Month July 2012

Month July 2012

American Lie

Bacardi Geezer July 31, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 17 comments

Long long time ago, I can still remember, how the Stretford Paddock drove me wild
I knew that if I did my time, up those steps then I would climb and Busby’s love would hold me like a child
The ’85 start made me shiver, at those 10 games Fat Ron delivered
Then 91 through 2005, I’ve never felt so much alive
I don’t remember much about, the day our leaders sold us out
In Glazers trough they’ve stuck their snouts, of that there is no doubt

So fuck off little weasel dearest Malcolm bye bye
Trade our soul to get a Chevy as the debt was so high
Fergie’s sold us down the river, guess that makes him a twat
Hang on…. Real fans aren’t allowed to say that, real fans aren’t allowed to say that

Do you recall great goals from Spark, and chased at night through Stanley park (or soaking wet in Rotterdam)?
Your Grandad’s handed-down ST, replacing worthless LMTB, token sheets, pay on the gate
Well we know the richest club’s in shit, trading heritage for debt and PIKs
Net spending’s truly bizarre, disenfranchised that’s what we are
Our leader’s lapdogs say ‘you can’t say that’ (with their half-n-half scarves and jester’s hats)
But you’re the ones they thought about, the day they sold us out

So fuck off little weasel dearest Malcolm bye bye
Trade our soul to get a Chevy as the debt was so high
Fergie’s sold us down the river, guess that makes him a twat
Hang on…. real fans aren’t allowed to say that, real fans aren’t allowed to say that

I met a lad who watched the Blues, and I asked him for his derby views, he just laughed and walked away
I went back to the Stretford end, to find my bones they wouldn’t mend
And the steward said ‘what the fuck do you want you raggy arsed pariah?’
And on the networks the apologists screamed, the old guard cried, still the Glazers beamed
The Real Fans remain outspoken, their spirit’ll not be broken
And the greatest manager we’ve had throughout, who brought an end to the 25 year drought
He forgot his roots (of that, there’s no doubt), the day he sold us out

And we were singing…

So fuck off little weasel dearest Malcolm bye bye
Trade our soul to get a Chevy as the debt was so high
Fergie’s sold us down the river, guess that makes him a twat
Hang on…. Real fans aren’t allowed to say that, real fans aren’t allowed to say that

Fergie and Glazers’ profit from IPO leaves fans angry

Ed July 31, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 84 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to profit from the Glazer family’s partial flotation of Manchester United, documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revealed on Monday. The legendary United coach, who has been forthright in his defence of the Glazers since the American’s summer 2005 leveraged buy-out, may benefit from a share of $288 million set aside for employee options if the New York Initial Public Offering is successful in the coming weeks.

The Glazer family is seeking to raise up to $330 million from a 10 per cent flotation of the club on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) that has left many fans angry, especially as the Americans are set to use just £75 million of proceeds to pay down United’s £423 million debt. It is a u-turn that has brought scorn from fans’ groups and investors alike.

On a dramatic day at Old Trafford, United also announced a new shirt deal with General Motors (GM), the partially state-owned American auto-maker, which will see the club sporting Cheverolet branding for seven years from the 2014/15 season onwards. It is a deal, announced almost two years before United’s contract with principal sponsor AON runs out, which provokes plenty of questions ahead of the club’s on-off-on again IPO.

Indeed, as United announced the deal Monday afternoon, GM parted company with its high-profile chief marketing officer Joel Ewanick; the 52-year-old CMO was brutally sacked over his part in two separate sponsorship deals with the club in the past two months. GM management is said to be angry over Ewanick’s handling of the deal’s fine print, which provoked a last-minute renegotiation to ensure Cheverlot branding will appear of United’s shirts in two year’s time.

Yet, Ewanick’s dismissal is only one mystery on a day that saw United ink, potentially, the most lucrative deal of its kind in world football, while setting an ambitiously high valuation on the club ahead of the controversial New York IPO. United announced the new sponsorship package with the car manufacturer just hours before filing an amended F-1 form with the SEC.

The sums may be huge for both sponsorship and IPO. The Daily Telegraph claimed United is set to receive a record £196 million over seven years, while Reuters reporting inside knowledge of a £382 million deal. Whatever the true number, the deal will surpass that secured by Barcelona, with the Catalan club sporting Qatar Foundation branding for around £25 million per season.

Meanwhile, if the deal with GM, which is still 26 per cent owned by the US Federal Reserve after it received a government bail-out in 2009, was positive news for Glazer family, the American’s used it to bury an even more dramatic turnaround in the club’s US flotation. The IPO is back on after the FT reported a “pause” in proceedings last week.

But the on-off-on nature of the flotation is only part of the drama as details emerged of the family’s intention to take around half the IPO proceedings for themselves, with only a fraction likely to be used to pay down the club’s huge debt. Should the IPO get away as planned United’s gross debt will fall to around £350 million, with interest savings of just £5 million per season from the float.

Once again the Glazers’ business model exposed as a sham; built to keep one step ahead of the banks, and the family in ready cash, while milking the club for every penny of value.

But it is the provision for a substantial carve out of share options for ‘selected senior management and employees’, in addition to eight million shares being sold by the Glazer family itself, which will surely anger fans. While a similar number of shares is being sold by the club, the Glazers will suffer almost no dilution in their grip on power at Old Trafford, with provisions to issue two classes of shares still in place.

“Supporters are going to be very angry about this,” said Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) chief executive Duncan Drasdo.

“The Glazers have already cost United more than £550m in debt related fees and now another slap in the face as they help themselves to half of the proposed IPO proceeds. Each of the six lineal descendants of Malcolm Glazer will claw out $25 million for themselves.

“Clearly this has nothing to do with benefits for Manchester United and is all about giving the Glazers quick access to desperately needed cash at the expense of our football club.

“There is now no doubt that this IPO is bad for Manchester United supporters, Manchester United Football Club and any investors gullible enough to pay the inflated price they’ve attached to inferior shares.”

Meanwhile, United manager Ferguson may be among those senior personnel selected to be part of the 2012 Equity Incentive Award Plan, which will be funded from the further sale of 16 million shares in the club. If Ferguson’s involvement proves true – and how could Ferguson not be a beneficiary along with chief executive David Gill – then many supporters will be left confused and rightly angry.

