Month December 2011

Month December 2011

United seeks to end year on a high

December 31, 2011 Tags: , Matches 164 comments

Manchester United faces bottom club Blackburn Rovers this weekend, with top place in the Premier League on offer should Sir Alex Ferguson’s men achieve at least a point in the Saturday lunchtime fixture. In truth, United will be gunning for a third heavy win on the bounce against Steve Kean’s relegation-threatened strugglers, even if Ferguson’s injury list still runs 10 strong.

Indeed, United can grab a three-point lead with victory over the Premier League’s rank no-hopers, offering Ferguson a very happy 70th birthday, which the legendary manager celebrates on New Year’s Eve. The Scot should welcome Phil Jones and Rio Ferdinand back to the match-day squad, but is still likely to field an experimental back-four for Blackburn’s visit to Old Trafford.

Despite the patchwork nature of the Reds’ defence in recent matches, Ferguson will be confident of celebrating his special day in style, with United having scored 10 in the past two fixtures. And Ferguson’s belief is undiminished despite the ongoing injury crisis, with the Scot prepared to push players into unfamiliar positions if necessary.

“Obviously injuries to the defenders are quite a concern now, with Jonny Evans taken off at half-time [against Wigan Athletic],” confirmed Ferguson.

“We’re hoping Phil Jones will be fit, there’s possibly an outside chance that Rio Ferdinand will get on the bench. Other than that, we’re the same. We can cope, especially in home games. Michael Carrick’s form has been one of the key points in recent wins. He can pass the ball and has the height, pace and experience.

“It wasn’t a problem for him against Wigan. He was flawless. Patrice also has the experience and the spring to head the ball. If that is the case then fine. We will get on with it. We are at home. We will have the majority of the ball. We have to make sure we are positive when we have it and do enough to win.

“Chris Smalling has got tonsillitis. I know there are reports about glandular fever but they’re off the mark. He had glandular fever as a kid but that’s not the case here. He should be ready for the Newcastle game, at least definitely the Manchester City game in the FA Cup. He’ll be ready for those games.”

Manchester United versus Blackburn Rovers, Premier League, Old Trafford, Saturday 31 December 2011, 12.45pm.Jones returns to bolster Ferguson’s side, although the 19-year-old may play in central midfield, with Michael Carrick once again likely to fill in at centre-half. With Antonio Valencia probably starting ahead of Rafael da Silva on the right, Ferguson will field at least two players out of position against a Blackburn attack containing in-form Yakubu Aiyegbeni.

Meanwhile, in midfield Ryan Giggs may start a second game in a row, with Darron Gibson and Park Ji-Sung also in contention. Mexican striker Javier Hernández may come into attack – despite Dimitar Berbatov’s hat-trick on Monday – with Ferguson keen to rotate his squad over a busy Christmas and New Year period. Indeed, the Bulgarian may not be afforded the opportunity to repeat his five goal haul in United’s 7-1 victory in the same fixture last season.

Whatever the team selection it is a period in which the Reds will surely emerge as the Premier League front-runners, beginning 2012 leading the pack, and with the experience to bring home a 20th domestic title come May.

“We have plenty of options in attack and I’m pleased with the form,” added Ferguson.

“Hopefully we can keep the momentum going. The form is good and the players are enjoying themselves too. It’s only the end of December. We surrendered a 12 point lead to Arsenal some years ago and won the title despite being 12 points behind Newcastle. Last year, in November, Chelsea were so many points clear that they were odds-on. But they hit a bump and we took over.

“So I think, with some of the games coming up in the second half of the season, you can’t say for certain that’s going to be the case [Arsenal and Chelsea are too far behind to win]. The difficulty for them is they’ve got to overtake three teams so, unless the three teams collapse, only that will be an opportunity for Arsenal or Chelsea to take advantage of. As for Spurs, I think they play the best football in the country. The current team, in the form they’re in at the moment, is the best in the country.”

However, with City facing tough fixtures within a 48 hour period against Sunderland and Liverpool, Ferguson will consider the next few fixtures pivotal in the Premier League campaign. While the Scot may look enviously at City’s plentiful resources, Ferguson, 70 years young, will thrive on placing the Blue half of Manchester under pressure in the coming days.

It is Ferguson’s level of experience in the arena that Welsh legend Ryan Giggs says will be vital before the campaign concludes in May.

“The experience that the manager, the players and the coaching staff have of what’s required in the second half of the season, as well as the overall hunger and desire to win competitions, will help us,” Giggs told

“Big players can’t wait for big games. Towards the end of the season the games just get bigger and bigger. For me personally, you want that in the run-in – you want to be involved in big games and going for the title. That’s why you become a footballer. Obviously City have got off to a better start but we’re pleased with where we are in the table and especially the form at the moment. We’ll just look to kick on as we always do in the second half of the season and hopefully we’ll have a bit more luck with injuries and have a strong run after Christmas.

“We’ve had setbacks throughout the years and you learn from them and they can help in a way. I’ve experienced that throughout my career – you might hit bad form or you miss a good chance, and you can’t wait for the next game so you can rectify it. I’m sure all the lads felt like that after the City game and after the Basel game, which was a big disappointment too. You’re going to get setbacks but it’s how you react to them and thankfully we’ve come back strong.”

Meanwhile, a thumping United win could yet relieve Kean of his Blackburn job before the New Year. Kean’s inevitable dismissal at some point this season will disappoint fellow Scot Ferguson, who has publicly supported the younger man.

Kean will bring his embattled troops to Old Trafford wit a plethora of key players doubtful for the fixture, including Paul Robinson, Martin Olsson, David Dunn, and David Hoilett. Ryan Nelsen, Gaël Givet and Vince Grella are definitely out. Meanwhile, Scott Dann’s twisted testicle will not be fit for action, of any kind, until January.

And to stretch the analogy, this is a fixture that, even in its current state of fitness, United surely cannot balls up.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Blackburn Rovers, Premier League, Old Trafford, Saturday 31 December 2011, 12.45pm.

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Valencia, Carrick, Evra, Fryers; Nani, Jones, Giggs, Park; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Rafael, Pogba, Cole, Diouf, Macheda, Berbatov, Welbeck.

Blackburn (4-5-1): Bunn; Lowe, Samba, Hanley, Henley; Nzonzi; Petrovic, Pedersen, Formica, Vukcevic; Yakubu. Subs from: Kean, Morris, Rochina, Blackman, Goodwillie, Roberts, Blackman, Anderson.

