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Giving Thanks To Liverpool Football Club

 Posted by on November 12, 2013 at 9:17 pm  Blogs/Media, England, EPL, Liverpool
Nov 122013

For those of you from outside the US, we have a holiday at the November known as Thanksgiving. We get together with family and pretend to be grateful for all the good things in our lives right before stuffing over faces full of food. It is American Excess at its finest.

I participate every year, so I have no room to talk but I would in all honesty like to take a moment to count my blessings as a Liverpool fan. A quick look at the calendar and the EPL table will show that it is November 12, 2013 and Liverpool currently occupy second place. Reds fans can thank a number of people/things for this and I would like to do so in no particular order.

Glen Johnson

Fullback (Left/Right back) might be the most thankless position on a football field. Even in the midst of a data-driven revolution in the sport, it is incredibly difficult to evaluate and quantify the value of a good left/right back. It would seem the only way to do so is to watch how a team plays with and without a particular fullback.

Two weeks ago we saw Jon Flanagan get a last minute start in place of an ill Glen Johnson. The youngster held his own against the best team in England so far this season. But there seemed to be something missing from the right back spot going forward. Liverpool had trouble maintaining possession in the attacking third. This past Saturday Johnson returned to the starting lineup (albeit against a lousy Fulham side) and showed us just how valuable he is. He was constantly stringing passes together with the forwards and the midfielders and helped Liverpool maintain their high backline. He did exactly what a fullback needs to do in Brendan Rodgers system: kept possession in the attacking third and delivered some effective crosses. Even if you look across the field at Aly Cissokho/Jose Enrique, you won’t find the same efficiency and reliability you get with a healthy, fit Glen Johnson.

Luis Suarez

This one is pretty obvious. There isn’t much to be said about the Uruguayan international that hasn’t already been said. He doesn’t just score at an incredibly efficient rate, he does it with a hint of the spectacular. For all the (legitimate) complaints about his tendency to go down easily in the penalty area, he actually tends to work tirelessly, chasing the ball around and making deadly runs in and out of the box. Keeping Suarez should be the team’s No.1 priority in January. We saw Suarez’s new strike partner Daniel Sturridge get visibly frustrated and force the issue way too often against Fulham because he was so concerned with getting a goal of his own. If Suarez leaves and Sturridge has to be relied upon even more for goals, things could go downhill in a hurry.

Lucas Leiva

Despite their success so far this season, Liverpool’s central midfield has been exposed. Steven Gerrard continues to get older and slower while Jordan Henderson works hard but fails to impact the game in big moments. The blond Brazilian has been the only line of defense between the back four and the midfield. Lucas’s work rate as a holding midfielder has helped Liverpool preserve a lot of wins this season and they’ll need more of the same from him in the second half of the season if they’re going to hold a Top 4 spot.

The Schedule Makers

Liverpool have only played three of the current top eight teams in the table and those games have been spread out very nicely. They need to continue to take advantage of their games against lesser competition because there is a 14 day stretch coming in December that will feature games against Tottenham, Manchester City, and Chelsea; all of three of which are away from home.

Sir Alex Ferguson

The recently retired Manchester United boss hasn’t had many nice things to say about Steven Gerrard lately, but his departure from Old Trafford has had a ripple effect across the Premier League. Teams (and referees) are no longer terrified of the Red Devils and as a result we have a wide open title race.


If Liverpool can’t win the whole thing, I’ll be pulling for Arsenal. They’ve been a ton of fun to watch this season and it’s nice to see someone not named Manchester or Chelsea running away with the league so easily.


May 222013

West Bromwich Albion 5-5 Manchester United
Jenkins Arsenal West Brom 004 A Crazy Goodbye At the Hawthorns!It wasn’t so much a Premier League football match as a circus. Before it began West Brom and Manchester United formed a guard of honor for the legendary Gaffer of Gaffers, Sir Alex Ferguson, as he beamed and bowed to all and sundry before kickoff. Yet by the time he tried in vain to scurry away from the pitch, close to two hours later, his face was like a traffic light. Boxed in by a scrum of journos and security personnel, there was an almost soporific expression of feigned relief on his sharp, old ruddy Celt face. How he psyched himself into giving the crowd a cheeky wink and a smile along with a final wave is beyond this witness. I doubt if he saw a white light at the end of the Hawthorns’ tunnel, but having lasted over 1500 United games, this last goofy, testimonial-style kick about must have almost blown his mind. Even for Him, the grand ringmaster, the last of his redundant kind in the neo-corporate world of professional football, this last bow must have seemed like waking up in the midst of a Fellini movie. When Ferguson took a warmly-received bow before kickoff, he exuded an aura of sublime majesty and paterfamilias. What followed was bound to be anticlimactic

