from football came as one of those expected shocks, if there can be such a thing. While most United fans probably concentrate on the here and now, and whether United can somehow force a replacement in before the 31st, I'll choose instead to take a little time to remember possibly the most natural finisher the Premiership has ever seen.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was signed in 1996 from FK Molde after Fergie had failed to land Alan Shearer from Blackburn. At a tenth of the price of his Geordie comparitive, and to quote the famous chant, "although Shearer was so much dearer, please don't take my Solskjaer away". Ole was a player born to play for United, his timing and penchant for the fairytale allowed for him to quickly settle in. Fergie has famously since said he had wished to bring Ole in to the first team after the Christmas of 1996, however a succession of injuries to Andy Cole led to an early chance for the Norweigan - he took that chance just minutes into his debut (typically as a substitute) to score against Blackburn.

It was, inevitably, the season of 98-99 Ole will be most fondly remembered for. Not only for the fact he won the European Cup with one last flick of his boot, but for the reason that he embodied everything that was good about the Fergie team of that season - his never say die attitude, his commitment to the cause and his chasing of seemingly lost causes. Yes, everyone remembers that night in Barcelona, but similarly, who can forget when Solskjaer gave us a taster of things to come just 5 months earlier, smashing in a last minute winner against Liverpool at the Stretford End to avoid an FA Cup replay. Who can forget the stunning four goal haul after being brough on at Forest? And who can forget that when United were running the clock down after equalising against Bayern, that it was Solskjaer who chased a lost cause and won a corner instead of settling for possession? He was not only a great goalscorer, he could also score a great goal when needed - one effort against Chelsea in 1997 which many fans would probably agree was the trademark Solskjaer strike.

Such was the affection and high regard that United fans held him in that I hardly ever heard a murmur from anyone that they thought he was a liability while out injured. To the contrary, as this season started, most fans I talked to seemed of the belief that as Solskjaer had missed so much time, that it would be like having a 30 year old Ole back!

Aside from his magic on the pitch, Ole never courted controversy off it (aside from the revelation he was a childhood Liverpool fan!), and his commitment to the cause led him to snub many chances to move away, most notably as a long term target of Spurs. Such was Fergie's regard, that when Beckham was sold on, Solskjaer, who had impressed in the latter stages of our 03 title challenge on the wing, was pencilled in to play that role to smoothly allow one young Cristiano Ronaldo to settle.

Of course we'll all have our favourite Solskjaer moments, but as ever I'll attempt to stray from the obvious. As much as the Munich moment was glorious, I'll never forget two moments from last season - Solskjaer netting at the Valley and giving the United supporters a bow - no, Ole we're not worthy, (a moment that brought tears, as pathetic as it sounds!) and the Stretford End rising to salute Ole as he had just performed what turned out to be his final saving of United in Europe, with the inevitable goal from the bench against Celtic in September.

Solskjaer should rightly be held in the same regard as a Monsieur Cantona - I certainly look forward to singing his name from the terraces in years to come.

Thanks for memories, Ole. All the best.

One down, 29 to go

...wins, that is.

Sunday saw United finally claim their first win of the season, predictably the hard way, against a spirited Spurs side that in all fairness deserved something from the game.

A great goal from Nani (or was it Tevez?!) was met with a cheer that was as much relief as sheer joy. Indeed, predictably as Nani did a pirouette moments before scoring I said aloud "what on Earth is he doing?" before he answered me in incredible style.

To coin a cliché, Spurs "played in the right spirit", Keane and Berbatov almost each scored a sensational 25 yarder. The match was not without controversy as Spurs claimed two late penalties - for my money, neither were, Vidic was fouled in any event, and despite Jol's protestations to the contrary, it would take a good mathematician to calculate how the ball could richoet off at such an angle had Brown actually handled the ball.

All in all I consider this a very fortuitous victory, however, such a win was needed to start to turn the season around.

Let's just hope it has.

Ratings : van der Sar 6, Brown 5, Ferdinand 7, Vidic 5, Evra 6, Carrick 5 (Eagles 6), Scholes 6, Hargreaves 7, Nani 7, Tevez 6 (Fletcher 5), Giggs 6.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Derby woe

I've tried to stay optimistic in the early tides of discomfort, there is little to be said about Sunday's loss in the Manchester derby. I was at the Rocket near Euston station before making my way back 'up Norf'.

It was inevitable after about 52, 53 minutes that we wouldn't score if we played all day. The only positive out of the day was either getting through with no further injuries or Chelsea and Liverpool holding each other.