United: WLWWWW
Blackburn: LWLLLW

Performance stats

  • Manchester United joined Manchester City on xxx points, and went a long way to equalling the goal differential with a 5-0 win over Wigan on Monday;
  • Dimitar Berbatov proved that he still is of use at United (or of value in the transfer market) with a brilliant hat-trick. Berbatov now has four goals in the Premier League this season from just eight shots at goal. His minutes per goal rate of one every 70 minutes 45 seconds has now surpassed Edin Dzeko’s as the best in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • United’s other goal scorers Ji-Sung Park and Antonio Valencia have also spent spells on the sidelines this season. Valencia completed 49 passes in his opponent’s half against Wigan, the second highest of any player in the last round of games and just one short of Luka Modric. He also delivered 13 crosses, the highest on the last round, and the second highest in any game this season;
  • Another United player resigned to ‘squad’ status, Darron Gibson, covered the most ground for United in that game with 5.71 miles;
  • Nani has now put in more crosses than any other player in the Index with 74, one every 19 minutes 11 seconds. It’s the fifth highest in the league, discounting players who have put in fewer than ten crosses;
    No fewer than five United players were named in the Index team of the week after the victory over Wigan: Lindegaard, Giggs, Valencia, Nani, and Berbatov;
  • Meanwhile, Blackburn’s tough start to the season was given a boost by a point at Anfield in the club’s last Premier League outing;
  • Morten Gamst Pedersen’s cross led to a Liverpool own goal to secure the 1-1 draw, and the Norwegian covered the most ground for Blackburn in that game with 7.3 miles, the 8th time he has done so this season. This was also the most ground covered by a single player in the Index in the last round of games;
  • Yakubu has scored ten goals so far this season, with a conversion rate of 33 per cent shots to goals, the best in the Index;
  • Christopher Samba remains the player to have made the most clearances in the Index with 58 clearances so far this season. Samba’s 11 against Liverpool was the most made by a single player in a game so far this season, while his 23 interceptions was the fifth highest of any player in the league so far this season;
  • Stand-in goalkeeper Mark Bunn impressed in the draw at Anfield, and his 13 saves was the joint highest in the last round of games and the joint third highest by a goalkeeper all season.

Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
Assistants: D Richardson, R West
Fourth Official: L Probert

Rant Cast 94 – that was the year that was

December 30, 2011 Tags: Rant Cast No comments

On this week’s bumper edition, Rant Cast regulars Ed and Paul discuss Manchester United’s recent win against Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford, with the Reds hitting five for the second week in a row. We ponder the club’s lengthening injury list and talk Dimitar Berbatov – will he stay or will he go? There’s also an interview with award-winning blogger Andrew Thomas from Twisted Blood.

We look ahead to coming fixtures with Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United in the Premier League, and finally, we talk about the highs and lows of 2011 in our end of year report.

This week’s exit theme tune is ‘Auld Lang Synd’ – Kenneth Mckellar.

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review!

Mid season report 2011/12

December 28, 2011 Tags: Opinion 20 comments

How does one characterise Manchester United’s season to date? After all Sir Alex Ferguson’s side lies second in the Premier League after 18 games, with only goal difference separating the Reds from cross town title rivals Manchester City. Despite an ever lengthening injury list, the American owners’ parsimonious attitude to the transfer market, and City’s sovereign wealth, United will surely head into 2012 favourites to take the Premier League title.

All rosy then except, of course, for United’s disaster in Europe, where the Reds were knocked out fair and square by FC Basel and Benfica over six games. Neither are the continent’s leading lights. If United’s benchmark for success is Europe’s premier competition then group stage exit is surely a regression from last season’s run to the final. Add to that an embarrassing Carling Cup exit to Crystal Palace and the season begins to look far less successful.

In the Premier League Ferguson’s side began the season in blistering form, scoring eight against Arsenal at Old Trafford, and brushing aside West Bromwich Albion, Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers in the late summer. In doing so United played some of the most entertaining and attractive football of any team in Europe, including Barcelona, with Tom Cleverley and Anderson dynamic in central midfield.

Yet, that fine start to the season proved to be anything but sustainable, with the wheels truly falling off as City visited Old Trafford in October and put six past goalkeeper David de Gea. In truth a beating had been coming, with United conceding more shots on goal than any side in the division to that point. The lesson hit home in the most humiliating fashion, but Ferguson’s side responded strongly – domestically at least – by tightening up at the back, and winning a succession of games by a single goal margin.

In Europe, United’s campaign was nothing short of calamitous – performances, results and Ferguson’s management. From the beginning the Reds appeared to take the group lightly; less seriously than both the quality of opposition, and quality of Ferguson’s resources, deserved. Indeed, had the Scot not heavily rotated his team, in a group that United’s manager clearly believed was less than challenging, the Reds may well be facing a last 16 tie with Bayern Munich in February. Instead, United will meet Ajax in what promises to be a stimulating tie, if in Europe’s second division.

Elsewhere, United exited the Carling Cup at the quarter-final stage after the embarrassing loss to Palace. That would have been acceptable if the United manager had used the competition to blood younger players. Instead, England’s second cup competition became a pseudo reserve competition for United’s squad players.

Sir Alex Ferguson
It has been a mixed campaign for United’s manager. Cleverley’s injury against Bolton in September, and Anderson’s sudden and not unexpected loss of form and then injury, certainly did not help Ferguson’s planning this season, although the Scot’s strategic choice to not invest in central midfield leaves a lot to be desired. Unless, of course, Ferguson is right when he claims that the ‘Ronaldo money is there’, ‘there’s no value in the market’ and there is ‘nobody good enough for United’ in the transfer market.

Yet, the manager’s decision to rotate his team in Europe backfired hugely, for which the 69-year-old Scot is highly culpable. However, Ferguson drew a strong response out of his squad post derby humiliation – a series of results that no other manager in the league could have guaranteed. Once again the Scot will be required to create a team that is greater than the sum of its parts if United is to bring home a 20th domestic title come May 2012. 6/10

David de Gea
The 20-year-old Spaniard will undoubtedly become one of the world’s finest in the years to come. The talent at the Madridista’s disposal is genuine, and the player’s lifestyle and focus ensure that the £16 million signing will only get better with age. Yet, de Gea suffered a difficult start to the season, making a mistake for Edin Džeko’s goal at the Community Shield on debut. How could it be any other way – a youngster, moving abroad for the first time, under the brightest of media spotlights. It was always going to be a difficult start. 6/10

Patrice Evra
The Frenchman’s form is such that some supporters have questioned the 30-year-old’s place in the side. Yet, few if anyone will play more games for United this season than Evra, whose attacking contribution is not in doubt, but has on occasion become a defensive liability. Evra has plenty left to give United, but this is not the form of 2006-9. 6/10

