Month April 2010

Month April 2010

Nev signs but Rafael’s time has come

April 30, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 11 comments

Gary Neville, Manchester United’s 35-year-old club captain, has signed a one year contract extension that will keep the defender at Old Trafford until 2011. The extension is just reward for Neville, who has forced his way back into the United side after more than 18 months on the sidelines. The right-back has appeared 597 times for United.

“We’ve agreed a contract with Gary Neville for another year,” Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed Friday morning.

“We’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks now. We’re delighted with that. We think he deserves it because his contribution to the club has been fantastic.

“As I’ve said time and again about certain players, they make a career out of their will and determination to do it. Gary is one of those players.”

Neville is now fifth on Manchester United’s all-time appearances list behind only Ryan Giggs, Bobby Charlton, Paul Scholes and Bill Foukes. The new deal will take the Bury-born player past 600 appearances for the club. It’s a remarkable achievement given the long-term nature of the player’s injuries in recent seasons.

“The amazing thing he has achieved is coming back from a year-and-a-half out in his thirties,” added Ferguson.

“To get to the level he is playing at today is astonishing. The man is doing it because he wants to do it, he has the determination and drive within himself not to give in on his career.

“He’s getting the rewards for that because his performances levels have been outstanding at an important time for the club.”

Even so many supporters will point to Neville’s ineffective outings against Bayern Munich in Germany and Chelsea at Old Trafford recently, when Florent Malouda and Franck Ribéry exposed the veteran’s relative lack of mobility.

Neville, first choice at right-back since the turn of the year, cannot continue indefinitely though. Indeed, the new deal should offer teenager Rafael da Silva an opportunity to learn from a player who has surpassed the bounds of his naturally ability.

That the Brazilian’s talent exceeds that of 85-time capped Neville is a valid argument, even if Rafael’s maturity is years behind Neville’s at a similar age. The Bury-born defender’s fundamental understanding of his position thrust the right-back into the United and England team at 18. Rafael, by contrast, still has a lot to learn.

Neville’s new deal comes with a warning though. Should inconsistent performance levels continue, it is Rafael who will take the right-back mantle sooner, rather than later.

“I think experience could also be misinterpreted in the sense of the ability to play in games,” warned Ferguson.

“You could keep a player with great experience and not play him. I don’t think Gary would enjoy that, I don’t think Scholes, Giggs or van der Sar would either. They want to play, nobody more than Gary.”

Neville has appeared 27 times in all competitions for United this season, with Rafael chosen on 16 occasions, Wes Brown 29 times and John O’Shea 18.

Early season form and fitness will decide which of these players will begin 2010/11 in the red shirt.

Neville’s competitive nature ensures he wants the role. Rafael’s development dictates that the Brazilian needs more games next season.

Neville’s honours
Premier League: (7) 1995-96, 1996-97, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2002-03, 2006-07, 2008-09
FA Cup: (3) 1996, 1999, 2004
League Cup: (2) 2006, 2010
FA Community Shields: (3) 1996, 1997, 2008
Champions League: (2) 1999, 2008
Intercontinental Cup: (1) 1999
FIFA Club World Cup: (1) 2008

Rooney nets more gongs

April 30, 2010 Tags: , , Shorts No comments

Wayne Rooney has picked up the Football Writers Association (FWA) Player of the Year award. It is the striker’s third individual award inside a week after 34-goal Rooney also secured the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and PFA Fans’ Awards. With 80 per cent of the vote, Rooney beat both Didier Drogba in second and Carlos Tevez in third to the FWA gong.

“I am delighted to win an award with so much history and tradition,” said Rooney, who is sidelined with a groin injury.

“To follow a long line of wonderful players who have been honoured by the FWA since 1948 gives me real pride.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank my manager at United Sir Alex Ferguson, the coaching staff and my team mates without whose help and support this award would not have been possible.”

Rooney, a notoriously quick healer, is likely to miss Manchester United’s trip to Sunderland this weekend, although the striker may return for his side’s final Premier League game against Stoke City on 9 May.

Rant Cast 29 – in Rafa we trust?

April 29, 2010 Tags: Rant Cast 1 comment

In this week’s podcast we discuss United’s comfortable victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, while previewing the weekend’s crucial games. Will Rafa Benitez send out the reserves against Chelsea, while United travel to Sunderland? We engage in a bit of silly season transfer speculation and dole out some gongs in the Rant Awards 2010!

