Month August 2012

Month August 2012

Complacency no more after Euro draw

August 31, 2012 Tags: Opinion 27 comments

It is one of football’s more sopophiric banalities; that an entity – be it player, manager, or heavily indebted multi-national corporation – must ‘hold his/her’s/its hands up’ in the face of glaring error. Yet, it is a cliché, if one must be used, appropriate to Manchester United’s European performance last season. After all, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team certainly didn’t do anything useful with its collective feet.

Not that United’s great Scot will admit his error, of course, in setting a complacent tone from the off – an accent that his squad was unable to rid through 10 games in two failed competitions as the Reds crashed out of both the Champions and Europa Leagues in embarrassing fashion. No more  “stupid mistakes” says United’s 70-year-old manager, even with United facing up to one of the competition’s easier groups.

Indeed, in facing Braga, Galatasaray and CFR Cluj in this season’s Champions League group stage there will be a stern test of Ferguson’s resolve in promising to play his strongest team in the competition. The temptation to rotate heavily will surely remain on the cusp of Ferguson’s thinking. After all, United’s manager made ten changes for last season’s opener away at Benfica.

If Ferguson’s attitude in making heavy and regular changes in last season’s European competitions proved a forebear for his players’ complacency, then surely the same mistake cannot be made twice? Time will tell.

“After the experience of last year, we don’t want to make any stupid errors this time,” admitted Ferguson after Thursday’s draw.

“We will play our strongest team to make sure we get through. We have the experience of playing against Galatasaray in the past and we will always remember the ‘Welcome to Hell’ banners. So it’s always a difficult type of match.

“We have drawn Portuguese clubs a number of times over the past few years – the likes of Benfica, Sporting and Porto – so we have the experience of playing in Portugal on many occasions. Braga are one of the improving teams in that country. Obviously, we’ve never played Cluj before.”

The irony, of course, is that United could hardly have hoped for a better draw in terms of quality. Galatasary’s forward partnership of Johan Elmander and Milan Baroš is unlikely to strike fear into Red hearts, while Braga finished third in the Portuguese Primeira Liga last season.  Romanian Champions Cluj has lost 50 per cent of its Champions League games to date.

Yet, the draw will require United to fly more than 7,000 miles over the course of the group stage – one of the longest possible travel burdens, although having trawled around three times further this summer Ferguson’s squad is well used to the joys of the jet-set.

But travel has a mental and physical affect that will prompt rotation in Europe, the Premier League or both. Cynics might suggest Ferguson is likely to go back on his Euro-word. Rant couldn’t possibly comment.

“Of course, you always want short journeys for the group games, but it hasn’t happened in this draw,” confirms midfielder Paul Scholes, who is likely to be rested for much of the Euro campaign.

“We know it won’t be easy – it’s always difficult to get through the group stages as we found last year. But as long as we win our home games and try and pick up a couple of away wins we should be okay. We were disappointing at Old Trafford last season and conceded too many goals.”

It is a pattern that Ferguson cannot afford his team to repeat, although the Reds certainly need some better fortune with defensive injuries.

And while draw may have been kind, the fixture list poses plenty of questions. United will play away matches against Liverpool, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Manchester City after Champions League group ties. Expect some tough games for the Reds during the autumn and early winter.

Meanwhile, whatever team Ferguson selects fans will enjoy away days at new Euro venues at least, with United having never met Portuguese side Braga, nor Romanians Cluj. Braga, Portugal’s third biggest city, is ‘European Youth Capital 2012’, although travelling Reds are more likely to sample the old town tavernas rather than the youth-related cultural, social, and political events in the year-long festival!

Cluj, Romania’s second-city, will host United for the first time at the tight, but wonderfully named Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu. The tie marks another step in the remarkable ascent of the club, which was playing third tier football just a decade ago.

Memories of United’s now infamous visits to Istanbul in 1993 and 1994 will be recalled in the clash against Galatasaray in late November. Eric Cantona was sent-off against the Turks during United’s elimination from the Champions League in 1993, with referee Kurt Rothlisberger later accused of taking a bribe from a Galatasary director.

Fun though those trips may be, success in this year’s competition is paramount, not only for the fans, but the team and United’s bean-counters too. After all, the club lost around £20 million in potential revenues by crashing out of Europe’s premier competition early last season.

It’s just one of many reasons supporters will be closely following Sir Alex’ promise to play his strongest team in Europe this year.

Champions League fixtures
Galatasaray (H) 19 September
Cluj (A) 2 October
Braga (H) 23 October
Braga (A) 7 November
Galatasaray (A) 20 November
Cluj (H) 5 December

Champions League Groups
Group A: Porto, Dynamo Kiev, PSG, Dinamo Zagreb.
Group B: Arsenal, Schalke, Olympiacos, Montpellier.
Group C: AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga.
Group D: Real Madrid, Manchester City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund.
Group E: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Nordsjaelland.
Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov.
Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic.
Group H: UNITED, Braga, Galatasary, Cluj

Rant Cast 121 – every time we say goodbye

August 31, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 4 comments

On this week’s Rant Cast we say a final goodbye to a much loved and misunderstood friend – Dimitar Berbatov – who is joining Fiorentina Juventus Fulham in a £4 million deal.

Also on the show – we look back on victory over Fulham at Old Trafford. This was a ‘game of two halves’ that saw the Reds take three points despite some very average defending. Rafael, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney made the headlines for various reasons.

We talk transfers – how did United do in the window, were they the right purchases and how will the incomings affect the Reds’ style in the season ahead?

We take your Twitter questions: should Ferguson ban journalists, what’s Tom Cleverley’s best position, and many more!

And finally this week – we look ahead to United’s trip to Southampton at the weekend.

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.

Berbatov – the final chapter

August 30, 2012 Tags: Opinion 13 comments

Love Dimitar Berbatov or hate him, but if he didn’t exist somebody would have to invent him. There have been countless debates about whether Berbatov is good enough to play for United – that he is good was never a question. In the end Berbatov didn’t become the saviour some hoped him to be; just as the Bulgarian was never was a flop. On the field, he could go missing just as he could be a genius; off it, he was always classy. The striker failed to deliver in his second season, but was the main reason we won the 19th title in his third. He was always a Berbanigma.

Now, on the verge of leaving the club, Rant takes a final look at the player’s United journey. The show may have been one season too long, but we are going to miss him. Just a little bit. Go on, admit it.


 2008/09 – “Looking for heaven, found the devil in me. Well, what the hell, I’m gonna let it happen”


18 July 2008
“We have made Tottenham an offer on Berbatov and we have good expectations that this deal will go through.”
Sir Alex Ferguson


22 August 2008

Still a Tottenham Hotspur player, Berba signs a United shirt for a fan.

“Dimitar Berbatov’s character has been questionable since his sulking with Spurs, but I think he may have taken it a step too far now. When a fan thrust a Manchester United shirt in his face, Berbatov happily signed it. Just seems lacking in class to me. Can you imagine if Cristiano Ronaldo had been signing Real Madrid shirts a couple of weeks back?”
Republik of Mancunia


1 September 2008

Berbatov signs for United on the last day of the transfer window, costing the club around £30 million. The player, who was granted a permission to talk to Manchester City on the same day, is spotted wandering along an Old Trafford corridor – news that broke a few blue hearts despite City offering more.

“Joining United is a dream come true. I look forward to playing my part in helping this club win more honours.”

