Month June 2011

Month June 2011

Fixtures bring tough start but great run-in

June 17, 2011 Tags: , , Shorts 26 comments

Manchester United will open the new Premier League season against Roy ‘Woy’ Hodgson’s West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthornes in what might prove to be a season of two distinct halves. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team faces a tough start to the season, with seven matches against direct title rivals before mid-February, but just one match against teams searching for Premier League glory during the run-in.

The Scot’s side will play three tough fixtures against direct rivals adjacent to Champions League groups stage matches, with Ferguson surely hoping for home European games when the draw takes place on 25 August.

The Champions League quarter and semi-finals are likely to be next to games against Fulham, Blackburn Rovers, QPR, Aston Villa and Everton. Only the match with City on 28 April 2012 at Eastlands, which backs on to the second leg of the Champions League semi-final should United make it that far, will concern Ferguson.

But it is the season’s end that will get Ferguson purring with only that City fixture likely to be against a direct rival for the Premier League title. March, April and May will bring games against likely relegation candidates including Swansea, Wigan Athletic, Blackburn, Wolverhampton Wanderers and QPR.

Rant would bring you a full fixture list but the Premier League, via the Football Data Co., insists that even not-for-profit blogs such as this site buy an annual license at the cost of several hundred pounds.

Bébé: a deal gone wrong from the start

June 16, 2011 Tags: Opinion 56 comments

Reserve forward Tiago Manuel Dias Correia – Bébé – will join Beşiktaş on loan for the 2011/12 season, netting Manchester United a €1 million fee in the process. The Portuguese under-21 international, 20, could join the Turkish Süper Lig side permanently although there is no ‘option to buy’ built into the contract as widely reported. But if he does, United will lose more than £5 million on a deal that remains the strangest of Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at Old Trafford.

Bébé’s acquisition has proven to be a disaster and not simply because at €9 (£7.4) million supporters might have expected more from the 20-year-old but because the raw materials were simply lacking in the former Vitória de Guimarães player from the start. The forward scored six goals in 13 appearances for United’s reserves in the past season, and two in seven for the first team. But Ferguson’s decision to countenance a loan abroad brings the Scot’s faith in the player’s long-term development into question.

Indeed, it was a transfer that had a bizzare nature from the start: the inflated fee for a player who had never performed above the third tier previously, a last-minute change of agent, and the player’s albeit heart-warming rags-to-riches personal story.

There is more than a hint of financial mismanagement about the deal though. The £7.4 million fee, 30 per cent of which was handed-over to Jorge Mendes’ GestiFute agency, was paid for a player ‘flipped’ by Guimarães. Bébé had joined Guimarães on a free-transfer from third division outfit Estrala da Amadora just five weeks previously but did not play for the higher-ranked club in a competitive game. Mendes, in turn, had represented Bébé for less than a fortnight.

Nice work if you can get it.

Yet United bought out the player’s contract release fee, reportedly on the recommendation of former assistant manager Carlos Queiroz, now the former-Portugal national coach, with Ferguson meeting the player just once 48 hours before ink had dried on the contracts. Famously Ferguson had never seen Bébé play before agreeing to the transfer. Something about the story has always felt false.

Further mystery is added by United’s audited annual accounts, which showed a post-balance sheet transaction of £8.3 million was paid in respect of player registrations after 30 June, 2010. Quite where the additional £900,000 went is anybody’s guess but rumours of further agent involvement refuse to die down.

Aside from the financial shenanigans the deal also represents everything that can go wrong in a badly planned transfer. For all the credit that Ferguson rightly claims in signing Mexican Javier Hernández, Bébé represents the counter-point. United apparently scouted Hernández for weeks, sending Jim Lawler to Mexico to thoroughly research both the player and man. It worked, with United securing what has now proven the season’s bargain. At £7 million, with further add-ons, United could more than triple Hernández’ fee if sold on the open market today.

Yet the club’s behaviour in signing Bébé, seemingly on a whim, negates successes elsewhere. Certainly if finances are a primary reason for Ferguson’s bragging over Hernández then more than £5 million wasted on Bébé must also be held to account. The two approaches cannot be reconciled.

Bébé will join four other Portuguese at Beşiktaş, including Ricardo Quaresma, Simão Sabrosa, Hugo Almeida and Manuel Fernandes – all of which are GestiFute clients. Has Mendes done United a favour moving Bébé on or simply double-dipped on the deal? After all, Mendes has built a certain reputation in the industry. The agent, some might say, can sell ice to Esikmos, coals to Newcastle and homeless duds to wealthy Premier League outfits.

There is more to this line-of-thinking too, with Mendes also agent to José Mourinho who many believe will take the reigns at Old Trafford one day. Mendes is also favourite to snap up Old Trafford-bound David de Gea when the Spaniard’s contract with Hector Rincon ends on 31 June. de Gea will become the fourth GestiFute client on United’s books, including Bébé, Nani and Anderson.

