Dimitar Berbatov, one look at City and he said…

Jim White of SKY Sports News, never a big one for understatement at the best of times, was on the verge of combustion. Man United who, much to the chagrin of Tottenham Hotspur, had been chasing Dimitar Berbatov all through the Summer of 2008, had now been gazumped on transfer deadline day by neighbours, Man City. To call it a bolt out of the blue is to put it mildly. Over the previous few weeks, City had appeared to abandon their historical practice of signing the brothers/cousins of established players by trying to prise Ronaldinho away from Barcelona. Ronaldinho had reportedly laughed so hard when City tried enticing him away that it put his incisors back in place. Tottenham, who in the meantime were resigned to losing the Bulgarian, had accepted a bid of £30m from Man City for Berbatov.

Dimitar Berbatov - Manchester United abandon Dimitar Berbatov bid because of Tottenham demands

 Dimtar Berbatov playing for Tottenham Hotspur in April 2008

Four years ago today, United signed Dimitar Berbatov in what was probably the most dramatic transfer deadline day since the legally questionable transfer window was first introduced in the summer of 2001. The very first thing Berbatov did to endear himself to United fans was to reject the more lucrative overtures from United’s attention-seeking neighbours. Berbatov, who’d clearly set his heart on a move to United, had forced Tottenham’s hand in accepting a bid from United by flatly refusing to talk to City. Due to the international break which immediately followed the summer transfer deadline of 2008, Berbatov had to wait two weeks to make his debut at, of all places, Anfield. Within 90 seconds, he’d set up Carlos Tevez to sweep United into the lead in front of the Kop but after such a promising start, United eventually lost the game. That match is, to me, symbolic of Berbatov’s entire time at Old Trafford.

Dimitar Berbatov outwits Jamie Carragher to set up Carlos Tevez at Anfield in September 2008

He very quickly demonstrated his fantastic imagination on the ball but didn’t score a significant league goal for United until late December in a 1-0 home win against Middlebrough. A couple of weeks after his debut at Anfield, United played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a 1-1 draw. That day it became apparent that as gifted as he obviously was, and still is, he could go missing in matches for long periods.

Dimitar Berbatov scores his first goal for United at Aalborg in September 2008

Berbatov is probably the most polarising United player since Juan Sebastian Veron. I’ve heard plenty of rubbish talked about Veron; a lot of people, some of whom really should know better, thought he was shit. Veron would’ve thrived in United’s midfield once Sir Alex Ferguson decided that David Beckham was no longer needed at Old Trafford. That Ferguson sold him at a massive financial loss to Chelsea a mere three weeks after Beckham left remains one of the more mystifying decisions he’s ever made. As for Berbatov, it became abundantly clear in the spring of 2010 that Ferguson had lost faith in him when he started a badly injured Wayne Rooney against Bayern Munich and left Berbatov on the bench. Sandwiched between the Bayern Munich match were two games against Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers respectively which were the nadir of Berbatov’s time at Old Trafford. At the Chelsea match, he struggled to stay on his feet chasing through balls and seemed badly out of sync with the mindset of his team mates. Worse was to come at Ewood Park though. He fell over injured in the second half near the halfway line and none of his team mates would kick the ball out for him to get treatment. That sunny but grim Lancastrian afternoon saw a sizeable faction of United fans in the Darwen End openly and loudly jeer Berbatov.

Dimitar Berbatov laying injured at Ewood Park April 2010

 The summer of 2010 was probably Berbatov’s best period in a United shirt. Sir Alex Ferguson claimed to have had a chat with Berbatov over that summer and it improved his form and confidence dramatically for the beginning of the 2010/2011 season. Berbatov was also helped by the injury and temporary loss of form which Rooney had throughout the summer of 2010. Having scored an excellent injury-time goal in the Community Shield against Chelsea, he then followed up by scoring against Newcastle, West Ham, Everton and a glorious hat-trick against Liverpool. That hat-trick summed it all up though. After that, he didn’t score again ’til the end of November when he then achieved a quintet of goals against Blackburn Rovers in a 7-1 victory. That season he ended up as United’s top goalscorer but couldn’t even get a place on the bench for the European Cup Final at Wembley against Barcelona. A few weeks before that match I believe that Ferguson’s patience finally snapped with Berbatov when he missed two gilt-edged chances in the first half of the FA Cup semi-final against City at Wembley. In my opinion, Berbatov was only picked for that game due to the outrageously unfair suspension imposed on Rooney that was, by sheer coincidence, initiated by former City chaiman David Bernstein.

