Views on 2013/14 Season – 05/06/2013

Congratulations to all those that are connected to Manchester United Football Club – owners, Board, Manager, Coaching staff, non-coaching staff, players and fans for winning the 20th title for the prestigious club.

A special thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson for his distinguished stewardship of the Club we love for 26½ years. His legacy is very much unlikely to be surpassed and we wish him well in his retirement.

Welcome to David Moyes as he begins his reign as Manager of Manchester United Football Club. I hope you go on to achieve as much feat as your immediate predecessor at least in terms of trophies if not in length. It will be important that you be your own man. Your skill, attribute, characteristics and personality got you here. It is important you embrace Sir Alex’s legacy. No need to fight it, ignore it or try to out-do it. Just be you.

Well done to the Glazers for letting Sir Alex be. Whilst I, as a fan, still detest the level of debt you loaded on the Club, I am humble enough to still admit that by letting Sir Alex be, United continued to maintain its success on the pitch. It is important, if not more so, that the Owners do likewise with David Moyes. The Owners have got to back him in the transfer market. The good news is not a lot needs to be changed in terms of structure – but new players have got to be brought in to refresh the squad and replace those that are in need of a new challenge or have become disillusioned at being at Old Trafford for so long. Some even have failed to deliver on their potential.

In my opinion, I believe United need a maximum of five players to come in to either bolster the squad or replace players exiting the club through outright sale or retirement. One deal has already been completed in Wilfried Zaha. The players I will be mentioning in the rest of this post are players already linked to United – very good players in fact. Some may be unrealistic but will only be so limited if the Glazers refuse to come up with the cash needed to conclude the deals. The players I’d like to see join United this summer are: Gareth Bale – £80m, Cristiano Ronaldo – £65m, Thiago Alcantara – £18m and Marouane Fellaini – £24m. I am not jumping on the bandwagon here. I believe each of this players will bring a different dimension to United’s game and will also give the team a very good chance of not just winning a trophy in Moyes’ first season, but should retain the title and get to at least the Semi-final of next season’s European Champions league.

Let me list my full squad for United if these deals are done.

1.Fabio da Silva – 2.Rio Ferdinand – 3.Patrice Evra – 4.Jonny Evans – 5.Nemanja Vidic – 6.Chris Smalling – 7.Phil Jones – 8.Rafael da Silva – 9.Wayne Rooney – 10.Danny Welbeck – 11.Robin van Persie – 12.Michael Carrick – 13. Shinji Kagawa – 14.Tom Cleverley – 15.Wilfried Zaha – 16.Cristiano Ronaldo – 17.Marouane Fellaini – 18.Thiago Alcantara – 19.Gareth Bale – 20.David de Gea – 21.Anders Lindegaard – 22.Ben Amos.

From the above you would have noticed the following departures:

1.Paul Scholes – 2.Ryan Giggs – 3.Bebe Oliveira (£5m)– 4.Kiko Macheda (£5m) – 5.Antonio Valencia (£10m) – 6.Anderson Oliveira (£10m) – 7.Luis Nani (£20m)– 8.Ashley Young (£15m) – 9.Javier Hernandez (£35m).

Getting the four players in I previously mentioned should cost United no more than £187m in transfer fees alone. United should be able to raise some £100m from sales making it a net spend of £87m. Nike will likely contribute to that net spend amount. This should also be the bulk of spending United will need over the next 3 to four seasons with good reserve players coming through in Nick Powell, Jesse Lingaard, Angelo Henriquez, Keane brothers, Davide Petrucci, Larnell Cole and especially Adnan Januzaj.

I agree that £80m for Gareth Bale is definitely too much and that he should cost no more that £60m but with Real Madrid also interested in making him their marquee signing, I’d expect Daniel Levy to create a bidding war and drive up the price. I suspect Gareth Bale will choose staying in the premier league above moving to Spain if he can get into one of the top 4 premier league teams. I doubt he fancies going to another London club for fear of fan backlash making the two Manchester teams his real options. It goes without saying that going to United would be more attractive to Gareth than City if one considers the history and pedigree of both clubs. Choosing United will also mean Gareth can be close to his family (unlike moving to Spain) in Wales whom he visits quite often – rumour has it that he often gets homesick if he doesn’t visit Wales in more than two weeks. If Gareth hands in a transfer request and specifies United to Daniel Levy then that should help with negotiating down the price but we all know Levy to be a hard man to bargain with.

On Cristiano, his public moves so far – refusing to sign a new contract and putting up his villa in Spain up for sale – shows that United have a real chance of getting him. The Club and fans love him and he loves them back, the only issue is if Real Madrid will prefer to risk losing him for nothing and Fiorentino Perez is currently using him as a political pun in his re-election campaign although he is unopposed.

On Thiago Alcantara and Marouane Fellaini – meeting the exit clauses should do the job for United. Fellaini clearly wants to play for a top team and should be willing to follow David Moyes to Old Trafford. At €18m, going for Thiago is a no-brainer. He is unsettled and unhappy at Barca and should settle well at Old Trafford considering the amount of Spanish speaking players United have.

In trying to avoid creating a selection headache for next season, I think Moyes may need to sell one of Javier Hernandez or Wayne Rooney. Those two also represent United’s biggest chance of recouping some of their cash outlay on transfers. United should be able to get at least £35m for either of them. In contrast, Moyes may think having both players in his dressing room is a good selection headache and that he will prefer to deal with the respective players’ ego. But I think he’d want as little headache as possible in his first season as United’s boss so he can get on with matters on the pitch. Wayne offers a lot of versatility that Javier doesn’t. I know Wayne would like to play up front more but what he really wants is to enjoy his football. As long as he’s enjoying his football, where he plays on the pitch matters little to him. It is his versatility that may mean he gets to stay ahead of Chicharito.

