Month June 2009

Month June 2009

Will Fergie’s new fledglings get their chance?

June 30, 2009 Tags: Opinion No comments

While fans and media await United’s first moves in this summer’s transfer market, supporters can be secure in the knowledge that United are in rude health at youth level. United may have only the single player – Frazier Campbell – in the England under-21 squad that reached the final of the European Championships on Monday, but the announcement last week of England’s under-20 squad was more promising. With four United players in the squad, plus a smattering of hugely talented yougsters on the fringe of the first team, the Reds’ long-term future looks promising.

The United quartet of Ben Amos, Danny Drinkwater, Matt James and Danny Welbeck were named in the 18 man party travelling to Ukraine next month to take part in the European under-20 championships. While history says that all four face an uphill struggle to establish themselves at Old Trafford, the call-up is ample reward for excellent performances at reserve level last seaon.

For Welbeck in particular the under-20 championships present a second opportunity to shine on the international stage this summer. The Manchester born striker was forced to withdraw from Stuart Pearce’s under-21 group following an injury. The tournament could also give Welbeck a springboard into the new season where he will push to become an ever more important member of the first team. He’s unlikely to fulfill Sir Alex Ferguson’s prediction of a place in England’s World Cup 2010 team in South Africa, but 2009-10 could be Welbeck’s breakthrough season, especialy given United’s continued frustration in the transfer market.

Amos, Drinkwater and James may be less well known having yet to appear in the United first team, but each has plenty of talent. ‘Keeper Amos had an excellent season in the reserve team for United, forcing his way into both the England under-20 and under-21 squads on occasion. Many youth-team watchers also rate defensive midfielder James just as highly. But while Welbeck will get game time in the Carling and FA Cup at least, with selected Premiership outings, the same is far from true for the rest of the quartet.

United’s strength in depth at youth level is not based on English talent alone. Indeed, the Jimmy Young young player of the year was the Italian Federico Macheda, who scored two crucial goals for the first team against Aston Villa and Sunderland last season. Add Fabio da Silva, Rodrigo Possebon, Davide Petrucci, and Corry Evans – Johnny’s younger brother – into the reserve team mix and United have talent to spare.

Will any of them make it? History says that at best one of the current youth group will play regularly for the first team in the coming years. Indeed, of the past 20 Jimmy Young award winners only Lee Martin, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Wes Brown ever established themselves as first teamers.

Tevez: Fergie didn’t play me so I’m off

June 26, 2009 Tags: Opinion 6 comments

In a warning to prospective empoyers, Manchester United forward Carlos Tevez today claimed that the signing of Dimitar Berbatov was the begining of the end of his time at Old Trafford. Speaking after rejecting the offer of a five year deal at Old Trafford, Tevez complained that the Bulgarian’s arrival at United in the summer of 2008 made him feel negletted at the club. Tevez’ two year loan deal at the club runs out on June 30.

Tevez said: “I did not feel supported after they [United] signed Berbatov because I was the man for the job he was bought to do.
“Ferguson told me not be worried about Berbatov’s arrival, but I did not like it when he started to put me on the bench often. I gave my life for the Manchester United shirt.
“Last year, I was the second top-scorer after Cristiano [Ronaldo]. We won two titles [the Premier League and the Carling Cup] and being shut out like this was something that I could not understand.
“When I arrived I had to fight for a place like any other player. My first season was good. I was a starter or a substitute, but I respected that.
“But in my second year, after the match against Liverpool [on Sept 13], the coach started to overlook me.
“The fans supported me a lot so I thought that something was going on as my performances were also good. I was a professional.”

“I did not feel supported after they signed Berbatov because I was the man for the job he was bought to do,” complained Tevez.

“Ferguson told me not be worried about Berbatov’s arrival, but I did not like it when he started to put me on the bench often.

“Last year, I was the second top-scorer after Cristiano Ronaldo. We won two titles  and being shut out like this was something that I could not understand.

“When I arrived I had to fight for a place like any other player. But in my second year, after the match against Liverpool, the coach started to overlook me.