Dimitar Berbatov puts the ball over the bar against City in the FA Cup Semi Final, Wembley April 2011

Last season, Berbatov didn’t score a league goal ’til the Boxing Day thrashing of Wigan Athletic where he nabbed a hat-trick followed by a brace against Blackburn Rovers on New Year’s Eve. He scored his last goal for United in a routine 2-0 win against Stoke on the last day of January. He leaves Old Trafford with the goodwill of virtually everybody there. Some people think Sir Alex Ferguson has treated him badly but I think that’s not the case. Some people think he wasn’t given a chance but that is absolute garbage. Berbatov was basically preferred over a proven goalscorer like Carlos Tevez in his first season at Old Trafford. Ultimately, he’s given us some great moments over the last four years. he just hasn’t given us as many moments that a record signing should be giving us. I wish him well wherever he goes but I’m not too upset that he’s gone, more resigned to lament what he could’ve been.

All we hear is Shinji Kagawa…. Manchester United Fulham Old Trafford, 25th of August 2012

Robin Van Persie scored a peach of an equaliser 10 minutes into his home debut to rouse a gobsmacked and inert home crowd to life. Seven minutes prior to that, United’s defence was equally as sluggish as the crowd when ex-Chelsea winger, Damien Duff, side footed Fulham into the lead when he was inexplicably left alone in the box from a Fulham free kick.

Robin Van Persie volleys brilliantly from a Patrice Evra cross to equalise

From there on in, United got into gear. It wasn’t a vintage performance but it was encouraging to see United play with some hunger and endeavour as opposed to the apprehensive and nervous looking team which ended last season. The aggresion that United attacked with was rewarded on 36 minutes when another home debutant, Shinji Kagawa, was just onside to put United 2-1 in front after Fulham’s Sydneysider goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, had parried a Tom Cleverley shot from 18 yards. United now looked like running riot. Rafael was correctly flagged offside a couple of minutes later but got his due reward on 41 minutes to score his first goal for United in three years to make it 3-1.

You don't miss from there: Shinji Kagawa pounces to score for United after Tom Cleverley's shot was saved

Shinji Kagawa calmly puts United 2-1 in front

Comfortably in front with a 3-1 lead United decided to eliminate any fear of tedium in the 65th minute when Nemanja Vidic scores a comical own goal. The end of match stats will show it as an own goal for United’s Serbian collusus but it was really another occasional moment of uncertainty from David De Gea. Suddenly, from cruising 3-1, an anxiety engulfed Old Trafford which never went away for the rest of the match. In injury time, Wayne Rooney received a bad gash to his thigh from a Hugo Rodallega challenge which, while there was absolutely no malice, will put Rooney out for a few weeks. I think that the blade boots that Rodallega uses has made Rooney’s injury worse. These are the boots that Sir Alex Ferguson has banned United players from using due to the potential to cause themselves injury; I think it’s only a matter of time before there’s a clamour for these expensive, dangerous and, to my eyes, useless boots to be banned altogether. If Rodallega’s accident had involved old fashioned studs, there would probably have been an injury, I just don’t think it would’ve been of the same severity.

Ouch: Wayne Rooney suffered a nasty leg injury and could miss a month of action

Robin Van Persie attending to Wayne Rooney’s thigh injury in stoppage time

As for Fulham fans, I can’t knock the busload that turned up today, fair play to them. All that said, the numbers which they brought to Old Trafford were pathetic. I’ve rarely come across a club or fans that I’m more ambivalent to. They matter so little that they can’t even muster a thousand of their rugger bugger type fans for a trip to Old Trafford. Last season they brought 320 fans with them. OK, it was a Monday night but today, a kick off at the traditional time (for once) they hardly brought any more. I’ve heard it mentioned that some Fulham fans had thought that the tickets for today’s match were too expensive. I’m confident that Fulham has the most financially affluent catchment area/demographic in the UK (if not the world). If they’re finding tickets too expensive, then God help us all. Like Wigan and Leeds United, I believe the ball’s the wrong shape for the fans of the club. One thing in Fulham’s favour, as opposed the post-Thatcher industrial wastelands that Wigan and Leed United occupy, is that the place itself is well worth a visit for an away trip.

