Month August 2010

Month August 2010

United draw Rangers in Champions League

August 26, 2010 Tags: Matches 23 comments

Manchester United will play Valencia, Rangers and Bursaspor in the Champions League Group C after the draw held at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco today. The draw means Sir Alex Ferguson will return to Glasgow where he played 41 league games scoring 25 goals. United last faced Rangers in the 2002-3 season, winning home and away.

The draw, hosted by former Miss Switzerland Melanie Winiger and Pedro Pinto, former sports anchor for CNN International, with UEFA general-secretary Gianni Infantino and Competitions Director Giorgio Marchetti, precedes tomorrow nights European Super Cup at Stade Louis II between Atletico Madrid and Internazionale.

United beat Rangers 1-0 at Ibrox and 3-0 at Old Trafford seven years ago, and the draw will bring Ferguson head-to-head with former assistant manager Walter Smith, in his final season as Rangers’ boss. The Scottish club, in financial difficulties, will simply be grateful to take part with an estimated £15 million heading the club’s way in appearance money and gate receipts for reaching the group stage.

“It’s going to be interesting, I think its a good draw for us,” said Glazer stooge and United ceo David Gill, rather blandly.

“Obviously the Rangers connection is there. We played them in 2003/4 and Sir Alex and Walter Smith go back a very long way. It’ll be a great atmosphere and a great occasion. I’ve already spoke to Alex and he’s looking forward to it.

“Nobody is thinking about [reaching the Wembley final] at this stage. As we know, no team has retained the title in its current format, which demonstrates how competitive it is. It’s a great competition.”

The Reds also face a tough double-header with Valencia, who came third in last season’s La Liga but lost two key players in David Silva and David Villa over the summer amid financial problems at the Mestalla. Los Che is about £500 million in debt, with a new 75,000 seater stadium planned but not yet built on the Costa del Azahar. Indeed, the club faces a battle for its very survival.

Out of pot 4 came Turkish champions Bursaspor, with the usual ‘welcome to hell’ clichés that a trip to Turkey entails these days. Bursaspor won Süper Lig for the first time last season, having only been founded in 1963. United will hardly relish the lengthy trip to Anatolia despite the victory over Beşiktaş in last season’s competition.

Ferguson though is content with the draw, which includes just one long away trip and six winnable fixtures. United lost five matches in the Premier League after European away trips last season, including both matches against champions Chelsea.

“You can’t complain about that, it’s a good draw for us. You always look at the travelling side of it and the only one that’s of any great distance is the trip to Turkey,” the United manager told ManUtd.com.

“Walter Smith’s already been on the phone, talking about tickets for Old Trafford! Like me, he’s really looking forward to our games against each other.”

United open with a Rangers at home on 14 September and close the campaign with another Old Trafford game, against Valencia on 7 December. Sir Alex will delight that United’s upcoming fixtures against Liverpool and Arsenal each follow home European matches.

The group stages, once again played over 12 nights, will take place on 14/15 September, 28/29 September, 19/20 October, 2/3 November, 23/24 November, 7/8 December.. The ten winners in the play-off round ties join 22 automatic entrants in the 32-team group stage. The clubs are split into eight groups of four teams, with two teams from each section advancing to the first knockout round.

The round of 16 takes place between 13 February to 16 March 2011, quarter-finals 5-13 April, and semis 26 April to 4 May. The final is at Wembley on 28 May 2011.

Extra officials will be used in the Champions League this year, following an experiment in the Europa League last season. A fifth and sixth “additional assistant referee” will stand behind each goal line as UEFA joins FIFA in resisting the march of technology in football.

