Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Old Trafford Waves Goodbye to True Great

Tuesday 9th November 2010 marks a sad day for Manchester United Football Club. History will remember the day when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United reserve team manager and former goal scoring sensation, announced he was to end his 14 year association with the Lancashire club.

The Manchester United favourite has opted to fill the vacant post at former Norwegian club Molde FK, where the Norwegian plied his trade before signing for Manchester United. Solskjaer will see out the remainder of the year with United as Reserve team manager, but will take up his new post in his homeland, when the Norwegian league starts in January 2011.

As a player, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a rare breed. Without possessing rapid pace, Solskjaer still proved prolific in front of goal. Whilst in competition with the likes of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Louis Saha and the free-scoring Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the popular Norwegian was arguably United's most natural finisher.

Solskjaer received cult status among the United faithful during his time at Old Trafford, and the reputation of the baby faced assassin continued to grow as Solskjaer quickly adapted to the English game. When United fans were moaning about missing out on Alan Shearer, who opted for Newcastle United instead, Solskjaer soon became a crucial alternative.

Known for his natural ability to finish and professional attitude, the man who famously wore the number 20 shirt will no doubt return fond memories among United purists. As an impact substitute or a starter in the United line up, Solskjaer always wore a smile on his face and played the game with a distinct appetite to succeed and improve.

Throughout his time in England, Solskjaer reached amazing heights with United, renowned most notably for his injury time winner at the Nou Camp in 1999. However, Solskjaer's later United career was dogged by injuries and the Norwegian reluctantly but gracefully decided to hang up his boots at the age of 33 in 2007.

During his tenure at Old Trafford, Solskjaer recorded an impressive goal tally of 91 goals in just over 200 appearances. In terms of silverware, Solskjaer leaves England behind with six Premier League titles, two FA Cup winners medals, a Champions League title, Intercontinental Cup win and three Community Shield winners medals to his name.

Not bad for a relatively unknown £1.5 million coup by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in 1996. Today, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is arguably one of the most popular players to wear the red of United, and deservedly so!

So keen was Sir Alex Ferguson to keep him around after his retirement, the Scotsman appointed Solskjaer as a coach in 2007 and within a year, following a backroom reshuffle, Solskjaer was appointed Reserve team manager.

At the helm of the United reserves, Solskjaer continued to show the same promise he was gifted as a player. So recognised Solskjaer has become, that he will be called home to take on his first taste of first team management in the New Year.

United's loss is Molde's gain, for Solskjaer's professionalism and patience is second to none, and with Sir Alex Ferguson as his mentor, who would bet against the United great from becoming one of the most respected managers in the game.

Whilst it is difficult to see an iconic figure like Solskjaer leave Old Trafford, it's good news for the Norwegian, who is set to take charge of the club where his journey in football began. Hopefully Molde FK will gift Solskjaer the opportunity to become a fine manager, and hopefully his ties to the English game and United in particular, are not lost.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Providing the SPark!

'Reliable Korean spares United's blushes'

In my opinion, a successful team is made up of a number of vital ingredients. In order for a club to compete for the biggest honours in football they have to be consistent, resilient and arguably the most important element of all, to possess not just one but several match winners throughout the squad.

Park Ji Sung proved to be such a match winner in United's narrow 2-1 win against Wolves on Saturday afternoon. The Korean's brace proved decisive as United snatched all three points in the dying moments at Old Trafford, keeping United in hot pursuit of league leaders Chelsea.

Having already opened the scoring earlier in the match which was cancelled out by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake shortly after, Park received the ball on the right deep into added time in the second half. The energetic winger cut inside the Wolves penalty area before rifling home a left foot shot past the Marcus Hannemann at his near post.

The Korean's jinking run looked to be the last role of the dice for a United side that had been outplayed by Wolves, but Park kept his cool and secured an undeserved three points for United at Old Trafford.

Saturdays performance went down as yet another impressive individual display of the devastating impact Park can have, when called upon by the United hierarchy. Park has been in sensational form of late this season, and has become a player that quite often eludes the praise he so rightly deserves.

I've found that a bitter crowd in the Manchester United official forums and a select group of United fans in general, share a view that Park would be better offloaded to a lesser club in England or across Europe. Luckily for United, Sir Alex doesn't share such sentiments.

He's a player that when both Nani and Valencia are deemed fit, will see his first team opportunities limited once again. But, what I admire about Park is his professionalism and pride to be part of Manchester United. He never appears frustrated by his lack of exposure to first team duties, he doesn't drag his hands in protest, he takes to the field and gives his all.

Much like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a renowned super-sub himself, Park bides his time under Sir Alex Ferguson's wing. He's an opportunist who plays with a smile on his face and soaks up the somewhat limited appreciation he receives from the Old Trafford faithful. Sir Alex Ferguson however, is never shy when heaping praise on the South Korean's willingness to dig in and make a menace of himself when selected.

So often Sir Alex Ferguson re-introduces players back into the squad after a long absence and more often than not, they deliver.

Recently Gabriel Obertan reaped the rewards of Ferguson's faith. After an initial and bright introduction to Old Trafford life, Obertan's presence in the United first team faded, but the Frechman has enjoyed a recent re-emmergence in the United ranks. So keen is Ferguson to test the full capacity of his squad and keep his fringe players involved as much as possible.

On Tuesday night in Turkey against Bursaspor, it was Michael Carrick who supplied Darren Fletcher with the perfectly weighted pass to allow the Scotsman to finish. United then had the impetus to get their 3-0 victory underway. The two players who combined for United's opener in Turkey, have had to endure similar circumstances as Park and Obertan at Old Trafford.
Both Carrick and Fletcher have spent long spells watching on as others take centre stage, but they persevere, they continue to fight for their place and in their patience, they are rewarded in kind.

Sir Alex Ferguson has a talent for keeping his fringe players happy, motivated and hungry for honours. Park, like many others are often required to be patient, as they find themselves benched or left out completely, in order to accommodate the wealth of talent that makes up United's squad.

Players like Park Ji Sung understand that their chances in the United first team will be limited, but when called upon, the South Korean is a useful weapon to unleash anytime Ferguson looks to shift focus.

