Month September 2012

Month September 2012

Rant Cast 123 – chants, damn chants

September 21, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 7 comments

In this week’s show regular presenters Ed & Paul look back on Manchester United’s thumping victory over Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford. In one of those clichéd ‘games of two halves’ United battered the Latics with three goals inside 15 second half minutes.

But the game was marred by a post-match controversy over anti-Liverpool chanting, which has been covered just about everywhere this week. Did the media get the tone and accuracy of the coverage right, and what should United fans do next, especially with a match at Anfield coming up on Sunday.

We move on to the midweek game against Galatasaray and another sub-par United performance in Europe. Indeed, it is now 18 months since United put in a really convincing performance in European football.

We look ahead to the trip to Liverpool, and the Capital One Cup tie with Newcastle United at Old Trafford.

Finally, we take your Twitter questions and give away a Paul Scholes shirt to one lucky listener!

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

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Preview: United v Galatasaray AŞ

September 19, 2012 Tags: , Matches 85 comments

There is a bittersweet irony in Manchester United kicking off the club’s 2012/13 Champions League season barely 24 hours after reporting more than £20 million of lost revenue in the final quarter of the financial year. The poor Q4 figures, published on Tuesday, come on the back of United’s failure in last season’s Champions League, where Sir Alex Ferguson’s side was knocked out at the Group Stage and then failed to progress past Athletic Bilbao in Europe’s second tier competition.

Ferguson’s side begins the new campaign with the Scot promising an end to the complacency that wrecked United’s European season a year ago – with the manager setting the tone from the start with a much changed side against Benfica in the opening match last September. Indeed, Ferguson should be able to select close to his strongest side, fitness permitting, with Robin van Persie and potentially Shinji Kagawa returning for the Reds.

But it is in defence, where United suffered with injuries last season, that the Reds’ 70-year-old manager is hoping for better luck in the forthcoming European campaign. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić, rarely fit at the same time last season, should both start at Old Trafford on Wednesday, while Patrice Evra will return to the starting side if fit.

“I think the key is to keep the defenders fit,” said Ferguson on Tuesday.

“I mean that. We had a rough ride with defenders being injured in the last two or three years. If they remain fit that gives us a better opportunity. At the moment with Smalling and Jones out long-term, I’m down to three centre-backs -Vidic, Ferdinand and Evans. If I could be guaranteed two would be fit for the rest of the season, I’d gladly take that right now. But that’s not been the case over the last few seasons. It’s a key issue for us and we can’t hide it. I just hope we get a bit of luck in that respect.”

Yet, United’s downfall last season was equally self-inflicted in addition to rank bad luck. Frequent rotation and an almost unforgivable slackness cost United heavily, especially in key games against Benfica and Basel. It’s an error that Ferguson has promised United will correct, with the manager having previously provided surety that he will pick the strongest possible side. Time will tell on both fronts.

“Finishing off games has to be a driving force for us,” admitted Sir Alex.

“I think we all agree we were careless in two of the games at home last season. The Basel game was the one where the criticism quite rightly lies. We were 2-0 up and playing well and then got careless in the second half and ended up drawing 3-3. That ended up knocking us out, really. We had to go there [to Basel] and get a result and we ended up chasing our tails.”

Manchester United v Galatasaray AŞ - Champions League, Old Trafford - Wednesday 19 September 2012, 7.45pmMeanwhile, with Ferguson seeking a strong start to the European campaign van Persie and Kagawa, if fit, will return to the side, while goalkeeper David de Gea could start after giving way to Anders Lindegaard in the past two Premier League matches. Elsewhere Ferguson will pick two from three of Antonio Valenica, Ashley Young and Nani. Saturday’s hero Paul Scholes is likely to be rested.

Galatasaray arrive as Turkish champions having won the Süper Lig by a single point last season – and Fatih Terim’s men have started the new campaign positively with two victories from three matches.

“We’ve watched a lot of video analysis of them. I think there are several points about them – they have two players we know about in Emmanuel Eboue and Johan Elmander who played in English football. They have two good central midfielders in Felipe Melo and Selcuk Inan and a centre-forward to look out for in Umut Bulut. That’s a good name for a centre-forward!

“I know from experience it’s never easy against Turkish teams. It will be a very close game tomorrow.”

Games against Galatasaray have rarely been anything else, with United having emerged victorious just once from four matches with the Turkish giants. Goals from David Beckham and Roy Keane helped the Reds to a 4-0 victory in the last meeting between the two sides in 1994, but calamitous draws with Gala a year earlier knocked United out of the European Cup on the away goals rule, with Eric Cantona famously sent off in a tumultuous match in Istanbul.

“It’s one of those memories that will always stick with you,” Ryan Giggs told

“When we arrived at the airport, there were all the banners and thousands of fans screaming at you. There were things thrown at us when we were driving away on the coach, fans outside the hotel chanting all night making sure we didn’t get any sleep and people phoning the hotel rooms. It had everything.

“But they were a good team and a good club. It is a fantastic game to be involved in, especially away from home. It is an atmosphere a lot of the lads won’t have witnessed before. The atmosphere back then was something I tried to enjoy as much as I could.