After all, here is a manager without peer in modern football, who has brought unprecedented success to the club, but may directly profit from the Glazers’ debt-loaded business model. Moreover, if Ferguson is to profit from the scheme fans should question whether they can ever take the manager’s words of praise about the Glazer family seriously again. Once a man-of-the-people, Ferguson has seemingly become a central cog in the machinations of cynical greed.

But the debate, of course, is moot until both confirmation of those beneficiaries leeks out and the IPO gets away. Neither is certain, with investors roundly critical of the Glazers’ plan which, if anything, offers less to those buying into the flotation than ever before. After all, there is no plan to offer dividends, while the family will retain more than 97 per cent voting control of the club.

Moreover, with an equity value of around £2 billion many investors have publicly baulked at the cost, with shares priced at between $16 and $20. Taking the mid point of that range, the Glazers are seeking a 20 times EBITDA multiple on the asset – 24 times given the implied enterprise value – for a business whose profit fell by 15 per cent in the last financial year as performances suffered on the pitch. This is, after all, a 134-year-old ’emerging high growth company’ that grew not a jot last year, and just 14 per cent over the past three.

“It could be challenging to justify such strong multiples for a company that needs to spend a lot of money to generate success,” Ken Perkins, an analyst with Morningstar told Reuters on Tuesday. “Even if their performance is good their price may be a bit high.”

“Shareholders are getting a shoddy deal,” echoed United-supporting Michael Jarman, chief equity strategist at H2O Markets. “Investors are not idiots and there is simply no value in the company. The Glazers want to have their cake and eat it – the share structure shows they want to retain complete and utter control.”

There was little to cheer for investors in preliminary financials released by the club in its updated prospectus, with United’s bean-counters estimating a fall in revenues of around five per cent, and a substantial drop in EBITDA – ‘cash profits’. Meanwhile, costs continue to rise, which when taken in aggregate with exceptional items like a hefty tax credit and the £7.7 million costs of issuing the IPO, will create a paper loss for the business in the financial year just closed.

No wonder the family was so keen to prematurely announce its deal with GM, with many supporters wondering whether the auto-maker is pre-paying part of the sponsorship package as AON did two years ago. The Glazers’ apparent desperation for quick cash at the club’s expense suggests this is highly likely to be the case.

No matter how lucrative the deal, front-loading payments will reduce United’s ongoing income at a later date, potentially cheating investors down-the-line.

Whether full details emerge in time is questionable. After all documents revealed that the Glazers registered United in the super-secret Cayman Islands on 30 April – the day City beat the Reds at Eastlands. And the question now on many supporters’ lips is whether Ferguson is one of the beneficiaries in a controversial share option scheme that will net some tens of millions, and the club absolutely nothing.

Three strikes and you’re out for Glazer IPO

Ed July 26, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 68 comments

The Glazer family’s very long mooted Manchester United flotation may be off for a third time after the Financial Times confirmed that an initial public offering (IPO) planned for New York this summer is on “pause” for an undetermined period. Citing volatile market conditions, the FT says that the IPO may now not take place before the new football season kicks off in August. The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) and blogger Andy Green claim the IPO is now ‘dead in the water’.

But after failing to get the listing away in both Hong Kong and Singapore, there is suspicion an age-old problem has risen its head: Glazer family greed, and an over-valuation of the club.

United executives had planned to hit the road this week, meeting investors in Europe and Asia, before heading to the States to sell the listing amid a rash of negative articles in the financial press on both sides of the pond. But referencing insider sources, the FT claims that the Glazers have been spooked by a downturn in market conditions and increased volatility this week.

“The pause comes as US markets have been unsettled by further concerns over debt and economic growth in the eurozone, with the S&P 500 index falling 2 per cent since the start of the week,” said the paper’s editorial on Wednesday.

“People familiar with United’s IPO plans suggested the current delay had to do with market conditions. The Vix index, a widely monitored measure of implied volatility on the US market, has risen by more than 23 per cent since Monday. Bankers consider a sudden rise in the Vix as a sign of potential risk aversion from investors, making them less likely to participate in new offerings.”

The delay means a valuation is unlikely to be set until mid-August at the earliest; the smart money suggests the listing is to be pulled in its current form.

This comes just days after reports emerged that the Glazer family was keen to list before the new football season begins, with Sir Alex Ferguson repeatedly wheeled out to the defend the Americans in the past week. The owners’ enthusiasm to avoid another round of ‘Green and Gold’ style protests at Old Trafford ahead of listing, and a seeming desperation to get the listing away, were perhaps behind the media blitzkrieg.

Yet, volatility and poor market conditions are excuses that will fool few, with the two per cent S&P index fall barely a blip in historical terms. Meanwhile, the Vix has been running at around 20 this week – far lower than in previous months this year. Indeed, the Vix – an aggregated market nervousness score amusingly dubbed the “fear index” – has jogged between 15 and 20 this month, but up to 48 in the past year, and at 80 during the widespread market panic in October 2008.

The pandemonium, if there is any, resides in the United boardroom, not the NYSE floor.

But if market conditions are not genuinely to blame for delay – temporary or permanent – then lack of institutional interest in the sale is almost certainly a factor. The family’s dual-class share structure, determination to pay no dividends, a market unfamiliar with UK sports ‘franchises’ and the aggressive valuation consistently demanded by the Glazers are all in play.

In fact, a consistent pattern has emerged in the past 18 months, with the family willing to sell at least part of the club, but unwilling to lower a £2 billion plus valuation that neither the Qatari Royal family, Red Knights, nor institutional investors in two continents are willing to match.

Whether the family reinvigorates the IPO in the coming weeks is the real question, of course, with the FT casting doubt that the process can be completed in the current market window if the club is not priced by August. After all, if the market has spoken, the Glazers cannot return to New York without amending the structure and value of the listing. As the Wall Street Journal argued on Wednesday, while the fans love United whatever the financial outlook, US investors most certainly do not.

What next? Time for a full listing, with single class share structure that could bring partial ownership to the United fanbase, says MUST.

“The Glazers have been forced to pull the New York flotation of Manchester United due to lack of interest at the valuation they were placing on the club,” said ceo Duncan Drasdo on Wednesday.