It is also hard to see where United can turn the deal around unless Bébé matures beyond expectation at the Black Eagles in Turkey. More likely, if Bébé plays little – there is a complicated ‘foreigners’ rule in the Süper Lig – then the player may simply return to Old Trafford next summer virtually unsellable.

In this there is also sympathy for the man who has been shunted from club-to-club in the past year, seemingly at the will of agents. Roy Keane’s assertion that players are little more than “meat” comes to mind.

Bébé’s dream has turned sour because he did not have the talent to fulfil it at Old Trafford, even though he has worked hard to develop. The actions of those who signed-off on the deal are yet to be brought to account.

Arise Lord Ferguson of Govan

June 16, 2011 Tags: Shorts 12 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson could be appointed to the House of Lords if two Manchester MPs have their Early Day Motion (EDM) read in Parliament. Labour MPs Tony Lloyd, Manchester Central, and principal sponsor of the motion Graham Stringer, Blackley and Broughton, have called for football to be more widely represented in the upper house, with Manchester United manager Ferguson the outstanding candidate for a Peerage.

The EDM does not mean Ferguson’s Peerage is guaranteed. Far from it, EDM 1926 is tabled for debate on an unspecified future date and may not receive Ministerial support, although it will remain open signatures for the duration of this Parliamentary session.

That this House recognises the economic, social, cultural and sporting importance of football to the United Kingdom; is therefore surprised at the paucity of representatives from the world of football in the Upper House; further notes that Sir Alex Ferguson, as the manager of Aberdeen and Manchester United, is the most successful manager in the history of British football; and calls for him to be recommended for appointment to the House of Lords.

Ferguson has been a long-term supporter of the Labour Party, dating back to his roots as a shop steward in the Glasgow docks, although the Scot’s closeness to the Labour government has led to predictable criticism of ‘Champagne Socialism’.

Ferguson was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1995 and then a Knight Bachelor in 1999, after United’s historic treble season.

Scholes looks to future as silly season gets into full swing

June 15, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 21 comments

New Manchester United coach Paul Scholes says that the club will rebuild this summer but only if Sir Alex Ferguson deems it necessary. Scholes, who retired at the end of last season, says he is as excited as the fans, with a string of names linked to United in the press over the past fortnight. Reports suggest that United will embark on the largest spending spree in the Glazer family’s time in charge of the club as Ferguson aims to bridge the gap between the Reds and Europe’s best.

Ferguson has already committed United to the £16.5 million acquisition of Blackburn Rovers’ teenager Phil Jones, while Ashley Young and David de Gea will arrive at Old Trafford in early July for an additional £34 million. Meanwhile, United’s 69-year-old manager continues to search for an elusive ‘world class’ central midfielder to replace Scholes in the squad.

“The manager will know what he needs and if he needs to buy players or he’s happy with what he’s already got,” Scholes said on Wednesday.

“Over the last couple of years he’s not really added that much to it, and if he feels the need to do it now, he’ll do it. He’s built three or four teams now and if he needs to do it again, I’m sure he will.

“I don’t know where the answer lies about a replacement. That is up to the manager and his staff. There is no doubt there is a lot of talent at this club. You only have to look at the youth team this year and what they have done. There are some great players.”

Most supporters and pundits have identified central midfield as United’s primary area of weakness and Scholes’ retirement, along with Owen Hargreaves’ departure, has depleted Ferguson’s resources. Darron Gibson will shortly move to Sunderland while youth team players Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Ryan Tunnicliffe are considered too inexperienced for first team duty next season.

However, primary targets Wesley Sneijder and Luka Modric seem unlikely to be available this summer. Sneijder has remained non-committal on his future at Internazionale but a £4 million net wage and a £30 million plus transfer fee could put the Dutchman out of Ferguson’s reach. Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Modric is wanted by both Chelsea and Manchester City, pushing the price to exorbitant levels.

Given the weaknesses in central midfield Ferguson’s apparent pursuit of Alexis Sanchez, the Chilean utility-forward who current plys his trade at Udinese in Italy, is perhaps surprising. Sanchez primarily operators on the right-side for Udinese but has played from the left and as a shadow forward for club and country; positions in which Ferguson is well stocked. After all, Young will compliment Antonio Valencia, Park Ji-Sung, Nani and Wayne Rooney in those positions. Youngster Tom Cleverley will also return to the club this summer.

Sanchez would be a frighteningly expensive acquisition too as City and Barcelona also bid for the 22-year-old’s services and Udinese demand more than £30 million. Moreover, when the European champions Barça comes calling, few players turn the Catalans down.

Still, with high quality names oft-repeated in the press, Scholes says he has high hopes for this summer’s transfer business; a window he will watch as both fan and United employee.

“The ones we have been linked with are great players as well,” said the 36-year-old former player.

“I am sure the manager will buy or bring through the right players and will be just as successful and hopefully get towards the Barcelona level as well. Even when I was a player you see all these top players around the world that you’re linked with, and you’re excited about maybe playing with them. As a fan now, just like my son is, we’re hoping we buy the best players in the world and that they make us even stronger for next year.”

