Author Ed

Author Ed

Read my lips, no new signings

July 13, 2009 Tags: Opinion 8 comments

Michael Owen will be manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s final prominent signing of the summer, according to the boss himself. While speculation has focused on who will replace the departed Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, Sir Alex insists that United has acquired the right signings, at the right price.

Speaking at the unveiling of Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan this afternoon, Ferguson blamed the inflated transfer market for the failure to land a big-name signing.

“Everywhere in England and in Europe the players’ values have shot sky high,” said Ferguson.

“I don’t think any of the transfers that you see happening are realistic but for some reason the market seems to have caught fire this summer. It is a very unusual summer and difficult to get value because of that.

“It’s always been the case that Manchester United have to pay a bit extra. But this summer we were not prepared to do that because we have got some very good young players.

“There didn’t need to be a kneejerk reaction to losing Cristiano Ronaldo. We did very well to keep him for six years. He wanted to go, and we allowed him to do that.

“We shouldn’t panic because one or two players are leaving. I think we have a very, very good squad with good young players in all positions.

“We asked about Benzema and we had a value for him. Lyons have done well because they got €42m but I think we took a sensible view.

“It’s the end of our business, so forget all these stories about who we’re supposed to be getting.”

Many United fans will be disappointed that the manager is not willing to open the cheque-book up and spend some of his reported £125 million summer transfer budget. A top class forward, left winger and defensive midfielder would undoubtedly enhance United’s team. But assuming that Ferguson’s budget is still available should he want it (and that may be a leap of faith given the club’s debt), then there is much to be admired in the boss’ approach. The United board has long been criticised for paying over the odds. This summer, in the face of bankrupt spending by Real Madrid, and the petro-dollars available at City, Ferguson has placed faith in value, youth and his own intuition.

While United does retain an interest in Gremio’s attacking midfielder Douglas Costa, it is likely that a deal will only be done for the Brazilian if his club backs down from their demanding for an eye-watering £20 million. The under-21 international is undoubtedly talented but when leading pundits in Brazil question whether United are “being conned,” then the club is right to set a price, and stick to it as they did with Karim Benzema.

Moreover, most United fans will appreciate the faith that is being placed in the talented youth team duo of Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda. Ferguson has built his reputation on placing faith in the vitality of youth and there’s nothing wrong with doing so again.

The major risk is that of Owen, whose form and injury record over the past few seasons is far from impressive. With no top-class forward now likely to join United this summer, Owen will be relied on more than many United fans had first thought. It’s a risk that Owen rejects.

“It does irritate me that so many people have doubts,” said Owen, who has been handed Ronaldo’s number seven shirt. “If there is one thing I am angered by, the injury thing would be it.

“There is no doubt I have had injuries in my career. But there is a long list of players that have had a broken metatarsal. I was foolish trying to rush back for the World Cup and my leg had just come out of plaster. But I played 33 and 32 games in the last two years in a team that was not in Europe and did not go on a decent cup run. Still I was continually labelled injury-prone, which gets up my nose.

“I am 29 and have played over 500 games for club and country. That says it all.”

However, even if Owen remains fit and regains the form of old, the consequence of not spending big this summer will be felt on the pitch. History shows that Owen, Valencia and Obertan – 12 goals between them last season – cannot replace Tevez and Ronaldo who scored 41.

Traitor Tevez joins City

July 13, 2009 Tags: Opinion 35 comments

Having spent the best part of the last two months bleating on about how hard done by he was at United, Carlos Tevez has now done the dirty on the fans that hero-worshipped him and signed for Manchester City on a five-year contract.

Tevez blamed his Old Trafford exit on manager Sir Alex Ferguson – for not picking the Argentinian striker enough in the major games. But confirmation of the long expected move across town has exposed Tevez for the treacherous liar he is. With no European football at City, and plenty of competition for striking places, Tevez will almost certainly play in fewer big games next season, not more. £150,000 per week should help ease the pain of sitting on the bench.

