According to the fourth estate, the early part of Summer saw Manchester United rocked by Harry Kane staying at Tottenham Hotspur. We were shattered by David de Gea’s imminent departure (he hasn’t gone yet), snubbed by Paul Pogba and had more links than Houdini’s chains. United have been preparing, readying or launching bids for Uncle Tom Cobley, whilst at the same time getting rid of Paul Scholes’s replacement, Tom Cleverley… (having written that sentence, I suddenly had a choking fit).
In early July, Nani left United for Fenerbahçe. The Lisboan arrived in a huge fanfare of expectation in the Summer of 2007; some people claimed that he was better than Cristiano Ronaldo… (oh Christ, I’m off again). Nani looked like Michael Jackson but played football like Janet Jackson. A player of undoubted skill occasionally, he will always be remembered by me as a winger who took worse corners than Mads Timm and whose crosses would’ve been comfortably dealt with by a blindfolded Jim Leighton. To use the words of Brian Clough, he floated like a butterfly and he stung like one.
A seminal moment from Nani at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica da Luz in 2010. Cristiano Ronaldo turned Gerard Pique inside out, his exquisite goalbound shot from was gliding over Iker Casillas’s head and into the net. Nani decided to add the finishing touch, from an offside position. Ronaldo’s reaction was priceless
Another player joining Nani in Kadiköy isRobin van Persie, who has left United after three seasons. He came to Old Trafford having turned down a better offer from Manchester City (quelle surprise), and Continue reading Joined The Choir Invisible
At Anfield on Friday night, United beat Liverpool 1-0 in the Under 21 play off semi final. A pretty scrappy game was settled with a goal from Andreas Pereiraon 44 minutes, a goal that I missed as I’d stole a march to the bar for a half time pint. I knew it was a great goal though as I was suddenly inundated with text messages by smug twats watching the game on MUTV all saying a variant of “What A Goal!”.
United reserves at Anfield on Friday night, photo taken from the Anfield Road end, looking out to the Kop
Former Arsenal & Scotland goalkeeper, BBC sport anchor and all round nice guy Bob Wilson recently said that when he was a goalkeeper “you could tell where the ball was going to go five yards after it left your opponents foot, nowadays a goalkeeper doesn’t know where the ball’s going to go until it’s five yards away from him“. I quote this because Uniteds’ talented but heart stopping goalkeeper, David De Gea, gave a performance today which reminded me of what Wilson said. His handling of crosses is diabolical. If a keeper comes out for a cross then his defence should know about it through a shout. This is something you learn at the age of eight. The fact that he ends up challenging his own defenders for a cross means either he’s not putting a shout up or worse, his defenders don’t trust him. On other occasions he flaps and completely misses the ball and creates chaos in his own area. A mistake of his from a cross on the 51st minute nearly caused a goal for Newcastle United. Newcastle fans were screaming at referee Howard Webb and linesman Darren Cann to award a goal after Papiss Cissé headed the ball goalbound following De Gea’s mistake. The referee and the linesman called it right due to the fact that they had to be sure it crossed the line. Having now seen the incident from more angles than a protractor can give, you still can’t be sure it’s a goal so how they can tell it in real time is a mystery. How the on form Papiss Cissé didn’put the ball away with almost the entire goal at his mercy is the biggest surprise. David De Gea did what he does best and made a fantastic instinctive save even if he did cause the problem in the first place, today, in the space of 30 seconds, we saw the best and the worst of our young Madridian goalkeeper.
