Month July 2009

Month July 2009

Ibrahimovic? No thanks!

July 9, 2009 Tags: Reads 8 comments

The best part of silly season is the speculation. This summer is no different and with United’s apparent bumper transfer kity the rumour mill has been in full swing. Sometimes there is unrealistic hope that United will pull off a mega-deal, such as with tabloid speculation about David Villa. Occasionally, the club is linked with hitherto unheard of ‘wonderkids’ from all parts of the globe, normally being hawked by their agents. Then there’s the best bit – the signings – and there have been three new United players to date, albeit somewhat underwhelming.

But just occasionally there’s a rumour that makes you shudder with fear. Not Liverpool hero Michael Owen moving to Old Trafford, as sickening as that was when it came true. No, worse still is today’s rumour that Sir Alex Ferguson is seriously considering a bid for Inter Milan’s striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

It’s not that the Swede is a bad player. His record is decent. Indeed, he picked up the capocannonieri title as Serie A’s top goalscorer last season with 25 strikes, and bad players don’t do that. Moreover, his performances moved no less a manager than Jose Mourinho to call him “the best player in the world.”

But Mourinho’s assertion was ridiculous – designed more to make headlines than based on reality. At the very top level, when it really matters, Ibrahimovic has normally flattered to deceive. To use a topical parlance, crueller pundits have labelled the striker as little more than a flat-track bully. It’s hard to remember a really big game that Ibrahimovic has won for club or country with a performance his monumental hype justifies. Ibrahimovic’s performance in two Champions League ties against United last season, for example, rarely rose above the average.

Tabloid rumours are not always without cause. The player is certainly looking for a move this summer, although Barcelona has always been Ibrahimovic’s preferred destination. However, with the European Champions only likely make a move if their bid for David Villa falls through, the leaked rumours about United’s apparent interest are given greater context. It would be a huge surprise if Fergie sanctions a bid, especially as it would need to be more £30 million for the forward.

More worrying than his ability, the man himself is particularly unpleasant. Aside from once demanding to be substituted because he couldn’t be bothered (a strop Mourinho gave no credence), perhaps the most abhorrent aspect of Ibrahimovic’s nature is the player huge ego. While the striker is hardly the first – or worst – offender in this department, he is perhaps the least talented player to consider himself the best on the planet. Fergie would do well to steer clear.


Is it time to hand Foster the gloves?

July 8, 2009 Tags: , Reads No comments

News that United’s second choice goalkeeper Ben Foster has agreed a new four year contract this week is welcome but will the former Stoke player finally get his chance? Edwin van der Sar is entering his final season as a pro and – to be frank – began to show signs of wear and tear towards the end of the last campaign. Now manager Sir Alex Ferguson must decide who begins the new campaign as his number one – the legendary Dutch international, or the younger pretender?

Foster, 26, joined from Stoke City in 2005 but has made just 10 starts for United in the intervening four years. Two seasons on loan at Watford, plus recurrent injuries to his knee and hands, have restricted his opportunities at Old Trafford. As such, the new contract is faith in the player’s ability, more than his performances on the pitch for United. But the prize for keeping himself fit is great for Foster – potentially taking over in goal for both United and England too.

Foster’s rival for the shirt, van der Sar, is under pressure to maintain his performance levels in the coming season. While the big Dutch ‘keeper set a new record number of Premier League clean sheets last season, the pressure of back-to-back games during the run in exposed some of van der Sar’s growing frailties. At 38 his ability to stay fit and flexible will be on the wane, as will his judgment. This much was evident in the poor goal van der Sar conceded in last May’s Champions League final.

However, this is no shoe-in for Foster. The Lemington born ‘keeper must perform in pre-season to be in with a shout of starting the campaign as number one. More realistically, Ferguson will go with the devil he knows but it would be a major surprise if the England international does not finish next season as first choice between the sticks for club and country.

