Is Moyes Correcting Fergie’s Gaffes?

paul-pogba

paul-pogbaFirstly, I have to say that us Manchester United fans owe Sir Alex Ferguson a debt that can never be repaid. What he did during his time here was not only staggering in terms of the success he brought on the pitch but also staggering in terms of what he did behind the scenes – his total, 100% commitment to the club. He ate, slept and lived for Manchester United.

However, it cannot be denied that his last few seasons with us were littered with decisions that were, at best, eyebrow-raising and, at worst, absolutely bloody stupid.

Not one of us Manchester United fans can claim to have a superior footballing knowledge than Sir Alex and whenever we questioned his judgement of a player, we would often end up conceding that he was probably right after all.

We learned some lessons as far back as 1995 when Fergie let Ince, Hughes and Kanchelskis all leave and brought through the likes of Beckham, Scholes and the Nevilles.

We thought he’d lost the plot but it was to become the decision that confirmed his genius. He could have sold Beckham the following year, replaced him with Mother Theresa and not one of us would have been brave enough to question it.

However, towards the back end of his tenure as United boss, us United fans were starting to get a bit baffled by the state of our midfield.

Darren Fletcher was a player who split opinion in the early days. “Not good enough. Why does Fergie persist in playing him?”

As the years went by, Fletcher’s value became apparent. Fergie had been right again.

Michael Carrick has also divided opinion since his arrival in 2006 but, in recent years, he’s been our best midfielder and even our best player a couple of seasons ago. Fergie was right again.

But beyond those two, Fergie seemed to put an awful lot of faith in a miraculous resurgence in form, commitment and dedication from Anderson and an awful lot of faith in Tom Cleverley returning from his various loan spells as the new Paul Scholes.

If rumours are to be believed, Moyes has finally done what Fergie probably should have done a few years ago and is in the process of shipping Anderson out to Fiorentina (one report in the papers today suggests that Anderson has been earning £4million a year here – not bad for doing next to nothing!)

Cleverley’s future is a little harder to determine. Being a local lad, he has obviously been given a lot more rope than he would have received had he been from, say, Crewe but he will be 25 by the time next season starts and it is hard to put forward a case for significant improvement from him after that and he does need to improve, of that there can be no question.

But this isn’t just about the players Fergie has kept. The more baffling decisions have surrounded those he let go.

Like a lot of United fans, I was delighted to see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed the job at Cardiff and was delighted to see that his first major signing was one Magnus Wolff Eikrem.

This is a lad who looked very exciting when he was playing in our youth and reserve teams 6-7 years ago but on becoming a senior player a couple of years ago, his time here was ended and he returned to his native Molde and into the grateful arms of their then boss, Solskjaer where the two of them enjoyed great success.

It is going to be interesting to see how Eikrem fares in the Premier League. Fergie clearly deemed him not good enough and preferred instead to keep Anderson on his pizza pension.

The mother of all cock-ups, however, had to be how Fergie allowed Paul Pogba to leave in 2012.

I don’t know the ins and outs but my understanding was that Pogba perhaps got a little above himself and wanted first team football and a salary to match. Fergie wasn’t prepared to give him either.

Cutting his nose to spite his face is a phrase that was often directed at Fergie during his time at United. Letting players like Beckham, Van Nistelrooy and Stam go were possibly all examples of this (especially the latter) but he was often vindicated as the players he replaced them with were of such quality that we soon forgave him (in the cases of Beckham and Van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo eventually replaced the pair of them!)

Paul Pogba was a different kettle of fish entirely. He’s still only 20 years of age and when he arrived at United in 2009 he was obviously just 16. It was clear to everyone that this lad was a bit special. He obviously wasn’t the finished article at that age and, even when he left, my own opinion was that he needed to bulk up a little but Anderson would be on hand to give him advice in that department.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that Pogba was not offered the contract he wanted and was allowed to walk away and join Juventus for nothing.

Now, I can understand Fergie’s stance to a degree. This was a young upstart with delusions of grandeur. He needed to let the player (and all other players) know that he was in no position to dictate terms at Manchester United, that Fergie was the boss and if putting on the shirt of Manchester United was not reward enough at the age of 18 then … be on your way.

But this was a special player and I do believe that more effort should have been made to compromise. To allow him to walk away for free was financial and footballing folly of the highest order.