Credit where credit is due - yes, we dominated the game, but equally so, yes, City fully deserved their win. It pains to say it but I've rarely seen a defensive performance as accomplished as Micah Richards', and indeed it's fair ti argue that without him City could well have been embarrassed. Now, as things stand, we're 5 points behind Chelsea and in need of points, goals, luck and greater defensive concentration. Let's just hope all 4 combine against a Spurs team who have a lot to prove, and there is no better place for them to do that than at OT.

Ratings :van der Sar 6, Brown 6 (O'Shea 6), Ferdinand 6, Vidic 6, Evra 6, Carrick 6 (Campbell 5), Scholes 6, Hargreaves 7, Nani 7(Eagles 5), Giggs 7, Tevez 6.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Down at Fratton

Losing your head..Ronaldo looks bemused as Bennett takes great delight


I think we can safely say it will take a mammoth effort to retain the title this year. In a weird twist of fate, it looked like the first midweek fixtures may repeat from last year at half time, United leading and Chelsea trailing.

What looked like a promising start quickly decended into farce again and United looked like they had no cutting edge (aside from Giggs and Scholes looking a hell of a lot better, with a Giggs drilled ball across goal that should have been scored in the dying stages). Indeed, we now face a major problem with Ronaldo now joining Rooney on the sidelines for three games at least. It is sensational (and I don't mean that in the good way) to think that just 4 days ago everyone was thinking it would be a United-Chelsea tug of war for the title. Now it seems we're back to the good old days of Chelsea more or less winning it by December - unless we see, as I said, a mammoth effort to drag ourselves back into the race and it will have to be a mammoth effort.

The worst fears of every United fan are coming true, a title hangover is threatening to derail the cart and a bouyant City are threatening to run riot at us at Eastlands. Reading played their part and looked up for it for 20 minutes before collapsing and letting Chelsea walk all over them. It was a despressing sight to see, but gives further insight to Fergie's chestnut of wisdom all the way back in 1996.

Carlos Tevez made his bow in a red shirt, as did Nani (from the start at least) and both looked impressive in the early exchanges, as the Argentinian who was at the centre of so much controversy in the summer shrugged some of it off with a nice lay off which Paul Scholes drilled in from 20 yards. Then for the next 10/15 minutes Nani looked threatening but that was it. After half time there was an almost immediate equaliser and the feeling was that this United side that had outscored everyone by a country mile last season wouldn't even get realistically close to notching again, and so it proved. Ronaldo's stupidity was no help, he was provoked and though there was barely anything in it, it only takes a reaction for Steve Bennett to get card happy.
The substitution of Giggs for O'Shea just showed everything bad about this current United side. I've posted in earlier blogs that I wouldn't ever question Fergie's decisions but we've fielding very weak benches in the first two leagues for a supposedly strong squad. In both we've not had a striker on and in both we've needed something. Maybe that is as much to injury as it is choice (tonight at least) but there can be no denying that we are struggling.
The bright side of life shows that Fratton Park is a tricky place to visit. A draw in the grand scheme of things may not be a bad result? One thing is for sure, the City game now takes on incredibly importance in shaping the rest of the season.
Ratings : van der Sar 6, Brown 5 (Eagles 6), Ferdinand 6, Vidic 7, Evra 6, Ronaldo 5, Carrick 7, Scholes 7, Nani 6, Giggs 7 (O'Shea 5), Tevez 7

Monday, 13 August 2007

Cracked Rooney, Stalled United

Claustrophobic.. Ronaldo struggles to lose his shadow and make an impact

Last season it took United just 19 minutes to lash four goals against Fulham, flying out of the starting blocks. In yesterday's opener against Reading the pistol was fired but United seemed content to wait in the paddock.

The afternoon started with a slightly confusing team selection - normally you'd expect a few new faces on show to at least give the crowd some excitement, but at the same time you could see the logic in Fergie's thinking. Mourinho had sent on a couple of debutants with intant results earlier in the day at Stamford Bridge, whereas Fergie went for a trusted attacking line from last year.

However, the swagger of last years champions was replaced with the anxiousness of the faltering squad from 2 years ago, not helped at all by the staggering inadequacy of Silvestre. Never in my life have I seen a more uncomfortable player. He still hasn't realised that taking 20 seconds on the ball until someone closes you down actually gives the opposition confidence!