“The fans had been in the ground for hours and hours so it was buzzing 90 minutes before kick-off. We were stood in the middle of the pitch watching the fans chant. It was one stand to another. It was a brilliant atmosphere if I am honest but obviously the game didn’t pan out the way we wanted. They were a good team then and they will be a good team now.”

Meanwhile, Turkish manager Terim will be without injured captain Tomáš Ujfaluši, who will be sidelined until the new year after undergoing surgery to repair cruciate ligament damage he sustained to his left knee in training.

Terim, a former central defender, played for Galatasaray for over a decade and represented Turkey 51 times before going into coaching with MKE Ankaragücü and then Göztepe. He was appointed Turkey coach in 1993 and led the side to Euro ’96. In a hugely successful career, Terim has won four league titles with Galatasaray and the 2000 UEFA Cup.

After spells in Italy and again with the national side Terim returned for a third spell in charge of Galatasaray in May 2011, steering Cimbom to a first Süper Lig title in four years.

But for all the nous in the away dugout United will surely hold too much firepower for a more limited opponent. Then, supporters were confident last season as well. Too confident as it turned out – to United and the bean counters’ cost.

Match Details
Manchester United v Galatasaray AŞ – Champions League, Old Trafford – Wednesday 19 September 2012, 7.45pm

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

Galatasaray (4-3-3): Muslera; Eboue, Cris, Kaya, Balta; Melo, Inan, A Yilmaz; B Yilmaz, Elmander, Amrabat. Subs from: Altıntop, Zan, Gülselam, Riera, Nounkeu, Baroš, Bulut, Özçal, Ujfaluši, Birinci, Kurtuluş, Baytar, Çolak, Amrabat, Sarıoğlu, Yıldırım

Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER)
Assistant referees: Jan-Hendrik Salver, Mike Pickel
Additional assistant: referees Tobias Welz, Christian Dingert

United: LWWW
Galatasaray: DWW

Overall: United 1, Galatasaray 0, Draw 3


Keep your shirt on

September 18, 2012 Tags: Opinion 13 comments

There were eyes full of excitement; smiles of contempt, genuine wondering and even patronising empathy. The football world was deep into the new episode of Cristiano Ronaldo dramedy. Meanwhile, the man who was once believed to be Ronaldo’s heir, struggled alone. Luis Nani might beg for pity too, but nobody seems to care. When the debate was no longer about Ronaldo, it had moved as Robin van Persie’s get out of jail free card played at Southampton, or the lazy international week.

Last Saturday, there was as little salvation found for the Portuguese on the pitch, as off it. Nani played a huge part in United’s opening goal against Wigan Athletic, and showed sparks of brilliance throughout the game, but for the most part his efforts ended up in vain, frustration dominating his game.

Nani’s vexation culminated in one episode when the winger didn’t seem even remotely interested in an opponent robbing United of what seemed a certain corner. By then Nani’s grievance was at its peak and the world had gotten the better of him.

The Portuguese didn’t do much wrong. Time and time again he found himself in good positions, but his finishing kept letting him down. The moment an opportunity presented itself, Nani’s mind began to play tricks on him – it was almost self-evident that the pressure was too much, and the final whistle became a welcome guest.

There can be little doubt about Nani’s ability, but the swings and roundabouts of form remain a solid enemy. The media, keen to blow everything out of proportion, usually doesn’t need a second invitation when it comes to a player’s poor form.

“What is clear is that the former Sporting Lisbon player is at a crossroads in his United career and is running out of time to convince Ferguson that he can fulfil his potential at Old Trafford,” read one article in Manchester Evening News recently. “Nani’s future looked in jeopardy during the summer. Nani has found himself on the brink at Old Trafford.”

It is a charge in which the player, quite obviously, has not helped his own cause. Not least because he insists on debating his future. and publicly studying potential opportunities.

“Football is not only about England or Spain,” said the winger this summer to prove the point. “It is possible to enjoy success in other countries. I have fulfilled five seasons with United and obtained all the titles.”

Negotiation through the press may have been a great idea when Nani’s team was pushing hard for a new contract – work is still in progress – but now it’s more difficult for the player to complete that dance with the media on his back.

Some stories are better than others though. While a few outlets ran the Juventus ‘bid sensation’, the real beauty was Mirror’s early September headlines involving Zenit St Petersburg. Nani deliberately asked for such exorbitant wages, so goes the story, that the Russian club would inevitably break it off. Only Zenit pursue the deal insatiably. and Nani was forced to turn off his phone.

Whether or not the episode is true, fans remain suspicious about Nani’s motives. Is the Portuguese winger demonstrating loyalty towards United, or simply ready to hold the club to ransom over a new contract?

The more important question is: where does United stand regarding Nani? Based on contract negotiations alone, the club simply isn’t going to retain Nani at any cost.

Which brings us back to the player’s form. With contract talks seemingly stalled, and the media savouring every detail – or inventing new ones – Nani is in something of a limbo at Old Trafford. It could well explain the clear frustration. It’s a place, where – as Wayne Rooney might say – nobody knows where his head is at.  Unfortunately for Nani, if he’s drowning, it’s on his own.