Closing comments....
Say what you want about Park Ji Sung - I know my own father has some harsh words to say about him - but question his ability at your peril. When United need a different dimension, a player that will work his socks off for United's cause, Park delivers with efficiency.
Ferguson should keep hold of Park for as long as possible as far as I'm concerned and in the absence of Antonio Valencia, I hope Park receives the extended run in United's starting XI that he deserves.

With Newcastle United beating Arsenal and Liverpool brushing aside Chelsea on Sunday, Manchester United find themselves in a favourable position. A mere two points now lay between United and Premier League leaders Chelsea and three points separate United from Arsenal in third place.

United are very much back in the thick of the title race and they have United's reliable number thirteen to thank for now.

Friday, 5 November 2010

United 3 Bursaspor 0 - United in cruise control

Manchester United all but assured qualification to the knockout stages of this seasons Champions league with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Turkish Champions Bursaspor on Tuesday night.

United went into the game having beaten the Turkish side by a decisive Nani strike at Old Trafford a fortnight before. United's hosts had proved a tough test in Manchester and much of the same was expected in front of a hostile crowd in Turkey.

Tuesdays visit to the Ataturk stadium gave Sir Alex Ferguson a rare chance to test the depth of his squad. The most notable inclusion in United's starting XI was gifted Frenchman Gabriel Obertan, who started in an advanced role behind Dimitar Berbatov in a new look United attack.

Ferguson's starting XI mixed youth with experience. Chris Smalling lined up alongside Nemanja Vidic instead of Rio Ferdinand, with Brazilian youngster Rafael slotting in at right back and Patrice Evra operated typically on the left side of a four man defence.

In midfield, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher made up a trio in the centre with Obertan on the left and Nani out wide on the right, looking to add to his winner two weeks before. Edwin Van Der Sar was the preferred choice in the United goal and Dimitar Berbatov looked to reclaim his early season goal scoring, playing the lone striker role in United's attack.

Portuguese winger Nani limped off around the twenty-five minute mark with a suspected groin injury and Park Ji Sung came on to replace him shortly after. United fans will be hoping that the in-form star's spell on the sidelines it to be brief.

United tested Bursaspor on several occasions throughout the first half and Paul Scholes had a goal ruled out as he was found to handle the ball before bustling the ball past the host's keeper.

As the whistle blew for half time the game remained level at 0-0. United probed, but Bursaspor had proved resilient in their defensive duties - for 45 minutes, anyway.

Just after the break Darren Fletcher powered home a low shot across the Bursaspor to give United a deserved lead. From the right hand side of the area Fletcher received a cushioned pass from Carrick and struck low and true into the far bottom corner across the helpless keeper. 1-0

From just outside the area, Gabriel Obertan lashed a powerful strike past the keeper and into the roof of the net. 2-0

Scorer of United's first goal, Darren Fletcher exited the game with twenty minutes remaining and on came a raw talent, in the seemingly untested Bebe.

It didn't take the United number thirty-three long to make an impression. In the 78th minute, Bebe latched on to sublime reverse pass from Paul Scholes just inside the box and the Portuguese flyer jabbed the ball past the on-rushing keeper with his right foot. 3-0

United closed out the game with consummate ease and found themselves picking up a fairly straight forward three points, which has just about assured their progress to the last sixteen.

Anyone connected with United will be happy with the victory and will take great interest in the performances of youngsters Bebe, Obertan and Chris Smalling as well as the return to form of Michael Carrick and the continuing efforts of the long serving Park Ji Sung.

In the absence of Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Antonio Valencia and other big name absentees United continue to look a force to be reckoned with. Unbeaten so far this season, United are making their intentions this season clear.

How the players fared -

Van Der Sar - Rarely tested. A deserved clean sheet. 6

Rafael - Looked back to his best, assured on the ball and tough in the tackle. 7

Smalling - another impressive display from the young defender. Dominated at the back and distributed the ball well out of defence. Starting to look the real deal. 7

Vidic - immense at the back as always. Looked untroubled for long periods. 7

Evra - surged forward frequently but rarely picked out a decisive ball into the box. 6

Obertan - responded positively to Fergie's call and used his pace and trickery at every turn. Finished with an explosive strike and looked dangerous all game. 8

Scholes - vintage Scholes display. Distribution was excellent, especially when releasing Bebe for United's third. 7

Carrick - the England star is starting to find his form of old. Used the ball well in midfield and crafted Fletcher's crucial opener.

Fletcher - lashed home United's first and supplied the wings all night. Limped off late on. 7

Nani - Starting positively and looked to terrorise once more, but the in-form star limped off less than half an hour into the game with a groin injury. 6

Berbatov - Looked a shadow of the player that started the season so brightly as the Bulgarian grew frustrated with himself and the players around him. Doesn't always suit the lone striker role and was found isolated and univolved for long periods. 5


Park (Nani) - Came on for Nani less than half an hour into the game and continued to show why Ferguson repays so much faith in the Korean. An energetic and efficient Park display as standard and an assist (Obertan) to his name . 7

Bebe (Fletcher) - adjusted to the tempo of the game quickly and poked home his first United goal soon after coming on. The young Portuguese winger is starting to look like a worthwhile gamble. 7

Fabio (Evra) - Didn't get much of a run out by worked the left hand side well as United closed out he game. 6

Friday, 29 October 2010

Top 5: Fergie Flops

Sir Alex Ferguson has built a reputation as one of the finest managers in World football, but even the very best make mistakes. Here's five:

5. Eric Djemba-Djemba
Prior to the Belgian's arrival at Old Trafford Eric Djemba-Djemba was dubbed so good they named him twice. I'm not sure who they are, but they couldn't be more wrong.

Djemba-Djemba spent a torrid spell at Manchester United and was subsequently sold to Aston Villa and his career has been in decline ever since.

The Djemb now plays his football Danish side Odense BK.

4. William Prunier
The French defender made two appearances for Manchester United, coming in on a trial basis when United's defensive pairing at the time Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce were both out injured way back in 1995.

