Nice Ronaldo Article in The Mail

ronaldo-signs

I’m usually slagging the mainstream media off whenever I say anything about them on this site but I have to give a hat-tip to Simon Cass at The Mail for his article on Ronaldo today.

ronaldo-signsApparently, it is ten years to the day since we signed CR7 and speculation won’t go away that we might just be in the market to bring him back on board (especially if Real Madrid’s efforts to bring in Gareth Bale prove fruitful).

That the Number 7 shirt has been vacated has only added fuel to the transfer muppetry fire.

Whatever. Here’s a lovely article with some stunning pictures of the career of Ronaldo since we signed that gawky looking teenager all those years ago through to today when he has become arguably the most terrifying attacking player in the world. Enjoy.

 

The Time IS Right

As I write, it has been almost twelve hours since the news we have all been dreading for around ten years was flashed across my TV screen.

Sir Alex Ferguson to retire at the end of the season.

We’ve been half-expecting it every season since he announced his first “retirement” back in 2001 but every year, Fergie bounced back into his press conferences with all the vigour and enthusiasm that he showed twenty years ago.

This time though, there will be no coming back. When the lights go out at The Hawthorns in eleven days time, so the lights will go out on the most remarkable managerial career and the most remarkable manager in the history of football.

We will never see the likes of Sir Alex again. He was a one-off. A driven, insatiable freak.

I wrote an article on here a couple of weeks ago where I reflected that Fergie had seemed quite serene this season. In light of today’s events, it seems that perhaps there was a reason for this.

I suspect that he has known for a while that this was going to be his last season. I would even go so far as to say that if we had won the title last season, then he might have called it a day then but there was no way he could have left with the league trophy at City – he just had to come back for one more crack.

I also noted that he seemed to take our Champions League exit a lot harder than usual. Yes, it was a crappy way to go out. It was an awful decision and it hurt to be winning and see the game change by such a bad decision but this is not the first time we had had bad decisions against us in Europe and it certainly wasn’t the first time we had been knocked out earlier than we would have liked but Fergie had never given himself a media ban for three days afterwards before. That was unusual.

I think that this one hurt him more because he knew that this was his last chance to lift the trophy he has coveted above all others during his reign. Indeed, if there is one small area of regret in his legacy it is that he has “only” won the Champions League twice in his reign despite virtual domestic dominance for twenty years (to put it in depressing context, we have only won it once more than Liverpool during Fergie’s time at Manchester United).

But that is how the record will stay now because Fergie-time is officially over.

74127_sir-alex-ferguson21-doctor-sir-alex-ferguson-25028242-450-306And it is going to be weird. Anyone under the age of 35-40 probably won’t even remember a time when Fergie wasn’t the manager of United. I can remember Ron Atkinson but I’m not old enough to remember Sir Matt and anything between those two was largely forgettable anyway.

Fergie has become synonymous with United. He IS United. He has created United in his own image. A winning club to the very core.

That will be Fergie’s true legacy. That is what people will think of whenever they see the words “Manchester United”.

Having said all this, I do believe that the time is right for Fergie to call it a day.

He could never retire after a losing season but retiring after a winning season suggests that he still has it and can go again – it would become a circle which could only end when Fergie actually passed on to that Theatre of Dreams in the sky.

At some stage, he had to say “when” and now seems as good a time as any. The two favourites to take over his position seem to be available, too, which is another major consideration.

I suspect that he may have wanted to retire a little earlier but with the Glazer takeover, I suspect he knew that it was a crucial period in the club’s history.

The Glazers do seem to have pulled off the leveraged buyout of the century but I think it was touch and go at times and it needed every last ounce of Fergie’s managerial ability to steer us through it. Certainly had he left before now, it would have looked like he was abandoning a sinking ship, that he had been pushed or that he did not approve of what the Glazers were doing.

When 99% of the club’s fanbase were sticking pins in Glazer effigies, Fergie was keen to be seen to back them, stressing that they had been “great owners” who “had never stopped him buying anyone he wanted”.

