Author Tom Wilson

Author Tom Wilson

Fergie’s faith in Darron Gibson repaid

Tom Wilson December 9, 2009 Tags: Opinion 4 comments

Darron Gibson, man-of-the-moment against Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United, is one of the best emerging players at the club now. Another product of Manchester United’s highly rewarding youth set up but at 22 Gibson can no longer be considered a youngster. The Irishman must now progress or end up on the United scrap heap.

Gibson is now at an age when he needs to play regularly. Despite recent goals, the player made his début more than fours years ago, just after his 18th birthday as a second-half substitute in the Carling Cup victory over Barnet, October 2005. Yet, the Derry-born midfielder has made just 19 appearances for the club in the intervening years.

Inconsistency has been a problem, despite the recent goals. Stand-out performances against Spurs and the Hammers came after a shocker at home to Besiktas in the Champions League.

“He is not playing the amount of football he would wish for but he has very good competition in Paul Scholes, Anderson, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher,” said Sir Alex Ferguson of the player the manager singled-out for big things prior to the season’s start.

“But he has never let it get to him in terms of being unsettled. His performances in training are excellent and he comes in knowing it has been worthwhile.

“Sometimes you can’t hold a young man back and that time is approaching for Darron now. He is becoming a good, powerful midfield player.”

Gibson played every game in United’s charge to Carling Cup victory last season. It was his big opportunity and, appearing in the final, a first medal at the club.  The reward was a new three-year contract for the Republic of Ireland international that will keep Gibson at the club until 2012. The new contract is a measure of the faith Ferguson has in the player despite the irregular first team starts.

Gibson’s performance in the Champions League loss to Besiktas last month placed into question his long-term future at the club. But in scoring twice against Spurs, and again in the win over West Ham, the Irishman has offered renewed hope. What made his performance even more impressive against Spurs was that the Londoners more or less fielded their first string midfield.

“It was a good team performance following last week. We bounced back and the young lads did well,” said Gibson after the Carling Cup victory last Wednesday.

“We didn’t go out to try and prove anything. Sometimes you have bad days and today was a good day.”

Ferguson was clearly happy with Gibson’s performance, praising the player’s “tremendous power in his shooting.” Indeed, Gibson is likely to start United’s match against Aston Villa on Saturday – it will be his fourth in a row.

Now Gibson must take the next step and begin to take matches by the scruff of the neck himself. Failure to do just that is a criticism often levelled at Gibson’s major rival for a first team spot, Michael Carrick.

Players of the season … so far

Tom Wilson November 25, 2009 Tags: Opinion 23 comments

With Christmas just around the corner, Manchester United must hit a rich vein of form over the next few weeks. Five points adrift, Sir Alex Ferguson has urged his team to leapfrog Chelsea and seize pole position in the Premier League title race. But a third of the way into the campaign, which players have shone for United and which have failed?

Darren Fletcher is an obvious candidate, with a string of exceptional performances this season. For years the Scot, labelled as inadequate by many critics and supporters alike, struggled to make the grade. But Fletcher has proven the doubters wrong with his inspiring and at times jaw dropping performances. One of the most improved players in world football.

While Fletcher is not prolific in front of goal, the 24-year-old midfielder has chipped in with crucial strikes against Manchester City and Everton. The Dalkeith-born player’s recent goal against the Merseysiders was reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo at his very best, such was the technique involved. And despite the player’s disappointment on the international front, Fletcher has been one of the key performers for United this season. Perhaps most of all, Fletcher has made the supporters believe in him again.

The old stalwart Ryan Giggs has once again surpassed all expectations of what a 37-year-old player can do. The Welshman recovered from an un-characteristically poor performance against Arsenal at Old Trafford to become the catalyst for United’s turnaround against Spurs. At Stoke, Giggs was superb in United’s win.

It has been a productive season for Giggs as well. The Cardiff-born winger is United’s chief contributor with nine assists. Although Giggs’ best role is less certain than in the past, there will always be a place in the team for the maestro.

Ronaldo’s departure to Real Madrid required a goalscoring replacement. Although Wayne Rooney has not quite hit the net at the Portuguese’s rate, the Scouser has certainly risen to the challenge. With just 13 league games played, Rooney is on course to beat his previous season’s best of 16 Premier League goals.

