Veni, Vidi, Vici


vidicMixed feelings for me at Nemanja Vidic’s announcement that he will be leaving Manchester United in the Summer.

Vidic came to us, seemingly out of nowhere, as a January signing back in 2006 together with Patrice Evra.

Both players seemed to find it a struggle coming to terms with the EPL in the early days but both would go on to establish themselves as integral parts of what was arguably our most successful ever team circa 2007-2009.

Vidic was adored by United fans and team-mates alike for being a fearless, no-nonsense defender who led by example and quickly became an obvious choice to be the team Captain.

There’s one story about Vidic that doesn’t get heard all that much but does, I think, show what kind of team-player he is.

Despite being here for just a few weeks, his debut came when he found himself thrown on in the dying minutes of the League Cup semi-final and then again in the dying miniutes of the final. Having made those brief appearances, he received a winners medal but he gave it to Giuseppe Rossi in recognition of the young striker’s contributions earlier in the tournament.

Despite being here for seven years, there always seems to have been an element of him being a little unsettled (reports at the time suggested that it was actually his wife who wasn’t settled – apparently she didn’t like the weather. Now I know Manchester isn’t exactly the Bahamas but surely it’s better than bloody Serbia!?) and reports linking him with a move to Real Madrid seemed to hang around for most of 2010 but Fergie was always able to talk him around to staying and Vidic kept signing the contract extensions.

However, with his current deal due to expire in the summer, there are some reports that he’s unhappy that we haven’t been more proactive in offering him an extension but, on the other hand, when the new season kicks off, Vidic will be almost 33 years of age and so it could well be that the club had no intention of offering him a new deal even if it does seem strange to just let one of the best players and the team captain simply walk away.

His imminent departure only seems to add to the problems that are hitting Moyes from all angles at the moment, too.

With Ferdinand also likely to be on his way at the end of the season, we will be left with Evans, Smalling and Jones as possible centre-back options and with all due respect to the three of them, no partnership there gives off the same kind of confidence that Ferdinand and Vidic have for much of the last six years or so.

So a central defender or two appears to have been added to the rapidly lengthening shopping list that Moyes will be writing in readiness for the summer.

As for Vidic. Well, he hasn’t gone yet and I have no doubts that he will continue to give his all for the United cause between now and the end of the season and we will give him our full support as we say our thankful goodbyes in between singing his colourful little chant.

In the meantime, thanks for everything, Vidic and all the best for your Italian adventure if that is indeed where your destiny lies.

Veni, Vidi, Vici.

Kind of appropriate, really.

What’s With Wayne? (Part 5,438)


rooney-smilesWas watching England v Montenegro last night (I’ll watch anything when there’s no football on) and I just have to say how good it was to see Rooney’s reaction to his goal at the start of the second half.

I can’t remember the last time I saw him look so happy.

I might be reading too much into everything but I did start to wonder if Rooney had fallen out of love with the game – he’s often seen scowling and looking as though the weight of the world is on his shoulders these days. There were times last season where he barely looked interested and this reflected in his performances which were largely well below his usual high standards.

Last night he looked like the Wayne Rooney of old again. Back amongst the goals, beaming ear to ear and at peace with the world once again.

Wayne, of course, finally opened up about the reasons for his unhappiness at United and, surprise, surprise, it seems that it was because Fergie kept playing him out of position.

I didn’t feel I got a consistent run of games up front,” Rooney said.

I actually felt when I played midfield I did OK but I didn’t want to play there. I felt I deserved the right to play in my position and that wasn’t happening. I can play midfield. Maybe when I’m a bit older, losing my legs a bit, I can go back there.

I’d long thought that Rooney had become a victim of his own ability and versatility under Fergie. When Fergie really should have been looking outwards to bring in the “Scholes-type” midfielder we so obviously needed, he kept using Wayne but Wayne is no Scholes and never will be.

If ever you get the chance to watch footage of Scholes playing, watch him closely. His head was never still, he was constantly looking right, left, behind. He was getting “a picture” of where everyone was at any given moment so that he could get into the spaces to receive the ball and then he would already have the pass he intended to make in mind before the ball even reached him.

Now watch Rooney in midfield. He watches the ball all the time. So when he gets the ball, he then has to look around to see what’s on – that split-second needed to do this can make all the difference.

I don’t actually think there’s a great deal of difference between Rooney and Scholes in terms of technical ability (Rooney has shown he can ping a pass like Paul) but I just don’t think Rooney has the concentration required to play the midfield role like Scholesy did. To constantly have “the picture” in mind throughout an entire 90 minutes must require an enormous level of concentration but I think that that is what separated Scholes from the rest.