Since going to Juventus, Pogba has been sensational and helped them to the Serie A title last season before receiving the “Golden Boy” award last month (the award given to the best young player in Europe).

To compound the misery of all this, the rumours are that Moyes is currently in meetings with Juventus to bring Pogba back to United for a reported £40million.

I have no doubts that he’s worth every penny and I have no doubts that he would walk straight into our starting eleven but whatever salary Fergie was reluctant to give him in 2011 will look like chicken-feed compared to the salary he will now command.

Good bit of business, that, Fergie…

Why Didn’t We Sign Yaya Toure?

Yaya Toure

Yaya ToureWatching that match the other day, the one we’re all trying so desperately hard to forget, I kept looking at the best player on the field – Yaya Toure – and asking myself: “why isn’t he in red?

Midfield has been a problem area for us for years. Ever since Keane’s inevitable decline set in circa 2003 and his eventual leaving in 2005 we’ve been scrabbling around for someone. Carrick’s arrival in 2006 proved to be Fergie’s best midfield signing in a whole decade after disasters that were the likes of Kleberson and Djemba Djemba.

Owen Hargreaves was a bit of an unfortunate one but it was clear to most outsiders that he was finished long before we officially drew a curtain around him and sent him off to pastures blue.

Speculative punts on the likes of Anderson were exactly that and Fletcher’s career has been more off than on down the years for one reason or another.

And whilst being a decent enough all-round B-Lister, Ji Sung Park seemed to spend most of his latter career with us prostate on the pitch after tripping over yet another blade of grass… or something.

In recent years, we’ve all known that Paul Scholes’ days were numbered and Fergie tried all kinds of things to compensate for his eventual retirement. Rooney in midfield, Giggs in midfield, Kagawa in midfield for five minutes.

The wise sages on MUTV, typical of someone on the United payroll, would repeat the same old line, “But where do you get another Roy Keane? Where do you get another Paul Scholes?”

I don’t know Lou but plenty of other clubs have won stuff over the last twenty years and they never had Paul Scholes, either.

Letting players like Paul Pogba walk away with barely a fist shaken in anger does little to appease, though.

Nor does seeing our rivals find exceptional midfielders with apparent ease, either.

Many moons ago, I believe we were in for Essien who I think would have been a perfect replacement for Keane but we were up against Chelsea’s Russian Rubles at the time so that scuppered that one.

A few years ago, City pulled off the fairly audacious signing of Yaya Toure from Barcelona and, as far as I’m aware, we were never even in the running and if I’m correct on that then I have to ask, “Why not?”

Given that City have spent a ridiculous amount of money since Mansour came to town (I think it’s getting on for £600 million, now) then it could well have been that they would have simply outbid us and to go head-to-head with City for a signing only to lose out would have been a bit embarrassing for Fergie.

We’d done it before though with Berbatov and won.

I also don’t think Fergie particularly liked to sign African players (but his attempts to sign Essien and Obi Mikel suggest that he wasn’t completely averse to the idea) and I think his reason for this was because they have a tendency to bugger off and play in the African Cup of Nations for a month during one of the most crucial and testing periods of our domestic season.

Also, I believe that Toure is on around £200k a week at City and whilst we may have been able to match that, it might have put a few noses out of joint and led to a spiraling of our wage bill as others sought parity.

It can’t have been the actual fee though and I was quite surprised to see at the font of all conventional wisdom that is Wikipedia that City bought Toure for just £24million which I think is £3.5million less than we’ve just paid for Fellaini.

I suppose there are several reasons why we didn’t buy Yaya Toure but I think that when quoting the cost, the hidden cost of days such as Sunday have to be factored in.

A certain Adnan Januzaj was watching from the stands on Sunday and I’m sure he was watching what was happening on the pitch with some interest. Rumour has it that City are watching his protracted contract situation with some interest.

Sometimes it is not how much are you willing to pay in order to bring in the best but how much are you willing to pay by neglecting to do so.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place for Rooney

Happier Times
Happier Times

Happier Times

There was a programme on BBC Three recently called “People Like Us” – it was a reality TV show based on people living in and around Harpurhey, Manchester.

I actually know several people who featured in the show (in a “seen them around” kind of way – not a “first-name terms” kind of way) because I don’t live too far from Harpurhey myself.

