Month November 2009

Month November 2009

Fergie slams critics as kids face Spurs

November 30, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson has rounded on critics of United’s younger players while promising to keep faith in the kids during the Carling Cup this season. The 67-year-old Scot says United’s youngsters, beaten by Beşiktaş in Champions League group B last Wednesday, will play against Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow night. No matter what the critics say.

“Those lads need to be challenged and I thought they did OK. They did not deserve that kind of criticism,” Ferguson said ahead of Tuesday night’s Carlin Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford.

“Those same people will be going cap in hand to them, begging them for interviews in a few years’ time, mark my words. It is so hypocritical.

“I don’t need to motivate them with what has been said. Their future is well mapped out. But the one thing we cannot give them is an old head, which is what we saw in the last third of the pitch last week.

“They got anxious. They created good chances and they hurried the thing. But that is not the biggest crime in the world.

“We are not talking about ability here. We are talking about experience and in that sense is starting to stack up. That is why we have to play them.”

Ferguson’s youngsters, who have beaten Wolverhampton Wanderers and Barnsley in this season’s competition, will face in-form Spurs for a place in the two-legged semi-final. The competition holders will put out a side made up of younger and fringe players.

Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Rafael da Silva, Darron Gibson and Gabriel Obertan will almost certainly start the match, with a 60,000 crowd expected for the Londoners’ visit. Ferguson will choose between Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak in goal, while Michael Owen, Nani and Ji-Sung Park will play some part in the match.

While the match offers another test in the young players’ progression, Ferguson is keen to keep up an unbeaten run in the competition that stretches back more than two years.

Despite the second-string look to United’s probable side tomorrow night, Darren Fletcher insists that the club takes the competition seriously. However, Fletcher, United’s in-form Scottish midfielder, is unlikely to take part in the match.

“We don’t dismiss the Carling Cup at all. It has been an important competition for the younger players and lads on the fringes of the squad for many years,” Fletcher said.

“Last year the lads went all the way to the final and won it. What a great achievement that was.

“For people like Ben Foster, Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson to win their first trophy provided them invaluable experience which will stay with them for the rest of their careers.

“We have so many games these players are an integral part of the squad.

“It is vitally important for them to go through the experiences they are getting just now because ultimately, it is going to make them better players.”

Spurs, seeking revenge for defeat by United in last season’s final, will be without Ledley King – who is predictably injured – and manager Harry Redknapp is unlikely to risk Jonathan Woodgate. Mexican teenager Giovanni dos Santos may play after returning from injury.

Neville – kids must get tough

November 30, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Manchester United’s captain Gary Neville has urged the club’s youngsters to toughen up if they are to make it. Neville, famed for the work ethic and personal drive that took the right-back from the United youth side to the top of the world game, has called Old Trafford a ‘tough school’ for youngsters trying to make it at Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

“You don’t get too much said to you by the senior players, to be honest. You have to do it yourself,” United’s captain told The Daily Mirror.

“You do get help on the pitch, but it’s a tough school here and you’ve got to make your own mark. As a young player you’ve got to take your opportunities when they come along.

“The young players know the expectations. The fans let you know what those are. The manager does, too. You are surrounded by it all the time at Old Trafford.”

United’s younger players including Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Darron Gibson, Gabriel Obertan, Anderson and the da Silva brothers will play against Tottenham in the Carling Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford tomorrow night. But there are concerns over the attitude of some young players – particularly Macheda, who allegedly had a training ground confrontation with Anderson.

“This place is an institution, a religion, and it needs dealing with in its own right every week,” Neville added.

“You can’t be focusing on other things. You get found out quickly here if you get distracted. We’re here to win titles every season and the fact we’ve got 18 is irrelevant. If we had 15, we’d want 16. We have 18 so we want 19.”

Nani on brink despite Fergie denials

November 30, 2009 Tags: Opinion 11 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will not allow Portuguese misfit Nani to leave the club in the January transfer window, after denying that Manchester United is seeking to offload the £ 17 million former Sporting Lisbon winger. Nani, who has not played in for United in close to a month, is now Ferguson’s fifth choice winger after a series of erratic performances.

