Sometimes it seems there’s one media law for United and another for everybody else. Take this Sunday’s game for example. The media consensus is that United were given a penalty that should never have been and that Spurs were ‘robbed’ of a potential win as a result. In fact Heurelio Gomes’ foul on Michael Carrick was just that, by any interpretation of the law. Gomes took both man and ball – and it really doesn’t matter which came first for a foul to be given. Meanwhile, Wilson Palacios’ disgraceful two-footed knee high lunge at Ronaldo went unreported in many media outlets. It all goes to prove the old adage that it’s always better to print the story rather than the facts.
Do you miss the United versus Arsenal fizz of yesteryear? You know, the pizza throwing, tunnel shoving, all-out-21-man-brawling edge that seems to have been missing from recent encounters. It was that needle that gave the fixture its meaning over the past two decades. After all, while Arsenal aren’t traditional United rivals like City, Leeds and Liverpool, the tie had more than an air of ‘derby’ about it from the nineties to the early 21st century. But ‘Pizzagate’ onwards, when United ended Arsenal’s 49 match unbeaten league run, and the encounters have been tame. But with the clubs’ biggest meeting in a number of seasons taking place at Old Trafford this coming Wednesday, could old rivalries flare up again? Let’s hope so!
Perhaps its because messrs. Ferguson and Wenger have mellowed over the years that has removed some of the spark from the fixture in recent seasons. After all, when was the last time either of them engaged in petty media-orientated ‘mind-games,’ name calling and put-downs? The arrival of Jose Mourinho and Chelsea’s huge spending certainly gave both clubs a new focus. And, horror of horrors, the pair even agree on certain issues now, such as a common enemy in universally disliked Rafa Benitez.
Or maybe its that the players have changed too. Neither side has the spikey characters that fueled the personal vendettas of the past. Without the incendury personalities of Keane, Viera, Keown, Winterburn, McClair, van Nistelrooy and others, what’s left to fight about? After all Viera hated – literally hated – Ruud van Nistelrooy; Brian McClair tried to cut Nigel Winterburn in half; and Roy Keane scared the aforementioned Viera so bad he probably had to run home to his mummy for a cuddle. Moreover, Cesc Fabregas aside, there’s nobody on either side who – to paraphrase – would gladly start a fight in an empty room.
Most of all the edge has gone because the clubs aren’t rivals for the Premiership title anymore, with the North London side now more accustomed to fighting it out for the fourth Champions League qualifying spot than actual trophies. By the time the two meet in the Premiership at Old Trafford on May 16th the title ought to be as good as wrapped up.
The Champions League semi-final this coming Wednesday, however, could change all that. At last a United versus Arsenal fixture worth getting excited about!
Wednesday night Ryan Giggs will don a red shirt for the 800th time in a competitive game. The historic milestone comes shortly after the Paul Scholes – the Ginger Prince – played his 600th game for the club. In that match, against Portsmouth last Wednesday night, Scholes slotted a sumptuous ball through the Pompey defence to release Michael Carrick for the second goal of the game. The Salford-born magician, it seems, may have lost much of his old zip and eye for a goal but none of his world-class brilliance on the ball. Giggs meanwhile is having yet another Indian-summer – 17 years after his debut. Aging the pair may be but they provide further proof, it were ever needed, that class is permanent.
Dimi’s come in for quite a bit of grief lately, which is vaguely understandable, but there’s much to celebrate about the languid Bulgarian. When he scored against Spurs, his apparently nonchalant turn away from the goal masked the massive relief. When he was mobbed by his team mates (surely a sign about the esteem they hold him in) he couldn’t contain his delight any longer and broke out into a massive grin, and gave a double fisted pump of joy. Unless Rooney was media savvy enough to whisper “Berba, you big numpty, at least look like you’re pleased,” I think Dimi might actually have been displaying the commitment to the cause we all want to see from him.
Does an – albeit dreadful – penalty miss really make a bad player? Dimitar Berbatov has always been a striker of the highest quality. True, he’s different. The Bulgarian doesn’t run around the pitch like a headless chicken; he’s always been a thinking man’s player. Moreover, the former Tottenham man has added composure and no little skill to United’s team this season. In a squad of Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez (not to mention Macheda and Wellbeck) there’s no reason for Berbatov to start every match. But equally, United’s squad desperately needs a player of his ilk. Calls by fans and former managers for the player to be sold this summer are way short of the mark.
It will be a great shame but it seems inevitable that Carlos Tevez will be leaving United this summer when his two-year loan contract comes to an end. Fans love his insatiable appetite for the game and the heart he shows every time he dons a United shirt. True, the young Argentinian’s statistics aren’t great this season. Three goals in more than 20 Premier League games for the club isn’t nearly enough. Especially for a man that will cost United €34m, minus the loan fees already paid. But Tevez is worth more than his weight in goals. Let’s hope the club find a way to keep the wee man.
On Friday 4th November 2005 your editor called for Sir Alex Ferguson’s head. Frustrated by a crushing 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough in the Premier League, followed by a limp performance against Lille in the Champions League, I came to the conclusion that Sir Alex’ time was up at Old Trafford.
