With the Carling Cup underway a new generation of young players will be on view to those fans that can’t make it down to Carrington or Gigg Lane. Fabio da Silva, Ritchie de Laet, Danny Welbeck, Joshua King and Federico Macheda played in Wednesday night’s match against Wolves. More are likely to feature but who will make it?
The Carling Cup has become Sir Alex Ferguson’s preferred route to blooding younger players. Despite opposition when Ferguson first employed the tactic nearly 15 years ago, it is a pattern now followed by most of the leading Premier League clubs. Understandable too – as the club’s lowest priority competition there is value in offering younger players vital competitive action they are unlikely to see in the Premier or Champions Leagues.
Why then did Wednesday’s starting team to face Wolverhampton Wanderers contain just four such players? Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Fabio da Silva and Darron Gibson, joined another seven senior players to face the newly promoted midlands club. Ritchie de Laet, who came on to replace Macheda following Fabio’s red card, and then the Norwegian Joshua King made it on the pitch as substitutes.
But this was one of the stronger – most experienced – Carling Cup sides that Ferguson has fielded this early in the competition. King aside, all the younger players had started a Premier League match before. Indeed, Macheda, Welbeck and Gibson have been in the first team squad for some time; the Irishman mentioned in dispatches by Ferguson last week.
Ever the realist Ferguson chose to give minutes to Gary Neville, Wes Brown, Michael Owen and Michael Carrick. None has seen significant competitive action this season. But each may now be wondering what demotion to the Carling Cup side means. Nani, who had a difficult night, had already started six games this season.
But the decision to include established players seeking match time also meant that some of the better reserve players, not out on loan, missed out. Febian Brandy, Zoran Tosic, Corey Evans, Magnus Eikrem and Robert Brady will be disappointed. The Serbian left-winger Tosic should probably pack his bags now if he can’t make the Carling Cup third round side.
On the pitch Fabio’s red card not only cut short his own game but Macheda’s too. The Italian sacrificed for the greater cause, with de Laet benefiting from an hour’s action. Macheda will have been hugely disappointed after failing to make the bench for any of United’s Premier League matches this season.
But it was Welbeck who was the star attraction. The striker took his goal superbly – underlining the technical qualities that prompted Sir Alex to nominate the Manchester-born player for England’s World Cup 2010 squad. He was also a tireless worker after being consigned to the left-wing for the last hour of the night.
“It was great playing alongside Michael Owen. It’s Michael Owen at the end of the day,” said Welbeck after the match.
“You can always learn from his movement, it’s unbelievable. I just knew he was round the corner and I knew where he was going next.
“We went one up front after the sending-off, so I was kind of playing as a left winger. I just had to get used to it but then the goal came, so I was pleased with that.”
The striker’s composure on the pitch matched his level-headedness off it. A character trait that will impress his manager – and the fans.
“I didn’t know Sir Alex had said that about England but it doesn’t drive me on,” he said.
“It’s a great plus to hear it but I’m really just concentrating on Manchester United at the moment. I suppose I’m just like any other normal Manc boy, really. To be given the chance to play for United is a dream.”
As we all know United > England.
Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed that Ben Foster will start in goal against Stoke City at the weekend, despite the ‘keepers gaffe in the Manchester derby. Ferguson, speaking at his weekly press conference, told reporters that Foster will regain his place in the United side after missing out on the midweek Carling Cup clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“It was a good opportunity for Tomasz, but Ben will play. Ben has not had a lot of game experience but he will be OK,” said Ferguson.
Foster has looked nervous in the opening weeks of the season. The Lemmington-born stopper allowed former United player Carlos Tevez to rob him of the ball for Manchester City’s equaliser last weekend, and also failed to keep out Andrei Arshavin’s drive in United’s victory over Arsenal.
Polish ‘keeper Tomasz Kuszczak played without error in the victory over Wolves, although few believe that the former West Bromiwich Albion player is the long term replacement for Edwin van der Sar.
van der Sar, out with a broken bone in his hand, will be fit within a month, Ferguson said.
Cristiano Ronaldo believes that compatriot Nani is the heir to his Old Trafford throne and has backed the United winger to become one of the world’s best in the coming years. Nani, who signed for United from Ronaldo’s old club Sporting Lisbon in an £17 million deal two years ago, started the games against Chelsea, Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Arsenal, Besiktas and Wolverhampton Wanderers this season.
“I’ve seen that Nani is playing much more than he was last season when I was there. That’s good for him and he will benefit from that,” said Ronaldo, who has scored in each of Real Madrid’s games this season.
“Now he has more opportunities to play, he will be able to show the fans just how a great player he is.