“This is a key signing. Dimitar is one of the best and most exciting strikers in world football. His style and ability will give the team a different dimension and I’m sure he will be a popular player with the fans.”
Sir Alex Ferguson


2 September 2008

“If I wanted to play for the money, I would accept the Manchester City offer or Chelsea. The red shirt is the really big thing for me. I want to play for the biggest club in the world. I am 27 now, I am at the biggest club in the world and maybe this could be the last step in my career. I know I can develop here in the way I always wanted. I always believed. People used to say ‘keep the faith’. I went through some difficult times and it was a long battle, but I always thought it was going to happen and in the end it did. Now I am here and hopefully I will play my part in the team and we can win lots of trophies as well.”


12 September 2008

“I would not even have thought about Manchester City. My only goal was to come to United. I heard about the offer City made and the money they want to spend. It did not make any difference to me. I just wanted to come here. My ambitions and goals are big and I want to fulfil them at the biggest club in the world. That was my only goal – and I achieved it.”


13 September 2008

Berbatov marks his début with an assist for Carlos Tevez as United lost 2-1 to Liverpool at Anfield.


30 September 2008

Berbatov scores twice against Aalborg BK in the Champions League group stage.

“I knew that my first goal would come sooner or later. I’m pleased to help my team win, that’s the most important thing. But I’m happy [to score my first United goal].”


29 October 2008

“One of my favourite Berbatov memories is *that* turn against West Ham. Not for the turn itself, just the old-timer in front of me at OT, who turned around shouting at everyone in the vicinity ‘did you see that? DID YOU SEE THAT!?’ We did, and it was magnificent.”
Cal Gildart


16 November 2008

“I don’t want to be compared with anybody else – especially a legend like Cantona. If you ask some of the guys here, I am the quiet one. I don’t talk much. I prefer to listen and watch. I’ve been like that all my life.”
Berbatov on those comparisons with Eric Cantona


20 December 2008

Berba is hilarious.


10 January 2009

“People talk about the north and the south but I don’t make comparisons like that, I am just interested in my football. People says it is not sunny here and it rains all the time but that doesn’t bother me. I like it the way it is. In fact, I like it better here. I am not a guy who looks for places with a lot of people and traffic. London was crazy anyway, so I used to live out of town. Here it is more peaceful. But the city is secondary to the team I play for. Now I play for the biggest team in the world, so it doesn’t matter where I live.”
Berbatov on life in Manchester


2 February 2009

“I think I can say I’m pleased so far. But even when things are going great, I keep on telling myself I need to do more. I’m a perfectionist, I set high standards. I know it can’t be perfect every time, but that’s my aim. If it’s near perfection, I suppose I’m happy. I hope people appreciate [all the assists] because sometimes I take more pleasure making an assist than scoring myself. Some days you read the newspapers, some days you’re better off not reading them! Everyone has the right to an opinion. Half the people might like me, the other half might not. But throughout my life I’ve had high expectations for myself, so I just try to make the non-believers into believers.”
Berbatov speaking to United Review


18 February 2009

“The players here who have already won it, need it again and again and again. I have none of that. When I am here, it is like I need it – I want it. With the help of everybody, with the right amount of effort on the pitch and with the team we have, I am pretty sure we can win it again.”
Berbatov on the title race


26 March 2009

While some fans may not be impressed, Italian porn star ‘Simba’ uses her breasts to paint a picture of him.


19 April 2009

Berbatov fails to score in the FA Cup semi-final shoot-out against Everton. United lose 2-4 on penalties.

“He will get criticism because when you pay £30million for a player everyone thinks he should be able to score with a penalty kick. He was upset and disappointed, as we all were. But I don’t see any evidence of Berbatov’s season tailing off. He has missed a few games and overall yesterday, I thought he did really well.”

“You remember how I scored my penalty for Tottenham [in the 2-1 win over Chelsea in the 2008 Carling Cup final] at Wembley? I did it exactly the same way.”


26 May 2009

“I am part of this team but I don’t feel fully part of it because I didn’t win the Champions League [in 2008]. That’s a little bit painful. If we can do that again, with me in the team, it will mean so much.”
Berbatov prior to the 2009 Champions League final

“I can [play] a lot better, but in the end it’s only important what the boss is going to say to me. If he says he is not [happy], then I need to work to improve so I can be better next season. I need to score more.”

“When someone has great qualities sometimes they don’t have to put much effort into things. Sometimes the things I do look effortless but it’s not like that. It’s very difficult but because of my style I make it look easy. When I get the ball the players need to start running and then I just feed them with the ball.”

“People, even before they know you, say, ‘He’s not good.’ It’s always painful to listen to that. Maybe it motivates you to show them that they are not right. I have tried to do that all my life. I keep on fighting and training. I hope when I finish with football I’ll be happy with what I’ve achieved.”


2 June 2009

“It is very difficult to accept defeat in the most important final. This is my second defeat on such an occasion, and I just hope I will get a third chance and win it. Barcelona were the better team in Rome and won. I think the season has been successful for me. Next season we will be favourites in all competitions again: after all, Manchester United is the biggest team in the world.”
Berbatov on the Champions League final


Season stats: 36 (7) appearances, 14 goals
Season high: most assists in the team, including *that* one against West Ham
Season low: penalty kick in the FA Cup semi-final


2009/10 – 2009/10 – “Regrets collect like old friends. Here to relive your darkest moments”


3 June 2009

“He is an outstanding player. Sometimes it takes people longer to fit in at a club in terms of the lifestyle and the football, which is probably what’s happened to him. But I’ve watched him and I’ve every confidence he will be even better next season. I’ve seen him be outstanding for Tottenham and I’m sure he will be again. I was very similar to Berbatov in terms of the way I looked as a player. I didn’t look like I was running around either. But just because he is not like a Wayne Rooney or Carlos Tevez doesn’t mean he doesn’t work.”
Teddy Sheringham


22 July 2009

“I think I can do better this season. I think I can do more. That’s why I am happy to be on the pre-season tour. It is always beneficial to start well and have a good pre-season and I feel I am training well at the moment. I am here to score goals and I hope to score more and more for United this season.”


22 August 2009

“He is a very good player and I am particularly happy with him.”


31 August 2009

“I prefer to score beautiful goals than ugly goals.”

“I don’t think you stop learning until you quit football. With all the talents we have in Manchester United, they do stuff that sometimes I honestly cannot do – and I don’t even try to do because I would look like a fool! Sometimes you want to try new stuff, you see people doing things and you ask them about it. You learn from each other. To develop, you have to.”


6 September 2009

“There is a winning mentality and at United success is expected season after season. I am aware I came with a big price tag and I am ready to prove this season just what I can do. We have a chance to make it four titles in a row and that means making history if we succeed. I would not say my playing style is laid back, it is just a different style. I like time on the ball and I like space. If I can get that, then I know I can free up players like Nani and Wayne Rooney, who do lots of running. I am ready to sweat blood for this club. I want to create and score goals and I know I can be part of a trophy-winning team this season.”


7 September 2009

“It’s not easy coming to United in your first season. The spotlight is on you straight away and everyone expected Berbatov to get 30 goals last year. I don’t think he’s that type of player, but he brings something different to the team. He’s so elegant.”
Andy Cole


2 October 2009

“In my first year I was disappointed in myself. I need to say that. It was a big pressure for me and maybe I failed myself. I think I wanted to prove myself to these supporters. You must remember, they are used to Best, Charlton, Cantona. I am just Dimitar. I got a number of assists, but I must score more goals. I don’t know what I am doing wrong sometimes. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s me … who knows? At nights I have stayed awake thinking: ‘You could have done this instead.’”

“[That fans think I’m lazy] is my fault, not theirs. It is me who must change. “Manchester United are their club. They have treated me perfectly since I came.”