Anyway, one of the people on the programme, a local landlord, used the phrase “They’d steal the shit from your arse. Not because they want it, but so that you don’t have it.

There seems to be an element of this mentality about the whole Wayne Rooney situation right now.

Under normal circumstances, we would insist that only players who want to play for United be honoured with the shirt and the rest can go play for Satan’s All Star XI for all we care.

As fans and mere mortals, we can only imagine what it must feel like to pull on that Red shirt and trot out in front of a packed Old Trafford. It isn’t even a dream for some us – it’s beyond that – in real life, dreams can sometimes come true but this is something that, for the vast, vast majority of us, never had a chance of happening and never will.

So when we see someone who has the shirt and is seemingly treating it with ambivalence if not necessarily contempt then we’re bewildered. We really have no right to be but we’re also pretty angry.

But I think a lot of it is hurt. The hurt you feel when you discover that your other half has had an affair. From that moment on, the relationship is always tainted. You might be able to forgive but you’ll never be able to forget.

Rooney always seemed to “get” what it meant to be a Red Devil. I always thought he was the embodiment of a true Manchester United player – a team player, skillful, talented, brave, strong, a will to win – he seemed to have everything.

From the moment he handed in a transfer request back in 2010, that perception was blown to smithereens – it had all been an illusion.

I still maintain that I could see where he was coming from but I still think he was badly advised and wrong to do what he did.

I don’t know what a multi-millionaire footballer does in his spare time but I would guess that they do spend a bit of time trawling the internet, checking in on fan forums and sites to see what the fans are saying about them – the temptation must be irresistible.

If Wayne Rooney has done this at any point over the last three years then it won’t have taken him long to see that there are plenty of fans who really don’t like him any more (to put it mildly). Of course, if he were to come on and score a hat-trick, they’d accept it for the United cause but the praise from them would likely be along the lines of “Well, he’s only doing what we pay him millions to do”.

For many fans, his place on the mantle reserved for United legends has been erased. No matter what he does for us from here on in, he will never be accepted by some fans as one of “the greats”. As I said… tainted.

Rooney will know this and every “boo” he receives from one of our fans as he takes to the pitch will only serve to remind him that he’s blown it here.

There is a saying that goes something like “What you don’t know, can’t hurt you.”

As far as I’m aware, Rooney has said nothing about this latest transfer request. The only reason we know about it is because Sir Alex Ferguson told the world during a post-match interview towards the end of last season.

rooney2For the life of me, I still cannot understand why Fergie did that. As I said in a previous post, the problem wasn’t his any more (he’d already announced his retirement and the season was as good as over) and David Moyes had a tough enough task coming in and taking over from SAF without having to deal with the fall-out from a bombshell like that.

Surely the best thing Fergie could have done was to keep his mouth shut and let events transpire over the summer after all parties had had the chance to clear their heads and make decisions based on the new season with the new manager and in many ways a fresh start?

It was such an uncharacteristically open and unambiguous comment on one of his players (his stock answer would usually be “I’m not going to talk about that”) that I can only conclude that it was Fergie’s intention to hang Rooney out to dry.

Fergie knew that this would be the last straw for the fans – even those who had previously forgiven Rooney his moment of madness in 2010 (and had perhaps defended him on those discussion boards etc) would now shake their heads in despair – doubly betrayed – once with the transfer and then again for spurning their attempts to defend him.

A lot has already been made of Rooney’s appearance yesterday. Clearly not totally fit, clearly not entirely happy, he still had a hand in two of our goals and showed that he’s still a pretty useful player.

But I sensed a lot of discomfort in Wayne Rooney yesterday. I’m no behavioural psychologist but I think the beard is an attempt to hide. He wants to be out there playing football because that is clearly the thing he still loves to do but I just don’t think he feels comfortable doing it in the Red of United anymore.

He knows he isn’t hero-worhipped here anymore. He knows he’ll be tolerated so long as he’s doing the business but he’ll probably never be loved in the same way that so many of our greatest players are and have been.

“Well, it’s his own fault and if he’s feeling bad – good! He brought it on himself!”, you might say and I wouldn’t disagree but I do feel that there comes a point where you have to accept that we’re not judge and jury here. Rooney’s a footballer who believed his time at the club had run its course (being left out of the biggest game of last season – Real Madrid – probably confirmed it for him) and so he asked for a transfer.

