Month November 2010

Month November 2010

Rooney: an argument for the left

November 24, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 18 comments

The Prodigal Son – remarkably appropriate given the plot of the parable from which the phrase originates – returned on Saturday. Despite the sporadic chants of “Rooney! Rooney!”, the ambience was decidedly uneasy – it is unclear whether Wayne Rooney’s former hero status among the fans will ever be restored.

Rooney’s thirty odd minute stint was average; he looked fit, forced a good save but missed a rather easy chance.

Most fans expected more from Rooney, given the numerical advantage Manchester United enjoyed in the second half. Rooney’s petulant and decidedly unprofessional media stunt over the contract and the resulting mega-pound deal put great pressure on the striker to recapture the form of last season.

Rooney partnered Javier Hernández upfront in a classical 442 for the last 30 minutes of Saturday’s match. Notice though that Rooney has spent much of the Wigan game on the left (see graphic, below). Rooney has always had a tendency towards the left.

He might not know how to spell the word ‘professional’ but Rooney’s reading of the game is excellent. The 25-year-old naturally looks to roam in search of space – particularly towards the left – when he plays as a striker.

Fabio Capello, before the disastrous change to a 442 in the World Cup, took advantage of the Rooney’s leftie tendency by deploying Steven Gerrard on the left-wing. Gerrard, a right footed player, looked to cut inside and Rooney often moved to the left to indulge the Liverpool captain.

Wayne Rooney Javier Hernandez

England, notoriously devoid of intelligent movement, did well in the qualifying campaign mostly because of the fluidity brought on by the link between Gerrard and Rooney.

At United, before the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney was often deployed on the left either as a defensive winger – just like Park Ji-Sung – or as a modern winger. Except, unlike Park, Rooney can actually pass, cross and shoot, of course!

Indeed, with Hernández doing well, deploying Rooney on the left to accommodate the Mexican and Nani sounds tempting. Certainly Rooney is a good left winger. He is no Lionel Messi when it comes to trickery but his physical strength and speed afford him the direct, penetrating runs.

Perhaps his movement and all around game intelligence, the strength of Rooney, would serve him better on the flank, given the current set up.

On the left, Rooney drifts in-field in search of space, not the other way around. This movement is also aided by being right-footed and he is no slouch with his left meaning that many of reasons why Nani does so well on the right apply to Rooney. In other words, Rooney the winger will move towards the goal.

It is hard to argue with statistics though. In 2008/09, when he was often deployed on the left, Rooney scored 20 times in 49 appearances. Last season’s figure was 34 goals in 44 appearances.

Of course, the improvement in Rooney’s scoring rate can’t solely be attributed to the change in position. Rooney’s records in 2007/08 (18 in 43) when he was deployed in partnership with Tevez and in 2006/07 – (23 in 55) when he played just behind Louis Saha, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Alan Smith – the position commonly thought as Rooney’s best – provide strong counter-examples.

The caveat of course is that in these two seasons Rooney notched up many more assists than he did in 2009/10 but he didn’t put in nearly enough to offset the relative lack of goals.

It is also hard to argue that wingers, particularly the modern kind, cannot be as prolific as more central forwards when Cristiano Ronaldo continues to bang in goals from the flank. Moreover, when Rooney is up-front, he sees less of the ball. Therefore the team doesn’t take the full advantage of his strengths.

On the flank Rooney sees more of the ball and consequently does more with it. In the current United set-up, there is a distinct lack of drive from the central midfield. The creativity must come United’s width and deploying Rooney there is an obvious solution. And since Rooney can play as a modern winger, he can easily be accommodated in United’s new 442.

Rooney can also play in the hole with two holding midfielders behind him as pivots. It’s a compelling argument that many United supporters take up. Deployed in the hole, Rooney is afforded even greater room and scope to move around.

We must also keep in mind the impending retirement of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs and the pair’s declining role in the team. And the transfer market is no less difficult to navigate. Paulo Henrique Chagas de Lima – ‘Ganso’ – and Javier Pastore, two of the most exciting young playmakers, are not on the books of Europe’s elite clubs and remain realistic targets for United – even in the winter transfer market since neither plays in the Champions League.

There are also well-established players like Wesley Sneijder and Bastian Schweinsteiger who could be available – for a price.