31 October 2009

“In the first half I had a couple of chances to score, and you need to be patient and when another chance comes along you have to score it, and I was very glad to score my chance. Every time when you score a goal you are relieved because you feel you’ve done something special and that was the case for me.”
Berbatov on his goal in a 2-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers


15 December 2009

“The fans have probably seen glimpses of my best goals, passes and games. I know you need to show that all the time and that’s my main goal – in every game to show my best. I think every person is different in coping with pressure, every person thinks differently. For me, sometimes it is difficult because people expect so much of me.”


6 March 2010

“I wasn’t surprised at Berba’s work-rate. To be honest if you look at the statistics you’ll see that he’s one of the hardest runners in our team and that he covers the most ground. He’s a bit languid and whatnot, but he really puts the effort in. People see a different side to him, but I don’t think that it actually reflects his importance to the team.”
Rio Ferdinand


14 March 2010

“I’m pleased. It’s part of my job, to assist and to score, but if we win it doesn’t matter if I score, as long as we are champions in the end. I preferred the second goal I gave to Wayne today to the one I scored.”
Berbatov, after creating a goal against Fulham


28 March 2010

“Dimitar’s performances in the wins against Wolves and Bolton have showed fantastic determination. He has played up front on his own in both games. He was a massive presence running the line for us against Bolton. It was really important. It has been so important to us that when Wayne has not been playing Dimitar has been outstanding.”
Gary Neville


11 April 2010

Career low? In Wayne Rooney’s absence, Berbatov is booed by some United fans at Blackburn – the game that probably decides the title race in Chelsea’s favour. Although Berbatov creates the best chance of the game for Antonio Valencia, the striker is blamed by many for United’s failure.


17 April 2010

“People have not seen the real Berbatov this season and I would have liked to have done more for the club. My dream is still to triumph with United and win another league title. I have scored more goals with less problems at Spurs and it has been more difficult at United. But I do not worry about the critics.”


13 May 2010

“I feel exhausted and now there are many guys who can emerge from my shadow. For them the moment has come. I haven’t discussed it with my club team. I guess it will come out in England and Sir Alex will call me.”
Berbatov on his retirement from international football


21 May 2010

“He’s a fantastic footballer and he’ll be with us next year.”

“My goal is to remain with United, the best team in the world, and to see out my contract with the club. I know I have the qualities to do so. By joining Manchester United I have achieved everything I wanted.”


Season stats: 29 (14) appearances, 12 goals
Season high: created more goalscoring opportunities per 90 minutes than any other striker in the league (2.2)
Season low: Blackburn away


2010/11 – “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”


15 July 2010

“You get a positive energy from the fans. They are always cheering for the team and always cheering for the players. For example, today in training it was very nice for us to see all the people there supporting us, and it’s like that all over the world wherever we go. It shows how big Manchester United is.”
Berbatov, on fans in the USA


16 July 2010

“[He] is a great player. He has fantastic ability. I cannot see him going anywhere. He is an important part of the team. It is a squad game at Manchester United and he is an important part of that squad. He is a really good guy. I get on well with him. He is a great lad to have around the squad.”
Darren Fletcher


8 – 16 August 2010

Seals the win over Chelsea in the Community Shield (3-1) and then scores United’s first goal of the season against Newcastle United.


17 August 2010

“I thought about it during my time back home in Bulgaria. We all wanted to win the title and we gave our best to do that, but things ended on a disappointing note. When one season finishes though, it’s not long until another starts and everyone feels ready to go again.”
Berbatov on the previous campaign

“I want this to be our season [not just mine]. The most important thing is for the team to be successful and we’re all looking forward to the challenge. We want to win every competition we’re in and it’s important that we entertain the fans as well – for me that’s what football is all about. I just want to play well, enjoy myself and score and make goals. Football is like art and my aim is to create beautiful things on the pitch to help the team be successful.”
Berbatov on the season ahead


19 September 2010

One of Berbatov’s career highs as he becomes the first United player to score a hat-trick against Liverpool since 1946.

“The Old Trafford is about to rise to one of the great performances of the Premier League era. Dimitar Berbatov today has made it at Old Trafford. He’s had an up-and-down two seasons, today he’s come of age. A true United player.”
MUTV’s Stewart Gardner

“[Today] feels like magical day. It was special for me, obviously, because I scored a hat-trick and we’ve won against our rivals – Liverpool. I am happy and I am going home with a smile on my face. It was, probably, my best performance in United shirt, but I don’t want it to be my last, so I’m working on that. I also have to thank my teammates for supplying me with a ball.”


20 September 2010

“I was disappointed with myself that I could not please all the supporters. I have said before the people of Manchester United are the judges and that is the way it should be. It is their team. I am a guest. A privileged guest. Man, I don’t know but I’m just so happy. So confident. I feel like everything I imagine on the pitch will come true and that feels awesome. I have worked hard on my fitness. So hard. I’m not a weights guy, I’m sure you can see by my body, but I have been trying even to work on that. I ran 6 miles every day during the off season. I watched one World Cup match, went for a run. Then watched another and went for another run. This was my routine. The way I feel right now. I’m not tired. I feel alive. I have always said I am so lucky to play here.”
Berbatov in an interview with Bulgarian TV


22 September 2010

“We are all aware how good Dimitar is. His skills with the ball are incredible. This season he is scoring a lot, and important goals too. He has learned what he has to do. He has changed his game compared to last season. He is in the box more and is more of a threat. If he keeps doing that we have a good chance to win the league and for him to gain some personal reward by becoming player of the year.”
Nemanja Vidić

“He’s a player who has always had a sublime touch, which is why the United fans were a bit harsh in criticising him so strongly. Players of his quality on the ball are rare, and they should be encouraged. Persevere and with him and you get goals like that on Sunday.”
Robbie Fowler

“With the natural ability that guy has with a football we could be talking about him being the world player of the year this season. I’ve played with Kaka, Ronaldinho, Wesley Sneijder – and Berbatov is as naturally gifted as any of them.”


25 September 2010

“You try not to think about it but sometimes you just can’t help it. You start thinking, ‘It’s a lot of money and what’s going to happen if you don’t prove good enough for that amount of money or you don’t score enough goals?’ It can be bad for your concentration and your skills because it distracts you. But every player has periods like this and the main thing is to stay strong because you are going to have dark moments. In the end I just say, ‘Relax, play. You’re playing for the biggest club in the world’ – nobody can say anything else.”
Berbatov on that £30 million transfer fee


9 October 2010

“You cannot be angry. Everybody thinks they understand football. People all around the world think they are experts. But for me a good player, a complete player, is not just about scoring goals. It’s about vision, about touch, about decision-making. I know lots of strikers who score many goals, but they don’t have the technical ability I like to see in players. I always like a player who can control the ball, who thinks two steps ahead – players like Zidane or Xavi. Or like Leo Messi, who is not a typical centre-forward. He is more of a midfield player who scores a lot of goals. For strikers, you are right, people judge on the number of goals, but for me there is more to it than that.”
Berbatov on goals

“You need to know when to slow it down, when to increase the tempo. Zidane was great at doing that. He knew what he could do with his touch and when a player is really sure in himself he can do great things. I know what I can do and I try to do it. I try on the training ground and when you see the goals a player scores in games, in some ways, he’s already scored that goal in training. You try to transfer skills from the training ground to the game.”
Berbatov on football as art


27 November 2010

“It was a fantastic afternoon for the team and for me personally – I still can’t quite believe I scored five goals. I’ve scored five in a match before, but it was a long time ago back home in Bulgaria. To do it in the Premier League is a great feeling especially when only a few players have done it.”
Berbatov on scoring five against Blackburn


20 December 2010

“I prefer to see some of the younger lads winning the award. Please, don’t vote for me anymore.”
Berbatov on being named Bulgarian Footballer of the Year yet again

“I fought to have a chance to play for United and now I can only go down if I leave. Why I should do this? It would be better to retire.”
Berbatov on his future


22 January 2011 – 17 March 2011

In three matches of contrasts, Berbatov scores a hat-trick against Birmingham City in a 5-0 trashing and then two to complete United’s comeback at Blackpool, before losing his place in the starting line-up during United’s Champions League game against Marseille. Sir Alex is on camera laughing at Berbatov sulking on the bench.