Not that he was totally to blame. All of a sudden Scholes and Giggs looked like idea-starved veterans, Carrick was lazy, Ronaldo's tricks for once were getting him nowhere, and when Rooney, our one shining light, performed that all too familiar grimace, I shared a knowing look with my brother. Instantly I said "That's 0-0 then." Before the game I'd had the common sense to give us the almighty kiss of death - "there's not been a goalless game yet, or a red card!" I quipped. And when O'Shea was introduced as our supposed hero, the writing was on the wall. Nani was introduced but he struggled, as much he would, being thrown straight into a game where all expectation was on him to make an impact. To put it all down to our players shortcomings would be doing a disservice to Reading and Steve Coppell who obviously sent his players to do a job, and they did it marvellously. It will be interesting to see just how they play against Chelsea in midweek.

Unfortunately all the pre-season optimism faded as we find ourselves playing catch up already. To put things in perspective, for all our creative talent, we have failed to score in our last FOUR competitive games, and in open play since Chris Eagles curled in the fourth at Goodison Park in April. Ryan Giggs hit a post and Hannemann made a smart save from O'Shea but aside from that Carrick, Scholes, Ronaldo, Nani and Giggs were all guilty of wild shots as the pressure mounted. In the dying seconds shades of the opening day from 1998 looked like they may re-emerge but from an ideal position for him, Giggs did not pull rank and instead left it to Ronaldo, who blazed the shot over and just about summed the entire afternoon up.

We have rarely recovered from bad starts in the past and I don't want to sound all doom and gloom but Pompey and City are hardly the best places for us to go when we're stifled of ideas. Call me a total pessimist but unless we can find some of that old creativity we could have taken both hands of the Premiership trophy by this time next week. Without Rooney (for anywhere upto 3 months!) we're desperately missing a firecracker. Alternatively, it could

Ratings : van der Sar 6, Brown 5 (Fletcher 5), Ferdinand 7, Vidic 6, Silvestre 5 (O'Shea 5), Ronaldo 5, Carrick 5, Scholes 5, Evra 5, Giggs 5, Rooney 7 (Nani 5). Subs unused : Kuszchak, Pique.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Player reviews

Thought of the day

United were under extreme scrutiny after the situation where Tim Howard did not play against us in the Everton game at Goodison Park. Scott Carson has completed a loan transfer from Liverpool to Aston Villa - Pool's opponents tomorrow? You guessed it. And is Carson eligible? No. This has slipped under the media radar, but not of the Stretford Sofa. Hah.

Players to watch in 07/08

The knives are out already because of the enormous transfer fee but Craig Gordon who signed for Sunderland after protracted negotations may just prove the difference - it's no exaggeration to say the performance of goalkeepers can easily earn a team 5 to 10 points extra a season and in Gordon they could possibly have that.

Spurs have four top quality forwards now and Jol may have played a mastercard with the signing of Darren Bent - it could allow Berbatov to slip out of focus somewhat so he feels less pressure under "second season syndrome". As I posted a few days ago, I believe Spurs have a real chance to even break into the top 3 and much of that depends on the form of the Bulgarian.

Robin van Persie has big boots to fill - but in the same way Jol has done for Spurs, Wenger's signing of Eduardo may just make van Persie's job a little easier. This is the season where we find out if van Persie is the ready made replacement for Henry, or Bergkamp as was mentioned when he signed for them, or whether he is actually as inconsistent as he has proven to be. Avoiding the obvious Shevchenko, Ballack and Drogba mentions, I think that Lampard and Malouda have a lot to prove this year - the latter especially if Robben leaves, who I personally view as the most penetrative player in the Premiership since Ryan Giggs in his pomp. Lampard was poor last season and let's be honest about the worst kept secret in football - he's not all he's made out to be by the London Media, 70,000 England fans at Wembley against Brazil showed they agree. Frank's fate lies in Mourinho's decision to suffocate or accomodate - does he risk Drogba turning into the flop of two seasons ago to assist Franks ego, or does he overcrowd the midfield with the infinitely more talented Ballack and Essien? Crucially, this decision will have a major bearing on the Premier League title race.

Elsewhere it's a big season for Micah Richards, especially with the Euros beckoning - can the City youngster become the first genuine contender to take Neville's England spot for well over a decade?

Liverpool have a team full of players who need to prove they are worth the hype this season - Reina, Carragher, Agger, Torres, Pennant, Kewell, and yes even Steven Gerrard - if they are to sustain a real challenge, all of those players are going to need big performances in around 34 games out of 38. Now the key here is whether Benitez will allow them to play that amount of games.

Key names in the relegation race will include, as mentioned before, Craig Gordon for Sunderland - Giles Barnes, once on United's youth books, at Derby, and I have the feeling down at the Cottage Lawrie Sanchez has put an incredible (impossible?) weight on Healy's shoulders.