However, a left winger of similar stature and/or promise is much harder to find. Juan Mata and Stevan Jovetić are perhaps the only two names that come to mind.

A central playmaker remains more of a priority than a left winger though. United already has Gabriel Obertan, Bébé, Park and Tom Cleverley in the wing department. Aside from promising youngsters like Ravel Morrison and Magnus Eikrem there is a distinct lack of playmakers at United.

As tempting as it is to play Rooney as a trequartista, it is surely be better in the long-term to start playing the former Evertonian on the left.

All the off-field histrionics notwithstanding, Rooney has blossomed into a fine player in his time at United. He will do well just about anywhere across the attacking midfield stratum and up-front.

But with the promise Hernández and Federico Macheda are showing, the lack of a classy left winger at the club, and the potential availability of promising playmakers in the market, the left beckons for Rooney.

Rooney seeks to rewrite history over contract saga

November 23, 2010 Tags: Opinion 28 comments

Manchester United has moved to draw a line under the Wayne Rooney contract affair, with the striker appearing on in-house channel MUTV today. Stopping short of the promised apology to supporters and disingenuously claiming that he always wanted to stay at the club, Rooney now says he will be at United for the long-term.

In one of the most patronising interviews ever conducted by MUTV – dubbed Pravda by supporters for its Soviet-esque approach to ‘news’ – Rooney says he will now become a role model to United’s younger players.

Bizarrely, Rooney also claims that Old Trafford’s reaction to his return was “brilliant,” despite audible jeers heard ahead of the 25-year-old’s introduction against Wigan Athletic on Saturday.

“It was a great feeling, obviously having been out for a long time and the issues that have gone on over the last few weeks,” Rooney told MUTV.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the reaction from the fans but overall I thought the reception was brilliant and all I want to do is get on the pitch and score goals.

“I can understand the fans frustrations with the contract negotiations, how it happened in the public eye which made it more difficult. But at the end of the day, the main thing for myself and the club was that we managed to agree that deal.”

Shortly after Rooney signed the new deal, manager Sir Alex Ferguson promised a public apology would be forthcoming. It’s a promise broken by the player, with the controversy now “swept under the carpet” according to left-back Patrice Evra.

During protracted contract negotiations in October Rooney said that United had failed to assure him the club could continue to attract leading players. In a statement the striker questioned the Reds “ambition” at a time when debt has cut into Ferguson’s transfer spending.

But Rooney angered fans and players by airing his views in public before eventually signing a new five-year £180,000 per week deal. Not least because knowledge of the £260,000 per contract offered by Manchester City was widespread though the football community.

Indeed, Rooney today rubbished reports that the new contract is simply a precursor to an eventual move to City or elsewhere in the coming summer, with United having protected its asset and Rooney substantially increasing his income.

“I’ve heard from different people that I’ve agreed a new deal so that the club can agree a higher price for me to join a different team somewhere along the line,” he added.

“But that’s a load of rubbish. I’ve stayed a new deal to here. My long-term future is at Manchester United.

“I’ve always made it aware that I wanted to stay at this club. I had my concerns and voiced my opinion but it went from there.

“I’ve said it before my long-term future is here at United. I want to help the younger players in the way Giggsy, Scholesy and Neville have helped me.”

However, Rooney now leaves himself open to both ridicule and accusations of hypocrisy after the player’s management team widely briefed media of his desire to leave United in the build up to a very public dénouement to contract negotiations last month.

Not least the statement, released just two hours before United’s fixture with Bursaspor, which questioned the club’s ambition. After all Rooney put his name to the statement, which was designed to create maximum exposure for the player’s ’cause’.

In today’s scripted MUTV interview, Rooney also risks further insulting supporters by placing himself in the same bracket as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, who have appeared more than 1500 times for the club between them. After all, not only was Rooney quite prepared to sign for City but has been widely accused of using prostitutes, been pictured smoking and is known to drink to excess.

Indeed, lifestyle issues are believed to be part of the reason United sent the player to train at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon earlier this month. The striker has suffered serial ankle problems since being injured against Bayern Munich in March and performed poorly for club and country in the intervening eight months.

However, the Rooney now believes his fitness levels are returning, after training full-time in the US and for the past 10 days at Carrington.