8 April 2011

“I’m confident right now. I’m a striker and if I’m scoring goals my confidence is high, but the important thing is how you react when you’re not scoring. In those times it’s essential you remain confident. You may be going through a period where you haven’t scored for a few games, but you need to believe in yourself and believe that you can still do the things that lead to goals.”
Berbatov on confidence

“I keep [my match balls] at home and now my friends and my team-mates have started to make fun of me because I’m collecting so many. But if I keep earning match balls [for scoring hat-tricks] then I’m sure nobody will complain too much. I get them signed by my team-mates and they’re very precious to me – they remind me that with hard work and belief you can do a lot of good things.”
Berbatov on hat-tricks


19 April 2011

Selected in the PFA Team of the Season.


28 April 2011

Confirms suspicions – Berbatov is The Godfather.


14 May 2011

United crowned Champions for the record 19th time. Rooney scores the title-winning goal, while Berbatov joins the party as a late sub.


22 May 2011

Berbatov fails to score in the final game of the season, but finishes the campaign as joint top goalscorer in the Premier League on 20. The achievement doesn’t earn the Bulgarian a placed in Ferguson’s Champions League final squad.

“I’m going nowhere. Now I am part of United’s 19th title and I want to be part of the 20th, that’s my plan. I am the happiest man in the team because I’m a champion and top goalscorer in the league. To win 19 titles is a fantastic achievement. I expect to win against Barcelona. Everybody thinks the Spaniards are favourites but nobody knows who will win.”


28 May 2011

“I was very disappointed but you can not do anything. You must accept it. So I stayed in the locker room, watched the match. After the loss I remained in the locker room and waited to see what Sir Alex said. It hurt a lot. Sorry that Bulgaria could not see me in the finals, sorry that Bulgaria couldn’t be happy, or cry with me. Everyone now wonders why the team didn’t do well or why Berbatov was not in the squad, but I already told you why, it is the decision of the coach. But there’s always next year.”
Berbatov on missing the final


Season stats: 32 (10) appearances, 21 goals
Season high: winning the title, joint league top scorer
Season low: left out of Champions League final squad


2011/12 – “And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back. So shake him off.”


20 July 2012

“It was straightforward last season. Chicharito hit such bloody good form that you had to put him in in every game, because he added so much in terms of threatening defenders all the time. So it was just unfortunate for Berbatov. It didn’t make him a bad player, he was just an unlucky player in that this lad came in. But that’s football and it tells you everything about football. But Berbatov has been brilliant, first-class. His training has been terrific and he’s a good type of person. A nice guy.”
Ferguson on the Champions League final


26 July 2012

“I am a very proud person. I don’t like to show my weaknesses. I don’t want to show my emotions in public. That is why people probably sometimes misjudge me.”

“You are not going to see me puffing around the pitch. There is a saying in Bulgaria that great quality doesn’t require much effort.”
Berbatov on his character


15 September 2012

“Dimitar has been training terrific. His attitude is spot on. He will get his game time as the season wears on. There is no question about that.”


4 October 2012

“Berbatov won’t be remembered by all the way I would like him to, that classy Bulgarian fella who won us our 19th title, but I do hope our fans can respect him for the contribution he has made and way he behaves. When you look at how players like Carlos Tevez, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mark Hughes left our club, or the things they went on to do and say, we should be thankful for a player who genuinely seems to get United… Top player, top bloke.”
Republik of Mancunia


19 November 2012

“I have read some things but there is absolutely no reason for me to let him go. He is an outstanding footballer and we will give the extra year. It is unfortunate the form of Javier Hernandez over the last year has been outstanding but he plays a great role and he trains well. He has no complaints. The boy is a great professional and we are happy for him to be here.”


21 December 2011

As a late sub, Berbatov scores with a backheel against Fulham. The goal and the celebrations sum up his genius.


26 December 2011

Scores his final hat-trick for the club against Wigan Athletic.


7 February 2012

“I’m not happy that I do not play. But I cannot blame anyone, especially in the media. When I have something to say, I go and talk face to face with the manager. He decides everything.”


18 March 2012

“He appreciates the money but that was always secondary to him, he just wants to play. Mitko has to endure this situation but it is not his style to start making scandals like Tevez. There is no punishment that left Berbatov outside of the group and it’s not his notorious Scottish stubbornness. There is hardly a manager who comes close to Ferguson. Two of my meetings with him and Gill left me with the impression that he will remain head coach until he wants. Personally, he served tea and coffee, he does not behave arrogantly.”
Emil Danchev, Berbatov’s agent


20 May 2012

“I rejected City’s offer to play for the best club in the world. My time in United is over and I should find another place. Right now I don’t feel complete. I’m not a bench player, so obviously my time at United ended. My goal in my life was to reach the top and Manchester United was exactly this. I wouldn’t do something like [what Tevez did]. Tevez did it out of spite. I had the opportunity to sign for City but I chose United. City are the champions but to me they just bought the title. I’m sure next year Manchester United will be on top again. Ferguson is honest. He knows how to talk to anyone. After meeting with him you go out so motivated. You want to conquer the world. I was fighting for my place and I was trying but obviously the team will rely on young players.”


23 May 2012

Third ‘farewell Berbatov’ article appears on Rant. It’s definitely a very long goodbye.


Season stats: 11 (10) appearances, nine goals
Season high: backheel goal v Fulham, goal v Benfica in Champions League, staying classy
Season low: being a fourth choice striker


8 August 2012

Berbatov plays for the last time in United shirt as a late substitute in a pre-season game against Barcelona. He is an unused sub in the opening Premier League game of the season against Everton.


Farewell, Berba – and thank you for the memories!

2008-2012, 149 appearances, 56 goals
Premier League Winner – 2 (2009, 2011)
FIFA Club World Cup Winner (2008)
League Cup Winner (2010)
FA Community Shield – 2 (2010, 2011)
UEFA Champions League finalist (2009)
PFA Premier League Team of the Year (2011)
Premier League Golden Boot (2011, joint)

Poll: should United buy before the window closes?

August 28, 2012 Tags: , Polls 49 comments

Manchester United’s activity in the transfer market is over for the summer, with the club having spent more than £40 million, rising with potential bonuses, on a quintet of new players – Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, Alexander Büttner, Ángelo Henríquez and Nick Powell.

At least that’s the claim made by Sir Alex Ferguson at the weekend, who told reporters that United “definitely won’t be buying anyone else, that is for sure. There is no movement I can tell you about, to be honest with you. There is only a few days left now until the deadline and that will pass quite quickly I would imagine.”

Indeed, with United having spent the £40 million budget ‘guided’ during the summer investor roadshow, few expect additional acquisitions unless there are significant movements out of Old Trafford before the transfer window closes on Friday. Dimitar Berbatov, Federico Macheda and possibly even Nani can be expected to leave the club permanently or on loan.

Ferguson has strengthened United’s attacking resources considerably, with Kagawa and van Persie having already impressed, and brought in cover for Patrice Evra with Büttner. However, some fans have expressed disappointment that no new central midfielder has joined the club this summer – an area long-held as the weakest in Ferguson’s squad.

The question is should United spend more to bring in additional players before the window closes.