I made this call not because for one moment I believed Ferguson has lost any of his skill. Nor that a change of manager would guarantee success. And certainly not because I had become spoilt by success and expected nothing less (I supported United through 26 barren years too). But because the great man’s legacy was genuinely under threat.
At the time I wrote that Ferguson was “seemingly bereft of ideas to turn things around.” Fans will recall too many mediocre players in the United squad that season; frankly, too few good purchases. Inconsistent tactics but players consistently used out of position were also common. Worse still, the excuses for defeat seemed more blinkered than ever. No Sir Alex, the pitch at the Stade de France that night against Lille wasn’t to blame; four central defenders in the starting XI were.
But taking the long view, your editor was wrong and Sir Alex was right. He has turned things around. United will be crowed Premiership champions for the second year running in May. The Reds may even add a European Cup double to the trophy won so gloriously in Moscow last year. Moreover, your editor’s suggestion that a young Paul Le Guen take the helm has been proven laughably off-base.
For that Sir Alex, you have my humble and grovelling apology.
As we head into Saturday’s match against Spurs, United are once again in pole position to take the Premiership title with Liverpool blowing their chance to beat a weakened Arsenal side at Anfield last Wednesday. Let’s be frank, Arsenal were woeful defensively and Liverpool not much better. While North London’s ‘finest’ helped themselves to four goals from four attempts on target, Liverpool simply bottled it. At this time of year, neves get to us all. Most of all the least experienced at winning titles. Now that’s a fact.
United meanwhile beat Portsmouth with a thoroughly professional but somewhat unsatisfying display on Wednesday night at Old Trafford. The visitors created little but as Sir Alex said in postmatch interviews, he “thought a goal was coming.” The match could easily have turned into a nightmare draw with a display that was muted at worst. Energy came mainly from the effervescent Wayne Rooney, until he was somewhat bizzarely shipped out to the left wing in the second period. But with just seven games to go, can United find the attacking fevour that will sweep them to the title and a possible quadruple?
This is no time of crisis. After all, the Reds have now won four and drawn two (penalties aside) of their last six matches in all competitions, despite the tabloid press’ best attempts to write off Sir Alex’ team. What we, the fans, would like to see now, of course, is the return of some trademark United fluency and flambouyance.
Spurs’ visit to Old Trafford this weekend could help. The team of Blanchflour, Ardiles, Waddle and Gascoigne has a history, much like United, of attacking attractive football. Will Harry Redknapp send out his team, with little to lose, to make a game of it? Let’s hope so. 11 men behind the ball rarely makes for a good game at Old Trafford – or in the current environment – a decent United performance.
Sir Alex has his part to play too. On Wednesday his side nominally lined up as a 4-4-2, with Ronaldo joining Rooney in attack. In reality Giggs and Fletcher tucked inside and United lacked width and penetration. With games coming thick and fast, and tired legs commonplace throughout the squad, rotation is inevitable. But it was still a conservative selection.
With Spurs, ‘Boro, City, and Wigan to come before Arsenal’s visit to Old Trafford for the May 16 Premiership fixture United could well be out of sight before Wenger’s boys hit town. Better still, United could take the title with a flourish that day. Now that would be the right style.
Sometime in 2004 a blog was born. Not from some misplaced desire to earn web 2.0 blogosphere social media wealth and notoriety. Nor a genuine belief that the site would actually attract any readers, let alone ones that cared. But a basic primeaval urge embedded into the DNA of every football fan. The need, when things aren’t going your team’s way, to rant and then rant some more.
For Manchester United fans 2004-5 wasn’t a pretty time. United lost the league to Chelsea by 18 points and were beaten in the FA Cup final by an inferior Arsenal side. United also went out of the Champions League at the first knockout stage, somewhat meakly, to eventual finalists Milan. Worse still the winners were our great rivals from down the M62. The word that dare not speak its name.
But fans suffered not solely because the team was (I’ll be kind) in a period of transition but because our leader, Sir Alex Ferguson, was undergoing a period of mental transformation too. From a coach whose genuine belief was that his team could ‘score one more’ than the opposition, to a pragmatist tactician. The end result was a second, glorious, Champions League victory in May 2008 for which all United fans are grateful. The original Rant called for his head, and has been proven wrong.
But travel is just as much about the journey as the destination and this road was far from smooth. A website found its voice.
And while the site didn’t make a dime, at its zenith around 1,000,000 pages per month of editorial were read. That’s 1,000,000. More than 15,000 fans received the site’s newsletter twice a week and there were 5,000 registered users on a rabidly active forum. Your editor was asked to write for national newspapers and became a regular pundit on both broadcast and Internet radio. It was a surreal, if shortlived, experience.
Sadly, love rarely lasts forever. A little over two years after it’s inception the site died. It had to. It wasn’t pretty, nobody’s proud about it and you’ll forever be spared the details.
Now it is time for Rant to rise again. While we can’t promise to bring you the depth – or length – of analysis, or frequency of editorial we once did, but we’ll try our best. It’s the same editorial team, back from the dead.
Step aside immitators, fakers and haters (there were many). Rant is coming through.