Phil Jones
The cult of Phil Jones has been growing by the day since the defender’s £16.5 million move from Blackburn Rovers in the summer. The 19-year-old’s multi-faceted talent, dynamic drive and obvious leadership mark Jones down as a very rare talent indeed. Jones’ best performances have come from right-back, with the player’s more obvious mistakes in the centre of defence, although a nod to recent outings in midfield is worthy. 7/10

Rio Ferdinand
The 33-year-old old’s place in the United side was never guaranteed this season, with Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and new signing Jones each competing for the (former) England defender’s spot. Indeed, early season injury to the former Leeds United player looked like it might precipitate Ferdinand’s demotion to the bench. Yet, in the past month Ferdinand’s performances have drawn praise. Rightly so, for he is still a fine player. 7/10

Jonny Evans
The 2010/11 season was a truly horrible for Evans, who may count himself lucky to still be a factor in Ferguson’s planning. Yet the current campaign has been something of a renaissance, with the Belfast-born player appearing in 19 matches to date. It is likely the 23-year-old will play more games for United in the current campaign than any other. Evans still has doubters, but 2011/12 is a big improvement to date. 7/10

Michael Owen
What’s that you say, 31-year-old striker Owen is injured with a return yet to be determined? Whatsmore United are out of Owen’s favourite competition, the Carling Cup. Wasted squad space. 4/10

The Brazilian began the season in fine form, his partnership with Cleverley seemingly having rejuvenated the 23-year-old’s form. Yet, with Cleverley injured in September, Anderson’s form disappeared before the all-too-inevitable injury reared its head. Yet to convince anybody bar Sir Alex that a career at Old Trafford will extend beyond summer 2012. 4/10

Dimitar Berbatov
Four goals in two games in late December cannot mask Berbatov’s lack of contribution this season, despite the Bulgarian’s many admirers. It is, of course, not lack of talent that is holding the 30-year-old back but the form of United’s other strikers. Berbatov still has much to contribute to United, but it will still be a surprise should the striker remain at Old Trafford beyond next summer. 5/10

Wayne Rooney
United’s leading man began the season in superb form, suggesting that another 30-goal plus campaign was on the cards. Yet, with United’s form so went the striker’s in the autumn – or vice versa as the case may be. Once again Rooney’s ‘bursty’ goalscoring has come to the fore the season. He’s still the best at the club, but more consistency in front of goal would propel the striker into a different league. 8/10

Ryan Giggs
Just five Premier League starts and nine in all competitions for the evergreen Welshman, who still has much to contribute to United’s cause. Giggs deserves a new contract if only for being, well, Ryan Giggs. 5/10

Chris Smalling
Moved from the centre of defence to right-back for much of the season. Smalling has demonstrated both his versatility and some weaknesses in the process. Smalling is a natural centre-back of the highest quality, and a fine right-back who sometimes looks uncomfortable. Not Ferguson’s long-term option on the right side of United’s back four, but this campaign has once again demonstrated Smalling’s value to the club. 6/10

Ji Sung Park
Another bit-part role for the Korean this season, who has started just 11 games in all competitions. It is hard to envision Park matching the 28 game, eight goal campaign of last time out, but he still retains a role to play in United’s plans. 5/10

Javier Hernández
Six goals in 11 starts for Hernández paint one picture, although two injuries this season have curtailed the Mexican’s role. In Hernández’ stead Danny Welbeck has forced his way into United’s team. Yet, the 22-year-old scored four crucial goals post derby and could yet play a pivotal role this season. 6/10

Nemanja Vidić
United’s best player this season before an horrific triple ligament injury ended the Serbian’s campaign. The consequences of Vidić’s injury are yet to be determined, but could yet be serious come May. Reports of the Serbian’s decline were premature, but how the 30-year-old comes back from a very serious injury is key to his future at Old Trafford. 9/10

Michael Carrick
United’s best player during November and December and that is saying something given the Geordie’s poor form over the past two years. Carrick has never lacked for guile or defensive nous, and the 30-year-old’s ability to retain and recycle possession is crucial. Yet a more dynamic Carrick has emerged over the past eight weeks. Will it last? It could mean the difference between success and failure this season. 7/10

Another fine campaign from the Portuguese who thrills and disappoints in sometimes equal measure. Nani is absolutely crucial to United’s fortunes yet will, undoubtedly, shoot when he should pass, or pass when he should shoot at a crucial point this season. The talent is unlimited; the application sometimes faulty. Twas always the way. 7/10

Ashley Young
The £16 million former Aston Villa winger started the season, like so many of United’s forwards, in fine form. But form is temporary and class is… well, a question of quality that was always in doubt with Young. Will the 26-year-old be United’s answer to Lionel Messi? Never, but he has added to United’s attacking resources this season. 6/10

Danny Welbeck
Welbeck’s year at Sunderland turned, in the striker’s own words, a boy into a man. Welbeck’s talent was in question and the Longsight-born forward’s answer has been excellent. Is Welbeck good enough to fire United to Premier League glory? That is yet to be answered, but Welbeck certainly deserves his shot at a permanent place in Ferguson’s side. 7/10

Fabio da Silva and Rafael da Silva
At least one of the Brazilian brothers is normally injured, but too often this season it has been both. Despite Rafael’s progress in 2009/10, and Fabio’s last season, neither of the brothers has contributed much this campaign. Much more to come… if either/or can stay fit for a season.4/10

Tom Cleverley
Cleverley emerged from a loan spell at Wigan Athletic last season emboldened and confident. The player’s contribution to United’s excellent start cannot be overstated, and by contrast United’s form without the 22-year-old in the heart of midfield has suffered. The England international’s pass-and-move style could be crucial to United’s chances in the second part of the season – if he can regain and retain his fitness. 6/10

Darren Fletcher
The Scottish midfielder’s ill health is a blow both to United and the player. Indeed, returning to Ferguson’s side this campaign has come at a serious cost to the player. Questions about Fletcher’s long-term ability to return will now be asked, as will United’s strategy of not recruiting a midfielder last summer. 5/10

Antonio Valencia
The Ecuadorian began the season seemingly shorn of confidence and surpassed in Ferguson’s thinking by new recruit Young. Yet, with the former Villa player on the sidelines, and a lengthy run in the side inevitable, Valencia’s confidence has seemingly returned. The winger could well help Rooney fire United to the title. 7/10

Federico Macheda
Macheda’s disastrous loan spell at Sampdoria last season has set the Italian youngster back. Once ahead of Welbeck in the pecking order, Macheda will do well to resurrect his United career at all. 3/10