“It is terrific news,” former United legend Mark Hughes Mark said on confirmation of the deal.

“Carlos is an international player of the highest class who possesses all the attributes that will help drive this club forward.

“He is not only outstanding technically but he is a reliable goal scorer and someone who will contribute fully to the team ethic. He gives us another exciting, attacking dimension.

“I cannot wait to welcome him to City. I am sure our fans will give Carlos an exceptionally warm welcome.”

Tevez, who will keep his number 32 shirt at City, can expect more than a warm welcome from the fans when he returns to Old Trafford next season. The real shame is not that Tevez left Old Trafford – he just wasn’t good enough for United – but that a fans’ favourite has been exposed as a hypocrite. Those United fans who drowned out Sir Alex’ end of campaign address last season will have more than a moment’s pause for thought now.

Indeed, Sir Alex suggested that Tevez’ had little intention of signing on the dotted line at Old Trafford.

“I half expected Carlos Tevez would be going a long time back,” said Ferguson at an Old Trafford press conference today.

“I think he maybe did a deal around January because I spoke to him and gave him an offer on the night we played Inter Milan and he never came back to me.

“I phoned him on holiday and he never got back to me and I texted him twice and he never got back to me then either, so obviously he had made his mind up a long time ago.

“He was a good player and did well for us. But he obviously assessed the situation and wanted to go somewhere else.”

History says that there’s only one way out of Old Trafford, and that’s down. Good luck Carlitos, you’ll need it.

Is Eto’o the target? Expect this to run

July 12, 2009 Tags: Opinion No comments

Barcelona forward Samuel Eto’o is likely to make a summer move to Manchester United, but don’t expect the deal to be sealed anytime soon, if reports in today’s Daily Telegraph are to be believed. The Cameroon striker, having seen a move to Manchester City collapse amid fighting over money, is reportedly  willing to accept a large reduction in the wage on offer at Eastlands in order to secure Champions League football next season. With his bridges burnt at Camp Nou and Eastlands –  and few suitors willing to match the striker’s financial demands – United are now head of the queue according to reports.

This is a suprise revaltion – after all Eto’o was expected to agreed a £25 million, £200,000 per week, deal to move to Eastlands. However, his apparent demand for half the fee from Barcelona scuppered the deal, with City pulling out late last week. The striker, who is in the final year of his contact at Barcelona, now has few viable options other than United.

While the reasoning in today’s Telegraph is sound, its hard to envision United spending huge amounts of money on a 28 year-old forward who will miss six crucial weeks of next season at the African Nations Championship.  Like many in the game, manager Sir Alex Ferguson is a known admirer, but with United concentrating on younger, cheaper targets, Eto’o is only likely to move to Old Trafford if the Reds hold out for a substantial reduction in the proposed fee. A scenario in which United may need to hold their nerve until the final day of the transfer window.

United may have substantial funds in the bank following the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo and Frazier Campbell this summer, but the club was believed to have a policy against spending large sums on players they have no hope of making a return on.

Eto’o to United is only a realistic scenarnio if the player holds out for a move to Manchester as his best option. While United may take a gamble on the player if the fee drops to below £15 million, it must be doubtful that the player move for football rather than money. Given that Eto’o has already rejected £100,000 per week to stay in Barcelona, it would seem unlikely.

If Eto’o does move to Old Trafford, the player will have to buck the trend in which the majority of talent is heading to or remaining in Spain. With tax at a maximum of 23% in Spain, compared to 50% tax plus 11% NI in the UK for high earners like footballers, the trend may be towards a drain of talent away from the Premier League in the coming years. Indeed, when players as talentless as Jermaine Pennant can earn the equivalent of £80,000 per week in Spain, then we know the era of Premier League dominance of Europe is now at an end.

In the meantime United fans will continue to wait and see if the club is able to sign up a big name replacement for Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.