“We now call on the Glazers to come back with a full flotation of Manchester United with a single class of full voting shares. Should they choose to do this, with no strings attached, we would support such a flotation wholeheartedly and encourage the global fan base of Manchester United to seize such an historic opportunity to secure a meaningful fan ownership stake where the priorities of the club are the same as the fans – not absentee owners.”

In the short-term United’s failure, once again, to list means that the club will continue haemorrhage money in interest and bond buy-backs – around £71 million in the first three quarters of the financial year. In the longer term the Glazers may be forced to re-value the club before sale, or flotation.

Much, of course, depends on just how much the family borrowed to refinance the Payment in Kind (PIK) loans last year, and whether the financial strain has become significant. In other words, not what motivated the Glazer family to change track and seek an IPO in the first place, but how big the financial need has become.

Shang-hi and bye

Ed July 24, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 13 comments

Manchester United arrived in China this week on the back of two underwhelming performances against Ajax Cape Town and AmaZulu in South Africa, but a rip-roaring success off the field where column inches were garnered, back-to-back commercial engagements fulfilled and fitness gained. Goodbye Africa, hello Asia as leg two of United’s world tour gets underway. To Shanghai, a whistle-stop tour of the world’s most populous city, and a meeting with sometime nemesis, Didier Drogba, on Wednesday night.

United flew 8057 miles from Cape Town to Shanghai at the weekend, and the squad has just four days in China before it takes another marathon trip back to Europe on Thursday. But with just four more fixtures to be completed before the big Premier League kick off against Everton on 20 August, this is where the tour should get a little more serious.

The Reds take to the huge Shanghai Stadium on Wednesday, where Sir Alex Ferguson’s side will seek to improve on two understandably rusty performances against mediocre opposition in Africa. And while fitness levels will be of more concern to the Scot, the players will have one eye on Goodison Park in just under four weeks time.

Yet, with so many first team players taking an addition break, are injured or away with Olympic Games squads, United was far from impressive against – on league form at least – the seventh and ninth best sides in the South African Premier League. Just two goals and the narrow avoidance of defeat against Ajax Cape Town smacks of a squad not only without some star names, but still finding a collective ethos.

“That [the lack of goals] is not the most important thing,” Ferguson told MUTV, as United held its first training session in China.

“We want to keep our heads held high in terms of our performance level and making sure we get a result. But at the end of the day when we get to that last pre-season game in Hanover we want to be confident the team is ready for the first game of the season.

“They [Shenhua] will be very committed, very enthusiastic, quite aggressive and athletic. We’ll have to deal with that. We don’t know if Drogba will be playing or not but you look at him and you have to say he’s a handful. We’ve played against him many times and you can never take your eye off him. We’ll have to deal with that.”

Whether Drogba, and fellow Premier League exile Nicolas Anelka, play or not there are more than a few United squad members seeking an opportunity in the far east. While some senior pros such as Javier Hernández will be desperate to build on a slow start to the tour, others including Anderson, Dimitar Berbatov and Anders Lindegaard are keen to force their way into Ferguson’s thinking.

So too will new signings Nick Powell, who has already impressed many of United’s senior pros on tour, and Shinji Kagawa, who was bright on his full, albeit non-competitive, debut for the club against Ajax Cape Town.

“I’ve been very, very impressed,” added United captain-for-the-tour Rio Ferdinand of his new Japanese colleague.

“I’d seen him play for Dortmund on TV and I looked on YouTube. He’s been fantastic. He’s quick, he’s sharp, he has great awareness, he plays off both feet. I’m excited about playing with him and getting the season started.

“He’s been one of the better players in Germany for the last few years. I think he will bring that form to Manchester United. I think he’ll be a great acquisition.”

The tour will be judged a greater success still if some of the many youngsters in the party benefit from the experience. While Powell, at just 18, will spend a season bedding into the club, others have genuine pretensions of making Ferguson’s first team squad in the coming year.

Defender Scott Wooten, who spent the season on loan with Peterborough United last year, has drawn praise from Ferdinand for his composed performances on tour. Meanwhile, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jesse Lingard, back Tyler Blackett, and Marnick Vermijl have all grabbed chances to impress in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Italian Davide Petrucci, for whom many have high hopes at Old Trafford, made his first team bow in Africa after some frustrating years of injury enforced regression. Now signed up for another three years with the club, Petrucci could start his first game for Ferguson’s senior team against Shenhua in China. The youngster came close to scoring after smashing an effort against the bar in United’s fixture with AmaZulu last week.

“I’m really pleased for Davide,” striker Federico Macheda said of his fellow countryman.

“He’s had a tough time at United with injuries but he did great for the Reserves last season. He deserves to be on tour and was unlucky not to score the other night. I’ve just told him to stay calm and not to put too much pressure on himself, but to enjoy the tour and do his best and just play his game. He is a great player and it’s great to see him playing for the first team. I hope he’ll do very well in the future.”

And so to Shenhua, with the Chinese outfit set to test Drogba’s injured back shortly before Sergio Batista names his starting XI for Wednesday’s game. The Shanghai side may now boast some high-profile signings, but finished just 11th in the Chinese Super League last season under the part-time direction of former Chelsea striker Anelka.

Aside from the west London alumni, Shenhua boasts Brazilian defender Moisés, Australian Joel Griffiths and captain Yu Tao among Batista’s predominantly Chinese squad.

It should be a roaring atmosphere in the 80,000-capacity Shanghai Stadium too. Built for the 8th National Games of the People’s Republic of China in 1997, Shanghai Stadium will act as a temporary home for the game, with Shenhua’s 35,000-capacity Hongkou Stadium deemed too small.

And while the local focus has been on Kagawa this week, the 23-year-old is just one of many desperate to impress on a quick-fire tour of the far east.

Sir Alex’ guide to being a “real fan”

Ed July 22, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 137 comments

“Real fans,” said Sir Alex Ferguson on Saturday, will look at the Glazer family’s debt-fueled ownership of Manchester United over the past seven years and conclude that it “has not affected the team.” It was an assertion made by the 70-year-old manager that sparked a furious debate across social media, with Ferguson, not first the first time, accused of insulting supporters.

It was also news to United Rant, having previously failed to realise that the key tenet of being a Manchester United fan is not, as many believe, supporting the team – home, away, in good times and bad – but obsequious sycophancy towards carpetbagging, tax-dodging, profiteers.