To make him stay and face the very fans that slate him smacks of purgatory to me and I reluctantly now believe that we should let him go – even if it is to Chelsea.

Yes, the loss will weaken us temporarily and it will strengthen Chelsea temporarily but I do feel that the longer-term view needs to be taken.

This is Manchester United, it was here long before Rooney joined and it will be here long after Rooney has hung up his boots. The belief… nay, the insistence… that we only want players that want to play for us is something that should be ingrained in the bricks and mortar of the foundations of Old Trafford.

In the long run, this will make us stronger.

In an ideal world, we sell Rooney to Chelsea and we still beat them to the title and in future years, the name Wayne Rooney will be used as a cautionary tale to all those players who don’t fully appreciate what they have at Manchester United and how privileged they are to wear the shirt and we will call it “Doing a Rooney”.

Looking at Rooney yesterday, he seems to have made the decision that if he is to be forced to stay at United, he will play with professionalism but without passion.

He will score, he will assist, but he won’t celebrate. He won’t expect any love nor will he give any.

Let him go. We’ll have plenty of opportunity to bash a few Scousers when we play Liverpool on the 1st September… we don’t need to take one of our own.

What’s With Wayne (Part 3,026)

Red Suits You Better, Wayne
Red Suits You Better, Wayne

Red Suits You Better, Wayne

I’ve been writing a lot about Wayne Rooney over the last six months or so… something hasn’t been right with him for quite some time.

He’s missed our entire pre-season tour with a “hamstring injury” but tomorrow we play AIK and that has been touted as the match Rooney will return for ever since the extent of the “injury” was confirmed.

Now Rooney has a “shoulder injury” which will keep him out of the match.

Chelsea have already reportedly put in two offers for the player and we have rejected them both.

It’s surely not all a coincidence and it does seem like Rooney will be wearing the shirt of any club but the red of Manchester United by the end of this month.

It’s such a great shame.

Like everyone else, I was ecstatic when Rooney signed for us back in 2004 – I felt that we were getting one of the greatest, most exciting young talents England had produced for years and we did get that. Whatever your feelings about Wayne right now, he has been a fantastic servant for the club.

I do feel that he has been a victim of his own ability for a lot of the time though and has been asked to sacrifice his own natural position in order to make Fergie’s tactics and formation ideas work.

He has largely done this without complaint though because I do feel that Rooney is, and always will be, a true team player.

However, the cracks started to appear in his relationship with Manchester United a few years ago when he requested a transfer. Some fans have never forgiven him that (even though I think I understood his reasons).

Fergie’s confirmation that Rooney had handed in another transfer request at the end of last season seemed strange to me. At that point, we had won the league, Fergie had announced his retirement and we were out of all other competitions. Fergie was basically just doing his lap of honour at that stage and his successor would be announced soon.

Why did Fergie leave Moyes with the shit-storm that was bound to come with the announcement that Rooney had handed in another transfer request? Would Fergie have been so frank had he been the one to deal with the nonsense all summer?

It was a strange one by Sir Alex. Totally unnecessary, if you ask me. It seems Fergie had finally fallen out of love with Rooney once and for all and was determined that his time as a United player were over one way or another – even though it really wasn’t his problem anymore.

Perhaps Fergie was under the impression that one of those Nouveau Riche clubs in France would stump up £40 million for him and it would be win/win all round but it would seem that none have and the only club bidding are one of our two closest rivals in the Premier League (and if Mourinho can repeat the magic of his first stint then they have to be seen as our biggest rivals outright).

To sell Rooney to Chelsea for around £25-30 million must surely be a lose for us and a win for Chelsea.

I would maintain that it would be a lose for Rooney though even though he might feel that it is a win.

Which is why all this is such a shame.

This lad could have gone down in history as a United great. He could’ve stayed here for the rest of his career, broken all the scoring records, won everything there is to win and be spoken of in the same breath as the legends of the club.

I suspect that went out of the window in 2010 and, if it is true that he wants out again now then it has not only gone out of the window, it has fallen ten storeys and now lies in pieces on the pavement.

It is amazing how one or two bad moves off the pitch can counteract 1,001 brilliant moves on it but that’s how it is, it seems.