Mostly disinterested at the beginning of the game, the Baggies were like a brood of wealthy kids invited to their über, hip big, brother’s birthday party. There, but only barely so, hoping for cake and watching United run around, they might as well have been in the crowd. United went ahead after six minutes as the all-action Shinji Kagawa nodded home a Hernández cross after he was the recipient of an exquisite diagonal seeing-eye pass from Alex Büttner. Three minutes on, they had a second goal as a panicked Jonas Olsson mistakenly diverted a dipping Valencia pass past United’s old mistake-prone goalkeeper, Ben Foster. What might have been going on in the head of Foster is interesting to conjecture upon because of the utter disaster which happened to United’s reserve goalie Anders Lindergaard in the second half. A custodian’s life, it seems, is a lonely one!

Excited by the first two goals, the old Scot barely reacted at all to marauding left back Alex Büttner’s 30th-minute Bangalore-style rocket of a goal from an obtuse angle after some fine setup work by Chicharito and Tom Cleverley. But then, three up, United collectively went to sleep. You can get a lot done in fifteen minutes or, conversely, not done at all. It was as if Carrick, Cleverley, Anderson, et al, decided to take a couple of conference calls to deal with their brokers and make Summer vacation plans before facing the old man in the dressing room for the last time. Consequently, the Baggies reduced the deficit before half-time after a fine shimmying run saw James Morrison ease past a casual Phil Jones before sort of accidentally/on purpose steering home a shot that looked like a cross from the right.

For the second half, however, Albion’s dour coach, Stevie Clarke, did what he should have done earlier, bring on Romelo Lukaku to play his last game in Brum as a loanee. Jonny Evans–the supposed Derry Hard Man–was true to form up against Lukaku as he is when the opponent is Kenwyne Jones, Carlton Cole, Marlon Harewood, Nile Ranger or Shola Ameobi. The Gaffer’s sentimental second-favorite after Darren Fletcher, Evans can do no wrong in Fergie’s eyes and so became, once again, completely persona non grata on the pitch. The reason Ferguson allowed Gerard Pique return to Barcelona, Evans ought to have acknowledged his own limitations, walked away and sat down next to Nemanja Vidic on the bench Instead, it only took five minutes for Evans to be reduced to a wreck, backing off on an advancing Lukaku until he was blocking off the sight-line of Lindegaard and it was child’s play for the Belgian-born Congolese striker to fire casually home.

Yet United were still totally, casually in control as both Robin van Persie and Hernández squandered sitters from six yards out. And Hernandez was set up for yet another goal by Giggs after a sweet jinking run through the Baggies’ keystone kops defense. Yet Chicharito deferred to the retiring Paul Scholes, whose timing was at least two seconds off as he stumbled and shinned the ball softly to Foster. Scholes then had a little bit of the kind of fun we expect of him when he unleashed a copyright Ginger Prince-style late tackle on Claudio Yacob. Still, there was relief on the horizon as Robin van Persie scored his 26th league goal of the campaign, after a slide-rule cross by Valencia to make it 4-2. And it to all be over in the 63rd minute when the tireless Hernandez added a fifth, cleverly steering home a Ryan Giggs cross.

It was then that United got sincerely rattled as Lukaku picked up a long ball from Malumbu and headed at speed toward Evans. While Jones and Lindegaard screamed at Evans to retreat no more, the ball was already soaring into a shuddering net. And then with a poker-faced Ferguson fuming from the bench, Mulumbu played a nice double one-two with Billy Jones. before firing home in the 81st minute to make it 5-4.

Too little too late as, for his last act as a manager ever, the dark Lord Ferg brought on Rio Ferdinand for Evans. Yet by now, Lukaku was burning hot and ratcheting up what was by now every United fan’s fear. Undeniable, Lukaku grabbed his hat-trick, his seventeenth goal of the season, completing his hat-trick after muscling his way through Jones and Ferdinand during a goal mouth scramble four minutes from time. Indeed, instead of bemoaning United’s porous defense., my instincts cried out that, if Wayne Ronny wants to leave so badly for Chelsea, that this Lukaku kid thrown into a partial swap deal along with Ramires and a healthy chunk of Abramovich cash.

At any rate, despite this crazy draw at The Hawthorns, United finished their season eleven points ahead of Premier League runners-up Manchester City. Unbelievably, it has been a total of 10,000 days since Alex Ferguson’s first match as the manager of Manchester United, a 2-0 defeat against Oxford United. Winning a championship in his final season will go a long way toward comforting him for failing to pick up a third European Champions club. Nevertheless, the Gaffer and the Ginger Prince will always be missed. I even salute Michael Owen after his much quieter last gasp and retirement at Stoke City. Adieu! Adieu! To you and you and you!
Jenkins Arsenal West Brom 007 A Crazy Goodbye At the Hawthorns!