Against the bookies’ odds, but of no great surprise to me and needing only a draw to progress, United lost to Basle in early December to leave themselves playing in Europe’s secondary cup competition for the first time since the late summer of 1995. That season Rotor Volgograd knocked United out on away goals. There was a lot of disappointment when United were knocked out of the Champions League. While I wasn’t too happy about it, I was hardly distraught about the Reds being knocked out of a competition which looking at it realistically, United didn’t have a prayer of winning. Couple all that with the fact that United have never won the UEFA Cup/Europa League, my attitude is what the hell, there’s always next year (providing the Cristiano Ronaldo money gets spent this summer…)
There have been many friendly matches between United and Ajax but tonight is the first time the clubs have met competitively since 1976. When the draw was first made in the middle of December, my mobile phone was agog with incoming text messages, all basically saying the same thing,”What a draw, are you having it ?” Having been to Amsterdam several times, a couple of them involving United, I initially was going, come hell or high water. It’s only an hour flight from Ringway Airport to Schipol but, as is the way, flight prices suddenly went through the roof and United were only allocated 2000 (approx) tickets for the match. When I was younger, it wouldn’t have been a problem, I would have gone, ticket or no ticket confident in the knowledge that a jib would have been done easily enough, especially in Holland where, in days of yore, security was famously slack. Nowadays, I want the guarantee of entry to the game before spending at least £250.00 on a flight and going through all the rigmarole and expense of arranging digs. One thing I do know, anybody who didn’t get into the match, should be having a rare old time in Amsterdam tonight, smoking hand rolled cigarettes unique to the Netherlands, possibly enjoying the very gracious hospitalty and welcome that the some ladies in Amsterdam are world famous for providing.
United fans outside The Old Sailor on the Ouderzijds Achterburgwal
Ajax are a true giant of European football. Tonight, United were (correctly as it turned out) hot favourites to beat Ajax. All the British and Dutch media were predicting a comfortable victory for United with recent form in mind. I’ve too much respect for Ajax as a football club to take any victory against them as a given, no matter how poor their recent form is. We’ve all seen poor teams beat United. With Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool, I’ve seen two mediocre sides beat United since Christmas so I wasn’t taking anything for granted tonight. A 2-0 win, on paper looks like a comfortable win but Ajax, in the first half at least, gave United a scare or two, most memorably on 30minutes when David De Gea made another top class save, to prevent Siem De Jong from scoring.
Ryan Giggs, much to the chagrin of the British media, who’d been writing commemorative pieces for his expected 900th appearance for United tonight, the United fans who’d been singing Giggs is going to Amsterdam (to the tune of Love Will Tear UsApart) since the draw had been made and to the possible relief of his wife, didn’t travel with the United squad for this game. United could have used Giggs well tonight, particularly in the first half when Nani was having one of those nights, Nani’s corner on six minutes, which went straight out for a goal kick, being spectacularly poor even by his standards.
The second half kicked off with Ajax fans singing Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds at impressive volume. The atmosphere provided tonight by the Ajax fans was fantastic (at least it sounded so on the telly). As much for the noise as Ajax fans made, United started to get a grip on the game and after some sustained pressure, Ashley Young turned the Ajax defence inside out and back in again before putting the ball through Ajax goalkeeper, Kenneth Vermeer’s legs to put United 1-0 up on 59 minutes. The United goal flattened Ajax. After that, despite only being a goal behind, United were in complete control of the game. Ajax were mostly trying shots from distance, whenever they managed to get in the United half. On 86 minutes, United counter attacked again when Antonio Valencia pulled his hamstring winning the ball in midfield before feeding Wayne Rooney on the left flank. Rooney placed a perfect low cross for the oncoming Javier Hernandez to slide ball home for United.
“Thursday night, Channel 5” has been the ever-so-cutting chant from oposition fans since United were knocked out of the Champions League in December; most of the people who’ve been doing this chanting only get a taste of European/continental football when they’re watching England getting inevitably knocked out of tournaments every couple of years. I’ll forgive them, they know no better. The “Thursday night…” chants reached a nadir at Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago when fans of Stoke City were singing it at United fans. This is the same Stoke City who played tonight, this Thursday night, and lost at home to Valencia.
Some things never change, the standard of inane commentary of football matches in this country, no matter what channel it’s on is always the same. My favourite commentary passage tonight came on 35 minutes when the Channel 5 commentator see’s the camera zoom in on Sir Alex Ferguson and asks’ co-commentator Graham Taylor, if he’s sat in the same spot as he was for the Holland/England match in 1993. Graham Taylor wasn’t sure but did say that he was walking on the spot, just outside the penalty area where Ronald Koeman fouled David Platt in the same match prior to tonights match kicking off. What nobody pointed out was that the infamous Holland/England match in 1993 took place in Rotterdam.
Thanks to Rick Kelly ofwww.rkellyphoto.comfor the lend of his equipment and his help to me in typing this blog