In truth, if Nani really wants to stay at United, he needs to regain his confidence. It will help earn that new contract too. The possibility remains that neither happens – and if that is the case, for all Nani’s imagination and brilliance, should prepare to say goodbye and never look back.

Should Nani stay, he is a player that needs to take a deep breath and restart. Otherwise, the player will inevitably himself at Juventus or whoever is the highest bidder in a few years. After all, Sir Alex Ferguson is all to happy to “show the door” to those players not committed to the cause.

There is hope for the player. Four years ago, on a rainy night in Moscow, the Portuguese boy kept his nerve in the Champions League final shoot-out. Now, he should do the same. Keep your shirt on, Luis, it’s the greatest one you’ll ever wear.

Just ask Cristiano.

Response and responsibility

September 16, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 44 comments

Strange thing, morality. Set in stone, yet so easily swayed by the prevailing wind. This week’s events at Old Trafford are a case in point after the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report into the disaster in which 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives 23 years ago.

More than two decades after the event, the Panel’s report rightly exonerates Liverpool supporters of any blame in the crush at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, while uncovering an extraordinary police conspiracy to bury the truth from public view. It is a modicum of justice for the 96, far too late for families that have suffered more than 20 years.

Rivalries wait for no grief though, and on Saturday after manager Sir Alex Ferguson called for ‘a line to be drawn in the sand’ regarding hostilities between Manchester United and Liverpool fans, a section of the Old Trafford chanted an oft-sung refrain; the ditty claiming Liverpool supporters are ‘always the victim’ and ‘never at fault’. You know the one.

The song, which taps into a long-held and patently offensive stereotype of Liverpudlians, does not mention Hillsborough, nor will United supporters recognise it as ever having related to the tragedy. Yet, in the context of the week, and an upcoming match at Anfield, it was morally and ethically wrong of fans to have given this particular song an airing, at this particular time.

United had little choice but to condemn the chant on Saturday night, claiming in a statement that “the manager has made the club’s position very clear on this matter. It is now up to the fans to respect that”.

Media outrage from the fourth estate is predictable; so too a misunderstanding of the song’s origins and meaning to the point of crass misinformation. Repeatedly, broadsheet, broadcast and tabloids alike have painted the chant, and United supporters as a whole, as seeking to besmirch the memories of Hillsborough’s victims. Neither claim is remotely valid, and the untruth, together with selective coverage, has irked plenty of Reds this weekend.

Good though that the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust joined the condemnation party, while clarify a hugely misrepresented event.

“Following this week’s developments and release of revelatory information on the Hillsborough tragedy, MUST wishes to make it absolutely clear that just as we condemn chants mocking the Munich air disaster we also condemn any chants relating to Hillsborough or indeed any other human tragedy,” said MUST chief executive Duncan Drasdo.

“We did hear the usual anti-Liverpool chants at the match today but we’re pleased to say, despite some reports to the contrary, there was nothing that was specifically referencing Hillsborough. Any attempt to suggest otherwise is irresponsible given the forthcoming fixture between the clubs and furthermore risks needlessly upsetting the bereaved families further at a time when they are understandably trying to find closure. We enjoy a fierce rivalry but these issues transcend that rivalry.”

Yet, United fans must also be honest about why the chant, which has received an airing at almost every match, without media comment,  since the Suarez-Evra race affair erupted last year, was sung once again on Saturday. Defiance and offence the design.

In the wake of this weekend’s drama collective responsibility is a watch-word United supporters must now heed, especially with tensions likely to be high at Anfield next weekend.

But amid the media’s moral outrage our nation’s press also bears a weight. Media shapes opinion as much it reflects it. Misinformation serves only to raise tensions, while failing readers in a duty of truth. The press cannot, as some have suggested this weekend, absolve itself of partial culpability for the febrile atmosphere between two of the world’s most venerated clubs.

And the truth is this: there are genuinely few Reds who wish to offend the friends and family of Liverpool’s departed. The masses caged, supporters of football in the 1980s know only too well there but for the grace went they. More to the point, tragedy is a subject so very close to home for those starboard of the East Lancashire Road.

In the wake of renewed interest in Hillsborough it is more important than ever that supporters show restraint at Anfield next weekend. There will, no doubt, be provocation from the Kop, with Patrice Evra, a victim of racist abuse, likely to bear the brunt of it. So too will references to Munich be heard or seen.

But this is absolutely no time for moral relativism. It is a time for United supporters to remember the great institution that they follow, and behave in a manner more fitting. The same, some might add, could be said for sections of the media this weekend.

Even so, few can genuinely expect hands across the water on Sunday, and not because of what United fans sang or meant during the Reds’ 4-0 victory over Wigan Athletic at the weekend. Rivalry between United and Liverpool has suffered nothing in intensity despite the Merseyside outfit’s fall from domestic hegemony.

Of more pertinence still is the degradation in football’s moral compass, where there are no longer boundaries in lowbrow opportunism. And that’s a candle that can be held to supporters of all denominations. United, Liverpool and others alike.

