Month June 2010

Month June 2010

United get Geordies in opening fixture

Ed June 17, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 7 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United will play Chris Houghton’s Newcastle United at Old Trafford on the opening day of the Premier League season, which kicks of on 14 August. Ferguson’s men will then travel to London to face Fulham at  Craven Cottage before playing West Ham United back in Manchester during the first week of the season.

Champions Chelsea face West Bromwich Albion in the Midlands on opening day, Manchester City go to Champions League qualifiers Tottenham Hotsport while Arsenal and Liverpool play each other at Anfield.

Other notable fixtures include the derbies against Manchester City on 10 November at Eastlands and the return at Old Trafford on 12 February 2011. United face Liverpool at home early in the season on 18 September and then at Anfield on 5 March. Meanwhile London sides Arsenal and Chelsea come to Old Trafford on 11 December and 7 May respectively, with the away games on 30 April and at Chelsea on 18 December.

It could be a tough start to the season for Ferguson, with the Premier League kicking off just a month after the World Cup finishes, the Scot may be without several first team players, who will each be given 28 days off before starting pre-season training.

While Chelsea has the same issue, with even more players attending the World Cup than United, the London club’s opening fixtures are kind, with five winnable games before they travel to Manchester City in late September. By United’s first six fixtures include matches against Fulham, Liverpool and Everton.

United also faces a tough run-in if Ferguson’s side is to regain the Premier League trophy in 2010/11.  Starting at Liverpool on 5 March, United’s final 10 fixtures include games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton and Fulham before concluding with a final-day match at home to newly promoted Blackpool.

The Champions League, the draw of which does not take place until August, will also have an impact on United’s Premier League schedule. United lost a significant number of games following European fixtures last season. In 2010/11 United will face tough matches against Liverpool and Arsenal immediately after group stage fixtures before the New Year.

Should United qualify for the Champions League knockout stages then Ferguson’s men can expect a packed schedule, with each of the Champions League knockout rounds again split over four nights to maximise television viewing figures.

Since the Premier League demands a license to print a full fixture list you can get it from the official club mouthpiece, ManUtd.com, here.

The Champions League schedule for 2010/11 is available here.

MUST launches alternative fans’ shirt

Ed June 16, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 5 comments

The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) has launched an alternative team shirt ahead of the new season, with all profits going to charity, says the organisation. The shirt, which is black and bears the green and gold ‘One Love’ moniker, will retail for £19.99 with the British Heart Foundation benefiting from all profits made.

“This is the fans’ shirt, with all profits going to charity, rather than the Glazers’ shirt, with all profits going to the Glazers, banks and other corporations,” said Oliver Houston, vice chair of the 160,000 strong supporters’ pressure group.

The shirt, which the group claims is of identical quality to the official £40 club colours, joins green and gold scarves, pins and flags sold by MUST in recent months. MUST claims it will also explore other ways of merchandising the ‘One Love’ slogan, which first appeared on billboards around Manchester in April.

“The amount of forecast annual interest alone on the debt amassed by Manchester United under the Glazers exceeds the entire amount needed to fund the BHF’s major new research programme,” said Richard Hytner, Deputy Chair of Saatchi and Saatchi and President of MUST.

“Manchester United fans will be delighted to buy a shirt that demonstrates its desire to see Manchester United less indebted, whilst also showing its support for such an important cause.”

The official club shirt, bearing the Aon logo, will retail from early July to coincide with United’s money-spinning tour to Canada, United States and Mexico. United begins pre-season training on 12 July in Chicago, home of Aon.

The limited edition MUST shirt is available online from www.oneloveshirt.com, made by tekkers. 5,000 number shirts will initially be made available.

IMAGES: Marketing Week / MUST

How many season tickets did United (not) sell?

Ed June 15, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 34 comments

When Goal.com reported that Manchester United had sold just 18,000 of 56,000 season tickets a week before last Sunday’s renewal deadline, the green & gold movement appeared to have impacted the Glazers’ bottom line in the starkest manner – a mass supporter boycott on an unprecedented scale.

With the deadline now passed Manchester United is refusing to announce how many holders have renewed amid reports that, despite a late rally, thousands of United season ticket holders have failed to renew this summer.

Everything is as it always is, is the message – quite literally – emanating from United HQ today but anecdotally at least not only are ticket sales well down on previous years but the club has already begun re-selling tickets to those fans willing to take up the slack.

Indeed, fans reported today being offered tickets in large blocks, seat changes – again in blocks – or executive seats in popular areas as the ticket office worked overtime to reduce United’s season ticket shortfall before the start of the domestic season on 14 August.