Rooney is, of course, heavily involved in United’s creative play too. This duality is what makes the former-Evertonian ‘the complete all-round player’, according to Harry Redknapp. With better players around him, United might be able to get even more out of England’s most consistent performer.

An early shout for Edwin van der Sar is by no means out of the question. The Dutchman’s influence is clear, especially while Ben Foster is yet to prove whether he will live up to his early promise. United’s number one has been superb in recent fixtures – the player’s experience, not to be underestimated, means that his role in the team remains essential.

Despite the positives there have been a number of disappointments within Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. Fergie will certainly demand bigger and better things from Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov, Anderson and of course Nani as the season edges towards its second half. If Nani is still at Old Trafford in February, it’ll only be if the ex-Sporting winger finally steps up to the plate. The £17 million player owes it not only to himself but every single United fan too.

And while last season United based the team’s success on defensive stability,  with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand un-breakable, this has not been the case so far this campaign. Few if any of Ferguson’s defenders have done themselves justice.

Owen settling into United life

Tom Wilson November 24, 2009 Tags: Opinion 4 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has proved an astute player in the transfer market during his time at Old Trafford. Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel and even Cristiano Ronaldo signed for relatively small fees. But this summer’s acquisition of Michael Owen on a free transfer from Newcastle United could prove  his most outrageous signing yet.

When supporters appealed for Sir Alex to “sign up” Carlos Tevez on a permanent basis few could have predicted that Owen would walk through Old Trafford’s doors in his stead. But the £25 million fee demanded by Tevez’ owners towards the tail end of last season, together with Owen’s non-contract status at Newcastle, made the deal a no-brainer.

A simple review of the statistics said as much. Tevez scored just 15 goals last season. Owen already has four this, the same number as Manchester City’s new recruit. Owen’s current strike-rate of a goal every game and a half on the pitch mean the forward will hit 15 by the season’s end. Aside from the Argentinian’s tenacity, United has missed little about the former West Ham United striker this campaign.

Many supporters were rightly concerned about Owen’s record of injuries. The former-Liverpool striker has lost a couple of yards of pace but has improved in other areas. Like Ryan Giggs before him, Owen has adapted to his advancing years and concentrated on the aspects of his game that don’t rely on the sheer pace of his youth.

Critics will point to the chances that Owen still misses, including two against Everton last weekend. But this does not detract from those that the England international has put away. The forward’s strike against City in United’s 4-3 derby victory was nothing short of World class. And of the strikers at Ferguson’s disposal, only Rooney is more reliable in front of goal when the big chance arrives.

Owen also recognises the opportunity he has been given by Sir Alex, despite spending much of the campaign warming the bench.

“I’ve played in a team that was struggling and I much prefer a winning club, even if it means I don’t play every minute of every game,” Owen said recently.

“I’ve had my fair share of starts and minutes on the pitch this season so I’m not about to complain.”

Although Owen is unlikely to make the England squad that travels to South Africa for the World Cup, his chances are still best served at United. While Jermaine Defoe and Darren Bent have scored more goals this season – and each has a fighting chance of being on Fabio Capello’s list – Owen’s confidence and fitness will increase throughout the season. If Owen hadn’t moved to United this summer, England would be a long forgotten dream.

United fans care little for England of course. But as soon as the Chester-born forward netted against City, Old Trafford’s faithful accept him. Forget the shirts of the past, the here and now is what matters for supporters and Owen alike.

“Scoring the derby winner was really special,” Owen said.

“When I retire and I’m thinking about my top five or six thrills I got out of football, I’ll think about my goal against Argentina and scoring two in an FA Cup final (against Arsenal in 2001).

“But scoring that goal against City is right up there.”

It was a moment that will define Owen’s time at United. The instant in which Owen – former Liverpool striker – became part of the club for the first time.

While Liverpool fans have offered Owen some abuse it has been no more so than in the player’s five years away from Anfield. Almost any fan would agree, Owen’s move to United was the right one for the player. A transfer that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

How would Owen’s career have progressed if the youngster had taken up Sir Alex’ contract offer at 14? There’s a good argument to say he would not only have been close to being England’s record goalscorer, but perhaps United’s too.