Preview: United v Wigan Athletic

September 15, 2012 Tags: , Matches 60 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson’s call for a “line to be drawn in the sand” over the mutual animosity between Liverpool and Manchester United fans dominated the day’s headlines. It is a malevolence that has led to some sections of each support using the deaths at Hillsborough and Munich to their own spiteful ends. And Ferguson’s is a call that will be severely tested in the hotbed atmosphere at Anfield in just over a week, when the abuse delivered will almost certainly be for the victim of racial abuse, Patrice Evra, rather than the memories of the dead.

But Anfield is for another day. On Saturday Ferguson has other concerns, with his squad returning from the international break fatigued, injured and, in some cases, without a match in two weeks; no wonder the Scot has little time for anything beyond the club game.

Indeed, the most poorly timed date in the international calendar may leave Ferguson without new acquisitions, Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa, for the weekend clash with Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford.

van Persie played just half of Netherlands’ match with Hungary on Tuesday before withdrawing with a minor leg injury, while Kagawa missed Japan’s victory over Iraq during the week due to a sore back. Each is apparently fit, but with a Champions League match against Galatasary before the trip to Anfield, Ferguson may well be tempted to take no risks with either.

Elsewhere, United’s 70-year-old manager reported no fresh injury concerns, with Darren Fletcher set to join the match-day party, although the Scot’s participation in the match is thought unlikely. Fletcher has not played a first team game for United since November 2011.

Yet, it is with international travel that Ferguson is concerned most ahead of Wigan’s visit, with the core of his squad having departed across the world in the past fortnight.

“On the injury front, everyone’s fit, apart from the ones we know about – Jones and Smalling,” said Ferguson.

“Jones was a bad blow for us. He got an injury in training last weekend and he’ll be out for eight to 10 weeks. We expect Smalling to be back training by the end of the month. There’s a little bit of comfort in that sense, given our centre-back situation. But with Jonny [Evans] back we’re in a better position than we were a couple of weeks ago.

“You always have concerns about players travelling in international breaks – we had Chicharito, Valencia and Kagawa. They’ve all done it before, although with Shinji we don’t know exactly how he reacts to travelling back from long distances. Hopefully he’ll be okay.”

Manchester United v Wigan Athletic - Premier League - Old Trafford - 15 September 2012Ashley Young returns to the squad after missing England’s matches in the past week, while Ferguson will choose between the former Aston Villa man, Nani and Antonio Valencia in wide areas. Valencia’s lengthy trip to South America for two Ecuador matches in midweek may count against the 27-year-old, although much depends on the fitness or otherwise of van Persie and Kagawa, with Wayne Rooney unlikely to return this month.

“Wayne’s doing very well,” added Sir Alex.

“The scar’s healed well and he’s training terrifically. The issue now is when do we decide to bring him into the game? We have to take the medical advice on that one. He’s training very well but he’s not back in football training yet. All his work is being done with the physios at this point in time.”

Ferguson may choose to bring Paul Scholes into United’s midfield if Kagawa fails to make the game, with Tom Cleverley reprising his more advanced England role for United. The Reds’ manager must also choose between Anders Lindegaard and David de Gea behind a back-four that has leaked five goals this season.

Meanwhile, the few players remaining at Old Trafford – those not on international duty in the past week – were left to kick their heels with assistant manager Mike Phelan, with Ferguson landing in New York for Andy Murray’s US Open tennis final.

Indeed, old timers Rio Ferdinand, Scholes cand Ryan Giggs were among the few left at Carrington, and each could hit a milestone for the club against Wigan if selected. Ferdinand is approaching his 400th game in all competitions, Scholes his 700th, and for Giggs a 600th in the Premier League. None, it can be assumed, will have enjoyed training with the kids at a deserted Carrington.

“You really feel it when you’re not involved in international football,” admitted Ferdinand.

“You’re just sitting and waiting around thinking: ‘When is the next game coming?’ When the games are coming week in and week out, with two or three matches a week, this is the time when you enjoy it the most.”

Meanwhile, Roberto Martinez’ Wigan arrive having suffered just three defeats in the past 14 games – a sequence that included a devastating victory over United at the DW Stadium last April. United’s defeat to near-neighbours Wigan came as the Reds threw away an eight point lead during last season’s run-in.

But Martinez has also built a fine attacking side on a very limited budget, with the club’s best players poached by larger clubs each summer. Indeed, left-winger Victor Moses left for Chelsea in a £10 million deal during the latest transfer window, although the goalscorer from Wigan’s April victory, Shaun Maloney, remains at the club.

Wigan travel with few injury concerns, although the Latics may be without Jean Beausejour and Antolin Alcaraz. Midfielder James McArthur should be fit after recovering from a back injury.

Martinez can hardly afford any absentees given Wigan’s horrific record at Old Trafford since the Latics promotion to the nation’s top division.

“The last seven visits to Old Trafford have been a real uphill task for us; 24 goals conceded and one goal scored, from the penalty spot, tells its own story,” admitted Martinez.

It is a record that makes United firm favourites to secure a third Premier League win of the season. Yet, the clubs’ last meeting means few at Old Trafford will be counting the points secured just yet. That can wait until just before 5pm on Saturday afternoon.

