Tag New York Cosmos

Tag New York Cosmos

Reds offer a little charity as season looms large

August 2, 2011 Tags: , , , , Opinion 15 comments

It has been more than a little busy for Sir Alex Ferguson this week, whose squad arrived back in Manchester after a successful tour of the United States. No sooner had the squad checked in at Carrington than it split in two, with seven players and Ferguson heading towards Marseille for a charity match on Tuesday night. Many others will join up with Edwin van der Sar in Amsterdam for the great Dutchman’s testimonial on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s game, which a Manchester United XI lost 8-2 to the home side, was held in aid of former Marseille goalkeeper Pascal Olmeta’s charity “Un sourire, un espoir pour la vie” – a smile, a hope for life. Patrice Evra, Park Ji-Sung, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones started for the visitors, while reserve teenage midfielder Paul Pogba was a second half substitute.

That United’s players were joined by former Red Fabian Barthez, David Ginola and even a local pop-star said much about the relaxed nature of the game, which at best offered Ferguson’s players additional minutes on the park ahead of Sunday’s Community Shield fixture with Manchester City at Wembley. Goals from Cleverley and Welbeck brought United back into the tie at 2-2 before Marseille ran away with the match in the second half; a relaxed Ferguson worried not a jot.

On to Amsterdam then for an afternoon of games in honour of van der Sar, who retired this summer. It promises to be an emotional occasion for the former Ajax goalkeeper, who returns to face the side with which the 40-year-old began his career in 1990. More than 800 games for Ajax, Juventus, Fulham, United and Holland have followed for one of the all-time greats in his position and a gentleman to boot.

van der Sar is staging a unique occasion at the Amsterdam Arena, which comprises not a full match but a series of games. First, van der Sar’s son Joe will play for United Under-13s against Ajax’ age-group team. Then the European Cup winning Ajax side of 1995 takes on Cup of Nations’ champions Holland from 1998. Finally fans will see ‘Edwin’s Dream Team’ take on Ajax in an hour-long encounter.

United first teamers Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney have joined the party in the Dutch capital, while former Reds Gary Neville and Louis Saha will also be in the team.

“Hopefully it’ll be a great night,” van der Sar told official rag manutd.com.

“It’s a chance for fans to see some top players and some of the current up-and-coming stars for Ajax. It’s 12 years since I left Ajax, so I’m really looking forward to going back and seeing old friends. I’m grateful for their support with the event. This is the perfect way to say goodbye.

“And I’m delighted the manager, Rene [Meulensteen] and the players are coming over for the game. I’d like to thank fans and staff at United for six great years. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I see you again.”

Then on Friday United takes on New York Cosmos at Old Trafford in Paul Scholes’ testimonial. Cosmos is a club without a team, a franchise sans stadium. Little more than a badge, a marketing ploy, a rich man’s wet dream. For Scholes, all style and substance during a truly wonderful 20 year career at Old Trafford, the opposition is, of course, an oxymoron.

The opposition does possess something United does not though: Eric Cantona. The 45-year-old is not a man, he is… a brand ambassador and Cosmos’ Director of Soccer. Even if the title sounds incongruent it takes nothing away from the five years Cantona gave to United before walking away in 1997. He is remembered, as always, with undying affection by Old Trafford regulars, even if the make-up of the club’s support has changed beyond recognition since the Frenchman’s retirement.

For the expected full-house, whether fans come to pay homage to heroes old or more recent, the occasion will be no disappointment.

On to the real thing then: Sunday’s game with City – billed as a portent for the upcoming season at hype-obsessed Sky – marks the start of 328 days of continuous competitive football, ending with Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Poland. By the end of the coming season United may well be English Champions for a 20th time. Few will bet against it even if Ferguson is unable to land the additional midfielder than so many supporters crave.

Ferguson will likely use the tie as a final warm-up before the Premier League season begins on 14 August. One wonders whether City – the noisy cross-town neighbours – will be a little more circumspect. With genuine pretensions to the title Roberto Mancini’s men, now boasting £38 million Sergio Aguëro in the squad, will surely want to strike the first psychological blow of the season.