“The fans supported me a lot so I thought that something was going on as my performances were also good.

“I gave my life for the Manchester United shirt,” the very much alive Tevez lied in conclussion.

While Tevez is not the first, nor the last, player to complain about not starting every game its something he’ll probably have to get used to. In fact, unless the Argentinian suprises everybody and moves to one of the ‘smaller’ clubs, he will come up against a squad system almost everwhere.

Indeed, Tevez’ probable employers Manchster City already boast Robinho, Craig Belemy, and Roque Santa Cruz – and quite possibly Samuel Eto’o by the time the season kicks off on August 15. Tevez may get even less time on the pitch next season. Will he slap in a transfer request? Unlikely.

Moreover, the facts do not support Tevez’ position, who made 34 starts and 17 more appearancs from the bench last season. Meanwhile Berbatov made 36 starts, with seven more from the bench, and Wayne Rooney 39 starts, with 10 from the bench. Hardly being dramatically overlooked in favour of other players. It doesn’t help Tevez’ argument that he was actually third top goalscorer – not second as he claims  – behind both Ronaldo and Rooney. And there were just five scored in the Premier League.

Of course there is one number where Tevez is set to propser – the £160,000 per week that City will pay him over the next five years. But let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story, Carlos.

Has United hit roadblock in dash to splash Ronaldo cash?

June 23, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 4 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson may have anything up to £125 million to spend this summer but it could be cash that burns a painful hole in his pocket by the time the transfer window closes on September 1. Top targets – depending on which tabloid you believe – who reportedly include Wigan Athletic’s Antonio Valencia, Olympique Lyonnais’ Karim Benzema, Valencia’s David Villa and David Silva, together with Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o, and the Brazilian teenager Douglas Costa may all end up elsewhere as Fergie remains frustrated in his attempts to build on the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Winger Valencia has seemingly been nailed-on for a transfer to United ever since stories leaked out about an agreement between the clubs during the January transfer window. Indeed, as much was told to both Chelsea and Liverpool who have made enquiries of Wigan about the player. But the signature has faltered because of a disagreement over the price, with United offering £12 million and Wigan demanding closer to £18 million. Unsurprisingly, Wigan Chairman Dave Whelan has latched on to United’s huge transfer budget and tried to ratchet up the price, while calling Valencia “the best right winger anywhere.” United may be confident that the Ecuadorian has ‘chosen’ them but the Whelan is digging his heals in and the deal could drag on for the best part of the summer. It’s a strategy that any selling club will adopt with United this summer in order to extract the largest possible fee.

If it’s proving problematic to bring Valencia to the club, then the transfer of Benzema will inevitably be even more complex, with Lyon’s Chairman Jean-Michel Aulas well-schooled in driving a hard bargain. Indeed, anybody who can squeeze €15 million out of Barcelona for France’s third-choice left-back must be. Benzema will of course move on eventually but Aulas will look for the best price for a player who appears in no desperate need to leave the French club ahead of next year’s World Cup. While Lyon may talk if the price reaches more than £30 million for the 21 year-old, Benzema may decide to stay put. Moreover, the club will want even more if Benzema does indeed do well at South Africa 2010. Ferguson’s would be wise to seal a deal this summer – and quickly – with a host of top European clubs all too keen to write Aulas the cheque he desires should United hesitate.

Any deal for Villa, Silva and indeed Eto’o seem even more fanciful right now. Debt-ridden Valencia has apparently called off the £30 million plus transfer of Villa to Real Madrid – most probably in order to drive a harder bargain from the capital side, whose bid was some way short of that offered by Barcelona for the Spanish marksman. With the player seemingly reluctant to leave Spain at all, United’s hopes if they ever existed, are dead and burried.

Villa’s team-mate David Silva may be a more reasonable target, with Ferguson short of left-sided quality for the coming season. However, with Nani, Zoran Tošić and the evergreen Ryan Giggs on the books, Fergie may have to offload Nani before any bid for Silva. With the Portugese international apparently rejecting the notion of any move back to his old club Sporting Lisbon, Silva may remain out of reach this summer.