And this new definition of fandom was odd to Rant not solely because United finished trophy-less last season; nor because Stoke City has spent more, net, on acquiring new players over the past five years; nor because the ‘Ronaldo money’ was splurged not on new talent, but on buying back debt; nor because Chelsea has invested around the same amount in Eden Hazard over five years that United spent on debt last season; nor because the Glazer family has wasted more than £500 million on debt-related costs since taking over in 2005; nor, even, because the family has transferred ownership of United to the tax-haven ultra-secretive Cayman Islands.

In fact, this definition is news to Rant for one reason only: we have always believed that it is none of Ferguson’s business, no matter all the silverware and glory he has garnered over the past quarter-century, to define what a ‘fan’ is. Not least because many of the most loyal fans have remained deeply enraged by the Glazer takeover, despite Ferguson’s support of the family these past seven years.

Especially when the former shop-steward, who is paid £6 million-a-year plus bonuses by the Glazers, is so inclined throw insults at whomever disagrees with his assessment that the Americans have been “great” for the club.

“They’ve been great,” said Sir Alex, in a carefully stage-managed attack on the Glazer family’s opponents.

“So if you’re asking me for my views, I don’t have any complaints. I think there are a whole lot of factions at United that think they own the club. They will always be contentious about whoever owns the club, and that’s the way it has always been. There have always been wee pockets of supporters who have their views… but I think the majority of the real fans will look at it realistically and say it’s not affecting the team.”

The real problem with the Glazer family, says Sir Alex, is not the huge drain that debt, which remains at more than £420 million, has bestowed on a once profitable club, but lack of good “publicist.” Rant might conclude that you couldn’t make it up, but Ferguson obviously has.

We have heard much of this before, of course – Sir Alex’ assertion that the family is a “fantastic” owner of a 125-year-old institution, or that there is “no value in the market,” or that fans who don’t like the family should simply ‘f*ck off and support Chelsea,’ or – as in this weekend’s interview with the Mail on Sunday – that it has never been United’s tradition to spend big in the market. That, in fact, the Glazer family is simply holding up a fine United tradition.

On the tenth anniversary of United spending £34 million on Rio Ferdinand, including the £5 million handed to the player’s agent, some fans may have pause for thought on that point. It was a transfer that in today’s terms cost United more than £60 million, according to the excellent Transfer Price Index analysis.

Rant would mention club and British record transfer fees spent on Juan Sebastian Veron, Dimitar Berbatov, Andy Cole, Roy Keane and others during Ferguson’s reign. But that would be too easy.

Yet, while Manchester City is unwilling to countenance fielding young players, Ferguson claims, United is the last bastion of youth – bucking the market to uphold a moral principle dear only to the Scot.

“We buy in the right way and that’s the difference between United and the rest,” Ferguson told his principal cheerleader, Bob Cass.

“We can play 18-year-olds because it’s part of our history. City won’t do it. They definitely won’t play any young players who have come up through the system. Their buys are all 25, 26, 27-year-old established players with a good maturity, experience and good ages.”

It’s an argument that would, of course, have more weight had City’s average player age not been two years lower during the Manchester derby last April. Or if the young United players that started the game – the ones who ‘came through the system’ – weren’t Ryan Giggs, 38, and Paul Scholes, 37.

But all that is a diversion, of course; a deflection from United’s decline, and City’s ascent, in recent years; a red herring, leading the debate away from United’s almost universally criticised Cayman-via-New York IPO. The irony being that hard-nosed US investors will take little notice of Ferguson’s latest Glazer defence – not when the club’s bottom line has been consistently obliterated by debt-related costs since the family’s leveraged buy-out in 2005.

In fact, despite City’s wealth, or the renewed investment by the ‘publicity-shy’ Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, United should remain the biggest fish in the transfer pond given the club’s immense profitability. Only for the profit to be spent almost entirely on debt.

None of that is really the point though. There was time long before the Premier League brought United immense wealth – before all-encompassing commercialisation was even a glint in Peter Kenyon’s eye – that a venerable institution stood on its own feet and competed on a reasonably even playing field. When fans watched football, not bond markets.

Yes, there have been many poor owners in United’s history. As Ferguson asserts, fans complained bitterly about Martin Edwards’ stewardship in the 1980s, and the flotation that took United on to the London Stock Exchange in 1991. This is without mentioning Lou Edwards’ dodgy sausages, or the committees that almost took United into liquidation twice in the 20th century.

None, however, has been so singularly dedicated to extracting ‘value’ for themselves at the club’s expense as the Glazer family. None has ensured United haemorrhaged money in quite the same way.

Nor, Rant suspects, has any manager backed the owners in quite the same way as Ferguson. The world’s greatest living manager, now reduced to attacking supporters who care deeply about the club. It’s no way to maintain a legacy.

But since Rant has never been one to follow Ferguson’s obsequious lead, we’re unlikely to pass the “real fan” test anyway.

Welbeck told to hit 20 in fight for United place

Ed July 19, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 21 comments

Danny Welbeck can barely have wished for a better first full campaign in Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. Having returned from a year on loan at Sunderland the Longsight-born striker made 39 appearances for Manchester United last term, 27 of them starts, scoring 12 goals in all competitions. Now, Ferguson has set Welbeck a new task; to score more than 20 in the coming Premier League season. It’s a challenge Welbeck is certainly capable of, but only if the 21-year-old earns sufficient game time.

Indeed, even with Michael Owen leaving the club this summer, and Dimitar Berbatov set to remain on the periphery or depart Old Trafford, Sir Alex must still crowbar four players into two forward spots, whatever the system.

Shinji Kagawa’s acquisition for up to £17 million from Borussia Dortmund means that Ferguson is still likely to rotate a quartet of attacking players in just two roles, whether deploying the 4-4-1-1 system so often seen last season, or the much discussed 4-2-3-1 that seemingly suits Kagawa’s talents.

Moreover, with Javier Hernández likely to hit the ground running after a summer of rest and a full pre-season, there is no guarantee that Welbeck will start the new campaign in Ferguson’s team. With Welbeck unlikely to join the tour party until Ferguson’s squad returns to Europe in August the onus is on Chicharito, Kagawa, and perhaps even Berbatov, to stake their respective claims.