Reports that non-renewers have already been sent text messages by ticket office also emerged today. Previously the sales department has sent executive seat holders aggressive letters urging immediate renewal.

With the deadline passed on Sunday the club is likely to announce first an extension and then offer new tickets to its ‘waiting list’ – effectively an email and mobile number marketing database – up to an including the first day of the new season.

While the Soviet-esque secrecy surrounding season ticket sales this summer means even Old Trafford ticket office managers, according to one Rant source, do not have full details on current numbers, there is little doubt that the Glazer family’s overactive PR machine would shout the numbers from the rooftops through a vuvuzela had a sell-out been achieved. Or anywhere near it for that matter.

United’s communications department is right in one sense though. Everything is as it always is. Thousands of fans who have chosen to walk away this summer join many more who have done so over the past five years. Once at 67,000 with a similar number purportedly on the waiting list, the Glazers huge price rises have ensured few season tickets sold and the waiting list evaporated.

This process has taken place organically with no United supporters group willing to call for an all-out boycott, although the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA) has long urged fans to visit Old Trafford only on a match-by-match basis. It’s a message now also echoed by the Manchester United Supporters Association (MUST).

Ticket sales are important though and not just in the phony PR war that has waged since March. The Glazer family’s desire, as detailed in the January prospectus, to remove significant dividends from the club is materially affected by both cashflow and meeting certain profit targets. It’s a scenario that offers United fans significant power as customers.

Indeed, United supporters are, arguably, undergoing a transition. From a body that supported the team – and therefore the club – no matter what to a realisation that being the best United supporter may indeed mean withdrawing certain forms of custom to shorten the Glazer family’s regime at Old Trafford.

Those who left to form FC United of Manchester in 2005 will understand the painful decision made by many supporters this summer.

Inevitably, United will sell many of those tickets not taken up by the current season ticket base and a positive spin will of course be spun by those responsible for it at HQ. It misses the point. Supporters, no matter how passionate, are now far better educated about the Glazer family’s impact on the club over the past five years.

Despite speculation no doubt encouraged by the club – it’s repeatedly daily on the official website after all – United has made no attempt to buy off supporters in the transfer market this summer. After the family has taken a £70 million dividend at some point later this summer there really isn’t any money left.

It’s just one of the many reasons there’s now much silence on the ticket sales front.

Diouf and Tosic set to leave

Ed June 15, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 7 comments

Between £5 – £8 million will flow into the Glazers’ financial black hole when Serbian winger Zoran Tošić is sold today Russian outfit CSKA Moscow. Tošić, who spent much of last season on loan at Cologne in the Bundesliga, joined Manchester United in a £17 million deal alongside fellow Serb Adem Ljajić 18 months ago.

United pulled the plug on the £10 million Ljajić deal in January claiming work permit problems, while Tošić’s move to CSKA will see the club make a return on its initial investment.

Although Tošić has stated a preference to remain in Germany, financial considerations almost certainly dictated that a move to the Bundesliga – save for a late bid from Bayern Munich that did not arrive – was not viable. CSKA, incredibly still backed by the Russian Ministry of Defense, have no problem meeting United’s fee or the player’s financial demands.

Tošić, 23, made just five substitute appearances for United in his time at the club, with United taking a £3 million loss on the player.

“We made him an offer to stay,” said Cologne director Michael Meier.

“But the sums of money put before him make it hard for any German club to compete. But, in the end, there are only winners in the deal.

“We stayed in the league thanks to Tošić, Zoran was able to show his form and is at the World Cup and Manchester United can achieve their asking price.”

Another player on the move – on loan at least – is Senegalese striker Mame Biram Diouf, who has failed to make an impact at the club since his arrival from Norwegian side Molde in January. Injury, competition for places and time required to settle in a new country have limited Diouf’s first team chances to just five appearances, scoring once against Burnley at Old Trafford in January.

With Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Federico Macheda, Danny Wellbeck and new signing Javier Hernandéz on United’s books, Sir Alex Ferguson has plenty of forward options for the new season. The Daily Star reports Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers interested in taking the 22-year-old forward on loan for the season.

Other players set to leave on loan this summer are the aforementioned Wellbeck, who may return with Matt James to Preston North End, and French winger Gabriel Obertan who is heavily linked with a short-term move to Glasgow Rangers.

A slew of other fringe and youth players will also leave on loan in the coming season.

World Cup scouting report I

Ed June 14, 2010 Tags: , International 6 comments

With nine matches at the World Cup now complete fans have witnessed a low-key start to the tournament,with few teams willing to risk losing first time out. With a number of reported Manchester United transfer targets to watch, interest remains high and Rant looks at a handful of speculated targets and those who could do well at Old Trafford.

