Month June 2012

Month June 2012

Euro Cast – tournament review and final preview

June 30, 2012 Tags: , Rant Cast No comments

**With humble apologies for the one-off sub-optimal quality of the audio on Ed’s channel this week due to a technical fault**

In the final special Euro edition of Rant Cast this summer, regular presenters Ed and Paul review the knock-out stages of the 2012 European Championships in Poland in Ukraine – taking in both the quarter and semi-finals. We laud Italy, commiserate with Germany, vigorously debate Spain and lampoon England!

We also look ahead to what promises to be an exciting final between Spain and Italy on Sunday. Will Spain take a third international tournament in a row, or can Italy provide an upset?

With many thanks for listening over the past month to these special European editions of the Rant Cast. We’ll be back with you after our summer holidays for the start of the new Premier League season in August.

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

And if you really love the show, you can always help cover our bandwidth and equipment costs by making a small donation!

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.

Reds at Euro 2012: how did they do?

June 28, 2012 Tags: International 5 comments

Seven Manchester United players appeared at Euro 2012, with a further six former Reds also playing at the tournament. Rant looks back on each player’s performance, with the tournament winding up with the Spain – Italy final in Kiev on Sunday:

Wayne Rooney, England
England’s talisman suffered yet another disappointing competition, after injury, poor form or dismissal struck at tournaments in 2004, 2006 and 2010. But after a five-week layoff, with Rooney hamstrung by an English system designed above all to ‘not lose’, how could anybody expect any different? Sitting out matches against France and Sweden, Rooney made a goal-scoring return against co-hosts Ukraine, before a frustrating outing against Italy in the quarter-final. The United striker has taken the brunt of national blame for England’s quarter-final departure, but aged just 26, Rooney has at least three more tournaments at international level. The question is: will he finally star in one of them?

Appearances: 2
Goals: 1
Assists: 0
Chances created: 2
Shots: 6
Passing: 55/76 (72%)


Ashley Young, England
Young began the tournament as one of England’s brightest hopes, having scored six times in the previous 10 internationals before Euro 2012 kicked off.Yet, much like England’s other attacking players Young suffered for the negative system, turning in a poor set of metrics that included no goals, no assists and just two chances created for his team-mates over four matches. The former Aston Villa man can’t be happy with his overall performance. That more than half of Young’s touches came in his own half tells a story though – of a player deployed far more defensively that he is by United. There is more to come from Young, but he will be disappointed that he did not make his mark of this tournament.

Appearances: 4
Goals: 0
Assists: 0
Chances created: 2
Shots: 4
Passing: 76/102 (75%)


Danny Welbeck, England
Strong performances from Welbeck under difficult circumstances at Euro 2012 mean that the United youngster will leave Poland and Ukraine with plenty to be pleased about. The 21-year-old was neat and tidy on the ball, whether deployed either as a traditional ‘number 9’ or dropping deep to augment midfield. The Manchester-born striker also scored a superb winning goal against Sweden – flicking home with his heel to seal England’s 3-2 win in Group D. Welbeck has a very bright international future ahead of him, especially if he can add goals to an excellent all-round game.

Appearances: 4
Goals: 1
Assists: 0
Chances created: 2
Shots: 4
Passing: 82/90 (91%)


Phil Jones, England
The United defender-cum-midfielder was at Euro 2012 ostensibly as Glenn Johnson’s cover at right-back, although the 20-year-old failed to see any action in Poland and Ukraine. Jones may well have benefited from the experience of a major international tournament, although his club manager Sir Alex Ferguson can hardly be pleased that a player who suffered burn out and injuries during the second half of last season didn’t get a longer summer rest. Moreover, given Johnson’s less-than-secure defensive displays during the tournament, Jones may well be disappointed to have not seen more action.

Appearances: 0
Goals: –
Assists: –
Chances created: –
Shots: –
Passing: –


Patrice Evra, France
Former French captain Evra suffered another disappointing tournament, two years after the drama of South Africa at World Cup 2010. Selected despite some underwhelming club and national team displays over the past year, Evra was unceremoniously dropped by coach Laurent Blanc after France’s draw with England in the opening Group D fixture. It remains a perplexing decision given that Evra performed solidly against the English – this coming after the left-back was criticised for his performances in some of France’s warm-up games. Now aged 31, Evra may consider his international future.