Nani’s form, together with the rise of Gabriel Obertan and Park Ji-Sung’s return to fitness, means that the Portuguese winger is unlikely to find many minutes at Old Trafford in the near future.

“Some big clubs have been mentioned for Nani, like Milan and Benfica, but there has been no contact made with us – and we wouldn’t entertain selling him anyway,” said Ferguson

“He is only 23. If someone came in for Nani in January we would tell him that he is going absolutely nowhere.”

Nani, who has made 85 appearances and scored 12 goals for United, has previously spoken to the media about his frustration at not progressing at Old Trafford. This in the season following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Real Madrid – Nani’s big opening has become a huge anti-climax. Instead, the winger opted for a tactic that has rarely worked for players under Ferguson.

“He’s a young boy and he wants to play – and he might get a chance against Spurs in the Carling Cup this week.”

“He has suffered because Valencia’s form has been excellent and because Obertan has emerged as an interesting player.

“It is no criticism of Nani, but the way things have developed in the last few weeks have gone against him. I have spoken to him and told him that he must take his chance when it comes along,” Ferguson added.

While Ferguson has previously shown loyalty to players criticised by both the fans and the media, Nani has provided little tangible evidence that he is progressing at United. Patience – even Ferguson’s – is wearing thin with a player who at his best is frustrating and worst a liability.

Moreover, Gabriel Obertan’s superb form since making his début against Barnsley in the Carling Cup a month ago has proffered Ferguson with an exciting new option on the left side of United’s attack. With Antonio Valencia superb against Portsmouth on Saturday, Ryan Giggs majestic all season long and workaholic Park now fit, Ferguson has little need for the Cape Verde-born flyer.

Frenchman Obertan, a £3 million capture from Bordeaux this summer, was a surprise purchase by Ferguson. But the French under-21 international has surpassed all early expectations, despite being laid-up with a spinal injury for the first four months of the season. The injury, which might explain the player’s lack of progression under Laurent Blanc’s tutelage at Bordeaux, was only discovered when the forward arrived at Old Trafford. At 16, Obertan was one of the very best in the world, according to Ferguson.

Nani must now work for his opportunity at Old Trafford – a trait that sadly seems lacking in the player – if he is to survive into a fourth season at the club. Indeed, Ferguson has little wish to cut squad numbers in the middle of the season but he is hardly likely to reduce the player’s price by slapping a ‘for sale’ sign on Nani’s forehead either.

FA Cup pairs United with Leeds

November 29, 2009 Tags: , Shorts 7 comments

Manchester United may face Leeds United in the FA Cup third round at Old Trafford following today’s draw. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will play their great rivals from across the Pennines if Leeds overcome Kettering in a second round replay. The sides have not played since a 2003 Premier League draw at Old Trafford – Leeds relegation season.

Should Leeds win its replay the sides are likely to meet on Sunday 3rd January with a full FA Cup ticket allocation offered to the visiting side. Ready your Eric Cantona masks and velcro gloves now!


Tottenham v Peterborough United
Brentford v Doncaster Rovers
Middlesbrough v Manchester City
Stoke City v York City
Notts County v Forest Green Rovers
Huddersfield Town v West Bromwich Albion
Sheffield United v QPR
MK Dons v Burnley
Chelsea v Watford
Nottingham Forest v Birmingham City
Preston North End v Colchester United
West Ham United v Arsenal
Aston Villa v Blackburn Rovers
Portsmouth v Coventry City
Sunderland v Oxford United or Barrow
Wigan Athletic v Hull City
Everton v Carlisle United
Sheffield Wednesday v Crystal Palace
Tranmere Rovers or Aldershot Town v Wolves
Blackpool v Ipswich Town
Fulham v Swindon Town
Stockport County or Torquay v Brighton
Scunthorpe United v Barnsley
Southampton v Rotherham United or Luton Town
Bristol City v Cardiff City
Reading v Liverpool
Staines Town or Millwall v Derby County
Plymouth Argyle v Newcastle United
Leicester City v Swansea City
Bolton Wanderers v Lincoln City
Accrington Stanley or Barnet v Gillingham
MANCHESTER UNITED v Kettering Town or Leeds United