Stream this episode of the podcast using the player below or click here to download the podcast (right click > save as).

We welcome your input – send all feedback to or comment below.

Subscribe on iTunes now.

Fergie: the agony of losing

April 29, 2010 Tags: , Shorts No comments

Sir Alex Ferguson says that watching the Champions League semi-finals this week was “absolute agony,” as Bayern Munich and Inter Milan books slots in the Madrid final. Ferguson, whose side lost to Munich earlier this month, saw favourites Barcelona defeated by Jose Mourinho’s Italians and Bayern overcome Lyon in France this week.

“It has been absolute agony watching the matches,” said Ferguson.

“But that is what happens when you are not in it. You have to watch it on TV.

“Undoubtedly not being in the Champions League helps our preparation for the weekend but I know what I would rather have. The ordeals of playing on a Wednesday and then a Saturday are exactly what you want here. We have got to have it.”

Ferguson’s team plays Sunderland on Wearside this weekend, with Chelsea at Liverpool on Sunday lunchtime. With United just a point behind the Londoners, any slip by Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea could bring the Premier League title to Old Trafford for a fourth season in a row.

Anything other than at win at the Stadium of Light and Ferguson – together with United’s supporters – will surely face more agony come the season’s final fixture on May 9.

Transfer round-up 29/4

April 29, 2010 Tags: Shorts No comments

Today’s round-up includes a creative midfielder, United’s two most consistent players and a French left-winger. Don’t let United’s paucity of transfer funds fool you though, for the world’s media has Sir Alex Ferguson spending around £100 million on this motley collection. He’ll need to flog Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra to fund it… oh.

Evra gonna give you up?
Real Madrid will bid £20 million for United’s Evra this summer, according to various silly season reports. With the Madrid club seeking new cover at left-back, Evra heads Madrid’s list, which also includes Arsenal’s Gael Clichy, Chelsea’s Ashley Cole and Fiorentina’s Juan Manuel Vargas.

Rooney in wears white shocker!
The Scouse striker is definitely off to Real Madrid in a £90 million summer move, according to Spanish gossip rag The Catalan sports paper says that Rooney’s donning of both red and white strips for a recent Pepsi advert shot in Barcelona is ample evidence of the move. Rant isn’t convinced.

Modric + praise by Sir Alex = multi-million transfer
Tottenham Hotspur’s creative midfielder Luka Modric, praised by Sir Alex Ferguson in his programme notes last weekend, is heading to United in a £25 million deal, according to reports. Given United’s track record buying from Spurs in recent seasons, Ferguson may need to double the bid.

Need creativity? Send for a defensive midfielder
Ignoring the patently obvious lack of creativity in the United midfield this season, the world’s media – well the Mirror – suggests United will spend £20 million on Real Madrid’s Lassana Diara. The former Portsmouth, Arsenal and Chelsea reject, Diara has now lost his place in the Madrid midfield to Fernando Gago.

Absolutely Marveaux-less
Elsewhere the Mirror claims Ferguson wants 23-year-old Rennes winger Sylvain Marveaux – dubbed the new Florent Malouda. Marveaux, who is yet to feature in the French national side, has scored eight goals in 31 appearances on the left flank this season.

Never say Neven Subotic again
United will bid for Borussia Dortmund’s Serbian international defender Neven Subotic, claims German newspaper Bild. It will take €20 million to prize the 21-year-old 6ft 3in tall defender out of Dortmund’s cold, dead hands, says the report. American-raised Subotic, inevitably compared with compatriot Nemanja Vidic, will feature during this summer’s World Cup.

“If Manchester United is wanting to have him, they would need to sign over a property of two oil-fields to us,” said Hans-Joachim Watzke, Borussia’s general manager.

“Or at least two big trucks full of packaged pound notes.”

United would be just Fabiono says Luis
Brazilian’s striker Luis Fabiano, 29, has issued a not-so-subtle come hither plea to Ferguson. Fabiano, who plays for cash-strapped Sevilla, is seeking one last pay day challenge before he retires to the Copacabana. The Brazilian has scored 90 goals in 187 appearances for the Spanish side.

“If you are asking me what team I most admire it is Manchester United,” he said.

“If you play under Ferguson then you are probably going to win a title or another major trophy.”

