Month March 2010

Month March 2010

Fergie’s Owen gamble has now failed

March 31, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 17 comments

When Sir Alex Ferguson signed Michael Owen on a free transfer in the summer many fans saw the signing as a low-cost gamble on an experienced goalscorer. Nine goals in 31 appearances later and Owen’s injury-prone record came home to roost. But with Wayne Rooney is such stunning form it mattered little. Until now.

Owen’s record with Newcastle United averages 18 games and seven goals per season. In short United squeezed out of the former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker exactly what Owen’s history suggested. Value for money in an expensive market but absolutely no more than that.

Increasingly Ferguson has deployed Rooney as the lone front-man in a 4-3-3 formation designed to pack central midfield and exploit the Scouser’s dynamism and goalscoring form. It worked; the former Evertonian has scored 34 goals in all competitions this season, a personal record that will earn the striker both the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and Football Writers’ Association (FWA) Player of the Year accolades.

But Rooney’s form is only part of the picture in a demanding season where squad rotation has rarely applied to the 24-year-old forward. Had injury not struck, Rooney’s season would surely have consisted of more games than any other in his career to date.

The result is that United’s other senior strikers Dimitar Berbatov, together with Owen, have started just 33 games between them this season. Although both players can boast a one goal in two games ratio when starting, United’s squad quite obviously lacks a senior goalscorer of international class without Rooney.

Taking David Gill’s word on finances at face value – a stretch of course – Ferguson could have spent large on another striker last summer, even if Karim Benzema preferred Real Madrid to Old Trafford. But should he?

Ferguson’s decision to withdraw from the transfer market has not been helped by the long absence of Federico Macheda, whose off-field ‘attitude problems’ and on field hamstring injuries have restricted the Italian under-21 international to just a couple of substitute appearances this season.

There is also disappointment with the progress of Danny Welbeck, whom Ferguson earmarked as a potential for Fabio Capello’s England squad at the season’s start. The local-boy was given little opportunity to impress before being shipped out to Championship side Preston North End in January.

Moreover, the Scot has now settled on a formation that rarely requires the use of two strikers in the biggest games. No longer, it seems, does Ferguson want four front line strikers as in the past.

But why then does the word-on-the-street say Ferguson has earmarked the largest chunk of his summer budget – United has a £75 million overdraft facility, if no real cash – to bringing in another striker? Perhaps the Scot now realises United is horribly exposed.

Rooney’s injury – on very early prognosis – will keep the striker out for two to four weeks. In the best case scenario he will miss United’s games with Chelsea and Bayern Munich at Old Trafford, and the visit to Blackburn. Any longer and Rooney will miss a potential Champions League semi-final and Premier League matches against Manchester City, Spurs and Sunderland.

That’s the best case in a potentially nightmare scenario. But the transfer market is likely to be no less heated this summer than last. There’s still no value, with Chelsea and Manchester City both in search of a top class forward. Prices will once again reach stratospheric proportions.

Ferguson will have to spend very big to bring top quality to the side or United will next season, like this, will be worryingly reliant on Rooney’s brilliance.

Rooney in ‘lil Wayne leakage shocker

March 31, 2010 Tags: Just for fun 2 comments

Wayne Rooney left a Munich hotel this morning bound for home. While Manchester United and England fans wait with baited breath on the extend of the striker’s injury, could Rooney have been indulging in a bit of in-room adult entertainment? Certainly his expensive club suit hasn’t fared too well this morning…

Pictures and video: Rooney injury

March 31, 2010 Tags: , , Shorts 1 comment

Wayne Rooney will have an MRI scan on his injured right ankle today after his Manchester United team lands back in England today. The 34-goal striker badly twisted the ankle in the build up to Bayern Munich’s second goal in the Allianz Arena last night. United fear ankle ligament damage, which will keep the player on the sidelines for more than a month.

Wayne Rooney

Rooney is helped by United's medical staff, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs

Wayne Rooney

Rooney is helped off the Allianz Arena pitch

Wayne Rooney

Rooney leaves the Allianz Arena on crutches with a cast around his ankle

Guardian Video of Rooney leaving the Allianz Arena, with interviews from Sir Alex Ferguson, Edwin van der Sar and Louis van Gaal.