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United games shifted, fans shafted

July 10, 2009 Tags: , , Shorts No comments

At least ten Manchester United games will be moved from their original times and dates before December after Sky and ESPN announced their initial covered fixtures. The list means that by the end of the 2009/10 season more than half of United’s season will have be moved for TV coverage. Once again this season’s fixtures will be randomly assigned designed to maximise viewings figures rather than the consideration of traveling supporters. See you all at Portsmouth away  for the inevitable Sunday 27 Dec 8pm fixture!

Fixture changes up to the end of December:

  • United v Birmingham, Sunday 16 August, 1.30pm (Sky)
  • Burnley v United,  Wednesday 19 August, 7.45pm (Sky)
  • United v Arsenal, Saturday 29 August, 5.15pm (Sky)
  • Tottenham v United, Saturday 12 September, 5.15pm  (ESPN)
  • United v City Sunday, 20 September, 1.30pm (Sky)
  • United v Sunderland, Saturday 3 October, 5.15pm (ESPN)
  • Liverpool v United, Sunday, 25 October, 2.00pm (Sky)
  • United v Blackburn Saturday, 31 October, 5.15pm (ESPN)
  • Chelsea v United Sunday, 8 November, 4.00pm (Sky)
  • United v Everton Saturday, 21 November, 5.15pm (ESPN)

Ibrahimovic? No thanks!

July 9, 2009 Tags: Opinion 8 comments

The best part of silly season is the speculation. This summer is no different and with United’s apparent bumper transfer kity the rumour mill has been in full swing. Sometimes there is unrealistic hope that United will pull off a mega-deal, such as with tabloid speculation about David Villa. Occasionally, the club is linked with hitherto unheard of ‘wonderkids’ from all parts of the globe, normally being hawked by their agents. Then there’s the best bit – the signings – and there have been three new United players to date, albeit somewhat underwhelming.

But just occasionally there’s a rumour that makes you shudder with fear. Not Liverpool hero Michael Owen moving to Old Trafford, as sickening as that was when it came true. No, worse still is today’s rumour that Sir Alex Ferguson is seriously considering a bid for Inter Milan’s striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

It’s not that the Swede is a bad player. His record is decent. Indeed, he picked up the capocannonieri title as Serie A’s top goalscorer last season with 25 strikes, and bad players don’t do that. Moreover, his performances moved no less a manager than Jose Mourinho to call him “the best player in the world.”

But Mourinho’s assertion was ridiculous – designed more to make headlines than based on reality. At the very top level, when it really matters, Ibrahimovic has normally flattered to deceive. To use a topical parlance, crueller pundits have labelled the striker as little more than a flat-track bully. It’s hard to remember a really big game that Ibrahimovic has won for club or country with a performance his monumental hype justifies. Ibrahimovic’s performance in two Champions League ties against United last season, for example, rarely rose above the average.

Tabloid rumours are not always without cause. The player is certainly looking for a move this summer, although Barcelona has always been Ibrahimovic’s preferred destination. However, with the European Champions only likely make a move if their bid for David Villa falls through, the leaked rumours about United’s apparent interest are given greater context. It would be a huge surprise if Fergie sanctions a bid, especially as it would need to be more £30 million for the forward.

More worrying than his ability, the man himself is particularly unpleasant. Aside from once demanding to be substituted because he couldn’t be bothered (a strop Mourinho gave no credence), perhaps the most abhorrent aspect of Ibrahimovic’s nature is the player huge ego. While the striker is hardly the first – or worst – offender in this department, he is perhaps the least talented player to consider himself the best on the planet. Fergie would do well to steer clear.

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Is it time to hand Foster the gloves?

July 8, 2009 Tags: , Opinion No comments

News that United’s second choice goalkeeper Ben Foster has agreed a new four year contract this week is welcome but will the former Stoke player finally get his chance? Edwin van der Sar is entering his final season as a pro and – to be frank – began to show signs of wear and tear towards the end of the last campaign. Now manager Sir Alex Ferguson must decide who begins the new campaign as his number one – the legendary Dutch international, or the younger pretender?