No Ninis here
United might bid for young Greek midfielder Sotiris Ninis, a 20-year-old Albanian-born Greek international player. United has watched the Panathinaikos star three times this year, says the Manchester Evening News. The midfielder is available for £10 million, with Real Madrid and AC Milan also interested says the paper.

IMUSA calls for ST boycott but groups still split

April 29, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 18 comments

The Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA) has called for fans to renew season tickets late – if at all – as the campaign to force the Glazer family out gathers momentum. United’s oldest supporters’ group has come closest to calling for a full boycott by urging season ticket holders to starve the Glazer family of cash.

IMUSA, which is separate from the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST), argues that matchday tickets are readily available, with the sole benefit of a season ticket that “you get to sit in the same seat each week.”

“We all know that hundreds of millions are going out of the club in interest payments,” added an IMUSA statement this week

“What has recently also become apparent is the Glazers’ intention to take upwards of £400 million out of the club for themselves.

“We can stop them doing this but only if we starve them of cash, so that what money there is has to be spent on Manchester United Football Club, not funding the lifestyles of its unwelcome owners.”

The group’s three-point plan urges season ticket holders not to renew and refrain from purchasing anything that will add to the Glazer family’s profit, including on matchdays.

IMUSA’s call is in stark contrast to MUST, which has successfully lobbied the political parties to include football club ownership on the election agenda but made no clear stance on a boycott.

Indeed, the groups have maintained a – friendly – split although it has never been clear why separate supporter group agendas are necessary. Or even productive.

While IMUSA campaigns on fans’ issues such as prices, access to tickets and a long-running safe standing campaign, MUST focuses tightly in on the ownership issue.

IMUSA, founded in 1995, grew from supporters’ frustrations with the matchday experience, while MUST is the evolution of Shareholders United Against Murdoch – the group that successfully lobbied against BSkyB’s bid for the club in 1998.

Sadly, the strength of a single voice supporters’ voice has as yet not been manifested and the split offers only indecision over the issue of supporter ownership. Nobody wants the Glazers but there’s little agreement on how to rid the club of its leech.

IMUSA’s call to not renew is admirable though and behind the scenes it is hopeful that the group is working with MUST and the Red Knights to build a coherent strategy.

Hopeful but somehow doubtful as factionalism and personal agendas dominate.

There’s the rub. While the Glazer family’s overwhelming drain on club resources over the next seven years is without doubt, fans groups and potential bidders alike show no consistency of thought in how to deal with the problem.

Perhaps Smiley’s Red Issue editorial this month has something to it.

“We’ve really shot our bolt now with this green and gold thing haven’t we?” ponders the somewhat defeatist commentator.

“Day-trippers roaming in and out of the Megastore laden with plastic bags and a protest scarf around their neck isn’t really doing any favours.

“MUST will no doubt still be wasting their money on meaningless posters while actually doing nothing of any use while… renewals will be posted back to the Old Trafford ticket office without a second thought.”

While Smiley’s column is symptomatic of RI’s general disdain for MUST, it also represents the split between different factions. And if supporters can’t agree on how to rid the club of the Glazers what hope is there?

“Part those hairy cheeks and grimace,” concludes Smiley.

“It’s quite obvious to anyone who isn’t on the current owners’ payroll that the club’s going to spend 2010/11 getting royally f*cked by the Glazers.”

Sir Roy blasts Glazers (redux) as vultures circle

April 28, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 1 comment

Former Manchester United chairman Sir Roy Gardner has reiterated his criticism of the Glazer’s debt-laden business model. Gardner, now in charge of Championship side Plymouth Argyle, chaired the United board during the 2005 takeover and twice rejected bids from the Americans in the lead-up to a final successful offer for the club.

“It is no different to what I said at the time. I did not think it was a sustainable model,” said Gardner the former Centrica ceo of the Glazer family’s ownership of United.

In 2005 Gardner led a board that called the Glazers’ business plan “aggressive” and containing more debt that was considered “prudent” for the club. Indeed, Gardner’s prescient summary that the overly-leveraged model would bring “significant financial strain on the business” has come to stark fruition.

While Gardner’s board – including ceo David Gill – fought the Glazer family it proved unable to prevent the takeover once the American family had a secured a majority interest in the club.

To many Gardner’s worst fears have played out as predicted. Since 2005 the Glazer family first loaded £569 million onto the clubs books through a 2006 refinancing round and then issued a £504 million bond in January, which will cost the club £45 million annually in interest payments alone.