UNITED’S FIXTURES

Tuesday 14 September, Glasgow Rangers (H)
Wednesday 29 September, Valencia (A)
Wednesday 20 October, Bursaspor (H)
Tuesday 2 November, Bursaspor (A)
Wednesday 24 November, Glasgow Rangers (A)
Tuesday 7 December, Valencia (H)

FULL DRAW

Group A
Internazionale
Werder Bremen
Tottenham Hotspur
FC Twente

Group B
Olympique Lyonnais
Benfica
Schalke 04
Hapoel Tel Aviv

Group C
MANCHESTER UNITED
Valencia
Glasgow Rangers
Bursaspor

Group D
Barcelona
Panathinaikos
F.C. København
Rubin Kazan

Group E
Bayern Munich
Roma
Basel
CFR Cluj

Group F
Chelsea
Olympique de Marseille
Spartak Moskva
MŠK Žilina

Group G
AC Milan
Real Madrid
Ajax
Auxerre

Group H
Arsenal
Shakhtar Donetsk
Braga
FK Partizan

Going, going, gone as the Glazers’ property business turns delinquent

August 25, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 36 comments

Look away now if you still believe that the Glazer family has plans for Manchester United that are anything but malevolent and would rather not know the truth! In an occasional series investment analyst Andy Green – andersred.blogspot.com – publishes further information on the family’s US property business, First Allied Corporation.

The report makes uncomfortable reading for United supporters still harbouring hopes of a late investment in the transfer market this summer, with the Glazers’ US strip-mall businesses failing an alarming rate as predicted by Green earlier this year.

In May Green identified 34 of 64 Glazer-owned shopping malls that were at serious risk of defaulting on their mortgages, with the entire portfolio highly indebted. In fact First Allied is failing so fast that several shopping malls have failed to pay their mortgages in the past quarter alone.

“Mortgages of five of these centres have become “delinquent”, that is to say the centres have started to miss mortgage payments,” explained Green yesterday.

“These five centres, originally valued at over $38m with over $7m of equity, have become delinquent in the last four months.”

Additionally, says, Green, “five new centres, which had previously been covering their mortgages, have now joined the “at risk” list after seeing falls in occupancy.”

Worse still, while occupancy rates remain low across the group some malls reported as fully let by the Glazer family have also fallen into delinquency because they have come out of interest-only periods on their mortgages.

Green estimates that many more of the family’s malls will fail even with full occupancy because the group is so highly leveraged.

“First Allied’s problems are not just a product of a weak US economy struggling to come out of recession, they are in large part due to aggressive financing structures put in place before the credit bubble burst,” explains Green.

“For 15 shopping centres, the terms of the mortgages on them make insolvency virtually inevitable.”

In fact the entire property business is now in such a poor state that it made just $9 million before taxes and other costs in the past year. The true group position is worse, with Green’s estimate deliberately ignoring the centres with negative cash flow. Each centre is non-recourse, meaning it can fail without impacting the group position.

Insignificant in a portfolio of 64 centres? Probably not, with the family’s NFL franchise Tampa Bay Buccaneers also heavily in debt, United is and will remain the family’s only cash-cow.

Indeed, given the lack of free cash-flow in its empire and the family’s extreme indebtedness, the Glazers have little choice but to remove hundreds of millions in dividends from the club’s coffers under the terms of the £504 million bond issued last January. This will pay down the so-called Payment-in-Kind (PIK debt), while Sir Alex Ferguson remains short of transfer funds and seeking “value” in the market.

There is, to paraphrase the Scot, no doubt that, although inexplicably some supporters still doubt this is the family’s intention.

The picture is of course similar to that unveiled by Green, the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor and BBC Panorama last May, with the Glazers’ property position deteriorating in the past quarter. It explains almost entirely the family’s motivation for issuing a bond that actually increased United’s interest payments, why Sir Alex Ferguson is suddenly seeking “value” and the reasoning behind both the Bucs and United’s “investment in youth” – read cheap – strategies.

While the Bucs came off disastrous 3-13 losing season on one of the lowest wage budgets in the NFL, United had ‘only’ the Carling Cup to show for a largely disappointing campaign in a mediocre quality Premier League after selling Cristiano Ronaldo last summer.

The response to relative failure?

Tampa Bay has invested in a range of younger free-agent players during the off-season, while the fans have walked away in droves. The franchise sold less than 40,000 season tickets and the club must now black-out TV coverage as games have not sold out for the first time in decades.

Meanwhile, following a remarkably similar strategy United has spent around £10 million net this summer on three youngsters this summer as the club also failed to sell all available season tickets for the first time in recent memory.

