Opinion

Opinion

Aon hand over fat cheque to ease United’s financial woe

June 7, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 1 comment

What do you do when your large American insurance shirt sponsor goes bust and pulls the deal? Get another one of course! That’s exactly what United have done in the last week by announcing that US risk management group Aon will be the team’s new sponsors from the start of the 2010-11 season. The deal is rumoured to be a world-record £80 million over four years, replacing the £14 million per season contract with AIG, which is due to run out at the end of next season. The announcement will ease the pressure on the board who were forced to seek a new sponsor in the middle of one of the worst financial climates in living memory. Bizarrely, United’s shirts will continue to display the AIG logo next season despite the firm having been bailed-out by the US government to the tune of more than $100 billion.

Announcing the deal, Manchester United chief executive David Gill spoke of his delight at entering “such an important relationship with a company of the stature of Aon.” In reality United were open to the highest bidder, save for any companies (such as gambling or porn) that wouldn’t have sat well with the club’s American owners. The huge deal easily outstrips the £25 million five-year deal recently signed by Manchester City with Etihad Airways, or the €15 million per season deal that Real Madrid have in place with online gambling site Bwin. With that Gill was able to claim that the “announcement clearly strengthens our position as the world’s leading football club.”

While Aon may not be a brand name in Manchester, the deal less about the UK market, and more about United’s presence in emerging markets and the Far East, where Aon hope to capitalise on United’s claimed 330 million fans. Aon’s CEO Greg Chase spoke of the “unique opportunity” to partner with “one of the most recognised sports brands in the world.”

The deal comes just days after United announced that they had earned over £90 million in TV prize money in a season when they won the Premier League and Carling Cup, and reached the final of the Champions League.

However, the Reds are still in hundreds of millions of pounds of debt. This season’s profits will barely pay off frightening annual interest payments on debt that is over £667 million as of the most recent accounts. The debt is made up of a £425 million cash loan that is secured on Old Trafford, Carrington, season ticket sales and players. According to The Guardian’s David Conn a further £90 million of unsecured loans and £152 million in Payment in Kind debt are also owed by the club.

The new shirt deal will add to United’s revenue at time when it is most needed. With the Glazer family so far unable to refinance the massive debt, they have consistently rolled annual interest into the overall debt – including the £30 million purchase of Dimitar Berbatov last summer. It’s a policy that will see United paying ever more in interest and paying down very little of the actual debt.

Almost inevitably United are looking to trim their expenditure this summer with £7 million Frazier Campbell set for a permanent move to Hull, and Darron Gibson and Danny Simpson placed on the transfer list. The financial climate has also put a hold on the transfer of Carlos Tevez, with the club unwilling to match his “owners'” £25.5 million valuation. While a compromise agreement was rumoured to have been reached last week, the smart money says the Argentinian will move across town to Manchester City and the vast wealth on offer.

Hargreaves: over and out

June 3, 2009 Tags: Opinion 7 comments

It is fair to say that the protracted acquisition of Owen Hargreaves at great expense from Bayern Munich in the summer of 2007 has been an unmitigated disaster. A disaster that just got worst with the news that the Canadian-English international will not now play again for United until January 2010. With the latest setback to Hargreaves’ United career questions must now be raised about whether he will ever play for the club again. It poses a serious dilemma for Sir Alex Ferguson, who needs to rebuild confidence in a midfield that was so badly exposed by Barcelona in the Champions League final. Should Sir Alex cut and run by offloading Hargreaves when he’s finally fit and bringing in new blood, or stick it out and hope that when the player finally returns he will be as good as ever?

With the departure of Roy Keane, United have lacked a true tough-tackling defensive midfielder. This much is true even with the rise in performance this season of Michael Carrick, whose positional sense and effective passing has been instrumental to United’s success. But for the sake of balance Ferguson pursued Hargreaves for two summers, until Munich finally gave in and United’s board handed over the best part of £20 million. Despite some criticism that Hargreaves plays in the same position as Carrick, the move was broadly right. Hargreaves adds something different to United’s squad. Indeed, if the midfielder had been fit, his energy and ability to break up play may have made some difference in the Champions League final.