At Blackburn, Bentley has a hell of a lot to prove after a controversial summer. Elsewhere, other names that could make an impact are Piennar at Everton, Scott Parker at West Ham, and then, (drum roll please, here comes the award for bleedin' obvious statement) at Newcastle, the great English hope that is Michael Owen will need to show fitness and form.

Tevez signs for Manchester United

What am I signing again?! Pen-happy Tevez with David Gill
Numbers up.. Carlos will wear the same shirt as he did at West Ham
Ferguson welcomes his latest recruit

On the eve of the Premiership season Manchester United have finally signed Carlos Tevez. I've stayed deliberately quiet about this because it was one of those "will it, won't it" situations. Even when images of Tevez kitted out and training were splashed all over the media I refused to believe it until an announcement was made. Possibly the most controversial transfer in football history - certainly British football, although even this could be ousted by the possibility of Heinze moving to the dippers - the Argentinian looks have to have completed Fergie's summer transfer activity.

After a difficult time finding his feet due to not being selected and then adaption, Tevez was a big hit at Upton Park at the business end of the season and was the major contributor to their escape. Tevez can possibly, unbelievably, (cough, Bellamy, cough) be one of the few players who can lay a honest claim to that ridiculous statement "I've followed the club for all my life", following controversy in 2005 when he wore a United shirt to a press conference while on the books (or was he?!) of Corinthians. I was most impressed with a game he played towards the end of the season (can't for the life of me remember who it was against, may have been Spurs?!) at Upton park where he scored a bullet of a free kick and provided an unbelievable assist.

I am excited about his signing but I'm just cautious looking 2 years into the future and hoping we don't get shafted by Kia too.

Squad numbers released

No real changes aside from the new boys - Hargreaves will wear 4, Anderson will get the number 8 shirt, obviously Tevez has the 32 shirt - some of the notable others include Foster (12), Heinze (14), Pique (19), Evans (23) and Martin (30).

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Premiership Predictions

Okay, with three days to go before the big kick off, it must be time for... dun dun dunnnnn..

Predictions!

As far as the top 4 go I can't disagree with the view of the norm, I can't really see beyond us or Chelsea for the title and I have to say I think it could go down to the wire again. I can't make a predicition either way here but the heart is saying United, as well it should.

Liverpool's addition of Torres and Babel will probably add the extra goals but I can't really see where the consistency will come from - the likes of Finnan, Pennant, Riise and Kuyt are good players but they are squad players established for the teams that finish 3rd-5th. Even the Pool's (arguably) best two players of recent times, Carragher and Gerrard, are in my humble opinion good players in an average Liverpool side. I don't dismiss the fact that Gerrard is certainly one of the best midfielders in Europe but by the same token Carragher is somewhere around 7th choice BEHIND Rio and Terry and I think that (and Reina's tendency to drop a clanger in a random game) will be the undoing of them again this year. Can't see a push for them beyond Christmas, but I could be wrong.

I can't say the same for Arsenal, where the media seem to think Arsené's magic wand (!) that signed Eduardo will magically replace all of Henry's influence on the club. Wenger has systematically replaced all the North London, typical English style that Arsenal had with a French/African culture. Which is fine by me but the identity is stripped for the true Arsenal supporters. I did feel momentarily sorry for the fans with the signing of Eduardo - a clear signal, if any was needed, that Wenger has no long term interest in the club and is planning to do the same as his last two captains and take the last chance at a big role somewhere in the continent. For these reasons I honestly believe that Spurs, now with a fundamental British spine, have a stronger first team than their local rivals and could break into the top 4, even three if Liverpool do as I expect.

The European chase this season will be intriguing, perhaps moreso than ever before. Everton are as cute as ever and have made a couple of really good signings. City's splash on players that are promising on Football Manager could enter them into the mix, Portsmouth's acquisition of Nugent, Villa's Reo Coker capture, Blackburn purchasing Santa Cruz and the exciting Rigters, Newcastle finally getting some stability means that along with West Ham, whose open chequebook policy means that the release of Tevez may be the best thing that happened to them, and Sunderland, who could surprise a few with Keano in charge, that there could realistically be seven clubs in with a shout. My gut feeling is that Everton easily have enough in them for 6th place, and should get there at a canter. 7th place will be between West Ham, Aston Villa, and Blackburn - Rovers, here, are my gut feeling again.

My tips for a disappointing season are Bolton and Reading, although I think the former still has enough left in them post Allardyce to stave off relegation, and the latter will probably be safe due to home form.