Magic and marketing for Scholes’ testimonial

June 10, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 1 comment

So Eric Cantona returns to Old Trafford, not this time as player, nor matinée idol but manager of a team with no talents, a club with no stadium, the New York Cosmos. And with Cantona’s newly reformed Cosmos will come a tranche of ringers, drawn from some of the finest recent football talent to be found in the Frenchman’s contacts book, in celebration of Paul Scholes wonderful career.

Scholes’ testimonial, to be played at Old Trafford on Friday 5 August, will be an occasion for the midfielder’s fans and contemporaries to put the notoriously media-shy former United player in the spotlight. However, with United facing a team that is little more than a marketing exercise, some will question whether the match is a fitting end to Scholes’ playing days. After all, the Salford-born midfielder always placed loyalty to the club and time with his family ahead of cash in the bank.

Still, with more than 20 years at the club, 17 of them in Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team, Scholes deserves nothing less than the shower of accolades and praise he has received since retiring 10 days ago, whomever the opposition.

“It’ll be fantastic for the fans to be able to bid farewell to this exceptional footballer,’’ Ferguson told ManUtd.com in a statement.

“The accolades he’s received have been well deserved, but for me, Paul is one of those players who turns up, plays his football and it’s that natural ability that makes Paul unique and revered by many, including myself. Now from one great player to another, Eric Cantona. I am going to relish this touchline showdown, one Gaelic mind to another. Neither of us will want to lose this one, it is sure to be a great night and a well-deserved recognition for Paul.”

Scholes slipped away on a family holiday before retiring, leaving the official announcement to United’s PR department on 31 May. How typical of the man, who spent a career avoiding the media glare, marketing campaigns and trappings of celebrity, which the 36-year-old has always considered nonsense.

Yet it is marketing that will bring the Cosmos to town with, one can expect, a rash of star names joining Cantona’s team. After all, those who have lauded Scholes the player have included the greats of the European and world game from the past 20 years: Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, Xavi Hernández and many others.

Scholes’ last appearance as a United player will guarantee a full house at Old Trafford, with United having restricted initial ticket sales to season ticket holders only. The 75,000 sell-out crowd will generate more than £3 million in revenues, with Scholes’ Testimonial Committee as yet not having declared whether the midfielder will pocket the cash or, as is now customary, donate to a range of good causes.

“This is going to be a big night for me and my family, but one which I intend to enjoy and I will savour every moment,’’ said Scholes, presumably from a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.

“I have spent my whole footballing life at Manchester United, so this will be an emotional farewell. This club is special in many ways, but the fans are the best and I have always appreciated their support throughout my career. I hope they enjoy the night, especially seeing the Boss and Eric battling it out in front of the dug outs.”

Fans will, of course, come to see Cantona as well. The 45-year-old took up a position as Director of Soccer with the Cosmos in January. The newly reformed outfit is hoping to win a place in Major League Soccer in the coming years but in the meantime is little more than a logo and a youth team.

Cantona was last reunited with his former club in Spring 2010, touring Carrington and taking in United’s fixture against Liverpool. The Frenchman had previously returned for the Munich Testimonial fixture in 1998, leading an all-star European XI at Old Trafford.

But it is Scholes’ night, and Cantona, who played with the flame-haired midfielder in the late 1990s, will do nothing but add to the glamour, which will also include Cosmos’ Honourary President, Pélé.

“I wish to congratulate Paul for such an incredible career at Manchester United,” said Cantona, who played 185 games for United before retiring in 1997.

“I am looking forward to returning to Old Trafford in my new role with The New York Cosmos. This will be a significant and memorable match for all.”

Scholes is set to take up a coaching position with United when pre-season training begins in July, although it is not yet confirmed exactly what role the former player will take on. Warren Joyce has been working alone with the reserve team since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure for Molde last November.

That is for the future though. Today, fans will clamber to get hold of the most sought-after testimonial ticket in recent memory. Magic.