Darron Gibson
That Gibson remains at Old Trafford is something of a miracle. That the Irishman actually starts games for United is almost unthinkable. Injury to the Irishman prevented a potential move away from Old Trafford last summer, and with some irony, it is injury to others that may well keep Gibson in Manchester until summer 2012. 4/10

Mame Biram Diouf
Brief appearances in the Carling Cup aside, Diouf has offered nothing to United’s campaign. Come to think of it the Senegalese striker has offered little since a £3.5 million move to the club two years ago. 3/10

Anders Lindegaard
The Dane joined amid a chorus of doubts, with former United great Peter Schmeichel leading the choir. Yet, with six games played and no goals conceded there can be little doubt about Lindegaard’s impact. Solid, predictable and shorn of errors, the Dane is a fine goalkeeper. Is he potentially one of the greats? No. But probably the best back-up goalkeeper United has fielded in a decade. 7/10

Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison, Ezikiel Fryers
Of the trio few may have predicted that Fryers would make the strongest move towards the first team this season. Yet, mature performances in both the Carling Cup and Premier League mean that the 19-year-old is effectively Evra’s understudy. 5/10

Morrison and Pogba have shown glimpses of talent, but not yet been afforded a run in the first team that so many supporters have clamoured for. In truth each is at least a year away from genuinely challenging for a place in Ferguson’s side. 4/10

Reds five up but 11 down

December 28, 2011 Tags: Opinion 3 comments

Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson should arrange an injury crisis every week, because the current Old Trafford incarnation has certainly put a pep in the Scot’s side over the past week. Once facing up to the New Year behind title rivals Manchester City, United could now top the Premier League before the year is out. Moreover, with 10 goals for and none against in the past week, Ferguson’s side has rapidly closed on City’s goal difference advantage too.

Yet, it is a strange week in which United has returned to the trailblazing form of the late summer, scoring five against both Fulham and Wigan Athletic in the space of six days. In doing so Ferguson’s side has coped without a full team of injured players. Indeed, the Scot was forced to deploy Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia in the back four at Old Trafford on Monday as the list of absentees mounts.

Ferguson was already without half-a-dozen long-term injury victims before the weekend, with Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Michael Owen, Fabio da Silva and Nemannja Vidić all out of the Scot’s side for weeks to months. The United manager can hardly have relished calls from Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, each falling victim to a seasonal virus. Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand’s troublesome back has forced the 33-year-old out of United’s past three matches, and Ashley Young will be on the sidelines for weeks with ankle trouble.

Worse news came during the victory over Roberto Martinez’ relegation-threatened outfit as Jonny Evans limped out of the match after pulling a hamstring. The Northern Irishman will miss around a fortnight. Evans is simply the latest in a crisis that now leaves Ferguson without 11 players.

No wonder that Ferguson was beaming with his patched-up side’s performance at Old Trafford, even if the goal tally was more than aided by referee Phil Dowd’s bizzare decision to send off Wigan striker Conor Sammon during the first half.

“We have had a nightmare in the last few days,” admitted Ferguson, who at least can welcome back Rafael da Silva back into his squad.

“Phil Jones came down ill, Chris Smalling was ill and Rio called off with a back injury in training, all within a few hours of each other. Then Jonny Evans came off injured at half- time. It does put some pressure on but fortunately we had a good first half and we’ve managed to get through the game and score some goals.

“I said some weeks ago someone is going to suffer against us and we are really hitting good form now. There’s a real goal threat from us from all departments. It’s a long season and, if we can be top or joint top on New Year’s Day, I’ll be happy.”

Jones and Smalling could return for United’s 31 December fixture with Blackburn Rovers; a match that should take the Reds top, with City away at Sunderland on New Year’s day. And while Roberto Mancini’s men play again before United travel to Newcastle United on 4 January, City will face Liverpool at Anfield with less than 48 hours rest. It could prove to be a pivotal period in the Premier League season, when City’s seemingly iron-clad grip on the title race is permanently loosened.

Then comes the derby with City on 9 January as United visits Eastlands in the FA Cup. First, however, Ferguson could use nearly a dozen players returning to the squad.

“I am a little bit worried because we need everyone if we are going to win the league,” added Evra, who was forced to play the second half against Wigan in central defence.

“It is starting to get annoying. It is not the first year we have had so many injuries. Two years ago I played with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher at the back. The most important thing is that we won but I hope everyone gets fit because Blackburn is another big game and we need all the defenders.”

Ferguson should at least have greater options in defence for the match with bottom club Blackburn, although the rash of injuries midfielder Park Ji-Sung described as the “worst he has ever known” will surely threaten the Reds’ ambitions if it continues at the current heightened rate. But even if Ferguson’s resources are depleted for some time – and with a squad few believe is comparable to previous vintages – then the Scot’s ability to drive his more limited options to glory will again be required.

“This is the United spirit,” adds Evra.

“If you want to win, you have to accept it. You can see Antonio Valencia playing right-back as well. Only because United play like a team. The team is the star, not only one player, that’s why you can put me and Michael Carrick at centre-back; we’re going to win because it’s the team effort and team spirit.”

It has served United well in matches against Fulham and Wigan over the past week. Perhaps none more so that Dimitar Berbatov, who has returned to form with a flurry of superbly taken goals. Berbatov is scorer of four in two matches, yet the Bulgarian has been largely a peripheral figure this season.

Greater challenges, of course, lie ahead. But for the moment supporters can bask in the warmth of two thumping victories and a side playing some attractive football.

Reds aim for top as Wigan visit

December 26, 2011 Tags: , Matches 91 comments

Manchester United heads into the penultimate game of the year still carrying more than half-a-dozen injuries, but facing a Wigan Athletic side on the precipice. United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson received mixed injury news this week as the Reds aim for the Premier League summit against Roberto Martinez’ outfit, still glowing from the 5-0 victory over Fulham in midweek.

United faces a Wigan side still in the bottom three but in much improved form over the past month. Martinez’ side held Chelsea at home 10 days ago, and then Liverpool in midweek. Yet, absences notwithstanding, this is a fixture that United always wins, and with title rivals Manchester City facing a tricky fixture at West Bromwich Albion, United could top the league by Saturday evening.

Defender-cum-midfielder Phil Jones is likely to make the fixture despite coming off with a suspected fractured jaw against Fulham last week. The youngster will partner in-form Michael Carrick in central midfield once again.

But if United struck lucky with news that the 19-year-old’s injury was far less serious than initially diagnosed, the loss of Ashley Young to an ankle problem is another blow in a period when United has been hit hard by absences. Meanwhile, long-term victims Tom Cleverley, Anderson, and Michael Owen are unlikely to return until well into the new year.