Whether United secures the star names is very much dependent on money of course. Quality, even when completely inexperienced as demonstrated by Jones’ capture, comes at a very high price. Indeed, if United truly is competing at the top end of this summer’s market then the club is in an élite group. While City and Chelsea enjoy the patronage of huge private wealth, Barça and Real Madrid monopolise La Liga media rights money.

It is fact that United fans may well bare in mind when browsing this summer’s red tops. After all, talk is cheap and while the noises emanating from Old Trafford suggest a splurge – and around £180 million in cash sits in the club’s bank account – recent history might suggest otherwise.

Capturing just one of Sanchez, Sneijder or Modric remains a big ask. But like Scholes, fans may well have fun watching the summer’s drama unfold.

Glazer IPO unlikely to offer fans major stake

June 14, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 10 comments

The weekend’s Times newspaper report that the Glazer family is considering floating Manchester on the Hong Kong stock exchange raises the possibility, for the first time since 2005, that supporters could claim a stake in the heavily indebted club. It’s a goal that groups such as the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) have been working towards for the past six years.

The family is considering listing on the Hang Seng and not in London, reports the Times, because a potentially higher price could be achieved. Hong Kong has experienced strong growth in the past 12 months, while the recent and upcoming IPOs of Western companies Samsonite and Prada are generally considered a success.

“Bankers have told the Florida-based tycoons that the listing could value the club at £1.7 billion — more than double the £790m the Glazers paid for it in 2005,” claimed the Sunday Times report.

“A recent flurry of floats on the Hong Kong stock exchange by upmarket consumer goods companies such as the luggage firm Samsonite, has prompted the family to consider a listing. Thanks to the international power of United’s brand, and the strength of its following in Asia, advisers believe the club could attract a higher price for its shares in Hong Kong than in London.”

However, if the mooted Asian IPO actually goes ahead it will surely leave United supporters with a tiny minority stake as global financial powers hoover up most of United’s assets. The rumour leaves fans wondering what next for a club that has seen significant financial unrest in recent years.

Indeed, the Glazer family’s decision to refinance existing bank debt with a £500 million bond in January 2010 exposed United’s finances in detail for the first time in five years, sparking a wave of supporter protest that has ultimately proven fruitless in producing regime change.

And while the so-called Red Knights came and went the Glazer family has reorganised the club’s finances away from prying eyes; a £220 million Payment in Kind loan was probably refinanced somewhere in the depths of Delaware last November, while the family has also spent £30 million of club money buying back bond debt in the past two quarters.

Yet to realise a profitable exit the Glazer family must either sell out to a private investor or float. With the Americans reportedly turning away offers from the Red Knights and the Qatari Royal family an IPO could be a viable out.

MUST reacted with circumspection to talk of a floatation, with the opportunity it brings for greater supporter ownership in the club. While ordinary fans owned a tiny percentage of the club on takeover in 2005, there were at least thousands of individual shareholders.

“If this report proves to be well founded the prospect of a flotation of Manchester United is one that many supporters would cautiously welcome because it could be an opportunity for supporters to once again share in ownership of their club,” said the organisation in a statement.

“However three immediate concerns spring to mind. Firstly that this would have to be a full IPO signalling a clean exit for the Glazers. Secondly the valuation would have to be realistic – something closer to £1 billion rather than the £1.5 billion that the Glazers seem to feel is possible. Thirdly shares should be freely available to all MUFC supporters and certainly floated on the UK market to maximise accessibility.

“MUST’s avowed aim is Manchester United FC owned by the fans and run for the fans. Our task is to create the opportunity for all United fans to share in the ownership of their club.”

However, MUST’s conditions seem unlikely to be met, with the price now seemingly much higher than £1 billion. Indeed, at a 12-15 EBITDA multiple that is typically used by the Forbes Magazine’s annual football club valuation list United’s sale price could reach £1.5 billion on the open market. Clearly, the Glazer family believes United’s international profile will equate to hundreds of millions in ‘brand value’.

The high valuation may also negate MUST’s desire for widespread supporter ownership. After all, the organisation’s growth to more than 172,000 members is impressive but is unlikely to create a huge pool of finance from which to carve out a meaningful stake in the club. Should each member, for example, find £1,000 to buy shares in an IPO MUST members would own a little more than 10 per cent of the club. Buying individually, even a 10 per cent holding is probably an unobtainable goal should fans be able to reach a Hong Kong listing at all.

Meanwhile, United’s management continues to look at ways to increase revenues and cut-back costs, according to a Bloomberg report on Monday. Bloomberg quotes an unnamed source close to London-based club COO Edward Woodward, who has been leaving the drive towards global commercialisation over the past two years.

“Woodward, a former banker with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., has discussed several ways to cut financing costs,” reports the newswire.

“The club isn’t concerned about its finances, but wants to ensure it has the most efficient funding policy. It’s not close to making any definitive decision about changing its current terms.”

Bloomberg says that United will look to invest any savings in the transfer market – a proposition fans will take more seriously if the club makes good on an oft-purported spending spree this summer. After all, the Reds currently spends around £45 million per season in bond interest payments, separate from any costs associated with the refinance PIK loans.