Still, Ferguson’s belief in Welbeck has seemingly been enhanced by the striker’s showing at Euro 2012, where the England number nine scored once – a superb back-heel against Sweden – in four appearances, and walked away from the tournament reputation enhanced.

“If you look at the games he played for England at the Euros, he’s never played three games in seven days before, well certainly not for us,” said Ferguson of a player whom he has seen grow into the United shirt.

“So he did really well in that respect. That’s where maturity and development comes in. We’ve fostered him. He’s always had growth spurts and things like that, so we fostered him right that period when he was developing. I don’t think he’s got his full body yet. I think there’s a lot of growth in him yet. I don’t think he’ll get taller, he’s 6ft 3ins now.

“He’s very powerful and, once that growth thing stops, I think you’ll find he can play three games in seven games. There won’t be a problem with that. He’s got good movement, courage and confidence with the ball.

“Obviously, he will have to improve his goalscoring. I think he got nine goals last season but if you are going to be a top striker you have to get 20 goals or above. That will happen to him, I think he will do that.”

In the meantime Welbeck’s brothers, added Ferguson, continue to negotiate a new contract for the striker, with player and club seemingly at an impasse over the deal. Few expect Welbeck to walk away from Old Trafford when his contract ends in just under a year’s time, but it cannot help but play on the striker’s mind.

Meanwhile, Welbeck will have little hope of unseating Rooney from the first team – the player with whom he struck up a fine partnership last season – leaving three seeking, realistically, a single spot, at least for United’s bigger games. Especially with Rooney so productive last season, even in a deeper role.

“Where Wayne has improved is his consistency in scoring goals,” Ferguson told PA Sport.

“He got 32 goals last season and that has made a difference to his game. It’s difficult to say whether he is at a peak or not but his goalscoring has certainly given us more of a reward.”

Meanwhile, Kagawa, who played around four minutes of United’s friendly victory over AmaZulu FC in Durban on Wednesday night, is seeking what was, last season at least, Rooney’s deep-lying forward role in Ferguson’s side. Either that, or Sir Alex will do as Sir Alex does and push the Japanese play-maker into a wide position.

However, assuming Kagawa isn’t wasted on the wing, the 23-year-old’s best hope of playing a pivotal role in United’s upcoming campaign is to force Welbeck onto the sidelines. Something has to give.

Kagawa is likely to start United’s fixture against Cape Town Ajax this coming Saturday as Ferguson rotates his limited tour resources before United depart for China.

“I’ve joined the club but I’ve not shown my potential yet, so this is my first mission and I hope I can show all the supporters what I am able to do,” Kagawa added after coming on as a late substitute on Wednesday.

“This is a great club and I’m looking forward to playing. I have to prove myself on the pitch.”

Welbeck could say the same, despite the positive showing last time out. After all, while 12 goals is a decent return, a one-in-three strike-rate is unlikely to ensure the youngster remains a starter in United’s biggest fixtures. The challenge for Welbeck is to step up a level, adding a lethal streak to the undoubtedly quality on the ball that the striker has developed over the past two campaigns.

Yet, with Hernández and Kagawa snapping at his heals, it is a challenge that Welbeck will do well to meet over the coming season. Perhaps the biggest task of a fledgling career to date.

Football, at last

Ed July 17, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 76 comments

‘At last,’ sang the late, great Etta James, ‘my lonely days are over.’ And while Manchester United supporters may not be pining for a love a long gone, the wait for the Reds to return this summer hardly sped by. Two months and five days of waiting, to be precise, since United lost the Premier League title to neighbours City in May. Sixty six days, for the fastidious, or 1584 hours, 95,040 minutes, or 5,702,400 seconds long. Either way, United’s players and supporters will be grateful when the Reds face AmaZulu FC in Durban this week.

Manchester United may have taken a scratch party on tour this summer, with so many regular faces resting, involved in the Olympics or injured, but a Sir Alex Ferguson side of sorts will take to the field on Wednesday night. Locals, and United’s regular support back in England, have waited through a summer of international football for this.

An the passion for all things United has been loudly voiced in South Africa over the 48 hours since Ferguson’s outfit landed in the country, with the sold-out Moses Mabhida Stadium awaiting what will be a highly unfamiliar United side.

Indeed, Ferguson has left more than a dozen players back in England, working the rigours of Euro 2012 out of their bodies, away with international associations, or still recovering from injury. Still, Ferguson hopes that the tour will add more than to the club’s bottom-line this summer, with his front line players gaining fitness, including new signing Shinji Kagawa, and a smattering of youngsters acquiring much-needed experience.

“The priority is to get the experienced players fit but young players will play in each game,” said Ferguson from United’s base in Durban.

“It’s likely that Kagawa will start with Chicharito. Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes will play. So too Anders Lindegaard, Lingard and Brady at left-back. Antonio Valencia will play.”

The Scot’s defence, in particular, will sport a highly unusual composition through six matches, across five countries, and three continents over the next month or so. Youngster Robbie Brady, for example, will start at left-back against AmaZulu – a position he has very rarely played through youth football. Meanwhile, 17-year-old left-back Tyler Blackett, one of the stars of last season’s Academy side, may also get a run out during the tour.

“Young Robbie Brady will be at left-back,” Ferguson added.

“He’s actually an outside-left but we believe there’s the possibility he’ll develop into a left-back. He was on loan last year at Hull City and did very well. Left-back is an area which we’re paying attention to. Patrice, in the last five years has played an average of 45-50 games. It’s phenomenal. I don’t know if anybody else has achieved that.

“Fabio went to QPR, which was so important for the boy because he has enormous ability, but he needs to play. Because Evra, touch wood, is never injured, the opportunities haven’t been there for the boy.

“That’s why we’re trying Robbie Brady at left-back. We also have Tyler Blackett here – he’s a big, strong boy, tall and quick going forward. But he’s only just turned 18. He has time on his side but he’s here for the experience and he may yet surprise us.”

Even with an unusual United side AmaZulu should offer the kind of  ‘soft’ start to pre-season rusty legs will welcome. Founded in 1932, as Zulu Royals, AmaZulu FC finished seventh in the South African Premiership last season – the club’s best finish in 15 years. It is a squad with few recognisable stars, although captain Tapuwa Kapini is a Zimbabwe international goalkeeper, while the side also boasts South African international Stanton Lewis, Malawi star Moses Chavula and Namibian Tangeni Shipahu.