The strategy has failed at the Bucs since the franchises’ 2002 Super Bowl win, while the future is still unknown for United. There are, however, few examples in professional sports where a club bucks – no pun intended – the market and reaches greater heights on a negative investment strategy.

Indeed, in context the 1996 double winning side, including a youthful Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and David Beckham, is an historical aberration.

With the Glazers’ finances unlikely to improve in the medium term, Ferguson must now repeat the trick.

City beaten already…

August 24, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 16 comments

… at reserve team level that is, with Manchester United’s second string overcoming cross-town neighbours 3-1 in the Manchester Senior Cup. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side sported six internationals and a similar number of Under-21s in arguably the strongest reserve outfit in memory, including returning Brazilian midfielder Anderson.

Federico Macheda struck twice and Tom Cleverley scored United’s other goal as the Reds eased to victory in the first derby of the season, against Manchester City’s preposterously named “Elite Development Squad”. The work of Gary Cook, no doubt.

The presence of so many internationals helped of course, with Anderson and Rafael da Silva each featuring for an hour, while Michael Carrick, Gary Neville, Wes Brown, Chris Smalling and Darron Gibson all played at Hyde United’s Ewen Fields.

One notable scorer, Cleverley, continues to have high hopes for the season despite not featuring in either of United’s Premier League games to date this season.

“All I can do is keep playing to my top performance level when I play, whether it’s for the Reserves or the first team,” he told MUTV tonight.

“As long as I keep doing that, hopefully the manager will see I’m doing well and I’ll get a couple of chances here and there.”

“Any game against City is a big one, but in our squad tonight I think we had six internationals and six under-21 internationals or something silly like that, so there was added pressure there,” he said. “It was one of the strongest Reserve teams ever.

“We didn’t start badly, then they got the goal and we lost our momentum a little bit. But we got one in the first half, kicked on in the second, got a couple of good goals, and it’s a good victory.”

Meanwhile, striker Mame Biram Diouf scored a hat-trick on his full Blackburn Rovers debut against Norwich City in the Carling Cup last night. The Senegalese player has made two substitute appearances for Rovers in the Premier League.

United reserves: Amos; Neville, Smalling, Brown, Rafael (Dudgeon 60); Gibson, Carrick (Gill 73), Anderson (W Keane 60); Eikrem, Cleverley; Macheda. Subs not used: Devlin, Norwood.

Persecution of the precious

August 24, 2010 Tags: Opinion 20 comments

The French Football Federation (FFF) last week announced its response to Les Bleus’ disastrous World Cup campaign, with Nicolas Anelka, Franck Ribéry, Jeremy Toulalan and Manchester United star Patrice Evra all receiving serious punishment. However, the sanctions handed down by the FFF raise a more intriguing question…

Are the players to blame for making a stand against a coach whom they had lost faith in?

After guiding France to an unexpected spot in the 2006 World Cup final, former French international Raymond Domenech failed dismally at the 2008 Euros, finishing last behind Romania in their group. Despite calls for 58-year-old Frenchman to step down or be sacked throughout the two years between the Euros and the 2010 World Cup, Domenech was handed the task of leading a talented French squad in South Africa.

While rumours had brewed that Domenech was unpopular with the players, the abysmal nature of the French World Cup campaign and the subsequent scandals left a nation shocked at the FFF’s failings. Letting Domenech, a man hated by his team, guide them through a World Cup seems nonsensical, and this was only reaffirmed by the antics of the squad in South Africa.

After Chelsea striker Anelka was sent home following a row with Domenech, the team revolted and refused to train, retreating to the sanctuary of the team bus. This eventually led to France exiting the World Cup after the group stage, suffering a humiliating defeat to hosts South Africa in the final game.

In response to the failure of the French squad at the 2010 World Cup, the FFF handed down match bans to four of the players involved in the so-called ‘mutiny’. Anelka has been banned from international football for an astonishing 18 matches, while United star Evra will miss five pending an appeal launched yesterday. Bayern Munich winger Ribéry, absent from the hearing, was given a three match ban, and Olympique Lyonnaise star Toulalan will miss a single game.

Unsurprisingly the decision has been greeted with disgust and derision from the players involved, and others involved in the world game have followed suit.