The sad fact is that even if Rooney goes to Chelsea, he will never be considered a “great” there, either – I just don’t think he has the time. I think he has three, maybe four years of top class left in him (and if his performances last season are anything to go by then he’s shot already).

Maybe a fresh challenge is what he needs, maybe it will revitalise him as a player and bring out that fiery Red Devil we saw in him for the first five or six years of his time with us.

But it will be in the Blue of Chelsea and any player who feels that Chelsea is a step up from Manchester United deserves everything they get.

What’s With Wayne (Part Three)

On the day Sir Alex announced his retirement, another bit of news leaked from Old Trafford – Wayne Rooney had handed in a transfer request.
On any other day, this would have made all the headlines but on this day overriding sentiment was along the lines of “That’s nice. Sir Alex is retiring!!!”

Now that we’re at the acceptance stage of our loss of Fergie (although I appreciate that many are still going through the depression phase) thoughts are now starting to return to the Wayne Rooney saga, the fires of which were stoked yesterday by Rooney’s complete omission from Fergie’s big OT leaving party yesterday and then Fergie’s confirmation that Rooney had indeed handed in a transfer request.

So… what’s with Wayne Rooney? Why does he want to leave this time?

In 2010, Wayne Rooney handed in a transfer request which stunned everyone. Prior to the 2009 season, Rooney had spent a couple of seasons in the shadow of Ronaldo and was often asked to sacrifice his own game to accommodate Ronaldo. However, with the departure of Ronaldo, Rooney was given a much more attacking role.

Rather than roam all over the pitch, it did seem that he had been told to remain in that area directly in front of the opposition goal.

This approach saw Rooney have his most prolific season in terms of goals (34 in 32 appearances) and by the time he handed in his transfer request in the early stages of the 2010-11 season, he was at the height of his powers and held all the cards at the negotiating table.

Rooney has never been held in the same high regard by United fans since.

Personally, I had some sympathy with Rooney’s position at the time. I think that United fans have to bear a few things in mind about the whole thing.

Firstly, Wayne Rooney is not a Red. He’s a Blue. If Rooney had his way, Everton would be in our position domestically and in Europe and he never would have had to leave them in order to fulfill his ambitions. However, he left the team he loves in order to join us and compete for silverware – that has always been his motivation. In short, we were quite happy for ambition to overrule loyalty in 2004 but not so happy when the tables were turned against us in 2010.

Secondly, Wayne Rooney, at the time, was around 24 years old. It is often said that a player reaches his peak at around 26-28. Whatever deal Rooney was to commit to at that stage would take him into that period and so he needed to make absolutely sure that it was the right one for him – that he would be spending his peak years at a club that would be contesting for honours.

At the time, Manchester City were really making a statement in the transfer market – that summer they had spent something in the region of £126 million on players such as Yaya Toure, David Silva and Mario Ballotelli.

By contrast, our transfer activity around 2009-10 amounted to the selling of arguably the best player in the world for £80 million and we watched Carlos Tevez leave us and join City.

We bought Antonio Valencia for around £17 million and we got Michael Owen on a free. The rest of our purchases were all rookie unknowns: Gabriel Obertan, Mame Biram Diouf, Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling.

Remember also that 2010 saw the height of the Green & Gold campaign, MUST and Andersred doing everything they could to bring down the Glazers and “that” Panorama documentary on the Glazers.

If Rooney was looking at what was going on in the transfer market and what was going on on the wider scene and having his doubts then he was really only echoing our own, if we are absolutely honest.

We simply weren’t competing with City or indeed any of our major rivals in the transfer market and the reasons being put about were clear: The Glazers were bleeding the club dry, the “Ronaldo money” had gone to pay off their debts and Fergie had been left with a few peanuts with which to spend in the transfer market.

I honestly believe that it was this, rather than his own contract, which was Wayne Rooney’s problem.

However, a last minute intervention from the Glazers appears to have settled Rooney’s doubts and he was convinced to stay.

Unfortunately, the damage had been done and Rooney was never fully taken back in by many Reds which is a massive shame.

The main complaint was that Rooney was seen to be questioning the ambition of the most successful club in England but when you’re seeing the likes of Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez leave your team only to be replaced by the likes of Gabriel Obertan and Mame Biram Diouf, you have to admit that maybe, just maybe there’s something wrong and Rooney wasn’t happy.