Nani and Anderson have not lived up to their respective potential. They may have come to the point where they need a new challenge to jump start their football career. With Nani entering the last year of his contract next season, now is the best time to sell him to get maximum money. Anderson will hardly be a regular starter for United and if he wants to be a part of Brazil’s world cup team next summer, then he’ll need to move away from United.

Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are both 28 in July and August this year respectively. I’ve proposed they be replaced by Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo – two of current top three world footballers behind only Messi. Ronaldo was 28 in February whilst Bale will be 24 in July. There is no doubt on any football scale or yardstick used that Ronaldo and Bale and infinitely better than Young and Valencia. Besides, Young can be used as a cash plus player in securing Bale although I can’t imagine Spurs not wanting a straight cash deal so they can go after their own transfer targets.

The remainder of the departures are no-brainers in Bebe and Macheda. I can’t see both having a future at United and I suspect Moyes will share my view. Scholes has already announced his second retirement and I think Giggs should do too and become a coach at United.

If my above opinion on transfers pan out, United can easily play a European 4-2-3-1 formation or 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 in the league.
David D G
Rafael Rio Vidic Evra
Fellaini Carrick
Bale Rooney Ronaldo
RvP

Rooney can step up to join RvP with Fellaini and Carrick Stepping up to form a 4-4-2 or Rooney can step into the middle of Fellaini and Carrick with Ronaldo and Bale stepping up to form up in 4-3-3.

The subs will or can contain first class players in: Lindegaard, Jones, Fabio, Kagawa, Alcantara, Welbeck and Cleverley.

The above 18 man squad look like a team full of goals and should trouble any defence on the planet if David Moyes can get them playing together as team. The Midfield core of Carrick and Fellaini should also provide the necessary protection and defensive cover for the offensive players to work their magic. The front four players will need to play very fluid football with great off-the-ball movement and should be energetic enough to press for the ball and win it back high up the pitch thereby allowing for fast transitions.

We all know every David Moyes team is usually disciplined, solid and work as a team.

If the Glazers can bring the above team together and the players respond well to Moyes’ methods – then I have no doubt that United will be favourite to retain the title and perhaps even win the Champions League within the next two seasons.

Follow me on twitter on @grandverve

Views on 2013/14 Season – 05/06/2013

After game one….United Season Preview – 24/08/2012

At the end of last season, following a dramatic end to the game at the Etihad where City clinched the title, Sir Alex said he relished the challenge provided by City and that him and his squad will learn from the disappointment of losing out on the title, especially the manner in which they lost the title. He declared in the press conference following the win over Sunderland that losing on goal difference will never happen again. SAF declared he was angry at losing, he proceeded to speak personally to all the young members of United squad following the loss of the title, telling them never to forget the disappointment they were feeling at that time. SAF’s activity in the summer so far shows he really was angry and that he is going all out to get his trophy back.

Like most United fans, I also have been very buoyed by the transfer activity conducted by SAF so far this summer. It started with securing Shinji Kagawa, then Nick Powell, from left-field the signing Robin Van Persie from Arsenal and now a new left back in Alexander Buttner from Vitesse Arnhem.

The potential combination of Rooney and  v.Persie with Shinji Kagawa behind them got me really excited and looking forward to the new season. Rooney and v.Persie scored 57 league goals between them last season. Having such fire power upfront surely was going to make United firm favourites for the title, Aguero and Tevez at City notwithstanding.

In addition, the return of club captain Nemanja Vidic was also additive to my confidence that surely we’ll win our trophy if he hopefully stays fit for all of the season as his presence and leadership was sorely missed last season. The quality of players brought in coupled with the fact that United won no silverware last season gave me confidence that the team will be really motivated to correct their deficiencies from last season and that the coaching staff would also have learnt from their mistakes. In my mind, we were shoe in to blaze the league.

Cue the first match against Everton and like most United fans I was shocked at how pedestrian our play was. It was like last season all over again. No purpose or penetration to our play. None of the steely determination associated with a United team was on display both from the players and coaching staff. Rooney was sluggish, Nani was headless, Scholes was uninspiring and Valencia was wasted in defence. It was the 4 – 4 at Old Trafford drama all over again. Everton played exactly the same way they played against us at Old Trafford. They preyed on our soft under-belly in midfield again. Marouane Fellaini single-handedly destroyed United once again. He was so dominant it felt like one was watching a play act from a chapter of 50 shades of grey. Didn’t SAF and his coaches learn anything from last season? After the first 20mins, it was clear Everton were repeating the same game plan. Just as United failed to match their intensity last season, they also failed to do so this time. SAF sat down throughout the match, so did his two assistants. No one got up to urge the players to step up their intensity and speed of passing. We were maintaining possession well, meaning Everton were chasing the ball mostly. Passing the ball more swiftly would have made them chase even harder thereby tiring them. Tired players make mistakes, tired players lose concentration, tired players fail to make goal-line clearances. But no, United kept playing and passing in a pedestrian manner – right how Everton wanted them to. By the time Fellaini was substituted, United had lost their game composure and were just playing with desperation.