Before the sanctions were handed down, Evra started his pre-emptive defence, questioning the FFF’s hearing

“Why punish us more than others? It’s over now,” said the French captain.

“The penalty of not selecting the 23 players from the World Cup for the Norway friendly is consistent. That showed there were not five or six ‘ringleaders’ as had been written.”

But the FFF had to act, had to turn attention away from the failure of a federation that allowed a manager, who clearly no longer had support of the players, to lead the side to the World Cup.

“I am surprised, as I thought everyone wanted to turn the page after the World Cup. We must think about the future,” Evra adds.

However, the FFF clearly thought differently, and wanted to punish those who had apparently led a strike in protest against the decision to send Anelka home. While the comments attributed to the French striker that led to his exclusion were less than kind – “Go &@$% yourself, you son of a whore” – the real issue is that the FFF is trying to hide its woeful inadequacy.

Another to receive a ban, Ribéry, has tried to play down the decision to keep his international spot once the ban is over. The 27-year-old winger questioned the wisdom of not punishing the squad as a collective.

“I do not understand why some players were sentenced to a five-match ban while others have not been punished. All these players participated in what happened at the World Cup,” said Ribéry last week.

Ribéry has a valid point, the judgment to sentence only some players, predominantly those in leadership positions among the team, is intriguing. Ultimately, didn’t those players, as the leaders of the team, have the right to question manager’s authority they no longer believed in? After Domenech made a decision, which they felt left the team in an untenable position.

Such an occurrence is common-place in Premier League sides when managers get the boot. Often the old heads of the team will have questioned his position at the club. The FFF’s decision, therefore, can be seen as trying to lay the blame for a poor World Cup on those who do not deserve it – ultimately using Anelka, Evra and co as scapegoats.

Not everyone agrees with such a view though, and French legend Lillian Thuram wasn’t supportive of United’s beloved defender Evra. One of the most successful figures in French football, Thuram belittled Evra.

“I demanded that the players be harshly punished and that Evra never returns to the France squad. When you are captain of the France team, you must have a responsibility to the jersey and the people,” said the 142-cap legend.

“When the players shut themselves in the bus…that showed that the coach was no longer respected.”

However, if the coach was no longer respected, is it not the captain’s job to make this known? While a safer option was to grin and bear it until the end of the tournament, Evra made a stance and demonstrated to the world how flawed the FFF’s decision making is.

Unsurprisingly there are many who are ready to back Evra and his role at the World Cup. Newly signed Tottenham Hotspur defender William Gallas was quick to redirect the finger of blame.

“If it was a fiasco, then there are reasons for it,” the former Arsenal captain told the Daily Telegraph.

“And for me there is no need to draw a veil over why: they emanated from the coach. The real problem is the coach. Ok I wasn’t good, we weren’t good. But the coach wasn’t up to scratch either.”

“Anelka’s incident was a case of him being fed up for a few weeks prior to that. Domenech hammered into us time and again: ‘Put your egos to one side’. But I believe that he forgot to do that himself.”

While Gallas was already disenfranchised with Domenech after a disputing the side’s captaincy he makes a valid point.

Even new French manager Laurent Blanc isn’t positive about the punishments.

“I thought the collective punishment [the Norway friendly] was both necessary and sufficient…Our only concern is to establish the best possible squad for those fixtures in early September against the Belarus and Bosnia-Herzegovina,” said the former United defender.

Given the man charged with turning around the fortunes of French football disagrees with the punishment, one must wonder why the FFF felt compelled to act and not move on.

Finally, the man at the centre of the controversy, Anelka, sums up the farce.

“For me, this whole thing with the commission is an aberration, a masquerade to make sure they don’t lose face,” said the Chelsea striker.

“They have punished a void, as Nicolas Anelka never existed in this pitiful and colourful affair. They are real clowns, these people … I am doubled up with laughter.” While the laughter claim may sound arrogant, his argument is striking and direct, much like the Frenchman’s playing style.

While the decision to exclude the players from France’s recent friendly is widely seen as justifiable, the bans handed down by the FFF recently are not. Instead, it is a crude attempt to hide the organisational failures at the top level of French football.