Prunier impressed in his first match against Queens Park Rangers, playing alongside an inexperienced Gary Neville. But, in a disastrous 4-0 drubbing at the hands of a mediocre Tottenham side, Prunier looked completely out of his depth and was made scapegoat for United's poor performance.

The Frenchman never played for United again after his trial lapsed and he moved to Denmark and FC Copenhagen.

3. Massimo Taibi
Life after Peter Schmeichel was tough on Sir Alex and finding a suitor to the Great Dane was tough. Ferguson thought he had uncovered a gem in Venezia 'keeper Massimo Taibi.

The Italian stopper at the time was competing with Mark Bosnich and Raimond Van Der Gouw for the number one spot at Old Trafford and impressed on his debut, despite flapping at a free-kick that allowed Sami Hyypia to score. Taibi made a number of top drawer saves and United won the game 3-2, but it was to be Taibi's following two United appearances which sealed a cruel fate for the Italian stopper.

A high-profile error against Southampton and a conceeding five goals against Chelsea, saw Taibi's United career come to a premature end. The following season Taibi returned to Italy, signing for Reggina .

Taibi retired from football in 2009 ending his career with Italian side Ascoli having re-established himself as a top keeper throughout his remaining playing days in Italy.

2. Kleberson
After returning from the World Cup in Japan Kleberson was Brazil's stand out performer throughout their triumphant World Cup campaign. Excitement grew around the North West when Kleberson's transfer to Manchester United was confirmed, amidst a rather strange agreement between Kleberson and his then sixteen-year-old fiancee.

For Brazil, Kleberson was immense and looked a World beater. But hampered by injuries at United, the Brazilian never lived up to his true potential. In Kleberson's two years at Old Trafford he only showed rare glimpses of his brilliance and headed for the exit door before he could make a name for himself.

Kleberson spent a two seasons in Turkey with Besiktas after leaving Old Trafford and currently plays in Brazil for Flemengo, who he joined in 2007 after leaving Turkey.

1. Diego Forlan
For the shear contrast in the player he was at United to the player he has become, Fergie's biggest flop has to be Uruguay's scoring sensation Diego Forlan.

When he arrived at Old Trafford in 2002 Diego Forlan was always set up to fail, competing for a place in the United side alongside a free-scoring Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Forlan never found his feet in the Premiership and it took him a woeful 27 appearances to open his goal scoring account for the Red Devils.

Forlan was sold to Villarreal in 2004 after leaving Old Trafford with a rather pathetic scoring return of 17 goals in 95 appearances.

However, the following season whilst playing with new club Villarreal, Forlan netted 25 goals in the league for the Yellow Submarines and claimed the European Golden Boot award, joint with Arsenal's Thierry Henry.

Forlan has since become one of the most sought after and predatory strikers on the planet, scoring regularly for Villareal, Atletico Madrid and with the Uruguay national side. In this summers World Cup Finals in South Africa Forlan received the Golden Ball accolade, which is gifted to the player of the tournament.

The Uruguayan is one of very few players to leave Old Trafford and prosper, something he didn't do under Ferguson's stewardship.

S.S.D.D - Transfer Gossip

It's late October, no transfer dealings can take place until 1 January 2011 at the earliest, but still Manchester United are apparently trailing a number of stars across the football compass.

Just today, a number of newspapers have linked United with Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinstiger, Tottenham's Tom Huddlestone, Sunderland's Jordan Henderson, River Plate's young striker Rogelio Funes Mori, as well as Napoli duo Marek Hamsik and Edinson Cavani.

Whilst Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville are all rumoured to be considering lucrative moves to Dubai to play out the remainder of their careers in the Middle East..... the term Same Shit, Different Day comes to mind once again.

Reports also suggest that Wayne Rooney is expected to return from injury later than originally thought. The England star has not played for United since signing a new deal with the club and is when he return to Old Trafford after recovering from his injuries fans will expect some grovelling to take place on Rooney's part.

United fans can expect further column filler transfer speculation in the coming days, weeks and months. Fantastic!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Mexican Wave - Hernandez late strike washes away Wolves

Javier Hernandez came off the bench to secure a dramatic victory for Manchester United against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the League Cup fourth round tie at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening. Extra time loomed for Sir Alex Ferguson's men but the hero of United's 2-1 victory against Stoke on Sunday scored his sixth goal of his impressive debut season to allow United to progress to the league cup quarter finals.

Mick McCarthy's Wolves side provided a stern test for a second string United side.

Teenage goalkeeper Ben Amos staring in the United goal ahead of Tomas Kuzchzcak and Edwin Van Der Sar. In defence United went with a mix of youth and experience with Wes Brown enjoying a rare run out at right back and Brazilian Fabio started on the left. Johnny Evans and summer signing Chris Smalling completed United's back four, being the preferred pairing in the centre of defence.

Ferguson opted for a five man field that saw Bebe make his full debut on the right wing, French winger Gabriel Obertan mirrored Bebe on the left. In the centre Darron Gibson enjoyed another Carling Cup start with Park-Ji-Sung and Michael Carrick were also given a rare chance to impress in the centre of midfield.

Sunday's hero at Stoke, Javier Hernandez could only make the bench with Ferguson selecting Italian striker Kiko Macheda to play the lone striker role up front.

Manchester United started with menace. Gabriel Obertan, Park-Ji-Sung and debutant Bebe looked to unlock the Wolves defence early on. Wolves soaked up the barrage of United pressure and showed a good account of themselves by countering United at will.

United opened the scoring following a bold call by the referees assistant. United's Portuguese winger Bebe received the ball on the right wing and ran at the Wolves defence into the penalty area. Bebe created the space to trick himself to the byline and he drove a cross into the danger area. On its travels, the ball ricocheted off a Wolves defender and looped up and over Hennessey in the Wolves goal. A covering defender swiped the ball clear but the referees assistant raised his flag, calling that the ball had crossed the line before being cleared.

Replays showed that the assistant had made the right decision, but it was marginal and brave call. Just before the hour, United were ahead. 1-0

Wolves answered United's opener shortly after when Elekobi powered a header past Ben Amos from a corner. Bang on the hour Mick McCarthy's men were deservedly level. 1-1.