“We expect a difficult game,” Sir Alex said ahead of the match, which takes place on Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday.

“AmaZulu will be well motivated to play us on such a special day. The first thing we always try to do with the pre-season tour is to get everyone fit and try to avoid injuries. The priority is to get the players match-fit. That gives us a platform to say that, come the first day of the season, we are ready.”

“I don’t know how many substitutes will be allowed – we need to establish that – but I’m sure we can be flexible. It’s important the young players get a chance to play on such a big occasion.”

Meanwhile, defenders Jonny Evans, Nemanja Vidić and Chris Smalling continue to work on individual fitness programmes back at Carrington. With Rafael da Silva away at the Olympics until – at worst – 11 August – and his brother Fabio loaned out, Ferguson is likely to need at least one of the injured trio fit come the big kick-off on 20 August.

“Jonny Evans has had an operation,” explained Ferguson.

“I’m not sure he’ll start the season but he won’t be far away. Vidic will start the season. I am sure of that. He’s doing good amounts of training but not in the competitive sense in the way the lads out here have done. It was pointless bringing him with us. He’s back at Carrington with the facilities and the physios so he can get to the next level. By the time we come back, we hope he’ll be at the competitive stage of his comeback.

“Chris Smalling has actually done a bit of training. But the ruptured groin muscle he suffered needed a lot of attention. He’s making progress and we expect him to start the season.”

For now, however, the prospect of a United side in action – no matter the make-up – will have supporters glued to the television on Wednesday night, especially with summer acquisitions Kagawa and Nick Powell likely to feature in Ferguson’s side.

Meanwhile, for the locals, the chance to take on the world’s biggest club in front of more than 50,000 fans, even if AmaZulu remain rank outsiders to cause an upset.

“We’ll be playing against a big team with great players but we’ll have the same number of players on the field and if we all remain focused we can be able to match them,” said AmaZulu striker Sifiso Vilakazi.

It’s unlikely; the last time United visited South Africa the Reds beat Kaizer Chiefs 4-0, and few expect anything other than a similar result in Durban.

AmaZulu FC versus Manchester United
Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban
Kick off: 7pm (BST)

United from: Lindegaard, Amos, Johnstone, Ferdinand, Veseli, Vermijl, Wootton, Blackett, Valencia, Anderson, Carrick, Scholes, Powell, Kagawa, Bébé, Tunnicliffe, Lingard, Brady, Petrucci, Berbatov, Chicharito, Macheda

Pre-season: a bluffer’s guide

Ed July 16, 2012 Tags: Opinion 16 comments

Six games, five countries, 22,000 miles – Manchester United’s summer tour 2012 will be another money-spinning, publicity-building, sojourn for the Glazer family; whether so much time spent travelling is the right preparation for the team is another question. In either case, Ferguson’s men set sail for Durban on Monday morning, with match sharpness, open training and local press events initially on the agenda.

While the Reds’ tours of the past two summers have taken to the United States, this time Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit will globe-trot for nearly a month – from South Africa to Germany, with stops in China and Scandinavia in between – before the opening game of the new Premier League season takes place on 18 August.

Ferguson’s side will take on some exotic opponent’s along the way, even if the overall quality is unlikely to reach the exceptional until the Reds meet Barcelona in Gothenburg in early August.

And whether you are familiar with AmaZulu’s best player, Shanghai Shenhua’s home stadium or Valerenga’s history, fear not – here’s Rant’s bluffer’s guide to the next month of summer action…

 

Durban – Wednesday 18 July – AmaZulu FC, Moses Mabhida Stadium

AmaZulu F.C.The Opposition: Founded in 1932, as Zulu Royals, AmaZulu FC finished seventh in the South African Premiership last season. It was the club’s best finish in 15 years. Captained by Zimbabwe international goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini, AmaZulu can also boast South African international Stanton Lewis, Malawi star Moses Chavula and Namibian Tangeni Shipahu among the squad. Alumni include for VfB Stuttgart and Liverpool striker, Sean Dundee. Nicknamed Amaqhawe – heroes – AmaZulu should prove a gentle opening tour game for United’s multi-millionaires.

The Manager: Roger Palmgren has made a career coaching in Africa, including a short stint in charge of the Sierra Leone national side, two years with Rwanda, and club jobs at Kwara United and Thanda Royal Zulu. Football Coach World Ranking places Palmgren a lofty 574th on its weekly chart.

Moses Mabhida Durban StadiumThe Stadium: The iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium was built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, boasting a capacity of 62,760 for the tournament, reduced to 54,000 for club matches. The 350-metre long, 105-metre span arch, inspired by the South African Flag, holds the stadium roof 106 metres above the pitch, representing we are told, a once divided nation coming together. The stadium hosted five group games, one second round game and a semi-final match during the World Cup, although bizarre FIFA protocols ensure that it was called, simply, “Durban Stadium” during the tournament.

The City: Durban is the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the third largest city in South Africa. The port city is heavily influence by international trade, although in more recent times has become a major tourist centres because of the city’s warm subtropical climate and extensive beaches. The modern city of Durban dates to 1824, when a party of 25 men under British Lieutenant F. G. Farewell arrived from the Cape Colony and established a settlement on the northern shore of the Bay of Natal.

 

Cape Town – Saturday 21 July – Ajax Cape Town, Cape Town Stadium

Ajax Cape TownThe Opposition: Ajax Cape Town, somewhat unsurprisingly, is majority-owned by the club’s more famous Dutch namesake. ACT was formed in 1999 from the amalgamation of two Cape Town-based teams, Seven Stars and Cape Town Spurs, as Ajax expanded its worldwide network to South Africa. ACT finished ninth in the South African Premier League last season under Dutch coach Maarten Stekelenburg, while the club’s only success to date was in the Rothmans Cup in 2000. The experiment has been a mixed success though, with Steven Pienaar the only player to have graduated to ‘big’ Ajax in the club’s short history.

The Manager:  39-year-old  Dutchman Stekelenburg took over at ACT in June 2011, having previously worked as head of youth development for the club, and at AFC Ajax’s youth academy back in Holland. Ranked 568 on Football Coach World Ranking, Stekelenburg is no relation to the Dutch national team goalkeeper.

