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United Draw & Start A Blame Game!

 Posted by on January 21, 2013 at 6:04 pm  European Champions League
Jan 212013

Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Manchester United
The secret, they say, is to contain Gareth Bale and Moussa Dembele. Sounds good. Contain those two, every so-called pundit and expert insists and you’ve got the same old weak-willed bunch of North London sob sisters. What every one hadn’t counted on, however, distracted by the obnoxious desire for attention of the club’s Mephistophilean Spiv Chairman Daniel Levy. is that the club has finally hired a brilliant manager in Andres Villas-Boas. Late in the game, with an exhausted Manchester United team no longer able to control the match’s tempo, Sir Alex Ferguson gambled on playing rope-a-dope from the 80th minute on. Knowing exactly what Dembele and Bale do is intellectually do is one thing, dealing with it in practice is something else again. Left to his own devices, Aaron Lennon is the most predictable overrated winger in the Premier League. Carefully marked, he has been little but an ooh-ah distraction against the likes of Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers for years. One on one in a foot race with the stubborn Peter-Panish Patrice Evra, Lennon got his own bit of pay back for at least seven seasons of getting his head handed to him, by rubbing the faded French left back’s nose in a giant pile of poo for final thirteen minutes.

For those who appreciate footie ironies, both started playing in the Premier League in January 2006. Lennon, eighteen at the time, one of Levy’s usurious bargain purchases from the diseased bankrupt body of Leeds United and Evra from Monaco as a replacement at left back for the brilliant, but constantly injured Gabriel Heinze. In combat for six seasons, it was never any contest. The contest for fastest but least brightest between Jermaine Jenas, Jerome Thomas, Aaron Lennon, Matty Etherington, Ashley Young. Theo Walcott and Lennon was always won by the spring-heeled latter. Despite the onset of early senility in many athletes, however, Evra at the age of 31, has finally been gobsmacked by the vicissitudes of time and fate. As the French say, “Cette fille sexy et jeune est maintenant une grosse, négligée femme au foyer!” *A team-player of the first order, a hard worker, and a real gentleman, Paddy is much loved by the fans, the Gaffer and most of his teammates. Unfortunately, although he still succeeds with many aspects of his attacking game, including his admirable leapimg ability for corners, his legs have gone. When you can no longer run with a player who has no more to his game than speed and step-overs, the end is no nigh. The prospect of him facing the combined switcheroo antics of Angel DiMaria, Mesut Ozil and CR7 has me reaching for my trusty bottle of Johnny Walker Black.

Consequently, United exposed themselves to the cruelty of a late late dagger into its tubercular defensive underbelly, when United’s thus-far heroic goalie, a partially blocked David De Gea weakly punched a cross towards Lennon and Evra. The speedy little Yorkshire pocket rocket, simply had to skip around the knackered veteran before tapping the ball into Clint Dempsey’s path. Poor David De Gea, awesome all afternoon, was totally exposed as the whole back line, petrified of Gareth Bale shifted right with the Welshman and the ‘Texacutioner,’ despite being utterly, toothless throughout the rest of the match was there on the spot to spare his club defeat and destroy United’s seven point lead over the Abu Dhabian rent boys of Manchester City.

Sir Alex Ferguson may have barked at the officials and the press about the dreadful refereeing of Chris Foy and his awful assistant Simon Beck, but it just seemed to be more of the same of what the fiery old Scot. always does after tight draws and losses. Doubtless United did deserve the penalty call they did not get when Steven Caulker blatantly upended Wayne Rooney to the turf in the penalty box in the 61st minute. The truth is, however, that despite often being surprisingly imperious in midfield and deserving a one goal lead from a superb Robin Van Persie effort in the 25th minute, United just did not take advantage of the scores of counterattacking breaks they had in both halves. In spite of the incompetence of Chris Foyle, United should have been leading by three or four goals, so dominant and brilliant was their counterattacking play. Unfortunately, chance after chance was squandered. For me, however, despite the dreadful ineptitude of Evra, this was the best team performance by Manchester united this season. If the team’s major weakness on the left flank can be solved, however, the big picture is much improved for the club.

Of course, the obvious will hold true if you look at Spurs’ statistics,. The north Londoners controlled possession for close to 60% of their home match, but their finishing was so repeatedly, inexcusably dreadful United always looked the more likely to get a second throughout. With David De Gea pulling off three fantastic saves from Defoe, Bale and Lennon, and Emanuel Adebayor off playing for Togo in South Africa, striker Jermain Defoe simply never seemed truly up to the task against Rio Ferdinand. After what was probably his worst display ever in a United shirt in the 3-2 loss to Tottenham at Old Trafford in September, the Peckham Kid has learned to keep his perimeter tight of late and the proximity of a fit Nemanja Vidic didn’t hurt, either. The way Ferdinand has adjusted to doing less better of late ought to have been both a lesson and a warning to Patrice Evra, but the Frenchman has not yet adjusted to the cruelties of time.

For one of the few times this season, United played truly well for 80 minutes and were always dangerous. Danny Welbeck, although not much of a scoring threat these days, was a worker bee throughout, and, along with the twinkle-toed Shinji Kagawa, who was in his element in a winger-less midfield next to a frolicsome Tom Cleverley and a marvelous Michael Carrick who, although he always plays well against his old club, seems to be at a career high level of confidence.
And just how good is Robin van Persie? RVP’s 22nd goal of the season midway through the first half was a little bit of burglary out of Mission Impossible. After Kagawa picked the ball up in midfield, he pushed it to Carrick’s path. Carrick hit an exquisite cherry to Danny Welbeck on his left and the young Manc striker cut inside, seemed to dither a moment about taking a shot, before cleverly locating Cleverley. Just how Cleverley’s cross was found by the flying Dutchman, who was double marked by both Dawson and Caulker, managed to get to the ball is a miracle us mortals can contemplate upon. Once the cross reached Van Persie there was an inevitability about where it would finish. Shrugging the Spurs center backs aside, Van Persie headed the ball home. He now has 10 goals in his last 10 league matches.

Just how well both teams performed is the snow is to their credit as professionals. The pitch was only passed fit for play an hour before kickoff. Two of the more amusing sights on the sidelines were Spurs’ boss Andres Villas Boas, swathed in blankets, attempting to remain warm and still and Sir Alex Ferguson, so absorbed in the game’s second half, that he didn’t notice his woolly club tam was then wrong way round on his head.