Anyway. Since then, we’ve had sporadic bursts of brilliance from Rooney but he has never quite matched the heights of the 2009-10 season (although he did score 34 goals again in the 2011-12 season).

This season in particular has been largely disappointing for Rooney. With the arrival of RVP he has again been asked to sacrifice his game and he can be seen on the edge of his own box as much as the edge of the opponent’s box these days.

One of the reasons why Rooney came to United was to play in Europe against the best teams in Europe so when he was benched for the Real Madrid tie that must have hurt even more because this was the first time we had beeb pitted against Real Madrid since signing Rooney.

At the time, Fergie said that it was for “tactical reasons” and that “Rooney was fine with it”. I would suggest that Rooney was far from fine with it and it was that that tipped Rooney back over the edge.

If you’re one of your club’s best players (and Rooney is) and you’re not picked for the biggest games against the biggest teams, you would have to have something wrong with you if you didn’t question your future. If the reasons for his omission were indeed tactical then that in itself would suggest that he’s at the wrong club.

Tactics should involve all the best players and if they don’t then there are clearly players who are surplus to requirements.

Personally, I think that the problem was more to do with Wayne’s conditioning. Rooney has always been a stocky lad and at a younger age, his natural fitness could carry it. At 27, he is starting to look a pound or two too heavy for his own good. The explosive powerhouse of yesteryear is starting to look a little ponderous and Rooney is as likely to go to ground as stand it in a 50/50 challenge these days and whilst he can still ping a 50 yard pass like the best of them there are times when a 5 yard pass escapes him.

All in all, Rooney comes to the negotiating table with no aces up his sleeves this time and the general opinion is that he isn’t quite as irreplaceable and integral to the team as he was in 2010.

There is also the Moyes element now. Rooney and Moyes have history after Moyes sued Rooney for allegations made in his biography a few years ago. Maybe Rooney doesn’t relish a re-union with Moyes. Personally, I think this is a bit childish and certainly unprofessional if that’s the case. Moyes seems to have put the whole thing behind him when Rooney called him to apologise – the issue is history as far as he is concerned.

Whatever happens from here on, it looks like Rooney has a decision to make. I’d hate to see him leave because I still feel that there’s a great player in there but it has become harder to prove this season.

As for the club… well, if we do want to cash in on him then I think they should do the business as soon as the transfer window opens.

Images of Rooney smoking, drinking and pissing in the street whilst on his summer holidays will do little to increase his transfer fee.

Rio Pulls Out of England Squad

I thought something was afoot when the FA decided to take no further action against Rio Ferdinand following his little “altercation” with Torres last week. It’s not like the FA to miss an opportunity to stick the boot into our Rio.

The waters became a little clearer this last few days.

After being given the cold shoulder as far as the England squad is concerned for the last couple of years (including a snub by the current England manager when selecting his squad for last year’s European Championships), Roy Hodgson suddenly wanted Rio Ferdinand back in the fold.

I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose. Rio remains one of the very best centre-backs in England, plays an integral part for the best, most successful team in England and has more big-game experience than anyone else in the England squad. 81 caps for England would also suggest that he knows a thing or two about representing his country, too.

But he had all this going for him last year when Roy Hodgson was omitting him from his Euro 2012 squad. He had all this going for him when Gary Cahill had to withdraw due to injury only for Rio to be overlooked again as Roy brought in Martin Kelly to take Cahill’s place.

It seems that at this critical stage of the domestic season, many England players, perhaps not sufficiently roused by the prospect of a game against San Marino, have suddenly picked up a few injuries in the defensive positions and this left Roy with no option but to go to Rio with the SOS call.

Rio, being as diplomatic as ever, and clearly not wishing to burn all England bridges just in case there’s a World Cup slot in the offing next Summer, has had to turn down the offer as it would interfere with his pre-planned fitness regime.

The game against Montenegro is not until next Tuesday – I might be wrong but I think even a creaky, old Rio Ferdinand and his dodgy back could have squeezed a game out of himself in that time were it United v Real Madrid again.

No. Rio’s excuse seems to be about as honest as Roy’s “footballing reasons” were last summer to me.

I’m not complaining, though. England’s loss has most definitely been United’s gain for the last couple of years and, all things considered, last summer’s shambolic England performance only enhanced the reputations of all those who had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Stick with United, Rio. We know a decent defender when we see one.