Costs and interest associated with the Glazer regime has sucked more than £300 million out of the club over the past six years. Whether an IPO will cut net debt is as yet undetermined and probably moot. After all, the Glazer regime’s history tells us that value maximisation is the goal.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn Darron T Gibson

June 14, 2011 Tags: Opinion 58 comments

The T, sadly some might add, does not stand for Tiberius but news that Darron Thomas Gibson has agreed terms on a £5 million move to Steve Bruce’s Sunderland will leave not a dry eye in the house all the same. Maybe. Sort of. Well, perhaps not at all but it will bring to a close a chapter in recent Manchester United history with Gibson the subject of many a supporter debate over recent seasons.

Gibson, 24 in October, will join former Reds Frazier Campbell, Phil Bardsley and Kieran Richardson on Wearside after five years at United in which the Derry-born midfielder made less than 60 appearances for the club. Despite a thunderous shot Gibson failed to seal a consistent place in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. With neither the technique, pace, nor all round game for the very top-level Gibson’s departure can hardly surprise, even though Ferguson has shown years of patience in the player.

Despite Gibson’s limitations the Irishman has never lacked confidence; a certain arrogance that is required of all United players. Gibson repeatedly rebuffed Irish manager Giovanni Trappatoni’s assertion that the midfielder should move to a lesser club in search of more time on the pitch.

Gibson will finally achieve his national manager’s goal at the Stadium of Light, replacing £20 million England under-21 international Jordan Henderson who departed for Liverpool in the past week. It was a week in which Gibson admitted for the first time that his future may lie elsewhere after Sunderland bid £12 million for the player together with United colleagues Wes Brown and John O’Shea.

“It wouldn’t faze me one bit to leave, all I want is what’s best for me,” admitted Gibson, who has 16 caps for the Republic of Ireland.

“So if the best thing for me is to leave and go somewhere that I’ll play every week then so be it. I haven’t sat down with Sir Alex to talk but if it comes to me not playing as much as I’d like next season I’ll have to move. I’m nearly 24. I’m going to have to go somewhere else if I don’t start playing regularly. Steve Bruce has played under Sir Alex Ferguson and I think he bases his managerial style on Sir Alex. If it came to it, I would love to play for Steve Bruce.”

Despite Paul Scholes’ retirement, and Owen Hargreaves’ departure, Gibson is behind Michael Carrick, Anderson and Darren Fletcher for a place in the United side. With Ferguson expected to bid for a leading central midfielder in the summer, Gibson is no closer to claiming a regular place in the United engine room than at any point in his Old Trafford career.

Gibson spent two seasons away from Manchester in a bid to further his chances, moving first to Royal Antwerp in Belgium and then to Wolverhampton Wanderers a year later for the 2007/8 season. Although popular in Antwerp, Gibson’s time coincided with a downturn in the club’s fortunes, with relegation to the Second Division providing a poor grounding for United’s youngsters.

Yet, as a past winner of the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award, Gibson has not fulfilled the promise of youth. There have only been fleeting moments in an Old Trafford career that has lasted longer than many expected; the 25-yard-strike, for example, against Hull City on the last day of the 2008/9 campaign, the clean hit against Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League quarter-final.

At nearly 24 the time is clearly now right is right for both club and player to move on, with word that United is not prepared to offer Gibson an extension on a contract that runs to June 2012. Meanwhile, Gibson has seemingly accepted that his chances at Old Trafford will be forever limited, not that the old self-confidence has diminished despite the limited opportunities.

“There are four teams every year that play in the Champions League from the Premiership so there’s not many other teams in the Premiership that would have that experience within their team,” adds the Irishman.

“So even though I am young, no matter where I go, experience-wise, I’m going to be a big help. Obviously playing International and Champions League football is going to be a big help to wherever I go. So if I do leave it will be a big help to which ever team I go to and it will obviously be a big help to me too if I’m playing every week.”

Depsite Gibson’s many failings the midfielder’s departure adds £5 million to Ferguson’s supposedly hefty transfer budget while freeing up a space in the Scot’s squad. Tom Cleverley returns after a successful year at Wigan Athletic, while supporters continue to dream that a player of genuine midfield quality will arrive in the summer transfer window.

Gibson was never that.

Sympathy for the randy Red Devil

June 12, 2011 Tags: Opinion 55 comments

Who would you say out the following three men is the kind of role model a society should look up to? First up is a man who has had two mistresses, chain smokes and drinks between eight to 10 Martinis a day.  Second is a man who doesn’t get out of bed each morning before 11am, used opium at college and drinks champagne, brandy, and whiskey to excess every day.  Last up is a decorated war hero and vegetarian who doesn’t smoke or drink, and has never had any extramarital affairs.

Should be straight forward really, shouldn’t it? After all, if we want our kids to look up to and have their actions influenced by someone other than us then it is better that it be someone of a clean living lifestyle, right? Not too long ago a certain Welshman in his late 30s easily sat within this mould, a dedicated professional considered by many as a throwback to a bygone era.