Match Details
Manchester United v Wigan Athletic – Premier League, Old Trafford – Saturday 15 September 2012, 3pm

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

Wigan (3-5-2): Habsi; Boyce, Caldwell, Ramis; Miyachi, McArthur, McCarthy, Maloney, Figueroa; Di Santo, Koné. Subs from: Pollitt, Crusat, Gómez, Jones, Watson, Fyvie, Stam, McManaman, Boselli, Redmond, López, Kiernan, Mustoe.

Referee: M Oliver
Assistants: S Ledger, C Breakspear
Fourth Official: P Dowd

United: LWW
Wigan: LWWD

Last 10: United 9, Wigan 1, draw 0
Overall: United 14, Wigan 1, draw 0


  • Robin van Persie’s hat-trick against Southampton last week stole the points for United, but 45 per cent of the Dutchman’s 11 shots so far have been off target – unusually low for the normally accurate striker;
  • Michael Carrick has been the focal point of United’s midfield once against this season, having received the ball 285 times this season according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Not only has Antonio Valencia provided the most crosses so far in the Premier League this season with 16, but the Ecuadorian has also made 55 successful passes in the attacking third of the pitch;
  • Martinez was disappointed that his side could not close out the game against Stoke City two week’s ago, with the match ending 2-2 despite goals from Shaun Maloney and Franco di Santo looking to have secured the win for the Latics;
  • Defender Ivan Ramis has produced some excellent defensive work so far this season, being successful with 90 per cent of his 10 tackles so far and conceding only two fouls;
  • Gary Caldwell will be looking for more consistency given his mixed start to the season – despite conceding fouls in 45 per cent of his challenges, the defender has contributed 10 clearances and 21 interceptions according to the Index;
  • Martinez will no doubt be pleased with the performances of Emmerson Boyce recently – the 33-year-old has provided 12 crosses this season already;
  • Boyce also ranks second in the Index for top speed recorded by any player this season with 23.07 mph;
  • Meanwile, Arouna Kone has shown a willingness to take the game to the opposition this season – he ranks first for total dribbles this season with seven.


Rant Cast 122 – one man team

September 14, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast No comments

This week on the nation’s favourite Manchester United podcast* we look back on Manchester United’s narrow victory over Southampton at St Mary’s before the international break. Did Robin van Persie’s hat-trick get United out of jail free after an ‘omnishambles’ of a defensive performance?

We talk international football, with a large proportion of Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad away with their national sides over the last week. England won won, and drew won, but there was greater success for some Reds.

Also on this week’s show – we talk Wayne Rooney’s book, Cristiano Ronaldo’s sadness, take your Twitter questions, talk Anderson’s food habits, ponder the merits of Eric Cantona’s collar, give away a Paul Scholes shirt, and preview the week ahead with Wigan Athletic and Galatasary visiting Old Trafford.

(*Well, in the top 10 at least!)

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

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

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

Reds emerge unscathed from international break… just about

September 12, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 7 comments

Manchester United’s players returned to training today after the international double-header of the past week, with just a few days preparation before the Reds take on Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford. Always the most inappropriately timed FIFA-sanctioned international, more than half-a-dozen United players departed the country for World Cup qualifiers and friendlies. And while Sir Alex Ferguson returned from a brief sojourn to watch Andy Murray win the US Open in New York unscathed, not all his players can make the same claim.

Over in Moldova Roy Hodgson’s England began World Cup qualification in fine fashion, beating the home side 5-0 in Chişinău, with United’s Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck appearing off the bench. Meanwhile, Carrick’s midfield partner Tom Cleverley won widespread praise for an ambitious performance at the head of England’s midfield.

“Cleverley was excellent for 90 minutes and when you watch him, you understand why Sir Alex Ferguson is pleased with him,’ said England manager Roy Hodgson, who deployed the youngster as a shadow forward at Stadionul Zimbru.

“Tom stepped into that position and looks at home there. Tom’s come into a team alongside the likes of Lampard, Gerrard and Carrick and didn’t look at all out of place.”

Back at Wembley on Tuesday night Carrick again started on the bench along with Welbeck. While the latter made a highly effective late appearance as a substitute it was Cleverley, once again, that caught the eye – although this time for less celebrated reasons, with the 23-year-old missing three clear chances in an hour-long appearance. There will be far better days for Cleverley in an England shirt.

Meanwhile, for France Patrice Evra returned to Les Bleus side for the national team’s victories over Finland in Helsinki and then Belarus at Stade de France four days later. Evra lost his place to Manchester City’s Gael Clichy during Euro 2012, but has seemingly found favour with new national team manager Didier Deschamps.

For Portugal Nani missed Selecção’s friendly with Luxembourg last week, although the winger played as the national team beat Azerbaijan 3-0 at Estádio AXA in Braga on Tuesday. Nani may not be Ferguson’s first choice this season, but the 25-year-old remains key to Portugal’s hopes of qualification for Brazil 2014 having scored 13 goals in 60 appearances.

In Brazil the national team, which qualifies automatically as hosts for 2014, played friendlies against China and South Africa, scoring nine goals in the process. However, United’s Brazilian contingent – Rafael da Silva and Anderson – were both absent from Mano Menezes’ side. Rafael appeared in most of Brazil’s matches in the past summer.