Is Lee Cattermole the new Roy Keane?

Tom Wilson November 22, 2009 Tags: , Opinion 7 comments

Manchester United legend Roy Keane made 480 appearances for the club, scoring 51 goals in the process. Despite numerous midfielders being groomed for Keane’s role since the Irishman’s departure in 2005, it’s arguable whether Sir Alex Ferguson has successfully replaced United’s most successful midfield destroyer.

Ferguson brought Carrick to the club as Keane’s replacement – at cost of £18 million – in 2005 and the former West Ham United player has amassed 158 games, scoring 13 goals. Over the past three Premier League winning seasons Carrick has been hugely influential. Yet both his passing and tackling are underrated by Sir Alex, who has left the England international out of the side on more than one occasion this season. The same is true of Fabio Capello, who may not pick the Geordie for the World Cup in South Africa and appears to prefer Manchester City’s Gareth Barry in the holding role.

Meanwhile Eric Djemba-Djemba, Liam Miller, Kleberson, Owen Hargreaves and Anderson have each been given the opportunity to fill Keane’s void. Perhaps only now that Darren Fletcher – the most improved player in world football – is in possession can Ferguson be happy. Even then, the Scot cannot measure up to Keane’s influence at the club.

Hargreaves’ capture in 2007 should have been the answer. The Canadian-born international has the speed and tenacity that marks him out as a World Class player in the defensive midfield position but injuries have placed the former Bayern Munich’s career in doubt. The player’s return in December is welcome but the outcome is uncertain.

Ferguson has also missed out on some high quality midfield players in the transfer market, none more so than Michael Essien. The Chelsea midfielder would walk into the United side. His 12 goals in 113 games for Chelsea is a bonus; more importantly Essien has become the London side’s defensive rock in midfield.

When Ferguson finally moves upstairs a realistic choice for the manager’s post might be Steve Bruce, the former-United defender who is doing an admirable job at Sunderland. If it happens, then the manager should bring Lee Cattermole with him. Bruce, who as a player amassed 309 Premier League games at Old Trafford, did just this when moving from Wigan Athletic in the summer. Cattermole, with 16 under-21 caps, is surely a future England international and one of the best prospects in the Premier League.

The North East-born player, at just 21, is an established Premier League performer alreasdy. With little history of injury problems (until a recent knee problem) the tough-tackling player has the kind of feisty attitude that would allow him to settle among the stars and egos at Old Trafford.

Cattermole has already surpassed the number of appearances Keane made at a similar age. The next step might well be into the Irishman’s boots.

Reds dragged into riot row

Tom Wilson October 28, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

The worrying increase crowd violence continued during Manchester United’s 2-0 Carling Cup victory at Oakwell last night. South Yorkshire Police, who arrested four United supporters, today released details of last night’s incidents. The police held two for public order offences, one for theft and another for throwing a missile on the pitch.

Three Barnsley fans ran onto the pitch during the match. Two supporters confronted Ben Foster, the recalled United goalkeeper, as he took a goal kick in the second half.

During the violence, where supporters raided shelves and tills, eight Barnsley catering staff locked themselves in a cupboard seeking protection, police claimed. Jan Framp, area manager for Lindley Catering, said the attack happened after police told catering staff not to sell alcohol at half-time.

“That’s what upset them,” said Framp.

“They kicked the doors in and then ransacked the beer bar. They have ripped the water boilers off the counters, they have trashed everything.”

The FA, who will liaise with both clubs and the police to gather evidence, said that there is no place for anti-social or violent behavior in football.

“Any culprit found to be involved in these disturbances and identified as such by either the police or clubs should be subject to a lengthy ban from attending football matches,” said a spokesperson.

While the violence was disturbing, more troubling still was the pitch invasion by Barnsley supporters that placed players’ safety in jeopardy.

The FA surely must take action – and quickly – before English football witnesses an attack on a player ahead of a 2018 World Cup bid.

United is already under UEFA investigation after a fan invaded the pitch during the club’s Champions League tie with Wolfsburg at Old Trafford last month.