Cape Town StadiumThe Stadium: There was no more stunning visual during the 2010 World Cup than the Cape Town Stadium at Green Point. Set just yards from the ocean, with Table Mountain as the backdrop, the BBC spent more than £2 million to base its team at the stadium two years ago. Built for the World Cup at a cost of more than £400 million, with a capacity of  64,000 – reduced to 55,000 post-tournament – Cape Town Stadium is now host to ACT, together with the occasional pop concert or South Africa international.

The City: Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa, the provincial capital of the Western Cape, and the legislative capital of the country hosting the National Parliament. Cape Town, located in the strategic port of Table Bay, was developed by the Dutch East India Company as a supply depot for Dutch ships sailing to India and the Far East. It was first established as a European settlement in April 1652.

 

Shanghai – Wednesday 25 July – Shanghai Shenhua, Shanghai Stadium

Shenhua FCThe Opposition: Shenhua may now boast Didier Drogba as a high-profile signing, but the side finished 11th in the Chinese Super League last season under the part-time direction of former Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka. Aside from the west London alumni, Shenhua boasts Brazilian defender Moisés, Australian Joel Griffiths and captain Yu Tao among Sergio Batista’s predominantly Chinese squad.

The Manager: Batista, the former Argentina coach, played for the national team 39 times between 1985 and 1990, including winning the 1986 World Cup and picking up a runners-up medal in the 1990 final. As a manager Batista has coached Argentinos Juniors, Nueva Chicago and the Argentina Under-20 side, before taking over La Albiceleste after the last World Cup. He was appointed Shenhua manager this summer.

Shanghai StadiumThe Stadium: The fixture will not take place at Shenhua’s usual 35,000-capacity Hongkou Football Stadium, but at the huge Shanghai Stadium. The stadium, which holds 80,000, was built in 1997 for the 8th National Games of the People’s Republic of China and is the third largest stadium in China after the Guangdong Olympic and the Beijing National Stadiums. The arena hosted football during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The City: Shanghai is the largest city in the People’s Republic of China, and the largest city by population on the planet with 23 million inhabitants. There are rumours, as yet unconfirmed, that Wayne Rooney has not – repeat, has not – shagged every hooker in the city. Shanghai sits at the mouth of the Yangtze River, bounded to the east by the East China Sea and has been a trading post for centuries. Shanghai grew in the 19th century as Europeans arrived to trade, while the city became popular with the British after victory over China in the first opium war in 1842. Shanghai is a popular tourist destination with historical landmarks including The Bund, City God Temple and Yuyuan Garden.

 

Oslo – Sunday 5 August – Valerenga, Ullevaal Stadium

ValerengaThe Opposition: Vålerenga Fotball is the fifth most successful clubs in the history of Norwegian football, having won the Premier League five times and the Cup on four occasions. However, the club, which celebrates its century next summer, finished seventh behind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde in the Tippeligaen last season. The Bohemians last championship victory came in 2005, pipping Rosenborg to the title.

The Manager: Martin Andresen is young for a manager, even by Norwegian standards ,at just 35. Indeed, the former Norwegian international was appointed Vålerenga player-manager four years ago after signing, ostensibly as a player, from Brann. Andresen is yet to secure silverware, although led his team to Tippeligaen runners-up spot in 2010 and the Superfinalen the year previously.

Ullevaal StadionThe Stadium: Opened in 1926, Ullevaal Stadion is home to Vålerenga, the Norway national football team, and the Norwegian Cup Final. Seating 25,572, Ullevaal hosted FC Lyn Oslo – the club of John Obi Mikel fame – before the club’s bankruptcy, while it was also home to the UEFA Women’s Euro Final in 1987 and 1997. There are plans to increase the stadium capacity to more than 30,000, while fitting a retractable roof and artificial pitch.

The City: Founded in 1048 by King Harald III, Oslo is the capital of and largest city in Norway. Oslo is one of the most wealthy cities in Europe, hosting almost 2,000 maritime companies, together with around 10,000 workers in the sector. It is also  one of the most expensive in the world, with traveling United supporters likely to suffer from astronomically high beer prices, although housing remains reasonable by European standards.

 

Gothenburg – Wednesday 8 August – Barcelona, Ullevi Stadium

FC BarcelonaThe Opposition: Little needs to be written about Barcelona, the club which has beaten United in two recent Champions League finals. That said under new manager Tito Vilanova a new dawn has begun, with Los Culés having lost out on both Champions League and La Liga last season, with Chelsea winning in Europe and Real Madrid domestically. The usual rivals should be present in what will be one of Barça’s earliest pre-season games. United beat Barcelona in pre-season during the US tour last summer.

The Manager: Vilanova enjoyed a limited career as a player, touring some of Spain’s footballing backwaters. Indeed, success has not come automatically as a coach either, with Vilanova working his way up the ranks at Camp Nouw, first as head coach of Barcelona B, then assistant to Pep Guardiola. Vilanova was appointed Barcelona coach on a four-year contract in May.

UlleviThe Stadium: The Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg plays host to more than 40,000 spectators on match-days, although has no regular football tenant. The stadium was built for the 1958 FIFA World Cup, and has hosted the 1995 World Athletics Championships, the 1983 and 1990 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup finals, 1992 UEFA Euro final, and the UEFA Cup final in 2004.

The City: Göteborg – home to six-foot blondes, Volvo, Ericsson, and a thriving maritime industry. Founded in 1621 by King Gustavus Adolphus, the city is the second largest in Sweden, lies at the mouth of the Göta Älv river, and is the largest seaport in the Nordic countries. The Gothenburg Film Festival, held every January, entertains 155,000 visitors annually, while nearby Liseberg is ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the top ten amusement parks in the world.

 

Hanover – Saturday 11 August – Hannover 96, AWD Arena

Hannover 96The Opposition: Finishing seventh in Bundesliga last season, Hanover has traditionally been one of Germany’s middle-ranked clubs, having won the Bundesliga in 1938 and 1954. The club suffered financial difficulties in both the 1970s and 1990s, relegated to the second and then third divisions a decade ago. However, Hanover bounced back from years in the doldrums to the Bundesliga only to suffer from the tragic suicide of German international goalkeeper Robert Enke in 2009. Former United youth team player Ron-Robert Zieler is the club’s goalkeeper, while Mame Biram Diouf scored six Bundesliga goals in 10 games last season.