Besides, Rooney is, first and foremost a goal-scorer/creator – not a midfield water-carrier.

You wouldn’t buy a Ferrari and then use it to carry bags of sand and cement but I always felt that Fergie was doing exactly that when he deployed Rooney in those strange positions.

To his credit, Rooney always seemed to do what was asked of him without complaint but it clearly got to the stage where he thought enough’s enough and I really can’t say that I blame him.

For much of his career at United he has had to play second-fiddle to someone else and that has meant sacrificing his own game in order to make the other guy look good.

When he first arrived, Van Nistelrooy was the head honcho then when RvN moved on, it was Ronaldo.

The one season where Rooney became the main-man was the season after Ronnie left and Rooney was told to stay in front of goal. Rooney scored 34 goals that season and would almost certainly have added to this tally had he not picked up that injury in our quarter-final first leg against Bayern Munich.

Moyes seems to have done a job on Rooney and has made him feel loved and valued for the Number 10 he is and always has been.

If the smile in last night’s game is in any way indicative of Rooney’s overall mood with regards to his football then that bodes well for us and already this season, he’s put in a few Man of the Match performances.

The midfield problem remains, though but that’s a story for another day…

What’s With Wayne? (Part Two)

Up until his bizarre transfer request in 2010, I had Wayne Rooney down as a true, honorary Red Devil.

For what it’s worth, my view of Rooney, unlike it did for some fellow Reds did not take a downturn as a consequence of those events and one day I will write an article about my views on it.

However, something has not been quite right with Wayne Rooney ever since that point.

I remember when Rooney first came to us, he was a young, snarling, growling pitbull of a player. At times he would go over the top in his determination to win and this would land him in trouble.

Commentators at the time said that that “nasty” streak was part of what made Rooney the player he was and that if you took it away from him, he wouldn’t be half the player.

At the time, I thought they had a point but there was no way to prove or disprove the theory either way.

Fast forward to 2013 and we now have a much more mature Wayne Rooney and it does seem that he has almost completely lost that nasty streak and I think it is fair to say that he is indeed, if not quite half, then certainly a lesser player than he once was.

I might be miles out but I once had a theory about this from days gone by when I would watch a lot of snooker.

In those days, Steve Davis was the main man. He was an absolute machine and held the number one world ranking from 1983 until 1990.

Stephen Hendry was the new kid on the block by this time and he took over from Davis as World Number One in 1990 and stayed there until 1998.

It might be coincidence but Steve Davis was married in 1990 and Stephen Hendry was married in 1995. Davis and his wife had their first child in 1991, Hendry and his wife had their first child in 1996.

Rooney and Colleen (married 2008) had their first child in 2009 – a year before it all started to go a bit tits up for Wayne at United.

I do wonder if professional sportsmen, who had previously seen their sport as the most important thing in their life do sense a changing in priorities when they become fathers and “family men”?

Of course, the other consideration is money. Snooker players, even during the sport’s heyday of the late 80s have never earned the kind of money professional footballers do these days but with the number of tournament wins that Davis and Hendry have between them (they hold the top two all-time tournament win records) they weren’t short of a bob or two by the time they went on the decline.

Rooney, of course, got his big money deal in 2010.

Whatever the reason, there just doesn’t seem to be the same intensity to Rooney’s play these days. The fire has dimmed.

At this stage, I don’t know if he will ever get it back and even less so if he remains at United – maybe a new challenge is what he needs to get that desire back or maybe there is just a larger part of him than he may be willing to admit that has simply fallen out of love with football.

I know nothing, I’m merely speculating. Only Wayne Rooney truly knows what is in his innermost thoughts but if he wants to completely blow my theories out of the water by banging in a hat-trick against Villa next week, I won’t be complaining.

I just want my Rooney back.

Value Persie?

I always felt that we’d see some fairly big spending at United this summer but never for one moment did I think that Robin Van Persie would make up the bulk of that spending.

For a start, transfers between Arsenal and United have been non-existent down the years and RVP just seemed like one of those players who would either head on over to one of the two big Spanish clubs or be lured by the three Ms at Manchester City (Mansour, Mancini and Millions).

But, here he is at Manchester United in a deal which is reported to be around £64million – that’s £24million for his fee and £10million per annum in wages over the course of his four year deal.

First of all, I’d just like to say that overall I am delighted to have Van Persie at United. He’s been a top player for Arsenal down the years who came from the shadow of Thierry Henry to establish himself as the main man there. Some of his goals have been ridiculously good, his goals/appearance ratio for Arsenal has been up there with the best and I have no doubts that he’ll be banging in more than his fair share for us once the new season gets underway.