“My fitness is coming back,” said the striker, who has now scored for United in open play since March.

“I went away for a week to the States to work on my fitness which I thought was just what I needed, to get away and get my fitness up.

“I’ve come back and trained well with the lads and I was happy to get 30-35 minutes on Saturday. The manager has said I’m going to play tomorrow against Rangers so I’m just looking forward to that.

“I went to the States with a guy from the Man United medical team to work on my fitness training and it was really intense working from nine in the morning to six or seven at night.

“I wanted to make sure that when i returned to team I was fit and ready not that it would take for a five weeks to get back into games.”

Indeed, a strong run of performances from the now fit striker will likely win over many United fans, fickle as supporters are.

Yet, in the month since Rooney last started for United he has earned more than £1 million from his lavish new contract. It’s more than many fans will earn in a lifetime, making the player’s attempt to airbrush the less savoury aspects of his recent behaviour all the more unpalatable to many supporters.

Perhaps fans cannot expect an apology for what is essentially a business transaction between employer and employee. Yet this is an outrageously wealthy young man, fattened on the money paid by supporters at the turnstile.

For that, at least, United fans surely deserve both the truth – which Rooney patently did not offer today – and a nod towards remorse for his behaviour, which has bordered on obnoxious in recent months.

It is seemingly unlikely from a yet another cosseted, arrogant and ultimately unaccountable multi-millionaire player.

Rooney starts as Reds seek Euro points

November 23, 2010 Tags: , Matches 79 comments

Wayne Rooney will make his first start since recovering from an ankle injury as Manchester United make the trip north to Glasgow. United will confirm qualification for the knock-out rounds of the Champions League with a point in the Group C fixture at Ibrox, with Rooney likely to play the full 90 against Rangers as he seeks full fitness.

Rooney will start but Sir Alex Ferguson will rotate his resources once again, with Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher, nor long-term injured trio Owen Hargreaves, Antonio Valencia or Michael Owen available for the Group C clash. Ferdinand played against Wigan Athletic at the weekend but has a minor groin strain and will not be risked, while captain Vidic is rested.

Ferguson says that now is the time for United to hit top form. Despite remaining undefeated this season, United’s form has been little short of lacklustre.

“We’ve got to look to hit our best form and normally we do in the second half of the season – it can’t come quick enough to be honest,” said Ferguson.

“We’re still very difficult to beat; we dominate most of the games we play.

“We maybe need to get a more consistent team selection as we’ve had players in and out in recent weeks.”

However, Ferguson is unlikely to heed his own advice after the recent insipid display against Wigan at Old Trafford and will field a much changed side.

The Scot could recall Dimitar Berbatov to the squad after the Bulgarian dropped out of United’s matchday 18 altogether at the weekend. The £30 million striker’s poor form in recent weeks was such that Ferguson deployed Federico Macheda and Gabriel Obertan up front against Wigan, with Berbatov sat in the stands.

The Scot must also decided whether to start Javier Hernández after the Mexican scored a sixth goal of the season against the Latics on Saturday. Ryan Giggs, an unused substitute against Wigan, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling John O’Shea and Bébé could also come into the side.

Ryan Giggs may start after recovering from a hamstring injury, while Anderson is in the squad for the first time in almost a month.

Whomever his strike partner, Rooney will again be the focus at Ibrox after the striker’s 30 minute cameo against Wigan. The 25-year-old was clearly rusty, fluffing one good chance from six yards and seeing a header saved by Ali Al Habsi.

Now physically fit after a week’s training at Nike’s HQ in Oregon and 10 days at Carrington, Rooney is expected to play the full 90 minutes at Ibrox on Wednesday night.

Despite questioning United’s “ambition” – and by default the current squad’s ability – left-back Patrice Evra says that the players have not discussed Rooney’s protracted contract negotiations and the issue is now at an end.

“It’s good to see him back, good for him and good for us,” said Evra.

“When someone says they don’t trust in the future of Manchester United it caused us pain – but it is behind us now.

“We are all going to help him get back to his best and scoring goals for United again. It is another big player and the sort of player we will need if we are going to win the league again.”

The team certainly needs a fresh injection of creativity after a string of under-par displays, especially on the road, this season.