Worse still, the terms of the bond enables the Glazers to squeeze United for every last penny on the books as it seeks to pay down the Payment in Kind (PiK) debt to which the family is exposed.

Sir Roy’s intervention, as the season comes to an end, brings to the forefront United’s financial policy over the summer, with just under £20 million already spent on prospects Chris Smalling from Fulham and Javier Hernandéz from Chivas Guadalajara.

The club made made a small profit last season only after the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £80 million. There appears little further room for Sir Alex Ferguson to move in a market that will once again be dominated by Real Madrid and Manchester City this summer.

Indeed, while Ferguson spent around £20 million on Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan, Mame Biram Diouf and the free transfer Michael Owen last year, there is no guarantee more is available this close season.

There is, after all, nothing left in the kitty save for a £75 million overdraft facility.

More worrying still: the vultures are circling. While long-standing admiration for Nemanja Vidic is yet to materialise into a concrete bid, the Serbian is no closer to signing a contract extension with the club beyond 2012.

Then there’s the future of Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney, for whom Real Madrid have much admiration. While most United supporters would rather countenance self-harm than lose the club’s two most consistent performers there are no guarantees, with even Ferguson admiting United’s finances now dictate “resale value is always at the back of our minds.”

While Rooney has little intention of moving – family life in the North West is of paramount importance – he is not yet in the top ten earners at the club according to those in the know. It’s an incongruity United’s board must surely address this summer.

Meanwhile, Madrid’s touted move for Evra’s comes amid widespread belief that Real want a new left-back for the 2010/11 season.

Gardner is probably watching with a knowing sigh.

Although there is a cautionary tale, with the 65-year-old executive having taken the reigns at Plymouth Argyle just under a year ago. Since then the board has legally separated club from ground, while overseeing the Pilgrims’ relegation to League 1 amid concern for the club’s financial health.

There but for the grace …

Cole: Benzema is the man

April 28, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 5 comments

Former Manchester United and England striker Andrew ‘Andy’ Cole says that Sir Alex Ferguson should make a second attempt to sign Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema this summer. United failed with a bid for the French player, after the former Olympique Lyonnais striker opted to join the Spanish giants in a €35 million deal last June.

However, speaking to the Manchester Evening News, Cole says United’s over-reliance on 34-goal striker Wayne Rooney this season means Ferguson needs to dip into the transfer market.

“I think Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen’s injuries have proved that United do need another body in their strike force,” said Cole, who scored 121 goals for United.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the manager brings somebody in to add to the players he has. But the question is who do you buy?”

“I was speaking to Sir Alex Ferguson last summer at his charity golf day and we were talking about the fact there are no No9s around these days.”

“There are a lot of No10s, the playmakers who make things happen, about. But traditional goalscoring strikers are few and far between.”

“Everyone has got the same dilemma. There are hardly any of them about. I look around the world, there’s Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o in that No9 style, and then I’m struggling to name anyone else.”

“Torres at Liverpool is a real old-fashioned English centre-forward. He’s a throwback but you don’t get many of them in England these days let alone from Europe. He is definitely a bit of a one-off.”

“Karim Benzema is not identical to Torres but I think he is the nearest you might get to him. I think he is fantastic. He has great ability.”

“I know Sir Alex wanted him last summer and if he can go back and try again and the lad decided he’d have more chance at Old Trafford then I think that would be really interesting.”

“It’s what United need.”

Whether Ferguson has the money to fund a deal is open to debate, with Benzema likely to cost more than £25 million. The Frenchman’s signature would add to the seven strikers already in the club’s first team squad.

When newspapers go bad

April 28, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 6 comments

Manchester United blog The Stretty Rant suffered the worst scourge of Internet publishing this week: copyright theft. The United blog published world exclusive pictures of the new kit for next season – a retro number that has a distinct ‘Marmite’ appeal to it – only to find other sites and national newspapers blatantly ripping it off.

Unsurprising though as in blog publishing the better the content the more frequently somebody else will choose to steal it. Indeed, Scotland on Sunday, the national weekend newspaper north of the border, once copied a Rant article verbatim with their own byline. The formal complaint dismissed with a curt ‘so sue’ response.

Then today – three days after Stretty Rant’s exclusive – The Sun (above) uses the same pictures to boldly claim their own exclusive. Both late and very naughty boys.