Simon Kjaer
The Danish central defender, who stands out with long shocking blonde hair and an alice band, is currently on Palermo’s books in Italy’s Serie A but is consistently linked with an expensive move to the Premier League. Outspoken Palermo President claims a bid from either United or Manchester City, with Nemanja Vidic’s departure from Old Trafford seeming more likely by the day.

Kjaer, who featured in Denmark’s uninspiring 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands at Soccer City Johannesburg, looked comfortable in possession but was frequently caught out by the Dutch forwards’ movement, getting the wrong side of Robin van Persie on more than one occasion. Worst was to come in the second half, when the 20-year-old defender reacted slowly to Eljero Elia’s shot and was beaten to the rebound by Dirk Kuyt for the Netherlands’ second goal.

Mesut Özil
Werder Bremen’s talented Turkish-German midfielder was outstanding in a 4-0 win over Australia last night, dictating tempo and floating in between midfield and attack. Contracted to the German club until June 2011, many suspect the midfielder will move on this summer to a bigger European stage. Not that Özil’s talents have come as a surprise to English scouts, with the 21-year-old simply brilliant for Germany last summer against England in the European Under-21 Championship final.

United’s lack of creative talent in central midfield with Paul Scholes’ legs getting no younger has many fans salivating over the youthful Özil. Arsene Wenger is a known admirer of the player who will cost around €10 million with less than a year on the player’s contract remaining.

Tactically, Özil remains something of a throwback with the player’s floating role in the German side not one many Premier League teams deploy. The risk, undoubtedly, is that Özil would get lost in a traditional 4-4-2 system.

Eljero Elia
The Dutch Young Player of the Year demonstrated much of his undoubted talent in Hamburg’s run to the Europa League semi-final last season. A winger of genuine pace, the 23-year-old surprisingly slipped threw Ajax’ famous youth academy before joining ADO Den Haag and then Twente Enschede. The player moved to Hamburg for around €8.5 million last summer. But with Hamburg finishing outside the European places a strong World Cup tournament will surely alert major powers to Elia’s talents.

Previously linked to a move to Liverpool, Elia has said he does not plan to move away from the Bundesliga side this summer. The player’s brilliant cameo performance against Denmark today may change all that.

Miloš Krasić
The floppy-haired CSKA Moscow midfielder excelled in two fixtures against United in the Champions League last season prompting media speculation about a move to Old Trafford. Although the Serb is highly likely to move this summer he has gone on record saying his preference is for a transfer to Italy. Rafael Benitez’ Inter Milan is reportedly interested.

However, the right-sided midfielder struggled to make an impact as Serbia lost to Ghana on Sunday afternoon. The Black Stars’ victory owing much to the African’s adventurous outlook, with Serbia negative and unsurprising. Indeed, Krasić took the brunt of media criticism in the Serbian press today for a poor quality performance.

Rafael Van der Vaart
Linked to a £20 million move to Old Trafford, van der Vaart’s season has swung from lows to high and back again. The Real Madrid midfielder began the season without a squad number and seemingly on his way out of Santiago Bernabeu. However, Kaká’s injury proved a blessing, with the Dutchman excelling over the closing weeks of the season. Word on the street has it that the Madrid hierarchy would gladly sacrifice the former Ajax playmaker if the right bid is forthcoming.

The left-sided midfielder began Netherland’s match against Denmark this afternoon but consistently took up the same positions as his more illustrious compatriot Wesley Sneider and was eventually substituted for the aforementioned Elia.

Vidic blames missed chances

Ed June 14, 2010 Tags: , International No comments

Manchester United’s giant defender Nemanja Vidic admitted his side was punished for failing to take chances, after Serbia lost its first World Cup finals match as a fully independent nation. The group D fixture, held in Pretoria, ended 1-0 to the Ghana after Serbia’s creative players largely failed to perform for Radomir Antić’s side.

Ghana, the more offensive team throughout, struggled to break down Antić’s celebrated back-four until Udinese defender Luković saw red in the 74th minute for a second bookable offence. Substitute Stuttgart midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanović then inexplicably handled inside the area with just five minutes to go, allowing the outstanding Asamoah Gyan to convert the resulting penalty and secure the Black Stars’ win.

“I think it was a penalty. I think he touched the ball with his hand,” Vidic admitted after the match.

“But I think we had a few chances. We didn’t score a goal and we got punished. It was a very important game to lose but we have to keep going and to focus on the next two matches.