Meanwhile, after the inevitable post-mortem on the match. Super Gary Neville


*That sexy young girl is now a fat housewife!”

Jan 142013

Manchester United 2 -1 Liverpool
Michael Carrick Mancheste 008 Carrick Has a Career Day at the Expense of the Scousers!Victors by the hairs of their chinny-chin-chins, Manchester United kept their fans hanging on and praying to the football Gods until the very last second of injury-time on the watch of football’s real King of Showbiz, referee Howard Webb. Nevertheless, at the end of the match, United had retained their ten point lead over champions Manchester City and 24 points over their savage Scouser nemeses Liverpool F.C. Goals from Robin van Persie and Nemanja Vidic proved just enough to keep the advantage after a fight back over the game’s last thirty minutes led by their brand-new striker, substitute Daniel Sturridge.

Yet despite decades of rancor, gamesmanship and flying handbags between both teams players and supporters, the two managers, Sir Alex Ferguson and Brendan Rodgers kept their troops on a short leash. Indeed, the red Scousers were shockingly passive throughout a first half as United pressed them tight in midfield and Michael Carrick, freed up by the clever running bursts of both Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa, waited patiently for passing lanes to open up. Then, nineteen minutes in, with the ball buzzing around Liverpool’s box, Carrick, Kagawa, an energetic Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, threw together a flowing sequence of one-touch passes before feeding a flying Patrice Evra as he moved at express speed down the lane between the throw-in line and the penalty box, keeping his usual low sense of gravity before firing a low Bangalore-style cross that the predatorial assassin, Robin Van Persie, seized on before giving Daniel Agger the slip and shooting past goalie José Reina.Manchester United v Liverpool Robin van Persi 2885345 1 Carrick Has a Career Day at the Expense of the Scousers!

A flat Liverpool’s response was to barely hang in there. Minutes on, Cleverley was desperately unlucky not to double the lead with a a superb left-footed volley as he picked off a soft spinning header from Joe Allen and was centimeters away from the net. And, later, just before the half time whistle, young Rafael Da Silva dummied Glen Johnson before picking up a pass from Carrick. The little Brazilian tripped, but kept on his feet before passing to Van Persie. The Dutch striker, ever alert as always, had the presence of mind to back heel past Reina. A brilliant block by Martin Skrtel saved the Scousers and then a brave dive from Pepé Reína saved Kagawa’s stinging rebound.

For the second half, Brendan Rodgers added Sturridge to aid a lonely Luis Suárez. Yet, despite Liverpool’s improvement up front, United drew first blood in the 55th minute as Nemanja Vidic headed home yet another beautiful Robin Van Persie free kick after a Skrtel foul floated up to the high-flying Patrice Evra, whose header was touched further toward goal by Vidic as each flirted with the margins of being offside.

Four minutes later, though, there was a game-changer moment as Liverpool’s skipper Steven Gerrard picked off a weak pass by Cleverley, and a flying David De Gea made his first save of the match. All reflex, De Gea could only parry the ball away, and Sturridge was on the spot to speed past a flat-footed Rafael and fire home his second Liverpool goal in two appearances since his £12m transfer from Chelsea.

From then on, United fell into a state that verged on the cusp of panic. Meanwhile, it was impossible not to notice a hooded Jose Mourinho animatedly making notes as the tired pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand labored to contain the slippery Luís Suarez. Yet, with the the diligent, but often awkward Danny Welbeck pulled back to support the ebbing center back pairing, the biggest worry was that of anyone in defense committing a stupid foul to the Machiavellian Uruguayan Liverpool striker. Indeed, outside the relentless threat offered by Robin van Persie in Liverpool’s penalty area, Mourinho surely drew lines under the names of Shinji Kagawa, quick-footed and impressive with a very deft touch getting better and better at making connections with Cleverley and the more delicate leadership of Michael Carrick. Yet, just as impressive as United’s central core was behind Van Persie, the Real Madrid manager will have noticed how weak and vulnerable a slowed-down Patrice Evra will be to the shifting flank wizardry of Angel Di Maria and CR7. It doesn’t require the help of a soothsayer to predict that Ronaldo will hone in on Paddy’s weakness like a school yard bully. Although Rafael and Evra played well against Liverpool’s wingers, Raheem Sterling and Stewart Downing, they are about to have their plates overflowing from competition with Spurs’ Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale as an appetizer before the fun games begin in Madrid with DiMaria and Ronaldo.

Despite the danger from Sturridge and Suarez, Liverpool remained  more or less toothless and United deserved their win. There is no substitute for hard work and preparation. Sir Alex Ferguson did his homework on this one, getting his first half tactics dead right. Indeed, although our goalkeeper was savagely criticized by the usual crop of Haters after the match for fisting the ball into the opposition’s path before Sturridge took a goal back, I  thought the young man–with so little to do throughout the match–kept his concentration well and needs to emphasize being in psychological tune with his fellow defenders. It’s called communication! I don’t want to talk too much about Carrick, who was brilliant on the day. This was the position he used to play in for West Ham United and Spurs.  He is not a natural defensive midfielder!

Finally, there are the injuries. Jonny Evans seems to have hurt his right knee during pre-match warm-ups. Ashley Young got on the team bus wearing crutches and Nemanja Vidic did not look happy about his hamstring before being taken off for Chris Smalling.. With Wednesday’s looming F.A.. Cup replay fixture at Old Trafford against West Ham, United look like they won’t be getting any respite for weeks to come.65252501 van persie2 getty Carrick Has a Career Day at the Expense of the Scousers!