Now Ferguson must decide whether, for the same reasons of squad balance, he needs to spend big this summer on a tough-tackling defensive midfielder to compliment the abilities of Darren Fletcher, Anderson and the aforementioned Carrick. But this task wont be easy or cheap. Top-class defensive midfielders can be counted on the fingers of one hand and the price to United would surely be in excess of £20 million – the fee that Real Madrid paid for Portsmouth’s former Chelsea and Arsenal reserve Lassana Diarra.

Of course the same criticisms apply to any new acquisition as they did to that of Hargreaves in the first place. Fletcher, Anderson and Carrick have all occupied deep lying midfield slots in the past season. Is there value to the squad in having yet another player in that position? This argument is even more pointed when we think about the experience against Barcelona in Rome, where Barcelona’s ability to keep the ball was so fundamentally destructive to United’s hopes. While Carrick and Paul Scholes, when he plays, rarely give away the ball, the same cannot be said of Fletcher, Anderson and to some extent Giggs. Perhaps Ferguson would be better spending £20-£30 million on a creative midfielder who might stand-up to the class of Andreas Iniesta or Xavi Hernandez, who so embarrassed United in the Champions League final?

Next season starts now

May 20, 2009 Tags: Opinion 2 comments

How do you improve on being English and World Champions, and European Cup finalists? It’s a difficult task you may say but to re-state the old cliché, to stand still in football is to go backwards, so improve United must. In fact Ferguson may need to recruit in all areas of the pitch to replace aging stars, departing players and failed imports.

Inevitably there will be squad changes this summer. The headline casualty will be Carlos Tevez, who is certain to leave to the highest bidder, rather than stay at Old Trafford. But while Sir Alex will need to make some important decisions on the make-up of next season’s forward line, he must also look at other areas of the pitch.

In goal Edwin van der Sar will start the 2009 – 2010 season as number one but at 38 years of age it seems likely that it will be his last year as a professional. Behind him few fans have faith in Polish stopper Tomasz Kuszczak as the great Dutchman’s long-term replacement. At least as a rarely used back-up he can’t do much damage. United’s other reserve, Ben Foster, has plenty of talent but with almost two years out of the game through injury and lack of opportunities there must be serious doubts as to whether he’ll ever make it at United. For his own sake, Foster will need to leave on loan once again next season. With Thomas Heaton likely to leave the club permanently, Sir Alex may look to recruit a third-choice ‘keeper.

In defence there is a short-term question mark over the right-back position, with Rafael da Silva suffering in the second half of the season. While he undoubtedly has huge talent, his defensive inexperience has been exposed on more than one occasion. Moreover, with Gary Neville approaching the end of his career, Wes Brown rarely fit, and John O’Shea most fans’ idea of a decent reserve, so long as he doesn’t have to play every week, then Ferguson may need to recruit.

At left back, O’Shea aside, there is no proven back-up to Patrice Evra. While Fabio da Silva’s talent may well be equal to that of his brother, his injury record has restricted his first team opportunities to just a couple of cup appearances. The arrival of a back-up left full- back would be no suprise.

In midfield, United should be able to welcome back Owen Hargreaves into the fold, which will be a massive bonus to the team, if not to Darren Fletcher’s hopes of continuing this season’s good form. Elsewhere, there will be concerns over the aging legs of Paul Scholes and to a lesser extent Ryan Giggs but there will be one final season in the sun before Sir Alex needs to think about bringing in extra reinforcements.

There is of course the left-sided Zoran Tosic, recruited at a cost of £8 million in January, who has been on a long-term fitness and strength building regime at the club. Next should see the introduction of the Serb to more first team action.

However, there must be a question mark over the long term future of Luis Nani, whose form has been fitful this season. At best the Portugese winger flatters to deceive. At worst, he’s a liability. He has talent but it has almost never been harnessed in a United shirt. The potential arrival of Wigan’s Antonio Valencia, for a shade over £15 million, will not only allow Cristiano Ronaldo to play more games in a central position next season, but potentially end Nani’s spell at the club.  And if it doesn’t, the arrival of the talented but raw Serb Adem Lalić in January 2010 may just be the final staw.

Which leaves the forwards – and that’s an old story!

Bitter Benitez lacks any class

May 17, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion No comments

Has there ever been a worse loser in the history of the Premier League than Rafael Benitez? It’s hard to recall a losing manager more bitter, or buried deeper in a pit of denial than Liverpool’s Spanish coach. As United claimed a record equalling 18th Enlgish title yesterday, Benitez refused to congratulate Sir Alex Ferguson on the victory. We shouldn’t be suprised. In the final analysis class shows in defeat much more than in victory.