Should United buy before the window closes?

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Three into two for Kagawa, RvP and Roo

August 27, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 64 comments

There is more than one way to win a football match, it is often said, although at Manchester United leading from an attacking front has so often been the club’s purpose. Not always in recent times though, with manager Sir Alex Ferguson turning to more pragmatic ideals when, on occasion, faced with more limited resources at his disposal.

Yet, whether from a quixotic viewpoint or otherwise, Ferguson can have few reasons to retrench into a defensive mindset this season, with United blessed by the most dangerous attacking line-up since the Reds won the European Cup in 2008.

Two games into the new campaign and Ferguson’s summer decision to revamp his attacking resources has already impacted on United’s forward play, even if his side’s performances have been a little underwhelming to date. There is surely far more to come from an attacking eight that promises creativity, goals and more than a little thrill.

Indeed, new signings Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie have each impressed. While Kagawa has offered fluid movement and subtle creativity, van Persie’s promise of goals came to fruition in spectacular fashion against Fulham at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Each may positively affect the title race this season as Ferguson seeks to wrestle silverware and domestic supremacy away from Manchester City. Closer to home van Persie, and Kagawa even more so, will affect Wayne Rooney’s role and place in United’s side this season.

Ferguson’s team is taking time to knit – not least because defensive injuries have disrupted both the Scot’s back-four and midfield. But the most interesting area of change has been in attack, where Ferguson has rotated his resources and implemented a new tactical system. Indeed, while fans – and probably even the manager – figure out the best attacking combinations in a more fluid 4-2-3-1 this season, it seems unlikely that Ferguson will ever fit all his attacking resources into the same side so plentiful have they become.

United’s two games in the campaign to date are the case in point, with only Kagawa – of Ferguson’s attacking octet – starting both games. van Persie began his time with United on the bench, as did Ashley Young, while Ferguson dropped Nani from the Reds squad altogether for Saturday’s victory over Fulham after a hugely disappointing performance on the opening weekend. It remains to be seen whether the Portuguese remains at the club beyond Friday’s transfer deadline.

Rooney has started one, and failed to finish the other, while Antonio Valencia has switched between defence and attack. Danny Welbeck was picked to start against Everton, but came off the bench in the other, while Javier Hernández and Dimitar Berbatov are yet to appear in the first team.

Constant amid the flux has been the Japanese, whose ability to float between the lines has been the highlight of two contradictory team performances to date. Deployed in the space between midfield and attack, Kagawa could yet become the pivot around whom Ferguson builds a title-challenging side. And if that is so, then it is Rooney who may find his place in the Reds’ attack under threat.

Already there are signs of a blossoming relationship between Kagawa and van Persie, with the former providing the link between central midfield and an attacking triumvirate, whomever Ferguson selects to fill the roles.

“I was pleased with both of them,” beamed Sir Alex after United beat Fulham 3-2 at Old Trafford on Saturday.

“It’s early doors and they’ll have a better understanding as time goes on. It’s normal for us to play one up front with one in behind, whether it’s Wayne who plays in that role or Danny Welbeck. Ashley Young can play there too, Ryan Giggs can… we’ve got options that way.”

It was Rooney who so often dropped deep behind Welbeck last season, with many supporters presuming van Persie would slot into the young Englishman’s place this season. Instead, the former Evertonian is now under the greater pressure, with Kagawa influential between the lines in defeat to Everton, and then scoring against the Cottagers at Old Trafford.

Kagawa’s team-mates appreciate the selflessness of the 23-year-old Japanese internationals play too. It points towards a more flexible attacking unit than the 4-5-1/4-4-2 that United’s manager deployed in defeat last season.

“I love playing with him – one and two touch, high-energy football. We’re on the same wavelength,” effused midfielder Tom Cleverley of Kagawa’s rapid influence.

“He’s brilliant. He has settled in really well. He links defence with attack. He gets on the half-turn and creates chances. I can’t speak highly enough of him.”

Cleverley has taken a deeper role this season than performed for Great Britain at the Olympics this summer, or indeed in England’s victory over Italy earlier this month. But it is a challenge that could yet offer Kagawa the platform upon which the Japanese playmaker’s skills will truly flourish.

Whether an ageing Paul Scholes, perennially inconsistent Anderson or ill Darren Fletcher can give enough support is moot. More likely, United will again rely on Michael Carrick’s experience once Ferguson has enough central defenders at his disposal to move the Geordie forward.

But it is the attacking third on which the manager’s focus has locked this summer after City claimed the Premier League title on goal difference last summer. Only silverware will decide whether the manager’s decision not to strengthen in central midfield is a strategic error, or an inspired gamble.

“We have been low on goals from midfield in recent seasons,” Ferguson wrote in his programme notes this weekend.

“There was a time when Bryan Robson would give you a dozen through the centre of the park and Paul Scholes in his heyday was good for 10 or so but lately we haven’t seen that kind of tally. I believe that Kagawa will put that right, which should ensure that we don’t lose any more titles on goal difference.

“He is very much an attacking player, nominally from midfield but perfectly capable of taking a front role. One thing for sure is that he will add a scoring dimension if he plays central midfield, as he showed last season for Borussia Dortmund.”

Yet, Kagawa’s best work is done in and around the ‘D’, with the former Dortmund star unlikely to drop deeper unless further injuries strike. Sunday’s trip to Southampton is likely to pair van Persie and Kagawa together again, with any two from four deployed in wide areas.

The trip south is also the first of between six and eight matches Rooney will miss for the Reds while he recovers from a deep gash to the right thigh that required surgery under general anaesthetic in Manchester on Saturday night.

Then again, given the form of Ferguson’s new acquisitions, the £27 million Englishman may no longer be guaranteed a start for United when he recovers from the surgeon’s knife.

Preview: United v Fulham

August 24, 2012 Tags: , Matches 73 comments

Less than a week into the season and already there’s pressure on United to win at Old Trafford this Saturday. With Fulham in town Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will smell the scent of victory, but after defeat to Everton on Monday few points will be counted until just after five this Saturday. There’s no doubt Ferguson’s team will be hurting from the loss at Goodison Park; the question now is whether United can get the balance right to beat an in-form Fulham at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’.

Surely it’ll be different during the opening home match of the season supporters will contend – no matter how well Martin Jol’s side played in hammering Norwich City last weekend. It has to be. After all, there are fine margins between winning and losing a Premier League title, as Ferguson and his players know to their grave cost. Three points behind after the opening game of the season, the emphasis is not only on a United victory this weekend, but a comfortable one at that.

Yet, Monday’s loss to Everton has posed plenty of questions, with a redistribution of some personnel likely in Ferguson’s team. Indeed, new signing Robin van Persie should make his full debut for the club after coming on as a late substitute at Goodison, while Ferguson has some tricky decisions to make in both midfield and defence.

The question of balance is a delicate one. Last Monday United struggled at the back – with two midfielders joining Nemanja Vidić and Patrice Evra in the back-four. The Reds also failed to turn possession into chances and opportunities into goals at the other end. For all United’s attacking resources, woeful performances by Wayne Rooney and Nani, in particular, did not help the cause in just the third defeat at Goodison Park in the past decade.

Despite this, few will expect anything other than a United victory during the opening home match of the season, no matter how well Martin Jol’s side played in hammering Norwich City last weekend.

This is an assertion that will be tested by United’s continuing problems in the back four, with Ferguson set to call on Michael Carrick in the heart of defence once again in the heart of defence, although the 70-year-old manager has suggested that left-back Patrice Evra is in the mix for the role. Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are all out, while Jonny Evans should make the bench.