Rio Ferdinand is again unlikely to feature, but Rafael da Silva could come into the side for his first game of the season.

“We have good news on Phil Jones: he should be okay for Monday,” confirmed Ferguson.

“He has some swelling in his jaw but there’s no break, no fracture, which is good news. We feared the worst because he lost his vision a bit in that period when he came back onto the field. Thankfully it’s good news.

“It’s not so good for Ashley Young. We’re still waiting on some of the bleeding to go away, which is quite extensive at the moment. It was a sore one so he’ll be out for a few weeks. Ashley was tripped as he went into the next tackle. He wasn’t positioned to go into that next tackle – he was half-falling at the time. The second tackle was a hard tackle – not a bad tackle – it was just the way he went into Ashley. He’s taken a real clump.”

“There’s not great news on the other ones – Michael, Tom and Ando are still on the sick list. But Rafael played in the Reserves last night, which will help him. As we get one back, we’re losing one. It’s not an easy spell for us but we just have to get on with it. The squad has handled the situation quite well. The form has been really good and I’m pleased with that. We’re scoring goals again, which is terrific.”

Manchester United versus Wigan Athletic, Premier League, Old Trafford, Monday 26 December 2011, 3pm.Despite the injuries this season Ferguson insists that he will not dip into the transfer market in the coming window. Blaming “blogs and Twitter” for the current concern about the state of United’s squad, the 69-year-old manager says that while money is available for transfers he does not believe his squad needs strengthening.

It is a contentious argument – one that supporters who witnessed last season’s humiliation against Barcelona, or indeed, the more recent calamitous defeat to FC Basel might contradict. In truth, few bar Ferguson believe that the manager’s state-of-mind is influenced by anybody but the club’s parsimonious owners. The word emanating from European clubs and agents is that United has no money to spend this winter.

“The criticism has been understandable,” added Ferguson.

“You lose a derby game 6-1, you’re knocked out of the Carling Cup and you lose to Basel, who aren’t a powerhouse. You can understand the criticism. But we show the resilience and determination to do something about it, each time it happens. That says a lot about the character of the team.

“All things being equal, I am perfectly happy with the strength of our squad in terms of depth, quality and age range,” Ferguson added in his programme notes for Monday’s game. “I will not be swayed by the endless tweets and blogs urging the club to get busy in the transfer market next month.

“As far as I am concerned I am marching perfectly in step, true to my beliefs and principles. While recruiting some of the world’s leading players can lift you into contention for honours, it doesn’t necessarily take you all the way, as I hope we will be able to demonstrate before the end of the season as other factors come into play.”

Ferguson’s stance will raise a few eyebrows, as will the Scot’s assertion that Carrick is now United’s pivotal player in a midfield that has struggled to dominate matches against superior opponents in recent seasons. But if United is to win a 20th domestic title in May then Ferguson is set to do so with his current squad, and victories over Wigan and others near the relegation zone are a must. United faces Wigan on Monday, followed by Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford on Ferguson’s birthday, New Year’s Eve.

“I watched Wigan versus Chelsea the other day and I thought Wigan were terrific,” added the Scot.

“It says a lot for Roberto Martinez – he continues to play good football irrespective of what position they’re in. We have a good record against Wigan but we won’t take anything for granted. We need to keep out foot on the pedal. I don’t think they’re a relegation team. They do well against the bigger teams. Last year, I think they lost heavily to Chelsea and, this season, they got a draw and could have won. I think Wigan will stay in the Premier League.”

Meanwhile, Wigan make the short trip to Old Trafford without Steve Gohouri, who has flu. Striker Hugo Rodallega faces a late fitness test – the Ecuadorian picked up an injury during Saturday’s draw with Chelsea and then featured, injured, against Liverpool.

For one United player the Latics’ visit is a special occasion. Antonio Valencia joined United a little over two years ago, and with Young set to remain on the sidelines for several weeks, is once again a key part of the Reds’ attack this season. The winger has found a renewed spell of form in recent matches after suffering a genuine confidence problem earlier in the season.

“They’ll always have a special place in my heart,” Antonio told United Review.

“I came here from abroad and I was taken in as one of the family from the first day. It was a real special group of players that we had in those few seasons there, and it was great to be a part of. I have only have gratitude and fond memories of my time there. I still speak regularly with Maynor Figueroa, who is a close friend of mine.

“I do look out for their scores. I know at the minute they’re by no means out of danger, but they’re working hard and they’ve picked up some decent results recently and let’s hope they can get up there and be fighting for ninth or tenth place.”

Few will expect that fight to begin against United on Boxing Day though. The Reds have won 13 of 13 encounters during the Premier League era. Indeed, goal difference and the opportunity to close the gap to title rivals City may well be on the agenda.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Wigan Athletic, Premier League, Old Trafford, Monday 26 December 2011, 3pm.

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Jones, Carrick, Nani; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fryers, Park, Pogba, Cole, Diouf, Giggs, Macheda, Berbatov.

Wigan (4-5-1): Al Habsi; Alcaraz, Caldwell, Stam, Figueroa; McCarthy, Gomez, Diame, Jones, Moses; Rodallega. Subs from: Watson, Sammon, Di Santo, Pollitt, Lopez, Crusat, Watson, McArthur.

United: LWLWWW

Performance stats

  • United hit five past Fulham in the last Premier League game, with the Reds out running Fulham by 64.75 miles to 64.53 miles;
  • Michael Carrick has a tackles won rate of 96 per cent this season, and covered the most ground for the Reds with 6.56 miles against Fulham;
  • Jonny Evans made six clearances in the game against Fulham, the highest of any player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index in the last round of games;
  • Ryan Giggs was on target against Fulham, and continues his record of scoring in every Premier League season. Giggs has made just six shots at goal this season, but has contributed 174 passes in his opponent’s half, along with 10 dribbles and 10 crosses, leading to an impressive five assists. That’s an assist every 106 minutes, the second most frequent provider in the league;
  • Meanwhile, Wigan gained a valuable point against Liverpool last week, with midfielder James McCarthy covering the most ground with 6.33 miles;
  • Goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi was the Index’ busiest goalkeeper in the last round of games, making 11 saves.

Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
Assistants: G Beswick, S Ledger
Fourth Official: A Taylor

Phil Jones: United’s Mr. Indestructible

December 24, 2011 Tags: Opinion 24 comments

If ever there is was ever a prime catalyst for the growing cult of Phil Jones it came on Wednesday night during Manchester United’s 5-0 destruction of Fulham at Craven Cottage. In the moments after the 19-year-old defender had taken Clint Dempsey’s elbow squarely on the jaw, Jones staggered around the pitch as if inebriated by a measure or few of Christmas cheer. The youngster was so stunned by the force of the blow that he for a moment he saw double, but with Bryan Ruiz almost baring down on goal, the Preston-born stopped still had the wherewithal to pull off a last-ditch tackle of the highest class. Encapsulated in two moments barely minutes apart was Jones in a nutshell – fearless and talented beyond most players’ dreams.

But Jones’ bravery almost came at a cost, with the player withdrawn during the second half in west London. It brought early fears of a broken jaw, and potentially months on the sidelines. With injuries mounting at Old Trafford, losing Jones now would be a huge blow to United’s Premier League aspirations.

“We feared the worst because he lost his vision a bit in that period when he came back onto the field,” explained Sir Alex Ferguson. “He has some swelling in his jaw but there’s no break, no fracture, which is good news.”

Great news, in fact. It was with a collective sigh of relief, then, that when the manager confirmed Jones suffered nothing more than some bruising and should be fit for United’s Boxing Day fixture with Wigan Athletic. Reports that Dempsey’s elbow will never be the same again are unconfirmed.

Jones’ rapid recovery is symptomatic of a player who has become a firm Old Trafford favourite. Dynamic, energetic, flexible, and with seemingly limitless talent, Jones has become everything expected of a United player in just five short months; and in today’s inflated transfer market, a bargain at £16.5 million. Indeed, the player’s integration into Ferguson’s team has been instant, with the former Blackburn Rovers defender having made 16 appearances in the Premier League this season – 24 in all competitions. Nobody has featured more often for the Reds in the current campaign.

The 19-year-old has certainly made mistakes when featuring in central defence this campaign, but few defenders can claim Jones’ all-round impact. After all, while Jones has made eight blocks and 17 clearances in the Premier League, he has also created three goals, struck 15 shots, made 13 crosses and scored once – his first professional goal – in United’s 1-0 win at Aston Villa in November. All of it has ensured the youngster has become a cult figure at United despite the relative freshness of his arrival at the club.

Meanwhile, the player’s form has earned three caps for England – in three different positions to boot. It is almost certain that Jones will travel to Euro 2012 with Fabio Capello’s squad and has a realistic chance of featuring at right-back, in central midfield, or in the player’s preferred position of centre back. It is this flexibility that has enabled Jones to feature in so many games for United this season, filling in for the injured Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić early in the season, switching to right-back and then latterly featuring alongside a rejuvenated Michael Carrick in midfield.

It is a trait that Ferguson likes, of course. John O’Shea, for example, appeared in around 400 games for United – far more, some might say, than a player of his limited talents should have played. But the Irishman’s flexibility ensure that while O’Shea was rarely first choice in any position, he was first reserve for many.

The longer-term question is whether Jones will be able to bed down a single position in the side. Indeed, Jones’ flexibility may not always be a bonus – some players do not fare so well, or develop as hoped, if they are unable to develop a rhythm and an expertise in one role. But for the moment the player, who Ferguson believes will eventually settle into a central defensive role, is happy to do whatever is asked of him.

“I enjoy playing anywhere. I enjoy playing football, so wherever I am asked to play I will play,” Jones said recently.

“If the manager asks me to play right-back, centre-back or midfield, I will go and do a job there. I don’t think it really matters at the moment that I am cementing a spot in a certain position because I am still young. Hopefully, as my career progresses that will happen.”

Then there is, of course, the debate about Jones’ best role. While the player is currently staring with Carrick in United’s engine room, the Lancastrian is yet to impress against one of the leading lights domestically or abroad. Jones was excellent in United’s wins against Wolverhampton Wanderers and QPR recently in midfield, but failed both at Anfield against Liverpool in October, and when United was knocked out of the Champions League against FC Basel.

Upcoming fixtures with Newcastle United at St. James’ Park and the FA Cup third round tie with Manchester City will test Ferguson’s resolve to deploy Jones in central midfield. In fact Ryan Giggs’ star turn against Fulham – a side that has given United significant trouble in the past few seasons – may yet be telling.

Whatever Jones’ eventual role there is no doubt that the boy is on his way to super-stardom. Another heroes’ turn in upcoming fixtures will only cement the moniker sooner.

Rant Cast 93 – Merry Rant Cast

December 23, 2011 Tags: Rant Cast 5 comments

On this week’s Rant Cast regulars Ed and Paul discuss Manchester United’s recent wins in west London against QPR and Fulham – marking a fine return to form for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. We preview the upcoming Boxing Day game against Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford, and reminisce about some of our favourite festive memories.

Finally, we talk racism – again – with a partial conclusion to the ongoing Patrice Evra/Luis Suarez affair.

This week’s exit theme tune is ’12 Cantonas’ – sung by Paul – with apologies for anybody who is not clinically deaf.

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review!

Suarez becomes Liverpool’s modern martyr

December 21, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 97 comments

The reaction from Merseyside was predictable, even if the strength of Liverpool FC’s statement was shocking. “Twas always the way on Merseyside,” as one journalist surmised when, minutes after the Football Association handed down an eight game ban to striker Luis Suarez, pending appeal, for using abusive and racist language, the club lashed out at the FA, Patrice Evra and anybody else perceived to have wronged ‘their’ player. Wagons circled.

And while the case remains sub judice until the striker’s appeal is heard, and concluded, the prima face case against Suarez was always far less complex that presented. Indeed,  the FA’s charge against Suarez was strengthened by the Uruguayan’s own words. The corroborating evidence, or lack thereof if the Merseyside club is believed, seemed far less relevant from the moment Suarez admitted in the Uruguayan media to using an unspecified racial epithet, believed to be “Negro”. The striker repeated the claim to the FA panel, leaving the three-man committee with little room for manoeuvre. Acceptable or not in Uruguay, any variation of the “N” word in England, or indeed northern Europe, was never likely to be tolerated. In English law ignorance has never been an excuse.

Yet, the reaction from Liverpool came anyway; another in a strategic pattern of action by the 119-year-old club to subvert the course of FA justice via the media. Liverpool’s cry is little more than a smokescreen, with the Suarez-Evra affair rather simple amid all the deep analysis of nuanced language, culture and, of course, race.

Liverpool’s reaction on Tuesday night may still have far-reaching consequences though, both for the club and relations between two of England’s most venerable institutions. Here is a world renown, and widely respected club, smearing Evra, defending the – prima facie – indefensible, while accusing the FA of institutional bias.