May 142013

Manchester United 2-1 Swansea City
Sir Alex Ferguson 004 There’ll Never Be Another His Like: Goodbye Sir Alex!It was a lovely day at Old Trafford as the faithful gathered to celebrate the momentous retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and Paul Scholes and a 20th club championship. The genteel crowd was loud without being raucous and everybody seemed to have brought a banner to wave in lieu of becoming too drunk with passion on an obviously emotional night. Indeed, the only thing that threatened the Hollywood, fairy-tale-style story was the upstart-type rudeness of Manchester United’s guests Swansea City. Superior by far to United’s jaded team of played out carousers–especially in the second half., manager Michael Laudrap’s team almost stole away with the cup that had long since runneth over. Fortunately, United own more than one wizard and its Dutch one, Robin Van Persie, waved his magic wand in the 87th minute, supplying a fantastic pass that Rio Ferdinand, who rarely ever scores, was on the spot to volley home for the winner.

It was the kind of last minute coup-de-grace United’s fans have grown used to this season. Nothing surprising to Fergie and his Ginger Prince, of course, although both were jumping up and down in their seats.This had been Scholes’s 498th Premier League appearance, during which he helped the club win 11 titles during a brilliant career .Scholes, the quiet master of the probing midfield pass balls, has been a performer of integrity, lauded by the likes of his contemporaries Xavi, Edgar Davids, Kaka and Zinedene Zedane as the greatest English footballer ever, Scholes has always shrugged his shoulders and let his football do the talking..

Indeed, so momentous were these goings-on that Wayne Rooney’s Mother’s Day decision to announce that he wasn’t going to play and announce that he had just submitted a second written request for a transfer seemed to affect the proceedings not a whit. as Ferguson picked a mixture of old warriors like Ferdinand, Evra, Scholes and Carrick next to De Gea, Kagawa, Welbeck, Jones and Hernández. How funny it was to see our joyous Anderson conducting the Stretford End as they sang. “We won our trophy back now Mancini’s got the sack!”

At any rate, it was a fairly staid first half as United retained possession over a seemingly overawed Swansea team, and played a surprisingly slow kind of tiki-tak passing. Evra, Scholes, Van Persie and Welbeck all missed chances. It took until the 39th minute for United to finally execute. After an injury break to treat Welbeck and Neil Taylor after a clash of heads, United were awarded a free-kick. Van Persie’s kick landed awkwardly by Ashley Williams who pushed his clearance straight into Hernández’s path. Chicharito being Chicharito, he blasted the ball home from six yards out. Man Utd v Swansea 010 There’ll Never Be Another His Like: Goodbye Sir Alex!

After the break, united suddenly began missing their passes. With Jones playing right back, Carrick did not get the protection he likes from a tiring Anderson. Much harassed by De Guzman and Brittan, Carrick’s passing game evaporated. The first-rate Pablo Hernández helped himself to an Carrick feed and which forced Ferdinand to clear for a corner. Williams climbed high to nod Hernandez’s ball across goal where it landed at Nathan Dyer’s feet. The titchy winger’s inswinging pass was missed by a diving Jones before the fantastic goal-machine Michu managed to volley the ball past a stranded David De Gea.

If this caused disquiet in the United ranks, worse nearly occurred soon. Wayne Routledge got in behind – precisely where Ferdinand did not want him – but as the forward pulled the trigger Ferdinand got back close enough to make him miss to De Gea’s left. With the score tied, the Stretford End suddenly went quiet as City enjoyed almost twenty minutes of outright domination. Luckily De Gea made two great saves from the Spaniards, Hernandez and Flores.Man Utd v Swansea 013 There’ll Never Be Another His Like: Goodbye Sir Alex!

Luckily, having weathered the storm of an attacking single-minded. Swansea, United’s elderly brains-trust of Giggs and Van Persie were bound and determined to make a happy ending. And when Ferdinand volleyed home his first goal in five years in in the 87th minute, the victory/retirement party began in earnest.

After the match, Sir Alex Ferguson picked up the microphone and paid tribute to players, supporters, all of those, he said, those at United who had supported him in troubled early years Thus he segued into requesting We all give our full support to new manager David Moyes. the Gaffer then took off for ten minutes before returning with his triumphant squad (including Wayne Rooney) to celebrate this by-now familiar ritual of joyfully lifting the Premier League trophy, having reclaimed it from Our nemeses Manchester City.
Man Utd v Swansea 014 There’ll Never Be Another His Like: Goodbye Sir Alex!

May 112013

Sir Alex Ferguson 3477710 Dear Fergie, Thank You.