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica Javier Hernández started, but failed to score as Mexico beat the hosts 2-0 in San José. And if there had been any heat for Chicharito in the build up, with the striker not starting for United this season, the 23-year-old ended the debate with the winning goal in the return match as El Tricolor won 1-0 in Ciudad de México.

Back in Europe, the Reds’ £24 million summer acquisition from Arsenal, Robin van Persie, started games against Hungary at the Puskás Ferenc Stadion in Budapest, and Turkey three days earlier. van Persie scored his 30th international goal against the Turks, only to hobble off at half-time with a minor thigh knock against the Hungarians. The 29-year-old striker will face a late test to decide whether he is fit to face Wigan this weekend, although the injury is not thought serious.

“We took off Robin for precautionary measures,” Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal told SBS6 television. “It doesn’t seem to be too serious, but you never know. We didn’t want to take any risks.”

In a similar vein Shinji Kagawa played for Samurai Blue as the Japanese beat UAE 1-0 in a friendly at Niigata’s Denryoku Big Swan Stadium last week, only for the midfielder to miss the World Cup victory over Iraq. Manager Alberto Zaccheroni omitted the playmaker with a minor back complaint, although there is no guarantee Kagawa will make either of United’s upcoming matches against Wigan or Galatasaray.

“It happened in yesterday’s practice,” Kagawa told Nikkan Sports. “I was holding the ball and went to make a move and in that instant it started to hurt. “I won’t take long [to recover].”

There are no such fears for flying winger Antonio Valencia, who captained Ecuador to two positive results in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying. Ecuador beat Bolivia 1-0 at Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa in Quito, before securing a highly creditable 1-1 draw with Uruguay in Montevideo. Former City striker Felipe Caicedo scored the goal which earned Valencia’s side the valuable point in the Uruguayan capital, three days after scoring the winner against Bolivia.

One man on the way back from injury, Jonny Evans, played in Northern Ireland’s matches against Luxembourg and Russia. The Irish emerged with a single point after drawing 1-1 with the central European minnows at Windsor Park, while Russia chalked up a comfortable 2-0 victory in Moscow. Evans created a goal for Dean Shiels, while coming through the fixtures with no fresh injury to the left ankle which underwent surgery this summer.

There was even better news in the shape of international débuts for two United youngsters – flying Norwegian striker Joshua King, and Irish winger Robbie Brady. King came of the bench against Iceland at Laugardalsvöllur, Reykjavík as Norway lost 2-0 to the hosts, and again as the Norwegians beat Slovenia 2-1 in Oslo. The 20-year-old striker, who spent last season on loan at Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hull City, failed to score on either occasion.

Meanwhile, Brady made a scoring début for the Irish against Oman at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. Brady scored three times in 39 appearances for Hull on loan last season, but even better was to come for the Irish with the 20-year-old scoring and making two more as the Republic ran out 4-1 winners.

“I’m delighted with the way it went, with a goal and an assist, but I thought I could have done more,” Brady said. “I wasn’t disappointed, but I felt I could have done a bit more. Maybe got on the ball a bit more, all-round really. I’ve gotten on well with everyone. The guys are great. They’ve made me feel part of the group.”

There are likely to be many more nights like this for the highly regarded youngster, and while Sir Alex will undoubtedly show pride in two more coming off the production line into the international scene, the 70-year-old Scot, much like his countryman in New York, will simply be “relieved” if all his charges return home unscathed.

Being Ronaldo

September 10, 2012 Tags: Opinion 37 comments

“I’m sad, when I don’t celebrate goals it’s because I’m not happy,” said Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring a brace in Real Madrid’s 3-0 defeat of Granada a week last Sunday. “It’s a professional thing. Real Madrid know why I’m not happy.”

This is a drama that has dominated the Spanish press for more than a week now, with the former Manchester United forward seemingly wanting more money, additional limelight, or his ego stroking depending on the source. Probably all three. Pundits across the country have lined up to offer their tuppence worth, while Madrid’s players have – to a man it seems – proclaimed that Ronaldo is far from suicidal.

Whatever the truth, there is no doubt the Portuguese is enjoying the attention; the man who “can’t walk past a mirror without checking himself,” as former team-mate Wayne Rooney put it this week.

“I’m sad, when I don’t celebrate goals it’s because I’m not happy,” said Ronaldo last Sunday.

“It’s a professional thing. Real Madrid know why I’m not happy. That I am feeling sad and have expressed this sadness has created a huge stir. I am accused of wanting more money, but one day it will be shown that this is not the case.

“At this point, I just want to guarantee to the Real Madrid fans that my motivation, dedication, commitment and desire to win all competitions will not be affected. I have too much respect for myself and for Real Madrid to ever give less to the club than all I am capable of.”

Not that United has been left out of the fun, with the Mirror reporting that Reds manager Sir Alex Ferguson has demanded the Glazers ‘bring Ronaldo home’ – whatever the astronomical cost. Adding to the intrigue, there is little secret that Ronaldo is in regular communication with both Ferguson and United’s players; a superstar whose dream in Madrid turned out to be less than fluffy clouds of eternal bliss, despite 151 goals in 150 appearances for Los Merengues. Ronaldo has found fortune in Madrid, but not the unsated adoration he apparently craves.