There is however one benefit the punishment brings United fans; Patrice Evra won’t have to attend any pesky international games in the next few months!

A home-grown attacking midfielder

August 23, 2010 Tags: Opinion 37 comments

This summer Manchester United supporters have as one cried for a new attacking midfielder to complete what is still a very good squad, albeit lacking some creativity. This desire is, of course, tied both to Paul Scholes’ ageing legs and the Mesut Özil transfer saga, which came to a close last week when the German signed for Real Madrid.

Having lost out on the German, United may now turn to someone already at the club to fill the creative role in central midfield – Tom Cleverley.

Ever since joining United at age fifteen in 2005, Basingstoke-born Cleverley has impressed coaches and supporters alike. In 2008 he was nominated for Reserve Player of the Season, after just his first full year with the reserves.

The youngster was then called up to the United first team squad for the club’s tour of South Africa in summer 2008 and was again nominated for Reserve Player of the Season at the end of that campaign, despite spending almost half the season on loan at Leicester City in the Championship.

Cleverley truly came into the spotlight during his season-long loan to Watford in the 2009-10 season when the club named the attacking midfielder its player of the season, on his way to eleven league goals.

Such were Cleverley’s performances for Watford that he earned an appearance on this summer’s tour to Canada, the USA and Mexico, with the midfielder scoring against both Celtic and the MLS All-Stars. The latter, a goal of real quality, came from an ingenious flick and smart first-time finish.

Despite speculation that the player would again be loaned, Sir Alex Ferguson has opted to retain the English midfielder’s services this season, praising the player who is yet to make a senior competitive appearance for the club.

“He is an exceptional young player in terms of his ability to play a variety of positions,” added Ferguson this summer.

“He can play in central midfield and on both wings. He is such a talent, we must keep him.”

Now Cleverley faces arguably the most important season of his career, with a real chance to crack the United first team. There has never been a better time for the player to make the jump up in class, with Paul Scholes playing a deeper role (and less often at 36), Michael Carrick in the poorest form of his career and Anderson injured and out of favour.

Last season the five-man midfield deployed in most of United’s important fixtures offered Sir Alex an insurance policy when it came to blooding new midfielders. When Darron Gibson came into the picture and performed poorly, United’s two deep-lying midfielders provided extra support and security.

The Irishman gained opportunities in high-profile matches, most memorably against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford in which the 22-year-old scored. Ferguson employed Gibson in the attacking midfield role that Scholes once occupied several times last season but despite the player’s long-range shooting, many supporters feel that Irishman doesn’t have the pace, creativity or range of passing to develop into a top rate attacking midfielder.

On the other hand, Cleverley does.

The midfielder is able to make clever runs to get into advanced positions, can beat a man and moves the ball well. If Cleverley is given the same number of opportunities that Gibson has been afforded, there is every chance the Englishman will have even more success.

The key games for Cleverley will be the early season Carling Cup ties where the midfielder will automatic be on the teamsheet. He must now prove to Ferguson that he has developed to maturity and ability to start the more important fixtures that come in March, April and May when the injury list inevitably piles up.

In fact, if Cleverley impresses in these early season matches there’s every chance he will gain more minutes at United, than the high-profile former target Özil will at Real Madrid.

Nani rues missed opportunity as Reds ride fortune to secure Fulham draw

August 22, 2010 Tags: , Matches 20 comments

Manchester United gained a point at Craven Cottage on a day when Fulham threatened yet another win on home soil. While United controlled the first half, the home side overran Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in a pulsating second period, with the Reds grateful for a Paul Scholes’ wonderstrike and yet another own goal to share the spoils.

With his glass half full – United had lost on the previous two visits to Fulham’s picturesque West London ground – Ferguson was magnanimous, declaring that Mark Hughes’ side fully earned its draw. Indeed, while Nani missed a late second half penalty that would surely have sealed a United victory the home side merited a point in the weekend’s most vibrant Premier League encounter.

“In fairness, I think they deserved a point because they played very well in the second half,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“The first half belonged to us. Their goalkeeper made a couple of good saves, which could have put us in a comfortable position.