United replay Avram’s penalty ‘mare

November 29, 2009 Tags: , Matches 3 comments

The Manchester United bus left the South Coast bound for home just two points behind leaders Chelsea after a storming second half performance blew away the home side in rain-swept Portsmouth. Four goals, including a hat-trick from Wayne Rooney, and Ryan Giggs’ 100th Premier League strike were enough to hand United all three points.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s men arrived in pursuit of another maximum haul to maintain their challenge of Chelsea at the head of the Premier League. And controversy, which almost inevitably follows the team, reared its head once again with three penalties awarded by referee Mike Dean. Wayne Rooney dispatched two for United, while Portsmouth’s Kevin Prince Boateng scored for Avram Grant’s side, as the visitors reprised Ferguson’s last confrontation with the new Pompey manager.

United, once again without Rio Ferdinand, Edwin van der Sar and Jonny Evans, rode out Portsmouth’s early fire to take the honors. It must have been pleasant viewing for Sir Alex, forced to sit in the stands for comments made about Alan Wiley in September.

Ferguson’s forwards – Rooney, Giggs and the increasingly impressive Antonio Valencia – in particular stole the show. The mesmerising interchange and dynamic play more reminiscent of United in earlier seasons than this.

It was perhaps fitting then that the reds’ opening goal was fashioned by Valencia and Rooney’s lightening quick break. It was far too good for former-Manchester City midfielder Michael Brown who crudely hacked down United’s striker. Grant’s post-match protests were as false as Portsmouth’s stay in the Premier League is precarious.

Pompey restored parity within minutes though and this time Ferguson had genuine cause for complaint. Stand-in ‘keeper Tomasz Kuszczak punched away Jamie O’Hara’s free-kick but – apparently on the advice of his assistant – Dean point once again to the spot. Nemanja Vidic punished for shirt pulling so minor it could barely have tickled Portsmouth’s Frédéric Piquionne.

Sir Alex, in the stands, would surely have risked a further touchline ban had the Scot been allowed within 50 yards of the official.

“The linesman has put the referee under terrible pressure and he has to listen to the linesman who is 50 yards away,” Ferguson said post-match.

“You see these things every weekend in the penalty box. If you are saying everyone who wrestles at a corner or tugs at a jersey concedes a penalty kick then that’s fine. But it doesn’t happen that way and this linesman has changed the whole course of normal decision making.

“So it was a very disappointing result for us to get a penalty against us in that situation. Half-time came at a good time for us and the important thing was to keep our discipline and composure and play our football.”

Indeed, Portsmouth buoyed by the goal, briefly threatened to make a real fist of the tie. But United’s second half response – led by the wonderful Giggs – was far too robust for Grant’s side.

The visitor’s second, fashioned by the Welshman and converted by Rooney, came just moments after the restart. Giggs’ perfectly weighted through-ball, converted in a single motion by Rooney, was the epitome of the winger’s class on the eve of his 36th birthday.

And it was Giggs’ persistence in robbing Piquionne in the Portsmouth area that led to Dean awarding United’s second penalty. Giggs, hacked down by the Frenchman, offered Rooney the chance to convert United’s third and his personal hat-trick.

But Giggs, star of the show, rightly took the plaudits with a stunning fourth to round off United’s victory. Patrice Evra, fouled on the edge of the Portsmouth area, stepped aside – as did Rooney – for the red legend to fire the set piece low to Asmir Begovic’s right.

Just wonderful from the birthday boy.

“Ryan Giggs is an exceptional player. A rarity. He will play for two years yet,” said Ferguson in praise of the Welshman.

“Happy Birthday. He’s had it 36 times in his life, wait until he gets to 67. I think he’ll be retired by then.

“So many things were happening (in the match). It is a great result for us and some of the football was good. In the second half we kept our discipline and the ball very well and deserved the win in the end.”

And while Rooney and Giggs rightly take the praise, Ferguson can also be happy with the performances of Valencia – bright, direct and skillful on the right-wing – and Kuszczak in goal who made three top-class saves.