Ferguson has had many intense rivalries over the years. There isn’t a coach on the planet more schooled in falling out with his closest rivals. But even Arsene Wenger at his most myopic was able to grudgingly congratulate Sir Alex Ferguson on each of United’s Premier League wins. Jose Mourinho was positively gushing with praise in comparison to Liverpool’s loser. United’s manager, meanwhile, has famously sent a case of fine wine to each of the very few victors other than himself in the Premier League’s history.

Benitez? According to second-placed Benitez Liverpool are the better side, United bought the title, referees are all United fans, and the moon and the stars were out of alignment. Sounds like you’re talking out of Uranus, Rafa.

This coming from a man who  spent £7 million on a third choice left-back, and £20 million on a striker he refused to play, as part of a £200+ million splurg over the past five years. And he has the gall to claim United’s success is built on money. Perhaps the defeated Benitez would have faired better actually coaching his side, rather than choosing to pile the pressure and focus on his own team with a truly insane “facts” rant about Sir Alex. At least his scally players don’t want to beat each other up. Oh.

The truth is that Benitez, after spending a fortune, has still failed to land Liverpool the title. But he could have. United started the season slowly, coping badly with the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo through injury and the integration of Dimitar Berbatov into the side. Add to that the multiple inuries to defensive personnel and the burden of playing in the European Super Cup and the World Club Cup, and this was Liverpool’s best chance of landing the Premier League in nearly two decades. But Liverpool’s failure of a manager blew the Scousers’ chances with a consistently cautious approach at home, and his January meltdown.

United meanwhile will be even better next season, whether Carlos Tevez stays or not.  The Reds’ yougsters – Nani, Anderson, Rafael and Fabio da Silva, Danny Wellbeck, Johnny Evans, Rodrigo Possebon, Zoran Tosic and Federico Macheda – will all be a year more mature. Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo are still only 23 and 24 and still getting better. And that’s without spending a penny in the transfer market, which Ferguson will do if the right man comes along.

Beating Liverpool once against next season, to land a record 19th title, will be all the sweeter for watching Benitez melt down again. Now that’s a fact.

Gambler Fergie Hits Jackpot

May 16, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 1 comment

Manchester United won a record-equalling 18th English championship – their 11th in the Premier League – after a scoreless draw against Arsenal at Old Trafford this afternoon. The draw takes United an insurmountable seven points clear of Liverpool. And despite the bleating emanating from United’s rivals down the M62, the Reds thoroughly deserve the title after a producing the most consistent attacking football throughout the season.

United’s victory is in no small part down to Sir Alex Ferguson, whose propensity to gamble by throwing on forwards has helped United pick up crucial points when it looked like none were coming. Forget any talk about injuries to Gerrard and Torres, in the final analysis Sir Alex’ bravery in consistently throwing on four forwards when the chips were down was the real difference this season. With United’s 18th title, not only has Fergie knocked Liverpool “off their fucking perch” but he has trampled all over their dying corpse. Ronnie Moran, Graeme Souness, Roy Evans, Gérard Houllier, Rafael Benítez… you all came and tried but your boys have taken one helluva beating over the past 19 seasons.

The season didn’t start out that way of course. With Cristiano Ronaldo recuperating from an ankle operation and Dimitar Berbatov settling into the side, United started slowly. The team lost to Zenit St. Petersburg, Liverpool and Arsenal, alongside draws with Newcastle, Celtic and Aalborg among others, all before Christmas.

The Red’s victorious trip to the Fifa Club World Cup in Japan late December seemed to galvanise the side though, not least the defence, which went 14 Premier League games without conceding a goal as Rafa Benitez went into meltdown. The Liverpool manager started moaning about his now infamous “facts” on January 8th and seemingly hasn’t stopped since. But the only affect Benitez achieved was to throw his team into the bear pit and magnify the pressure. It backfired in the most spectacular way and has helped to leave Liverpool without a trophy once again.