Park Ji Sung returned United's advantage ten minutes after Wolves drew level, firing a powerful shot from just inside the area, after the ball bobbled around in the penalty area. Wolves looked to try and clear the ball, but time looked to stand still as Park managed to latch on to the loose ball and drove home a shot past the Wolves defence and Hennessey in the Wolves goal. With only twenty minutes to go United were ahead once again 2-1.

Wolves attacked United in numbers at every opportunity. Their persistence was rewarded when Wolves moved the ball around the edge of the penalty area and found Foley in space in Johnny Evans' grasp. Foley let the ball run across him as he ran into the United area, he dropped his shoulder and left Johnny Evans in his reeling behind him. As Foley claimed the ball on route to goal, he lashed a low shot across Amos whose extended leg couldn't quite reach the ball on its route to goal. 2-2

With ten minutes remaining, Sir Alex Ferguson called to United's rising star and Javier Hernandez entered the game for Bebe, who left the pitch to a resounding applause from 50,000 United fans.

United were lucky to hold there lead as in the dying stages Wolves came close on late on. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake almost left his old stomping ground with a point to prove, but his powerful long range effort whistled past Amos's post.

However, despite Wolves' strong finish it was to a increasingly popular Mexican who would steal all the plaudits. in the 90th minute Hernandez soared into the Wolves box, receiving a sublime pass from Darron Gibson. The Mexican feigned a shot on his right sending the keeper into a sprawling action. As Hennessey closed in on Hernandez, the United number fourteen drove a shot through the Wolves keeper who couldn't keep the ball from bouncing across the line.
United managed to keep Wolves at bay for the final few minutes and looked to add to Hernandez's clincher, with Obertan and Macheda desperate to leave the field with a goal of their own. The game finished 3-2 and Javier Hernandez once again came to United's rescue for the second time in only three days, scoring a goal which takes his tally for the season to six.

How the players fared -

Ben Amos - the young United stopper looked a little bewildered in the United goal and will probably feel he should have done better to keep out both goals. 5

Wes Brown - Went about his defensive duties efficiently and linked well with Bebe down the right hand side. 7

Chris Smalling - Looked comfortable in the centre of defence and used the ball wisely. Looks a snug fit for Rio's boots. 7

Johnny Evans - Looked surprisingly unsure and was slow to close down Foley for Wolves' second. 6
Fabio - The young Brazilian made a couple of important challenges when it mattered, but Fabio struggled at times to deal with Jarvis' dynamic runs 6

Park - A typically busy performance from the South Korean international. Park took his goal well and never stopped probing Wolves' back line. 8

Obertan - Ran at Wolves at every opportunity but was let down on occasion by his distribution and decision making. Looked positive without setting the pitch alight. 7

Bebe - Displayed an appetite for being involved in both defensive and attacking areas and made a number of positive contributions. Although on a whole his crossing was mediocre, his powerful run and deflected cross led to United's first goal. 7

Gibson -Had a quiet game, but worked the ball well in midfield. 6

Carrick - Assured in possession, Carrick controlled the United midfield but blazed a number of long range efforts harmlessly over the bar. 7

Macheda - Appeared isolated for long periods in the lone role up front and grew frustrated with the lack of service. His only clear cut chance came from a scuffed cross from the right from debutant Bebe. 5

Neville (on for Fabio) - Came on for Fabio and handled the threat of Jarvis with comfortably. 6

Morrison (on for Park) - Wasn't gifted much time to impress, but a lot is expected of Morrison in the red of United. 5

Hernandez (on for Bebe) - The Mexican picked up where he left off on Sunday and took his left footed goal well, gifting United a hard-earned victory. 7

Football Cliches

Football is a beautiful game - a sport that captivates its core following every minute of every hour of every day. And like all things bright and beautiful, Football has its very own cliches and recognised catchphrases that football purists have heard time and time again.

Kicking off the football clinches feature is an old favourite:

"It's a game of two halves" said the optimistic commentator
More a fact than a turn of phrase, the it's a game of two halves quote has been around for years. Often used to console football fans who have seen their side go 3-0 down whilst being outplayed and outwitted for 45 minutes, it's just a way of injecting a little hope into those who have none and that the second half can only get better.

"He's the first at the training ground and last to leave" - said the proud Gaffa
When a player is in a rich vain of form, their managers are often quick to heap further praise on their in form star, citing the familiar "He is marvellous to work with. He loves the game. He's the first on the training pitch every morning and the last to leave" phrase, which is fine when used the first time around. But, when the same manager praises a different player in the same vain later during the season, then there an inaccuracy or two such a statement.

'The Empire is crumbling' - wrote the moronic journalist
If any top class team such as Chelsea, Man United or Arsenal dare to lose or even draw a game then their entire ability to compete for the Premier League crown immediately comes in to question. Any points dropped by the 'big four' gives the English press a rare chance to churn out their The Empire is crumbling doom and gloom stories.

"I did not see it" - said the man in broken English with a French twang
To his credit, Arsene Wenger is not the only football manager to coin the I didn't see it quote, although he does seem to use the infamous phrase more than most. Any time an important decision has been questioned during a post match interview, these days managers are reluctant to fess up about the fact that their players have taken a theatrical tumbled in the penalty area in order to win a crafty penalty.

"We've got the three points..." - said the player with little else to say
Post match interviews are rarely finely articulated and detailed accounts of the events that happened during the course of a match, but it seems if ever footballers are stuck for an analytical musing, they throw in the famous line 'We've got the three points, which is what's most important'. Liverpool's Jamie Carragher is probably not alone when using a variation of the three points phrase after a cup match!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Emmerging Premiership Talents

The English Premier League has accommodated some of the finest young talents in the game throughout its history. Cristiano Ronaldo arrived as an 18-year-old prodigy with the world at his his feet and he left the English game just six years later as the finest player in World football.

Rooney, Fabregas and Thierry Henry are but a few examples of young players that have flourished in England's top flight. But, who is going to be the next talent to light up the English Premier League? Here's a handful of young, raw talents that have all the right attributes to become World class players of the future:

Jack Wilshire (Arsenal)
The 18-year-old Arsenal midfielder has been creating a lot of noise around the Emirates for a number of years now and perhaps now the time has finally come for Wilshire to shine. Predominantly left-footed, Wilshire is an attacking midfielder who glides across the turf like a veteran of the game. His shrewdness for a cutting pass and ability to ghost in to the box undetected look set to pave a rewarding career for the young gunner.

