Hargreaves nears United return

September 12, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Owen Hargreaves returns to training at Carrington on September 23 and should be available to play in United’s final three Champions League group games. Such is the confidence that United’s staff have in the Canadian-born midfielder’s fitness that Hargreaves has been given a Champions League squad number and earmarked for a return on November 3 against CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford.

“We had difficulty what we should do about Owen Hargreaves whether to put him in the 25,” said the United manager.

“It was Owen or Zoran or Ritchie de Laet. It was a dilemma. But we came down on the side of Hargreaves because having taken the medical advice we think he will be available for the last three Champions League games,” said Sir Alex Ferguson on the perrenially injured midfielder.

“In that respect it is the time when we would want to push him a bit. He is also a versatile player who can perform in so many positions.

“He could be a very important player for us at that time of the season.”

Hargreaves has been out of action for close to a full year and has only started 25 matches for United since transferring from Bayern Munich in an £18 million dea during the summer of 2007l. The England international has undergone operations on both knees in a final attempt to cure persistent tendonitis.

Should Hargreave’s comeback fail this time his future career at United must be placed in doubt. The midfielder may also struggle to get back in the team, even if fit, with Darren Fletcher currently in superb form.

Spurs: view from the other side

September 11, 2009 Tags: Opinion 5 comments

Manchester United’s annual visit to Tottenham Hotspur is always a great day out for the visiting supporters, even if the walk from Seven Sisters tube akin to hiking the Inca Trail and the clientèle in the local boozers somewhat ‘edgy’. This weekend’s much anticipated trip sees Harry Redknapp’s Spurs team sitting top of the Premier League after wining four games in a row. It will be a cracker, and Rant caught up with fellow blogger Robin Graham from Tottenham Blog and Vlog to discuss the upcoming game. You can read Rant’s end of the interview here.

Spurs’ great start to the season has got the fans dreaming of a top four finish. Is it really possible?

So many variables! I don’t think Villa and Everton will challenge the top 4 this year so it’s between Spurs and Man City if anyone is going to break it. Man City have outstanding players but will they gel? If they do, I think they’ll finish above Spurs but I’m not convinced that Hughes has what it takes to fuse the team together that quickly. One of Liverpool and Arsenal usually have a dodgy season where they just scrape the 70+ points required to finish fourth. Spurs’ squad is certainly capable of getting those 70+ points. But much will depend on the fitness of Wilson Palacios who is probably our most important player. He’s also the only player that we don’t have cover for in the squad.

Aaron Lennon has been in great form for club and country. I know many United fans who would love to see him at Old Trafford. I suppose the big question is, if he maintains this form can you keep him?

There’s a cycle at Spurs and it goes like this: Great player emerges – Lots of excitement and expectation comes that Spurs might actually do something. Spurs just miss out on ‘doing something’. Player leaves. Spurs finish mid table. New player emerges and the cycle continues.

If we can break the cycle by getting into the Champions League this season or next, the current crop of exciting players (Modric, Lennon, Palacios) will probably stay. If not, they won’t.

What’s up with the Spurs board. They never seem to settle on a manager. So is Harry there to stay or out if Spurs don’t make the top four this season?

I think Harry will get at least another couple of years after this, unless we get embroiled in a relegation battle next season. Very, very few Spurs fans were unhappy with the sacking of Jol or the appointment of Ramos. Ramos had to go. On the balance of things, I’m happy with our board.

With Ronaldo and Tevez departed and no spectacular signings most opposition fans are writing United off this season. Are you with them?

Tevez wasn’t worth £25 million and simply didn’t play well enough to warrant a regular place in the side so I don’t think he’s very significant. Owen will probably get more goals than Tevez and will play the role of third choice striker better. Ronaldo leaving opens the way for others to step to the plate and that’s just the kind of situation that Fergie thrives on. Rooney and Berbatov will need to respond. And Nani and Valencia will need to have good seasons.

But writing off Fergie and United would be ridiculous. They’ll be there come the end of the season in the league. I think they might need another season before they challenge in the Champions League as strongly as in recent seasons though.

Sir Alex was once interested in Gareth Bale, prior to him joining Spurs. Whatever happened to him?