Meanwhile, Barcelona’s Eto’o, who is out of contract at the end of next season, will seemingly go to the highest bidder. If United’s new youth policy – of only signing players under-26 years of age – is truly in effect, there’s little hope that the board will sanction both a £20 million fee and wages that are rumoured to be in excess of £200,000 net per week. A move to Manchester City awaits the Cameroonian international.

Younger players remain at the heart of United’s transfer policy, and Gremio’s Douglas Costa presents an interesting proposition, with Ferguson rumoured to be keen to add to United’s burgeouning Brazilian quotient. The left-footed attacking midfielder will come at a massive price, however, if the player’s parent club get the £20 million transfer fee they are apparently demanding. Costa may be talented but if the manager really is after the player – and this could just as easily be the player’s agent seeking a big money move to any European club – there isn’t a chance that the board will sanction a fee above £20 million for a player unproven in outside of Brazil.

With extortionate fees being demanded and Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid all spending big, it’s set to be a frustrating summer for Fergie and fans alike.

No panic required over Tevez exit

June 21, 2009 Tags: Opinion 3 comments

Manchester United has finally confirmed what many have known for some time – Carlos Tevez will leave the club after two years at Old Trafford. Fans’ favourite Tevez leaves United having scored 34 goals in 99 appearances for the club since arriving from West Ham.

In a statement on the club’s website, United confirmed that following “contact received from Carlos Tevez’s advisors last night, in advance of the deadline the Club set for concluding negotiations, Manchester United announces that Carlos will not be signing a new contract with the Club.”

United confirmed that they had agreed to take up the option on Tevez at the £25.5 million fee demanded by the owners of his economic rights, MSI, in addition to offering  Tevez what is believed to be more than £100,000 per week.  Despite having an ‘in principal’ agreement in place to sign Tevez for more than a year, United’s hierachy has delayed confirming the transfer while they haggled over a price that, in managing director’s David Gill’s words, was a “bit toppy.” Having paid around £10 million in loan fees over the past two yeras, the combined fee would have made Tevez United’s record signing and among the top five earners at the club.

In reality, while Tevez has become a highly popular player both amongst the squad and supporters, his ability and performance on the pitch over the past two seasons are far short of justifying the exhorbitant fee. With Manchester City and Chelsea waiting in the wings, Tevez will get the big money move his owners are demanding. But United’s board have been  inadvertently saved  from making what could turn out to be a costly mistake in recruiting the little Argentinian a massive expense.

Tevez has become highly popular for his all-energy performances, putting no little effort whether starting or coming off the bench. But in turning down United’s lucrative approach Tevez has revealed his true motivations. Firstly, he will move to Chelsea or Manchester City for a vast increase in wages – possibly as high as £150,000 a week at City. Secondly, his desire to be a bigger fish – his apparent dejection at United born from a desire to start the biggest games – reveals a hitherto unknown ego.

Most importantly, however, Tevez just isn’t good enough to justify the fee, no matter how much United may have in the bank following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure. Technically Tevez’ first touch is poor, his pace no better than average and his goalscoring record nowhere near good enough for a £30 million plus striker. His 19 Premier League goals have come from 49 starts and 14 from the bench. Just five league goals in the past season. Additionally he has six Champions League strikes from 10 starts and 11 games from the bench. He has nine more goals from the League and FA Cups, where United has often fielded weaker sides against lower league opposition.

Tevez’ departure leaves manager Sir Alex Ferguson with the double headache of replacing both the Argentinean and Ronaldo. However, the arrival of Antonio Valencia is still likely, despite recent posturing by Wigan Athletic’s Chairman Dave Whelan aimed at driving up the price. Moreover, United are now expected to put in a large offer in for Olympique Lyonnais’ hugely talented striker Karim Benzema. The transfer of Benzema is by no means certain, with a number of clubs interested in the French international. At more than £30 million Benzema also presents a huge risk, while Tevez was very much a known quanity.