Last season, SAF flirted with defeat by playing two midfielders in defence (due to injuries) to disastrous consequences. He did same again against Everton even though he had two natural defenders on the bench in Rafael Silva and Scott Wootton. Whilst I can understand why Wootton could not be in the first team owing to his lack of league experience, I fail to understand why Rafael did not start at right back. If he was fit enough to be on the bench, he should have been fit enough to start as his case was unlike v.Persie who had not played many games in pre-season. As bone-headed as Rafael can be sometimes, he is still a better right back than Tony Valencia and would have brought a natural balance to the defence line. That would have freed Valencia to play in his preferred right midfield position and would have spared the team and fans the horror show displayed by Nani. In addition, I dare say that Wootton would have benefited from being paired with Vidic, Evra, Rafael at the back and that Carrick would have provided protection to Wootton had it been needed if Carrick had played in his natural centre midfield position and paired with Cleverley.

It was painful to watch how sluggish United were and how much we wasted Kagawa’s talent and positional sense. He kept making himself available to receive passes throughout the match. Both Kagawa and v.Persie kept making themselves available to receive passes that our old players were neither seeing or just didn’t believe Kagawa and v.Persie could retain possession in such tight spaces.

Following from a disastrous season where we won nothing, United needed to learn how to retain possession better. Games from pre-season and the match against Everton suggests a lot of work has gone into team retention of the ball. What is equally and probably more important is individual player retention of the ball. This is where I believe Barcelona excel above all others. It isn’t every time Barca players (cue Xavi and Iniesta) look for a team-mate when they are being pressed for the ball. Sometimes it is better a player is able to retain possession long enough on himself so as to give his team-mate a moment to run into space to receive the ball and launch an attack. This is where I believe United are failing. Our players don’t yet have the adequate technical ability to retain the ball when placed under pressure. Our players must learn to be fouled rather than lose the ball. This is why Barca players get fouled a lot. We cannot fail where Arsenal has, where they win the possession stats but lose three points. Against Everton we had the larger share of possession yet failed to work their keeper Tim Howard. Even with our possession, our keeper was by far the busier one in the match. Scholes legs just couldn’t match the intensity required to dominate the midfield.

Despite this disappointing start to the new season, I still retain my excitement that United can and should regain their title. Unlike some United fans that already have pronounced the death sentence over the team, one bad and first game of the season wont define our season especially if one considers the fact that we have several new players that need gelling – gelling can take some time. Frankly, it is better we get our early season blues out of the way and find winning momentum very quickly. We have too many good attack minded players not to be excited. The key will be finding a way to accommodate all of Rooney, v.Persie and Kagawa in the starting line-up and that our key defenders don’t get injured all at the same time – leaving us short in numbers at the back as it occurred against Everton.

SAF will also need to show bigger faith in our younger players. We don’t need to play too many of them at the same time like we did to disastrous consequences last season, but we should be comfortable putting the odd one in the starting line-up especially when injury necessitate it. They are in fact Manchester United players after all. Playing midfielders in defence cannot be the best option. It wasn’t last season when we tried it, it hasn’t this season against Everton.

Rumours abound that SAF is still in the market for a combative midfielder. Considering the characteristics and attributes of Marouane Fellaini and how well he’s played against United in the last couple of matches, I am really surprised SAF has not expressed interest in him. In fact, just like United players recommended Cristiano Ronaldo to SAF after playing against him in a pre-season when he was still at Sporting Lisbon, I expected Scholes, especially, to recommend Fellaini to SAF considering how much and how well he dominated Scholes and United’s midfield in the last few matches. In Fellaini, we may well have our solution to the problem posed by Yaya Toure. Fellaini will fit well in a 4-2-3-1 formation for United consisting Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Fellaini, Kagawa, Rooney, Valencia, v.Persie (subs: Lindegaard, Welbeck, Chicharito, Cleverley, Jones, Young, Nani). The defensive discipline of Carrick and Fellaini should give confidence to our attacking players to push forward and do the necessary damage in opposition’s half. Rooney, Kagawa and Valencia are also disciplined enough to track back where necessary and when required. I believe completely that Fellaini may be the final jigsaw missing in the puzzle. At United, Fellaini will develop even better when he plays and trains regularly with other high quality players.

In an earlier post, I mentioned about a gap in our coaching set-up. I still believe firmly that that gap exists. I think SAF still needs an assistant that is better than him. I don’t believe Rene Meulensteen and Mike Phelan are better coaches/managers than SAF. SAF unfortunately is now at an age where he needs to delegate as much as he can to his subordinates – those subordinates in my view need to be either as good as him or better. In Carlos Queiroz, United and SAF had a really good meticulous technical coach. He was absolutely anal with details, so much so that it riled then club captain Roy Keane. He was good enough to attract Real Madrid’s attention and did well there but suffered from the political minefield that the Bernabau is. Are Rene and Phelan good enough to attract Real’s attention? Exactly.

To conclude, I retain my optimism for this season, I think United will do well and should win a few competitions and regain the Premiership. I hope we bid for Fellaini, I think he may well be what we’re missing.

Glory Glory Man United

Love United Hate Glazers

#MUFC

Follow me on @grandverve

After game one….United Season Preview – 24/08/2012

Team GB – Men Football – 27/07/2012

After watching Team GB play last night, I am beyond convinced that Stuart Pearce is a below average coach. What he tried to do with the team was obvious enough and good on him for trying, but he failed himself by trying to force square pegs in round holes – by using players not ideally suited to the role. First mistake.

Also, it was clear that he and his coaching team knew nothing about the Senegalese team. Second mistake.

Third mistake is using Daniel Sturridge as point man. As good as Sturridge is, his game currently makes him no point man. He is too selfish and team unaware to be a point man. Better coaches at Chelsea realised this and stuck him on the right. In fact he lost his place at Chelsea when team play became main strategy.