Fletch: we were taught a lesson

March 31, 2010 Tags: , , Shorts No comments

Darren Fletcher says that Bayern Munich taught his Manchester United team  a lesson in the Allianz Arena last night as the Reds went down 2-1 to the German giants. United, poor from start to finish, must overcome a first leg deficit a week from today if Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are to progress to the Champions League semi-final.

“It’s not insurmountable,” Fletcher told United mouthpiece

“Although we’re disappointed to have lost two late goals, 2-1 isn’t the worst result in the world. We now know what we have to do at home.

“We certainly respected Bayern before this match and we’ve still got great respect for them. They’re a very good side. You don’t play any bad sides in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

“We’ve learned a lot about Bayern and about ourselves tonight and we’ll take all that into the match at Old Trafford next Wednesday.

“The Bayern midfielders pressed the ball quite quickly and got numbers behind the ball. It was difficult in there, but you expect that when you go away from home in Europe.

“We knew Bayern would have a lot of possession and we’ll be looking to do the same next week. We’re confident against anyone at Old Trafford.

“We know what to expect from Bayern Munich and we’ll be ready for their challenge.”

United must score at least once at Old Trafford and probably without Wayne Rooney, who hobbled away from the Allianz Arena on crutches wearing a protective cast round a badly twisted ankle. The 34-goal striker will have an MRI scan today to determine the extend of the injury.

United and Rooney go down in Munich

March 30, 2010 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

Manchester United produced a sub-par performance in the Allianz Arena on a difficult night for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. Wayne Rooney’s early goal looked to have earned United a share of the spoils, before Ivica Olic’s deserved late winner for Bayern Munich secured a first leg lead for the home side in Southern Germany.

Worse news came as Olic struck home the winner – United’s talisman Rooney hobbled off the pitch with a seriously twisted right ankle that almost certainly puts the striker out of the weekend’s Premier League tie with Chelsea.

Ferguson will at least be thankful his side is just a goal down, with the Louis van Gaal’s side giants creating at least a dozen opportunities in a vibrant atmosphere as United repeatedly gave the ball away.

“He has got a kick to the ankle, we will just have to wait and see tomorrow (Wednesday),” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“Hopefully it’s not too serious. He may be doubtful for Saturday but we don’t know, it’s too early to say.”

Ferguson sprang only a minor selection surprise in leaving in-form Antonio Valencia on the bench in favour of Ji-Sung Park and Nani in wide areas, with the Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher triumvirate charged with retaining possession in the centre of the park.

The selection paid immediate dividends with Nani forcing a foul from Bayern’s returning defender Martin Gaston Demichelis inside a minute. As the Portuguese winger collected the ball on the right-wing, the Argentinian needlessly hacked down the former Sporting player. Rooney, unmarked inside the six yard area, gleefully stabbed home the free-kick.

Moments later and United’s neat movement on the edge of the area created an opportunity for Scholes only for the midfielder to blaze over. Then Nani skinned Daniel Van Buyten before dragging wide when he perhaps should have scored.

It was about as good as it got for United in a half Bayern came to dominate, with Ferguson’s side frequently gifting possession to the home side.

Indeed, with Franc Ribéry and Danijel Pranjic testing Edwin van der Sar in the United net, the great Dutchman required all his experience as United sat deep and invited the home side forward in the opening 45.

Bayern, inventive in attack and combative when not in possession, almost caught United cold as the second period began, with Ribéry living up to his pre-match billing and fashioning a chance for Olic with a wonder disguised pass.

Thomas Müller’s deflected shot and then Hamit Altintop both tested van der Sar’s resilience as United’s midfield conceded both the ball and territory.

Ferguson, sensing an opportunity despite Bayern’s dominance, threw on Dimitar Berbatov and switched United’s formation to a more traditional 4-4-2 but it did little to add spark to the visitor’s attacking play.

An equaliser seemed inevitable, and with 15 minutes to go the goal came following Gary Neville’s needless handball on the edge of United’s area. Ribéry, Munich’s brightest forward, scuffed the free-kick only for Rooney to deflect the shot into his own net. In truth, Bayern earned the slice of luck.

Now the Germans sensed victory and with just seconds left in injury time Patrice Evra dallied on the ball for too long allowing Olic to nip in and score a fully deserved winner for the home side to reverse the scoreline from the 1999 final.