Foster, 26, joined from Stoke City in 2005 but has made just 10 starts for United in the intervening four years. Two seasons on loan at Watford, plus recurrent injuries to his knee and hands, have restricted his opportunities at Old Trafford. As such, the new contract is faith in the player’s ability, more than his performances on the pitch for United. But the prize for keeping himself fit is great for Foster – potentially taking over in goal for both United and England too.

Foster’s rival for the shirt, van der Sar, is under pressure to maintain his performance levels in the coming season. While the big Dutch ‘keeper set a new record number of Premier League clean sheets last season, the pressure of back-to-back games during the run in exposed some of van der Sar’s growing frailties. At 38 his ability to stay fit and flexible will be on the wane, as will his judgment. This much was evident in the poor goal van der Sar conceded in last May’s Champions League final.

However, this is no shoe-in for Foster. The Lemington born ‘keeper must perform in pre-season to be in with a shout of starting the campaign as number one. More realistically, Ferguson will go with the devil he knows but it would be a major surprise if the England international does not finish next season as first choice between the sticks for club and country.

All the same, it’s a  make-or-break season for Foster.  If the player fails to break into the team – or worse still succumbs to injury once again – United will buy next summer. Indeed, the club has been linked with a move for two Spanish stoppers – Villareal’s Diego Lopez and Barcelona’s Victor Valdes. While the later may have been angling for a new contract at Camp Nou, Lopez is undoubtedly available. This is the challenge now facing Foster.

United to go for Huntelaar? But better with Young

July 8, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 13 comments

While Rant rarely engages in idle gossip, newspaper reports have once again linked United with a £20 million move for Real Madrid outcast Klass-Jan Huntelaar. It’s not the first time that the club has apparently expressed an interest in the former Ajax player, who scored eight goals in 20 games for for the Spanish club last season. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson had reportedly been tracking the striker before his £19 million move to Madrid in January.

However, the arrival at Real of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Karim Benzema this summer means that Huntelaar will be available for transfer, just six months after moving to Spain. The forward, who has scored 13 goals in 23 appearances for the Dutch national team, has become a victim of President Florentino Perez’ bank-loan inspired revolution at Real.

The question is, do United really need another central striker? That is not to doubt Huntelaar’s quality as a goalscorer, who’s record at international and club level is better than a goal every other game. But with Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen now at the club, there would seem to be little room for another forward. Indeed, there was really little point bringing Owen into the squad if Ferguson is also after Huntelaar as both occupy the same role. This argument is even more pertinent when youngsters Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda are brought into the equation.

At the same time, the club has also been linked with a £25 million move for Aston Villa’s excellent winger Ashley Young. The former Watford wide-man has progressed immensely in the past two seasons to become a regular in Fabio Capello’s England team. However, for a player who is unproven at international or Champions League level, Young would cost a fortune. Primarily because United would be shopping at one of the league’s leading teams, but also because there’s always a premium on English talent.

But United are weak in wide areas, despite having Ryan Giggs, Nani, Zoran Tošić, Ji-Sung Park, and new signings Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan in the squad. Serbian wonderkid Adem Ljajić is also due to join the club in January 2010. But Giggs aside none are proven at the highest level, and unfortunately the legendary Welshman is in the twilight of his career.

Together with Valencia, Young would add extreme pace in wide areas – something United will lack through the middle of the park next season. While Tošić, Ljajić and Obertan may well prove themselves in the long term, nothing is guaranteed. Park, meanwhile, deserves his place in the squad as a willing worker but is never going to win a game on his own. Nani is in the last chance saloon.

Young, although frighteningly expensive, will be available if he expresses his desire to leave and does have the requisite quality to make a real difference at the top level. He would surely be a better use of more than £20 million.