One line in his statement today was perhaps particularly telling, “It was important to me to leave an organisation in the strongest possible shape, and I believe I have done so.

It does indeed seem as though we are through the worst of the financial problems and I would echo another line of Fergie’s statement “the long-term future of the club remains a bright one“.

Fergie, your work is done.

We will never forget what you have done for our beloved club and your name will echo throughout Old Trafford for many, many years to come.

Now go off and enjoy your retirement, you’ve earned it ten times over.

As a last note, can I try to put a smile on the face of anyone who is still depressed at today’s news by mentioning the funniest Tweet I saw all day?

First Thatcher dies then Fergie retires. Somewhere there is a scouser with a lamp and one wish left.

Fergie: Out On His Own

This season has been a strange one. I know of many Manchester United fans who don’t consider the current United side to be as good as United sides of the past.

There have been several articles in the press over the course of the season that have suggested that the current side lack something which past United sides didn’t.

This has led to a few of our players (such as Michael Carrick), and indeed Fergie himself, coming to the defence of the current squad – eager to point out that we have won the league in a fashion that we had never done before in terms of matches won and points accumulated etc.

We could still set the record for the most points accumulated by any side in the Premier League era.

You do get the feeling, however, that there is still the belief that this current side won the league not because it is so outstandingly good but because everyone else has been surprisingly poor.

This has led most people to give all the credit to Sir Alex for taking this “comparatively poor” United side and winning the league with it with games to spare.

I would not necessarily agree with the conclusions drawn on the side but I will go along with the praise for Sir Alex. I think he has been phenomenal this season.

It occurred to me a few months ago that, at one stage or another, all his managerial rivals had gone into meltdown at some stage this season (not least poor Bobby Manc who ended up engaging in a spot of fisticuffs with one of his own players on the training ground) whilst Fergie has been serenity itself throughout.

Of course, the bark and bite are still there when he needs them and he was nothing short of apoplectic when Nani received “that” red card but that was different and after a few days of self-imposed silence, he was back at the press conference calmly putting the past to bed and looking forward to winning the Premier League.

Fergie’s biggest achievement this season, however, has been how he has galvanised the troops ready for battle again. We were literally floored at the end of last season. To lose the league in that fashion was cruel beyond words but even on the coach back, Fergie was using it to drive the players on for this season.

Never forget this, because this will win you titles“, is what he is reported to have said to all the young players that day. No self-pity for the man himself, he doesn’t do self-pity and he doesn’t allow anything to pass him by that he thinks he can use to get that extra 5% from his players in his relentless pursuit of silverware.

Fergie’s been at United for so long now that I can barely remember the time when he wasn’t here. Of course, during that 27-28 years, there have been occasions when I, along with everyone else, have questioned his judgement. Even this season I have raised my eyebrows at a few team selections but, like every other time before, we will soon have pictures of Sir Alex holding aloft yet another league trophy and we will all have to concede that, yet again, he got it right.

The man is a legend, we’re lucky to have had him at the helm of our club for so long and once he decides to call it a day, things will never be quite the same again. Cherish every moment folks: greatness doesn’t often walk amongst us.

XXV

There are many memorable dates in the history of Manchester United – some represent our greatest triumphs and some record harrowing tragedies but today is a date to celebrate and smile about for today is the 25th Anniversary of the day that Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed manager of our great club.

After the Busby Babes of the 50s and the Holy Trinity of the 60s, Manchester United spent the best part of two decades in the footballing wilderness. Of course, we picked up a few FA Cups during those decades but we could only look on longingly as Liverpool seemingly picked up the League title season after season with no end in sight as our last league success (1967) started to fade into a point in time that only the elder statesmen amongst our fanbase could remember.

We were generally a club going nowhere fast when Alex Ferguson took the reigns but he knew from day one that it was a travesty that such a massive club, with such a rich history at home and in Europe not to mention average crowd attendances of around 60,000 was not truly consistently contesting for the top honours every season.