Appearances: 1
Goals: 0
Assists: 0
Chances created: 1
Shots: 0
Passing: 65/69 (94%)


Nani, Portugal
United’s winger can be pleased with a strong tournament, in which the 25-year-old provided a string of consistent and threatening performances for semi-finalists Portugal. Embroiled in contract talks at Old Trafford, Nani can only have added to his reputation and value this summer. Nani, of course, was over-shadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo, but United player’s numbers add up to a fine tournament overall. Scored in the shoot-out loss to Spain in the semi-final, although will be disappointed with his performance against the World and European champions during the match itself.

Appearances: 5
Goals: 0
Assists: 2
Chances created: 13
Shots: 9
Passing: 106/142 (75%)


Anders Lindegaard, Denmark
Failed to make any appearances as the Danish exited the tournament at the group stage. After nearly five months off through injury, United’s second-choice ‘keeper was fortunate to make the Danish squad at all.

Appearances: 0
Goals: 0
Assists: –
Chances created: –
Shots: –
Passing: –


Former Reds at Euro 2012

Cristiano Ronaldo – the tournament in which Cristiano banished lingering doubts about his ability to perform at the highest level. Scored three times, hit the post on four occasions during the tournament. However, received criticism for not taking a penalty during the shoot-out loss to Spain

Gerard Piqué – still in the tournament, with Spain having made the final once again. Piqué didn’t have the finest campaign for Barcelona, but looks to be back to his best in the national shirt.

John O’Shea – a leading candidate among some pundits’ ‘worst team of the tournament’ lists. O’Shea, together with the haphazard Irish defence, were embarrassed against Croatia, Spain and Italy.

Darron Gibson – didn’t play for the Irish during a disastrous tournament.

Paul McShane – another former Red who didn’t feature for the Irish in three group matches.

Ron Robert Zieler – didn’t play for Germany as the Germans exited the tournament at the semi-final stage.

United Rant Live! Portugal v Spain

June 27, 2012 Tags: , International 4 comments

Just three games to go at Euro 2012, with Portugal meeting Spain in Donetsk on Wednesday, followed by Germany versus Italy in Warsaw on Thursday for the right to play in Sunday’s final. It should prove to be another fascinating round of matches in an excellent tournament to date, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and co aiming to pull off a shock against World and European champions Spain in the Iberian derby on Wednesday.

Much will depend on how Portugal approach the match, having displayed such attacking verve in matches against Denmark, Holland and Czech Republic, after opening the tournament so negatively against Germany. Indeed, Spain remain favourites despite the frequent accusations of the “boring” football served up in the tournament to date.

As ever, Portugal’s hopes lie with Ronaldo, who now has six European Championship goals in total. Having hit the woodwork four times already, the former Manchester United man could have scored a lot more. Only Alan Shearer with seven, and Michel Platini who has nine, have scored more in the tournament’s history.

The omens may not lie with Portugal though – the Spanish have beaten their neighbours just twice in the past 54 years, but the head-to-head record has Spain with 16 wins to Portugal’s six. The Portuguese have lost four of five previous semi-finals at major tournaments too – the only victory coming against Holland at home in 2004.

Spain, meanwhile, has gone 10 Euro finals matches without defeat since losing to Portugal in the 2004 tournament. Del Bosque’s side has also kept eight consecutive clean sheets in knock-out games at tournaments. Iker Casillas is unbeaten in more than 13 hours of knock-out football, since the great Zinedine Zidane scored a last-minute goal for France at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Both teams report a reasonably clean bill-of-health for the tie. Portugal striker Helder Postiga will miss the match with a thigh injury, with coach Paulo Bento likely to deploy Hugo Almeida in his stead. Postiga aside, Portugal should start with an unchanged line-up.

Meanwhile, Spain manager Vicente del Bosque has no new injury concerns after the quarter-final stroll against France, although the former Real Madrid manager must decide whether to recall striker Fernand Torres or persist with Cesc Fabregas as a ‘false 9’.