In homage to such legendary figures who’ve played for Fulham like Johnny Haynes, Jimmy Hill, Charlie Mitten, and Bobby Moore, Mohamed Al Fayed unveils a statue to Michael Jackson in April 2011.

Z Stars at Goodison – United v Everton Review 20th of August 2012

It’s been 99 days since that Sergio Aguero goal gave City the title in the most dramatic circumstances since Arsenals’ brilliant win at Anfield in 1989. Whilst City were crowned champions that day all reds know that a match against tonights’ opponents 21 days prior was what really gave City the title. That day, Uniteds’ defence were in such a suicidal mood that it caused a redefinition by the Japanese of Hara Kiri. It was an act of good neighbourliness from United to City not seen since Sir Alex Ferguson recommended Shaun Goater to Joe Royle and lent them Terry Cooke to pull them out of the shit in 1999.

The impressive Shinji Kagawa on the ball during tonights defeat at Goodison

 Marouane Fellaini along with Phil Neville were the catalyst for that Everton performance in April which had such heavy consequences for United. Tonight Fellaini controlled the game in a way that Yaya Toure does. It’s becoming an alarming and frequent thing that Uniteds’ midfield are being dominated in a way that would’ve been unthinkable five years ago. As good a player as Fellaini obviously is, he shouldn’t be bossing a midfield in a game against United with the ease he did tonight. United weren’t helped by the absence of (for various ailments) Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling. Michael Carrick was a makeshift centre half and while he didn’t have a bad game, he was shown up for being out of his natural position when the outstanding Marouane Fellaini hustled him in the six yard box to deservedly nod Everton in the lead in front of the Gwladys Street end on 57 minutes. In the full back positions we had Patrice Evra, who as per usual nowadays, was constantly caught out of position and Antonio Valencia at right back. Last time Valencia played there was against Blackburn Rovers on New Years Eve when United lost 3-2. United tonight had right back Rafael da Silva on the bench while Antonio Valencia played there as a stand in, anybody know why?

Woolly jumper: Fellaini leaps high and gets the better of David De Gea

Marouane Fellaini beats Michael Carrick to a Leighton Baines cross in the 57th minute

Everton took the game to United in a cagey first half. David De Gea was clobbered by Fellaini on 16 minutes which was every bit a booking as was the soft one Nani got in the third minute. During the time that De Gea was being treated by United physiotherapist Rob Swire an announcement came over the Goodison tannoy asking United fans to sit down in the Bullens Road stand. This season, United have had their allocation cut for Goodison by 26 tickets. The significance of that announcement will, I believe come back to haunt United next time they play at Goodison in regards to ticket allocation. Tonight the ticket was nigh on impossible to come across. After that clash De Gea made some great saves, most memorably from Everton full back Leighton Baines in first half injury time.

United bring on sub Andesron (sic) for Tom Cleverley in the 88th minute

 It’s been a long and low key summer from United fans. Plenty of impotent anger about the malignant owners at the club. While there’s been a desire and enthusiasm for the new season to kick off, there’s not been the usual confidence amongst United fans the coming season. The vibe has changed in the last week when the signing of Robin Van Persie has woken people up, purely because he decided to come to Old Trafford and snub a better pay packet over in North East Manchester. Roy Keane did exactly the same thing in 1993 when Blackburn Rovers tried blowing United out of the water for his services. For all the joy that signing of Van Persie provided we learnt painfully tonight that some things haven’t changed. Nani can’t cross the road and I’ve seen a forty foot truck take a corner better than him. It’s telling that the very first touch that Van Persie had of the ball was to take a corner when he came on for the unfortunate Danny Welbeck on 69 minutes. A centre forward taking a corner while Nani, a winger is in the box floating like a butterfly and stinging like one. When Van Persie gets match fit and used to his new team mates, he’ll be a great asset to Uniteds team. As for Wayne Rooney, I’ll wait ’til he gets fit before speculating on the kind of season he’ll have. He looked like somebody who’d had too many Marlboro’s and burgers during his post Euro break.

