It’s hard to be sure where Wayne Rooney is going to be this time next week. If United stand by the public stubborn stance regarding his future, he’ll still be at Old Trafford. There are strong rumour’s that both Rooney and United want a parting of the ways, the sticking point is as to where Rooney could end up. Wherever Rooney is going to be, one thing is certain, tonight he was outstanding against a club who have spent all summer trying to unsettle him with a discretion, subtlety and class which they are in their own league for. Tonight was a frustrating game, United whilst not rampant, should have beaten an efficient but painfully dull side. This summer, there has been an awful lot of hype over the return of the United spurned Jose Mourinho. The deposed champions side that he left by ‘mutual consent’ in 2007 had an aura about them. Sure they weren’t invincible but they were a team which put me in mind of Bob Paisley’s Liverpool sides, such was their machine like efficiency. Tonight, Chelsea didn’t have that aura. They were lucky and all good sides have their fair share of luck. Maybe they’ll build on the luck to create a solidity that they had a few years ago but I doubt it. Unlike the 2004/2006 era, this Chelsea side look to me like they’re going to drop some daft points. The bookies have United as third favourites behind City and Chelsea but from what I’ve seen this weekend, they must be basing their logic on the hype surrounding Mourinho’s return and on City employing a manager who has won as many honour’s in his European career as David Moyes. I’ve seen nothing from either City or Chelsea that should keep David Moyes awake at night.
Earlier in the pre-season, United had bid £12,000,000 for Leighton Baines and £16,000,000 for Marouane Fellaini. These bids were, according to the media consensus, ‘angrily’ refused by Everton. United have recently come back with a cunning plan, offer a combined £28,000,000 for the pair, surely Everton would fall for that. Despite what some of my fellow reds may think, most scousers are not thick and even if so, not even the thickest scouser would have fallen for that ruse. There is now speculation that United’s next move for Baines and Fellaini is to offer four payments of £7,000,000 staggered over five years. There’s clearly some real guile controlling the transfer budget at Old Trafford.
Marouane Fellani scoring the winner for Everton against United in August 2012
An early kick off meant a subdued atmosphere from United fans compared to the last time were at this cauldron of snides last October. That night, the pathetic home support only woke up after Daniel Sturridge put them in the lead seven minutes into extra time, apart from that, United fans took the piss out of their wooden counterparts. Yesterday at Stamford Bridge, it was more of the same. Stood in the lower tier of Shed end of Chelsea’s modern but soulless stadium, we couldn’t hear a whisper out of Chelsea fans until Demba Ba’s admittedly brilliant goal, three minutes into the second half, put them into the lead. United had controlled the game for most of the first half without looking like scoring. Only once in that period was Petr Cech tested, when a bizzare swirling shot from Javier Hernández four minutes before half time produced a great save from the Czech goalkeeper. For all United’s possesion, it was Chelsea who had the first shot on target when Demba Ba tried catching David De Gea out on his near post after half an hour. It put me in mind of the rope-a-dope tactics Muhammad Ali deployed in his 1974 fight against George Foreman in Kinshasa.
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.
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.
Two long, long weeks of of no club football but a couple of international friendlies for England, a storm over poppies, Sepp Blatters blarney and an embargo on transfers ’til January mean newspaper journalist get ever more desparate to fill their pages. The day after United beat Sunderland, a frenzy was brewing up over FIFA’s refusal to allow England players to wear poppies on their shirts for the forthcoming friendly against Spain. Amongst the usual knee jerk reaction of political correctness gone mad and such forth (waddya mean you’d forgotten about it ??). Exactly six years to the day before England played Spain, England played against Argentina without wearing poppies, there was no clamour for the team to wear poppies, can anybody tell me what’s changed in the last six years ? By sheer coincidence, prior to the poppy furore, England skipper John Terry, had been accused of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers centre half Anton Ferdinand. This allegation had taken up a lot of column inches in the national press and the FA, with admirable common sense had decided to adopt an innocent ’til proven guilty stance. I wonder why they didn’t take that stance with Johnathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer in 2001 or with Rio Ferdinand in 2003? The problem the FA have with the John Terry allegation is that, like badly pasted wallpaper, the bubble gets pressed down, only to resurface, just as bad, pretty close by. Still the poppy fury sold a few papers, got an awful lot of people wound up about something they’d forget about a week later and ended up with the farcical gesture of players having poppies painted on their boots to circumnavigate a ban that had never existed in the first place.