Pearce is trying to get his team to play a high technical game. The technicality of most of the players he selected are not a high as the game he wants them to play. The more reason why he should have used them in manners that best suit their natural game.

Danny Rose plays better as a left-back that ghosts into attack catching his opponents unaware with his pace. By sticking him in left midfield, he lost the element of surprise his pace gave him and was almost violently marked out of the game. One of the players Pearce has that understands the kind of game he wants his team to play is Scott Sinclair. He was Swansea’s topman last season in the EPL. Scott and Rose on the left would cause havoc for any team. In fact this fact was displayed when TeamGB played Brazil before the Olympics started. How Pearce arrived at the decision that Rose was better than Scott in that role is beyond belief especially if one considers that Sinclair did it week in week out in the EPL for Swansea and Rose barely got game time for his club Spurs.

Pearce does not know more about football than Sir Alex Ferguson. If Pearce had studied the Senegalese then he would have realised that Giggs was never going to be a match for the physicality the Senegalese brought to the table. Giggs, besides the free kick for TeamGB’s goal, did nothing in the game. He consistently played passes that were too short to his team mates, most glaring the one that led to Bellamy almost losing his legs from a bad short pass and a savage tackle by the Senegalese left back. Giggs should be used as an impact substitute. Playing 90mins at full pressure is beyond his legs now, sadly.

If Pearce hopes to revitalise the chances of TeamGB – Men’s football, then he needs to change his team selection.

GK- Butland, LB- Rose, CB – Caulker, CB- Richards, RB- Bertrand, MF- Cleverley, MF- Allen, MF- Ramsey, FW- Sinclair, FW- Bellamy, FW- Sturridge.

Bellamy should be used as the point man. He has the experience, pace and skill to trouble any centre back pairing in the world. Bellamy also possesses the touch and temperament to bring other players into the game and be a team player. If Sturridge must be used, he should be stuck right where he starred for Chelsea at the beginning of last season. Pearce should stop with the blind faith of using Sturridge as the leading striker.

Team GB – Men Football – 27/07/2012

Citeh – 14/05/2012

Congratulations to City. Like SAF said, whoever wins the league deserves it. I just hope United and the Glazers can rise to the challenge. SAF will need to improve his coaching set-up which is as important as recruiting the right players.

Thank God for the Euros and Olympics, otherwise it would have been a very boring summer.

Citeh – 14/05/2012

Aside – 10/05/2012

What next for Manchester United?

I can’t believe I’m about to say this. I don’t actually mind the noisy neighbours winning the league!!!  I am not happy about it, but I can tolerate it for the greater good. Please before you crucify me, hear me out. I have my reasons, you may deem them illogical, but hear me out.

It is no secret that Manchester United has been punching above its weight for the last two seasons. Whilst football pundits sometime talk a lot of tosh, most genuine Man United fans know that the team in the last two years have been the poorest within the last decade – even the 2005-06 team won the League Cup. If we don’t win the league this season, it will be our poorest return in say 20years! I know we got to the final of the champions league last season, losing expectedly to Barcelona, but that really wasn’t due to the brilliance of the teams’ play but more of the winning mentality of SAF and his steely determination not to give up. Similarly this season, his determination and the poor fight put up by the usual suspects is what has left United with a mathematical but improbable chance of still winning the league. Only City put up a fight and were shoe-in to win until the brief exchange of capitulation by both teams resulted into City being in pole position to clinch the title, their first and hopefully last in 44years.

What went wrong with United? The 2006 to 2010 Man United teams have been the most technically gifted United teams in the last decade. Right from 2006, one could tell that there was greatness within those teams and that they were going to achieve something significant. In order to understand what made those teams tick and great in comparison to the present team, one needs to consider the set-up at Old Trafford and what differences exists between both teams or eras.  Between 2006 and 2009, United had a lot of technically gifted players in its first team – players such as Ronaldo, Solskjaer, Tevez, Berbatov, Hargreaves, Vidic, a young Scholes and Edwin VDS etc. As the saying goes, iron sharpens iron, these players pushed each other to be better and to the maximum of their potential/ability at the time. But even more importantly, I would hazard a guess and suggest that the presence of Carlos Queiroz within the coaching set-up contributed immensely to the tactical and technical ability of the United team during this period. Or put another way, SAF had a formidable coach as assistant manager. Queiroz was SAF’s assistant in 2002-03 season and from 1 July 2004 to 11 July 2008. In contrast, the 2010 – 2012 team and coaching set-up, SAF failed to replace the key members of the 06-10 teams or where he replaced them, he failed to replace them with players with similar technical skill. That in itself isn’t all that was less than ideal but SAF also failed to replace Carlos. Whilst Mike Phelan is a good coach, he is no better than Carlos Queiroz. The older SAF got, the more authority (rightfully) he delegated to his subordinates. It was his delegation to Carlos that led to the spat with then captain Roy Keane with Keane expressing his disapproval of Carlos’ apparent power and control over team matters and tactics which in turn led to the sacking of Roy Keane as a Manchester United player and captain. I believe SAF will have given Mike the same authority he gave to Carlos. But Mike Phelan isn’t as good as Carlos Queiroz, this much is apparent. This coaching oversight or gap, in my opinion, is the major failing within the footballing staff at Manchester United.