A casualty of the Ramos debacle – the poor bloke still hasn’t been on a winning side for Spurs! He did very well when he first came in with one performance at Old Trafford especially eye catching. But his confidence dwindled in the second half of that season and nose dived at the start of last season. We were suddenly in a relegation battle and couldn’t afford to have him in the side. He’s injured now but I think we’ll start to see the best of him when he comes back. Benoit Assou Eketto is playing out of his skin at left back for us though so there’ll be an interesting battle there.

So come on, what are your honest thoughts on Spurs’ old boys Berbatov and Carrick?

Carrick will always be highly thought of at White Hart Lane, Berbatov won’t. Berbatov refused to play to get his move, he sulked, he moaned and in his last season with us, he only tried around transfer window time and in the League Cup final. He made it 100% clear that he considered himself far superior to the club and his team-mates and that’s hardly endearing. It’s interesting to see him now, far less swagger, he looks almost sheepish. Basically we all hope he fails at United, sorry!

Carrick on the other hand was a modicum of decency throughout his Spurs career and left with class and decency. Top player, top bloke.

United visit Spurs seeking momentum

September 11, 2009 Tags: , Matches 4 comments

Now that the World Cup break is over, Manchester United’s mass of international players can concentrate on the real task in hand – racking up points in search of a fourth title in a row. United return to Premier League action with a tough trip to White Hart Lane on Saturday, facing a resurgent Tottenham Hotspur side, with the glow of victory over Arsenal still warm. While question marks may still hang over the team’s form, three wins in four mean that United head to London as favourites for another victory.

Harry Redknapp, dodgy though he is, certainly produces teams that play football the right way. The game will no doubt be another classic in the mould of United’s 5 – 2 win at Old Trafford last season, or the magnificent comeback from three down in 2001. Indeed, Redknapp’s Spurs side has undergone the usual Harry makeover, with players leaving and arriving through an unstoppable revolving door. While the cynical may say this is simply to line the manager’s pockets, Redknapp has turned Spurs into genuine contenders for the top four.

The Tottenham manager’s problem in making the top four come May – aside from the strength of Arsenal and Manchester City – is in make-up of his squad. Harry has Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavychenko on the books, but barely a fit central defender to call upon.

Central defence, of course, is an area upon which Sir Alex Ferguson is building his title defence. Indeed, Fergie will be able to pair Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic for the first time this season at White Hart Lane. Ferdinand returns after missing five games with a thigh injury.

The former West Ham United defender’s recovery is just in time, with Johnny Evans’ long-term fitness under question. The Northern Irishman’s left ankle must be operated on sooner, rather than later. Moreover the international break has ended with John O’Shea nursing a blood clot in his calf that could, in theory, keep the Irishman out for the next six weeks. And with Rafael da Silva still out, but Wes Brown and Gary Neville fit, the defence almost picks itself.

More focus at White Hart Lane will be on who Sir Alex chooses in forward areas. Will former Spurs favourite Dimitar Berbatov play, after sitting out the Arsenal win on the bench? After the Bulgarian’s performances at Wigan Athletic and then in Bugaria’s demolition of Montenegro in midweek, Berbatov deserves to play. But with Sir Alex almost permanently wedded to deploying a single striker in the biggest games it seems unlikely that Berbatov will start at his old stomping ground.

Either way, United faces one of its toughest away trips of the season.

Classic United v Spurs

September 10, 2009 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

It’s a football cliché but over the years there have been some classic Tottenham Hotspur versus Manchester United encounters from two teams that play the right way. United’s comeback from three down at White Hart Lane in 2001, or last season’s blistering second half spree at Old Trafford and of course the 2 – 1 win that brought the title to Old Trafford in 1999.

United 5 – 2 Tottenham Hotspur, Old Trafford, 26 April 2009
Last season’s comeback from two goals down was the moment that turned the Premier League title race, according to many pundits. United’s second half performance, led by the fab four of Wayen Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, was as good as anything United fans have witnessed in recent seasons.

Tottenham Hotspur 3 – 5 United, White Hart Lane, October 1 2001
United came back from three goals down at half time to win in emphatic style. Goals from Andy Cole, Laurent Blanc, Juan Sebastant Veron, David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy capped a magnificent comeback and one of the finest second-half displays in recent memory.