The changes he made immediately have been well documented elsewhere and I won’t go into great detail here but it is fair to say that the effects of those changes were not immediately apparent and for a little time in his first few seasons, there was some speculation as to whether or not he had been the right man for the job after all and rumours that he was one game from the sack at one stage towards the end of the eighties have never really gone away.

However, he had a plan and knew that Rome wasn’t built in a day. The pieces started to be put into place one by one so that by the start of the 90s, the glory days had once more returned to Old Trafford and have remained for the last twenty years of Sir Alex’s reign.

His genius was confirmed and Manchester United are now truly regarded as one of the elite in world football with a present (and quite probably a future) to match their history.

There are bound to be many Manchester United fans out there who only weren’t even born, or at least were too young to remember, anyone other than Sir Alex in charge of the club and I can only say to those people that they’re the lucky ones! We had a fair few managers between Sir Matt and Sir Alex – some well-intentioned but out of their depth at a club as big as United and some decent enough but lacking the vision of Sir Alex – the vision to see the fundamental problems that existed at the club that were preventing us from fulfilling our true potential.

Of course, some of them may have seen the problems but knowing that a problem exists and actually rolling up your sleeves and doing what is necessary to put it right (and succeeding) are different things entirely.

Sir Alex Ferguson was the first manager at United since Sir Matt to basically deconstruct the club and put it all back together on more solid foundations piece by painstaking piece.

That he did this once was incredible. That he has continually made the changes necessary, building title-winning team after title-winning team to keep us at the forefront in world football with his unrelenting drive for success is, quite frankly, super-human.

As we sit here today, looking at Manchester City challenging for “our” title, I have to smile. I’m thinking Leeds, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Newcastle, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea. All of these clubs and their many managers have pitted themselves against Sir Alex and Manchester United in the past and, yes, on occasion, with success, but overall, Sir Alex remains the last man standing – he’s sent them all packing at various stages over the last twenty years and you just know that he relishes the challenge that Roberto Mancini, Manchester City and another billionaire owner brings to the table for it is these challenges that keep him going.

One day, and as Fergie nears his 70th birthday the day comes ever-closer, we will have to deal with the prospect of a Fergieless Manchester United but not today. Today Sir Alex has work to do and we can all rest-assured that he will be applying every last molecule of his experience, knowledge, talent and drive to the task. And for that I, and the millions of Manchester United fans around the world can only say a barely worthy, “Thank you Sir Alex!”

A Great Night for a Great Player

Paul Scholes’ testimonial took place at Old Trafford last night and it was a spectacle to behold as some 74,000 people turned up to say their goodbyes to one of the greatest players ever to pull on the United shirt.

It’s probably worth just saying that again – seventy-four thousand people turned up… for a testimonial!

And they were treated to a great evening’s entertainment – not least from the man himself who opened the scoring in our 6-0 rout of Eric Cantona’s New York Cosmos with a trademark 25-yard thunderbolt which even had the Cosmos players applauding.

Fergie was beaming from ear to ear as the ball struck the back of the net – no doubt thinking what just about everyone else was thinking – this guy just makes it look too easy. That and, “He could have played on for another season at least”.

In fact, watching Fergie smiling away throughout the match and watching the players just enjoy their football and express themselves in this zero-pressure situation was a sight to behold. This is what Paul Scholes was always about. He was always the lad who just loved to play football and he’d be as happy play in the backstreets with his mates as in the Old Trafford stadium. He made it look so easy because, to him, it was easy. You get into space, you receive the ball, you pass it on. If you’re in front of goal and a shooting chance is on, you stick the ball in the net. You could almost sense at times that Scholesy was bewildered by the adulation heaped on him because, to him, he hadn’t done anything particularly special – he’d just played football as he felt it should be played.

It was quite fitting that it should be Cantona who put up the team for Scholes’ testimonial because King Cantona was at the height of his powers when Scholes was attempting to make the breakthrough and was the player Scholes had to muscle past to make it in the first team because Scholes was often used as a second striker playing in the hole behind the main striker. That he would come on and score goals of his own whenever given the opportunity prompted Fergie to brand him “a bloody nuisance” because Fergie knew that he was special but so was Cantona and fitting the young Scholes into the side gave Fergie a headache.