Dec 282012

“Fred Karno’s? It was a circus that came around. A working class circus in the Twenties. Any situation that’s vaguely out of control, innit? Any situation which is daft in Manchester.”——–Joan Louiza
64945883 64945882 Fred Karno Lives!Manchester United 3-2 Newcastle United
Yet another comedy of errors at Old Trafford. Having been unable to score against a dogged Swansea city defense last week, fans clearly went into this one worried that United’s defensive back line, who have been playing in an inexplicably bizarre manner that brings together both a nonchalant meekness and a stultifying arrogance, would once again be rescued by its fantastic forward line, which surely couldn’t hiccup in front of goal for more than one game in a row. Over an angina-inducing afternoon of thrills and reverses, during a dog-eat-dog match played in the torrential rain on a soggy pitch, the whole thing came down to a last minute flash of 90th minute brilliance, as Javíer ‘Chicharito’ Hernández, who had squandered at least eight good opportunities from setups of varying degrees of quality, slid in brilliantly to connect with a perfect Michael Carrick pass and fire it past a flailing Tim Krul into the Newcastle net. An emotional moment for fans indeed, but one that had United’s usually reserved and semidetached manager Sir Alex Ferguson so pumped up that he jumped into the open arms of his joyful assistant Mike Phelan to celebrate.

Another goofy aspect of this comedy of errors was the eccentric behavior of the game’s referee Mike Dean. The whistle-happy Dean seemed to be in his element. Inconsistent throughout, turning a blind eye to a number of blatant tackles while penalizing far more ticky-tacky bits of gamesmanship, Dean may have been petty, but he was also absolutely unbiased. His worse bit of meddlesome interference, however, involved his wishy-washy reaction to Newcastle’s second goal when an arguably offside Demba Ba tussled with Jonny Evans, who accidentally pushed the ball into his own goal with the Senegalese striker bearing down on him. Having called the goal offside initially, Dean discussed the matter with two assistants before overruling himself. Additionally, there was a long drawn out unnecessary piece of drama late in the game involving Rio Ferdinand, Fabio Coloccini and Newcastle’s assistant John Carver, which United’s captain Patrice Evra seemed to need to solve while Dean stood explaining himself ad infinitum to the four as if he were a celebrity judge in a talent contest.

With Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck all incapacitated for United and the Magpies’ star midfield of Yohan Cabaye, Jason Guttíerez and Cheik Tioté all out, too, both sides’ benches were bound to be tested.

Just four minute in, a long clumsy attempt at a crossfield pass by Hernández went in the direction of Michael Carrick, who overran the ball, allowing Demba Ba to pick it up. Ba’s shot was easily saved by David De Gea, although for some reason the young Spanish goalkeeper forgot his fundamentals, palming it forward instead of gathering it up or punching the ball sideways. The ball then bounced straight back into the path of a marauding James Perch, who proceeded to hammer home his first ever Premier League goal.

In the 26th minute United equalized as a Robin van Persie free-kick swung in from the right. It was then headed on softly by Ryan Giggs. A panicked Newcastle defense then failed to clear the bobbling ball, before Tim Krul made a hash of gathering up Hernández’s close range shot and Evans threw his body into the six yard boss to force the loose ball in.

Two minutes later, the slapstick was ratcheted up as a Danny Simpson cross was turned in by a panicked Evans as a big Papiss Cisse bore down on him. While the Belfast boy clasped his head in despair, clearly not thinking anything about an offside call, across the field, the referee’s assistant James Collin had raised his flag, doubtless thinking that the last touch of the ball was from an offside Papiss Cissé. Then Dean, surrounded while being verbally harangued by Newcastle players, consulted his assistants and changed his mind to allow the goal after all.

When it was time for the second half, United were first out, playing grinning keepy-uppies as the rain still fell and a furious, ruddy-jowled Sir Alex Ferguson argued animatedly with Dean, Collin, and the fourth official, Neil Swarbrick, still obsessing over Evans’ own goal. When the game finally did begin again, Newcastle seemed slightly deflated when, in the 58th minute, a Van Persie volley was only lightly blocked by Mike Williamson. The ball bounced to Evra–who has a history of blasting the ball wide in such situations–but the Frenchman, possibly having his worst single defensive performance ever in a United kit–fired a perfect left-footed daisy-cutter home to beat Krul and make the score 2-2.

Ten minutes later, as United abandoned all joke attempts at defending null and void for good, they were sucker-punched royally yet again. This time, Gabriel Obertan–formerly hip-hop partner in anarchy with Ravel Morrison and Bebe in United’s bench riding squad–on as a second-half replacement for the Magpies, sprinted down the left wing completely unopposed before gently passing into United’s box for no one in particular. Unattended by Carrick, Evans or Ferdinand–who may well have been discussing their Christmas presents or the new Tarantino movie–Papiss Cissé, free as a bird, took three quick steps before hammering home a left-footed thunderbolt past David De Gea. At that moment, with the Geordie team leading 3-2, the rain temporarily slacked off and the Stretford End faithful sang “You don’t know what you’re doing!” although I’m genuinely not sure who their singing was directed at.

But all that Geordie passion and bravery only remained in ascendence for three thin minutes as an Antonio Valencia pass from the right was dead on the money to Robin Van Persie. Van Persie–who had been United’s Mr. Everything on a night on which everyone was convinced Wayne Rooney would surely be missed, was brilliant, making scores of superb slide rule-passes and repeatedly firing in dangerous, accurate free kicks and corners–had a thumping shot saved by Krul, before collecting the rebound and this time converting to force the score to 3-3.

Seconds later, a Sammy Amoebi shot rebounded off the post into De Gea’s arms. Yet, with ten minutes to go, there were Rio Ferdinand, substitute Nemanja Vidic and temporary right back Chris Smalling all marauding upfield. With baited breath, sensing the kill was coming from one side or the other, United fans breathed a sigh of relief as both Ameobi brothers made a successive hash out of runs down the wing.

The final coup-de-grace, however, came out of an inocuous throw in from Evra to Carrick. when Anita missed making a connection to James Perch, Carrick was in there. Striding forward, the Newcastle-born midfielder let fly with as good a quality slide-rule pass as he’ll ever make. Right into the path of a sprinting Chicharito, who slid into the ball exquisitely, forcing it into the net for the winner.

With Ferguson going nuts on the sidelines, the crowd singing and the clock ticking down, the whistle blew accompanied by a last bit of drama as Vernon Anita made a meal out of a hard. late tackle bestowed upon on him by an unbelievably amped-up Antonio Valencia. Yet, as Anita was being taken off on a stretcher, he rose miraculously and, set down by the bewildered emergency workers, was energetic enough to run and confront a deliriously happy Patrice Evra in mid celebration. It was as crazy a professional football match aas I have ever witnessed and surely, somewhere out there, the ghost of Fred Karno was grinning.
Thanks to the miracle of my trusty Blackberry–the Hummer of cell phones–I was connected to my beloved Aunty Joan as she was attempting to make her exit from the stadium. It had, she informed me, finally quit raining simultaneous to the blowing of the final whistle.