“It is our strong held belief, having gone over the facts of the case, that Luis Suarez did not commit any racist act,” Liverpool’s statement read last night – an inflammatory post that was immediately pulled from the club’s official website, only to be reinstated shortly afterwards.

“It is also our opinion that the accusation by this particular player was not credible – certainly no more credible than his prior unfounded accusations.

“Luis himself is of a mixed race family background as his grandfather was black. He has been personally involved since the 2010 World Cup in a charitable project which uses sport to encourage solidarity amongst people of different backgrounds with the central theme that the colour of a person’s skin does not matter; they can all play together as a team.

“He has played with black players and mixed with their families whilst with the Uruguay national side and was Captain at Ajax Amsterdam of a team with a proud multi-cultural profile, many of whom became good friends.”

Indeed, Evra may well have cause to seek legal advice after Liverpool’s reference to “prior unfounded accusations” – a nod to the 2009 case in which Chelsea groundsman Sam Bethel was accused of using racist language against the Frenchman. The accusation, the FA’s record notes, was made by United coaches Mike Phelan and Richard Hartis, and was at no point repeated by the player.

A reference without subtly: ‘Evra played the race card’.

It is also distressing that Liverpool, a club whose achievements are to be respected no matter the tribal rivalry, should fall into the classic racist’s excuse: ‘Suarez cannot be racist, he has black friends and family’. The charge, as clearly laid out by the FA, was never a question of whether Suarez is a racist, but whether the 26-year-old used racist and offensive language. Everything else is irrelevant.

Yet, Liverpool’s statement on Tuesday night also neatly sums up the club’s closed-ranks strategy over the past two months, with journalists regularly briefed on the club’s position, despite the FA’s warning not to prejudice the eventual hearing. Cynically, the Merseyside club is seemingly more than happy to fan the flames of tribalism.

The Telegraph’s Henry Winter, for example, repeated Liverpool’s case almost verbatim as the hearing began last week. Suarez could not be a racist, so the briefing went, because he has played with black players; the language used is acceptable in Uruguay and, quite laughably, Liverpool owner John Henry once held a memorial day for a black ex Boston Red Socks baseball player. Irrelevance, smoke and mirrors.

Suarez’ appeal is still pending, and although the evidence is unlikely to change, it is conceivable that another panel will cut the sanction. That committee could, of course, increase the ban and fine too. Suarez’ eight game ban and £40,000 fine represents little more than a month on the sidelines and three days’ wages. Many in the game will feel, with justification, that the FA’s response to racism is too little, far too late.

Without the reasoning behind the panel’s decision it is, of course, impossible to pass full  judgement. Yet, a precedent is now  set: use of the “N” word in any variation is unacceptable. For that, football fans of all colours – shirt and skin – will recognise that the governing body, albeit via an independent panel, has finally taken a stand.

Except on Merseyside it seems, where Suarez is not a bigot to be condemned, but a martyr slain at the FA’s door.

Reds face tricky Fulham tie

December 21, 2011 Tags: , Matches 89 comments

Manchester United faces a stern test at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night, but this time it is a midfielder that Sir Alex Ferguson is lacking. Two seasons ago United’s December fixture at Fulham ended in a disastrous 3-0 defeat after Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher were forced into emergency roles in United’s back four. There is no such task facing Carrick and co. on Wednesday, but Ferguson is instead without a plethora of key central midfield players for the trip south.

In the second of a London double-header this week, United aims to keep pace with rivals Manchester City at the head of the Premier League. Ferguson’s side briefly led the title race on Sunday and will return to first place in the unlikely event that the Blues slip to defeat against Stoke City, and United win at Craven Cottage. And while Ferguson will include fit-again Javier Hernández and Dimitar Berbatov in his squad, key players Anderson, Fletcher, Tom Cleverley and Nemanja Vidić miss the trip.

United won comfortably at Loftus Road on Saturday, and with Fulham’s form mixed in recent week’s Ferguson’s men will be confident of securing a first Premier League victory at the Cottage since March 2008. Indeed, Ferguson may well select an unchanged side for the fixture. But it is the heavy defeat two years ago, in which Wayne Rooney saw red and United shipped three, that Carrick remembers vividly.

“I remember the game two years ago, though not that well!” says the Geordie midfielder, who has returned to form in recent weeks.

“It was just one of those situations: we had no defenders left so me and Fletch played at centre-half. “I’d played there for two or three matches before that and we’d won, but that was probably one game too many. It wasn’t a great day for us.

“Fulham have had an up-and-down time this season, but they beat QPR 6-0 at their place and have had some other good results. We know they’re a strong team: they’re well organised and Craven Cottage is a tough place to visit, but it’s a good, old-fashioned football ground and we look forward to going there.”

Fulham versus Manchester United, Premier League, Craven Cottage, Wednesday 21 December 2011, 8pm.Carrick will again provide the fulcrum around which Ferguson will build his central midfield. The Geordie has suffered intermittent form over the past two years, including two traumatising losses to Barcelona in the Champions League. But the 30-year-old’s revival in recent weeks has provided some confidence at a time of severely depleted midfield resources.

While United is slowly coming through the rash of injuries in recent weeks, Ferguson has once again included youngsters Larnell Cole, Ezikiel Fryers and Ben Amos in the party. Federico Macheda also traveled south with the squad, although is still likely to leave on loan after the Christmas programme. Paul Pogba was seemingly left in Manchester despite encouraging words this week about the Frenchman’s future at Old Trafford.

Patrice Evra will again captain United, having been vindicated late Tuesday night, when the Football Association handed down at eight-match ban to Luis Suarez for using abusive and racist language in United’s fixture with Liverpool in September. With the weight now off his shoulders United fans will hope for better performances from the 30-year-old, whose form has dipped in recent months.

Meanwhile, former Fulham player Chris Smalling, who has impressed since a £12 million transfer to Old Trafford in 2010, returns to his old stomping ground, grateful for the break received in professional football. Four years ago Smalling was with semi-pro Mainstone United in the Isthmian League, before transferring to Fulham.

“I see my time there as a big two years,” Smalling told

“My first year was about finding my feet and the second was about showcasing what I can do. Without Roy Hodgson giving me my chance there I wouldn’t be here so it’s a time I look upon fondly. It’ll be nice to go back and see a few of the players and play back at the Cottage.

“The players always look forward to this time of year with plenty of games. We’re used to the demands and it’s a big opportunity to pick up a lot of points – we want to get maximum points. Christmas can be a hindrance on some and can sometimes make or break you in terms of kicking on, but this is a period where we really need to kick on and show everybody we mean business.”