In this modern football world of spit roasting and egocentric badge kissing mercenaries, the previously wholesome Ryan Giggs with his longevity at the top-level of the English game – spanning from boyhood to the verge of middle age – coupled with a lack of ‘show me the money’ style contract negotiation with his one and only club seemed almost like a modern-day Stanley Matthews. But in the last fortnight that image of Giggs now seems like another lifetime ago.

Let me put my cards on the table here, I have no real love for Giggs as such – healthy respect for someone who is English football’s most decorated player, spending two decades at the very summit of arguably the hardest league in World football, sure – but unlike Victoria Beckham there has never been a poster of Giggs hanging on my bedroom door.  Rarely is that goal in 1999 replayed without my foot being put through the screen, also seeing his name emblazoned across the backs of shirts worn by young kids indoctrinated by their armchair dwelling parents, down here 200 miles away from Old Trafford in a city that has 13 league clubs of its own really gets my blood boiling.

However, if Giggsy ever wanted to raise his own army to take up arms against the nation’s media in mental fight I’d happily get myself down to the recruitment office to conscript and swear allegiance to Private Ryan (or should that be no longer private Ryan?) in his holy ideological war against Britain’s Fourth Estate.

Bill Shankly once commented that football isn’t a matter of life and death, but much more important than that and although Shanks seemed like a decent guy, I really do hope he meant that in a tongue in cheek manner.  Don’t get me wrong, I tick most boxes of what a ‘proper’ fan should be – I prefer to watch my football in the stadium itself, I’ve supported the same side for 27 of my 32 years on this  earth – a side who come from the same city as I do.  However, I’m under no illusion that the social importance attached to football in the 21st century has lost any semblance of sanity. Football is not more important than life and death but ultimately a way we amuse ourselves in our leisure time and nothing more.

It’s worth remembering that the day after England won the World Cup in 1966 it didn’t even make the front pages of the press.  However, last year England’s failure to make it past the last 16 at the World Cup dominated the front pages for nearly a week after, along with people randomly sending me texts and e-mails about how these eleven men shamed England compared with ‘young men dying in Afghanistan’.  I mean, sorry have I missed something? Have Rooney, Terry et al been funding the Taliban? Where’s the relevance of Afghanistan to World Cup failure? If you want to blame someone for these kids coming back from Afghanistan in boxes, with limbs missing or unable to function back on Civvie street through PTSD, then why don’t you try looking further up in the social pecking order?

In contrast, what wasn’t dominating the front pages and hence public discourse in the week that followed England’s demise was the effects of George Osborne’s emergency budget the previous week, such as this forecast of another 1.3 million job losses in the economy as a whole directly resulting from the Con-Dem’s austerity measures and arguably a policy of that many today claim to be causing stagnation in the wider UK economy.

As a former Labour spin doctor once pointed out just after 9/11, some days and weeks are a very good time for ‘burying’ bad news and the hoo-ha caused by decadent and materialistic footballers, their on-field antics and the way they conduct themselves off the pitch is giving ample opportunity for bad-news burying in what really isn’t a quiet era for serious world events.  In fact, one suspects that if the PFA ever wanted to clean up the tarnished public image of its members it could order a 12 month sex-strike by all professional footballers.  By the end of which time a large chunk of the nation’s problems may well have been solved because their presence was not relegated to the lower echelons of newsworthiness by sex scandals involving Premier League footballers.

Now you can argue that these publications are merely responding to public demand, however the duty to uphold an informed public opinion that isn’t drowned out in celebrity trivialities should override mere market forces in the interests of democracy.  After all, if it is true to say that people are what they eat, in the same way they also think what they read – their consumption of the media greatly influences how they vote. Such coverage or lack of bears greatly on us all as a direct result.

Even though it may be a valid question to ask whether it is right that a rich footballer can gag the freedom of the press to hide who he really is, especially after he has made millions out of his wholesome image, broadcasting to the world what Giggs has been doing in his private life is hardly Wikileaks is it? Julian Assange had made the world privy to information involving certain aspects of decision-making on Iraq, the Middle East and other issues where lives, security and public finances were/still are at threat. Information that it is genuinely in the public’s interest to know about.

The Giggs saga in contrast is merely title-tattle to satisfy the base mentality of certain sections of the public.  Arguments put forward by the press of their concern for Giggs as a role model to our nation’s young are also disingenuous. After all, if they were that concerned about the moral fabric of the nation then surely they would keep us in blissful ignorance and not voyeuristically expose it to sell millions of newspapers, would they not?

I also don’t think it’s fair to say that Giggs has made his millions from shining his halo either; his fortune was made from either playing football or advertising deals made on the back of his footballing ability.  I may be wrong, but I don’t ever recall him selling his family image through the pages of Hello or OK magazine like the Beckhams or the Rooneys habitually do. After all, did anyone actually know the first name of Ryan’s wife before this whole saga blew up?