“Craziest game ever,” I said.

“Fred Karno’s got nothing on this!” she said. “I am an elderly woman and I believe they are out to kill me.”

64943730 64943729 Fred Karno Lives!

Sassy Swans Outhustle United!

 Posted by on December 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm  European Champions League
Dec 242012

9cf6b3a8 68f4 4748 ba50 99662eda319e 140 Sassy Swans Outhustle United!Swansea City 1 -1 Manchester United
Manchester United were simply too inept in front of goal to maintain their six-points lead over Manchester City. Well and truly thwarted at the noisy Liberty stadium on Sunday by Swansea’s gutsy, youthful show of commitment. More often than not United looked jaded and bored; their collective lack of commitment against ‘smaller’ teams and lazy dependence on the club’s forward line once again telegraphed like a beacon to each opponent they face

United scored early enough that it seemed to hurt them. After the brilliant Michael Vorm–also returning for the first time after a long injury break of ten games– saved a wicked shot from Ashley Young. But Robin van Persie’s superb corner from the right was in a perfect spot for a high-leaping unmarked Evra, six yards out, to head home his third goal of the season. Yet, Swansea,  who have already beaten Arsenal and clearly view their home as a fortress, were really in a committed mood after two successive defeats. This was a very ironic moment in the game as the Swans, particularly their tough little wingers Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer made life miserable for the way past-it Evra and the positionally challenged Phil Jones, in at right back for the injured Rafael. The clueless Evra, incapable of getting close to either winger, spent the whole half commiting petty fouls on both, slowly chipping away at the good work Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick were trying to do as they had to repeatedly get back and commit to double coverage.

Playing at relentless full tilt for every second of the first half, Swansea also gave a returning Nemanja Vidic, back for almost the first time in a year, much grief. Their converted midfielder of a striker, Michu, tall, sleek and muscular, was the Serbian’s master in the first half. Able to sprint readily past Vidic and repeatedly able to spin around the slow of wit and foot Evans, Michu always looked bound to score. And, 29 minutes in, when David de Gea seemed to have plenty of time to try and smother or punch away a soft effort by Julian De Guzman, Michu was exactly in the the right place to tap home De Gea’s weak attempt to parry the ball and make it 1-1.

Shockingly, when the Welsh hustlers equalized and kept up their pressing game, United simply shut up shop. While Swansea played their pretty passing patterns, United lay back and made only one good attempt at scoring. A weak attempt at a volley by Wayne Rooney that was easily caught by Vorm. Clearly rattled when they left the field, one hoped that Fergie hair dryer time in the dressing room would save the day.

Swansea, clearly tired after their relentless pressing of United in the first half, gave up midfield to United in the second half. Somehow, however, United just could not get it together to muster up the usual moments of magic. Rooney, looking tired and hung over, was just not putting in the crisp no-nonsense passes we’ve become used to of late. And 65 minutes in, United sent on an extra striker in Javíer Hernández. Minutes later, a stupendous reflex left-footer from Van Persie fooled Vorm but clipped the crossbar, allowing the catlike Dutch goalie claw the spinning ball away with the tips of his fingers. This would prove to have been United’s best clear chance of the game and illustrative of what happens on those bad days every team has. Indeed, it is the sixth time a van Persie effort has hit the crossbar this season!

After more chances went begging from Hernandez, Van Persie and Young, Swansea, supposedly the cleanest-playing team in the Premier League, got a more than a little desperate and were very fortunate to get away with a number of vindictive petty fouls. Indeed, things almost took an explosive turn in the 75th minute when an amped- up Ashley Williams deliberately smashed the ball into the back of Robin Van Persie’s head at pointblank range, after the Dutchman had already been fouled on the edge of the penalty area by the outstanding Chico Flores. Flores, who was on a yellow card and had been repeatedly warned by the referee about his bad behavior, definitely dodged a bullet with the help of the crafty Williams. Not surprisingly, Robin Van Persie was outraged and a near riot took place. The referee, the very young James Oliver, who was less than masterly all day, saw fit to solve this little problem by giving both players yellow cards.

At that moment, with Rooney about to be substituted by Giggs, anybody but the out-of-sorts Scouse should have taken a very crucial free kick. Unfortunately Rooney’s halfhearted effort, was casually blocked by Ashley Williams. As Rooney left the field for Giggs, Williams stood there grinning, clearly aware that he had out-hustled, outfoxed and psyched out a vulnerable, psychologically troubled United side in a moment that seemed to be a metaphor for the whole match.

United kept up their relentless attacking, but Vorm, Williams and Chico Flores were all particularly outstanding all the way to the bitter end. It was, all in all, a fine, exciting match. Getting United ready for their next two games over the holidays should indeed be an exciting challenge for Sir Alex Ferguson.

Van Persie Shows Us Why

 Posted by on December 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm  European Champions League
Dec 182012

M a n c h e s t e r U n i t e d 3-1 S u n d e r l a n d
64785285 clev getty Van Persie Shows Us Why

The expensive purchase of Robin Van Persie by Sir Alex Ferguson has been fodder for the pundits for close to six months now. The very idea that United invested 30 millions pounds plus on a player theoretically at the tail end of his prime, not to mention owning a predilection for niggling injuries, was a shock to the system for not only for his cheap, greed-riven old club Arsenal, the media in general, yours truly in particular and millions of United fans throughout the world. Indeed, for the first couple of months I was still in a sort of shocked coma at the very sight of RVP in a United kit. Now I say, How brilliant? What a coup! The very fact that Robin was offered more and ‘better’ deals by the likes of Anzi, Juventus and our hometown nemeses, Manchester City, renders his success all the sweeter. Better yet, for all the nay sayers who insisted that, although he is indeed brilliant, the Dutchman is too self-absorbed a performer to cooperate with an equal force of nature in Wayne Rooney: You are wrong! Thus, not only is Robin Van Persie a brilliant footballer and a shining star of the first order, he is a creature of destiny! He wanted to play for Manchester United! Unlike that greedy little cocaine-snorting comet, Ronaldinho, or Paul Gascoigne, or Alan Shearer, or, lately. Lucas Moura or Eden Hazzard, not to mention the vast inflated ego-driven departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham, football is rarely a sport where there is a true meeting of minds. This late-bloomimg love affair between Sir Alex Ferguson and Robin Van Persie, however, is a thing of beauty and, perhaps–only time will tell–destiny! . This meeting of mind and body between a player in his late prime and a manager on the cusp of old age is absolutely the football story of the year, it seems to me.