United can progress with a draw and despite the Reds’ poor domestic form away from home this season, Ferguson’s side has won eight of the last nine away from Old Trafford in the Champions League.

Meanwhile Rangers’ hopes of qualifying for the latter stages depend on results elsewhere. If Valencia defeat Bursaspor at home in the other Matchday 5 fixture, Rangers have to beat United to stay in the competition.

Former United assistant manager Walter Smith will be without Madjid Bougherra, ruled out for three weeks with a hamstring strain picked up against Aberdeen recently, while Maurice Edu and Saša Papac also miss out. However, Kyle Lafferty is now fit and could start.

United won the corresponding fixture 1-0 at Ibrox in October 2003, the only time the two sides have previously met in Glasgow. A similar result will do United nicely on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, having failed to score from open play this season, Rooney will hope for something, anything, at Ibrox.

Rangers – 4-5-1 – McGregor; Weir, Broadfoot, Foster, Whittaker; McCulloch, Davis, Fleck, Lafferty, Naismith; Miller.

Subs from: Foster, McMillan, Perry, Cole, Scott, Weiss, Bendiksen, Shinnie, Stirling, Wylde, Ness, Hutton, Dick, McCabe, Beattie, Little, Loy, Campbell, Hemmings, K Naismith, Wright.

United – 4-4-2 – van der Sar; Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Park, Giggs; Hernández, Rooney.

Subs from: Amos, Brown, Fabio, O’Shea, Anderson, Béb&eacute, Obertan, Scholes, Berbatov, Macheda,

Referee: Massimo Busacca (SUI)
Assistant referees: Matthias Arnet (SUI), Manuel Navarro (SUI)
Additional assistant referees: Sascha Kever (SUI)
Fourth official: Claudio Circhetta (SUI), Stephan Studer (SUI)

United – WWWDDW
Rangers – DLWLWW

Premier League remarkable only for its mediocrity

November 22, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 16 comments

That Manchester United lies second, undefeated in all competitions, is remarkable in that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has barely performed to typical standards all season. Indeed, United should probably have lost four games by now but for the overwhelming determination of the Scot’s players to grind out results.

Saturday’s match against Wigan Athletic was a case in point. United’s lacklustre performance against nine man Wigan was uninspired to the point of being insipid. As the Reds had been against West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland, Rangers, Manchester City and many others this season, in a campaign notable only for its overwhelming mediocrity.

Indeed, such is United’s creative paucity at times – or its failure to shine in the case of Wayne Rooney – that the side is fast becoming a mirror image of the dark days of the 2004/5 season. The major difference being the Reds’ ability to not lose this campaign; it will serve Ferguson’s side well come more important fixtures in the spring.

Ferguson sees it differently, arguing – perhaps with a hint of disingenuity – that the Premier League is now stronger than ever.

“This league is without doubt a high-quality league now,” said Ferguson this past weekend.

“All the games you play are very difficult. You saw that last week when a young Aston Villa team came out and set about us.

“I think we know ourselves that come the second half of the season we’ll definitely get better.

“At this moment in the time, we just need to be in that bit at the top of the league. We’re joint top with Chelsea now.”

Still, Ferguson is likely to accelerate United’s transitional phase next summer if the Glazer family follows through on a reported promise to hand the Scot significant transfer funds. There is more deadwood in his squad than at any time since the aforementioned 2004/5 season.

Elsewhere the problems mount for Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea, which has now lost two Premier League games in a row and three in the past month. Ancelotti moved to deny his resignation – or sacking – is imminent prompting speculation that there is little smoke without Roman Abramovich’s flame having already been lit. After all, Jose Mourinho picked up his P45 for fewer sins than the Italian has already committed this season.

Much as in last season’s campaign, Chelsea really ought to walk away with the title race given United’s deep flaws and Arsenal’s inconsistency. That Ancelotti’s men are not is a factor of some bad fortune with injuries to key players such as John Terry and Frank Lampard but no more so than at Old Trafford.

More important still is owner Abramovich’s decision to let Chelsea’s squad deteriorate over the past three years. Such are the swings and arrows of living in a billionaire’s fantasy world when inevitable boredom takes hold.

Indeed, the once formidable midfield axis of Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Claude Makalele has given way, at times this season, to the far less inspiring and not at all fearsome Ramires, Yuri Zurkov and John Obi Mikel triumvirate.