But for a brief period in the early to mid-1990s when Giggs dated Dani Behr and Davina Taylor from Hollyoaks the press have largely been disinterested in Giggs’ private life, especially in comparison to the private life of his former colleague David Beckham.

Unlike some sort of ‘Back to Basics’ style Tory MP, I also don’t recall Giggs ever being particularly sanctimonious with regard to ‘family values’ either. Is any hypocrisy on Giggs’ part really being exposed by this sort of coverage?  At the end of the day, the matter of Giggs’ extra-marital affairs is a private one for his family and the argument that we as members of the public have a right or substantial interest to know about his misdemeanours is a very weak one at best.

In the aftermath of the Giggs saga one Twitter user stated that footballers should seek retribution by utilising their wealth through the vanity press to publish stories about the private lives of newspaper journalists and proprietors.  My article for the Online Gooner in the wake of the exposure of Arsène Wenger’s alleged affair back in November shows there would be plenty of juicy titbits should they ever wish to do so, particularly with some of the infidelities – alleged or otherwise – involving Mr and Mrs Rupert Murdoch.

It’s also odd what the Murdoch press wants us to revere and who it wants us to ostracise – a footballer who is unfaithful to his wife is to be utterly condemned and something the world at large needs to know about in full detail.  However, in contrast it has no qualms whatsoever in urging the general populace to vote for former Bullingdon Club member David Cameron – presenting him as ‘our only hope’.

For those of you who are unaware of the antics of the Bullingdon Boys – this socially exclusive dining club for the privileged of Oxford University where £3,000 alone is required for the purchase of its uniform – then let me enlighten you.  Andrew Grimson, the biographer of his Oxford contemporary and fellow Bullingdon member Boris Johnson, stated that “I don’t think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash….A night in the cells would be regarded as being par for a Buller man and so would debagging (removing one’s trousers with force) of anyone who really attracted the irritation of the Buller men.”

The last noted incident involving this obnoxious group was as recent as last year and involved the drunken vandalism of the National Trust maintained Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire.   It’s nice to know that such over-privileged Oxbridge chaps can indulge in an orgies of drunken destruction and still rise up to a position of authority overseeing economic reforms that overwhelmingly hurt the working classes of the UK, without facing anything near the scrutiny and condemnation from the popular press that a footballer who indulges in consensual extra-marital sexual shenanigans can expect.

Another intriguing aspect of the Giggs saga is the lengths that the press went to in order to expose it, which sharply contrasts with Cameron’s Bullingdon past.  The inquisitiveness of Britain’s popular press is well noted, however coverage of Cameron’s Bullingdon antics have remained largely obscured and glossed over. Cameron’s only statement in mitigation is that: “I did things when I was young that  I should not have done and I regret.”

It’s also notable how, unlike Giggs, no-one seems to be Twittering details of Cameron’s Bullingdon misdemeanours over the web and if they did the popular press certainly wouldn’t be pointing us in their direction.  In the case of Murdoch the reason is self-explanatory: Murdoch gives his full backing to Cameron, Cameron in turn waves through his 100 per cent acquisition of BSkyB and doesn’t ask much in the way of paying much, if anything, in the way of corporation tax. Neither is going to go out of their way to step on the other’s toes.

The use of the internet to subvert legal rulings and privacy laws to the benefit of the Murdoch press is also quite an irony.  Back in December last year I chatted to a journalist from the Murdoch-owned Times at the Arsenal Supporters Trust Christmas party, during which he expressed his dislike of the how the internet is giving away the fruit of his profession’s labour free of charge.  So fearful of the internet’s potential effect on the industry of the print media was the aforementioned journalist, that when I had played devil’s advocate and suggested a few positives to this scenario he gave me a look of disapproval that most right thinking people would usually reserve for sex offenders.

His employer Murdoch also expressed such concerns in 2009 by accusing sites like Google, who would argue that they are merely directing internet traffic in Murdoch’s direction, of stealing content from the titles among his News Corporation global conglomerate.  Murdoch asked: “what’s the point of having someone come occasionally who likes a headline they see in Google? We’d rather have fewer coming and paying.”

Hence the decision behind the introduction of pay-walls to many of the Murdoch publications.

However, with the Giggs saga Murdoch is greatly in debt to an anonymous and benevolent Twitterer in cyberspace exposing much of the detail to reduce Giggs’ super-injunction to a legal impracticality.  This is ultimately good news for Murdoch because voyeuristic sensationalism and gossip is largely how the print media has remained relevant despite for many years being the slowest form of media since the introduction of the Radio, TV, Teletext, the internet, broadband and now the iPad.

, while Giggs believed he had bought secrecy with his super-injunction, its ultimate defeat means that the print media has bought its survival for next few years at least, with more voyeuristic coverage involving the private lives of celebrities.

So in his battle to keep his extra-marital affairs secret Giggs was ultimately the loser. However what of his legacy in the long-term? Adultery never did the legacy or careers of John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Martin Luther King, Syd James, Amanda Holden and Beckham any real and lasting damage. It is probably safe to say that barring an Iranian style era of ultra-moral conservatism it’s highly unlikely to do Giggs any real and lasting damage either.