Having already scored fifteen goals of his own this season, Van Persie set up the third for Rooney with yet another flash of brilliance on a day when he was transcendant. Indeed, Rooney and Van Persie were both brilliant to the point of untouchability for most of the match. So brilliant, if the truth be told, that two of the best young strikers in the world, Javíer Hernandez and Danny Welbeck sit stewing on the bench. As Sunderland’s overwhelmed manager Martin O’Neill put it: “The two of them are linking up and keeping some excellent players out of the team. No matter how many times you think you’ve covered the space. These players can do something with the ball.”

Not that it was all Van Persie. A much energized Ashley Young seems more comfortable with his ability to make diagonal runs into the box since the well publicized demise of Nani. Well supplied by the eternally tackle-shy Michael Carrick, who much enjoyed the protection offered him by the proximity of Wayne Rooney, United truly glittered for much of the first half. The first dagger to wound the Mackems waset up by a Young run at a blistering pace past a floundering Cuellar, before jinking inside Sebastian Larsson and snaking a cross into the box. With the ball deflecting off the leg of a stretching Johnny O’Shea, Van Persie stepped in to trap the spinning ball and then smash home high past the long reach of a flying Simone Mignolet. This goal was the 1500th scored at Old Trafford under manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Yet another landmark in a glittering career.

Three minutes later, a second goal had a misbegotten Mignolet flailing once again. as a tiny Tom Cleverly, all snake hips and tiptoed balance, was in the box to scoop up a long Carrick pass. Right on the penalty spot, Cleverly leaned low before curling the ball home..

Van Persie was the magician who created the third exquisite goal in the 59th minute. It was made out of nothing. Ashley Young had fired a pass too hard in his direction and the winger had manfully waved a hand in supplication as an apology. But with both Titus Bramble and Carlos Cuellar waiting to see which way the miscreant pass went, the Dutchman was already off to the races. RVP zipped in between them both, hoovered up the ball, took two diagonal steps and slid a soft shoe toward Wayne Rooney who, having sprinted twenty-odd yards was there to tap home his fifth of the season. About as deliriously happy as he’s ever been on the field, lurking one moment next to Michael Carrick and the next in tandem with Van Persie, Rooney exhibits true signs of an effortless grace heretofore unknown.

United mostly called it a day in the second half. Yet, Sunderland, relentlessly driven from the touchline by Martin O’Neil, kept trying. Indeed, early on, James McLean might well have scored after nicking the ball from a lead-footed Rio Ferdinand, but could only shoot straight at an underemployed David De Gea. Later, Evra headed a vicious Stephane Sessegnon shot over the bar. With the Mackems’ looking well worn down. United’s club captain, Nemanja Vidic,made his return in the 57th minute. After three months on the sidelines with a knee injury, it was good to see the Serb’s smilimg face. And only three minutes later, Sunderland got one back as United old-boy Frazier Campbell jumped high at the back post to head home a fine Sessegnon cross from the left.

All in all, it was a fine effort by United. Still,.in the 91st minute, when Wickham tested De Gea after speeding past a flat-footed Vidic, the Gaffer was surely reminded again that his back line is brittle and slow, whether with or without Vidic.

Dec 182012

While some MLS teams who did well are happy with their accomplishments of the season Sporting Kansas City is doing everything to make sure that next year will have even more accomplishments.

First it was the quartet of players being released in Julio Cesar, Cyprian Hedrick, Neven Markovic and Konrad Warzycha, released by waivers. Then it was Korede Aiyegbusi not having his option picked up for 2013.

Roger Espinoza, who made his decision to go on a free transfer to Wigan Athletic of the English Premier League, has been granted a work permit and will be the second player to leave Kansas City for the excitement of England’s top division.

The final exit of players was in defender Michael Harrington who was traded to Portland for allocation money, which can be used to lower the salary cap burden for designated players(hint, hint).

Now for the exciting additions.

First was Josh Gardner, acquired from Montreal Impact for a second round draft pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. He has been much of a journeyman in the North American soccer landscape.  So long as he can do the job on a small salary its a win, win.

US international Benny Feilhaber has joined from New England in exchange fora first round pick in the 2014 draft and second round pick in the 2015 draft. While his time at New England was not the best but with his qualities Feilhaber could work rather well with Graham Zusi.  IF they hit it off then watch out cause there is an added threat in the attack.

Ike Opara, after three seasons with San Jose, joined in return for Sporting KC’s other second round draft pick in the 2013 draft. He is a useful player who could do a useful job for us.

Yann Songo’o has been signed on a free transfer from Spanish third division side Pobla de Mafumet. Little known about this guy but seeing as he has youth caps for Cameroon he cant be that bad.

While it seems like there is a whole lot riding on this season but full steam ahead.

Dec 142012

Review by Ivor Irwin

The Men Who Were the Busby Babes by Tom Clare
D.B. Publishing # ISBN-10: 1780911580
D.B. Publishing # ISBN-13: 978-1780911588
Also available in a Kindle edition.

1780911580.01. SL130 SCLZZZZZZZ The Last Word on the Munich Air Crash, Please!Christmas is here and a lot of bloggers and followers of my Manchester United column are asking me for Christmas present suggestions. Last year I went neutral picking out a couple of marvelous works which considered the life and times of a certain Brian Clough. This year, the subject matter is wont to be , in equal parts, both hallowed ground and, at the same time, something which lends itself to a kitchen’s-sink’s worth of corny cliché and inept hagiography.