My main problem with this transfer is that it seems to fly in the face of everything Fergie has been saying for the last few years about our transfer policy.

Since our £30million purchase of Dimitar Berbatov four years ago, our transfer policy appears to have changed dramatically.

Signings have typically been of younger, less expensive players – players who could be improved, developed and then possibly sold at a later date for a profit (a policy not too dissimilar from that for Arsene Wenger down the years).

Fergie has been at pains to tell everyone who believes that we need this or that player that he “sees no value in the transfer market”. To a certain point, I could see where he was coming from. Whilst transfer fees have generally risen just a little over the last decade or so, player salaries have gone through the roof and, as we have seen with this deal for RVP, the salary is now by far the biggest component of a transfer and must be taken into account. Not just for the deal in question but for the knock-on effect it has on the rest of the squad and any future transfers.

Quality, older, established players know their worth (or at least their agents do) and with some of the money sloshing around amongst football’s nouveau riche, they have generally had little problem getting it in recent years but it seems a long time since we seriously contested the signing of one of these players and not so long ago, there were reports that Fergie was actually acting on instructions from above not to buy any player over the age of around 28 (due to them having little or no resale value).

For all RVP’s undeniable qualities, £24million is as high as his transfer value is ever going to get and I do believe that it is too high for a 29 year old player – certainly it is high enough for people to question Fergie previous “value” mantra.

However, for now, it is just good to see us get back to buying players because they will improve us now – not in, possibly, maybe 2-3 seasons’ time and in RVP, I do believe that we have done just that.

Welcome aboard RVP!

Valencia Sweeps Club Awards

I felt as far back as February that Antonio Valencia, despite his injury problems, the arrival of Young and the coming-good of Nani was not only our best wide player but our best player full-stop and his excellent season was rewarded last night with the Sir Matt Busby Trophy for being the fans’ choice of best player of the season and player of the season as voted by his teammates.

It’s a remarkable achievement for Valencia who was given the unenviable task of filling Ronaldo’s boots a few years ago but almost from day one, he proved himself to be as strong of mind as he is of body (as any defender who has found himself bouncing off Tony in full flight will testify).

He’s a no-nonsense type of player who rarely shows any emotion on the field as he drives himself tirelessly up and down the right flank. The steely look of determination in his eye being the only clue as to the character that lies behind the unfazable facade.

If there was perhaps one thing that Valencia could have improved on, it was his goal-scoring output but since coming to United, it has become clear that he can shoot – he can strike the ball as cleanly and as powerfully as almost anyone else in the team – but his lack of goals is probably more down to his unselfish approach to the game than any lack of ability. Indeed, he ended this season second in the assists charts with 13 from just 27 games played in the Premier League.

However, he has now scored 16 goals since his arrival – there’s still room for some improvement there but let us not forget that he spent most of the 2011-12 season out following his horrendous ankle injury.

So I’d just like to congratulate Antonio on a superb season and let’s hope that he can reach even greater heights next season.

UEFA’s Quandary

Apparently, Wayne Rooney will discover today how many matches he will be banned for following his kick against a Montenegro player (Miodrag Dzudovic) in England’s last Euro 2012 qualifier a few days ago.

It was a kick out an opponent, it was quite deliberate and it was a deserved straight red card.

Straight reds usually carry a three match ban and that is widely expected to be the case here although, for some reason, there are people who think that he might get off with a two or even one match ban.

Personally, I think that in instances such as this, the player should receive no ban and here’s why…

The tournament is one of the biggest International footballing events in the world – perhaps second only to the World Cup (although I appreciate that people from other continents will probably disagree) and, at these events, we want to see the best players on show.

I think that there is a case for wiping the slate clean after a qualification campaign so that all players that are fit to play can play in the actual tournament.

Should Montenegro reach the Euro 2012 tournament proper then they may feel aggrieved should they have to play against England (and Rooney) at some stage but I generally believe that they received their advantage the other night when England went down to ten men and an important player was sent off the pitch. This gave them every chance to get themselves into the play-offs (or better) and they took it.

Rooney’s sending off could have cost England dearly… but it didn’t… but I feel that the punishment was there.

In case of confusion, I am not talking about bans in any other circumstances, I am just talking about bans going into a massive International tournament. If Rooney kicks a Liverpool player on Saturday then he will get and deserve a three match ban (and a round of applause from most Mancunians, but that’s by-the-by) and no one will argue against that.

Similarly, if he kicks anyone at Euro 2012 next summer then he will receive a three-match ban and if that means the end of his tournament then so be it.