Join United Rant for live comment, analysis and chat during the first Euro 2012 semi-final. Early thoughts throughout the afternoon, with preamble, team news and pre-match comments from around 7pm.



Reds suffer through familiar tournament fall-out

June 27, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 33 comments

It’s no so much that the English nation likes a scapegoat – although quite clearly it does – but that there’s  fundamental requirement to ignore the deep seated problems in the national game. In the 46 years since England won it’s only international tournament blame has been apportioned liberally after repeated, and frequently embarrassing tournament defeats. This is a cycle long-established, lasting roughly two years; wash, rinse, repeat. Euro 2012 has offered a fall-out so typically English that it ranks right up there with the finest national traditions. Like failing to pass the ball with any sense of authority, or repeatedly using the word ‘bulldog’ before bowing out to a technically superior opponent.

England’s national reaction is, of course, one that ignores every fundamental technical, tactical and mental failure inherent in the English game. How could it not, lest the authorities that govern these matters actually resolve to fix the inherent problems in coaching and culture that have contributed to repeated failure.

Indeed, the vitriol dished out to Manchester United pair Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young after England’s latest failure is no great surprise; there was always a certain sense of inevitability that the media, and by extension the public, would seek out individuals and ignore the root cause. Little surprise that two players from England’s most successful club should fall victim to the mob either.

While United’s striker Danny Welbeck emerged from the tournament with some credit, and Phil Jones is immune having spent three wasted weeks on the bench, it is Rooney and Young that have been singled out after penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy on Sunday night. Young for a series of lacklustre performances, and Rooney for being, well, Rooney.

Neither player’s performances genuinely stands out amid a tournament replete with English mediocrity, but, then, scapegoats rarely do. David Beckham, Paul Ince, and Rooney himself, each understands from personal experience the depth of national hate that is so often be meted out to the men in Red.

Young’s disappointing tournament was surprising in that the former Aston Villa winger had performed so well for the international team over the past year. Six goals in the player’s previous 10 internationals proffered a player in form, mature and ready to make a genuine mark on an international tournament. Yet, in four games at Euro 2012 Young was unable to deliver the goals, assists, or vibrant performances that had previously flowed so freely.

The criticism is in part supported by Young’s stats over the tournament, but then none of a poor English cohort will be proud of their attacking achievements. The United winger completed 76 of 92 passes over the tournament, at 82 per cent accuracy. Young made four shots, although none was on target, created two chances, and provided no assists.

There is mitigation, though. After all, at no stage was Young genuinely deployed in the attacking role he is accustomed to at United, nor with the freedom afforded under former England coach Fabio Capello, even in the opening match against France when the United man was nominally deployed ‘in the hole’.

Restricted by a system that placed emphasis on defensive shape over possession and attacking fluidity, too often Young found himself running from deep into increasingly lonely dark alleys. That less than 40 per cent of Young’s infrequent touches at the tournament came in the attacking third tells its own story. The 26-year-old was by no means culpable alone for failure in a highly dysfunctional English midfield.

Yet, for the all criticism Young has earned, egged on by sabre-rattling BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson, it is Rooney who has garnered most headlines following Sunday’s loss. After all, the hype built pre-tournament by manager Roy Hodgson had reached it’s most fervent pitch by the time of Rooney’s introduction for England’s match against Ukraine last week. The nation expected Rooney to deliver the Pelé-esque performances promised by the team’s manager.

After scoring against Ukraine, Rooney was unable to influence England’s match against Italy – a fixture in which the Azzurri enjoyed more than 65 per cent possession; 75 per cent in extra time. It was, of course, always unrealistic to expect Rooney, without a game in more than five weeks, to drag England up from the gutter of defensive entrenchment. But, then, realism and English expectations have rarely been natural bedfellows.

Some, though, were very quick to lay the blame on England’s leading striker, including former manager Fabio Capello who claimed, with no hint of irony, that Rooney only performs for United.

“After seeing the latest (England) game, I think Rooney only understands Scottish,” Capello said.