The Munich air crash of February, 1958, not only robbed England of a chance of achieving true, sustained greatness in the pantheon of World Cup football, it also temporarily ruined what is now a world power in terms of commercial team sports as both a model of forward planning, success on the field of play and a commercial juggernaut up there with the New York Yankees, F.C. Barcelona, the Dallas Cowboys, Real Madrid, and the Los Angeles Lakers. Indeed, Manchester United F.C.. are so successful and so wealthy that they are hated on a comparative par as Boston Red Sox fans who hate ‘The Damned Yankees,’ (still remembering the pilfering of  a certain Babe Ruth as if it were yesterday) or like locals in vacation spots throughout Europe like Corfu, yet to forget the Nazi German regime of World War Two, and are still unwilling to do more than tolerate the modern wealthy German tourist. As a Manchester United supporter strutting my stuff all over the Americas, Europe and, naturally, the United Kingdom, since 1962, I’ve been called many names: Some witty, some obscene. Only one bothers me. The one which, even at the ripe old age of 59 and a bit past-it in the intimidation and belligerence stakes, has me still seeing red devil red. The one which the Chelsea-loving ‘Irish Mick’ at my favorite watering hole Fado knows will always get my back up and is the stock-in-trade of generations of sour-grapes-addicted  Manchester City and Liverpool F.C.. fans: “Ey, Munich!” they say. And some of them, all loaded up with Dutch courage, spread their arms out, airplane-style and making flying then crashing noises. “F*#*i&g Munichs!” they say.

I won’t describe the obvious. Suffice to say that my wife and kids can’t understand why I still let it bother me. I’m a predictable old elephant, to be sure. At any rate, this trivialization of the air crash which wiped out the best and brightest of my team is only part of the problem. As is the case with other human disasters of all kinds and sizes, whether it be 9/11, the Holocaust, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, slavery, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Hillsborough, the Aberfan mining disaster, the Columbine high school slaughter or the beloved-of-standup-comedians Luby’s massacre, it will be trivialized. It will be trivialized simply because it taken so seriously by industry, history books, museums, books, documentaries and fictionalization. And, of course, this trivialization will be followed by the expected backlash, wherein comedians like Richard Pryor use the N word like a hammer of righteousness. Indeed my dad used to love to tell Nazi concentration camp jokes that were a hoot and shrug if someone said they thought it was in bad taste. But, again, one night years ago, I heard the Manchester City-supporting comedian Bernard Manning tell the cruelest, meanest, vilest joke about Duncan Edwards’ death I’ve ever heard. The plane, he said, had been hijacked by the ex-City goalkeeper, Frank Swift (one of the dead newspaper reporters on board) and deliberately crashed to save English football from doom. I walked out. I didn’t think it was funny then and I still don’t think it’s funny now and I’m certain Bernard Manning is rotting in hell!.

Anyway, I’m ranting. Suffice to say, the world did not need one more book about the Munich air disaster. Indeed, after the 50th anniversary of the crash in 2008, I promised I’d read no more on the subject. Truth be told, never mind Munich, there are so many bad books written by bad hack writers about United and its players, most of them full of corny clichés and the same old photos and tired old stories that, aside from a pair of favorites A Strange Kind of Glory by Eamon Dunphy and Cantona by Philippe Auclair, I usually avoid them. The only reason Tom Clare’s book received the time of day from me is his marvelous presence on the blogs. Domiciled in the giant Texas swamp city of Houston, Tom Clare, a Manc such as I, born in Collyhurst, a retired British army lifer, can be found on the blogs holding forth on all things United. And unlike so many other fair-weather United fans, Tom knows his onions and his history. Born in 1946, a true boomer, he actually remembers the Busby Babes, living and deceased, as a young fan. And, as a young fan of a very young team, coming from a time when footballers often had to work regular Summer jobs to supplement their athletes incomes, Clare, in his book, which is both a history and a memoir, comes off as both a football-crazy awed youth and a sort of mascot contemporary.

Thus, in spite of its awkward title, Tom Clare has written an extraordinary, integrity-laden book that will outlast all the others which came before it. Not only are there a number of new anecdotes, but also a rich backdrop concerning time and place that come from Clare’s lifetime immersion in the subject most of previous writers simply haven’t owned. Indeed, although there are at least sixty-odd books on United’s history, there were few that dared to tell the truth about the dark side of the club until both Harry’s Game and The Lost Babes: Manchester United and the Forgotten Victims of Munich by Jeff Connor came out.

Everybody more or less knows how the great manager Matt Busby and his brilliant assistant, Jimmy Murphy, created in Manchester United an almost invincible team in the 1950s. Having won the F.A. Youth Cup for five consecutive years, they then won the 1955-6 Championship Trophy for the first time since 1909, repeating the feat the next year. Tragedy struck, however, on the sixth of February, 1958, the plane bringing the team home from a European cup tie crashed in Munich after repeatedly and ill-advisedly attempting to take off in the midst of a blizzard. Eight Manchester United players, along with other passengers on the plane died. Britain was collectively devastated as Mark Jones, Liam Whelan, David Pegg, Jeff Bent, England’s captain,, Roger Byrne, the greatest English football player who ever lived, Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor and Eddie Colman were killed. Connor tells his story well. Not only that of the deceased and their families, but also those physically and mentally injured forever in the aftermath. Indeed, the tale of the dead and their families and those of the survivors and their kin is engaging, In the old class and religion riven Britain of the day, the tragedy is rendered emblematic by a club which did not take very good care of care of the families of the dead or the survivors. Many of the surviving members of the team could not play again or were too psychologically damaged to be a success in a ruthless game. Typical was Jackie Blanchflower, terribly injured in the crash, who became a cause célèbre for Britain’s gutter press when he became homeless and was tossed out of the club house very shortly after the accident, receiving virtually no compensation. United, it seemed, although it claimed to be a happy family, was as dysfunctional as most everybody else’s.

Connor’s book chronicles all this and more well. Yet an even bigger shock to the internal body politic of the great flawed mother club was Harry’s Game . The biggest hero of the crash, United’s goalkeeper big Harry Gregg, had carried scores of crash victims out of the plane’s shattered fuselage and saved a lot of lives. Unfortunately, Gregg, a plainspoken man of honor, entered upon a collision-course with one of the people he helped save,  the autocratic Matt Busby. In the months that followed the crash. critical of what he perceived to be the club’s insensitivity toward the Munich’s incident’s victims. Busby tried to be patient from his point of view with rantings of  the rebellious Northern Irishman; but when Gregg became the mouthpiece for a group of players who wanted more money and defended players on other clubs who had been involved in a betting scandal, Gregg was sold away on the cheap. The long term result of this was Gregg’s bittersweet memoir Harry’s Game. A fine read  written in the misbegotten voice of a jilted lover, it, nevertheless, created a backlash against a club which more and more liked  to present itself and its weekly retinue of 65,500 fans at Old Trafford as an ethical, virtuous working-class paragon of the best British ideals of bootstrap improvement and ambition.