Poll: Ryan Giggs is…

November 28, 2009 Tags: , Polls 4 comments

Ryan Giggs, 36 Sunday, scored his 100th Premier League goal against Portsmouth in Manchester United’s 4-1 win on the South Coast. Superlatives fail to adequately describe Giggs’ career. A great player, a great man and a great role model in an age when false celebrity is all. Truly, an inspiration. Happy Birthday, Ryan.

Ryan Giggs is...

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Bells tolls for Pompey as United visit

November 28, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

Manchester United visit Portsmouth this weekend seeking to build on the win over Everton last Saturday. Sir Alex Ferguson, who will sit in the stands for the match following his FA-inspired touch-line ban, will face new Pompey manager Avram Grant. But Ferguson may have to do without a half-dozen key players as his injury list refuses to clear up.

Rated doubtful for the match are Dimitar Berbatov and Edwin van der Sar with knee complaints, Jonny Evans and John O’Shea who have a troublesome thighs, Fabio da Silva with a stiff groin and Rio Ferdinand who is out, as usual, with a sore back. Long term absentee Owen Hargreaves is unlikely to play until this side of Christmas.

The list means that Ferguson is likely to pair Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown in central defence, whom the Scot was keen to praise this week.

“I think most people recognise that [Brown is] a natural defender, and you’ve got to also pay tribute to the lad that he keeps coming back from the serious injuries he’s had over his career,” Ferguson said at his Friday press conference.

“He’s had two cruciates, a broken ankle, calf injuries … last season he had a very staggered season in terms of interruptions into his consistency.

“But the previous season he was our most consistent defender, in the year when we won the cup [Champions League] in Moscow.

“Now he’s fit again and is looking fantastic. He gets better all the time.

“Players always need a run of games to get the consistency in the timing and tempo of their game correct. We’re seeing that at the moment, so long may it continue.”

Patrice Evra, assured of a place at left-back, will start but the manager must choose between Rafael da Silva and Gary Neville on the right side of defence. The Brazilian teenager looked uncertain at left-back against Besiktas in midweek but is likely to play as Ferguson seeks to attack a belleagered Portsmouth defence that is without England goalkeeper David James.

Meanwhile, should van der Sar fail to recover Ferguson could stand by Ben Foster in the United goal. The ‘keeper, beaten by a deflected effort on Wednesday night, could do with a confidence boost after a tough few months.

Portsmouth, who overlooked Sir Alex’ son Darren for the vacant manager’s post this week, lie bottom of the Premier League after a shocking series of results. The club’s fate is hardly suprising given the South coast outfit’s player sales over the past year.

In fact, while sacking Hart was almost inevitable, it was the very definition of papering over the cracks. That United will face a Portsmouth side almost unrecognisable from that which took to the field under Harry Redknapp’s stewardship is far more instructive.

The club’s fate now lies in Avram Grant’s hands. Yet in the former Chelsea manager, Portsmouth has chosen not only the least charismatic coach in the Premier League but a man who has achieved close to nothing in a career defined by mediocrity. The appointment came as little surprise though. Indeed, Paul Hart’s fate was surely sealed the millisecond Portsmouth push Grant back through Fratton Park’s doors. The hand, no doubt, of Grant’s good friend Pini Zahavi.

Yet Ferguson was quick to defend Grant, whom he beat to the 2008 Champions League.

“Avram is a football man and there is no doubt he will be glad to get back into the game,” Ferguson said this week.

“He has a task on his hands because his team are bottom of the league. But hopefully he can manage it. Portsmouth have some very good players. I have looked at their videos and they may be in a false position.

“But being bottom of the league does create a reaction from owners and management of a club.”

“It doesn’t matter which club it is, when you have a change of ownership there will be a certain amount of disruption. You get new policies coming in, or there might be a new financial outlook. You can see how it can have an effect on the pitch.

“Owners of a club don’t like to see their team at the bottom of the league. That is the danger position.

“If you are third or fourth bottom you think everything will be OK but when you see your team going bottom it creates a dread about where they are going to be next season.”