The Manager: Mirko Slomka was no great shakes as a player, but has forged a strong managerial career since retirement. Slomka was the head coach of Schalke from 2006 to 2008, and was in charge of the club when Die Königsblauen finished second to VfB Stuttgart in 2008. He also led Schalke to semi finals of UEFA cup in year 2005–06. Slomka is a giddy 32nd on Football Coach World Ranking!

AWDarenaThe Stadium: The 49,000-capacity AWDarena was refurbished at a cost of €82.8 million for the 2006 World Cup having been built in 1954. Originally known as Niedersachsenstadion, the stadium has carried the name of headline sponsor AWD since 2002, while it hosted games at World Cup 1974, Euro 1988, and World Cup 2006.

The City: Hanover is capital of the federal state of Lower Saxony, and was once the family seat of the Hanoverian Kings of Great Britain until, in 1901, the death of Queen Victoria. Hanover is home to rock bands Scorpions and Fury in the Slaughterhouse, DJ Mousse T and 2010 Eurovision Song Contest winner, Lena Meyer-Landrut. And if the musical heritage doesn’t appeal, the town in also host to CeBIT, one of the world’s largest technology trade fairs, and Schützenfest Hannover, the planet’s largest marksmen’s festival.

 

Summer Tour 2012 Schedule

18 Jul – AmaZulu FC, Durban, 8pm
21 Jul – Ajax Cape Town, Cape Town, 3pm
25 Jul – Shanghai Shenhua, Shanghai, 8pm
05 Aug – Valerenga, Oslo, 4pm
08 Aug – FC Barcelona, Gothenburg, 8pm
11 Aug – Hannover 96, Hanover 8.20pm

* All kick off times local

 

The Squad

Goalkeepers: Lindegaard, Amos, Johnstone

Defenders: Ferdinand, Veseli, Vermijl, Wootton, Blackett

Midfielders: Valencia, Anderson, Carrick, Scholes, Powell, Kagawa, Bébé, Tunnicliffe, Lingard, Brady, Petrucci

Forwards: Berbatov, Chicharito, Macheda

* Euro 2012 and Olympics participants may join towards the back-end of the tour

Macheda looks to tour for one last chance

Ed July 12, 2012 Tags: Opinion 22 comments

It is now three years, three months and seven days since Federico Macheda burst onto the Premier League scene, curling home a stunning and hugely significant winning goal against Aston Villa in the third minute of injury time. The Italian youngster’s Old Trafford effort, forever associated with Manchester United’s 2008/9 title victory, hailed the start of what promised to be a fantastic career. It hasn’t quite worked out like that for Macheda in the intervening years.

Indeed, injury, squad competition, a perceived attitude problem and two disastrous loan spells mean that the former-Lazio player has made almost no career progress since that famous Stretford End goal. And if Macheda’s regression has been disappointing, both to player and manager Sir Alex Ferguson, then it is placed in stark relief with two of the United players who first ran to celebrate with Macheda on the day: Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans.

Now back at United after a short loan spell with Queens Park Rangers last season, Macheda will go on tour with Ferguson’s first team squad to South Africa, Asia and northern Europe this summer, with the 20-year-old still hoping to make a career at the club. It could well be the Italian’s last chance.

“It’s great to be back at Manchester United,” said Macheda, who played six times for QPR without scoring last season.

“When you go on loan you really understand how important it is to play for this club. I’m really happy to be back and I can’t wait for the start of the season.

“Last season was disappointing. In the first six months I didn’t get a lot of opportunities here so we decided it was best for me to go on loan. When I got to QPR things went a bit wrong, though, as I was feeling my ankle a lot. But now I feel a lot better and want to start the season well. It’s a big season for me.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, with Macheda joining QPR during the January transfer window; the Premier League loan that was long-over due. The striker made his Rangers’ début on 3 January as a substitute for Heiðar Helguson – by 28 March Macheda returned to United for treatment after an ankle injury brought his season to a premature end. In between there were just six appearances – three in the Premier league – as new manager Mark Hughes preferred January acquisition Djibril Cissé.

Disappointment at the west London outfit was the second winter loan gone bad for Macheda after the striker returned ‘home’ in 2011 to Sampdoria – seemingly against Ferguson’s wishes. In 16 fixtures with la Samp, Macheda scored just once in a Coppa Italia tie against Udinese. Worse still, Sampdoria’s awful form matched the striker’s with the Genoa-based club relegated to Serie B by the end of the campaign.

Add in numerous injuries and the perception that Macheda doesn’t work quite as hard as United’s coaches might like, and the Italian is surely on the precipice at Old Trafford.

But this summer’s tour, which takes in six games across five countries and over 22,000 miles of travel, could provide Macheda with a fresh career impetus, especially with Michael Owen departed and Dimitar Berbatov’s future still uncertain. It’s an opportunity that the Italian simply must take; one final chance to demonstrate that Ferguson’s faith is not unfounded.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Macheda told ManUtd.com.

“It’s always great to visit fans in different countries. You meet new people, you see new cities, you experience different cultures. I didn’t know how big the club was around the world when I went away for the first time in 2009. But I was very impressed by Malaysia, China and Korea. We have great support all over the world and I love being part of this team.”

Whether Macheda remains part of the team in the coming season is still open to question though, even if Ferguson praised the Italian’s potential once again earlier this summer. But it is a career that cannot continue to fester; six months in United’s reserves waiting for an opportunity while Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández rotate striking duties in the first team can serve neither United, nor player well.

Yet, after failed loans both abroad and in the Premier League neither player nor club’s options are wide. Macheda may find another temporary move within the top division – it is, after all, more likely than the Italian forcing his way into Ferguson’s plans. Equally, the striker cannot afford to be less than first choice at a new club either. It reduces Macheda’s realistic options substantially.

Neither will a sale maximise United’s value in these Glazernomic times, making Macheda’s permanent departure unlikely while the player remains at a low ebb. It leaves fans pondering whether the youngster has regressed from teenage wunderkind to the scraphead in three short years.

Perhaps, not quite yet. But whether Macheda stays at United or departs for pastures new, the coming season promises to the most important in a fledgling career.