A lot has changed since then. For better or worse, my beloved Manchester United is a corporate entity which has shuffled owners, board members and gone to great lengths to alter the club’s image into something more Middle Class, and success-oriented, whether it’s about packing 76,000+ fans a week into its state-of-the -art stadium, selling replica shirts and team souvenirs, keeping up a youth academy, buying some of the world’s best players, having the best manager of any soccer club in the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, who wins championships and trophies on a regular basis. Arguably the richest sports franchise in the world, United are, for better or worse, bigger than life itself!

Thus, into the breach, steps Mr. Tom Clare. Neither a trained journalist, nor a trained academic historian or hack out for a fast buck, Clare has written what I’ll call the Post-Post-Modernist last word on the matter. How marvelous is his ambivalence? Well, how hard is it to see both Busby and his genial genius of an assistant in Jimmy Murphy without loving or hating them?
He could be as hard as bell metal in his dealings with other clubs,
or the legislators of the game, as well as with his own staff. he
was no pushover, as the authorities found out. His standing in
the British queue made him the patriach of his time… Buby
emanated substance, the quality of strength without arrogance.
No man in my experience had the ability to treat you as an equal
while leaving you with the sure knowledge that you were less
than he was…. Players did not fear his wrath, they dreaded his
Clare understands that time and tide are a question of balance. Each of the mini-biographies of players like Byrne, Jones, Colman, Pegg, Taylor, Edwards and Bent all have a deep substance. Nobody more than Jeff Bent, who, although a fine footballer, never quite measured up to the others in the squad. An England international as a youth, Bent might well have had a glittering career elsewhere, rather than being overshadowed as a bit-part player with the Babes. Injury-prone, he just never seemed to quite measure up. Comfortably seated down front, on the Munich flight Bent followed a nervous David Pegg to the back of the plane where Pegg insisted it was was safer. Found dead next to Colman and Pegg, poor Geoff, who had badly wanted to have a baby with his wife, never knew that he had impregnated her only days before the crash. Geoff Bent, like the old blues song, ‘Born Under A Bad Sign.’ ‘If it wasn’t for bad luck/I wouldn’t have no luck at all!”

Some of Clare’s anecdotes are pure spun gold. A practicing Catholic who made the time for prayer at least twice per day, Matt Busby’s assistant of 35 years is nowadays seen as the real paragon of the Busby Babes story. So much so, even the staid BBC made a movie about him last year. Slowly but surely put out to pasture toward the end of career by both his own boss and a bourgeois set of directors who hated  his predilection for profanity, Murphy was a loyal club man to the bitter end. Indeed, although Busby is historically seen as the first of the track suit managers after World War II, it was Murphy who, along with his brilliant lady-killer chief scout, Joe Armstrong, built the academy on and off the field. Cruel and kind in equal parts. Clare best describes him as having “a tongue that could cut teeth.” Yet, in the end, as Clare, says repeatedly, “there is nothing which recognized Jimmy Murphy’s eminent 35 years at the club.” Clichés aside, Clare raids Murphy’s memoir to talk about a game played between Busby’s Liverpool and Murphy’s West Bromwich Albion in 1939 weeks before war (and the end of their careers) began. Murphy recalled passing the red Scousers’ dressing room and hearing the soft lilt of Busby’s Lanark accent. as he signaled for him to come over. “You always need to wear two pairs of shin pads when you play against this chap,”  Busby said. Their on field combat, it seems,was like love at first sight.

Most moving of all is Clare’s empathy for those who were psychologically impaired by the crash. . Bobby Charlton, Bill Foulkes, Denis Violett and Harry Gregg played on. All four prospered, especially Bobby Charlton, although each also claims in his memoirs that they were dogged by constant depression thereafter. Less successful were Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry, each too crippled by the crash to carry on actively in the game. Somewhere in the tragic middle were Albert Scanlon and Kenny Morgans, both of whom played on professionally, but were never the same as athletes. Each seems, in retrospect. to have suffered severe symptoms of what we would now refer to as PTSDA: A kind of survival-guilt-driven urge to underperform. A case in point was witnessed by my own father, Mike, a bouncer at the Cromford Club in the sixties, when he witnessed Kenny burst into tears for no apparent reason and was happy to give a ride home later. There was always something incredibly sad about this lovely man that no one could put their finger on.
How ironic then that, as I was reading this book, Morgans would pass away. Morgans, Clare said was a newcomer to the team in 1958, having displaced, at least temporarily, David Pegg on the wing. Morgans was so good on the ball, not only according to Clare and my Dad, but scores of football pundits that he was on the cusp of being the next Georgie Best or Cristiano Ronaldo. Tragically, Morgans so missed the camaraderie of his deceased teammates (and dreamed of them so often), that he lost his joy in the game, steadily seeing out his career for a number of smaller clubs, a wounded beautiful athlete, no longer capable of true self-expression.

A uniquely gifted author, Tom Clare brings a kind of unique gravitas to his book.


The Cardiac Kids Forever!

 Posted by on December 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm  European Champions League
Dec 122012

Manchester City 2 -3 Manchester United
09pic3 The Cardiac Kids Forever!A very good win of a very fine derby match at the El Etihad. Most surprisingly to his detractors, it was a tactical victory of the first order for Sir Alex Ferguson. Definitely his best bit of strategic business since the departure of Carlos Queiroz. Having attempted to simultaneously be both ultra cautious and cavalier against City’s ebb and floe game of bulk and physically in midfield and lightning quick up front, the Gaffer had genuflected in the aging direction of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes and paid a price for it in a 6-1 one-off loss at Old Trafford and a far more devastating 1-0 loss at the El Etihad..