Much like the European places chase, this season's relegation promises to be one of the most unpredictable for years. Although I mentioned earlier that Sunderland could surprise a few, if they don't start strongly they could very easily struggle - the other two promoted sides will definitely have a hard time. Derby, as their manager and most fans would probably admit, seem to have been 'promoted too soon', and Birmingham will have trouble finding their feet. Last season my initial feeling was that Charlton were instantly down as soon as it was announced Curbishley was leaving, and I have that same feeling about Wigan. At Craven Cottage Lawrie Sanchez has initiated the predictable influx of Northern Irish lads, and while I think that much like the national team and the Wimbledon-esque team spirit he instils, they could cause an upset or two, overall I just have a feeling that they will be involved at the wrong end of the table. It's a make or break season for Gareth Southgate at Middlesbrough, much depends on the fitness of Woodgate and the form of Yakubu now that Viduka has left.

Elsewhere, in the Championship I feel that Sheffield United, West Brom, Leicester (would love to see Allen managing in the Premiership) and Cardiff are the main runners for promotion.

So for nailing the flag to the wall, these are my predictions : Premiership title : I'm fence sitting here, it's between Chelsea and Manchester United. Champions League spots : Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool. 5/6/7 : Arsenal, Everton, Blackburn. Relegation : Wigan, Derby, Birmingham.


Tomorrow or Friday I'll move onto player predicitons.


And finally...

Had to have a chuckle at the Beeb's view on "the sack race".. and I quote.. "The addition of Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson has brought the Scot's first team almost on a par with Chelsea's. " Almost on a par!!! Yup.. that would be the same first team that finished a few points behind us last season! Don't give me that crap about injuries.. we were in front before Christmas too and in April we kept our nerves when the entire back line was out.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Penalties win for United in the Community Shield.

It's only right that I refer to Sundays Community Shield shoot out as a trophy won after a draw after the amount of stick I give scousers over the fact their last two major trophies after drawing the actual games in fortunate fashion.

Carrick steps up to hit the 2nd penalty

However fortunate is something I - fortunately - am relieved to feel did not apply to United against Chelsea. I watched the curtain raiser for the season in a beach bar near Skegness (Skeg Vegas to its many tourist) with the missus and my brother and his other half.

Now we're talking a north east section of the country so normally I'd expect to see a few Man United fans, plenty of supporters of both Sheffield clubs and even the odd Liverpool shirt. This trip however was snided with scousers and Northern-tongued Chelsea fans... at least stay in your vicinity, lads! Needless to say we obviously got stuck on a table surrounded by Chelsea fans.

The good thing, normally, about such games is it's a chance for most fans to get their eyes on some of the summer signings. For one reason or another we were left with just the chance to see Nani possibly play some part as a sub as the team memory of seasons past started the weekend game (Silvestre at left back, Sheasy in midfield). I was hoping for at least a cameo of Dong after hearing he "drilled in United's third" in the Peterborough friendly on Saturday. Ah Dong, you legend.

I was quite impressed with the overall performance, although I'm starting to wonder when the rule of "no player can challenge Cech within a radius of 10 yards" will wear off, to my eye that rule cost us the FA Cup last season and almost had the gutter press calling Rooney a thug again. I read he was lucky not to be sent off.. was I watching the right game? Didn't Wright Phillips at one point throw a wild tackle in? Oh well.

Of course a Giggsy goal is always welcome and provided a short time of gloating over our Chelsea neighbours, that was replaced quickly again by that familiar nervousness when Malouda bungled in an equaliser. I don't know how to describe it other than that overwhelming need for passion in football to overcome the lethargic robotic football machine Chelsea are. And, when van der Sar, temporarily at least, silenced his critics with three superb penalty saves (it's always fun when Lumplard misses, but I never imagined how fun it could be when it's your team that benefits rather than the ironic laughter of another failure wearing the Three Lions), we managed to at least get a little face over the Chelsea masses.

Does it prove anything? Probably not. Does it mean anything in the long run? Again, probably not. I wasn't at all surprised for the Chelse excuse bandwagon to roll out the injury line, Terry and Drogba were both missing. Apparently 5 players that have a reasonable argument of a starting place for Chelsea were missing. I'm sure Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves, Ben Foster, Louis Saha, Solskjaer, and Anderson were all dropped..!