Ferguson has seen it all before of course. When the pressure was applied it was United, not Liverpool, nor Chelsea, and never Arsenal that came up with the answers time and again. Late and often unlikely winners against Bolton, Stoke City, Aston Villa and Sunderland, to name but a few, have bought enough points for the title and some to spare. More often than not the gaffer was prepared to put Carlos Tevez, Waybe Rooney, with the aforementioned Ronaldo and Berbatov on the pitch all at the same time. United’s comeback from two goals down to win 5-2 against Spurs at home seemed to sum up a season. Throw two vital goals from 17 year old Federico Macheda the mix and every roll of the die came up double sixes. In the same situation Benitez would have thrown on one of his squad’s 12 left backs.

Let’s hope Fergie has the right numbers once again a week Wednesday in Rome.

Should he stay or should he go?

May 14, 2009 Tags: , Opinion No comments

Amid claims and counter claims about the future of Carlos Tevez one thing has become abundantly clear is week – while United would like to keep the little Argentinian, the board have no intention of paying the full £22 million transfer fee (plus loan fees already paid) being demanded by MSI, the holder of the player’s ‘economic rights’. It’s a fact that will most likely see the popular forward leave the club this summer.

The fee, which is believed to have been agreed at €34 million Euros two years ago when Tevez first signed on loan for the club, has become a problem for three principal reasons. Firstly, changes in the exchange rate mean that the figure has increased by more than 25% when converted to pounds over the past year. Secondly, the United simply don’t value Tevez at the same level as MSI – which would essentially make Tevez the club’s record signing. Thirdly, with £81 million to pay in debt interest this summer, the club – even if they did value Tevez that highly – just don’t want to pay it.

The player becomes even more expensive when wages and other fees are taken into account. Add to the bill the £6-£10 million already paid in loan fees, together with wages and the total cost to United of keeping the striker begins to look very steep. Indeed, Tevez earns in excess of £5 million per year, meaning the cost to United of keeping and paying the player for the past two seasons, and the next three of the proposed contract, is more than £55 million.

Reports in The Guardian today suggest that United are attempting to renegotiate a fee for Tevez, although no final figure is placed on the proposed deal. However, with a string of clubs apparently prepared to bid for the striker, United would appear to be in a weak bargaining position. This position would appear to become even less strong with the player himself apparently unhappy at Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad rotation policy.

It’s a game of brinkmanship of course. The MSI team (or whomever actually owns Tevez’ rights, a leaked letter circulating this week suggests that this isn’t clear) want to maximise their return. Selling to United at a reduced fee when there are other options on the table would appear to be contradictory to that aim. Meanwhile, Tevez himself may be frustrated at his squad status, although the joy on his face as he backheeled home United’s equaliser last night suggests otherwise. Suggesting that he is unhappy may also be a convenient way of pressurising United. United meanwhile have leaked to the press the possibility of ripping up Tevez’ agreement with MSI, and signing the player on a free transfer.

The fans would love the player to stay of course. Not only does Tevez work his socks of for the team when given the opportunity but he has scored some vital late goals for the team this season. He is, rightly, one of the most popular players at the club.

But taken in the round, is Tevez really worth both the political hassle and huge financial cost to the club? Good player as he is, Tevez’ scoring record (34 goals in 97 appearances and 20% of them in the League Cup) and contribution to the team fall short of the very highest level. For the sake of consistency, and squad balance, there is no doubt that Tevez will continue to make a valuable contribution if he signs permanently for the club. But will it be a £55 million contribution? Personally, I have my doubts.

United demonstrates just how far City has to go

May 12, 2009 Tags: Opinion 1 comment

To abuse an old cliché, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will be Manchester City. And while Sunday’s derby match served to highlight the gulf between two teams on the pitch, it also served to remind us of the vast difference between the status of the two clubs off it.

City’s mega-rich Abu Dhabi owners are eager for success of course. More still, they’re keen to be seen as punching their weight at the top table of European club football. Their Bitter Blue fans, meanwhile, just want some glory, and they want it now. Starvation for 30 years can make a fan hungry.

But Sunday’s easy win for the Red half of the city not only helped to demonstrate that success for the Blues may well take some time, but that they will have to gain it the hard way. In fact so far are City behind, that Sir Alex Ferguson felt confident enough to leave key plays such as Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney out of the side altogether.