Meanwhile, Arsenal has seemingly overcome the propensity to be bullied out of games but gained little in consistency. Arsene Wenger has few to blame but himself after five years without a trophy and a idiotic refusal to buy a goalkeeper of any quality. The ironclad marriage to tika-taka is admired in many quarters but does not, and has never, extended to a plan b.

Elsewhere, Liverpool’s season is mired in mediocrity and internal conflict, Manchester City cannot challenge while its manager insists on tactics not deployed since catenaccio was in full swing, and Tottenham Hotspur is unable to cope with the Saturday – Wednesday axis of Champions League and domestic football.

It leads to a very realistic scenario in which United can win the Premier League come may despite – arguably – it being Sir Alex’ worst side in five years.

Of course, the true test of England’s strength in depth will come in the latter stages of the Champions League, where for the first time in several years, the country was unable to boast a semi-finalists last season. Many have predicted this could be Chelsea’s year though, although on current form that seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, few pundits think United will do well in Europe’s premier competition either. It’s hard to argue that United will win the competition but Ferguson’s ultra-cautious outlook away from home ensures the Reds will be no pushovers. Especially if the luck that deserted United in last season’s quarter-final returns come the knock-out rounds.

It adds up to a season in which standards have certainly slipped at Old Trafford. Fortunately they have elsewhere too. It should keep Ferguson’s side in the hunt right until the end.

What was your reaction to Rooney’s return?

November 22, 2010 Tags: Polls 18 comments

Wayne Rooney returned to the Manchester United line-up on Saturday, appearing as a second half substitute against Wigan Athletic. The 25-year-old striker got a mixed reception from the Old Trafford crowd after he blackmailed the club into a new contract last month. What feelings did Rooney’s return inspire in you?

What was your reaction to Rooney's return?

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Reds in title hunt with victory over Latics

November 21, 2010 Tags: , Matches 30 comments

Wayne Rooney returned for Manchester United as the Reds cruised to victory over nine-man Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford. The routine win, courtesy of headed goals by Patrice Evra and Javier Hernández, brings United level on points with leaders Chelsea as the Londoners slumped to a second Premier League defeat in a row.

Rooney came on with 30 minutes to go, to a mixed reception, with United now second only on goal difference.

It was a routine win for United over Wigan, with two of Roberto Martinez’ men sent off, but another limited performance from Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. But the victory sends United to within touching distance of the Premier League lead – all the more remarkable that the Scot’s outfit is yet to perform anywhere near previous standards so far this season.

Evra headed home Park Ji-Sung’s cross just before half-time, capitalising on Ali Al Habsi’s mistake, before Hernandez wrapped up the win, heading home from Rafael da Silva’s centre.

Wigan had Antolin Alcaraz sent off for two bookable offences before Hugo Rodallega was red carded for a dangerous tackle on United’s Brazilian full-back.

That both Chelsea and Arsenal slumped to defeat is a huge boon to United, with the Reds able to take the Premier League lead by next weekend. With United barely making it out of second gear this season, rivals’ inconsistencies have kept Ferguson’s team in the hunt.

“It has been a good day for us, no question of that,” said Ferguson.

“If you had said at the start of the day would you take being joint top of the league I would have said ‘yes’.

“We know that come the second half of the season we will definitely get better and now we are joint top with Chelsea.”

Ferguson left Dimitar Berbatov out of the squad altogether, claiming the omission was on tactical grounds. That the Bulgarian had failed to score in the last 10 matches hardly made it a difficult decision for the United manager, although the £30 million striker failed to make even the bench.

With Rooney on the bench, United began with Gabriel Obertan and Federico Macheda leading the line. The pair’s introduction at Villa Park last week swung the match United’s way and a start at Old Trafford yesterday was reward indeed.

If Ferguson, mindful of Wigan’s atrocious record against United felt comfortable with none of his leading strikers in the side, then the visitors almost took advantage in the opening 45.

Indeed, the Latics’ arguably had the best of the opening chances as first Jordi Gomez fired over the bar, then Ronnie Stam struck wide following some hesitant United defending.