I just feel that for showcase events, the footballing authorities should show a bit more common-sense with regard to these things. But this is their quandary.

UEFA know that having the best players at the tournament will make for a better tournament but they also know that they must not show any weakness at this point then it will set a dangerous precedent. In any case, this is England and it is common knowledge that we don’t get many favours from the footballing authorities. They’d probably like to ban England altogether but that’s another issue.

So… I expect Rooney to have the book thrown at him. He will have the full three match ban and that will mean that we will have to play the group stage without him and, should we get through that then Capello (or whoever is in charge next summer) may well stick with the team that got us through.

I’ll just say that I don’t believe Rooney should get off without punishment but perhaps the ban could come into effect for the World Cup qualifiers and he could be given a hefty fine – the proceeds of which could go to charity or something.

OK. Now I’m just being really silly.

Clever Boy

I was interested (and very pleased) to see that Tom Cleverley had secured himself a new four year deal with Manchester United the other day which will see him through until 2015.

Amongst other things, Sir Alex said of the deal, “It’s the United way to encourage our young players to make their mark in the first team and Tom has grabbed that chance with both hands.

And young Tom certainly has.

Tom Cleverley has been one of those players who we have all heard a lot about for several years now but, just when you think he might be given the chance to break-through, something happened that thwarted it and, I think, many fans began to wonder if he’d ever get a proper chance to show what he can do in the midfield. Perhaps there were times when Tom himself wondered the same thing.

Well, he got his chance during our pre-season tour, shone and then was given the chance to show it in the Premier League.

Some gimp at Bolton has put a temporary halt on Tom’s progress for the time being and we can only hope that he recovers soon but something was crossing my mind about Tom Cleverley a few nights ago because, when it is an International break, I do tend to think about other things than the England team.

We started this season like a rocket but, it has to be said that those heights have not quite been reached in recent games and, I heard some pundits say that it showed how much we missed Rooney during those couple of games he was injured.

Maybe that’s so. We obviously do miss Rooney. I also think that the Young/Rooney thing has had a lot to do with it. Those two players do seem to bring out the best in each other in the United shirt.

However, something else occured to me. We’ve perhaps missed the dynamism of Tom Cleverley too.

Or was it just coincidence that with him in the team we had such a spectacular pre-season and start to the season proper?

It’s probably too early to tell but I, for one, cannot wait to see him back fit and in the team again.

Well done on the new contract Tom. You’ve earned it. Now come and set us alight again!

In Defence of De Gea

It's Tough at the Top, Dave.

After a summer of scratching around looking for something meaty to write about (and often coming up with little) the season has now started and there are a half dozen things I could write about this morning. A review of our 2-1 win over West Brom, an article on how our defence seems to have been almost decimated (again) with the season barely begun or the flack our new goalkeeper David De Gea has been receiving over the last week.

Well, hopefully there’ll be plenty of wins to report on during the coming season and the defensive crisis is almost becoming an annual event. The situation with De Gea is perhaps the single most important “problem” at this moment in time though and coming through it will require every last drop of experience and man-management skill that Fergie has at his disposal.

Watching Jamie Redknapp tear into him on Sky Sports yesterday (and last week when he seemed to come ready-armed with the fact that De Gea had conceded more goals from outside the box than any other keeper in Spain last season) was particularly disappointing because I seem to remember a young Jamie Redknapp playing alongside a young David James who had to endure a torrid time at the beginning of his career with the press dubbing him “Calamity James”.

Of course, this didn’t stop James becoming one of the best and most respected goalkeepers in English football but it no doubt took one hell of a lot of self-belief and soul-searching to come out of that period in one piece.

Already, I am seeing the word “calamity” being used alongside De Gea’s name and it feels like Redknapp has been waiting for something – anything – with which to beat United with (as an ex-Liverpool player and with his father the manager of a top Premier League club (our next opponents… as it happens) then there’s clearly a bit of a conflict of interest going on whenever Redknapp is asked to provide punditry for our matches) and he is milking the couple of errors that De Gea has made for all they are worth.

There can be no doubt that De Gea is feeling the strain and there can be no doubt that he isn’t an adequate replacement for Van Der Sar at this moment in time. However, there are several factors which need to be taken into account (and it would be decent of Redknapp, as a professional pundit, to perhaps acknowledge them) such as:-

1) De Gea is just twenty years of age.

2) De Gea’s English isn’t up to much at the moment.

3) De Gea has moved from the Spanish League to the English League.

4) De Gea has only just joined the club.

5) De Gea has only played one truly competitive match for United.