Central defender Evans joins the match-day party after overcoming an ankle injury aggrevated during United’s 4-4 draw with Everton last season. Yet, with no pre-season behind the 24-year-old defender Ferguson will be taking a large gamble if he selects the Northern Irishman.

“I need to call Bruce and Pallister!” joked Ferguson at his regular Friday press conference.

“Phil Jones started training yesterday but tomorrow is too soon for him. It’s pretty much the same as Monday night injury-wise. Alex [Büttner] will be involved tomorrow because he gives that back-up. Evra could actually play centre-back. He has done in the past. But I don’t think Alex will start tomorrow, I think he’ll be on the bench.”

Manchester United v Fulham, Old Trafford, Premier League, 25 August 2012Meanwhile, in attack Ferguson has a plethora of resources, with van Persie an option after the Reds failed to score on Monday despite dominating possession. On the night Rooney and Nani struggled to make any mark, although only the latter is likely to lose his place, with Ashley Young standing by to come into Ferguson’s side. Danny Welbeck may also be relegated to the bench after starting against Everton, although summer acqusition Shinji Kagawa should retain his place after impressing on his full debut for the club.

Indeed, midfielder-turned-defender Carrick says that a quartet of new signings this summer – van Persie, Kagawa, Nick Powell and Alexander Büttner – has boosted morale at Old Trafford despite the loss to Everton last week.

“When you see top players come through the door it gives everyone a big lift,” Carrick told United’s official website.

“It puts everyone in a positive mood because it means the team is moving forward, but you also know you’ve got to play well to stay in the team and that helps keep the standards high. It’s up to us to learn the strengths of the new players and for them to fit in to our system and I’m sure we’ll get better as the season goes on.

“At this stage though it’s about picking up points and we need to start doing that. Monday night was a bit of a setback, but since then we’ve just tried to stay focused and concentrate on the next game. We knew it was going to be a hard match, that wasn’t something that surprised us. It’s [defeat] happened early on in the season, a lot earlier than we hoped for and expected, so it’s important we now get a run of wins together and build up some momentum.”

Building that momentum will be no easy task against Martin Jol’s Fulham, with the Cottagers beating Norwich City 5-0 on the opening day of the season. Confidence is high in the camp despite star forward Clint Dempsey being excluded from the match-day party.

Fulham has made an official complaint to the FA about Liverpool’s intervention in Dempsey’s future, with the American believed to have asked for a move north despite no official bid having been made by the Merseysiders. It is a saga that has disrupted Fulham’s preparations for the new campaign, with Dempsey a key part of a side that finished ninth in the Premier League last season.

Jol will also be without injured trio Kerim Frei, Phillipe Senderos, and Simon Davies for the trip north. Zdenek Grygera returns to the west Londoners’ squad.

“It is not only about the Norwich’s of this world, it is also about Chelsea and Manchester United” insists Jol.

“Clint always played a good part in those games. He was always on the end of things. There are always players in football who want to move. But they keep quiet. I always hope for players to keep a low profile and wait for what will happen. This was different.

“For us it would have been better if Liverpool had followed up with a formal bid. But they didn’t, and as of now there is no formal bid on the table. It has made the situation very difficult for us. Clint’s head was turned, that is the problem. In the next couple of weeks, if it stays like now, the status quo, hopefully he will change his thoughts about us.”

Ferguson, though, will be wary of Fulham’s firepower despite Dempsey’s absence this weekend. After all, new Croatian signing Mladen Petrić scored twice against Norwich, while Damien Duff, Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembélé could provide goals from midfield.

“I went to see Fulham on Saturday, they played very well,” adds Ferguson

“The club has grown tremendously since Roy [Hodgson] got them to the Europa League final. The place is buzzing, full house every week, good atmosphere, their home record is terrific and they’ve got a lot of experienced players – six players over 30. It won’t be an easy game, we’re at home, we have to make an impact quickly after losing Monday night and we expect that.”

Yet, few expect anything other than a United victory, especially at Old Trafford. Ferguson’s side hasn’t lost an opening home game since Everton score three in 1992, while United has won the last nine league and cup games against Fulham at Old Trafford, scoring 23 goals in the process. The Cottagers, meanwhile, have taken the points just once in 50 years – a 3-1 victory in 2003.

Despite Fulham’s comfortable win over the Canaries, and the Reds’ loss to Everton on match-day one, Old Trafford’s faithful demand nothing less than the full three points. As it always is with the Reds.

Match Details
Manchester United v Fulham – Premier League, Old Trafford – Saturday 25 August 2012, 3pm

Possible Teams
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Carrick, Vidic, Evra; Cleverley, Scholes; Young, Rooney, Kagawa; Van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Wooton, Büttner, Powell, Nani, Giggs, Anderson, Valencia, Welbeck, Berbatov, Macheda, Hernández

Fulham: (4-5-1): Schwartzer; Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise; Duff, Dembele, Sidwell, Diarra, Ruiz; Petrić. Subs from: Etheridge, Somogyi, Stockdale, Baird, Kelly, Briggs, Grygera, Kacaniklic, Halliche, Kasami, Bangna, Rodallega, Trotta

Referee: K Friend
Assistants: M Mullarkey, J Flynn
Fourth Official: P Gibbs

United: L
Fulham: W

Last 10: United – 7 | Fulham – 2 | Draw – 1
Overall: United – 45 | Fulham – 13 | Draw – 16


  • Despite United’s loss to Everton on Monday there were some bright points from the game, with David de Gea putting in a great performance with seven saves in total;
  • Paul Scholes and new signing Shiji Kagawa also shone in midfield – each appears in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s top five for passes completed in the opponent’s half from the first round of games with 56 and 50 passes respectively;
  • Kagawa also covered more ground than any other player for United with 6.11 miles, ahead of the evergreen Paul Scholes with 5.68 miles;
  • Overall United completed 324 passes in Everton’s half during the game, a number bettered only by neighbours Manchester City in the opening fixtures;
  • Passing didn’t translate into goals though, with the Reds making ha 18 shots at goal – the second highest of any team in the opening weekend;
  • Fulham fans will be delighted with a 5-0 win against Norwich in the first match of the season, with new signing Petrić contributing a brace and Alex Kacaniklic also getting on the scoresheet;
  • Fulham boss Jol has completed some inspired business in the transfer market – Kacaniklic covered the most ground for the Cottagers with 6.2 miles and put in the third highest registered top speed in the Premier League with 23.05 miles per hour;
  • Fulham also covered the fourth highest amount of ground in the EA Index as team en route to 61.73 miles in total.


Rant Cast 120 – all we need is… Shinji Kagawa

August 24, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 13 comments

On this week’s packed Rant Cast regulars Ed and Paul look back on Manchester United’s opening day defeat at Everton – dissecting Sir Alex Ferguson’s team, tactics and the outlook for the rest of the season.

We talk transfers, with United signing Robin van Persie and Alexander Büttner since last week’s show, although there is no sign of that long-debated midfielder anywhere. And we delve into the disastrous form of Wayne Rooney and Nani at Goodison Park, talk injuries and Michael Carrick’s role.

Meanwhile, in the world of finances the George Soros fund bought around two per cent of the club – what does this mean, if anything, for United’s future?

We give away the ‘famous’ Bébé 7 shirt to one very lucky listener, and finally look ahead to this weekend’s fixture against Fulham at Old Trafford.

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.

Familiar failings haunt United

August 22, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 62 comments

“They don’t like it up ’em!,” Lance-Corporal Jack Jones of 1970s BBC sitcom Dad’s Army fame so often declared. Yet, it wasn’t Jerry, sent packing back to Berlin after invading the home counties, but Manchester United – 19 times champion of England – that was cowed at Goodison Park on Monday night. New season, same old story, as Everton bullied Sir Alex Ferguson’s team into submission.