The team has deteriorated technically overtime. The way they were taken apart by Athletic Bilbao, their struggle against Otel Gulati, Basel and Benfica this season was testament to that. United’s failing in Europe where football is played technically and tactically was painful to watch. They’ve struggled in tactical matches against technical teams in the last couple of seasons. SAF needs to either get more involved in the coaching of the first team or appoint a better technically gifted coach to assist him. This may unfortunately de-motivate Mike, but it is for the greater good of Manchester United and these sorts of decisions must be made. It is akin to letting Paul Ince, Jaap Stam go and replacing them with equally gifted young starts with significant upside for growth given experience subsequently acquired. Carlos Queiroz is currently the manager of Iran’s national football team. I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to receive a call from Sir Alex Ferguson.

Decisions decisions…

Some really tough decisions need to be made this summer. If United somehow win the league, I fear that these decisions may not be made. This is why I said in my opening paragraph that I don’t mind someone else other than United winning the league this season. Of course I wish it wasn’t the noisy neighbours that’ll win it, but that perhaps it may be a blessing in disguise as it will be the biggest of wake-up call needed by SAF and will be good for the long-term. Sheikh Mansour can’t keep spending £1bn every 2 to 3 years, FFP won’t let him.

I believe the following players must leave OT this summer: JS Park, Michael Owen, Dimitar Berbatov, Kiko Macheda, Richie DaLaet, Anderson Oliveira, Ezekiel Fryers (loan), William Keane (loan), Michael Keane (loan), Fabio (loan), Davide Petrucci (loan), Tomas Kuszczak, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Whilst Scholes did really well for the team in the second half of this season, same cannot be said of Giggs. Besides their great contribution over the years, the real question should be‘will they have the legs to deliver similar next season’? Giggs will be 39 this year and Scholes 38. They will need to compete effectively and deliver against players such as David Silva, Yaya Toure, Adam Johnson, Podolski, Gareth Bale, Luca Modric, Juan Mata and a host of others (equally gifted) yet to be bought by our rivals next season. Are these two the players United will depend on to regain the premiership? Their continued presence in the team will only serve as a stumbling block to the younger gifted players coming through. SAF must make the objective decision of letting Giggs and Scholes go this summer and not the emotional decision of keeping them for one more season. At various times this, season SAF made emotional substitutions especially in relation to Giggs, as there were a few matches Giggs should not have started nor played in and certainly not when Scholesy’s old legs were still on the pitch. Their experiences are irreplaceable, yet their legs can no longer deliver. They’ve been faithful servants, yet they must go when the ovation and appreciation for their talent is loudest so as to preserve their legendary statuses.

SAF should consider getting these players (age) as replacement: Aly Cissokho (24), Shinji Kagawa (23), Eden Hazard (21), Neven Subotic (23), Javi Martinez (23) and Fernando Llorente (27). In addition SAF must do all he can to ensure United hold on to Paul Pogba (19) – the kid is definitely the future and the next box-to-box midfielder to rule world football and perhaps rival Yaya Toure for skill and athleticism.

Following on from above, the table below details my preferred 25 man squad for Manchester United next season:

GK

RB

LB

CB

1. David De Gea 4. Rafael 7. Patrice Evra 9. Jonny Evans
2. Anders Lindegaard 5. Chris Smalling 8. Aly Cissokho 10. Nemanja Vidic
3. Ben Amos 6. Phil Jones 11. Neven Subotic

RMF

CMF

DMF

LMF

12. Antonio Valencia 14. Tom Cleverley 18. Michael Carrick 21. Ashley Young
13. Nani 15. Paul Pogba 19. Darren Fletcher
16. Shinji Kagawa 20. Javi Martinez
17. Eden Hazard

FWD

22. Wayne Rooney

23. Danny Welbeck

24. Javier Hernandez

25. Fernando Llorente

Aside – 10/05/2012

Asking the right questions – Part 1 –an oldish post – 10/05/2012

It isn’t easy for me to find something to post about. There are several reasons for this but it is mostly due to laziness and to a lesser extent – finding blogging inspiration at times/places I am unable to write/type. I have to do better though. I have too much opinion on too many things to not blog. Laziness should not be an obstacle anymore – I am a father now and fatherhood is anti-laziness.

Right, what to blog about today? It has to be about Nigeria. A lot has happened in that country this year – most of it disappointing, depressing and disheartening. So disheartening I have stopped following Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Omojuwa, OccupyNigeria, Xeenarh and many other Nigerian news sharing twitter profiles. I had to do this to retain some sort of sanity as news coming out of Nigeria on a daily basis depressed me. It’s been almost a month now since I unfollowed these people and I think I’ve regained some sanity and I’m now able to put a few of my thoughts and opinions down.

Firstly, I must say I am proud of the #occupynigeria movement and protest that kicked off as a result of the removal of fuel subsidy by the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan led Federal Government. Nigerians have been suffering and smiling for far too long and it is high time they rediscovered their passion for their country and self-wellbeing. Whilst the protest that followed the announcement initially focussed on reversing the subsidy removal, it very quickly metamorphosed into being about social justice as Nigerians through social media wildfire connected en masse as the more discerning part of the populace dissected and exposed the waste in the budgets sent by the federal and state governments to their respective law-making arms for approval. Just like most Nigerian’s, I have also been complacent in scrutinising the spending made by the various levels of government and was equally as shocked to discover the amount of wastage and thievery being perpetrated by the FG most especially. Most staggering was the budgeted cN1billion for 2012, –that’s a staggering cN3m per day – for feeding by the presidential family along with that of the vice president’s. To put it in context, it’s an equivalent of c£12,000 daily. What exactly are they planning on eating? Angels? Even the Queen of England wouldn’t spend that much on food for the whole palace – staff inclusive. There are several more thievery and wastage within the budget – most of which have been very kindly highlighted by Mallam Nasir El-Rufai (you can view these on his website http://el-rufai.org/ ).