Kind words. Bu three points on Saturday and United will contribute heavily to Portsmouth inevitable relegation. The club, which in 2008 won the FA Cup under Redknapp’s stewardship, overspent heavily on meagre revenues in recent seasons and is paying the price.

Not the first club to ‘chase the dream’ and come out the wrong side of a debt mountain.

Park back, Tošić stays, Ljajić joins

November 27, 2009 Tags: , , Shorts 4 comments

Ji-Sung Park made a long awaited return in Manchester United’s defeat to Besiktas on Wednesday night. Following a two-month spell on the sidelines with a knee injury the South Korea’s return is a welcome sight for Sir Alex Ferguson and supporters alike. Unsuprisingly, the winger was delighted to make a first Old Trafford appearance since the derby in September.

“It’s good to be back, my knee is 100% OK now and I feel fully fit,” Park told

“We lost against Besiktas, which was a shame. But, for me, I was ready to play after playing twice for the national team.”

“We had many good chances but failed to score. The young players showed great potential. They will be much stronger now because of this experience, and hopefully next time out against Wolfsburg we will be able to confirm ourselves as winners of the group.”

Park, who made 40 appearances for United last season including a starting role in the Champions League final, will now battle it out for a place on the wing with Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan, Ryan Giggs and Nani.

Indeed, Obertan’s eye-catching performance at Old Trafford, and Antonio Valencia’s growing confidence, has placed pressure on the South Korean to hit the ground running.

“Obertan and Valencia are good players,” Park agreed. “But I think I can also put in good performances.”

And while Nani’s form has been so sporadic Ferguson left the Portguguese winger out of matches againast Everton and Besiktas, Zoran Tošić has signalled his intention to stay at Old Trafford. Linked with a loan move to Steve McClaren’s FC Twente in Holland, the Serbian’s agent confirmed that Tošić will fight for his place. The winger scored twice as United’s reserves beat Hull City 2-1 on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Old Trafford insiders are believed to be ready to bring the multi-talented Serbian midfielder Adem Ljajić, 17, to the club in January. Signed with Tosic at the begining of the year, Ljajić was loaned back to Partizan Belgrade to gain experience. But a series of stand-out performances in the Europa League and a run in the Serbian under-21 side means that Ferguson will try for a work permit ahead of a January Old Trafford debut.

Unlikely heroes – Patty, Fletch and Sheasy

November 27, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 4 comments

Three players: Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea. Great players today but each has suffered at Manchester United. Evra, taken off at half-time on début, did not have the most auspicious start. It was not uncommon to hear United fans dub Fletcher “Fergie’s son,” based on the notion that the Scot played only because of the land of his birth. And O’Shea…well, he’s John O’Shea.

But the effort put into their respective careers has seen each transformed from flops to favourites. So much so that Patty, Fletch and Sheasy can lead United to glory, confident in their status as fans’ favourites.

Patrice Latyr Evra, born 15th of May 1981, started his football career at a small French club, CO Les Ulis. At 16, accepted into the academy, the Dakar-born defender joined Paris Saint-Germain before moving to Italian club Marsala for his first professional contract. After a successful start to his career, including time at Monza in Serie B and then Nice, Evra signed for AS Monaco, following a switch from left-wing to left-back.

Four years later and Evra signed for United, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Inter Milan reportedly interested. It was the start of Evra’s rise to the pinacle of world football.

Evra’s journey wasn’t smooth sailing though. Substituted at half-time on début in a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City, many felt incumbent full-back Gabriel Heinze had little concern in keeping Evra at bay.

Nevertheless, the Frenchman pushed through his difficulties and soon became an important part of the team. He scored his first Premier League goal against Everton in 2006. By 2008, Evra was an essential part of United’s defence.

Over the years Evra has grown on United fans due to his unwavering loyalty to the club and his effusive personality – Evra one part of a comedy trio with Ji-Sung Park and Carlos Tevez. Evra’s altercation with Chelsea ground staff, together with outstanding performances on the pitch, probably didn’t hurt either.

While fans could never accuse Evra of being ‘Fergie’s Son’ that was the charge laid at Fletcher’s door early in his career. Presumably because that was the only explanation for his place in the team? But nine years on, and thousands of disrespectful comments later, Darren Fletcher is now seen as a midfielder in the world-class bracket. United’s world-class midfielder.