All the same, it’s a  make-or-break season for Foster.  If the player fails to break into the team – or worse still succumbs to injury once again – United will buy next summer. Indeed, the club has been linked with a move for two Spanish stoppers – Villareal’s Diego Lopez and Barcelona’s Victor Valdes. While the later may have been angling for a new contract at Camp Nou, Lopez is undoubtedly available. This is the challenge now facing Foster.

United to go for Huntelaar? But better with Young

July 8, 2009 Tags: , , Reads 13 comments

While Rant rarely engages in idle gossip, newspaper reports have once again linked United with a £20 million move for Real Madrid outcast Klass-Jan Huntelaar. It’s not the first time that the club has apparently expressed an interest in the former Ajax player, who scored eight goals in 20 games for for the Spanish club last season. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson had reportedly been tracking the striker before his £19 million move to Madrid in January.

However, the arrival at Real of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Karim Benzema this summer means that Huntelaar will be available for transfer, just six months after moving to Spain. The forward, who has scored 13 goals in 23 appearances for the Dutch national team, has become a victim of President Florentino Perez’ bank-loan inspired revolution at Real.

The question is, do United really need another central striker? That is not to doubt Huntelaar’s quality as a goalscorer, who’s record at international and club level is better than a goal every other game. But with Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen now at the club, there would seem to be little room for another forward. Indeed, there was really little point bringing Owen into the squad if Ferguson is also after Huntelaar as both occupy the same role. This argument is even more pertinent when youngsters Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda are brought into the equation.

At the same time, the club has also been linked with a £25 million move for Aston Villa’s excellent winger Ashley Young. The former Watford wide-man has progressed immensely in the past two seasons to become a regular in Fabio Capello’s England team. However, for a player who is unproven at international or Champions League level, Young would cost a fortune. Primarily because United would be shopping at one of the league’s leading teams, but also because there’s always a premium on English talent.

But United are weak in wide areas, despite having Ryan Giggs, Nani, Zoran Tošić, Ji-Sung Park, and new signings Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan in the squad. Serbian wonderkid Adem Ljajić is also due to join the club in January 2010. But Giggs aside none are proven at the highest level, and unfortunately the legendary Welshman is in the twilight of his career.

Together with Valencia, Young would add extreme pace in wide areas – something United will lack through the middle of the park next season. While Tošić, Ljajić and Obertan may well prove themselves in the long term, nothing is guaranteed. Park, meanwhile, deserves his place in the squad as a willing worker but is never going to win a game on his own. Nani is in the last chance saloon.

Young, although frighteningly expensive, will be available if he expresses his desire to leave and does have the requisite quality to make a real difference at the top level. He would surely be a better use of more than £20 million.

United stocks up on more kids

July 6, 2009 Tags: Reads 1 comment

The headlines have been dominated by the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez this summer. Then Sir Alex Ferguson pulled the biggest suprise of the close season with the acquisition of aging Scouser, and former England international Michael Owen. But work behind the scenes has largely focused on recruiting the next generation of United stars, with Charlton Athletic’s Sean McGinty (15), Girondins de Bordeaux’ Gabriel Obertan (20) and Empoli’s Alberto Massacci (16) joining the club.

McGinty, a centre-half, has been capped at under-17 level by Ireland, with United reportedly reacheing an agreement for a compensation package with Charlton for the youngster. The 15 year-old was apparently offered a scholarship at The Valley, but rejected it in favour of a switch to Old Trafford. He is likely to move North with entire family.

Right-back Massacci is unlikely to cost United much, if anything, as an under-18 international transfer. The player himself broke the news of the impending transfer to United by claiming that Ferguson had personally called him to offer him a deal.

“When they called me, I really couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I didn’t believe that it was really him (Ferguson) on the phone.”

“I had an hour-long chat with him, in English. He seemed to me a modest, simple, incredible person. In life a chance like this only comes past you once, and you’ve got to grab it with both hands,” he added.