What I’ve found particularly disturbing is that Ngozi Okwonjo-Iweala (NOI), Coordinating Minister of the Nigerian economy and Minister of Finance ratified this wasteful budget ahead of its presentation to the National Assembly for passage. For someone held in such a high regard and stature, how come she did not voice her disapproval of the wastage and vehemently too? At first, I purred at her target plan – earlier announced – of reducing the total revenue expenditure of the Federal Government’s budget from a humongous 74% to 70% over four years. The reduction of 4% is presumably to be recycled to capital expenditure but will in no way make any in-roads into the gross under-funding of critical infrastructure and much needed economic development. Of course, seeing the kind of budget she must have assented to at the Federal Executive Council meeting that ratified the 2012 Budget puts her meagre target plan in perspective. It is under this pretext that I find the FG’s decision to remove subsidy on fuel unpalatable. Technically, I agree with the removal, but morally and socially I don’t. It doesn’t make sense to me to remove the subsidy without first addressing systemic issues that will negate the impact of any savings from the said subsidy removal. Without resolving these systemic issues – such as government accountability, probity etc, any savings made from the removal of fuel subsidy will simply fall into the same black hole that all previous government expenditures have fallen into.  For example, the FG has been paying for a Hawker 4000XP aircraft to be added to the Presidential fleet, initially budgeted for in 2007 and delivered in 2010 but the FG would have paid another $122m – 2012 inclusive since delivery of the aircraft! Does the plane fly to the moon?

Nigeria and Nigerians are being let down by the very people she is looking up to, to rescue her. Sometimes I wonder if there is any hope for the country if one considers the level of decadence in public accountability, responsibility and probity. It really is a deeply desperate situation. Regardless of how desperate the situation is, one must just simply focus on asking the right questions thereby proffering the right solution. So I am going to write a few posts on attempting, what in my own humble opinion, is the solution(s) to the Nigerian problem.

Asking the right questions – Part 1 –an oldish post – 10/05/2012

Manchester United – A succession conundrum – 08/05/2012

Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson (SAF) turned 70 last December and will have been managing Manchester United for 25 ½ years by the end of the current 2011-12 EPL season. The success he has achieved over that period is second to none and he’s now seen has a father figure for the English premier league – after becoming its most successful manager in history. It is no secret that SAF is closer to the end than the beginning of his stewardship at Old Trafford. The debate of who his successor will be has been raging and a plethora of names have been suggested over the years. As the end edges closer, I thought I should add my own opinion to the debate.

If one considers the astute way – if we ignore the humongous debt – the Glazers have managed Manchester United since their takeover of the club, it is safe to guess in all likelihood that there will be a new manager at Manchester United as early as the 2013-14 season but no later than 2014-15 football season.

From the names that have been dropped in the hat within the last few years, I think only three are realistic candidates by my estimation. I have selected who these realistic three are and will discuss why I think they have a better than average chance of being SAF’s successor. In selecting these three I considered the following yardstick, yardstick’s necessitated by SAF’s incredible success:

  1. Proven man-management skill
  2. Proven technical/tactical skill
  3. Proven ability to develop young talent
  4. Strong relative success
  5. Long-term commitment

In my order of preference, at number:

3.       Jose Mourinho – Jose is a complete maverick. His success in the last 8years can only be rivalled by Pep Guardiola. He is a true winner, winning titles and cup competitions at every club he’s managed. His work at Porto and Chelsea evidences his man-management skills. His players played for him and were willing to die on the pitch for him. He employs several tactics to get his players psychologically ready for matches, sometimes redirecting the limelight or media focus/backlash to himself to shield his players from criticism or scrutiny, especially when they perform below expected standard. Some argue that he hugs the limelight a little bit too much. This probably holds weight if one considers the different spats he had with media in Italy and the political tangles he got himself to at his current club Real Madrid. Currently he seems to be having his way at Real Madrid but at what expense? Whilst he successfully engaged the media in England – using it to his advantage most times, same cannot be said of his relationship with the media in Italy and Spain. Perhaps the favourable relationship he enjoys with British media will work in his favour were he to succeed SAF, this remains to be seen and can only be cautiously accepted as fact as he spent less than 3 years in England before departing Chelsea.

His coaching, technical and tactical skill is exemplary as displayed in every team he has managed. He’s not one to baulk at making substitutions or tough calls within the first 10mins of a match if he thinks it will improve his team’s chances of winning. Until he became manager of Real Madrid, his coaching skill was unquestionable but as losing to Barcelona became a norm, doubts began to creep in, with Madristas voicing their dissent severally after recent defeats. Until very recently, Real had never beaten Barcelona in the league since 2008 and their last win at Camp Nou in April 2012 was the first since 2007. Guardiola seemed to always have the better of him and his players. The several defeats to Barcelona remain the only dent to his perceived excellent technical and tactical skills. It remains to be seen how he’ll fare against them in the post Guardiola era. There is no doubt that Jose is technically and tactically equipped to succeed at Old Trafford. He will however need to not employ his effective football tactic too often if he is to get the backing of Stretford End.