“He only plays well in Manchester where Sir Alex Ferguson speaks Scottish. Look, when I spoke they did understand me. But every now and again, when I tried to explain tactics, things didn’t work out. You know what? Maybe it’s because Rooney doesn’t speak English. He doesn’t understand English.”

While Capello’s words smack of bitterness – the Italian having fallen on his sword in defence of John Terry – even the now incumbant Hodgson threw Rooney to the wolves, offering up a headline-writers dream in the process.

“I think we put a lot of expectations on Wayne,” Hodgson admitted post defeat to Italy.

“When he missed the first two games, we were all believing that what we needed to do was to get to the third game and Wayne Rooney will win us the championships. That maybe was too much to ask of him. Wayne certainly tried very hard, but he didn’t have his best game. I think he would admit that.”

In truth England’s failure is a collective; of tactical rigidity, technical limitations, and obsessive focus on ‘spirit’, ‘fight’ and ‘work rate’. Across four matches England enjoyed just 40 per cent possession, according to UEFA’s official statistics. Only Ireland and Greece claimed less. Other stats nerds, including OPTA, have the figure even lower. No wonder, when England’s players found a team-mate with just 67 per cent of passes made – the 13th lowest in the tournament.

By contrast, there is little surprise that England places top of the ‘tackles made’ table, but achieved the fourth lowest shots on target per game out of the 16 teams at the tournament. This was an England side which sought only to not lose, anything else being a bonus. It was a system built for defensive “heroes” at the expense of attacking talent.

“We were being too conservative,” observed now former England defender Rio Ferdinand.

“It sends a message to the opponents that you are more interested in defending and playing on the counterattack than making them scared of you. The only time we really kept the ball properly was when Danny Welbeck dropped short to collect it and linked the play. But, usually, he was having to stay up and wasn’t allowed to drop too much because we had set out a certain way with a 4-4-2 which didn’t offer a great deal of flexibility.

“It’s OK saying we were very good defensively and hard to beat but if you set out to be defensive then that’s your first priority. It makes it very hard for the attacking players in the team. The most damming statistic of them all was that one which showed our best passing combination was between Joe Hart and Andy Carroll.”

Not that the critics will concur. It was, after all, Young’s fault. Or maybe Rooney’s. Or maybe a bit of both. But what’s defeat if you have that bulldog spirit? The spirit of yet another English failure.

United Rant Live! England v Italy

June 24, 2012 Tags: International 79 comments

England versus Italy hardly recalls memories of iconic past games. After all these two venerable nations have met just twice in tournament football; Italy winning both in the 1980 European Championships, and at the 1990 World Cup, third place play-off. Indeed, the Azzurri has the edge in recent meetings, having lost just once to England in the past 35 years. That loss came at the height of Glenn Hodle’s ‘chic’ England side at Le Tournoi, Nantes, in 1997, when Ian Wright and Paul Scholes scored.

Neither side was much fancied to make an impact on Euro 2012, but one will certainly reach the semi-finals after tonight’s fixture in the Ukrainian capital Kiev. However, it is, perhaps, Italy that has caught the eye to date – looking impressive against Spain in the opening fixture. But Roy Hodgson’s functional England side has warmed into the tournament – few expect anything other than an even match tonight.

Join United Rant Live for more comment, chat and analysis on this Euro 2012 quarter-final. We’ll be with you live with team news from around 7pm, with preamble, updates and quotes throughout the day.



Profile: Shinji Kagawa

June 22, 2012 Tags: Opinion 29 comments

Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa arrived on a quick-fire visit to Manchester’s Bridgewater Hospital today, completing a medical ahead of signing a four-year contract with Manchester United. In a visit lasting just 11 hours Kagawa left Tokyo’s Narita airport late Thursday, arriving at the Bridgewater shortly after 9am Friday morning, with the player leaving for Japan, via Paris, at 6.45pm on Friday night after a brief tour of United’s training complex at Carrington.

The visit completes a £17 million move from Borussia Dortmund, after the player signed papers and a UK work permit was granted, and is United’s second confirmed acquisition of the summer. For Kagawa the deal is the realisation of a long-held desire to play in the Premier League.

“Shinji is an exciting young midfielder with great skill, vision and a good eye for goal,” said Sir Alex Ferguson in a statement.

