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