Federico Macheda (Manchester United)
Federico Macheda is an Italian striker Machester United snapped up from Italian giants Lazio in 2007. Known commonly as Kiko, Macheda is a predatory goal poacher with a bag-full of handy tricks. The 19-year-old United star has made twelve Premier League appearances for Manchester United, scoring three goals, including an incredible solo goal on his debut against Aston Villa in 2008.

Jack Rodwell (Everton)
A bright future is expected of 19-year-old midfielder Jack Rodwell for both Everton and England. Everton fans certainly see Rodwell as the torch bearer for a shining future at Goodison and the young Englishman has certainly caught the eye of the Premier Leagues elite. His box to box nature makes him a rare breed. Rodwell is a gifted midfielder who just needs experience in order to become one of the most exciting stars in England. Rodwell has already made nearly 50 appearances for Everton, scoring two goals.

Jonjo Shelvey (Liverpool)
Shelvey has yet to break into the Liverpool first team, but great things are expected of the England Under-19s captain. When at former club Charlton Athletic, Shelvey became the clubs youngest player to feature in the first team, aged 16 years and 19 days old. Jonjo Shelvey has made two appearances for Liverpool so far this season. He put in an encouraging performance against Napoli in a Europa league tie and recently made his Premiership debut, coming on briefly against Blackburn on 24th October 2010.

Jordan Henderson (Sunderland)
At the tender age of twenty, Henderson is already a permanent fixture in the Sunderland set up where he has established himself as a household name in the North East. In recent months Jordan Henderson has been in fine form and has even come under consideration by England head coach Fabio Capello, who is keen to give the Sunderland midfielder his first England cap. Henderson is rumoured to have attracted the attentions of Chelsea, who will see the young Englishman as a long term replacement for Frank Lampard. Henderson also won the Young Player of the Year award with Sunderland last season.

Carlos Vela (Arsenal)
Arsenal striker Carlos Vela arrived in the Premier League in 2008 as a hot prospect, set to shine the Premier League alight. Competing with the likes of Robin Van Persie, Nicholas Bendtner, Andrei Arshavin and now Marouahm Chamakh for a place in Wenger's staring XI, Vela has struggled to hold down a permanent place at the Emirates. But, when Wenger has called on the young Mexican Vela delivers. Combining pace with a predatory knack for a finish, Vela is certainly one of the most gifted attackers around today. Vela is already a regular feature for the Mexico national side scoring nine goals in thirty-three appearances.

Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
The young Manchester United defender's career could easily be mistaken for a Roy of the Rovers comic book special. The towering defender started his career at non-league side Maidstone in 2007 and was quickly signed by Premier League side Fulham the following season. After spending a year at Fulham Smalling secured a move to Old Trafford, where he has been dubbed the new Rio Ferdinand. The bulky defender looks a fine prospect, possessing good strength, impressive distribution and despite the hype surrounding the lad, he seems alarming confident under pressure.

Hero Hernandez ends testing week for United

For any United fan, the last week will have felt like a roller coaster ride. The week began with Wayne Rooney seemingly ending all ties to Manchester United and United looked destined to lose a star name to footballs big spenders once more. Fortunately, after a little bickering between Rooney and United, the Evertonian saw sense and before the end of the week, Rooney secured another five years at Old Trafford.

On Sunday, the noise going into United's visit to Stoke City was still all about Wayne Rooney and his contractual U-turn. Fortunately, once the game commenced all the talk was about a certain Mexican filling the void in Rooney's absence.

Javier Hernandez is proving a popular character among the United faithful and his brace against Stoke will have done his growing reputation the World of good. Hernandez has been free-scoring of late, scoring the winner against Valencia in the Champions League and the Mexican scored in United's recent draw with West Brom.

Yesterday whilst playing against Stoke City, Hernandez almost defied physics as he headed home possibly the most unorthodox header you are ever likely to see. From a corner Nani played the ball short to Patrice Evra, who gave the ball back to the Portuguese winger who aimed a left-footed cross to the far post. Nemanja Vidic rose highest and headed the ball back to the near post where Hernandez jumped unchallenged with his back to goal. As the ball flashed across behind Hernandez's head, the Mexican cleverly threw his head backwards and met the ball with purpose, steering the ball powerfully past Tomas Sorensen in the Stoke goal, extraordinarily with the back of his head.

United's number 14, who wears the name Chicharito on his back, reeled away in celebration kissing the United badge and giving the watching United crowd a reason to believe that United are still very much in the hunt for honours.

With ten minutes of the game remaining Stoke levelled through a superb solo goal from substitute Sanli Tuncay, setting up a nervous climax for United, who looked set to draw their fourth consecutive away match.

But, with five minutes remaining Hernandez was on target again. Intricate build-up play commenced on the edge of the Stoke City penalty area. Nani moved the ball to Berbatov who passed to Darren Fletcher and received an instant return. The Bulgarian chipped in a hopeful ball into the penalty area which eventually fell to Patrice Evra at the far post. Evra turned quickly and drove a half volley across the face of goal. Hernandez met the ball and finished with a right foot effort from inside the six yard box. Sorensen in the Stoke goal and two covering defenders were unable to keep the ball out and the Mexican ran off once again to celebrate with the United fans.

Hernandez came close on a couple of other occasions during the match. A right foot volley fizzed past the post after Dimitar Berbatov acutely picked the Mexican out and Hernandez was unlucky when he charged a Sorensen clearance, which bounced harmlessly over the crossbar.

If there was a single player on Sunday that captured United's ambitious guile it was Javier Hernandez. During a time where United's ability to capture footballs brightest talent has come into question by one of United's brightest talents, perhaps Hernandez's arrival at Stoke was well timed and will certainly shut Mr.Rooney up for a while. Especially if Hernandez continues to impress, he may even leave Rooney out of the side!?!?! Okay, probably not, but Hernandez's performance was encouraging nonetheless.