And returning to the question I had posed at the start – had you chose the third example as society’s ideal role model you would have chosen Adolf Hitler over Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.  Therefore, if there is any moral to this tale it’s probably that you really should resist the temptation to judge others before seeing the fuller picture first.

Arsenal fan Robert Exley is a regular contributor to Gooner fanzine.

Magic and marketing for Scholes’ testimonial

June 10, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 1 comment

So Eric Cantona returns to Old Trafford, not this time as player, nor matinée idol but manager of a team with no talents, a club with no stadium, the New York Cosmos. And with Cantona’s newly reformed Cosmos will come a tranche of ringers, drawn from some of the finest recent football talent to be found in the Frenchman’s contacts book, in celebration of Paul Scholes wonderful career.

Scholes’ testimonial, to be played at Old Trafford on Friday 5 August, will be an occasion for the midfielder’s fans and contemporaries to put the notoriously media-shy former United player in the spotlight. However, with United facing a team that is little more than a marketing exercise, some will question whether the match is a fitting end to Scholes’ playing days. After all, the Salford-born midfielder always placed loyalty to the club and time with his family ahead of cash in the bank.

Still, with more than 20 years at the club, 17 of them in Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team, Scholes deserves nothing less than the shower of accolades and praise he has received since retiring 10 days ago, whomever the opposition.

“It’ll be fantastic for the fans to be able to bid farewell to this exceptional footballer,’’ Ferguson told in a statement.

“The accolades he’s received have been well deserved, but for me, Paul is one of those players who turns up, plays his football and it’s that natural ability that makes Paul unique and revered by many, including myself. Now from one great player to another, Eric Cantona. I am going to relish this touchline showdown, one Gaelic mind to another. Neither of us will want to lose this one, it is sure to be a great night and a well-deserved recognition for Paul.”

Scholes slipped away on a family holiday before retiring, leaving the official announcement to United’s PR department on 31 May. How typical of the man, who spent a career avoiding the media glare, marketing campaigns and trappings of celebrity, which the 36-year-old has always considered nonsense.

Yet it is marketing that will bring the Cosmos to town with, one can expect, a rash of star names joining Cantona’s team. After all, those who have lauded Scholes the player have included the greats of the European and world game from the past 20 years: Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, Xavi Hernández and many others.

Scholes’ last appearance as a United player will guarantee a full house at Old Trafford, with United having restricted initial ticket sales to season ticket holders only. The 75,000 sell-out crowd will generate more than £3 million in revenues, with Scholes’ Testimonial Committee as yet not having declared whether the midfielder will pocket the cash or, as is now customary, donate to a range of good causes.

“This is going to be a big night for me and my family, but one which I intend to enjoy and I will savour every moment,’’ said Scholes, presumably from a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.

“I have spent my whole footballing life at Manchester United, so this will be an emotional farewell. This club is special in many ways, but the fans are the best and I have always appreciated their support throughout my career. I hope they enjoy the night, especially seeing the Boss and Eric battling it out in front of the dug outs.”

Fans will, of course, come to see Cantona as well. The 45-year-old took up a position as Director of Soccer with the Cosmos in January. The newly reformed outfit is hoping to win a place in Major League Soccer in the coming years but in the meantime is little more than a logo and a youth team.

Cantona was last reunited with his former club in Spring 2010, touring Carrington and taking in United’s fixture against Liverpool. The Frenchman had previously returned for the Munich Testimonial fixture in 1998, leading an all-star European XI at Old Trafford.

But it is Scholes’ night, and Cantona, who played with the flame-haired midfielder in the late 1990s, will do nothing but add to the glamour, which will also include Cosmos’ Honourary President, Pélé.

“I wish to congratulate Paul for such an incredible career at Manchester United,” said Cantona, who played 185 games for United before retiring in 1997.

“I am looking forward to returning to Old Trafford in my new role with The New York Cosmos. This will be a significant and memorable match for all.”

Scholes is set to take up a coaching position with United when pre-season training begins in July, although it is not yet confirmed exactly what role the former player will take on. Warren Joyce has been working alone with the reserve team since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure for Molde last November.

That is for the future though. Today, fans will clamber to get hold of the most sought-after testimonial ticket in recent memory. Magic.

Fergie signals end of era with Jones signing

June 9, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 78 comments

It turned out to be an extraordinary day of transfer activity, so soon into the summer window, as Sir Alex Ferguson closed in on £16 million Blackburn Rovers defender Phil Jones. The England Under-21 international has reportedly agreed terms on a five-year deal and is likely to become the first of several signings before the window closes at August’s end. Manchester United will likely also confirm the signatures of Aston Villa’s Ashley Young and the Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea in the coming weeks.

Yet, as Isaac Newton might agree, every action has a reaction, especially when wage budgets and squad sizes must be balanced. Not equal, perhaps, but for United the inbound talent ensures the revolving door marked exit remains busy this summer. Just as United supporters embrace the new-boy Jones, then a heartfelt goodbye will be heard for John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Darron Gibson, reportedly the subject of a £12 million bid from Sunderland today.