It was perhaps also fitting that as the old midfielder was taken off after seventy-four minutes, the excellent young midfielder Paul Pogba took his place on the field. It was a reminder that the older Paul was once that younger Paul with the world at his feet and a promising future ahead of him. Old Paul took his chance with both hands and we wait to see if the young Paul can do the same. Whatever happens, the wheels at Manchester United keep on turning and Paul Scholes will have a hand in the process when he starts his coaching duties… which is a comforting thought.

Scholes Retires

The Ginger Ninja Strikes Again

Having recently moved house and all the hassle that this entails (being without an internet connection for almost two weeks being by far the worst), I have been looking forward to the close season as it is usually a quiet time to write all those articles that I have had in mind over the last couple of months.

However, there has been almost as much to write about in the last week or so than at any point when the season was in full swing and just when I think there’s a chance to catch up, something even more momentous comes up which takes precedence over any other ideas for articles.

We already knew that Gary Neville had decided to hang up the boots that had taken him to (deep breath…) eight Premier Leagues, three FA Cups, two League Cups, three Community Shields, one Champions League, one Intercontinental Cup and one Club World Cup Champions medals. Indeed, we have already had his testimonial – a beautiful night against Juventus which was only ruined by the fact that Juve beat us. Did they even read the script?!

We also knew that Van Der Sar would be retiring at the end of the season and this was pretty much confirmed when Fergie rang his praises during his speech during the presentation of the Premier League trophy after our match against Blackpool the other week.

What we didn’t quite know is what Paul Scholes was planning to do. Speculation was rife that this could indeed be the season that he would finally call it a day but such speculation has followed Paul Scholes for much of the last few years. With Ryan Giggs already committing himself to one more season (at least), the notion that Scholesy would follow suit could not be discounted.

However, Scholes has always been his own man and it didn’t come as enormous surprise when Scholes quietly announced his retirement amid a complete lack of fanfare. Apparently, he had informed Sir Alex Ferguson of his decision some time ago but was asked to delay an announcement until after the CL Final – something that Scholesy was surely most happy to do. Paul has always preferred to shun the limelight and do his talking on the pitch.

There’s not much that I can add to the glowing and fully-deserved praise that Scholes has received down the years but these two quotes say more than I could ever say and hold far more weight:-

The best central midfielder that I have seen.” – Barcelona’s Xavi.

Almost untouchable.” – Zinedine Zidane.

The fact that Iniesta made a beeline for Scholes in order to swap shirts immediately after the Champions League Final the other day which apparently left Scholes having to apologise to Messi, Xavi, Busquets and Pedro who also asked if he would swap shirts with them also speaks volumes of how highly Scholes was rated amongst his contemporaries.

Manchester United fans, aware that the likes of VDS, Neville, Giggs and Scholes have been nearing the end of their careers for several seasons now have been asking who will replace these players.

They are all, of course, exceptional players who will go down in Manchester United folklore, especially the latter three (no sleight on Edwin’s contribution but Neville, Giggs and Scholes came through the ranks at United and have been one-club men – totally committed throughout their careers to the Manchester United cause). However, the one that was always going to be the hardest to replace was Scholes.

We might have to wait decades for another player like Scholes to come through the ranks and potential candidates (Xavi and Iniesta, for example) are simply unsignable.

The great news is that Paul Scholes will stay on at Manchester United in a coaching capacity. There are going to some lucky kids at our Academy, that’s for sure. Indeed, even the possibility of being coached by “the best midfielder of his generation” (Pep Guardiola’s words) is sure to attract youngsters who might otherwise be tempted to join the blue side of Manchester.

I’d wish Scholesy every happiness in retirement and advise him to take a long, well-earned rest on some beach somewhere but knowing how he played the game, always three steps ahead of everyone else, he’s probably lying on a deckchair in the sun already!