But Sir Alex has not built his career on playing safe. He might not believe it this morning, but the loss of is unlikely to be the devastating blow many rivals will hope. That MSI managing director Kia Joorabchian claimed this morning that Tevez’ hadn’t “actually rejected the offer. Carlos needed time. We never ever at any time asked them for more money. We just asked for time to think about it,” is telling. United are already looking to the future.

Whatever happend to Zoran Tošić?

June 18, 2009 Tags: Opinion 18 comments

Anybody who caught Zoran Tošić’s lively display for Serbia under-21s against the Italian equivalent Tuesday night might wonder where Sir Alex Ferguson has been hiding the boy all these months. Tosic, who was signed from Partizan Belgrade with teammate Adem Ljajic in a £17 million joint deal last January, came to United with a glowing reputation as one of the best young wide players in Europe. But in the interviening months the left-winger has played just three times in the United first team. He came off the bench against Tottenham in the FA Cup, and then again against West Bromich Albion and Hull City in the Premiership. In truth though Tošić has spent most of his time in the reserves in what has hardly been an auspicious start to his United career.

But there is hope for the boy, who played in both central and wide-left attacking positions against Italy at the European Under-21 Championships. Some strong performances for Serbia Under-21s, a good pre-season tour to Asia, together with United’s current weakness in the left flank area, could thrust Tošić into the first team spotlight come the opening match of the season on August 15.

While there will be much talk of bringing in high profile reinforcements following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid, it seems that United are unlikely to recruit at the top end of the market. Indeed Franck Ribéry is much more likely to end up at Chelsea or Madrid this summer. Meanwhile, the other reported target, Valencia’s David Silva, is known to be a target of both Madrid and Liverpool.

As such Tošić is likely to compete with Nani for a left-sided spot, unless Sir Alex Ferguson continues with the failed policy of deploying Wayne Rooney on the left-wing. It’s a problem area for United, with Ryan Giggs, Ji-Sung Park, Nani, Rooney and Ronaldo, having all played there at some point in the last season. However, with Ronaldo gone, Ji-Sung Park embarrassed in the Champions League Final, Giggs nearly 35 and Nani out of form for what seems like the best part of a year, Ferguson needs a solution. Could Tošić provide it?

Being generous, Tošić is allowed a period of adaptation to both United’s training methods, tactics and English football in general. He is also known to have been given a strength building regime, to build muscle size and bulk in readiness for the hurly-burly of the Premier League. However, his lack of minutes on the pitch is worrying. The Premier Reserve League is nothing more than a glorified youth competition these days, and Tošić’s time playing for the reserves will have contributed little to his understanding of English football. Even after six months in England, Tošić may well need a further period of adaptation in the coming season. The question is, with no left-sided acquisitions, can Fergie afford it?

United’s new ‘youth policy’

June 17, 2009 Tags: Opinion 7 comments

A story broken in the Manchester Evening News, and followed-up by The Guardian and Independent this week have suggested that United are embarking on a under-26s only recruiment policy. The strategy, which comes into effect this summer, means that United will not recruit players 26 and over for large transfer fees that they cannot expect to recoup further down the line. It is a policy that ensures United are out of the running for David Villa and Franck Ribéry, as well as Kaká for whom they did not make a bid.

The policy, according to reports, is aimed at maximising the potential re-sale value of recruited players, which degrades markedly once a player passes 30. But it begs a question: if re-sale value is of greater importance in player recruitment than on-the-field ability, are United now a selling club?

In truth, Dimitar Berbatov aside, United’s recent recruitment policy has focussed on youth anyway. This is underscored by the acquisitions (at no little expense) of Anderson and Nani in the summer of 2007, together with the controversial aggressive recruitment of youth team players from oversees, including Federico Macheda, Davide Petrucci, Rodrigo Possebon and the Da Silva brothers.