United stocks up on more kids

July 6, 2009 Tags: Opinion 1 comment

The headlines have been dominated by the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez this summer. Then Sir Alex Ferguson pulled the biggest suprise of the close season with the acquisition of aging Scouser, and former England international Michael Owen. But work behind the scenes has largely focused on recruiting the next generation of United stars, with Charlton Athletic’s Sean McGinty (15), Girondins de Bordeaux’ Gabriel Obertan (20) and Empoli’s Alberto Massacci (16) joining the club.

McGinty, a centre-half, has been capped at under-17 level by Ireland, with United reportedly reacheing an agreement for a compensation package with Charlton for the youngster. The 15 year-old was apparently offered a scholarship at The Valley, but rejected it in favour of a switch to Old Trafford. He is likely to move North with entire family.

Right-back Massacci is unlikely to cost United much, if anything, as an under-18 international transfer. The player himself broke the news of the impending transfer to United by claiming that Ferguson had personally called him to offer him a deal.

“When they called me, I really couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I didn’t believe that it was really him (Ferguson) on the phone.”

“I had an hour-long chat with him, in English. He seemed to me a modest, simple, incredible person. In life a chance like this only comes past you once, and you’ve got to grab it with both hands,” he added.

Winger Obertan, who has been capped eight times at under-21 level by France, will join from Laurent Blanc managed French champions Bordeaux. The player has appeared 77 times for Bordeaux, scoring four goals, although the vast majority of those games have come from the bench. The player spent the second half of last season on-loan at Lorient and can operate on the left-wing or up-front. He also scored against England under-21s in a friendly at the City Ground in March 2009.

“There is a very strong likelihood that the deal will go ahead,” said Bordeaux President Jean-Louis Triaud.

“Manchester United want to sign him and, for our part, we would be delighted to see Gabriel playing for such a prestigious club. We will make the official announcement when the time is right.”

Arsenal, Inter and AC Milan are all believed to have been interested in Obertan, but United moved first and has reportedly had a deal in place for several weeks.

The summer recruitment continues a policy that has seen the acquisition of Rafael and Fabio da Silva, Rodrigo Possebon, Federico Macheda, Davide Petrucci, Joshua King, Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Etzaz Hussain from overseas in recent seasons.

While the policy reflects the global nature of the football transfer market, it is also symptomatic of an outdated Football Association rule that bars United from signing youth players more than 90 minutes drive away. McGinty’s transfer goes ahead because the club has agreed a compensation package with Charlton.

But the rule will continue to encourage United, as well as other top clubs, to look abroad for the best talent or risk falling behind. And with transfer fees currently stratospheric, who can blame the club for seeking to hoover up the world’s leading youth talent?

Four years and £667 million later

July 3, 2009 Tags: Opinion 11 comments

It’s just over four years since the Glazer family took over Manchester United in the most heavily leveraged football buy-out in history. Despite fans’ anger, threats of violence, and a myriad of destroyed season tickets, Malcolm Glazer landed the club and handed it over to his sons Avram, Joel and Bryan to run. In doing so he placed hundreds of millions of debt straight on to the club’s books, at almost no risk to his own personal fortune. United moved from the world’s most profitable sports team, to the most indebted in one easy step. Four years, three Premier League titles and one European Cup later and the anger has subsided but the debt legacy is just as stark.

While common in the world of business, leveraged buy outs are almost non-existent in football. The process, whereby money is borrowed against the asset that is to be bought, means that the acquired company effectively pays for itself through its own profits. And that’s exactly what happened to United – with the vast bulk of the purchase price effectively mortgaged against Old Trafford, Carrington, the players and future season ticket revenue. The Glazers then took out a £152 million payment-in-kind (PIK) loan, on which the club is playing an eye-watering 14.25% interest rate, to cover the rest. In total the debt burden is now more than £667  million.

On the pitch few fans can complain. Investment has been made in new players since 2005 – Dimitar Berbatov, Nani, Anderson, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and others. United meanwhile has continued to rack up trophies – three Premier League titles, a European Cup, World Club and the Carling Cup, twice.