Double Glazers, forever in their debt

Not since the Summer of 2006 have I approached a forthcoming season with such precious little optimism. Then, Chelsea had just won the title at a canter and bolstered their squad with the signings of Ashley Cole and Andriy Shevchenko along with Michael Ballack and John Obi Mikel, who’d been swiped from under United’s nose. With a seemingly bottomless pit of money and Jose Mourinho as manager, they looked unstoppable. In second place during the 2005/6 season were United. The position was a misnomer; at no point during that season did anybody think United were going to win the title. During the close season of 2006 United had only signed Michael Carrick. United also had the hysteria whipped up by the British media of the supposed Rooney/Ronaldo fall out after Wayne Rooney was correctly sent off in Gelsenkirchen for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho’s testicles. Cristiano Ronaldo was subsequently blamed by the very balanced and fair minded English tabloid press for England’s exit from the tournament (not Sven-Göran Eriksson’s tactics, squad/team selection or choice of penalty takers). That Rooney and Ronaldo clicked so well the following season was just as big a kick in the nuts for the anti-United brigade as the one on Carvalho. United seizing the title from a previously unstoppable-looking Chelsea is to this day, for my money, Sir Alex Ferguson’s finest hour.

Wayne Rooney is so angry at Cristiano Ronaldo getting him sent off in the World Cup in 2006 that he’s shaking his hand as he walks off the pitch 

A few months after the controversial takeover by the Glazer family in May 2005, Sir Alex Ferguson had endorsed their running of the club. People who are wilfully blind, or believe what they want to believe, took this as proof positive that the protests that preceeded and greeted the Glazer takeover was not only futile but misguided too. That from season 2006/2007 to present day United have won the title four times and the European Cup once would, on the surface, make things look good. In 2010 United lost the title to Chelsea by one point and the season just passed lost the title to City on goal difference. Everything’s alright isn’t it ?

The Glazers being escorted out of Old Trafford in June 2005

Since United sold Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 for £80,000,000, things have been clearly far from alright. That summer, United also lost the services of Carlos Tevez having previously promised that the “permanent” transfer would be taken care of. Whatever people think of Carlos Tevez the man, he was as a centre forward for United, sensational. The reasoning emanating was that he was too expensive and that he’d left his United owned house in Alderley Edge a mess. On that basis, I was relieved he’d left Old Trafford, I can’t overemphasise the importance it is as United player to keep a tidy house. We were assured by David “manning the barricades” Gill that the money United received for Ronaldo in 2009 was waiting to be used on the right player. Sir Alex Ferguson claimed the money had not been used because there was no value in the market. That money could’ve been used to buy somebody like Ya-Ya Toure, a player who’d had a blinder against United in the Rome hosted European Cup final of 2009 but he obviously didn’t fit into the category of value. That Ronaldo money has now vanished. As for value in the market, if Dimitar Berbatov is representative of value then I’m looking at a completely different market.

Sir Alex Ferguson espousing his brand of socialism with the Glazers in 2006

Over the years, Sir Alex Ferguson has sporadically spoken well of the Glazers. Personally I was disappointed in this stance but I conveniently took a moderate position on these pronouncements due to him being “the man with the plan” (to borrow a phrase from UWS). This summer has seen Sir Alex Ferguson’s most aggressive display of support for the Glazers yet. What was once a feeling of disappointment and disillusion towards Ferguson from me has now turned into a naked disdain. I’m to the way of thinking how dare he question the loyalty and commitment of United fans who are unhappy with the blatant robbery of the club by his employers. This from a proud Govanite shop steward. The people who are expressing concern that he so disparages are the same people who with a loyalty that was blind and now apparently one-sided, were disrupting horse race meetings involving Coolmore nags when he was in dispute with Coolmore owner John Magnier, who along with J P McManus, also happened to be the major shareholders at Old Trafford. The dispute revolved around the stud rights to a horse that had been gifted to Sir Alex Ferguson, a horse that he’d not put a penny of his own money into (like his present bosses at Old Trafford come to think of it) and a horse that he’d drawn a healthy stipend off for basically having his photograph taken next to. Ferguson’s badly advised fight with such a powerful opponent as Magnier was only going to end up with one result (no matter what face saving bullshit was peddled by Ferguson’s PR people). It had echoes of Terry Venables’ battle with Alan Sugar approximately ten years prior, the only difference in outcome was that Ferguson kept his job.