“But in the second half they upped their game and played better than us, you’ve got to give credit to them, they deserved their point.”

Not that United settled for a draw on a rare occasion that Ferguson chose to deploy two strikers away from home. This is especially true at Fulham, which now fully deserves its elevation to the upper echelons of the Premier League. With Wayne Rooney sidelined by a stomach bug, Ferguson selected Javier Hernández for his first United start alongside Dimitar Berbatov in United’s attack.

The risk, of course, in deploying two central midfielders is that United – with Scholes in fine form but a slave to his 36-year-old legs – suffers when the opposition is able to increase the tempo, with or without the ball. Hughes, unlucky to lose his job at Manchester City last season, has built a reputation based on workaholic teams. On the second half’s evidence, his Fulham side is no different.

The late flurry of action that brought United a second half lead through Brede Hangeland’s 84th minute own goal, Nani’s missed penalty moments later and then the Norwegian defender’s towering last-gasp header for the equaliser followed a high quality game in which United’s defence looked anything but secure.

Indeed, Fulham’s greater adventure in the second half built on the increasingly peripheral Scholes and Darren Fletcher in the centre of United’s midfield, whom were frequently outnumbered as the home side increased its tempo.

It’s the risk that United runs as the season progresses with Scholes unable to compete at both the weekend and midweek once the Champions League begins next month.

Yet Ferguson’s side had dominated the opening 45 as Scholes played with the same time and space that Newcastle United had afforded the player Zinedine Zidane describes as the complete midfielder. That the ginger prince blasted home United’s opening goal on 11 minutes surprised few.

United failed to put Fulham to the sword though, creating and failing to take a score of chances before the break, with Berbatov guilty of failing to stamp his authority on the match and Hernández shooting wastefully high when presented with his first clear opportunity of the match.

With United’s dominance survived, Fulham’s equaliser on 57 minutes was rich reward the enterprising football the home side brought to the game, precipitating a strong last 30 minutes for the home side.

Still, with Jonny Evans clearly wrong side for Fulham’s first equaliser, and Nani failing to convert the late penalty it is the devil in the detail that Ferguson may come to regret from United’s first dropped points of the season.

“When you get the chance to seal the game with that penalty you should be taking it,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“It was a missed opportunity and it galvanised them, got the crowd up and they scored the equaliser.”

“When we got that second goal I thought ‘we’ve escaped here’ but to miss a penalty kick to make it 3-1, you’re throwing two points away there I’m afraid.”

In that Nani was culpable but the real concerns lie elsewhere in Ferguson’s side.

United seek Cottage revenge

August 21, 2010 Tags: , Matches 98 comments

Manchester United’s humiliation at Fulham’s hands last season, when Roy Hodgson’s men turned over the visitors 3-0, leaves team and supporters alike thirsty for revenge on Sunday. With former Red Mark Hughes now in charge of last season’s beaten Europa League finalists, the fixture promises a lively encounter in West London.

Indeed, Craven Cottage is no happy hunting ground for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men in recent years. Last season’s calamity, in which Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Ritchie de Laet formed a callow back three, compounded a 2-0 loss at the same ground in 2009. Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes, each sent off in that fixture, will hope for better in tomorrow’s televised fixture.

“We’ve had a topsy turvy time at Fulham – we ended up with nine men two years ago,” Ferguson recalled on Friday.

“Last season we’d gone too far with the players that had played at the back. We had a great result in Wolfsburg. Fletcher, Carrick and de Laet had done ok at Fulham until we’d lost a goal.

“When you lose a goal it becomes very difficult and we became fragmented. We’d started very well, had a couple of half chances, but after we lost the goal it become difficult.”

Ferguson’s side arrives in London with only Rooney a doubtful starter of those not on the long term injury list. The striker picked up a stomach bug following United’s win over Newcastle United last Monday.

Traditionally slow starters, Ferguson’s men face 10 winnable fixtures before the visit to Eastlands on 10 November. The Scot may need a strong run, with Chelsea’s start to the season arguably even easier.

However, with several players coming back from injury or beginning pre-season late, Ferguson’s men remain short of match fitness going into the second week of the season.