David Beckham

United 2 -1 Tottenham Hotspur, Old Trafford, 17 May 1999
United needed a win in order to claim the first part of the 1999 treble. Not for the first (or last) time, United was forced to come from behind in order to win. Andy Cole went mad, Fergie hugged his staff and there was dancing in the streets of Piccadilly that night!

United 3 – 3 Tottenham Hotspur, Old Trafford, 12 August 1967
One for the Spurs’ fans here as Pat Jennings, Tottenham’s Northern Irish goalkeeper scores. Alex Stepney in the United goal won’t be happy with that one. Still ranks as one of the most celebrated Spurs goals ever.

Rio fit for Spurs clash

September 10, 2009 Tags: Shorts 1 comment

Rio Ferdinand could play in Manchester United’s away fixture at Tottenham Hotspur this Saturday after recovering from injury. Ferdinand, who has missed four Premier League matches, the Community Shield and two England internationals, has been out with a thigh strain. But the United defender joined first team training at Carrington this week and is available to play, if chosen by Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferdinand’s return is a huge boost to the manager, who has seen a raft of defenders injured over the last few months.

“Rio has been in training this week and has a got a chance for Saturday, I’m not sure how big a chance but he has got a chance,” said Ferguson in his weekly press conference.

“I don’t know if there are any injuries with the players coming back from games but I think the England players are all right. We’re better off than we have been for months, in terms of defensive options.”

However John O’Shea is unlikely to figure after suffering a blood clot in his calf after the Republic of Ireland’s clash with Cyprus last weekend.

Meanwhile, Johnny Evans is suffering with an ankle problem which may yet need an operation. Brazilian full back Rafael da Silva is yet to return following surgery on a dislocated shoulder.

Fergie: “We never pay parents”

September 10, 2009 Tags: , Shorts 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson has hit back at claims that Manchester United paid the parents of French teenager Paul Pogba, who joined the club from Le Harve this summer. Speaking at his Friday morning press conference, Ferguson said that the club had only been brought into the youth transfers controversy because United is the biggest club.

“They (the media) were always going to bring Manchester United into it because we’re the biggest club, without any knowledge of the situation,” said Ferguson.

“I can assure you Manchester United has behaved correctly in all dealings we have with parents.  There has never been a case, ever, that we have paid parents. It would be crazy to even contemplate that because it would be the biggest headache you could ever have, paying a parent.”

Le Harve President Jean-Pierre Louvel accused United of giving Pogba’s parents €100,000 (£87,000) each, and a house, to bring him to Old Trafford.

“This (charge) was levelled by a frustrated President and he’s now going to have to retract it. What other clubs do is subject to a lot of controversy at the moment but I’m confident at our own club,” Fergie continued.

Blatter threatens points deduction

September 9, 2009 Tags: Shorts 6 comments

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has threatened clubs found guilty of poaching young players with points deduction as the row that has engulfed English football sees no sign of abating. Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City have all been accused of taking under 18-year-old players from continental clubs.

Chelsea were found guilty last week of illegally taking Frenchman Gael Kakuta from Racing Lens, and punished with a two window transfer ban. The guilty verdict has prompted a series of clubs across Europe to publicly complain about the actions of Premier League sides.

Indeed, United stands by Le Harve of inducing 16-year-old Paul Pogba to break his contract with the French Ligue 2 side and by Fiorentina in the case of Michele Fornasier. There are further question marks hanging over the acquisitions of Alberto Massacci and Manuel Pucciarelli from Empoli.

“It is so right when you speak about taking points away,” said Blatter today.

“We have already seen the reaction of a club who have said a player is registered with them but not as a professional player; he is only an amateur. This will not help because it’s a question of age and not a question of if he has a contract or not,” he continued referring to yet another case.

United has consistently denied any wrongdoing in the cases of Pogba, Massacci and Pucciarelli.

Fletcher proves value of patience

September 9, 2009 Tags: Opinion 1 comment

Darren Barr Fletcher has come a long way since FA rules precluded Sir Alex Ferguson from including him in United’s squad for the Premier League trip to Aston Villa in May 2000. Fletcher, gangly 16-year-old schoolboy, the next great creative talent to follow David Beckham and Paul Scholes into United’s midfield. Nearly a decade later and Fletcher has transformed himself into the vital destructive heartbeat of the United side. No longer the love that dare not speak its name.