Yet, it takes not a cynic to dismiss any notion of Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford any time soon, even if the Portuguese forward’s unhappiness is not solely about leveraging his status as Madrid’s finest to secure a lucrative pay rise on a contract that runs to 2015.

Few, including leading Madrid-based sports daily Diario AS, believe the 27-year-old player is after anything but a new contract. But even in the highly unlikely event that all the stars aligned there is little possibility of United financing a deal for the world’s second best player. After all Ronaldo earns around €12 million per season before tax – up to €10.5 million net, according to some analysts, thanks to Spain’s formerly lax tax rules for super-rich imported footballers, which still apply to the player’s contract before renewal.

That prodigious salary works out at an income somewhere north of €200,000 per week – or an equivalent gross weekly salary in the UK far in excess of £250,000. Whatever the figure, it exceeds by some distance the new contract handed to Rooney in October 2010. All of that says nothing of Ronaldo’s €1 billion buy-out clause or, more realistically, of the €100 million fee Madrid will reportedly demand of any suitors.

In reality – as ever in football – it all comes down to money and ego. And here’s the rub, with Spain’s tax laws having changed any new contract signed by Ronaldo in Madrid will benefit not from the ‘Beckham Law,’ but a 52 per cent higher rate tax imposed by Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba’s Socialist Workers’ Party. Somebody will have to pay the difference, and Ronaldo doesn’t intend it to be him.

“He wants more money,” claimed Alfredo Relano, editor Madrid-based sports newspaper Diario AS, to underline the point.

“A while ago he was talking about a contract for life. But the price of a superstar has gone up after all the goals he has scored and after all Madrid have won.”

But there is no obvious remedy, if indeed it is a new contract Ronaldo is really seeking. After all, the new tax rate places Madrid under pressure to significantly raise the gross salary in any new deal. Moreover, should Madrid wish to bring Ronaldo’s salary in line with some of the best-paid players on the planet – Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, and Darío Conca for example – the gross sum will stretch even the Madrista’s deep pockets.

There seems little doubt Ronaldo’s ego demands not the money per se, but the status of being one of the world’s best paid players. How it must have hurt for his team-mates to campaign not for the Portuguese to be named European Footballer of the Year, but Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Yet, such is Ronaldo’s dive-esque need to create drama that the player may well yet find his va va voom in Madrid. He probably just needs Sir Alex’ arm around his broad shoulders, which some may say just goes to prove that the player should probably never have left Old Trafford no matter the ‘dream’.

What was that Sir Alex said about cows and fields? Ronaldo’s team-mate-cum-nemesis, Rooney, might have something to add to the debate.

Cristiano in Numbers

Ronaldo’s gross salary is €12,000,000 million per annum or €230,769 weekly, before bonuses and any commercial income. Under the Beckham Law and various tax avoidance schemes Ronaldo’s net salary is between €9,150,000 and €10,500,000 per annum, or €175,000 to €200,000 weekly. To put that in some kind of perspective, Ronaldo’s gross is £9,605,369 per annum, or just shy of £185,000 per week before bonuses.

Net of tax Ronaldo would earn an equivalent of £92,500 per week in England, but the Beckham Law ensures Ronaldo pays far less tax than a higher rate earner in the UK – an equivalent gross salary somewhere in excess of £250,000 per week.

Sporting CP: 2002/3 – 31 appearances, 5 goals
Manchester United: 2003–9 – 292 appearances, 118 goals
Real Madrid: 2009 – 149 appearances, 151 goals
Portugal: 2003 – 97 appearances, 37 goals

Disingenuous Rooney banking on fans’ support

September 8, 2012 Tags: Opinion 63 comments

What is a man to do? So many books to shill, so little time to do it. Good job, then, that an injured Wayne Rooney can dedicate time not to getting fit – by his own admission that’s never been a strength – but to selling his new tome, My Decade in the Premier League. And how better to achieve that goal than to feign a long-held love for his employers, or offer platitudes of regret for trying to engineer a move away? After all, there are Manchester United supporters customers followers who still buy into the man and myth; perhaps even the book. Priced at £12.99 from anything but a good book store.

Still, with Rooney celebrating a decade at the top there is no better arbitrary anniversary on which to tell the player’s ‘story’ once again. Not least, with United fans in mind, the tedious lie about the player’s commitment to the club – nearly two years on from October-gate when player and agent conspired to join Manchester City.

So, it was to the media that Rooney turned this week, and the player’s latest in a rather long line of ‘autobiographical’ titles released by Harper Collins. No surprise either that amid the tedium of trite clichés, and heinously bastardised tense, Rooney once again visits his October 2010 request to leave United.

Except Rooney’s book reduces the episode, which brought scorn from the terraces and a masterful press conference performance from Sir Alex Ferguson, to a mere three paragraphs of deliberately misleading prose.

“In September 2010 my ankle puts me on the sidelines,” says Rooney, in that odd use of the present tense in recalling the past that only appears in sports biographies.

“I get frustrated with myself, my game, my injury, and everything around me. I’m stuck in a cycle of bad form but I can’t get out of it. And that’s when I make the biggest mistake of my football career.