It’s up to you, New York, says Cantona

January 19, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 10 comments

Publicity stunt it might well be but Eric Cantona’s signature with the once defunct New York Cosmos certainly caught the headlines today. The club unveiled the 44-year-old former Manchester United striker as its new Director of Soccer, with, “overall responsibility for all soccer-related matters, including the proposed first team.”

It is of course a telling line – proposed first team – as the Cosmos has neither a ground, coach, team nor any fixtures to play. Re-formed in 2010, the club is a revival of the original New York Cosmos, which played in the North American Soccer League from 1971 to 1984.

Little more than a branding exercise until the ‘franchise’ – in the awful American parlance – is potentially granted a 20th MSL license in 2013, the Cosmos has built much of the club’s internal structure anyway.

Save for a team that is.

But in one sense the vision is a romantic one. The club of Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and former Manchester City ‘star’ Dennis Tueart, naturally appeals to Cantona’s maudlin tendencies.

“I am very honored to join the legendary club New York Cosmos. It’s a big project, a wonderful project,” said Cantona, who scored 82 goals in 185 games for United.

“The Cosmos are very strong, beautifully made, with a great past. It’s kind of a mix between football and art.

“In addition to my artistic engagements, I will do everything that I can to help us first find our way to regain the number one position in the United States, and then for us to become one of the best clubs in the world over the coming years.”

Whether that dream is fulfilled depends heavily on entrance to the MLS, a closed shop with neither promotion, nor relegation. It is expensive too, entailing a deposit of $10 million, a license fee of around $75 million and proven funds to build a new stadium in the New York metro area.

It’s a dream that has more than a hint of reality though after a season in which TV viewing figures for the MLS Cup Final fell sharply. After more than a decade of progress, the competition needs another big market team to follow Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps for the 2011 season, plus the introduction of Montreal Impact in 2012.

“The focus is firmly on New York for the 20th MLS team,” Dan Courtemanche, MLS vice-president, told the Telegraph.

“There are multiple potential ownership groups and the New York Cosmos is one of those groups.

“But even if the Cosmos were to break ground on a new stadium tomorrow the 20th team is likely to be three to five years down the road, though.”

The New York Cosmos could well provide the impetus the MLS needs though, with plans for a stadium in Flushing, Queens well advanced providing finance can be raised.

The ‘franchise’ owner, Paul Kemsley, who effectively bought rights to build a club with the Cosmos’ name for $2 million, is upbeat too, claiming stellar names on the club’s executive management.

In addition to Cantona, Pelé is Honorary President and former Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry a Board Director.

“Three years ago, when I first had the idea of reviving The New York Cosmos, I couldn’t have dreamt that we’d be able to attract an icon the likes of Eric Cantona,” said Kemsley, Chairman of the New York Cosmos.

“He was one of my heroes during the 1990’s and is a further endorsement to the tremendous global attraction and power that The New York Cosmos carries. Our name already resonates throughout the world.”

Empty words without a team or playing field of course but the celebrity pull of the Cosmos, who played in front of more than 50,000 in its 1970s heyday, is still strong.

For Cantona’s part it seems unlikely that the new role is a day-to-day post, rather another celebrity name to add credibility to the project.

Even so, anything that brings the great Frenchman back into the football world is a boon. After all, beach football is no substitute for the real thing, even if the former Leeds United, Auxere and Marseille player coached the French national team to a modicum of success in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup between 2006 and 2008.

Turning his back on the 11-a-side game barely past his prime, Cantona instead found solace, if not fame, in acting. He appeared in, among others, Elizabeth, with Cate Blanchett, and in Ken Loach’s brilliant Palme D’or nominated film Looking for Eric.

In recent years Cantona has also become more politically active, calling for a banking revolution and encouraging customers of the major banks to withdraw their money on 7 December 2010 in protest at the global financial crisis.

But it is the game that brought Eric to the fans and to the game he belongs. New York is simply the latest beneficiary.

The king, it seems, is no longer dead.