Injuries meant that Fletcher wasn’t able to make his full United début until 2003, making 35 appearances in the following season. Through the following four seasons Fletcher flitted in and out of the United side, often appearing out of position on the right flank. Fans, unconvinced, cruelly dubbed the Dalkeith-born Scot The Scottish Player. Roy Keane went further and singled out Fletcher in his now infamous 2005 MUTV putdown: “I can’t understand why people in Scotland rave about Darren Fletcher.”

The signatures of Anderson and Owen Hargreaves in the summer of 2007 came close to ending Fletcher’s time at the club. Fletcher’s loyalty to United and Sir Alex tested by years of warming the bench. Few fans would have blamed him for leaving, or indeed shed many tears.

But injuries to Hargreaves and the inconsistent form of Anderson have offered Fletcher a chance in his favoured central midfield role. How the Scot has taken it – Fletcher made 42 appearances in all competitions last season and is now almost always picked for the biggest games. That the Scot missed last season’s Champions League final was not only desperately unlucky for the player, but for the team too.

“People ask me why I do well in those games but I don’t think I do anything differently,” Fletcher told The Daily Mail in an interview earlier this season. “I think I always play like that but it is only when you are up against the best teams that people notice the work being done in midfield.”

From gangly teenager, to midfielder pariah, to an “automatic pick,” according to United legend Paddy Crerand. Such is Fletcher’s current form that Owen Hargreaves will struggle to get back into the United side should he ever return from fitness.

“For the big games I think the manager would pick Fletcher, he’d be first on the team sheet. Darren has made the point that he wants to be the number one choice in midfield. And he’s playing well enough to be number one. I almost don’t need to make the point for him, he’s making a strong enough case himself.”

Indeed, Fletcher has started the new season in outstanding form with man-of-the-match performances against both Wigan Athletic and Arsenal. “He’s been playing like that for quite a few years now. I think the fans are starting to appreciate him, that’s the only difference,” says Crerrand.

While fans have long underestimated the merits of Fletcher’s passing, the Scot was too often used out of position on the right flank, without the requisite pace or skills to make the best of the role. When Fletcher did get the chance to play in central midfield, he often played as if he had yet to find his true vocation. Fletcher the gifted teenager took time to mature into the midfield terrier of his mid-20s.

Crerand goes further, claiming that United fans unfairly placed Fletcher alongside the greats of United’s midfield of the early naughties.

“For a long time Darren was a scapegoat. When he came through he played alongside Roy Keane and Paul Scholes and there aren’t many players in English football, never mind for United, who’ve been as good as those two,” argues fellow Scot Crerand.

“He’s a tremendous passer and doesn’t get the credit for that sometimes. All you hear is that he gets in at people. But he is enthusiastic and whole-hearted, and fans love that,” said Crerrand.

Indeed they do and Fletcher is winning over more by the week. Fletcher puts his improved performances down to hard work and the right attitude.

“I’m the only one still here from my year group. There were others who could control, pass and shoot the ball as good as me but I think football is played in your head,” Fletcher told The Mail.

“It is the way you deal with everything: being at Manchester United, the expectation, the crowd, the nervousness, all of that pressure. The game is played up there before you go on the pitch, and I had that strength.”

Roy Keane would approve and Fletcher deserves huge credit for his improvement.

Le Harve has no case – agent

September 9, 2009 Tags: , Shorts No comments

Manchester United has no case to answer in the transfer of Paul Pogba from Le Harve, according the player’s agent. Speaking to The Times Pogba’s agent, Gaël Mahé, claimed that no wrongdoing had taken place and that the French Ligue 2 side has several pieces of crucial documentation missing.

“No money had changed hands up front, though Paul will get a very good contract when he turns professional,” Mahé told The Times.

“All he has from United is a flat in Manchester for him and his mother to live in.

“The problem is that there are three things Le Havre do not have. They do not have a contract aspirant, they do not have convention of formation and they do not have a late-trigger contract. All they have is a contract of non-solicitation, which is invalid outside France.

“We spent a long time ensuring that the document we signed with Manchester United was legally watertight.”

Mahé contradicts reports that Pogba signed a contract aspirant – a blunt pre-contract agreement in France.  Instead, Mahé’s comments back up claims that the contract aspirant was not signed by the player himself.