Winger Obertan, who has been capped eight times at under-21 level by France, will join from Laurent Blanc managed French champions Bordeaux. The player has appeared 77 times for Bordeaux, scoring four goals, although the vast majority of those games have come from the bench. The player spent the second half of last season on-loan at Lorient and can operate on the left-wing or up-front. He also scored against England under-21s in a friendly at the City Ground in March 2009.

“There is a very strong likelihood that the deal will go ahead,” said Bordeaux President Jean-Louis Triaud.

“Manchester United want to sign him and, for our part, we would be delighted to see Gabriel playing for such a prestigious club. We will make the official announcement when the time is right.”

Arsenal, Inter and AC Milan are all believed to have been interested in Obertan, but United moved first and has reportedly had a deal in place for several weeks.

The summer recruitment continues a policy that has seen the acquisition of Rafael and Fabio da Silva, Rodrigo Possebon, Federico Macheda, Davide Petrucci, Joshua King, Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Etzaz Hussain from overseas in recent seasons.

While the policy reflects the global nature of the football transfer market, it is also symptomatic of an outdated Football Association rule that bars United from signing youth players more than 90 minutes drive away. McGinty’s transfer goes ahead because the club has agreed a compensation package with Charlton.

But the rule will continue to encourage United, as well as other top clubs, to look abroad for the best talent or risk falling behind. And with transfer fees currently stratospheric, who can blame the club for seeking to hoover up the world’s leading youth talent?

Four years and £667 million later

July 3, 2009 Tags: Reads 11 comments

It’s just over four years since the Glazer family took over Manchester United in the most heavily leveraged football buy-out in history. Despite fans’ anger, threats of violence, and a myriad of destroyed season tickets, Malcolm Glazer landed the club and handed it over to his sons Avram, Joel and Bryan to run. In doing so he placed hundreds of millions of debt straight on to the club’s books, at almost no risk to his own personal fortune. United moved from the world’s most profitable sports team, to the most indebted in one easy step. Four years, three Premier League titles and one European Cup later and the anger has subsided but the debt legacy is just as stark.

While common in the world of business, leveraged buy outs are almost non-existent in football. The process, whereby money is borrowed against the asset that is to be bought, means that the acquired company effectively pays for itself through its own profits. And that’s exactly what happened to United – with the vast bulk of the purchase price effectively mortgaged against Old Trafford, Carrington, the players and future season ticket revenue. The Glazers then took out a £152 million payment-in-kind (PIK) loan, on which the club is playing an eye-watering 14.25% interest rate, to cover the rest. In total the debt burden is now more than £667  million.

On the pitch few fans can complain. Investment has been made in new players since 2005 – Dimitar Berbatov, Nani, Anderson, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and others. United meanwhile has continued to rack up trophies – three Premier League titles, a European Cup, World Club and the Carling Cup, twice.

The big question is – when does the debt start to bite? Because it will bite. According to the most recently published accounts United serviced £69 million of debt interest last year. Almost exactly the same amount as the club’s profits before tax. Perhaps most pertinently, however,  none of the total debt burden was paid off. United does have to pay off the debt, whether its by increasing revenues, selling assets or lowering costs.

For the fans the takeover has meant huge increases in match-day ticket prices. With TV income largely known – save for the millions available from a long Champions League run – ticket prices and commercial revenues are the two principal areas where the United board has looked to generate revenue. Tturnover has increased hugely under the Glazer regime, but critics can argue that the club is sprinting just to stand still.

But does trouble lie ahead? With Cristiano Ronaldo sold for £80 million, and the money earmarked for Carlos Tevez not spent, Sir Alex Ferguson was expected to have a transfer kitty of more than £100 million this summer. But the move to bring Michael Owen into the club on a free transfer and pay-as-you-play terms, could be seen as a sign that the chequbook has been put firmly back into the safe for the summer. More worrying still, the United board has being trying to strike a hard bargain in a sellers market – and failing. First with Carlos Tevez’ team over the fee to secure the player’s rights, and then with Olympique Lyonnis over the transfer of Karim Benzema. Each time the club has effectively given up the ghost and been outbid.