“I think everyone is fit from Monday night’s game,” added Ferguson.

“I had difficulty picking a squad for Monday night’s game in the sense of the game time players have had. Michael Owen, Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney, (Antonio) Valenica and Nani – they’ve not had the minutes yet.

“They’ve been required short of their peak or near proper match fitness. With a week’s training behind them they’ll be much better.”

“I think games brings that (match fitness) about. Wayne and Michael Owen, Michael Carrick only had an hours play before Monday. Valencia’s only had a a couple of games, Nani a couple of games. That’s not a lot in terms of the normal programme.”

Despite effectively being just two games into his pre-season, the spotlight is shining brightly on Rooney’s form, with the strikers’ last goal coming prior to an ankle injury in March. It’s the longest slump in the player’s career but with fitness questionable during the late stages of last season and the World Cup, Ferguson will hope that Rooney’s touch returns when match fitness is reached.

Whether that comes against Fulham depends on the striker’s return from a reported stomach bug.

Yet Ferguson has shown no sign of hysteria that has gripped the nation’s media in recent weeks, with one national newspaper claiming that the striker has now played more than 18 hours without a goal.

Chalkboard v FulhamBut the Scot recognises that Rooney’s lengthy spell since his last goal is affecting the player’s confidence, and the down-beat mood enveloping the player will lift when the former Evertonian is back among the goals.

“Strikers live by their goals. When they’re not scoring they think they’re never going to come, and when they’re coming they think they’re never going to finish,” added the Scot, who scored 170 league goals as a forward for Dunfermline Athletic and Rangers, among others.

Ferguson has not picked an unchanged side in more than 140 fixtures, and the Scot faces a difficult choice between deploying Rooney as a lone frontman as is customary away from home and retaining Dimitar Berbatov, who performed well against Newcastle.

Moreover, despite Scholes’ outstanding performance on Monday night Ferguson may choose to rest the midfielder and bring Carrick into the side. Ryan Giggs is also in contention if Berbatov drops to the bench once again, although the Welshman’s place is probably contingent on Rooney’s recovery, with Chicharito waiting in the wings for a first Premier League start.

New Fulham manager Hughes is without Andy Johnson, Diomansy Kamara and defender Phillipe Senderos for the visit of his former club, with ex-red Jonathan Greening set to start on the bench.

Opposition
Team – 442 – Schwarzer, Pantsil, Konchesky, Hangeland, Hughes; Davies, Murphy, Etuhu, Duff; Gera, Zamora. Subs from – Subs from Stockdale, Zuberbühler, Baird, Kelly, Stoor, Riise, Dempsey, Milsom, Greening, Dikgacoi, E Johnson, Elm, Dembélé.

Officials
Referee: Peter Walton
Assistant referees: Dave Bryan & Andy Newbold
Fourth official: Lee Probert

Form
United – WW
Fulham – L

View from Craven Cottage

August 20, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 28 comments

When Sir Alex Ferguson’s side last visited Craven Cottage – Fulham’s wonderfully situated and atmospheric stadium on the banks of the Thames in West London – Roy Hodgson’s side took full advantage of an injury ravaged Manchester United defence to record an impressive 3-0 victory. The cherry on top of a remarkable season.

The highlight though was Fulham’s appearance in the UEFA cup final, where Hodgson’s side lost to Diego Forlan’s Atletico Madrid in Hamburg. The new campaign has already undergone a shake-up though, with Hodgson leaving for Anfield and former United stalwart Mark Hughes recruited by owner Mohammed Al Fayed in Woy’s stead.

Fulham is also heavily in debt to its owner having been effectively subsidise by the Egyptian since his 1997 takeover. On the positive side, the long term future at Craven Cottage now seems assured.

Despite the indebtedness and managerial upheaval there is no sense of panic at Chelsea’s close rivals, with an acknowledgement that the club has overachieved for its size and stature in recent years.

“There’s no question we’ve been spoiled of late. Good management and coaching has really paid dividends as a good squad of players has improved before our eyes, individually and collectively,” says David Lloyd, editor of the fanzine There’s Only One F in Fulham.