Anyway, for what it's worth for the glorified friendly (although as I pointed out to the girlfriend, who said "the game meant nothing anyway so what does it matter", "it matters if we win!"), here's me ratings.

van der Sar 9, Brown 6, Ferdinand 7, Vidic 7, Silvestre 5, Ronaldo 7, Carrick 8, O'Shea 6, Evra 8, Giggs 8, Rooney 8. (Fletcher 6, Nani 6)

--

The Sundays in the week before the opening Saturday are always fun reading. This years editions had the predictable "now Chelsea can have a full team all season", and the absolutely priceless (and this is no word of a lie, although I can't remember if it was in the NotW or the People's pullout I got this from) "how would United cope without van der Sar or Ferdinand for a long period of time?"

Quite admirably, infact. Neville missed the bulk of the business end of the season after getting injured against Bolton in March, Vidic missed most of it too after getting injured against Blackburn, Rio missed a sizeable amount, as did Evra, and Edwin also had a spell out with a broken nose.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Arrivederci, Guiseppe

So, it's finally happened. One of the strikers has gone! Guiseppe Rossi last night signed for Villareal, and let's just say the 'word on the street' definitely portrays a mixed reaction. Just days after Fergie said the kids weren't going back out on loan again because they would prove a "valuable resource for the club" in the quest for all 4 trophies, he stays technically true to his word and lets one leave.

My own view is that it was good business. In all probability he wouldn't have had a future at United, for a number of reasons. I don't agree with the common opinion that he was TOO lightweight, though he did need to develop that area of his game. Admittedly I saw very little of him at Parma last season but by all accounts he came on well. Rooney and (probably) Tevez are the future. For the next season at least if we were struggling Fergie would invariably turn to Ole's magic boots, or one of Anderson or Nani. They cost far too much to be shipped out on loan. And lastly, Fergie likes to buy his strikers. Which means next year or the year after that we'll sign another forward or two to replace Saha / Solskjaer / Smith. And of course £7m is a great, great price for someone who barely played a game in the Premiership.

Don't get me wrong, I reckon Rossi will go onto become a star in his own right and I've no doubts that £7m will eventually look very good business for Villareal, then the Fergiebashers will come out saying what an error of judgment it was to sell him for "just £7m". I think this is one of those transfers where you can safely say "all parties were very happy with the outcome".

What I do hope is that this is not a signal of intent, and that Pique will be shown the exit. I'm a massive fan of the Spanish centre half, he reminds me very much of Pallister.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Lost in Translation..?

'IT'S MY LEMSIP'.. Evra tackles the queue in the chemist
It's probably safe to say that the Far East trip was a success, culminating in yesterday's 3-0 win over Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals. The football displayed in the 6 goal romp against Shenzen reminded me very much of how we played against Roma at OT in April. Granted, the level of competition is almost incomparable, however, it was our use of the ball and movement that is most pleasing, probably to most United fans.
I'll be honest and admit I have been more eagerly anticipating the arrival of Anderson but seeing Nani in action has already convinced me that in the young Portuguese winger we have a real "United" player. His goal in the game against Guangzhou was something a little bit special.
So too, was Lee Martin's drive. Chris Eagles hit a pretty similar shot in the previous game but I think Martin's was a little better only because Eagles already had momentum on his side. Lee Martin is a player I've wanted to see in action since I saw him playing in a game for Rangers and he displayed some blistering pace. Having said that, the way both of them played in the games has filled me with optimism.
Now it's back to Olde England, where Fergie and Manchester United will now have to bite the Tevez bullet and face the media full on. Am I losing the plot or are United currently an insignificant piece of the equation? The issue of Tevez's registration is still very much up in the air and it is this that is being studied at the High Court. One day Tevez was going to move on, and this situation would surely have cropped up at any time? The fact that it is Manchester United means of course that the figure being quoted ranges anywhere from £20m to £38m.
It will also be very interesting to see how the Heinze situation develops when Fergie can say they've spoken..
Ah the English season, how you are welcome!

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Top 5 things amusing me in the world of football (yesterday - delayed blog)

1) An article I found while looking up what was actually said between Keane and Vieira in the Highbury tunnel in February 2005. The Times reported, at the time, "Keane had won the game before a ball had been kicked". Aside from our annual doomed trip to Fratton Park I can't remember many more games like that. Perhaps the Scholesy 500th game against Liverpool last October. It was written in the stars he'd score in a win, Scholes has that thing about him. Legend. I'll talk about you later.

2) Mido.. £6m.. Come on Brucey mate, they saw you coming!

3) Quite low but still on the chucklemeter, Liverpool fans thinking one decent signing in Torres will somehow mask the catastrophic asbence of premiership winning calibre players throughout their team, bar one.