It was oh-so-familar. Defensive injuries, a midfield over-run by a physically superior opponent, and a lack of penetration in attacking areas. Such was the pattern of United’s performance in defeat on Merseyside that many supporters were prone to recall the Reds’ collapse at the back-end of last season. Deja vu? Not half.

Yet, for all the trauma of defeat, this is, as the Lance-Corporal might add, no time for panic; a single game into the bright new season, there is much more to come from United. Certainly, Ferguson wasn’t helped by a glut of defensive injuries that robbed his side of four first team centre-backs in Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. The quartet’s return – any of them – cannot come soon enough.

Yet, for all the injuries that have enveloped the Scot’s squad in recent months, perhaps even years, United’s problems against Everton ran far deeper. Michael Carrick’s turn at centre-back was a mitigated disaster. After all, despite Carrick’s defensive nous the 30-year-old midfielder was too easily beaten for poor position in and around United’s penalty area. That is to say little of Marouanne Fellaini’s ability to single Carrick out for a through going over in the air.

It was little surprise when the Belgian outjumped his marker to score Everton’s winning goal on 57 minutes.

But if Carrick’s relative struggles in defence proved to be United’s undoing at a set piece, the player’s absence from midfield was even more keenly felt. Despite his many critics, Carrick’s ability to screen defensively, while recycling possession, is central to what control United exerts in midfield. Without the Geordie, Paul Scholes and Tom Cleverley offered little protection to a back four that contained two midfielders.

In that there is also familiarity. Injuries, and the positional juggling that accompanies them, disrupts United’s rhythm. More often than not in midfield. Yet, while more than £40 million was invested in Ferguson’s squad this summer – a not inconsiderable sum by Glazernomic standards – none of it brought in a central midfielder to complement the plethora of injury-prone players already at the manager’s disposal.

Indeed, while Scholes and Cleverley put up impressive numbers on the night, helping United to secure around 70 per cent of possession away from home, neither was able to provide a platform for United’s attacking players to turn territory into chances, and opportunities into goals.

More worryingly still – and not for the first time in recent years – Ferguson’s team found itself bullied by a physically superior opponent. Marouane Fellaini’s brilliance was complimented by non-stop running from former Reds Phil Neville and Darron Gibson in midfield, and a superbly organised back-four.

Further forward, Ferguson can only worry about the fitness, form and – frankly – interest of star striker Wayne Rooney, who had ‘one of those games’ at Goodison Park. The £27 million striker’s performance was mirrored in its mediocrity only by Nani, who is unique among elite players in his ability drop to abject lows with such alarming frequency.

None of this is new to supporters. Been there, seen it, got the very well-worn and washed t-shirt. No surprise either that Ferguson used his post-match media duties to deflect attention away from United’s deficiencies, and on to Everton’s direct approach to the game.

“I have no criticism of my team tonight, they applied themselves well,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“They got their shots on target and our goalkeeper did very well. We had a couple of moments. I thought maybe Danny Welbeck was pushed as he went into the box. That was a big moment and Tom Cleverley had his shot blocked by Phil Jagielka on the line in the second half. We played really good football at times.

“Fellaini is a handful. He’s a big, tall, gangly lad and they just lumped the ball towards him all the time. That’s all they did and they worked it from that base. But he got the goal for them so it’s justified.”

Yet, there were positives despite United suffering opening day defeat for the first time since 2004. While Cleverley maintained his normal up-beat pass-and-move style, Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa impressed with a range of passing and movement in the hole behind Rooney. Both auger well for the remainder of the season.

Kagawa in particular had fans intrigued; a player of the type Ferguson has never signed previously, deployed in the central position – floating between midfield and attack – that brought so much joy for Borussia Dortmund in the past two years. Any more of this and Kagawa’s £17 million fee will be the very definition of value.

Then there was Robin van Persie, who made a low-key debut as a late second-half substitute, but will surely contribute far more over the next nine months.

And it is the role of Ferguson’s new signings that fascinates most, with the 70-year-old manager needing to crowbar Rooney, Kagawa and van Persie into the side, while multiple attacking options compete for what might be just a single remaining place in the side.

In this there remains a problem – how to balance plentiful flair, with the need to exert some control in midfield. At Goodison United failed to square that circle, despite enjoying so much possession. But while ball retention may be nine-tenths of the law, United so rarely looked like troubling old-boy Tim Howard in Everton’s goal on Monday night.

The question now is both how Ferguson finds the right balance, but perhaps more importantly, how he compromises United’s better players the least. It may be no time to panic, but the after just one game of the new season old failings ring some highly audible alarm bells. Particularly through midfield.

A comfortable win over Fulham at Old Trafford next Saturday will go some way to dampening the chorus, but it is unlikely to be the last time this debate is aired over the season.

Preview: Everton v United

August 20, 2012 Tags: , Matches 212 comments

New season, new hope; and Sir Alex Ferguson has created more than a little this summer with a string of exciting, attacking purchases to bolster Manchester United’s squad. Whether the Reds soft midfield underbelly is once again exposed will be determined over the next nine months, although tThe campaign could hardly begin with a tougher fixture as Fergsuon’s men visit Everton at Goodison Park on the opening weekend Monday night of the season. New acquisitions Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie are set to make their United debuts, with the Reds chasing a 20th league title this season.

Three months on from the dramatic, and for United supporters everywhere traumatic, end to the Premier League season, with Manchester City snatching the title on goal difference deep into injury time, Ferguson has promised a response. The “mark of true champions,” says the 70-year-old Scot is the ability to respond. Indeed, the United manager has done his bit, revitalising the Reds’ attacking options with van Persie and Kagawa, and promising that “never again” will City beat United to the title on goal difference.

It is a call to arms that nobody uses to more effect that Ferguson, who has pushed his players to overcome a summer of disappointment by winning back the Premier League title next May.

“What happened takes some getting over, it’s not easy,” admits midfielder Michael Carrick.

“It was a huge blow, the way it happened. Nobody could have predicted that and we never thought it was going to happen. But we have to get over it now. We’ve had setbacks in the past and we have to move on. That’s the nature of the club and the manager. He’ll be driving us forward to achieve something this season.

“As a club we do tend to bounce back. If we have a defeat or setback we tend to come back stronger. We can’t forget how close we were. It wasn’t a disaster in terms of how the season went because we had a good season. We’ll bounce back. We’re strong this year and we’re hungry, not that we wouldn’t have been hungry anyway. It will be a good championship.”

After a trophy-less season last time out, few supporters will countenance anything other than a “good season” that contains both silverware, and exciting performances. Both were in short supply at times last season.

Yet, while Ferguson has recruited new attacking players, the Scot has been more circumspect elsewhere, with Crewe Alexandra midfielder Nick Powell likely to spend much of the season with United’s Under-21 side, and Dutchman Alexander Büttner brought in as cover for Patrice Evra at left-back.

The lack of new options in central midfield will be tested once again at Goodison, especially with Rio Ferdinand reportedly joining Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans on the treatment table. Midfielder Michael Carrick will deputise in defence, with Tom Cleverley joining 38-year-old Paul Scholes in the centre of the park. Brazilian Anderson is fit, for once some may add, but is likely to start on the bench.

Everton v Manchester United, Goodison Park, 20 August 2012Meanwhile, Everton manager David Moyes has his own midfield problems to solve after selling Jack Rodwell and Tim Cahill this summer, while Darron Gibson and Marouanne Fellaini each face late fitness tests ahead of the Monday night kick-off. Steven Pienaar has rejoined from Tottenham Hotspur, while striking recruit Steven Naismith is set for a club debut.