But buying young is also a policy that comes with risk, as any supporter following Nani can attest. The £17 million that United spent on recruiting the winger is lost forever unless the former Sporting Lisbon player demonstrates a marked improvement in form next season. Moreover, Arsenal supporters will point to the destabilising effect that a ‘buy young’ strategy can have on the team. With Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar facing potential retirement in 2010, United could be shorn of significant experience in years to come.

More worrying still is what the new strategy says about the long term state of United’s finances. In the light of Cristiano Ronaldo’s sale to Real Madrid this month, the plan has an undertone of long-term debt service. In essence the club’s policy says ‘we will not buy players whom we cannot sell on’. While this may be sound business policy, it is not necessarily the right policy for the good of the team. Significantly, it also means that United expect to sell players on in the future, rather than retain their services past 30. The gold medal scenario for United’s management hierarchy is then that of Ronaldo; buy low, sell (very) high.

In light of United’s huge £699 million corporate debt buying low to sell high in the future is a scenario that makes short-term business sense. The risk, however, is that United recruit too many failures – players with talent that is never fulfilled. Without proven talent coming into the club, United run the risk in the long term of degrading the team’s on-the-field success. With silverware comes sponsorship dollars, without there are none. And where’s the financial sense in that?

United get Blues in opening fixture

June 17, 2009 Tags: , Shorts No comments

Ronaldo-less Manchester United will take on Birmingham City in the season 2009/10 opening fixture on August 15 at Old Trafford. Other notable pre-Christmas dates include a home match against Arsenal on August 29, the first derby of the season, at home to Manchester City, on September 19 and then Liverpool away on October 24. United finish the season with fixtures against Chelsea, Blackburn, City, Tottenham, Sunderland, with the final game of the season at home to Stoke on May 9. At first glance the fixture list appears even, although away ties at Liverpool in October and Chelsea in November both follow a Champions League match, which may not please Sir Alex Ferguson.

While we’d love to bring you the full fixture list, we can’t due to licensing restrictions. So you’d be better off looking here!

The king is dead, long live the king

June 15, 2009 Tags: Opinion 2 comments

A huge pay cheque aside, the best thing to come out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s sale to Real Madrid, will be the opportunity the transfer affords Wayne Rooney to play (and stay) in his favoured central striking role next season. Sir Alex Ferguson, in seeking to spend his £100 million summer transfer kity, should ensure that he builds next year’s team around the mercurial talents of Scouser, who has been marginalised for too long in Ronaldo’s personal march for glory. Using Rooney in a central role, as England have found, is a strategy that always brings the best out of the player.

Since Rooney burst onto the scene with that goal against Arsenal in the Premier League, aged just 16, he has both benefited and suffered for his flexibility. While some of his earliest performances for Everton were on the right flank, most of his most recent games for United have been from the left. But it is his unselfish willingness to ‘take one for the team’ – in marked contrast to Ronaldo – that has been Rooney’s personal undoing.

Ferguson has often extolled the benefits of deploying Rooney on the left flank, arguing before this year’s Champions League final that “strikers going inside are far more dangerous. When Henry played as a striker, and sometimes when Wayne does, they try to escape and create space by drifting from the centre to wide positions, when that actually makes them less dangerous.”

Sound reasoning perhaps but it is through the centre of the park, either as a principal striker or ‘in the hole’ that Rooney has always been at his most effective. The virtues of Rooney the striker being able to cut into dangerous areas has always been red herring. The truth is that Rooney has been sacrificed for the sake of a tactical system deployed to cover the space in front of the full-back that Ronaldo always refused to.

No more. In recruiting at great expense this summer Ferguson must concentrate not on replacing Ronaldo’s goals per se, but reinforcing areas of the pitch where United have lacked strength in depth. With the probable arrival of Wigan’s Antonio Valencia, Ferguson will replace Ronaldo the right-winger. He must also buy to replace Rooney the left-winger.

While Ferguson’s task is made more difficult by the impending departure of Carlos Tevez, he has money to burn. This is why, in addition to Valencia, Ferguson will add  two further top class players, and rumours of a move for David VillaKarim Benzema and David Silva make sense.