But Fletcher has always divided opinion. Some supporters viewed the Dalkeith-born midfielder as little more than decent backup. Others pushed the merits of local talent and not an import.

Fletcher began his career as a much-vaunted creative midfielder. Club insiders had earmarked the Scot for Beckham’s right-wing slot.

“Ferguson is convinced that in teenage prodigy Darren Fletcher, he has a youngster who will make a sensational impact when he breaks into the first-team. The 16-year-old Scot, already rated Beckham’s understudy, is so integral to Ferguson’s future plans that the manager took the lad into his own home to convince him to move to Old Trafford,” was ESPN’s analysis in 2000.

But Fletcher’s first few seasons at Old Trafford, hampered by serious injury, slowed the player’s development into the central midfielder Ferguson relies upon today. Fletcher did not convince everybody – famously the Scot was singled out by Roy Keane for public criticism.

“I can’t understand why people in Scotland rave about Darren Fletcher,” the Irishman reportedly said.

Fletcher’s progress stalled, with Ferguson’s preferred midfield of Cristian Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs blocking his path to a regular game. The arrival of Owen Hargreaves and Anderson made Fletcher’s departure seem all but inevitable. There were even rumors that Fletcher considered leave the club.

In many ways 2009 was a watershed in Fletcher’s career. The Scot fought his way back into the first team picture, with a string of stellar performances. More to the point, Ferguson illustrated Fletcher’s increasing importance to the team by leaving the midfielder out of Carling and FA Cup games.

The Scot’s red card against Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final may have devastated Fletcher personally but United’s performance in the final highlighted only served to highlight his newfound importance to the team.

But perhaps the highest praise came from former-Liverpool legend Graeme Souness.

“I believe he will be, arguably, United’s most important player for the next seven years,” claimed the 54-cap Scot.

Fletcher, O'Shea, Evra

It has been a different path for John O’Shea to first team success. Possibly United’s most versatile player, O’Shea has been through the ups and downs of playing for the world’s greatest club since joined at 17. Making his début in 1999, after loan spells at Bournemouth and Belgian side Royal Antwerp, O’Shea benefited from his versatility to force his way into the first team squad.

But the Irishman’s biggest stroke of luck came in 2004 when Rio Ferdinand, suspended for missing a mandatory drugs test, handed O’Shea a home in central defence. O’Shea helped United triumph in that season’s FA Cup Final.

However, poor form the following year led to speculation that O’Shea would leave the club, linked as he was with a move to Newcastle United and Liverpool. Injuries to Gary Neville in 2006 offered the defender further opportunities in the first team but he failed to impress and was another player condemned by Roy Keane in the now infamous MUTV outburst.

But just as O’Shea’s United future looked dire, the Waterford-born player managed to win his way into supporters’ hearts with a solid performance against Tottenham Hotspur – in goal – following Edwin van der Sar’s injury. Then O’Shea scored an added-time winner against Liverpool at Anfield to cement his status. During the 2008 season, O’Shea even played as an emergency striker giving the Irishman the unique distinction of having played in every position for the team.

Last season O’Shea was a key player for United, scoring against Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final first leg. He finished the final as one of United’s better players.

O’Shea’s status as first choice right-back has continued, even captaining the side against Birmingham City this term. At Stoke City O’Shea played – and scored in – his 350th appearance for the club. A remarkable achievement for the man so few had believed in.

“I could play John anywhere. He has great passing awareness, two good feet, he is quick, and he is balanced. He’s athletic, big and gets around well,” is Sir Alex Ferguson’s summary of the player’s newfound importance to the team.

While some still criticise O’Shea for being mediocre, he is now a vital part of the United squad. This is unlikely to change, after all how many players can Sir Alex trust in almost any position?

Three different players: Evra, Fletcher and O’Shea. Each has been subject to criticism from fans. Each has suffered on the road to stardom. But now United can boast the world’s finest left back, a world-class midfielder and John O’Shea … well he’s pretty awesome too.