In Tevez-style, Hernandez always looked busy and was hungry to be involved, he possesses raw pace and he took his brace with confidence whilst playing with a smile on his face. A present day Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Given his similarities to the popular Norwegian, I don't see why Hernandez can't have the same impact and success at United as Ole and become United's present day baby-faced assassin.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Rooney Dilemma: Tactical Masterstoke or ugly business?

After 72 hours of madness at Old Trafford, Manchester United released images of a smiling Wayne Rooney shaking Sir Alex Ferguson's hand after signing a new 5 year deal with the club. Ending a whirlwind saga and putting the whole episode well and truly 'to bed'.

This week has proven turbulent for Sir Alex Ferguson and everyone associated with Manchester United, when it looked a formality that their prized asset was set to end his association with the club in a bitter exchange of words between player and manager.

What strikes me as curious about all this, is that Rooney first announced he wouldn't be signing a new deal in August. It took until mid-October for the news to reach the public. Sir Alex Ferguson unveiled the terrible truth to the World at United's pre-match press conference, prior to their Champions League encounter with Turkish Champions Bursaspor.

The following day Wayne Rooney released a counter statement reiterating his desire to leave, citing his genuine belief that United no longer matched his ambition and were no longer in contention to compete for honours. In his closing statement Rooney saved face just, by referring to Ferguson as a genius and insisted that as long as United had Ferguson at the helm, United would prosper. A little contradiction, a little more action please!?!?!

Then, just two days after Rooney released his statement Sir Alex and David Gill called a meeting with Rooney to clear the air and resolve an issue which was generating huge attention across the footballing compass. However, after all the damning and scathing statements from Rooney after the meeting with Gill and Ferguson, United's number ten wore a broad smile as it was later announced by Manchester United that the England star had singed a 5 year deal with the club. Huh?

Which begs endless amounts of questions! What did Gill and Ferguson say to Rooney to change his mind? What were the assurances given to Rooney and why was the conversation not had in August, when the issue first arose? This whole episode could have been avoided, which makes me wonder if there is more to the Rooney contract saga - a ulterior motive from the out-of-form star, perhaps?

For months there was tension between player, manager and the executives at Manchester United, but all it took was one afternoon of talks to convince a bewildered Wayne Rooney, that United are still in fact in the hunt for honours and the best players. The speed in which this issue was resolves certainly raises a lot of questions when you consider the negative impact this whole episode has had on Wayne Rooney's reputation.

The past few months have seen Rooney go from a happily married family man to a deceiving and fickle character, and now he will have to win over the public, the United fans and the players he insisted were not good enough to challenge for honours, not so subtly in his statement.

Was it all a ploy to scare the Glazer's and Ferguson into bringing in top quality footballers to the club? If any player at Old Trafford has the power to challenge Ferguson and the owners, it is Rooney and perhaps his actions are genuine, whereby he really does care about the clubs ability to challenge at home and abroad. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Manchester City are just a few clubs that have made a habit of recruiting big name players in the pursuit of honours in recent years and to Rooney's credit he does have a fairly valid point.

Although Manchester United have still been in contention for top honours, perhaps a star name here and there would have been the difference between winning the league by a point instead of losing by a point or edging out Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final instead of being eliminated. It's all ifs and buts, but perhaps Rooney only wants to play alongside the best and when you play for the best, playing with the best should go hand-in-hand. His intentions seem genuine enough, but the cynic in me can't help but point to there being a huge money motivation on Rooney's part. If that's the case, then he has landed at the perfect conclusion.

Perhaps Rooney does simply want Manchester United to reign supreme, but the manner in which he has conducted himself throughout this saga hasn't done Rooney any favours. Maybe he felt that he needed to create a dilemma for United to panic and realise that they need to keep hold of their best players and revitalise their ability and intention to recruit not only gifted youngsters, but proven pedigree too.

Closing Comments
One of the questions many will raise out of this saga is why did Rooney feel compelled to damage his reputation further, by questioning the clubs ambition and will it prove a worthy sacrifice when the transfer window re-opens in January? Will Rooney's hissy-fit have done enough to ensure that Ferguson, Gill and the Glazers capture the best talent on offer, as well as getting shot of some deadwood in the process? Only time will tell.....

Rooney's grovelling period starts now, but come January or as late as the summer, if United start to bring in recognised and established names, I'd wager he will take most of the credit among United fans.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

It's going to be a long winter for Wayne Rooney

Less than six months ago Wayne Rooney was arguably the best player in the World. Rooney seemed well grounded at one of the biggest and most successful clubs in World Football and he was in the form of his life for club and country. The Manchester United and England star could do no wrong it seemed.

The United marksman enjoyed his best goal scoring season to date and he looked in fine form leading up to what was expected to be a landmark campaign in South Africa for the England star. The Finals in South Africa were set to provide the platform for Rooney to come of age and show the footballing world his brilliance.

However, today the picture looks very different for a man who is quickly becoming a fallen icon. Rooney's World Cup campaign was dreadful, his marriage is on the rocks following allegations about his private life, his United career is in tatters and his reputation as a level-headed sportsman have very much come in to question, all in quick succession.

After Rooney's torrid World Cup campaign he returned to Old Trafford for pre-season training to drop an almighty bomb-shell on United's Chief Executive David Gill, insisting that he wanted to leave Manchester United and would not be entering negotiations over an improved contract with United. It took until mid-October for the news to become public following a series of mis-quoted press releases regarding the United star's fitness and frame of mind, given the media frenzy surrounding him regarding his private life.

On Tuesday 19th October, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson revealed to the World in sombre mood, that Wayne Rooney - as early as August - had expressed his desire to leave Old Trafford. The United manager looked mystified and broken as he spoke of his utter regret regarding the strikers decision to quit a club that have been supportive of his career and private life, throughout his stay at the Lancashire club.

Wayne Rooney had cited the club owners lack of ambition and inability to secure the best footballing talent as his reasoning for wanting to leave Manchester United in a statement to counter Ferguson's press release.