Worse still, BBC Online today links to The Sun’s story, without so much as a cursory credit to the original publisher.

It is perhaps ironic then that The Times‘ Oliver Kay should use his blog column this week to lambaste websites for spreading rumours.

The Times is of course part of the same Rupert Murdoch-owned News International group that also includes both The Sun and News of the World – the paper that lost the daddy of all privacy suits in 2008 for erroneously publishing a story about Max Moseley and Nazi-style sex parties. Rumours indeed.

For those interested in the new kit here’s the home and away colours for next season. Rant will not fund the Glazers of course; we’ve already got Steve Coppell’s from 1980 in any case. 15 sizes too small perhaps. The diet starts tomorrow…

Manchester United Home Kit

Home 2010/11. Credit: The Stretty Rant

Manchester United Away Kit

Away 2010/11. Credit: The Stretty Rant

Look away, no Pool conspiracy here

April 27, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 19 comments

The players agree – when Liverpool meets Carlo Ancellotti’s table-topping Chelsea this Sunday both sides will be out to win. It’s not a scenario many United supporters have faith in though, with the nightmare prospect of Rafa Benitez resting key players and the Kop egging on the away side to victory all too realistic.

Indeed, in a recent poll on popular Liverpool blog Empire of the Kop nearly half the supporters participating said they were hoping for a Chelsea victory next Sunday lunch time. Even if that win ends Liverpool’s faint hopes of making the Champions League next season.

Little wonder, with Untied baring down on a record-breaking 19th domestic title and the rivalry so strong these days. United and Liverpool each stands on 18, with a Merseyside win on Sunday all but handing Sir Alex Ferguson’s side an historic English title.

For United fans it grates too, with a favour needed from the club’s biggest rival hardly a scenario that most supporters dared to countenance earlier in the campaign.

“We need Chelsea to slip up now so hopefully Liverpool or Wigan can do us a favour,” said United’s 34-goal striker Wayne Rooney.

“Liverpool are a proud club with a lot of history and I’m sure they’ll want to win that game as they’re fighting for the Europa League. We just have to try and win our last two games. If Liverpool or Wigan can help us out, we’ll be happy.”

Few supporters this side of the East Lancs Road relish cheering on Anfield’s finest. Fortune has it that United does not need Liverpool to beat in-form Chelsea at Anfield. With Chelsea’s recent goalscoring ensuring that goal difference is now irrelevant, a bore draw will do Ferguson’s men nicely.

Provided the Reds beat Sunderland at the Stadium of Light of course.

While conspiracy theories abound among United fans and many Liverpool supporters face a moral dilemma over the game, the players are making the right noises in public.

“There is no way they will think about anything else other than winning the game, regardless of whether it helps them get in the Champions League or not,” Chelsea’s Frank Lampard said.

“There is no chance 11 Liverpool players will go out and consider United winning the title on what happens in that game. They will go out to win. They will want to be professional.

“They will give everything, there is no doubt about that. It is a difficult match but it’s not a case of us worrying. Everyone is aware that when they go to Liverpool it will be difficult, whatever stage of the season it is.”

Liverpool has been here before of course. In 1995 the Merseysiders beat Kenny Dalgleish’s Blackburn Rovers 2-1 on the season’s final day. It would have given United a 10th English title had Ferguson’s team not failed to beat West Ham United on the same May afternoon.

The stakes are now higher though. United’s charge towards historic English preeminence is sure to clarify many Kopites thinking. But with fourth place still an outside possibility Liverpool captain Steve Gerrard says that the home side will aim for the win, whatever the fans want.

“We are underdogs for fourth position but our fans know that we have also got Everton breathing down our necks and we certainly don’t want them finishing above us,” added Gerrard.

“We have got a couple of games left now and the idea is to take maximum points to see if we can get into fourth through the back door. If we take maximum points, who knows? The teams above us might slip up.”

However, the nightmare scenario for United supporters is an Everton defeat at Stoke City on Saturday, combined with a Tottenham Hotspur win at Eastlands.

Add a Liverpool victory over Atletico Madrid on Thursday into the mix and the Merseysiders will simultaneously be out of the Champions League reckoning, guaranteed a Europa League spot next season and handed an incentive to rest players.

The more cynical among you will expect to see Gerrard joining the injured Fernando Torres on the sidelines whatever the scenario.