French winger Charles N’Zogbia beat three United defenders before Edwin Van der Sar saved at the former Newcastle player’s feet. Then referee Martin Atkinson turn down Wigan’s appeal for a penalty, as captain Nemanja Vidic appeared to drag N’Zogbia over in the box.

Martinez’ had much to admire in the resilient performance of his team though, despite not taking advantage of early chances. The Latics both frustrated United and worked well on the break during the opening period.

United, by contrast, retained possession well but often lacked a cutting edge in the final third. Not for the first time the Reds’ midfield often failed to work, with Nani the sole creative outlet.

Despite this United took the lead on the stroke of half-time as Evra scored his first goal for more than three years, heading home Park’s cross.

Rooney came on to both jeers and boos on the hour, although the reception was perhaps better than predicted after the striker effectively blackmailed the club into a new contract last month. That Rooney is yet to make the promised apology to supporters is not forgotten.

In any case, the game ended as any kind of contest with Wigan reduced to 10 men shortly after Rooney’s entry, with Alcaraz sent off for a second yellow card after fouling Darren Fletcher. Ten became 9 as Rodallega saw red for a wild tackle on Rafael and substitute Hernández completed the victory, heading home his fourth Premier League goal of the season.

Rooney’s return made the headlines though, although in truth the 25-year-old striker’s return was largely uneventful. He went close with a header from Rafael’s cross, which was tipped over the bar by Al Habsi, and fired straight at the ‘keeper from six yards but looked far from his best. Rooney remains without a goal in open play this season.

“That reception was good and it will settle him down,” said Ferguson.

“That has taken a lot of pressure off the boy.

“It was a quiet comeback, he got involved in a few of the bits of interplay but in the main he just needed that 25 minutes or so.

“He will play a full 90 minutes against Rangers on Wednesday and that will help with his fitness.”

Not for the first time this season United emerged with the points, despite a largely disappointing performance, in front of an under-capacity Old Trafford.

Despite now drawing level with Chelsea, Ferguson’s side will surely have to play better than this in the second half of the season if United is to take the Premier League in May.

Love him or loathe him, Rooney is key to that task.

Match Facts
United – 4411 – Van der Sar; Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic, Rafael Da Silva; Park Ji-Sung (Scholes 56), Carrick (Hernandez 64), Fletcher, Nani; Obertan; Macheda (Rooney 56).

Wigan – 451 – Al Habsi; Gohouri, Alcaraz, S Caldwell, Stam (McArthur 80), Figueroa; Thomas, N’Zogbia (Di Santo 80), Gomez (Moses 58), Diame; Rodallega.

Attendance – 74,181
Man of the Match – Evra

Possession: United 65% – 35% Wigan
Attempts: 17 – 10
On target: 12 – 4
Corners: 11 – 1
Fouls: 11 – 15

‘Big man’ returns for Wigan clash with place on bench

November 19, 2010 Tags: , Matches 91 comments

Wayne Rooney returns to Manchester United’s squad for Wigan Athletic’s visit to Old Trafford but will start on the bench after more than a month out injured. The striker, who spent a week at Nike’s HQ in Oregon, has trained with the first team squad this week and could feature as a second half substitute against Roberto Martinez’ outfit.

The home crowd’s reaction to Rooney’s inclusion is less certain still, with the striker yet to formally apologise to fans for his behaviour in the lead up to signing a new contract last month.

Rooney has not played for United since an ineffective substitute appearance against West Bromwich Albion in October. Subsequently the player blackmailed United into offering the most lucrative contract in the club’s history, from which the player has earned more than £1 million without playing.

While Rooney has not begun full training, he has completed remedial and fitness work and could be included by Sir Alex Ferguson tomorrow before starting in a largely second-string side against Rangers next week.

“I don’t think he’ll start tomorrow,” Ferguson told the Key 103 radio.

“Maybe he will reach the bench. But he will certainly play on Wednesday against Rangers.

“He has been doing OK. He just needs to get back into the football training.

“The week in Oregon was intense. That in itself brings the fitness part, but the football part of training is another thing. With him being out with the ankle injury we needed to get him onto the intense training to get his fitness levels up.”

Ferguson may also be without Ryan Giggs, Chris Smalling and Rafael da Silva, with United potential Premier League leaders  at the weekend’s close. Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand played an hour of England’s loss to France in midweek but has a sore hamstring and may not be risked. Smalling missed out on the international with a groin problem.