“I am delighted he has chosen to come to United. I believe he will make an impact upon the team very quickly as he is suited to United’s style of play. We are all looking forward to working with him.”

Kagawa arrives at United with Ferguson’s promise: that the creative midfielder will occupy the ‘number 10’ role so frequently taken up by Wayne Rooney last season. In turn, the England striker will, presumably, revert to playing ‘number 9’ despite scoring 35 goals from a deeper position in the campaign just ended.

Indeed, the Japanese player’s arrival will pose some interesting tactical questions, not only for Rooney, but also England colleague Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernández, and a team that has rarely – if ever – played with a genuine ’10’ during Ferguson’s 25-year Old Trafford tenure. Kagawa, meanwhile, will presumably need some time bedding into both English culture and the Premier League.

But Ferguson and his coaching staff had little doubt, with the Scot watching Kagawa in action during Dormund’s 5-2 rout of Bayern Munich in the German Cup Final last month.

In 71 games with Dortmund over two campaigns – the first disrupted by a metatarsal injury picked up on international duty – Kagawa scored 29 goals, and provided 15 assists. He was voted into the Bundesliga Team of the Year for the 2010/2011 season despite spending around half of the campaign on the physio’s treatment table.

Injury would also provide Kagawa with a key opening though – Mario Goetze spent much of the 2011/12 campaign on the sidelines, allowing the Japanese player to become the team’s creative hub. Kagawa capped off an excellent campaign with a second German title, a DFB-Pokal Cup Winners’ medal, and 17 goals in 43 games for the North Rhine-Westphalia club.

But Kagawa made no secret that the Premier League’s pull was strong, despite an attractive offer from Dortmund for the 35-cap international to remain in the Bundesliga. With a contract due to run down in June 2013, Borussia had little option but to sell.

“This is a challenge I am really looking forward to,” added Kagawa.

“The Premier League is the best league in the world and Manchester United is such a massive club. This is a really exciting time for me and I can’t wait to meet the team and start playing.”

In the Japanese international United has acquired a player of rare creative talent, although an unfinished article who is still inexperienced in European terms. While Kagawa’s preference is to play in the hole, the 23-year-old often occupies a wider role for his national side, ceding the centre ground to CSKA Moscow playmaker Keisuke Honda. It’s a role that doesn’t always suit Kagawa, who despite playing off both feet, naturally drifts inwards rather than offering any genuine width. The flexibility, however, will surely appeal to Sir Alex.

Kagawa’s ascent to international stardom and a transfer to United was not always guaranteed though. Indeed, the player spent his formative years with Cerezo Osaka in J-League division 2 – a standard of football nowhere near that of the big European leagues. Kagawa played just 11 times in the top Japanese league before a €350,000 transfer to Germany in summer 2010. It proved to be an inspired piece of business that will net Dortmund more than £16 million profit should United end up paying in full the bonuses attached to the deal.

At international level Kagawa missed out on the 2010 Japanese World Cup squad, and has not always been first choice pick for his country. United will required a ‘special talent’ provision before securing a UK work permit because Kagawa has not played in 75 per cent of his countries international games over past two years, although much of the absence is explained by injury. Yet, the player appeared for Japan at numberous youth levels from under-18 upwards, including the 2007 FIFA under-20 World Cup held in Canada, and the 2008 Olympics held in Beijing.

The challenge Kagawa now faces is not to be under-estimated though. For all the player’s undoubted talent this is a gem still in need of some polish. Even at £12 million down, rising to £17 million with bonuses in a competitive market, it is a deal that is not without risks.

Yet those who witnessed Kagawa’s dynamic performances in Germany predict a positive outcome at Old Trafford. There seems little doubt United’s supporters will take the 23-year-old Kobe-born player to heart.

Honda, his Japanese team-mate and sometimes competitor for the international ‘number 10’ role, has no doubts either.

“Shinji’s the perfect player for a world-class team,” said Honda. “As a fellow Japanese I’m proud of him.”