This time it was Rooney not the Germans who crumpled to the floor in agony. Not with the pain of defeat but a badly twisted ankle that Ferguson will hope is not confirmed as ligament damage.

“We didn’t play well enough to be honest, we kept giving the ball away. We caused our own defeat,” added Ferguson.

“Bayern were the better team, we can’t complain about that, but we’re better than that in possession. We kept giving it away and that was our downfall.

“The first goal was a bit of luck with a deflection but the last goal, I don’t know how you describe it. The game was done and we gave a terrible goal away.

“Old Trafford will be a different game, obviously. We will be much better, no doubt about that, and hopefully we can recover.

“We have the away goal and we’ll go out to win the game.”

At 2-1 down United will have to and quite possibly without 34-goal striker Rooney. Bayern, with Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger set to return for the Old Trafford leg, could well be a much tougher opposition than Ferguson had hoped for.

Remembering 1999

March 30, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 3 comments
featured image

United’s record against German giants Bayern Munich reads seven competitive matches played and one victory. But what a match that was. United’s 2-1 win in Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium 11 years ago still ranks among the greatest highlights in the history of the club. Tonight’s fixture cannot compete but this should put you in the mood…

Mario Basler

Mario Basler scores in the 6th minute to give Bayern the lead

Teddy Sherringham

Teddy Sherringham scores in the 90th minute

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

The iconic moment as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scores United's winner

Bayern Munich's players collapse as the final whistle goes

Bayern Munich's players collapse as the final whistle goes

David May

'Superstar' David May celebrates United's victory

Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole celebrate

Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole celebrate

United's fans celebrate on the streets on Manchester

United's players and fans celebrate on the streets on Manchester

And in case that isn’t enough for you, enjoy the highlights all over again ….

United head to Munich with Rio and Roo

March 29, 2010 Tags: , Matches No comments

Manchester United head into the Champions League quarter-final first leg against Bayern Munich in German with key players Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney fit to start after the pair sat out Saturday’s 4-0 win over Bolton Wanderers. Instead, it is Bayern with cause for concern as wingers Arjen Robben and Franc Ribéry sweat on fitness.

Winners on away goals over Fiorentina in the previous round and due to play the second leg at Old Trafford in a little over a week’s time, the odds seem stacked against the Southern German side.

Indeed, United start the tie as hot favourites to reach a third successive Champions League semi-final after the humiliation handed out by Sir Alex Ferguson’s to AC Milan in the round of 16.

Ribéry has suffered with tendinitis for long periods this season, while Robben is struggling with a calf strain, although the Frenchman is more likely to make the side.

But Bayern, dubbed FC Hollywood in the past due to an ego-ridden dressing room, has lost little in confidence despite the concern over the star wingers’ fitness.

“This Manchester United team is not invincible,” said former Chelsea and Real Madrid winger Robben, who believes United is overly reliant on Wayne Rooney.

“If the press want to see them as favourites then that suits us because all the pressure will be on them.”

“I have watched them on television many times recently and their team is certainly not as powerful as it was in the last two years.”

“Rooney has been phenomenal this season. But at the moment he seems to be their only solution. He has become the star of the side since the sale of Ronaldo last summer but we will be prepared to stop him.

“They are almost a one-man team so our defenders will give him 180 minutes of non-stop distraction.”

The focus on Rooney could mean abandoning Bayern’s man-to-man marking system, with Ferguson certain to deploy the Scouser centrally in a three-man attack. The former Evertonian will lead the line, with Dimitar Berbatov’s brace at Bolton on Saturday unlikely to save the striker from a place on the bench.

Ferguson will choose between Ryan Giggs, Nani and Antonio Valencia in wide areas, with Michael Carrick set to return to central midfield and Park Ji-Sung a possible starter in an advanced midfield role.

John O’Shea, Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and Michael Owen missed the trip to Germany, although the former could make United’s squad for the weekend fixture against Chelsea.

Should Bayern lose Robben and Ribéry, manager Louis van Gaal is likely to stick with Thomas Müller and Ivica Olic in the front three. Each started the German’s 2-1 loss to VfB Stuttgart at the weekend that has left van Gaal’s side two points of leaders Schalke in the Bundesliga.