Long-term injured Owen Hargreaves, Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia definitely miss out but Paul Scholes returns after missing the draw with Villa through suspension.

In Rooney’s stead Ferguson is likely to retain Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernández despite the pair’s disappointing showing against the Midlanders last weekend. Both players were replaced at Villa Park, with Berbatov having not scored in 10 matches.

Federico Macheda’s fine strike last weekend will only earn the Italian a place on the bench. The teenager also scored twice for Italy under-21s in midweek.

However, Bébé could miss out altogether having played 75 minutes of United’s second string fixture on Thursday night. The Portuguese scored two outstanding goals the reserves’ 3-1 victory to offer fans a glimpse of the talent that persuaded Ferguson to part with £8 million for his services.

Despite Rooney’s return many supporters remain angry over the player’s recent behaviour. Rooney’s assertion that United lacked the “ambition” to retain his services offended fellow players and the striker’s apparently willingness to join Manchester City still rankles with fans. That the 25-year-old striker has thus far refused to apologise has not gone unnoticed either.

However, Ferguson has attempted to cool tempers, laying the blame at agent Paul Stretford’s door.

“The boy rushed in,” the Scot said this week.

“The minute the response of the public and supporters and press had a say, he changed his mind immediately because he knew he made a mistake.

“He immediately apologised and agreed on a new contract in a couple of hours.

“We want to get Wayne to his best. When that happens, everything will be OK.”

Whether Rooney plays or not, Wigan is unlikely to threaten United’s unbeaten record this season despite the Reds’ inconsistent form. The Latics have never beaten United – home or away – with the Reds winning all 11 previous meetings between the two sides, including 10 Premier League matches and the 2006 League Cup final.

Meanwhile, Martinez will be without defender Gary Caldwell, who has thigh problem, while on-loan midfielder Tom Cleverley is ineligible to face his parent club.

Cleverley will return to Old Trafford in January having suffered a frustrating spell at Wigan. Injuries have disrupted the 21-year-old’s progress this season but Martinez praised the midfielder’s recent performance against Liverpool.

After United’s disappointing midfield displays this season, the Reds could use Cleverley’s creativity.

Wigan – 451 – Al Habsi; Figueroa, Stam, S Caldwell, Alcaraz; Diame, Thomas, N’Zogbia, Gomez, Moses; Rodallega. Subs from: Kirkland, Watson, Boselli, Figueroa, Di Santo, Moses, Gohouri, McArthur.

United squad
Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Amos, Rafael, Brown, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Fabio, Scholes, Obertan, Bébé, Anderson, Gibson, Carrick, Fletcher, Giggs, Park, Berbatov, Rooney, Hernández, Macheda.

Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistant referees: Peter Kirkup & Mike Mullarkey
Fourth official: Mike Jones

United – DWWWDD
Wigan – DWLLDW

Fergie praises Barça but misses the point

November 19, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 11 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson says that Barcelona’s model is the one to aspire to and that his dream was once to coach the Catalan side. Ideologically and perhaps most importantly – the ownership model – means Barça is a club that many Manchester United supporters admire. The clubs share a common history but a diverged present.

Many aspects of each club’s management over the past 20 years is similar though: the commitment to – mostly – attacking, entertaining football and a focus on developing young players in particular. No wonder then that Ferguson is so enthused when speaking of the Catalan club.

“Barcelona is the role model,” Ferguson told a conference in Qatar this week.

“I thought of the possibility of coaching there. It is a model for players and holds a philosophy that I like. It’s the model to follow

“The ideology, their philosophy – the whole thing is fantastic. I’d have loved to have gone to Barcelona at one time in my life. That would have been a dream.”

Had Ferguson taken the chance to coach in Barcelona he would not have been the first Brit to grace Camp Nou. Barça’s history is replete with a touch of British influence, from the club’s first director Walter Wild and the Parsons brothers in 1899, to Bobby Robson, Gary Linekar, Steve Archibald and Terry Venables in the 1980s and ’90s.

Barça’s history predicates the philosophy Ferguson so admires. While today’s side adheres to the tika-taka football that has become an obsession in Catalonia, it is the concept of the socio – the member – that has underpinned the club for more than a century. Today, as on the club’s foundation in 1899, each member has an equal vote in presidential elections, continuing founding member Joan Gamper’s vision of building a collective identity.