The big question is – when does the debt start to bite? Because it will bite. According to the most recently published accounts United serviced £69 million of debt interest last year. Almost exactly the same amount as the club’s profits before tax. Perhaps most pertinently, however,  none of the total debt burden was paid off. United does have to pay off the debt, whether its by increasing revenues, selling assets or lowering costs.

For the fans the takeover has meant huge increases in match-day ticket prices. With TV income largely known – save for the millions available from a long Champions League run – ticket prices and commercial revenues are the two principal areas where the United board has looked to generate revenue. Tturnover has increased hugely under the Glazer regime, but critics can argue that the club is sprinting just to stand still.

But does trouble lie ahead? With Cristiano Ronaldo sold for £80 million, and the money earmarked for Carlos Tevez not spent, Sir Alex Ferguson was expected to have a transfer kitty of more than £100 million this summer. But the move to bring Michael Owen into the club on a free transfer and pay-as-you-play terms, could be seen as a sign that the chequbook has been put firmly back into the safe for the summer. More worrying still, the United board has being trying to strike a hard bargain in a sellers market – and failing. First with Carlos Tevez’ team over the fee to secure the player’s rights, and then with Olympique Lyonnis over the transfer of Karim Benzema. Each time the club has effectively given up the ghost and been outbid.

Time will tell whether the Glazer family allows the board to spend this summer. And whether they’ll ever pay off that debt. One thing is for sure, love them or hate them, they appear to be here to stay.

Today’s April Fool joke is … Michael Owen

July 3, 2009 Tags: Opinion 22 comments

Where do you turn if two high profile attacking players leave and your number one transfer target heads elsewhere? You get out the cheque book and spend some of your £100 million summer transfer budget. Right? Wrong! In fact, you fall further into your dystopian nightmare in which public rejection, is followed by public humiliation. Get out the stocks – it’s time to become a public laughing stock.

In this footballing torment, you might even bring in a washed up, ageing ‘striker’ who hasn’t scored a goal in six months, with an injury record that reads broken metatarsal, knee ligament damage, double hernia operation, thigh strain and countless hamstring strains. Then you wake up and fall to your knees in prayer. Say it ain’t so. Michael Owen signs for Manchester United!

But it is so and manager Sir Alex Ferguson is known to be a long time fan of Owen. Indeed, the boss tried has to sign the player three times – first aged 14 in 1994, second on his return from Real Madrid in 2005, and then again a year later before the player suffered a serious knee injury at the World Cup in Germany.

Owen may be only 29, but his footballing peak was 11 full years ago, with that goal against Argentina in Saint-Etienne. His record at Newcastle isn’t bad in a poor team  – the former Liverpool player made 79 appearances for the Barcodes and scored 30 goals in four seasons. But his last league goal was on 10 January against West Ham, and his form so poor that friend Alan Shearer even dropped him from the Toon team in their desperate fight against relegation last season. His star has fallen so far that Hull and Stoke were apparently fighting it out for his signature, while Wigan and Blackburn publicly questioned the player’s bottle and ability.

In fact, anybody who followed Owen over the closing months will have seen a striker stripped of all his pace, confidence and desire. Without that there is little left of value in the player. Yet, Sir Alex has moved quickly following the failure to sign Olympique Lyonnais’ Karim Benzema, in a move that smacks of total desperation.

Let’s hope that Owen, even if fit, will be little more than an experienced insurance policy against injuries to Wayne Roony or Dimitar Berbatov. Most United fans would prefer to trust in the youth of Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda. More worrying still is what the signing says about Wayne Rooney’s hopes of playing a central role for United next season. In Sir Alex’ prefered 4-2-3-1 system, there’s little room for both unless the younger Scouser is once again pushed towards the wing.

Ferguson’s stock is high, of course, but ultimately United supporters will find it hard to forgive Owen’s Liverpool loving history. A vociferously celebrated winning goal at the Kop End would be a good start.