“I leave to you to decide if it was a red card or not. I have my opinion but I’m not going to tell it to you.”

Vidic criticised – as many have – the new Jubilani ball but admitted that both sides have to play with it.

“I think many players said a lot of things about the ball. I need just to say when it’s going long or crosses it’s a very difficult ball for the forwards and the defenders,” he explained.

“But it’s the same, for them and for us, it’s the same ball.”

Serbia’s famed back-four stood firm but Antić’s attacking players failed to spark at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. While Nemanja Vidić and company repelled Ghana’s effervescent forwards, questions will be asked of Miloš Krasić, Marko Pantelić and Nikola Žigić who created few chances in a low-quality match.

Serbia must now win twice against Australia and Germany to guarantee progression in the tournament

Park wins as Rooney left disappointed

Ed June 12, 2010 Tags: , , International 3 comments

Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung scored as South Korea opened its World Cup programme with a comprehensive win over Greece in Port Elizabeth. Recalling the effervescent approach the Koreans took on home soil in 2002, Huh Jung-Moo’s side were energetic, lively and fully deserved the 2-0 win over the Euro 2004 champions.

Korea’s performance was in stark contrast to a poor England display in Rustenburg as Wayne Rooney’s side embarrassingly drew with the USA, where there were very few positives for manager Fabio Capello.

Rooney’s subdued display – save for a long-range second half strike – summed up England’s night in which few parts of Capello’s outfit met the standards expected against an obdurate United States. Those of a crueller disposition might add that his side rarely does.

For once though a United player will not become the national scapegoat for English failure – for now at least – with goalkeeper Robert Green’s first-half howler in the Massimo Taibi category for catastrophic errors.

While England dominated possession and created the better chances, 14th ranked USA has burst Capello’s bubble far earlier in the tournament than many expected. Lucky then that Algeria and Slovenia will pose far fewer challenges than Bob Bradley’s outfit.

Meanwhile in Port Elizabeth Park, who is Korea’s captain for the tournament, scored his side’s second as Jung-Moo’s as the 2002 semi-finalists dominated the group B match against a remarkably impotent Greece. With tough fixtures Argentina and Nigeria to come, Korea’s win offers the Asian side an outside chance of qualifying for the last 16.

Park capitalised on a fatal defensive area before characteristically driving into the box and slotting past Kostas Chalkias for the killer goal.

“It’s a great honour and pleasure for me to have been chosen,” said Park of his selection as Korea’s captain.

“We had a good result in our first game, so I am very happy. Since this is the first World Cup which is being held in Africa, I am very happy that we managed to win this game.”

“Personally, I was very honoured to score, but ultimately, it comes down to the team winning, and I am very happy that I managed to contribute to the team’s victory.”

Scheduled to meet first or second place in group A if the side qualifies, Park rightly pinpoints the match against Argentina in five days time as the fixture that will decide Korea’s fate in South Africa this summer.

“Argentina is, of course, the strongest team in our group and people are saying they could make the final,” Park added.

“Before the World Cup, we played a friendly against Spain and we thought about Argentina as we were playing that game.”

“Of course, there is a lot of difference between the two teams, but the unexpected can happen in this World Cup, and that is what we are looking to do.”

The Korean’s dynamism contrasts with England’s rigid 4-4-2 that neither draws the best out of Rooney or plays to the squad’s strength in midfield. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, who failed to gel in the centre of midfield once again, will surely not play together again this tournament.

Although the latter scored, the axis with the Chelsea midfielder has rarely worked and there is little reason to believe Gareth Barry will not return the moment he is match fit.

In the meantime Capello might think about getting the best out of both Rooney and the team by deploying the United striker alone and bringing additional bodies into midfield.

Yes, apparently Emile Heskey does count as a striker partner.

World Cup opens with Chicarito, Evra and the vuvuzela

Ed June 11, 2010 Tags: , , , International 1 comment

Forget the crime, travel nightmares and rip-off prices; concentrate on the football. That’s the message as the World Cup opened amid the vuvuzela din in Johannesburg. There’s plenty of it, with 64 matches in total. Manchester United interest came early, with Mexico’s Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandéz featuring in a 1-1 draw with South Africa today.

This evening, at the truly magnificent Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, French captain Patrice Evra took to the field against former red Diego Forlan and reported United transfer target Luis Suarez. It’s a cliché of course but 30 days of back-to-back matches is truly a festival of football. Magnificent.

It’s a tournament with a unique character too and not just because of the incessant low rumble of an approaching swarm that is recalled by South Africans’ favourite match-day horns. The sheer local pride in hosting the first tournament on African soil is palpable.