In many ways the match on Sunday helped to contrast the gulf between United’s years of success and City’s nouveau riche. City, of course, beat United twice last season without oil-millions spent on Brazillian superstars. But while those victories were gained amid a backdrop of giant killing, City now have pretensions of being one of the big boys of the European Elite. In this context, City rolled over rather meekly.

Ferguson, of course, has evolved this iteration of the United team over many seasons. He endured criticism during years of transition but held fast in his belief that trophies would be the inevitable result of this process. Ferguson’s patience is in marked contrast to the aspirations of City’s new maga-wealthy owners, who are essentially trying to build a top-four side from scratch. Indeed, while the last fantasy-Premier League side, Chelsea’s strategy was to add £200 million worth of players to a side already on the cusp of the top four, City are building from a low base. It will be a tough ride, no matter how much their wealth.

City’s is a huge project that may cost upwards of £500 million over the next three years in transfer fees and vastly inflated wages. This comes without any guarantee of success. Thus, patience is the name of the game for City’s owners and fans alike. If Sunday’s match is anything to go by, they will need it. The question is, with pressure being piled on former United hero Mark Hughes to win silverware, will he be afforded it?

Fergie has key decisions to make on forwards

May 10, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 2 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson said this week that he has no summer transfer targets on the table and that there will be no major additions to the squad. Minor tinkering with the squad is an understandable policy for the Premiership, European and World Champions, who will likely retain their English crown in the coming week after beating their city rivals today. After all, by his own admision, Ferguson has at his command the strongest squad in his 23 years in charge at the club. Forget Ribery, Kaká, Benzema et al. The club’s strategy is to not fix what ain’t broke.

But one area of the squad that Ferguson may need to make some of the toughest decisions is in the forwards, with question marks hanging over the futures of Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo in particular. Meanwhile, Berbatov is not without his critics, and the gaffer must choose which of the youngsters Federico Macheda, Manucho, Frasier Campbell and Danny Welbeck to keep, sell or loan out.

The future of the little Argentinean is perhaps the most worrying.  “I do not feel wanted. I feel bad over my situation…I guess what I’m saying is goodbye,” reports today quote Tevez  as saying. And it’s not the first time that the frustrated striker has expressed his belief that he’ll be leaving the club this summer. Ferguson’s refusal to discuss the matter today was telling. Could the club have already decided that spending €34 million on Tevez, despite all his energetic endeavour, is just not worth it?

One player unlikely to move on is Ronaldo, despite sulking after being substituted against City. His future in the white shirt of Real Madrid seems further away than ever, with United, it’s manager and now the player categorically saying that the Portuguese forward will be at Old Trafford next season. Madrid is more chaotic than ever – a fact that must weigh heavily in Ronaldo’s mind. A new President will be elected this summer after the old was kicked out for corruptly winning the previous election. Moreover, interim (although reasonably successful) manager Juande Ramos will almost certainly be removed from his post in favour of a new man once the President is elected. A summer 2010 transfer would seem to be more realistic at this stage.

Meanwhile, which of his four young forwards he keeps on the books will be central to Ferguson’s thinking this summer. The emergence of Macheda and Wellbeck has given the Scot a plethora of choices in the front line. But the balance between maintaining a strong squad – Macheda has already scored two key goals this season – and ensuring that young players get enough games is also key. Sir Alex is likely to loan out at least one of his bright young things.

Ferguson must also decide what to do with on-loan strikers Campbell and Manucho, who are at Tottenham Hotspur and Hull respectively. Neither has overly impressed either – with Campbell getting far fewer games than might have been expected since the return of Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe to the London club. Angolan forward Manucho has merely used his time at Hull to confirm what many expected already – he’s probably not quite good enough for the Premier league. A season in the reserves beckons.

Dimitar Berbatov – who has been sublime and frustrating in almost equal measure this season – and Wayne Rooney are certain to stay of course. My feeling is that they will probably be complimented by Ronaldo for one last campaign and the up-and-coming Macheda. Money is being reigned in at the club and they will not spend another €24 million (in addition to the €10 million already paid) for Tevez, whom Ferguson has come to regard as not central to his plans.

However, should the board spring a suprise and release funds for a major purchase then Karim Benzema is only an outside possibility. The Frenchman’s signing assumes that Tevez leaves and that the Lyon forward is not picked up by one of the Spanish giants. While Benzema may be a target for both Real and Barcelona, it is move is dependent on both the outcome of Madrid Presidential election and the future of Samuel Eto’o at Los Cules. It’s a complex carousel.