As great a coach Jose has been, his inability to develop and nurture young talent has been a great splotch on his impressive CV. Besides the success he enjoyed at Benfica and Porto, he seems to always rely on ‘buying’ success by splashing out significant sums on big name/established players or on working for chief executives who wouldn’t baulk at splashing the cash. Jose is not known to be one that develops talent. In recent history, the only player he’s had the opportunity to develop into a huge talent is John Mikel Obi. Some argue that he ruined the career of the young Nigerian international and that Obi had the potential to become the “new Patrick Vieira” when he was wrestled by Chelsea away from Old Trafford but that Jose converted a potential never-before-seen box-to-box midfielder into a defensive sideways passer, others argue that au contraire, Mikel has become one of the finest defensive midfielders of his generation – and gave Jose the plaudit for that. The fact that this debate rumbles on suggests that Jose’s ability to nurture and develop young talent remains doubtful. The faithfuls at Old Trafford expect young talent to be nurtured and for great young players to come through the club’s excellent academy, something SAF excelled at during his tenure at Old Trafford. This is clearly a negative in Jose’s possibility of replacing SAF at Old Trafford.

Conclusion – as great a coach and manager Jose is, he comes with a baggage. Drama and sometimes silly antics seem to follow him everywhere he manages. He always wants to set an “us against the world” siege like mentality up at the club he manages. This I do not believe is suitable for a manager of Manchester United. There’s also question about his ability to commit long-term to any club. Jose as spent a maximum of 3years at every club he’s coached at. It is unlikely that the trend will change at Manchester United. Bu his antecedents, I can predict that Jose will probably spend a maximum of 4years at Old Trafford and will then offer himself to be the next England manager after the expiration of Roy Hodgson’s contract, following which he’ll accept to be his native Portugal’s national manager following the end of his contract with England and then call time on his career. Whilst it is unlikely that we will ever see the type of longevity set by SAF again, Manchester United need a manager that will commit at least the next 10years of his career to the club. Jose, in my opinion based on the above is not the man to succeed SAF.

2.      David Moyes – David celebrated 10years as manager of Everton FC in 2012. During that time, he enjoyed some success – qualifying Everton for the European Champions league in 2004-05, Uefa Cup in 2007-08 and leading them to the FA Cup final in 2009. Besides SAF and Arsene Wenger, Moyes is the longest serving club manager in the English Premier League. In modern day football, that is a rarity.   

What David achieved at Everton is worthy of praise and emulation considering the tight budget and financial constrain he had to work with. He couldn’t have achieved these successes without being a good coach and a good man-manager – getting the best out of his lean squad. With his team, you always know what to expect. His team work hard and are always well drilled. Sometimes they play great football too. It is unfortunate that Everton under Moyes never won anything has some football pundits believe they should have won something and that Moyes deserves a trophy for his efforts.

David appears to have a good eye for spotting talent. He has unearthed quite a few during his time at Everton, with the most famous being Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney. This ability to spot talent is directly responsible for the success Everton enjoyed under his continued stewardship as he was able to buy relatively better than average players at a real discount – some of whom (Joleon Lescott, Wayne Rooney, Mikel Arteta etc)he sold on for significant profit. This ability to spot talent and nurture them makes him a serious contender as Sir Alex’s replacement.

Conclusion – On paper, Moyes looks like a shoe-in to replace Sir Alex. He’s proven that he can commit long-term, he’s not fazed by challenges, has some technical skills, a good spotter of talent and that United’s academy will be in good hands were he to become SAF’s successor. However, despite all of his successes at Everton and the above impressive CV, doubts remain about whether he possesses the winning mentality required to win a league or one of the cup competitions. David should have won a cup competition during his time at Everton. He had more than enough opportunities to have done that. For reasons unknown, his team always come up short at the crucial period. His teams’ performances have also been volatile. Sometimes they start strong and finish with a wimper or start really bad and finish strong, they always seem to dip in form for no clear reason. SAF on the other hand had displaced the Old Firm’s stranglehold in Scotland with Aberdeen prior to joining Manchester United and even won European competitions with them – thereby proving he can see a winning run through to the end – the strength of his mental resolve was without doubt. This weak mentality at crucial points is what may deny Moyes this opportunity of succeeding SAF. In my opinion, he comes really close at being the only successor but just falls short.

1.     Josep Guardiola – Pep, as he is mostly referred to has been one of if not the most successful club manager within the last four years as manager of Barcelona FC. Besides being a successful manager, he also had a successful career as a footballer for Barcelona and Spain. Pep is regarded as one of the deep thinkers/philosophers of football. His commitment to the game is completely total. He lets the game consume him – perhaps a bit too much as this in some way contributed to his departure from Barcelona and perhaps the best job in football.

Pep’s man management skill is irrefutable. It can be clearly seen in the way his players love to play for him. Throughout his time as manager of Barcelona – only arguably once did a spat with one of his players (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) get into the public sphere. For a club of the magnitude of Barcelona, that takes some doing as the team is filled with stars at every position on the pitch. Of course some of these stars owe their stardom to Pep as he exposed them to the world and coached them to be world beaters. The real feather in Pep’s cap is his management of arguably one of the greatest if not the greatest ever footballer – Lionel Messi. Pep’s management of Messi also confirms his technical and tactical ability. This is besides his success at improving the total tiki-taka football played by Barcelona to a level never before seen in the world and perhaps beyond its progenitor, Johan Cryuff’s dream. By switching Messi in to the middle as a false nine, Pep unleashed the talent of Messi to the world with very devastating effect.

Prior to becoming the coach of FC Barcelona’s senior team in 2008, Pep was the coach of Barcelona B for one year. He won the B league that year using players such as Pedro, Thiago, Dos Santos, Cuenca, Tello, Adriano, Bojan and a plethora of others – he successfully introduced most of these young starts to the senior team. This supports the fact that Pep appreciates young talent, he knows how to work with young talent, and he knows how to nurture young talent. With Pep himself being a product of Barcelona’s world famous La Masia academy, the academy at Manchester United will be in very capable hands were he to become the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson.