On the pitch the hosts took the lead today with a stunning opening goal in the 94,000 capacity Soccer City Stadium before Hernandez’ Mexico struck a late, fully deserved, equaliser to finally silence the banks of vuvuzela. The striker, who officially becomes a United player during the tournament on 1 July, completely missed a header six yards out only for midfielder Rafael Marquez to shank the ball home.

Hernandéz, perhaps surprisingly, started the match on the bench despite seven goals in 13 internationals to date, with West Ham United reject Guiermo Franco starting up front in a 4-3-3 formation. But with Mexico trailing, the 22-year-old Guadalajara-born forward came on as a second-half substitute.

The 5′ 8 in” forward showed some neat touches and plenty of movement without fashioning a chance in 17 minutes on the pitch but with Franco abjectly poor the new United star could well start against France in six days time.

Meanwhile, French captain Evra vowed to win the World Cup for the motherland ahead of Les Bleus’ opening fixture against Uruguay tonight. With arguments rocking the squad this week – Florent Malouda’s anger at coach Raymond Domenech almost coming to blows yesterday – the left-back will need to demonstrate all his leadership skills to bring unity to the side.

“I am very confident and I have trust in the squad,” said Evra, who was appointed captain to succeed Thierry Henry.

“I think we can go right to the end [of the tournament]. Anything can happen in football but that is what drives us. We are in very good health both on and off the field and that is what we need.”

Evra’s promotion came at the expense of Arsenal’s William Gallas, who is now refusing to speak to the media as a result. It’s a remarkable rise for the captain, who arrived at United via footballing backwaters such as Marsala, Monza and Nice.

“It’s difficult to talk about one’s self but I have put in some hard work to this point,” Evra said yesterday.

“I have not had any gifts but I am determined. My first six months in Manchester were difficult but my psychology has helped me get this far.”

No doubt more hard work lies ahead if France is to match the performance in Germany four years ago when, led by the inspirational Zinidine Zidane, the French made the World Cup final.

World Cup Rant Cast – tournament preview

Ed June 11, 2010 Tags: , Rant Cast 2 comments

The FIFA World Cup takes place in South Africa, promising a month-long celebration of all that is great in travel chaos, rip-off prices and crime! But as the tournament opens we can forget all the troubles and concentrate on the cheap hookers feast of football that is to come. Regulars Ed & Paul look to the best and worst of the tournament in the first of four cup special Rant Casts!

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 cast@unitedrant.co.uk or comment below.

Follow Rant Cast on Twitter @UtdRantCast

Subscribe on iTunes now.

Proud Scot Fergie helps English opponents

Ed June 10, 2010 Tags: , International No comments

England’s opening opponents at the FIFA World Cup have been given a helping hand by proud Scotsman Sir Alex Ferguson, according to USA head coach Bob Bradley. Ferguson, who rejects all suggestions that he is anti-English, opened up the Carrington training complex to the 52-year-old American coach earlier this season.

Ferguson coached Scotland at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico following Jock Stein’s unexpected death and has rejected the Football Association’s advances on three occasions.

“I have had a number of really good opportunities to watch Manchester United train, to watch them play, and to spend some time with Sir Alex. He is inspirational – everything that goes on in that club, you can see his personality in it,” said Bradley.

“Some managers have been great in terms of being open. They know all about soccer in the US and know about our results. I have been lucky to get to particular clubs and I appreciate all of them.

“I saw there are different ways to be successful. When you spend time with the Premier League managers you appreciate the willingness to talk about the workings of the club.

“The times I have been at Man U you realise Sir Alex sets the tone in a down to earth way. Sit in the cafe and you see Giggs, Scholes, players from the reserves and you see their interaction and the way it should be done. It is a big club but there is a down to earth, realness, and grounded quality to it.

“I have done seminars with him and been to United on several occasion to see him. I will go down there and watch them train and spend an hour in his office talking. You pick up different things from someone like Sir Alex and it helps you in your own philosophy. He has such energy, if you have the chance to speak to him he is really bright and funny.

“He asked me if I knew Princeton University where I coached was founded by a Scot. You look on his bookshelf and see books about American presidents – you find a really interesting guy. When you have a chance to watch people like that and speak to them a little bit it is special.

“If you can built not only a system of playing and a professionalism, but also a family environment where everyone feels part of it, that’s huge. That is what I learned there.”

USA face England in Rustenburg on Saturday with a 7.30pm kick off, with former United stars Tim Howard and Jonathan Spector likely to start for the Americans and Wayne Rooney for England.