Robin Van Persie–a Rolls-Royce of a performer Roberto Mancini had desperately wanted to enhance his toybox of expensive rent boys and offered far more to Arsenal for in wages and transfer fees–showed exactly what City’s divaesque manager missed when he chose to join Manchester United for a bargain £24m instead. After a silly foul by Gael Clichy on the edge of the box, Van Persie’s free kick deflected off the weak link in City’s wall, a turning Samir Nasri, wrong-footing goalie Joe Hart to score the winner. Van Persie’s exquisite strike, his fourteenth goal of the season ended the sky-blues year-long 37 match run without a loss at the Etihad since December 2010.

It was as the aging master had said repeatedly over the week leading up to the match, about as important a single win as he’s ever had over a long, glittering career. Alternating this season between a diamond-formation that reminded some of the 2007-08 team minus Mourinho and something more orthodox utilizing wingers, no clear conclusion could be made as to what was going to happen or how Ferguson was going to do it because his back line of defenders has been both repeatedly devastated by injuries and repeatedly found suicidally inept, mostly because center back has never been able to understand the fundamentals of positioning. At any rate, whatever voodoo has been messing with the noggins of Ferguson’s preferred back four of Rafael Da Silva, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra was banished by the simple art of concentration. Easier said than done, of course. City did dominate for the first twenty minutes, but it was more a case of the Red Devils taking their rivals’ measure than ceding dominance.

Instead of sticking to the diamond or the wing game, Fergie let Valencia and Young improvise. And with Mancini clearly seeming to prefer Gareth Barry and Yaya Touré laying back , just in front of their defense, seemingly content to practice the dark arts against the injury-prone Tommy Cleverley and his partner. Michael Carrick, both Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young were both as free as a happy pair of promiscuous courtesans to make short little diagonal runs on and off the wing. The ghost of Cristiano Ronaldo remains, to be sure, but his wise, brilliant less selfish replacement. Robin Van Persie. although less direct in his attacks on goal, poses more panic and endangerment to his opponents.

Yes, United were clearly on the back foot for the first twemty minutes, but slowly Antonio Valencia and the brilliant Rafael on the right-hand side slowly grew in confidence against a lonely Gael Clichy. Having put a bridle on the aging Patrice Evra for the first time this season may actually have been Lord Ferg’s wisest move. The French full back was able to double-clutch and head inside to enhance his own play, rather than worry about backing up an enigmatic Young.

United’s first goal came out of nowhere sixteen minutes in. A gorgeous bit of razzmatazz saw Robin Van Persie chest down an Evra pass while still simultaneously, almost casually, sprinting forward before connecting with the whippet-like Ashley Young. His laser-like pass found an unmarked Rooney, who scuffed his first attempt, but had the presence of mind to recover and hit it awkwardly again past a dumbfounded, double wrong-footed Joe Hart. Thirteen minutes later, Rafael Da Silva, hoovered up a pass from and chipped a lovely pass which, this time, Rooney had no hesitation about surgically slamming it home.

With no quarter being given by either defense, it was difficult to understand why Mancini had picked and persisted with both Samir Nasri and Mario Balotelli. To be sure, both are brilliant on their day and Balotelli had been awesome a year ago at Old Trafford, but this was a genuine derby game allowing no quarter. Indeed, it was only when Carlos Tevez, an ex-United star turn and a fanatic hater of Sir Alex Ferguson, came on for City that the game changed. In these situations, Tevez plays like his hair is on fire. His presence was an absolute necessity because things went collectively awry in the 58th minute as Ashley Young, clearly played onside by an advancing Zabaleta, fired home after a beautiful set up by Van Persie.

Yet the referee, Martin Atkinson disallowed it and then,suddenly the game was back on as Yaya Touré scored, letting loose a low-lying corker through a packed United penalty box after both Tevez and David Silva both had brilliant efforts blocked. United hung in there and the midfield combat was a war of attrition as crunching tackles and off the ball combat were the order of the day. And 79 minutes in, after a fantastic weaving Silva run, the Spaniard stepped inside past Ferdinand’s slow marking and watched in horror as his obtusely angled shot careened off goalkeeper David De Gea’s shoulder onto the bar and out of play.

Exhausted, United’s defense hung in there. But, then, seconds later, Ferguson was fuming on the sidelines, justifiable livid as Kolo Touré, on for the injured Vincent Kompany, blatantly tripped Patrice Evra inside the penalty area and the referee, Martin Atkinson, waved play on. Then, in the 86th minute, when Phil Jones and Evra failed to clear a Tevez corner, Zabaleta fired home between Jones’ legs and just inside the post to send the crowd into paroxysms of emotion and place the game on a 2-2 knife edge.

At them very end, United seemed to have utterly blown it. Then Tevez fouled Da Silva and Van Persie stepped forward to deliver the killer blow.

Much nastiness followed RVP’s winning free kick. Rio Ferdinand had a coin thrown at his eye. All’s well that ends well, and Rio–lucky not have been hit in the cornea–still took a masochistic macho pleasure in walking over to the United fans as rivulets of his own blood glimmered down his face. It was soon after this moment of fist-pounding bravado that an enraged City fan invaded the pitch and had his way blocked by an equally irritated Joe Hart. The game’s the thing, they say, but the big games United have been playing against rivals Liverpool and Arsenal have long been mostly disappointments. Yet this season has been special, a 3-2 victory over Chelsea wa sa definitely surpassed by this wee masterpiece. Consider the final whistle, as Carlos Tevez and Sir Alex Ferguson baited one another. Tevez, a/k/a ‘The Trier’ to Sir Alex Ferguson, walked away and, instead of joining City’s defensive wall, spent the next few minutes screaming insults at the Gaffer and Mike Phelan. Why Tevez wasn’t in the wall is one question City fans ought to ask. Gareth Barry clearly heard screaming obscenities at Roberto Mancini,

Mentioning David De Gea is apt, too! The Spaniard may still not successfully communicate with his back four colleagues too well, but his work in the air was commendable and much improved. With those superb reflexes and the confidence in taking chances (even though he clearly gets it wrong sometimes) De Gea is a far superior talent to a a repeatedly dither-prone Joe Hart.

Last, but not least, Manchester United played with pride and discipline. Win or lose, this is all I dare ask for! Still my Cardiac Kids, they have left us all a big one for the memory banks.09pic6 The Cardiac Kids Forever!