Still, United can expect nothing other than a thorough test at Goodison after a summer that included plenty of long-haul travel, but previous little football of a high quality.

“Being away in your first game is always tough so we’ll have to be up for it,” said Welshman Ryan Giggs ahead of what could be his final season for the club.

“We’ve had a decent record there over the years – they’re always good games which can be pretty quick and quite feisty which adds to the atmosphere. David Moyes’ teams always work hard and you know you’re in for a battle and that you’ll have to work harder than them to win.

“We can talk about the quality players we’ve got in our squad but ultimately you need to work hard and make sure you start the season off well. It’s certainly a good test to begin with and everyone is looking forward to it. The manager likes to lay down his ambitions for the season and look in the players’ eyes to see if they’re ready for the challenge and we are. It was a long summer and we can’t wait to get going and put things right this time.”

With title rivals City and Chelsea both winning at the weekend Ferguson’s side is already playing catch-up in the Premier League, although there will be no panic at Old Trafford should the Reds not come away with all three points.

Yet, there will also be desire for a modicum of revenge after Everton’s dramatic 4-4 draw with United in Manchester last April. It proved to be a decisive result in the Premier League. Ferguson will want no repeat of the lax defending his men demonstrated that day.

Match Details
Everton v Manchester United – Premier League, Goodison Park – Monday 20 August 2012, 8pm

Possible Teams
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines; Osman, Gibson, Fellaini, Pienaar; Naismith, Jelavic. Subs from: Mucha, Hibbert, Distin, Gueye, Barkley, Vellios, Duffy, Anichebe, Francisco, McAleny, Coleman

United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Carrick, Vidic, Evra; Cleverley, Scholes; Nani, Rooney, Kagawa; Van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Powell, Valencia, Giggs, Young, Welbeck, Berbatov, Macheda, Hernández

Referee: A Marriner
Assistants: S Ledger, M McDonough
Fourth Official: A Taylor


Last 10: United – 5 | Everton – 2 | Draw – 3
Overall: United – 81 | Everton – 64 | Draw – 42


RvP: the luxury Fergie didn’t need, but desperately wanted

August 19, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 15 comments

When Sergio Aguero struck home at Eastlands to hand Manchester City the Premier League title back in May it was the first time Sir Alex Ferguson had conceded England’s football primacy on goal difference alone. This was a turn of events that Manchester United’s 70-year-old manager promised to correct. Indeed, United’s transfer strategy this summer has involved a considerable rethink of the squad’s attacking options; first Crewe Alexandra’s forward-cum-midfielder Nick Powell joined, then the Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa and finally – and most spectacularly – Robin van Persie.

Yet, prima facie United had few problems hitting the net last season, with Ferguson’s squad contributing 120 in 53 games; 71 from forwards alone, including more than 30 in all competitions by Wayne Rooney. Just nine goals either way took the Premier League crown from Old Trafford, to the noisy neighbours just a few miles east. “Trust me,” said a surprisingly tetchy Ferguson on Friday, “it’ll never happen again.”

And in the Dutchman United has acquired a talent of very rare breed – 30 goals in the Premier League alone last season – but so much more than a goalscorer. The man Arsène Wenger was moved to call “an exceptional player, a great player, a world-class player” last Friday.

van Persie will add both goals and nuanced experience in the final third, an area where, for all United’s talent, the Reds became predictable against the finest opposition too often. It’s an acquisition that Ferguson hopes will be a catalyst for regaining the Premier League, and ongoing success in what is rumoured to be the final two years of the Scot’s time at Old Trafford.

“He is what we have needed for the last couple of years,” Ferguson admitted.

“He’s got maturity to his game now – an authority, timing and understanding of the game – and I think we will benefit for the next four years and beyond. We needed a ‘finished’ player. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are coming to the end and I need mature top players to replace them.

“We have had several players who have been that sort of catalyst, starting with Cantona. I don’t think we’re short of all that, I think we were still capable of winning the title without Robin, but he gives us a sort of certainty for the future. He is a player that, every time I gave team talks, was a problem for us because he kept popping up in different positions, sometimes on the right, sometimes dropping off, sometimes in the middle.”

van Persie will also ease United’s reliance on Rooney, who contributed almost three times as many goals as any other Red last term. While much can be said for Danny Welbeck’s development, and there is sympathy for Javier Hernández after an injury-interrupted season, neither broke a dozen strikes in all competitions last season. Although neither Welbeck, nor Hernández, will rest easy with the Dutchman’s acquisition – after all neither is likely to start United’s premier games should both Rooney and van Persie remain fit.

Elsewhere, van Persie’s arrival could limit the introduction of Kagawa into the United side – at least in the Japanese player’s favoured position, in the hole behind a central striker. It is now likely to be Rooney who drops deep, with van Persie leading United’s line.

And despite already possessing attacking talent in abundance, Ferguson worked against considerable opposition, both from Arsenal and his own board, to secure a transfer that will cost United a reported £15 million fee up front, rising to £22 million with bonuses. That is to say nothing of the Rooney-esque wages van Persie will earn over a four-year contract with the club.

“Understandably, Arsène Wenger didn’t want to sell to Manchester United,” added Ferguson, who called his counterpart to seal the transfer last Thursday.

“The boy wanted to come to us and that’s important. That’s what swung it and what made it possible. If he hadn’t come out forcibly to Arsenal to tell them he wanted to go to Manchester United, it meant the negotiations were really over, the only negotiation left was agreeing a fee with Arsenal as there was no one else in the picture.

“I didn’t think it was possible we could get Van Persie but, when I heard he’d refused to sign a new contract and made it publicly known that he wanted to leave Arsenal, then we had to be interested, there’s no question about that. I spoke to David Gill and David spoke to the Glazer family and we got the ball rolling. It’s been a long haul and it’s not been an easy one.”

Yet, United’s investment in van Persie – a player who will command no serious sell-on fee in four year’s time – is both out of character with the parsimonious Glazer family regime, and bucks the internal policy of largely signing players under the age of 26.

That said, while many at United – David Gill included – questioned the ‘value’ attached to a deal for van Persie, the acquisition remains within the £40 million net spend that United’s vice chairman Edward Woodward guided investors on this summer’s IPO roadshow. This was a transfer that Sir Alex desperately wanted, even if there are more pressing needs in his squad.

Whether similar promises of forward spending – guided by Woodward at around £20 million net per season – enable United to compete with City, Chelsea, Paris Saint German and many others in the future is a moot question. It may not even be that generous – the family suggested a net spend of £25 million per season when conducting a highly leveraged buyout of the club in 2005. The real figure – including heavier spending in the past two summers – is just shy of £12 million net per season.

van Persie’s capture has left the few remaining Glazerites crowing, and the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) in the odd position of releasing a statement on van Persie’s acquisition. Neither holds water. Supporting United over the past seven years is not a zero sum game; there are very many fans who remain hugely excited by van Persie’s arrival, yet reject the profit-oriented, highly-geared business model engaged by the club’s ownership.

That fans’ excitement is matched by van Persie, who followed the child within to reject reported offers from City and Juventus and move to Old Trafford, only adds to the spectacle.

“In these situations, when you have to make a hard decision in your life, I always listen to that little boy inside me. What does he want?” claimed the former Arsenal striker, who scored 132 in 277 for the Gunners.

“That boy was screaming for Manchester United. Everyone knows me by now. I love football. I am quite principled in that perspective. It is always difficult to find the perfect match but I do feel this is the perfect match for me. Manchester United breathes football.”

And van Persie will find a soul-mate in Ferguson; a manager who has bet big on the Dutchman he probably didn’t need. Perhaps it was the child within that called on United’s septuagenarian manager too.