Facts and Figures

Name: Shinji Kagawa (香川真司)
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Date of Birth: 17/3//1989
Height: 1.72 m (5 ft 7 1⁄2 in
Weight: 65 kg (141 lbs)

Career Data

Cerezo Osaka – 2006-2010 – 127 appearances, 57 goals
Borussia Dortmund- 2010-2012 – 71 appearances, 29 goals
Japan – 2008-2012 – 33 appearances, 11 goals


Bundesliga: 2010–11, 2011–12
DFB-Pokal: 2011–12
AFC Asian Cup: 2011
Kicker Bundesliga Team of the Season: 2010–11
European Sports Media’s European Team of the Season: 2011-12


Shinji Kagawa

Shinji Kagawa

Shinji Kagawa

Shinji Kagawa
Photo credit: @CraigNorwood

United Rant Live! Germany v Greece

June 22, 2012 Tags: International 15 comments

More than 30 games into Euro 2012 and we reach the knock-out stages, when the true narrative of the tournament is always written. Over the next 10 days hopes and dreams will be shattered, or attained, as the tournament reaches it’s dénouement. What a tournament it has been to date, with some of the most attacking football seen at any international competition in recent memory.

The quarter-finals take place over four nights, starting with Portugal’s win over the Czech Republic on Thursday, and concluding with England’s defeat to Italy in Kiev on Sunday.

In between – Friday’s match, as Germany meets Greece in Gdansk. Can Mario Gomez, Mesut Ozil and the rest lead Germany into the semi-final, or will Greece’s fighting spirit produce another shock?

Join United Rant for live chat, comment and analysis on the match from around 7pm, with updates and news through the afternoon.



Euro Cast – knockout football

June 22, 2012 Tags: , Rant Cast No comments

In the third Rant Cast Euro Special regular presenters Ed & Paul discuss the second week of the Championships, which brought more great games, goals and moments. We review each of the groups, discuss the major talking points and look forward to the knock-out stages of the tournament. It was a week in which England won twice, Germany powered on, France stuttered and Spain continued to defy logic.

With our predictions and preview for the week ahead.

Euro Cast will be back with a final show next Saturday, just ahead of the championship conclusion!

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

And if you really love the show, you can always help cover our bandwidth and equipment costs by making a small donation!

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.

Determined Cleverley hopes to dodge another injury bullet

June 20, 2012 Tags: Opinion 20 comments

For a career still in its infancy, Tom Cleverley’s already become a paradox. For all the youngster’s inexperience, Cleverley will start the forthcoming season as his fifth in senior professional football. Still in the throes of youth, yet the Basingstoke-born midfielder turns 23 in August. For all the talk of ‘brand Cleverley’ the player is yet to win a trophy at the highest level. And despite the belief that the kid can replace Paul Scholes as Manchester United’s creative force, Cleverley is yet to complete a full campaign as a player.

It is a career of immense promise, as yet unfulfilled by consistent performances, or some may add, an injury-free run with four different clubs. Indeed, the talented 22-year-old faces a pivotal coming season having missed out on much of the previous campaign with an ankle injury, and England’s Euro 2012 party too. No longer can Cleverley afford to stand still, wait on the sidelines, or – the nightmare scenario – the physiotherapist’s bench.

Despite the limited appearances in a United shirt to date – just 15 in competitive matches – Cleverley made his club debut on the Reds’ pre-season tour of South Africa in July 2008, converting Wayne Rooney’s knock-down for United’s third goal in a 4-0 win over Kaizer Chiefs in Johannesburg.

The summer tour proved not to be the breakthrough into Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team though, with the 2007/08 Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award nominee farmed out to Leicester City on loan in January 2009. After 15 appearances for the Tigers Cleverley’s loan spell came to an abrupt end when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury; the first of many.

The following campaign Cleverley joined Watford, scoring 11 times in 33 games for the Championship outfit before suffering a knee injury and yet another premature end to the season.

Another loan, this time to Wigan Athletic during the 2010/11 season, came after Cleverley had joined the Reds’ summer tour to the United States, and Ferguson’s assertion that the youngster would remain at Old Trafford. Yet, the loan spell at Wigan proved to be successful, if blighted – once again – by niggling injuries. Four goals in 25 appearances followed in a frustratingly stop-start season.