Time will tell whether the Glazer family allows the board to spend this summer. And whether they’ll ever pay off that debt. One thing is for sure, love them or hate them, they appear to be here to stay.

Today’s April Fool joke is … Michael Owen

July 3, 2009 Tags: Reads 22 comments

Where do you turn if two high profile attacking players leave and your number one transfer target heads elsewhere? You get out the cheque book and spend some of your £100 million summer transfer budget. Right? Wrong! In fact, you fall further into your dystopian nightmare in which public rejection, is followed by public humiliation. Get out the stocks – it’s time to become a public laughing stock.

In this footballing torment, you might even bring in a washed up, ageing ‘striker’ who hasn’t scored a goal in six months, with an injury record that reads broken metatarsal, knee ligament damage, double hernia operation, thigh strain and countless hamstring strains. Then you wake up and fall to your knees in prayer. Say it ain’t so. Michael Owen signs for Manchester United!

But it is so and manager Sir Alex Ferguson is known to be a long time fan of Owen. Indeed, the boss tried has to sign the player three times – first aged 14 in 1994, second on his return from Real Madrid in 2005, and then again a year later before the player suffered a serious knee injury at the World Cup in Germany.

Owen may be only 29, but his footballing peak was 11 full years ago, with that goal against Argentina in Saint-Etienne. His record at Newcastle isn’t bad in a poor team  – the former Liverpool player made 79 appearances for the Barcodes and scored 30 goals in four seasons. But his last league goal was on 10 January against West Ham, and his form so poor that friend Alan Shearer even dropped him from the Toon team in their desperate fight against relegation last season. His star has fallen so far that Hull and Stoke were apparently fighting it out for his signature, while Wigan and Blackburn publicly questioned the player’s bottle and ability.

In fact, anybody who followed Owen over the closing months will have seen a striker stripped of all his pace, confidence and desire. Without that there is little left of value in the player. Yet, Sir Alex has moved quickly following the failure to sign Olympique Lyonnais’ Karim Benzema, in a move that smacks of total desperation.

Let’s hope that Owen, even if fit, will be little more than an experienced insurance policy against injuries to Wayne Roony or Dimitar Berbatov. Most United fans would prefer to trust in the youth of Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda. More worrying still is what the signing says about Wayne Rooney’s hopes of playing a central role for United next season. In Sir Alex’ prefered 4-2-3-1 system, there’s little room for both unless the younger Scouser is once again pushed towards the wing.

Ferguson’s stock is high, of course, but ultimately United supporters will find it hard to forgive Owen’s Liverpool loving history. A vociferously celebrated winning goal at the Kop End would be a good start.

Fergie out of options as Benzema joins Real

July 1, 2009 Tags: Reads 17 comments

It was the news that Sir Alex Ferguson was dreading – this summer’s principal transfer target, Olimpique Lyonnais’ Karim Benzema, has joined the Real Madrid gravy-train on a six-year contract. The striker, 21, has been the subject of a flurry of negotiations over the past 48 hours, with both United and Madrid seemingly making offers over £30 million for the French international. However, Benzema’s desire to join Real ahead of United, in addition to an extra £5 million in add-on fees that the Spanish club have offered, won the day.

The news means that United will now have to seek alternate striking options or trust in youth for the coming season after the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. But those alternatives are thin on the ground, with top class strikers a rare commodity outside of the major European clubs.

While David Villa and Samuel Eto’o were seemingly available at the start of the summer, neither is a realistic transfer option for United now. Villa is likely to stay at Valencia for a further season, or move to Barcelona who are desperate to secure his signature, if he can force a transfer. Eto’o, meanwhile, is currently playing Barcelona off against Manchester City in one of the seedier transfers of the summer.