4) The possibility of ol' Bernie taking over Arsenal. This is comical two fold - a) Arsenal fans saying "I'd prefer it if Bernie took over because it's right the club is in British ownership" - chuckle material considering Wenger may as well have relocated L'Arse to the South East of France, prime location considering his reputation for 'nurturing and discovering' young talent (a list that commonly includes, among others, Adebayor despite a CL campaign and final appearance) - and b) Because having watched Sky Sports News and hearing a couple of Bernie's mates waffle on about how he has no interest in football whatsoever and indeed quotes along the lines of "if there was a kickabout in my garden and the world's top stars were playing, I wouldn't be interested", and "I would never invest what Roman has at Chelsea", especially when you consider it took Chelsea £250m of playing talent added to a squad already in the CL to put a serious competition against Fergie's boys, it makes it all the more pleasurable to witness the amazing Arsene's fall from grace in time for his completely surprising move to Spain next year.

5) Finally, if not exactly rib tickling, it does deserve a minor mention. Mr Robert Fowler, Liverpool legend, now agrees to sign for Cardiff. Oh how the mighty have fallen. I can't imagine that would happen to any of our current legends. Possible exception being Scholesy, I'd admire him getting a few games for Oldham. I'm sure they wouldn't mind it either. One last word on the matter - from BBC - But his representative George Scott revealed Sydney were unable to compete financially with the other offers for Fowler. "The only thing against them is that Robbie is a Premiership player and he is used to Premiership money," said Scott. Used to Premiership money.. but not used to Premiership performances since 2001, eh Mr Scott?

Friday, 20 July 2007

Where are they now?

Okay, this is a highly un-original source of entertainment but I'm going to try and put an original twist in here. Rather than the lame old "I wonder what Paul Parker is upto these days" or "what happened to Norman Whiteside??" (although on request I will endeavour to search) I'm going to investigate what happened to all those "the next Ronaldo (Brazilian)" or cult heroes from my generation. This could include Tommy Svindal Larsen but will not begin with such.

First up ->Adailton.

Oh yes. The great enigma of my teenage years. Retrospectively it was a quite foolish journey but I was telling anyone who listened that I'd just seen the best player ever. I remember it well, my dad was watching Eurosport and gave us a yell. Brazil's U20's were playing who I believed at the time (and for the next 10 years until I did research for this blog) were Belgium. It turns out it was the Korean Republic, which could go someway to explaining my horrible mis-judgment of Adailton's potential talent. Still, he was wearing the famed number 10. So they must have seen the same as I did, right??

In this game he appeared to be like a 16 year old prodigy against a bunch of 5 year olds - I seem to recall that he flicked the ball up from a standing position and bicycle kicked it into the goal. Simply put, he was dazzling. I've never been so dazzled. Remember, these were days fresh AE - (after Eric) and the signing of Teddy Sheringham did little to whet the appetite.

Excited teenager that I was, feverishly anticipating the next installment of Championship Manager (97/98, my mate still swears by this one to the extent it's edited every year for a new season!), just so I could sign Adailton. Needless to say he disappointed. And editing him to make him play better does not make you feel better. Then in 1998 Parma signed him - hooray I thought, Channel 4's Football Italia would keep me in regular contact with my new idol. This was a false dawn, and he was shipped out on loan and eventually permanently to Verona via a similarly unsuccessful loan period in Paris. By all accounts he didn't flop in Verona and the fans hold him in quite sentimental regard. For English fans I would use Middlesbrough's romantic association with Juninho as a comparison. Genoa then signed him last summer (by which time I was hoping we'd sign Kerlon - do I ever learn?) and had a relatively successful debut season there, helping them achieve promotion to Serie A, which some nice person has decided to document on youtube. However I think he's a bit fond of his video effects so I'd advise epileptics to stand away.... now. Next season sees Adailton have his final 'big crack' at Serie A (that is, unless he is transferred again).

So there you have it, you can sleep easy tonight - that's what happened to Adailton.

As a footnote, eagle eyed researchers among you may have looked up the statistics for that FIFA 1997 World Youth Championship, and note that a certain Mr. Henry was playing and grabbed a couple of goals.

Mr Silvestre was also present for France. And true to form, got on the scoresheet. At the wrong end.

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Any requests for a "where are they now?", leave a comment and let me know.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

New shirt, and eggs in the basket.

back in black.. United's new away strip
So thanks to http://www.football-shirts.co.uk I got the above pic. I wonder if it has the "Go Faster" stripe on the back. Speaking of which, sources say that the stripe is to commemorate the PL champions? Anyways.. It's a nice shirt, been a couple of years since the last black shirt (who can forget John O'Shea scoring the best goal EVER at Highbury).