“In October, I release a statement which publicly questions my happiness at Old Trafford. Am I better off elsewhere? Everyone makes a fuss. There are discussions inside United to sort out the issue, people outside United chuck their opinions around, but the thing is, nobody really knows what’s going on in my life. None of them understand where I am in my career. They don’t know where my head’s at. The only person who really knows what’s going on in there is me, but even I’m not sure what I want.”

“Then the manager has his say. ‘Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it’s a better cow than the one you have in your own field. And it never really works that way’. He’s saying the grass isn’t always greener, and he’s right. I like what’s in my field. I’m wrong. United want the same as me: trophies, success, to be the best.”

Except, of course, Rooney’s field was considerably greener for being fertilised by the new £200,000-per-week contract that precipitated the player’s about-face, and City’s transfer disappointment.

None of this is new of course. Rooney has now often spoken of his “mistake” in requesting a transfer during a four day stand-off, although in the pantheon of negotiating tactics, the Scouser’s principal public relations failure was in taking the issue to the media.

Still, two years on and Rooney spent the past week publicising his wares, appearing in print and broadcast press, while the Mirror serialised the player’s book. The striker is seemingly unaware of the damage caused to his United legacy – a player who never be more than another expensive import for whom United is a business and not a passion. Fans, save perhaps for the ‘follower’ community, have come to expect little else from the Premier League product.

Yet, it still grates when Rooney feigns contrition, or worse still, fatuously compares himself to those who have genuinely forgone greater wealth elsewhere to play for the club.

“Sometimes as a player you make bad choices and bad decisions, and I think that’s what happened,” Rooney told Sky Sports this week.

“I want to still be playing here in the next 10 years. You look at Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, how successful they have been. They are an example to us all. That is the idea, that is the plan, and hopefully that will be the case.

“I love playing for Manchester United and as long as I am wanted to play for this football club I will be here for a long time. It is a great football club and, let’s be honest, where else can you go from this football club? It is probably the biggest team in the world.”

Eight years on from the £27 million transfer that brought the player from Goodison Park to Manchester Rooney’s place at the club is less secure than it was during October-gate. Predictable rumours of a transfer away from Old Trafford spread when Sir Alex dropped the player for United’s home game against Fulham.

And although a departure this summer was never on the cards, there will be little surprise if United eventually cash in on a player whose star has probably peaked.

Indeed, Robin van Persie’s arrival at United, together with a genuine ‘number 10’ in Shinji Kagawa, has placed Rooney under more pressure to earn his spot in Ferguson’s team than ever before. Moreover, with the Scouser out of the side injured for at least another fortnight, it may be mid October before the player is at his sharpest. After all, Rooney is notoriously slow to develop fitness after frequent spells on the sidelines.

And it has been telling that Rooney’s media circus has been greeted not with affection this week, but a certain sense of cynicism from fans, especially those growing weary of inconsistent performances, and proclamations of affection.

Better for the player to declare his love of filthy lucre than United’s red shirt. After all, another day, another dollar has been the mantra this week. Just one more product to flog.

Fletcher back as Bébé misses out

September 5, 2012 Tags: , , Shorts 7 comments

Manchester United’s Premier and Champions League lists, confirmed on Tuesday, include Scottish captain Darren Fletcher, with the 28-year-old seemingly on the verge of a return to first team action this season. However, £7.4 million Portuguese misfit Bébé misses out on European action as Sir Alex Ferguson named his squads for the first half of the season.

Fletcher has not appeared for United since 22 November 2011, and played just 10 times last season after taking an extended break from football. The Scot is recovering from a long-term affliction with ulcerative colitis, although there is no date for the midfielder’s return to the first team. Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson was able to include Fletcher in both squads – due to his ‘home grown’ status – without impacting on any other player’s place in the squad.

The Scot has appeared twice for United’s Under 21 side this season, with Ferguson reporting Fletcher has gained weight and strength over the summer.

Meanwhile, Bébé – Tiago Manuel Dias Correia – has remained at the club this season after United failed to find a loan spell for the player. The former Vitória de Guimarães player will be available for domestic duty in the unlikely event Ferguson calls on his unique services.

Bébé spent last season on loan with Besiktas in Turkey, although a knee injury curtailed the season to just a handful of appearances. In the meantime Portuguese police continue to investigate the deal – a transfer in which more than 30 per cent of the fee went to agent Jorge Mendes.

United’s European party includes a 25 man ‘A’ squad and eight on the ‘B’ list, although Sir Alex can add to the secondary list at any point proving the player meets UEFA’s criteria. Players are eligible for the B list if born on or after 1 January 1991, and if they have been registered with the club for two years without interruption.

Meanwhile, Premier League rules demand that United registers a 25 man squad – United’s is 24 strong – with no more than 17 players who do not fulfil the ‘Home Grown Player’ criteria. Home Grown players are those who, irrespective of nationality or age, have been registered with an FA affiliated club for three seasons prior to their 21st birthday. Under 21 players are those born on or after 1st January 1991, and United can include any number over and above the 25 man squad limit. Phil Jones, for example, is not included in United’s 24 man Premier League squad, but is eligible as an Under 21.

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