Supporters have, after all, been promised one of the busiest summers in recent memory, with significant deadwood cleared out of Old Trafford’s burgeoning squad, balanced by returning loanees and heavier expenditure than has become the norm under the Glazer family’s ownership over the past six years.

Indeed, this summer is promising to create more change in the United squad than has been seen for years. It is an accelerating evolution that will end a cycle at United in a less gradual way that is typical under Ferguson’s stewardship.

Moreover, in Brown and O’Shea, Ferguson is losing significant experience. One club men at that. Between them the latter pair has amassed more than 750 appearances in the Red shirt, adding to the departures of Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Edwin van der Sar, which robs Ferguson of more than 1500 club appearances.

In experience’s place comes youth. Young, at 25, is the oldest of United’s most discussed signatures, while de Gea is just 21. Arguably though Jones, 19, is the most exciting of the trio; a classy centre half already noted for his leadership skills.

Indeed, some observers rate Jones ahead of Chris Smalling, who so thoroughly impressed during his debut Old Trafford season. With Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur chasing Jones’ signature, United has certainly paid top dollar for the player but one who could represent the club for more than a decade.

“I think he’s an amazing young talent and he could easily go on and become an England centre-half in years to come,” admitted Harry Redknapp today, with the Spurs’ manager admitting defeat over Jones’ acquisition.

“I was in for Phil Jones. We were interested in him but it looks like he’s gone to Manchester United. I think he’s a great singing for Man United. We’re struggling to find people that are better than what we’ve got. It’s not easy unless you pay massive money and massive wages.”

United has certainly spent ‘massive money’ buying out Jones’ reported £16 million release clause. And it is of course a gamble for a player with less than 50 senior games for Blackburn plus a dozen international age-group games.

But Ferguson has never been scared of risks in the transfer market, splurging up to £27 million on teenage Wayne Rooney in summer 2004. de Gea will also represent a significant gamble when the Spaniard’s signature is confirmed sometime after 1 July.

Not that the teenage defender Jones will go straight into the United side of course, with Jones likely to act as back-up to Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Smalling at centre-half next season. It is an area of United’s squad that felt threadbare at times, with Brown, Evans, Ferdinand and even Vidic injured during over the 2010/11 campaign.

Yet, while Jones may not be for the present, there is no little irony in a signature that will affect Jonny Evans most acutely. The Northern Irishman was once dubbed United’s future but has arguably forced Ferguson’s hand with a series of sub-par performances over the past year. Jones’ acquisition is unlikely to be terminal for Evans’ United career but the Belfast-born player may now find more opportunities at full-back than in the past.

While Jones, de Gea and Young begin their United careers Brown and O’Shea have earned both respect and gratitude for their efforts in the United cause over more than a decade. Both graduates of United’s academy, neither have fulfilled the glorious promise of youth but have served the club with distinction and pride.

Brown has always been one of the most naturally gifted English defenders over that time; a home-made Ferdinand whose talent was only ever limited by injury. It is no disservice to say that had it not been for one of the game’s most lengthy injury records Brown could have amassed more than a century of caps for England, rather than just 23. He would surely have also made more than 500 appearances for United bar for frequent trips to the treatment room.

Making his début in 1998, Brown earned rave reviews for early appearances at right-back, including the 6-2 thrashing of Brondby in Copenhagen during the treble-winning season. But it was at centre-half that the Longsight-born player was most natural, offering the Reds acceleration over 20 yards, a fearless competitive streak and perfect timing.

O’Shea has never possessed the same natural talent but won over United’s supporters with a vibrant début campaign largely at left-back. After all, it is no accident that United fans laud “Johnny marching down the wing.”

But O’Shea’s versatility undermined his United career, while also offering him a longevity that bemused some fans. The Irishman appeared right across the back-four, in central midfield and even in goal during more than a decade at the club.

Yet, while there is little surprised in Gibson’s departure, with United reportedly refusing to offer a contract extension beyond 2012, nor in Brown’s, O’Shea’s flexibity appeared to have guaranteed a place in next season’s squad. After all the Waterford-born defender started nearly 30 games for the club in all competitions last season.

And that is where the fun of transfer silly season becomes most acute. Sunderland’s is, at this stage, just a bid. Neither officially accepted by player nor club. One that could but seems unlikely to fail.

Rant anywhere: mobile site/app

June 7, 2011 Tags: , Shorts 32 comments

As part of United Rant’s continual evolution we welcome to two new interfaces for the website – for touchscreen smartphones and Samsung Bada-enabled devices.

First, those readers with a touchscreen smartphone will enjoy our web-app interface. Navigate to on your touchscreen smartphone and touch to add the web app interface to your home screen. The application is a HTML-based skin, optimised for iPhone and Android devices. Depending on demand Rant may also offer a native iPhone/Android applications, enabling offline reading, in the coming year.

However, the first native app for readers not on iPhone/Android is for Samsung Bada, which is available for free from the Samsung Apps store here.


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