G-Owen G-Owen Gone

Aplogies for the dodgy title.

It, of course, refers to the news that Michael Owen has not been offered a new contract at Manchester United and is now looking for another Premier League club to come along and secure his services for next season.

Last time he found himself in this situation (i.e. before we took him on a free a few years ago) he had some marketing company produce a promotional brochure which was novel but seemed to do the trick as he landed what must have seemed like a dream outcome.

Personally, I always thought that Owen on a free was a fantastic bit of business but the question marks over his fitness (which Owen was eager to repudiate around the time we signed him) were always a concern and they proved to be justified in the end.

In total, Owen made 52 appearances for us and scored 17 goals which is obviously just about one in three – still a fantastic return but when you consider that many of those appearances were never for the full ninety minutes then his goal ratio on a per minute basis would probably have been as good as anyone we have at the club during that time.

Last season he made just four appearances (though he still managed to bang in three goals!) and with squad limits now in place for the Premier League perhaps his place on the list could no longer be justified – especially with Danny Welbeck now of an age where he needs to be listed as a senior player.

Personally, I also started to have concerns about his commitment to football in the last couple of years. He seems to be into his horses more than his football these days and I found it hard to see how he could combine that with the focus and discipline required when playing at a top level club like Manchester United.

Still, I wish Michael all the best from here, wherever he ends up.

Manchester City might have landed the most recent blow but Michael’s late, late winner against them in our 4-3 victory a few seasons ago – at a time when people were still deciding on the wisdom or otherwise of bringing in Owen – still brings a smile to my face.

Fletcher Takes a Break from Football

As we lined up against Basle last week, I think most people, including me, wondered why Darren Fletcher wasn’t in our midfield. As far as we were aware, he wasn’t injured, he certainly wasn’t suspended so why did Fergie opt for the rather odd Giggs/Jones midfield pairing with Fletcher seemingly nowhere to be seen?

Well, today, we probably have our answer.

As most people are aware, Fletcher has been battling what was described as a “viral illness” for much of the last year or more which led to him being sidelined just as he was probably enjoying the best form of his career but it has been confirmed by the club that Darren has actually been suffering from ulcerative colitis.

I’ll leave it to you to do your own research on the disease but it is a disease which can be managed into remission but stress can make the disease “flare up” which is obviously a problem for anyone in the highly pressurised atmosphere that is professional football – especially at a high profile club like Manchester United so it does look like we won’t be seeing Darren again very soon.

Which, of course, is a massive shame and I just hope he’s able to beat it as he has beaten the numerous other setbacks which have hindered his career down the years.

Get well soon, Darren.

Now There’s Gratitude For You

After three disastrous seasons during which Owen Hargreaves played a total of around ten minutes of football for Manchester United, mention of his name was met with a mixture of sadness that such an excellent player might never play again and had been cut down in his prime but this was watered down with an element of almost embarrassment because, let’s face it, hearing the stories coming from OT during his “rehabilitation” was almost hilarious.

“He’s making good progress, could be back in training next week.”

“He’s broken down again.”

“He’s looking sharp, could make a surprise return within the fortnight.”

“He’s done his shoulder. He’ll be out for two more months.”

I think that it is fair to say that the vast, vast majority of United supporters, whilst hoping against hope, feared that we would never see Owen Hargreaves play football ever again and it came as no great surprise when United didn’t renew his contract when it expired over the summer. We all felt that it was a shame for the lad but it made no sense to be paying him what must have been millions of pounds a year (his salary was a reported £70k/week), plus “wasting” a squad place on him during this time of strict squad numbers when there were others who could do a far better job than someone who was perpetually injured.

Of course, I’m sure that there would have been some insurance in place which may well have covered some or all of his salary and possibly all the medical bills that his treatment would have ran up over the last few years but what cannot be replaced is the time and effort afforded him by the Manchester United medical and physio staff. The time Fergie and his coaching staff must have spent as they tried to establish the prognosis and devise plans to get him back into the picture.

As an outsider looking in, it did appear to me that Manchester United and Fergie, in particular, gave him every reasonable chance to get back to playing football and there is nothing any of us wanted more than to see him tearing through that midfield once again with the red shirt of United on his back.