Meanwhile, striker Mario Gomez will start on the bench due to a lack of match fitness, while star midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger misses the game through suspension.

Ferguson admitted that Schweinsteiger’s absence is “a bonus” for United, although the Scot plans include both Robben and Ribéry in the opposition line-up.

“Whether Ribery or Robben will play, I don’t know,” Ferguson said.

“But I have to plan for that. Those two players are special in Bayern’s setup.”

“We’re picking a team that we think is right for tomorrow. On Saturday I’ve got to think differently. We need to get this one over with first.”

“I respect Bayern Munich and have a great admiration for them. You’re playing history. Teams with history have a certain pride and we have to contend with that tomorrow.”

United: van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick, Park; Valencia, Rooney, Nani.
Subs from: Kuszczak, Rafael, Evans, Scholes, Giggs, Gibson, Berbatov, Macheda, De Laet, Foster

Government finally acts on ownership in face of inept regulation

March 29, 2010 Tags: , , , Opinion No comments

Supporters’ anger, from Manchester United to Portsmouth, via Liverpool, Southend and Crystal Palace, with club governance has finally translated into a promise for firmer regulation by the government. In the week that United faces Bayern Munich, a club 51 per cent owned by the supporters, action is welcomed better late than never.

Under the proposals, which will form part of the Labour party’s general election manifesto, the government will give supporters a significant voice in the ownership and management of clubs. Plans, as yet not fully fleshed out, propose fans be given the right to a 25 per cent stake in their club as a legal minimum.

The government is also planning to forcibly streamline the Football Association (FA), five years after the Lord Burns report was largely ignored by the governing body, according to a report in the Guardian over the weekend.

Legislative proposals mark a stark change in the Labour government’s approach to football, in the lead up to May’s general election, after 13 years of laissez-faire that has enabled football to blossom financially but fail key stakeholders such as supporters.

The Premier League will this week tie up yet another record overseas media rights deal but it is a league responsible for more than 50 per cent of net debt throughout the major European competitions: much of which lies on the books of United under the Glazer regime. Moreover, 14 of 20 Premier League clubs now has a suspended credit rating.

Yet the Premier League has consistently backed a light touch approach to regulation that says football is governed no differently to any other industry. It has enabled the leveraged takeovers at Liverpool and United, together with the astonishing financial meltdown of Portsmouth, through a narrow ‘fit and proper’ test that looks only at owners’ criminal past.

It is perhaps ironic then that United visits Munich this week, whose debt-free financial model is in stark contrast to those in the Premier League. While four-times European Cup winners Bayern cannot boast the financial might of those clubs at the top of the European food chain, the supporters’ majority stake ensures that the club’s governance is in fans’ interest.

Not that a side containing Arjen Robben, Franc Ribéry and Miroslav Klose is a pauper in European terms. Robben, for example, cost the South German side more than £20 million when the Dutchman joined from Real Madrid in the summer. The club’s space-age new stadium (above) is also the envy of many European clubs.

Indeed, the eyes of Europe can now cast envious glances towards Germany where the financial problems faced in England, Italy and Spain are not mirrored. In times of supporter strife in England, the legislated German ownership model of 50 per cent plus one share in the hands of fans is now widely seen as a sensible balance between competing interests.

It is perhaps surprising then that the Conservative party’s sports spokesperson, Hugh Robertson, has been so dismissive of government proposals this week, preferring instead to push for supporter representation at board level without regulating ownership structures.

Still, Supporters’ Direct, the body set up with the government’s support to ensure fans’ trusts flourish, believes a new direction will emerge whatever party wins the upcoming election.

“The two parties – one of which will form the basis of the next government – both agree fans should have a stake in the clubs they support and are pledged to work to make it happen,” Supporters’ Direct ceo Dave Boyle said of the government proposals.

“That’s great news for the trust movement and long-overdue recognition that clubs aren’t businesses like any other.

“We look forward to the next government – whoever it is – putting fans at the heart of the game and we will work with them to make it happen”

In the week Andersred confirmed the £80 million fee gained for Cristiano Ronaldo will head straight out of United’s bank account to pay down the Glazer family’s PiK debt, change cannot come soon enough.