Whatever his choices, with Liverpool and Chelsea certain to spend big in the summer, Ferguson must pick the right four or five forwards to fire United to yet more glory next season!

Richest Club in the World® circus arrives at Old Trafford

May 8, 2009 Tags: Opinion No comments

United welcome Abu Dhabi’s Manchester City to Old Trafford this Sunday for the 151st Manchester derby. It’s a tie that always has an edge of course but this time out it’s also a crucial match in United’s hunt for a third Premier League crown in a row. With only four games left, and United needing just seven points for the title, the Reds will be looking to secure a vital win. City, who are still chasing a potential place in next seasons revamped Europa League, come to Old Trafford in decent form, with four wins in their last six. But with the opposition far from clever on the road this year, a season’s double over City should entail after United’s 1-0 Victory at Eastlands in November.

Indeed, it’s been an up and down season for City since the takeover by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour. The Blue Noses, who in addition to being The Richest Club in the World®, have the Planet’s Tallest Floodlights® and The Widest Pitch in the Known Universe® at The Council House®, have largely fallen below expectations this campaign. This despite spending north of £80 million on a couple of fitful Brazilians, a no-mark Dutch midfielder and a Chelsea reserve. But in the final weeks of the season, they have finally begun to pick up enough points to save Mark Hughes’ job. For now.

Not that Hughes has been all that popular with City fans, who have always had delusions of grandeur. Now, fuelled by millions of petro-dollars, Blue Noses expect instant success. They’re a big club, you know. Massive in fact. Inevitably, even with a place in the Champions League always a remote possibility, some Bitters have been calling for Hughes’ head. They’ve waited 33 years since their last trophy, you’d think another season would make no difference.

City fans, of course, have taken their new owners to heart. Just as they’ve shown blind faith in the string of fools who’ve run the club over the past three decades. It’s a nice welcoming club like that. But then again, they were big fans of the human-rights defying Thai fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra last year so perhaps City supporters aren’t the best judges of character.

Abu Dhabi’s takeover might be different though, as the Emirates principality seem keen to throw money at their new toy. It has to be a long-term project though. Multi-million oil dollars spent this summer are unlikely to attract anything more than mercenaries or leading clubs’ ageing cast offs until City acheive some tangible success. As Kaká proved, money is one thing, but for the very top players trophies are something else altogether. Still, for owners willing to spend £17million on somebody as average as Nigel de Jong then eventually they might just buy their way to some silverware.

Until then, let’s welcome City to Old Trafford, the European Capital of Trophies.

Chelsea reap what they sow in Euro farce

May 7, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion No comments

Is it just me or was the Chelsea – Barcelona game absolutely hilarious? If you believe in footballing karma, then surely Wednesday night was richly deserved. For a team featuring some of football’s most overrated (Terry), fraudulent (Drogba) and generally loathsome (Ashley Cole) players, Wednesday was payback for years of intimidating referees and bending the rules of the game.

Not that Chelsea saw it quite so philosophically. The ever-dignified Drogba – crying like a baby, swearing at cameras and punching walls – led the post-match histrionics, and was admirably backed-up the equally unpleasant Ballack. Such was the frenzy whipped up by such ambassadors for the club that the ref had to move hotels that night to escape a baying mob.

Hiddink, meanwhile, was quick to imply that the referee was under UEFA instructions to avoid an another all-English Champions League by giving Barcelona a helping hand. Clearly he knows a thing or two about such conspiracies giving his time as coach of South Korea when – as host nation at the 2002 World Cup – they made the semi-finals thanks to some equally suspect refereeing.

The truth, as any sane neutral could clearly see, was that the referee clearly had a shocker, which happens sometimes. It’s a fact in football that mistakes are made, but its how you react to them that counts. Compare, for example, Chelsea last night with Darren Fletcher’s sending off on Tuesday. Both suffered injustice. Fletcher – unfairly ruled out of probably the biggest game he would ever play in – leaves the pitch without a word, while Drogba and co go nuts. It tells you everything you need to know about the character of a football club.

Anyway, bring on Barça. And I really think United must start as favourites in light of how rattled the Catalans were by a strong but unspectacular Chelsea side. Let just hope that Norwegian fella isn’t in charge.