So, for Owen Hargreaves to come out and criticise the Manchester United medical staff as he has done this week is absolutely baffling.

Hargreaves clearly feels that the injections he was given by the United medical staff in 2008 in order to treat a tendon problem made the problem worse. In his expert medical opinion, they made his tendons feel “as though they were made of glass“.

What Hargreaves is saying is clearly not as bad as some reporters are making it out to be as he does go on to say that “Everybody tries their best. They said that I wouldn’t have any side effects from the injections. That wasn’t the case and if I’d known, I wouldn’t have done it” and he also says that he holds no grudges against the Manchester United staff (although his comments would suggest otherwise, to me).

My question to Hargreaves would be, “Why say anything, then?” Why not just accept that you had a bad injury that kept you out for three years and that the medical staff were trying their best to get you back into action? It was in everyone’s best interests to get you playing again as soon as possible, why would anyone deliberately do anything to prevent this?

Personally, I did feel at times, reading between the lines of one or two comments that Fergie made, that a lot of the problems with Hargreaves were psychological in that he felt as though his leg wasn’t right and this prevented him from putting the trust in it to do the intense training required to get back into action for fear of another breakdown. However, when you end up out for three years anyway, what difference would it have made?

On a side note: when I heard the shock news that City had taken him on a free, I said to a City supporting friend of mine that I would be pretty surprised if he suddenly found his best form again after all that time on the treatment table whilst with us.

When I saw him play the best part of an hour for City the other night, knocking in a trademark Owen screamer to boot, I could only sit there shaking my head. Something about this whole debacle stinks but I don’t think that biting the hand that once fed him makes the situation any better and it would please me if Owen Hargreaves just shut it and be grateful for everything United did for him.

He’s Not Here To Pick His Nose

As Anders Lindegaard is fond of telling us, he’s not here to pick his nose. In fact, by his own count, he has already told us this one thousand times. He’s here to be Numero Uno (but he doesn’t want to be Number One – apparently he wants Park’s Number 13 shirt but that’s a different story).

Anders shows off his bogey-free finger.

Now clearly, the coaching staff at Manchester United know far more about their players than I do and certainly Eric Steele has probably forgotten more than I will ever know about goalkeeping but I cannot, for the life of me, see what Anders Lindegaard has done (or not done) to currently be our second-choice goalkeeper.

The main problem he seems to have is that we paid over £18million for David de Gea whilst we paid “only” £3.5million for Anders Lindegaard and you just don’t leave out an £18million player without a very good reason.

Of course, you don’t pay £18million for a goalkeeper without a very good reason and maybe in time we will all see exactly why so much faith was put in David de Gea and his ability to become the best ‘keeper in the world.

For now, though, I do believe that Lindegaard is the best ‘keeper on United’s books. He pulled off a few very good saves against Benfica the other night and whenever called upon during the pre-season tour, he looked equally as impressive.

The only thing I might concede at this moment in time is that De Gea appears to be a better distributor of the ball – he seems to love playing the long ball out and getting an attack underway right from the back whilst Lindegaard seems perhaps less confident in this respect and prefers to play a more “safe” ball out.

One thing I’m pretty sure of is that it is not really too desirable to keep swapping and changing your goalkeeper and the other thing I am pretty certain of is that Lindegaard does not seem to be similar to someone like, say, Tomasz Kuszczak who, after something like thirty years on the bench, has suddenly started to voice his dissatisfaction. Lindegaard really doesn’t strike me as the type to stick around playing second fiddle for too long.

Which presents something of a problem, I think, and, at this stage, I do have to wonder exactly why we didn’t give Lindegaard more of a chance to prove himself before splashing such an enormous amount on De Gea.

Clearly the coaching staff know a million times more about this situation than I do and, of course, I trust their judgement 100% because, as we all know, Manchester United always get it right when it comes to buying players, especially goalkeepers…

If this comes across as some kind of knock against De Gea then I apologise, it isn’t. If De Gea is the man for us and he turns out to be as good or even better than the likes of Peter or Edwin then I’ll be delighted, I am 100% behind De Gea. However, I cannot, at this stage, turn my back on Lindegaard because he’s as much a United player as De Gea and he also deserves our 100% support.

It’s a toughie and no mistake and I just hope that we haven’t spent in excess of £21million buying ourselves one big headache.