“We still speak regularly on the phone. And it’s good to see United’s fans are starting to appreciate him more and have been happy with his form up until now.
“Nani is an excellent player. There’s a lot more to come from him and I’m sure that in a few years he will be amongst the best players in the world,” he told The Mirror.
The former United winger has also admitted to being an armchair red, despite his £80 million move to Spanish giants Real Madrid this summer.
“Every time I can I try to watch United’s games on television. I still like to know what’s happening at Old Trafford. And despite now being at Real, I’m always happy when I know when United have won.”
United’s management is increasingly concerned about the long-term fitness of Rio Ferdinand, according to a report in today’s Times. The central defender, who sat on the substitutes bench for last night’s Carling Cup victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, has missed 30 of United’s last 52 United and England matches says the paper.
Connected to the player’s long-term back complaint, Ferdinand suffered thigh, calf and groin problems over the past year. The defender, 31 on 7 November, has regular osteopathic treatment on the back complaint. However, the problem is now one that requires ongoing management, and not a quick-fix.
Sir Alex Ferguson has chopped-and-change his central defensive partnership over the past year, with both Nemanja Vidic and Johnny Evans suffering injuries. Evans played against Wolves, despite an ongoing ankle problem that may need surgery.
Ferdinand, who cost the club £30 million in 2002, signed a five-year, £130,000 a week, contract last summer. The Old Trafford bean-counters as well as the manager will be hoping Ferdinand is able to halt the tide of injuries.
Sir Alex Ferguson is faced with a huge goalkeeping dilemma, which he must solve come the end of the season. Edwin van der Sar, unsure whether to sign a new one-year contract that would take him into his 40th year, may leave the club, while serious doubts remain over the long-term viability of both Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak. Indeed, such is the looming problem that Ferguson may choose to dip into the transfer market next summer.
van der Sar, who signed from Fulham for around £2 million in 2005, has been on a rolling contract for the past three seasons. Last campaign the legendary Dutchman, who has 130 international caps, signed a new one-year deal in December.
“I’ve said for a few years that it may be my last season,” said van der Sar, whom UEFA named Club Goalkeeper of the Year last season.
“Six months before my contract with Manchester United ended in December 2006, we extended for one year and so far it has been the same every time.
“I wait each season to see how or where I stand, if everyone is happy and if I can get motivated.
“But I know, because I always get older, it is increasingly likely that this will be my last season. In December, it will be clear how it goes. By then, I’ll have clarity. It is a horrible dilemma.”
van der Sar, out injured with a broken hand, will return within a month. With Foster’s form this season unconvincing, many believe that the Dutchman will be straight back in the United side. Indeed, while the Englishman has made some crucial saves – such as those to halt Robin van Persie of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur’s Tom Huddlestone – he has also made mistakes in the same game against Arsenal and Manchester City at the weekend.
Former United legend Peter Schmeichel should know goalkeepers and the giant Dane thinks van der Sar will end up staying at Old Trafford for at least another season. It would be a move that will end Foster’s United career.
“Ben Foster has done well this season and he certainly looks to be a very good goalkeeper. He’s getting a run of games now, but I’m sure Edwin will be back in when he’s fit because the manager knows he’s the right guy for the team at the moment,” said Schmeichel, whose last campaign at United was the 1999 treble season.
“I think Edwin can keep playing for a few more years yet. He’s fit, he’s strong and he’s motivated. Physically, it shouldn’t be a problem for Edwin to carry on and if he wants to, then I’m sure he’ll take that opportunity.”
Schmeichel quit Old Trafford for the warmer climate of Portugal aged just 35 and eventually played on for another four seasons with Sporting, Aston Villa and then Manchester City before retiring.
If van der Sar stays on there will remain serious question marks over the Dutchman’s ability to indefinitely keep up the form of last season, when he kept a clean sheet for record 1,311 minutes in the league. Indeed, the ‘keepers mistake in the Champions League final – beaten at the near post by Samuel Eto’o – was symptomatic of an indifferent end to the campaign.
Meanwhile almost nobody believes that Pole Kuszczak, picked for last night’s Carling Cup win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, will ever be good enough to claim the number one shirt permanently. The question is, after Foster’s gaffe against City, will he be in possession until van der Sar returns?
United’s principal back-up strikers, the reason manager Sir Alex Ferguson refused to spend big on a new striker this summer – Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck – have failed to make an impact this season. Despite the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, United’s two exciting young forwards’ paucity of appearances this season is stark: Welbeck has made the bench on just one occasion, while Macheda has failed to earn even that honour.