You put all these together and you have a very young man who’s whole world has been turned upside down over the last couple of months, has been taken from one country and plonked into another – one where he can barely speak the language, is probably still sorting out somewhere to live, is probably still learning his way around not just the general Manchester area but his way around Old Trafford! Is probably still learning is team-mates’ names, their abilities, their “game”. Is probably still learning what it means to be a Manchester United player. It is perhaps understandable that he isn’t at 100% at the moment and I can only imagine what it must be like to have to deal with all this at twenty when my biggest responsibility at that age was ensuring that I put my trousers on over my underpants every morning.

And then we’ve got the fact that he’s new to the Premier League. We’ve seen it time and again with players coming to England from abroad (and not just with goalkeepers) – it takes time for some of them to adjust – perhaps even a whole season. The situation with the goalkeeper is the worst situation because while a striker can make a mess of the odd chance here and there, a goalkeeper makes a mess of a save here and there and this is the result… widespread criticism from the lovely British press and some of the more biased TV pundits.

I don’t have any stats on this and it is just an hypothesis based on personal observation but I would be interested to see how many keepers coming to England have better second seasons than first seasons in terms of clean sheets etc. In hindsight, many United fans wished that Edwin Van Der Sar could have come straight to United instead of going to Fulham first but we perhaps received some benefit from that situation by way of the fact that VDS had had a few seasons in the PL by the time he came to us?

De Gea hasn’t had this luxury, he been launched straight in at the deep end and yesterday was a baptism of fire for the young Spaniard.

I don’t expect special treatment for him from the officials but there were a couple of instances yesterday when he seemed to get no protection whatsoever from the officials. Both came in quick succession late in the second half. One was where he was pushed clean off the pitch whilst making a high jump to collect the ball (the ref gave a corner). The next was where he received a forearm smash to the forehead, again whilst making a jump for the ball (on this occasion, the ref did give a free kick but had the correct decision been made on the first incident, this second wouldn’t have happened). De Gea must have been thinking to himself, “What the hell have I let myself in for here? This isn’t football as I know it.

Not that I think I know better than the great Sir Alex Ferguson but I do wonder if it might not have made more sense to start the season with Lindegaard. He was very impressive in pre-season and, quite frankly, I don’t understand why (apart from the £18million price tag) De Gea has been given the nod over him in the “proper” games.  Perhaps a period of settling in for De Gea, at least until he’d played a bit more in training with his new team-mates and learned a bit more English would not have been a bad idea? It’s not like we had to rush De Gea in – at 20 years of age, he’s got plenty of time ahead of him and Lindegaard has the benefit of a bit of experience of being on the scene for that bit longer.

The problem now, of course, is that to withdraw De Gea from the situation could do the lad’s confidence more harm than good – it would certainly only be further food and drink for De Gea’s critics, at any rate (although I’m not sure that Fergie would be concerned enough about that to allow it to sway his decision either way).

The good news for De Gea is that he’s at Manchester United. A club where us fans love to see young players come through, succeed and go on to enjoy long and successful careers with us. The fact that his new manager is also the best in the business when it comes to protecting and nurturing promising young talent won’t do him any harm either.

Personally, I’m hoping that this De Gea can weather this early storm (and, when all is said and done, we’ve still managed to win the games despite the errors so no damage has actually been done) and go on to demonstrate exactly why Fergie decided to splash out such a considerable sum for a young goalkeeper. I hope that by the end of the season, he is firmly in place as United’s #1 and, a perhaps few years down the line, we’ll all be proud of our still young goalkeeper when he is being hailed as the best in the world.

Rooney Loses Appeal – Will Serve Two Match Ban

News is just coming in that Wayne Rooney has lost his appeal against the two-match ban which was imposed following the West Ham Swearygate scandal.

Most people seem to be in agreement that the original decision to ban Wayne Rooney was something of an own goal by the FA and sets the kind of precedent that could get extremely messy, very quickly as “industrial language” is, rightly or wrongly, considered part and parcel of football.

Having had the chance to reflect on the situation, it was hoped that the FA would take this opportunity to either reduce the ban or withdraw it completely but they have decided to stick with their original punishment and Rooney will now miss the League game against Fulham and the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City.

I suppose we should be glad for small mercies as there was always a fear that the planks at the FA would have considered Rooney’s appeal “frivolous” and slapped him with a further one-match ban.

As an example of how players get punished for their indiscretions without the need for the FA to get overly involved, however, news reaches my ears that Coca-Cola have decided to end his £600,000 a year deal with them as a result of this incident.

Now that really must leave a bad taste in the mouth.