Sir Alex Ferguson with jockey Michael Kinane and Rock of Gibraltar

 I’ve no doubt that the actions of a well meaning but more militant faction of United fans (M.E.C) coupled with the action of Sir Alex Ferguson in his litigation over the stud rights lead to the chain of events which left the Glazers in charge at Old Trafford. People have said that Magnier and McManus would have sold out to the Glazers come what may due to the offer they received but I believe that to be rubbish. United were turning over a tidy profit for Coolmore/Cubic Expression every year which was an added bonus to the kudos of having a major share in such a world famous sporting institution. All the trouble from the Ferguson affair coupled with a very good offer from the Glazers (with borrowed money at crippling interest) have lead Coolmore to basically say, fuck this, give us the money and we’re out.

Sir Alex Ferguson with Susan Magnier, his partner in ownership of Rock of Gibraltar along with John Magnier in more harmonious times

Many people warned in the Summer of 2005 what the implications of this takeover were. Andy Walsh, Sean Bones, Duncan Drasdo, the three main fanzines around Old Trafford (Red News, Red Issue & United We Stand) and organistions like Shareholders United and IMUSA were pilloried for being scaremongers. Basically what they were saying in 2005 is very close now to coming true.

Former chair of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association, now General Manager of FC United, Andy Walsh

When Paul Scholes came out of retirement last January, he was truly brilliant and I’m glad he’s signed on for another year. That said, as good as he was, does anybody believe that Scholes would have returned in those circumstances pre-Glazer? Scholes would’ve probably gone to Everton as United would’ve already replaced him (don’t give me Tom Cleverley!) Towards the end of the season where United blew an eight point lead with six games to go, they needed a midfield general to marshal the team and maintain discipline, coupled with a player who could take a corner. City had Ya-Ya Toure, United had Ji Sung Park. God bless the lad, Park did some great work at Old Trafford, never moaned and was a particular thorn in Arsenal’s side but it was painful watching him against Toure at the tripe colony in April. At the time of writing, United have signed Nick Powell from Crewe Alexandra (their young players traditionally used to go to Liverpool) and Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund. I don’t know much about Kagawa, I’ve heard good things about him from people whose opinion I respect and he was highly thought of at Dortmund. Nick Powell looks good but it’s too early to say how so especially after everybody getting giddy (myself included) about Phil Jones this time last year.

Roy Keane and Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane happily reminisce at Old Trafford in August 2007

As for Sir Alex Ferguson, only time will tell if he’s pulled off a masterstroke and made another silk purse out of a sow’s ear. He’s seen off better and more shrewd managers than the likeable Robert Mancini. Wenger and Mourinho immediately spring to mind. From a sheerly pragmatic view, his past record should buy him time should he want it but his attitude to United fans, which is getting more like Marie Antoinette every passing year, means that patience is wearing thin from people like me who’ve previously devoutly defended him against all kinds of criticism over the last twenty six years. That he so virulently defends a regime that should be abhorrent to what he’s supposed to believe in is the greatest paradox. Whilst Roy Keane may be embittered (a recurring incidence with people who’ve had close professional dealings with Sir Alex), what he said last December about Sir Alex looking primarily after himself appears as accurate as any pass he made during his distinguished twelve years at Old Trafford. In the winter of 1990, Red Issue columnist Zar wrote that time was running out for Ferguson and despite United’s convenient denials over the years, it probably was. Then, he turned things round to a degree which nobody in their wildest dreams or a scouser’s biggest nightmare could’ve envisaged. He might do it again, only a fool would bet against him, but now, time really is running out for obvious reasons. Sir Alex Ferguson came to United when they were in a complete mess and was given time which would now be unthinkable to sort the mess out. That he did so is the greatest achievement of his professional life. Due to his lamentable endorsement of the Glazer ownership and the obvious decline in United’s squad and resources, he could end up leaving at least as big a mess as the one he inherited from Ron Atkinson. For that to be his legacy would be a crying shame, there’s no question about that.