Transfers

It seems that Rossi and Smith are on the way out. Now don't get me wrong, I have 100% faith in Fergie's judgment. However, just to play Devil's Advocate.. 2 years ago we let Nicky Butt and Kleberson go. Then Phil Neville. Then Roy Keane. And then we were desperately light in midfield. Given the FA and the PL's apparent desire to make the Tevez transfer impossible I wonder if it would be wise to put all the eggs in the Carlos basket. With sicknote up front, if you take away Rossi and Smith you only have Ole who is a "goalscorer". This is not discounting Dong who is obviously a legend. Hmm.

Quick 06/07 review, player for player (main players)

van der Sar - 7 - Decent season - but perhaps age was telling at the end of the season when a few gaffes were costly.
Neville - 8 - Until he got injured my favourite badge kisser was having his best season since our last title winning campaign.
Evra-8 - The equal of any left back in the country last season. Came on leaps and bounds after coming in for critiscm after signing.
Ferdinand-8 - Rio was excellent last season. There are still moments such as Fratton Park where his concentration can be questioned but his absence was felt in the games where he was missing.
Vidic-9 - 'Drago' as the United players apparently call him has become an instant favourite. Very much in the Brucey mould, and again was sorely missed when out injured.
Carrick-8 - I must have been one of only a few United fans who wasn't sceptical about this signing. When others thought he was going missing, I could see the confidence growing, and the blend ever growing. It will be intriguing to see what happens now Hargreaves has signed.
Scholes-9 - What else needs to be said? The Ginger Prince displayed perfectly why I rate him (alongside Giggs) as the best two footballers in the Premiership.
Ronaldo-9 - Again the subject of very divided opinion - and until Christmas time I was still very much at odds with Fergie. However I'm happy to admit how wrong I was. The final stepping stone for Ronaldo will be consistently performing in the big games next season.
Giggs-9 - Pinning my colours to the flag, Giggs is my favourite player of all time, hero of my adolesence and all that. What he has sacrificed in pace he has made up for in guile.
Rooney-9 - In some quarters people remain unconvinced about his contribution last season. I disagree, he gives 100% every game and doesn't need to be playing well to make a contribution. If Ronaldo is the 1996 Ryan Giggs then Rooney is the Cantona of that era.

Armchair fans - an introduction

'Armchair fans' - there are 90 million of us around the globe, and only 78000 seats for us to occupy every fortnight. I do go to games, but manage only a handful a season, regretfully. However in place of this I've found that travelling and watching United in different locations can have its own charms.

This trend stretches back to my 18th year in 1999. I'd saved up for weeks for my first visit to Old Trafford in the Autumn of 1997 to see United hit 6 past Sheffield Wednesday. Now Easter and summer holidays were invariably arranged around vital European dates late in the season or the first big game of the new season. Such occasions as the relief of Ryan Giggs' last minute equaliser at home to Juventus in '99 (missed by me, gone to the loo in exasperation of Sheringham's disallowed goal seconds earlier), the despair of Mikael Silvestre being destroyed by Raul a year later, David Beckham scoring from 35 yards in Spain against Deportivo in the European knockout stages, and Roy Keane scoring 2 goals at Highbury were witnessed while holidaying on the east coast of England.

Last summer I had decided to blog an account of United's season. It started well but I lost interest around the time of the Arsenal loss at Old Trafford, mainly out of frustration and having the sinking feeling that Chelsea would run away with the title - indeed, the draw at Reading was the last time I posted. Quite clearly I didn't stop following United. But the feeling many United fans had missed for many years had now returned - one of anxiousness, nail biting, kicking every ball, knowing every point was significant in the race against the Jose Boreinho money steamroller. It was far too intense a period to even contemplate putting my own feelings down into the annals of history. With such intense pressure comes some incredible relief in victory as well as the excruciating agony of defeat - and last year I saw more United games on my travels than ever before. Liverpool at home on holiday in the cold cold autumn months in Mablethorpe, the return viewed during a three week stay in Florida (ah the joys of waking up at 7:30am and instantly feeling a nervousness one should not be feeling while on a dream vacation), sat at a Christmas dinner with my partners family - incidently 75% of who are Hammers - when West Ham took 3 points from us at Upton Park, back on the East Coast for another unforgettable European night as we destroyed Roma, and London for the home tie against Milan.

Most true United fans don't begrudge we who were weaned onto the club at an early age, regardless of where we are from. The more disgruntled fans of other clubs do have issues, perhaps feeling a slight self-disdain that their own club does not meet the worldwide appeal of United.