Now it's Personal!
Such malicious claims from the former Evertonian are unjust when you consider United's history and until January at least, Rooney will be forced to share the turf at Carrington and Old Trafford with players whose abilities he has questioned publically and maliciously. The next few months could be difficult for Rooney who has clearly angered Ferguson with both his decision and comments and I expected that his Manchester United colleagues won't take to his comments too warmly either.

There is no denying Wayne Rooney is a class act on his day and he will be sorely missed at Old Trafford. He is a player with immense promise and his passion for the game is truly inspiring, but what I've come to learn over recent months is that (as Kiko Macheda recently stated) Rooney is a rather vulgar young man.

Last summer Carlos Tevez left the club on relatively sour terms, but by comparison with Rooney, Tevez will now look like a saint in the eyes of United fans. Tevez left for United's fiercest rivals Manchester City, which is reason enough to hold a grudge against the Argentinian, but Tevez never questioned the clubs ambition and attacked the standard of players United were bringing in. Rooney dares to stand up and insist the players being brought in by Ferguson and United are not good enough to share the field with him?!?!?

Rooney really needs to remember where he came from and how he has become one of the brightest talents on the planet. His timing couldn't be any worse to make such claims. During the World Cup and ever since, Rooney has been unable to perform even the simplest action, that should come naturally to a player of his quality. Nearly every attempt to get the ball under control has resulted in the ball bouncing awkwardly away from him, his goalscoring return has been feeble and he has looked a shadow of his former self for a while. Before he questions the standard of the players around him, he should really look at himself and sort out his own flaws before attacking others.

During Sir Alex Ferguson's reign at Old Trafford the Scotsman has had to wave goodbye to influential players of the highest calibre. Ferguson has lost stars such as Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and more recently Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, all of whom were players of extraordinary ability and were all stand-out performers during their time at Old Trafford. With every departure, United's reign was expected to falter, but under Ferguson's guardianship Manchester United have consistently finished strong in the Premier League and in Europe throughout Fergie's reign.

United are a club, Rooney is just a player and although his departure will be difficult to take, United's spirit and resilience always prospers. Whereas for Rooney, he seems set to secure a big money move away from Old Trafford which will no doubt prove lucrative for the Evertonian, but in my eyes the Nike advert he filmed before the World Cup captured a genuine image of where both his career and personal life is heading.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Next Number Ten.

Transfer speculation columns will soon go into overload following Sir Alex Ferguson's public address that Wayne Rooney's Manchester United days are somewhat numbered. Surely, if Rooney leaves Sir Alex Ferguson will be forced into making a purchase to replace the former Everton striker. Who would fit comfortably in the number ten shirt in Rooney's stead?

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Sir Alex Ferguson was rumoured to be interested in the French international prior to his move from Lyon to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009. It has been well documented that Benzema's stay at the Bernabeu hasn't been the most prosperous. Will the departure of Wayne Rooney rekindle Ferguson's interest in the Frenchman and save Benzema from his torment in Spain?

Alexandre Pato (AC Milan)
The Brazilian youngster has an impressive goalscoring record for his club AC Milan and his pace and dynamic approach would certainly work with United's current system. With a Rooney sale in the bank Ferguson may be able to prize away Milan's brightest prospect.

Neymar (Santos)
The 17-year-old Brazilian is dubbed as the the next big thing in Brazil and has already alerted the attentions of Chelsea and Barcelona. Fergie may look to the young Brazilian as prodigy to drive a Rooney-less United forward.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Barcelona)
Currently at loan at AC Milan, Swede Ibrahimovic is a raw footballing talent. Much like Berbatov in his casual approach, Ibra can pull a moment of magic out of the ether and has an impressive goalscoring return in Holland, Italy and Spain.

Fernando Torres (Liverpool)
Okay, so Torres may be a long shot, but the Spaniard yearns to play for a club with the potential to win honours at home and abroad. United can provide Torres with the platform to make up for lost time and win some silverwear and Torres can pay back United by filling the void. Maybe, just maybe a United/Torres marriage could work? I hear he also sells replica jerseys by the truck-load. Cha-ching!

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
He's lived the dream of playing in the white of Real Madrid now so maybe it's high-time Cristiano came back home....

....or do United already have a ready made replacement? Has Michael Owen got enough left in him to step up? Is Javier Hernandez a rare find, who will flourish given an extended run alongside Berbatov? Is Kiko Macheda experienced enough to stake a claim? Only time will tell.

Rooney 'Wants out of Old Trafford'

The Wayne Rooney media circus has been on tour for a while now and his latest act has left the footballing World stunned, confused and - especially for United fans - a little bemused.

Earlier today, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson spoke at a pre-match press conference ahead of United's Champions League encounter in Turkey tomorrow looking dejected, as he revealed that Wayne Rooney had made his intentions clear of his desire to leave Old Trafford in the near future.

After taking to his seat, the United manager opened the press conference by saying, "Look, I know you all have a million questions about this, so let's lay down the facts....'.

The United boss set the press reports straight by insisting that United Chairman David Gill had spoken with Rooney and during his meeting with Gill, Wayne Rooney expressed his desire to leave Manchester United. Gill broke the news to Ferguson, who found the decision surprising and a curious one. The manner in the way the Scot spoke showed signs of a wounded man, as he spoke openly about the way the club have supported the England star throughout his United career and more recently supported him through troubled times regarding allegations about his private life.

Rooney has spent six successful years at Old Trafford after arriving from Everton in a thirty million pound deal in 2004. During his United career Wayne Rooney has earned a fond following among the United fans, players and the backroom staff at United for his professional attitude and his appetite for the game. On occasion Wayne Rooney reeled off to the Stretford End, sliding to his knees and kissing the United badge with vigour after scoring many vital United goals. But now, Wayne Rooney is set to leave all of his United experiences behind in search of a new challenge and a new start.

But where? A player of Wayne Rooney's class can realistically only move on to two or three other clubs that can match his ambition and wage demands. Manchester City will be considered front runners already, having recently secured the services of Carlos Tevez in a cross-Manchester move. Manchester City certainly have the financial clout to meet Rooney's astronimical wage demands and early signs suggest that City's prowess on the football field is to be taken seriously as they currently sit above United and below Chelsea in second in the Barclays Premier League.