That Sir Alex Ferguson expected each to make an impact on the team this season is not in doubt. To that end Ferguson refused offers to take Macheda, 17, back to Italy on-loan, and talked up 18-year-old Welbeck’s chances of making the England 2010 World Cup squad.
Welbeck, locally raised and a huge Ferguson favourite, is hampered by his frequent growth spurts, which may slow his development. However, it is Macheda’s attitude that is in question. The Italian youngster, who burst on the scene with goals against Aston Villa and Sunderland last season, has already cultivated the kind of celebrity lifestyle that Ferguson abhors.
Ferguson has also objected to the amount of time each spends with their respective national associations. Welbeck has played for both England under-19s and under-21s, while Macheda has been away with the Italian equivalents.
“Welbeck has been called away so much with every single England squad [the Under-19s and Under-21s] that I don’t know if he is our player or their player,” Ferguson told The Times.
“Macheda has been away with the Italy youth teams all the time and has hardly been with us, either. They are away that much with the youth squads, they have forgotten where their real place is.”
It is not the first time that Ferguson has sought to cut younger players exposure to what he deems unnecessary international football. Famously, Ryan Giggs was often injured for international friendly matches during the early stages of his international career. Although denied, many suspected that Ferguson had instigated these squad withdrawals.
Ferguson is, however, demanding total commitment to the United cause from the pair. Rightly so. Ferguson will not allow the cult of celebrity – so enjoyed by younger footballers – to blight the nascent stage of the pair’s careers. Anderson has also been reminded of this rule.
Macheda is likely to start tonight’s home Carling Cup fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers up-front, along with derby goal hero Michael Owen. Welbeck, meanwhile, may well have to settle for a place on the bench, or in one of the wider positions.
In a strong line-up, Ferguson is likely to bring in Fabio da Silva, Johnny Evans, Darron Gibson, Ritchie de Laet, Wes Brown, Gary Neville, Tomas Kuszczak, Zoran Tosic and possibly even Michael Carrick for the match.
The FA warned Gary Neville and Craig Bellamy about their future conduct after separate incidents in last Sunday’s Manchester derby. Neville vigorously celebrated United’s winning goal in front of his own fans in the South Stand, while Craig Bellamy punched an already restrained fan. Another example of the FA’s “world class” disciplinary processes?
Defending the organisation’s ineptitude, Ian Watmore, the FA chief executive told The Times that they had taken their lead from the referee, Martin Atkinson.
“With the Bellamy incident, we asked the referee what he would have done if he had seen the incident,” said Watmore.
“He said that he would have taken into account the emotion of the game and of that particular incident.
“We have to condemn the fan and the invasion of the pitch in such a situation. I’m not condoning what Craig Bellamy did, but we have to put it in perspective: a fan came on to the pitch and it was intimidatory.
“Bellamy shouldn’t have done what he did – and we don’t want that sort of thing happening every week – but, in this situation, we’re backing the referee’s judgement.”
That Bellamy ran more than 20 yards to face the restrained fan before striking him in the face was apparently not considered. Proving the point that it’s ok to beat up supporters, just as long as you’re not Eric Cantona.
FIFA will not prosecture Manchester United for poaching in the case of Michele Fornasier, the Italian teenage defender recruited from Fiorentia this summer, according to the world governing body. Fornasier, 16, joined United from the Viola for no fee as he was not under contract but the Italian club complained to FIFA about the transfer.
The case is one of a number of high profile transfers involving Premier League clubs and teenagers from overseas. FIFA banned Chelsea from registering players for two transfer windows after being found guilty of poaching French teenager Gael Kakuta from Racing Lens.
“We can confirm that we were contacted by Fiorentina with regard to the potential transfer of the player, Michele Fornasier, to Manchester United,” a FIFA spokesman told the Telegraph.
“However, no formal investigation has been opened since the documentation currently in our possession, from a purely formal point of view, is not apt to sustain such action.”
French Ligue 2 club Le Harve has also complained that United poached teenage midfielder Paul Pogba this summer. Pogba, also 16, is similarly without a contract, although the French club maintains that he has a pre-contract agreement in place. Le Harve also complained that United had paid Pogba’s parents, which was strongly denied by the Old Trafford hierachy.
“So far, no contractual claim against the player Paul Pogba and/or the club Manchester United has been lodged by the French club, Le Havre, at FIFA,” a spokesman said.
“The matter we are currently investigating concerns the request for intervention submitted by the Football Association on behalf of its member club, Manchester United, in relation to the international clearance for the player in question, following the refusal of the French Football Federation to issue the international transfer certificate of the player.”