Conclusion – with Pep’s recent announcement of resignation from the Barcelona coaching job effective this summer and then announcing that he was going on a year’s sabbatical from football, it seems the omens are aligned for Pep to take over the mantle as manager of Manchester United. Since I do not believe that a vacancy exists at Old Trafford for at least another two years, Pep can take a full year as sabbatical away from football and use the second year to study the set-up at Old Trafford as well as the likely relationship he can develop with the owners of the historic club. I believe this is a win-win situation for both Pep and Manchester United. Manchester United is already a well set-up club with amazing training facilities, excellent academy, great stadium, great fans and massive history. Pep would find it very easy to settle down at the club as long as he doesn’t mind the weather!!!

 This write-up will be incomplete without mentioning the fact that long-term commitment may be a negative factor in appointing Pep as SAF’s successor. By spending just four years as coach of Barcelona, some will rightfully suggest that Manchester United need someone that can stand the heat and for longer. Pep’s case isn’t helped by the fact that his predecessor would have spent 27years as boss of Old Trafford – longevity that helped cement Manchester United as one of the greatest if not the greatest football club in the world.

As I cannot predict how long Pep may stay at Old Trafford were he to accept the job, I think I may just have the solution. The Glazers can ask Pep to pick Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as his assistant. Ole is already proving himself to be a one-to-look-out-for manager in the future by winning the Norwegian league in his first season as manager of Molde FC. Ole always had technical ability. It was this ability that made him a game changer every time he came on as a sub for Manchester United. By appointing Ole has Pep’s assistant, the club can guarantee at least 10years of stable club management should Pep depart Old Trafford after spending similar number of years like he did at Barcelona. It will also make for a smooth transition of managers, something that will be almost unavoidable in appointing SAF’s successor.

So there you go, Josep Guardiola plus Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be the new team at the head of Manchester United. I believe this to be the best outcome for Manchester United.

Manchester United – A succession conundrum – 08/05/2012

City vs United – 01/05/2012

To say I was disappointed with the way Man United played yesterday is an understatement. It was really disheartening to watch. United played hopelessly all over the pitch and were well beaten by a team that showed hunger, tenacity and desire – all characteristics previously ascribed to United teams of old.

United recorded no shot on target for the whole game. A game they had to get something out of to win a record 20th title. Like they’ve done all season at pressured games, they bottled it – yet again. Again, not only did the players bottle it, but the coaching staff as well – yes, Sir Alex Fergusson (SAF) bottled it and set his team up to go for a draw. By starting with Nani on the right, it showed that SAF had looked at the City team and considered their weakest point in defence. Nani, in recent games had had the better of Gael Clichy – so it made sense to set them against each other. SAF should also have looked at his team to ascertain which players, for whatever reason didn’t play well together this season, especially in crunch games. He should have looked at the weaknesses within the United team that could be explored by City. On the evidence that played out before all last night, it was clear he didn’t appraise his team in the same breadth he did City.

There are not many games both Scholes and Giggs started that ended being a win for United in the league this season. There have been eight games they’ve both been involved in. United won six out of those eight, they started in 3 out of those eight together, winning two and losing one. In the other games one started and the other was on the subs bench with Scholes enjoying more playing minutes than Giggs overall. This showed that for some reason, not starting both in the same game worked better for United – and for good reason – as the team can retain both players’ valuable experience when one is substituted out of the game. This approach had worked wonders to put United in with a great chance of winning the league title.

For some reason, SAF decided to go against this convention. First tactical mistake. Hunger trounced experience. SAF should have gone for players that had the hunger (as much as City’s players), will and legs to win. City have only one driving force – hunger to defeat United and take back the destiny of the league title in their own hands. SAF should have matched them hunger for hunger. Whilst Scholes and Giggs may have arguably had the hunger and will to win, they definitely don’t have the legs to effect such desire considering the opposition they were up against. Second tactical mistake. JS Park had not started a game for United in the league for close to three months. Whilst his talent is open for all to see, putting him up against Yaya Toure – a player in form and athletic, was always going to be a gamble lost. Physically JS Park was no match, form wise, he already lost before the game began.

SAF, if he wanted to spring a tactical surprise, should have gone for Valencia in the middle behind Rooney so as to counter Yaya Toure’s athleticism. Going with a European away game 4-5-1 formation I thought was right, but he used the wrong players. SAF should have gone with this line-up:
De Gea

Jones            Smalling              Ferdinand             Evra

Nani             Carrick                 Scholes                 Young

Valencia
Rooney

For weeks Valencia had been United’s best player. He was the player in form, and United’s most athletic. He should have been used to counter Yaya Toure. As gifted as Giggs is, he was never going to be a match for Zabaleta’s energy and industry. Some may argue that Scholes and Giggs cover as much ground as other City players, but coverage isn’t really the crux of the matter, but the effectiveness of such coverage. Yaya Toure single-handedly dominated Scholes, Carrick and JS Park – but was that a surprise? Was it unexpected? I argue not. None out of those 3 United players had the athleticism to cope with Yaya. A lot of United fans took inspiration from the 3-2 FA Cup win United had at City’s stadium but they forgot that City played most of that match with 10 men and had the game gone on for 5 more mins, United would have either drawn or lost that game – City against United this season had always had the better of their celebrated neighbours.

It was really disheartening to watch United set-up and playing for a draw. I know SAF will disagree that he set his team up for a draw, but that was the reality of it.

I had limited hopes prior to the game of getting anything from it. But I still expected that if we were going to lose, we should lose with our identity intact, playing the United way. We failed to do that, and that is what pains the more. Not the loss, not even the probability that City may now win the league.

City vs United – 01/05/2012