The only other options viable to Wayne Rooney are surely Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. Real Madrid are renowned for spending big on Galatico's and have a recent example of their willingness to splash the cash with Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2009. Jose Mourinho could be the man to deliver Wayne to Spain, should Rooney wish to move to La Liga.

Completing the list of Rooney's suitors are former European Champions Barcelona, where Rooney would slot in nicely alongside the top players in World Football. But, many may argue that with the likes of David Villa, Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta in a proven and world class attack, would splashing out on Rooney serve as value for money for the Catalans? We'll have to wait and see.

With rumours of supposed contract talks stalling, the United manager voice his lack of understanding in the United striker's decision, claiming that no disagreement had come to blows for the pair, as stated in much of the national press over recent days.

Sources suggest that Rooney's agent cited the club owner's 'lack of ambition and drive' as the main focus of the player's reluctance to sign a contract extension. The player's agent also suggested that the Glazer's are 'more interested in making money than achieving honours'. Rooney was expected to sign a deal that would keep him at United until the end of his playing career, which is why the news came as such a shock to the United manager.

So, Manchester United look destined to lose another star man. In a little over two seasons United look to have lost three players of incredible ability, passion and presence. First Ronaldo and Tevez exited Old Trafford and Wayne Rooney was left to take centre stage, of which he did for large parts of last season. Now, Rooney has signalled his intentions to leave Manchester United, one of the greatest clubs in the World behind for pastures new, but who at United will step out of the shadows to fill the increasingly gaping void......?

During the press conference Ferguson was adamant that there had been no tension between the pair and he was clear that Rooney was always welcome at Old Trafford, quoting on several occasions that "The door is always open". But the manager has lost big names before and the manner in which Ferguson presented himself to the press suggests that Wayne Rooney's mind may already be made up and that his future destination is all but settled.

It's only October and a move out of Old Trafford can only go ahead in January at the earliest, so I expect the Rooney exile saga to bubble away for a while yet.......

Monday, 2 August 2010

Monday 2nd August 2010 - Today at Old Trafford

Tedious Links
Opening the back pages of the newspapers this morning and Germany star Mezut Ozil is still being linked with a late summer move to Old Trafford. The Werder Bremen winger has just one year left on his current deal with the German side and is apparently available for around £12m.

Chelsea and Man City are also rumoured to be interested in Ozil, but no formal approach has yet been made from any club.

Pre-Season Climax
As United's pre-season preparations drew to a close Sir Alex Ferguson voiced his excitement of testing new signing Javier Hernandez in the Premier League next season. The United manager has been quick to praise the Mexico star, insisting he will be a roaring success at Old Trafford. The former Chivas striker enjoyed an impressive World Cup campaign, scoring two goals in three appearances, as well as impressing and scoring for and against United during their pre-season tour in USA and Canada.

In the fixture against his old club Chivas, Hernandez played the first 45 minutes for his old club and scored against his new team mates. He came on for United in the second half, but was unable to prevent United slumping to a 3-2 defeat against the Mexican side.

Community Shield - Build Up
Rio Ferdinand (groin), Owen Hargreaves (kness) and Michael Owen (hamstring) all look likely to miss Sundays Community Shield match up against Premier League Champions Chelsea, and United stars who featured at the World cup are also likely to miss out.

Sir Alex is likely to call on a number of the players used in United's pre season tour with Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and looking to be rested for Sundays game at Wembley Stadium.

Other news
Manchester United and Brazil midfielder Anderson survived a horror car crash in Portugal over the weekend. The former Porto player crashed his high performance sports car and had to be pulled from the wreckage by a friend. Anderson left the crash relatively unscathed, with only minor injuries.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Today at Old Trafford - Tedious Links

I opened up our newspaper this morning and read that United have once again been linked to a number of potential targets - despite United's apparent reluctance to delve further into the transfer market.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has already wrapped up two signings over the course of the summer, with Chris Smalling arriving from Fulham and striker Javier Hernandez flew in from Mexico outfit Chivas Guardiljara - United's next opponents in a pre-season friendly this coming Saturday.

So, I read Fergie is supposedly interested in Danish goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, who plays his football in Norway, as a successor for the aging Edwin Van Der Sar.

And various sources suggest that Anthony Annan is being earmarked as a potential new recruit to bolster United's midfield. Annan, who plays for Rosenborg was one of the stars of Ghana's impressive World Cup campaign.

More nonsense transfer links at the same time tomorrow.

5-star United decimate MLS all-stars
(MLS All Stars 2 Manchester United 5)

Sir Alex Ferguson's United side went into Thursday mornings game hoping to put the recent defeat against Kansas City Wizards behind them as they took to the field against an all-star Major League Soccer XI in Houston, Texas.

As the whistle still echoed around the ground from kick off, Kiko Macheda took advantage of a All-Star mess at the back, by running onto a stray pass and the Italian was left with a simple finish. The reputed marksman approached the untested All-Star keeper with deadly poise and swiftly rolled the ball past the American goalkeeper into the bottom corner, to give United an early lead after twenty four seconds.

Macheda added a second shortly after, this time with his head. A corner from the left was met by the Italian striker who rose highest and powered a precise header across the goalkeeper.

Darron Gibson showed his expertise from set pieces, curling the ball up and over the All-Star wall into the top corner from 25 yards.

Young prospect Tom Cleverly kept up his goalscoring flurry with an individual piece of brilliance. Cleverly waltzed into the box, juggled the ball between his feet before volleying home from close range.

New signing Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez came on for Portuguese winger Nani and within a matter of minutes the United new boy found himself on the score sheet. The Mexico striker broke the offside trap and as the keeper was drawn from his goal, Chicharito looped the ball over the stranded keeper to cap off a superb United display.

United were rampant , free scoring and looking far sharper, far hungrier than their last outing in Kansas City. The MLS All-Star side are by no means on par with the likes of Chelsea - who United play in the Community Shield next month, but United showed they have the strength, depth and guile to achieve great things again this season.

United play Hernandez's old side Chivas on Saturday before playing against an Ireland XI to complete their pre-season preparations before the Community shield early in August.