“That all climaxed in last seasons Euro final – meat and drink to you guys, but a once in a lifetime thing for us. Although I hope not!”

Hughes’ arrival in West London will bring a different playing style to a team that passed its way to the Europa League final, while frequently out-thinking more illustrious rivals. Hard work, pressing and a pragmatic approach illustrate Hughes’ sides. Not a stark contrast perhaps, but a change in tack nonetheless.

The Welshman’s often spiky persona – he is one of the few managers not prepared to offer reverence to Ferguson – also contrasts with the media-friendly Hodgson. Yet, there is a feeling that the side remains in safe hands. After all, Hughes often squeezed the best out of limited players at both Blackburn Rovers and with the Welsh national side.

“The squad’s more than reasonable, so I guess it’ll depend on whether any newcomers enhance or unsettle what’s already there. We’re surely good enough for another mid-table finish,” adds Lloyd.

“We were hardly dancing in the streets when Roy Hodgson was appointed and yet be became pretty much the perfect fit for us. Only time will tell if Mark Hughes was the right choice – but of those supposedly in the frame he’ll do for me!”

While Al Fayed no longer finances the heady spending of the early noughties when Fulham once paid £11.5 million for Frenchman Steve Marlet, it says much for the club’s progress that United, although favourites, can expect a tough fixture this Sunday.

In Sky’s 4pm flagship match this weekend Ferguson will surely be delighted with any kind of victory on a ground where disaster is seemingly only a Wayne Rooney red card or inexperienced defence away. The Scot will at least be able to call upon a far more experienced back four this time around, after the Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Ritchie de Laet horror show last winter.

“Who knows, we might even give you a decent game on Sunday. It shows you how far we’ve come when we can face the likes of United and Liverpool without any fear – at home, especially,” warns Lloyd.

“No one’s denying that you’ve got the better players and overall set-up, but we’re perfectly capable of taking you on and even beating you if it all comes together.”

Not that Fulham supporters will begrudge United the title come may if it means pipping arch rivals Chelsea to the title. While Roman Abramovich has lavished hundreds of millions on the club, Fulham has often been left in the Pensioners’ wake. Indeed, the club’s debt – although owed to the owner – places the club in some jeopardy, with 77-year-old Al Fayed unable to guarantee the club’s future once long-term.

Security at Craven Cottage does at least seem in place though, after the club spent two seasons as refugees at Queens Park Rangers’ Loftus Road stadium across West London. No longer is Fulham set to become the “Manchester United of the south” perhaps – Al Fayed’s bold statement in the late ’90s – but there is a commitment to a gradual increase the ground’s capacity and infrastructure.

Indeed, Fulham supporters are “immensely grateful” to Al Fayed and not ready to instigate a Green & Gold style protest over the club’s financial health, adds Lloyd. Cottagers are happy with what the club has achieved in the last 15 years. So too many United supporters, plenty of whom regard the trip to Craven Cottage as a season highlight.

“We love Craven Cottage and have fought tooth and nail to remain there,” notes Lloyd.

“It’s been far from easy and, after the tough times, it’s brilliant to see the place full to the brim on matchdays. For the foreseeable future we’re safe there. I

“George Best, did his bit to help keep Fulham at the Cottage [in the 1970s]. Bestie enjoyed his fifty-odd games with us and, along with other Fulham heroes lent his support to the various fans-led campaigns. He actually turned up to the launches, too, thereby guaranteeing some much needed press coverage.”

While the relationship with United may end there, the season’s end will see many Fulham supporters disappointed if the Reds do not come out on top and the Premier League title remains a short trip across West London at Stamford Bridge.

“I’d have no problem with you pipping Chelsea to the title and leaving City in your wake, too!”

David Lloyd edits There’s Only One F in Fulhamwww.toofif.co.uk

Rant Cast 36 – United rap

August 20, 2010 Tags: Rant Cast 14 comments

In this episode of Rant Cast regulars Ed & Paul take a look back at the victory over Newcastle United at Old Trafford, forward to this weekend’s match against Fulham and talk transfer speculation. We “bang on a bit” about the Glazers’ interest rate hike this week, discuss what it means to be a fan and end with some… er .. rapping.

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