More than just football, much of Barça’s identity stems from a suspicion of centralism in Spanish politics, as much as the rivalry with Real Madrid. Those visiting Camp Nou cannot but be struck by the Catalan nationalism that pervades the club and the sense of cultural and political separation from the Castilian élite in Madrid.

In many ways this cultural decentralisation is mirrored in Manchester where supporters in spirit, if not structurally or politically, often feel a common identity. After all, the Republik of Mancunia banner than hangs from the Stretford End is more than a soliloquy to a common North West identity.

Structurally, United began in 1878 – as Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club – as a society too. Workers at the Carriage and Wagon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway depot at Newton Heath were encouraged to play team games, not long codified in the nation’s public schools and popularised in folk culture.

The Heathens’ first pitch near railway sidings hosted, first, games against other local amateur sides then eventually more serious competition.

By 1886 the side was packed with what would later be recognised as professionals. Seeking election to the newly established Football League in 1888, Heath planned to extend its ground at North Road but, denied funding by the Railway Company, cut all ties to LYR and opened up membership to anybody who paid the annual fee.

It was perhaps the first occasion, but by certainly no means the last, that the club had cause to argue about its ownership.

By January 1902, with debts of £2,670, the club was served with a winding-up order and only saved from extinction at the last moment by prominent local businessmen. Newton Heath fell into private hands, became Manchester United and the modern club was born.

Indeed, that meeting on 24 April 1902 was, in retrospect, the last time United supporters had any real say in running the club.

In a week when the current American owners refinanced £243 million worth of debt – about a third of United’s total – the club’s history is brought into sharp focus. Not least the antipathetic manner in which the club’s management communications with its fans.

Of course, Barça’s ownership model is not a panacea for financial providence either but there is a level of openness that is long-gone in Manchester. Barça recently borrowed money to cover a cash shortfall that has built into a substantial debt and under a new presidency is seeking to establish a period of austerity at a club that generates £50 million more in revenues per season than United.

Debt is not the only the point though. Football’s history has shown that clubs cannot self-regulate: that surely is for governing bodies, which in the FA and UEFA, have too often been slow on the uptake.

What clubs can ensure, however, is that its supporters remain central to the cause – as they were in 1878 when United formed and ten years later when the club sought to expand – and as fans are today at Barça, even in the megalith that the club has become. Indeed, in 1957 Barça’s socios effectively paid for Camp Nou’s construction.

In recent years, Barça has superseded United in both on and off the pitch. While the Catalan side triumphed in the most recent meeting at the 2009 Champions League final, the club has also proven far more successful in developing younger players. Barça provided no less than six of Spain’s World Cup winning team in addition to Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who joined Barça’s famed La Masia, home of the club’s ‘La Cantera’ academy, aged 12.

By contrast, United’s policy has evolved from developing locally born or reared players, such as in the ‘class of ’92’, to importing younger players from rivals’ academies. Wes Brown, in 1998, was the last Mancunian to graduate from United’s academy and find a regular place in the first team side.

Financially, Barça has outstripped United in recent years too, despite the 70 per cent growth in revenues under the Glazer family. The Catalan giants sell their own TV rights, which is significant, but commercial revenues are also greater than those at Old Trafford. This without taking a shirt sponsor during the club’s history.

Yet, success on the pitch, in financial terms or in youth development, always filters back to the socio; the collective goal of the club based on members’ interests.

There is much to be admired – it’s a world away from the secretive debt-laden business model foisted on United by the Glazers. The family Ferguson so vociferously supports.

In that there is no little contradiction of course.

Rant Cast 48 – money money money

November 19, 2010 Tags: Rant Cast 2 comments

In this edition regulars Ed & Paul discuss United’s draw at Villa Park and preview the upcoming fixtures with Wigan Athletic and Rangers. We talk money with blogger Andy Green, pondering what the future holds after the Glazer family ‘paid off’ £243m in PIK loans this week. And we wonder if retirement really is for young people.

The cast asks – why it is England always lose? Is it a societal problem, or are the players just crap? And, finally, Paul ‘comes out’ live on air … as a Frenchman!

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

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