In a transfer saga that mirrors that of Ronaldinho’s from Paris Saint German to Barcelona in 2003, it appears United have been outbid for one of the world’s leading young attacking players. United’s board may have forced Real to pay over £30 million up front, with a further £5 million in payments dependent on clauses, but that will be no consolation to Fergie. This came after the Reds had offered a similar sum, without clauses, on Tuesday. Meanwhile, United was apparently in negotiations with Benzema himself. But it seems the Spanish club stole a march on on David Gill’s negotiation team, with Benzema returning from holiday this week to tell Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas that he wanted a move to Los Meregues.

Ferguson could now switch his attentions to Real Madrid’s unwanted Dutch forward Jan Klaas Huntelaar. Although it seems unlikely that United’s manager will opt for the Madrid outcast, having failed to follow up his reported interest 12 months ago. Elsewhere United are said to be interested in Atlético Madrid’s Sergio Aguero, but a £45 million fee being demanded by his club, plus £150,000 per week net required by the player make the transfer unlikely. The club has also been linked with AS Roma’s underwhelming Mirko Vucinic, who would add very little extra quality to Ferguson’s attacking options.

In keeping with United’s youthful approach to transfer strategy, the club could find an alternative in Wolfsburg’s 23 year-old Bosnian striker Edin Džeko, who has been the subject of intense interest from AC Milan. His club, however, appear reluctant to release him. Or perhaps Fergie could bid for Genoa’s Italian under-21 international Robert Acquafresca, who performed well at the recent European Championships. Newspaper reports have also linked United with Toulouse’s 24 year-old forward André-Pierre Gignac, who outscored Benzema this season in Ligue 1?

In truth though, with Ronaldo and Tevez gone, and his leading striking choice having joined the Madrid revolution, Ferguson’s options have significantly reduced. In the end, the Scot may now opt to place faith in youth, and offer Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda more game time next season while strengthening other areas of the squad. Either way, Ferguson is going to have to replace 41 goals next season if United are to maintain their pre-eminent position in the face of high-spending opponents.

Valencia signs to kick off summer rebuilding

July 1, 2009 Tags: Reads 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson made his first signing of what is expected to be a busy summer in the transfer market, when Wigan Athletic’s right winger Luis Antonio Valencia Mosquera signed in a £16 million deal yesterday. The Ecuadorian, nicknamed Toño Maravilla, has signed a four year contract on wages rumoured to be around £70,000 per week.

“Antonio is a player we have admired for some time now, having spent the last two years in the Premier League with Wigan,” Ferguson said.

“I am sure his pace and ability will make a significant contribution to the team.”

The tricky wide man, 23, is expected to take Cristiano Ronaldo’s number seven shirt. Despite being highly regarded at Old Trafford, he is unlikely to contribute to the scoresheet as frequently as the Portuguese player, with just seven goals in 89 appearances for Wigan.

“I have enjoyed my time at Wigan, but I am thrilled to have the chance to challenge for the biggest honours in club football here,” said Valencia, who has 34 caps and four goals for Ecuador.

“Playing in front of 76,000 fans alongside players like Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs will be an amazing experience. I can’t wait to get started.”

“I hope the fans at Wigan can understand that I am an ambitious guy and a chance like this might never come again for me.”

“I am happy that the club has benefited from the move financially because I owe them such a lot. I have had a great time here.”

United jet off to Asia for their pre-season tour in less than three weeks time and Ferguson will be relieved to have conducted his first piece of close-season business.

Meanwhile, reports suggest that United are close to sealing a deal for Olympique Lyonnais forward Karim Benzema for a fee of £38 million. While fans will take the speculation with a pinch of salt until a deal is sealed, there certainly appears to be some movement in United’s summer transfer plans.

Appearances 89 (6 as sub)
Goals 7
Yellow 15
Red 0
Appearances 34 (1 as sub)
Goals 3
Yellow 6
Red 0