Meanwhile, Fulham manager Martin Jol welcomes back Bobby Zamora after the striker missed the win over Bolton Wanderers last weekend with injury. However, former Red Simon Davies will miss the game, as will Steve Sidwell, Zdenek Grygera and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Jol’s side has scored just 18 goals in 16 league matches this season – six in one match – highlighting the Zamora’s importance.

Despite dropping out of the Champions League, and the Reds intermittent form since defeat to City in September, United’s 39 points from 16 matches is five better that at the same point last season. Ferguson’s side has won three additional games and scored more goals to boot. Few will bet against United adding to the tally on Wednesday.

Match Facts
Fulham versus Manchester United, Premier League, Craven Cottage, Wednesday 21 December 2011, 8pm.

Likely Line-ups
Fulham (4-4-2): Stockdale; Baird, Hangeland, Senderos, JA Riise; Dempsey, Murphy, Etuhu, Dembele; Zamora, Ruiz. Subs from: Etheridge, Kelly, Hughes, Gecov, Duff, Frei, Sa, Johnson, Briggs, Somogyi, Kasami.

United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Nani, Jones, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fryers, Park, Pogba, Valencia, Cole, Diouf, Giggs, Macheda, Berbatov.

Fulham: DLWLDW
United: DLWLWW

Performance stats

  • Rooney and Carrick were on target as United beat QPR 2-0 on Sunday at Loftus Road. Rooney’s strike was his 12th goal of the season, a return from 66 efforts at goal;
  • Meanwhile, Carrick’s goal was his first of the Premier League season, and came from an all-action performance in which the midfielder covered more ground than any other United player with 5.78 miles;
  • Despite United’s upturn in results, Ferguson’s side now has only two two players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index‘ top twenty – Rooney and Nani;
  • Despite criticisms that he is no longer the player he once was, Rio Ferdinand has done more than any other United player defensively with 57 across tackles, blocks, interceptions and clearances. That’s one every 17 minutes 59 seconds;
  • Carrick is the next United player in the ranks for most frequent defensive contributions with one every 18 minutes 38 seconds;
  • Clint Dempsey and Bryan Ruiz scored within two minutes of each other to seal a 2-0 win over Bolton in Fulham’s last Premier League outing;
  • Fulham out-ran Bolton with 62.18 miles to 61.48 in the game, with striker Bryain Ruiz covering the most ground with 6.4 miles followed by fellow scorer Demsey with 6.24 miles;
  • The pair were rewarded for a goal and an assist each in that game by moving up in the Index. Ruiz climbed 47 places and Dempsey 30;
  • Dempsey’s goal was his fifth in the Premier League from 59 shots at goal, the fourth highest shots total of any player at one every 29 minutes 12 seconds.

Referee: Mark Halsey (Welwyn Garden City)
Assistants: R Ganfield, D C Richards
Fourth Official: P Walton

James Gibson’s legacy 80 years on

December 19, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 7 comments

“There is room in Manchester for two clubs,” said James William Gibson upon effectively taking over Manchester United on 19 December 1931. Manchester City was then the region’s premier club, and United, by contrast, was on its knees after years of financial mismanagement and falling crowds. In debt to the tune of thousands, the club went cap in hand to Gibson, a successful local businessman. Salfordian by birth, Gibson became United’s second financial saviour of the early 20th century, bailing out the club and laying the foundations for success to come.

Today, there are parallels between heavily indebted modern United and the club of the 1930s, although the Reds of 1931 would not have lasted the winter but for Gibson’s significant financial aid. United’s peril deepened as the great depression took hold, and crowds fell to below 10,000 at Old Trafford, with the team sliding between First and Second Divisions.

Gibson, the eldest of three children, was brought up by his paternal grandmother after his parents died young. But the orphan owned an astute eye for business, starting his started his first company manufacturing military uniforms after 15 years working for his uncle. With the Manchester textile industry booming, Gibson’s Collyhurst factory expanded into uniforms for transport and other workers after the First World War. It proved to be a successful venture – one that would prove central to United’s rich history.

At the club’s request, Gibson ploughed £2,000 into United through the winter of 1931/32, ensuring the players’ wages were paid. Later he would spend another £40,000 to keep the club afloat through the economic downturn, funded the rebuilding of Old Trafford after the Second World War, and then had to vision to start the youth academy – Manchester United Junior Athletic – that produced the Busby Babes. More than a benefactor though, Gibson became United’s chairman, appointing Matt Busby manager after the war.

James Gibson

Source: Andrew Embling

The saviour’s legacy, superbly documented in far great detail elsewhere, was recognised by Trafford Borough Council in 2001 with a bright red plaque at the railway bridge on Sir Matt Busby Way. Thousands walk past the lasting memory to an a hugely important part of the club’s history each match day.

And on Monday morning, eighty years to the day after Gibson’s gesture of solidarity with the club, the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) recognised his legacy once again. Together with Gibson’s relatives, MUST and the Mayor of Trafford laid flowers at the James Gibson Plaque. Unsurprisingly no Glazer family members chose to mark the occasion. Why would they, for Gibson’s story is antithetic to United’s current owners.

Indeed, without Gibson there would be no modern Manchester United; no 76,000 capacity Old Trafford, no multi-million pound players, no global ‘brand’, and certainly no 19th domestic title last May. With the club on the precipice of extinction in 1931, the Salfordian created the environment in which United could survive and then eventually thrive in the years to come.

Moreover, unlike the club’s current owners Gibson did it not for profit, but through genuine selflessness and at huge personal financial risk. What greater contrast to the Glazer family could there be. After all the family has invested not a penny in the modern United, while sucking out millions in personal loans, management fees and debt repayment.

Gibson’s philanthropy is also a reminder of a football world now lost, when local businessmen ran clubs not to generate untold millions in profit, but as a service to the local community. This is not simply nostalgia either. In a similar vein to the mutuals that still exist in Spain and elsewhere, local businessmen once owned for the greater good.

This, after all, is how organised football eventually thrived in England. United, formed as Newton Heath LYR FC in 1878, was a workers union until financial difficulty required the club’s first bailout, by John Henry Davies, in 1902. Clubs all over the country were formed as unions, or Church and school teams, before being taken into largely private, but local hands. At United, it was not until Martin Edwards inherited the club from his father in the 1980s that the club’s owners sought to extract significant profits. In any case, FA rules precluded directors from taking a salary until 1981.

So raise a glass in toast – one that is 80 years in the making – to James William Gibson. United’s saviour.

From the Manchester Guardian, Tuesday 22 December 1931

Manchester Guardian Tuesday, December 22, 1931

Source: Guardian Archives.