It has been the pattern of a young career; talent interrupted. Indeed, Cleverley began the 2011/12 season with Ferguson’s first team, coming on to such devastating effect during the Community Shield, and then in games against West Bromwich Albion, and Arsenal, before injury struck once again against Bolton Wanderers. An abortive comeback against Everton in September only succeeded in aggravating the problem, essentially ending Cleverley’s season as a first team regular.

“I’d hate to be getting the injury-prone tag because the injuries I’ve had have all been contact, impact or reckless tackles,” said Cleverley who has suffered a broken leg, serious knee, ankle and shoulder injuries.

“It’s not like I’m picking up hamstring injuries or thigh injuries all the time. Hopefully I’m getting all the bad luck out at the start of my career and I can go on to play as long as Giggsy – he’s the perfect example.

“The first couple of weeks was just basically resting and staying off my feet That helped massively. Then I got back into the gym from then for about two months and worked massively hard with Neil Hough, Rob Swire, the doc and the hard work paid off. I definitely filled out a bit.

“When you’re not on the pitch you can work on other areas. I did work with video analysis, I worked hard in the gym on my upper body and I did vision work too. It’s a fantastic training ground because you can work hard on all aspects of your game when you’re injured. Everything I could work on, I worked on. I’ve done everything I can while I’ve been out.”

Yet, Cleverley’s hard work in the gym is yet to nullify criticism of  ‘brand TC23’  and the player’s commercial aspirations during a lengthy period on the sidelines. The midfielder appointed a brand consultancy last season to develop commercial revenue, while a Twitter handle that boasts more than 500,000 followers offers regular updates on the player’s sponsors – on one occasion five commercial messages in succession.

Add the glamour model girlfriends, lurid newspaper stories – one later brought to court – and there is legitimate reason to question the player’s commitment; a charge Cleverley patently rejects.

Still, there is pressing need to deliver on the pitch in the coming season if a talented player’s progress is not to be stilted. He cannot afford another 15-20 game season. Yet, the summer acquisitions of Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa and Crewe Alexandra’s Nick Powell add significant competition, even if the latter is likely to start the new campaign with the reserves.

Kagawa, however, is a serious barrier to Cleverley’s potential game time in the attacking midfield position in Ferguson’s likely 4-2-3-1 system next season. The England international may instead compete with Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Anderson for a spot in central midfield or, worse, be shunted out to the wing.

Moreover, it is a challenge that may be affected by a call up to Great Britain’s Olympic squad, with the youngster believed to be on Stuart Pearce’s long-list of 35 players.

“The Olympics in London is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so to be involved would be a massive thing for me,” Cleverley said recently.

“It’s a massive event, one of the highlights of the summer, and the Olympics in London is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so to be involved would be a massive thing for me. An Olympic gold would be special because it’s so unique.”

Sir Alex, who has banned any over-age players bar Ryan Giggs joining up with the Olympic squad, may disagree. And if inclusion in the party comes at the expense of missing the opening games of the new season, Cleverley may have course to regret it too.

United Rant Live! England v Ukraine and Sweden v France

June 19, 2012 Tags: , International 46 comments

The “big man is back” Wayne Rooney once proclaimed on his return to the England side after a pre-World Cup 2006 injury. The tournament ended with Rooney dismissed during England’s quarter-final defeat to Portugal. Six years on, and it’s crunch time in Group D at Euro 2012, with England facing up to an early exit should Roy Hodgson’s side suffer defeat to Ukraine on Tuesday night.

However, victory over a mediocre Sweden side last week, together with Rooney’s return to the side from suspension, leaves England favourites to qualify along with France from Group D. Spain and Italy await in the knockout stages, and victory tonight will not ensure that England avoids the world champions, with France holding a slender goal difference advantage heading into the final Group D fixtures.

There’s plenty of Manchester United interest in these games, with Rooney likely to start alongside Danny Welbeck in attack for England, and Ashley Young on the wing. Meanwhile, Patrice Evra and Phil Jones are likely to be on the bench for France and England respectively.

Join United Rant for live comment, analysis and chat on England v Ukraine and Sweden v France from 7pm, with updates, team news and preamble throughout the day.