There have been many stories written over the past couple of days showering Sir Alex Ferguson with praise, which he has absolutely earned. Many a man has waxed poetic about how wonderful a football manager, a leader, a business manager … a human being that Sir Alex Ferguson is. They talk about his 49 trophies during is sublime management career, the extraordinary players that have played for him, and we’ve heard their glowing tributes. We’ve also heard his greatest rivals pouring adulation at the alter that is Fergie. I wanted to take a moment to give a little different spin to Fergie’s retirement, a more personal one. I wanted to reflect on what Fergie meant to me personally.

To be transparent, I am absolutely a Manchester United fan. Growing up in America, it didn’t hurt that United were mainly what was on TV. However, as I watched soccer for the first time I fell in love with United. Their swashbuckling play, the hard tackles by a fearless leader Roy Keane and the absolute magic produced by Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. But as I grew older, and got into college and later grad school, I started to really pay attention. This is where my lessons from Fergie began.

I remember my first semester of grad school, one of my professors asked us to write a paper on someone that we felt was a great leader. For me, it was always going to be Fergie. I admired his constant drive for greatness, the never say die attitude, how hard he pushed his team, and how much he loved and protected his team. His team was his family, and family comes first.

As I began to dig a little deeper, a few key traits jumped out at me. His ability to manage talent, manage upwards as well as down, and his passion and resiliency were, to me, the keys to success. One quote that had affected my career was:

“You can’t ever lose control, not when you are dealing with 30 top professionals who are all millionaires,’ said Ferguson. ‘If they misbehave, we fine them, but we keep it indoors. And if anyone steps out of my control, that’s them dead.”

Some might say that doesn’t apply to the “real world,” but I disagree. The most important lesson from that is that middle part. When we have misbehavior, or people making mistakes, we often go cover our own behinds and get the news out there to our bosses to make sure they know it wasn’t us. But, it makes a lot more sense to deal with it internally. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from Fergie is to protect my team. Shield them from above, but when they do well, profusely praise them and give them the exposure to upper management that they deserve. This also plays into other aspects of my professional life that I’ve taken advice from Fergie, move players on when its time (help those around you, and under you, get promotions they deserve), as well as building with youth. The “ugly” part of it is that he advocated removing the bad apples. We all know how quickly a negative attitude can permeate a company, its important to act quickly and firmly to cultivate a culture where employees frown upon it and help identify those parts and remove them.

Fergie believed that a proper youth setup was paramount to long term success. This plays right into the corporate world. I try to give extra care to interns and Jr  employees any chance I get. Proper mentoring, and managing their growth are a priority to me. Its simple, if you believe in helping your team members move on, and you work to get your best promoted, you’ll naturally have a need to fill their spot as they depart. With proper attention to youth, you always maintain a high level of production, and high employee satisfaction. If your top performers have a track record of getting rewarded, and finding promotions, then other talent will want to work for you. This ensures high performance continuity.

This brings me to another quote that I love:

“One of my players has been sent off several times. He will do something if he gets the chance – even in training. Can I take it out of him? No. Would I want to take it out of him? No. If you take the aggression out of him, he is not himself. So you have to accept that there is a certain flaw that is counterbalanced by all the great things he can do.”

In the real world, I think about an employee who may be a little eccentric. They may take a little longer to do something, or they may really hate to do something trivial like documentation. But, they may be absolutely brilliant at something else. Its important that I look for those things, and understand them. If you understand your team’s strengths and weaknesses, you can accurately prepare for those things that may be negative and ensure that their brilliance can overcome the risk. This is done by assigning the appropriate work to your team so that everyone has the best chance to succeed.

There are countless stories of his personal side, but one that I read recently has really hit me pretty hard. I remember hearing it before, but a friend of mine posted it after his retirement, and it really hit home. I’ll post it here because this is better than I could ever tell it. Sir Alex was all about loyalty, family, and friends. I believe this story perfectly sums it up. Our work family is still our family and we shouldn’t stop caring at 5 pm everyday.

“A story about Sir Alex that will always stick with me, and has nothing to do with trophies or victories…

When United’s kit-man (Norman Davies) retired to spend his golden years with his family, Sir Alex always found time to drop by, particularly when the grandkids were around, to chat and challenge the kids to a game. When Sir Alex thought no one was looking, he would slip the kids 20 pounds each and be on his way.

When the kit-man passed, his wife phoned Sir Alex in France where he was having a holiday. A few hours later there was a knock on her door, and there were Sir and Lady Ferguson, having not even stopped at home, offering condolences and asking what they could do to help.

Sir Alex said he knew a few people and insisted on a funeral at the grandest cathedral around. The kit-man was a shy fellow and wouldn’t have wanted a grand gesture, so Sir and Lady Ferguson helped with the details of a more intimate funeral.

Every United player from the youth team to the senior squad was present at the funeral, and though then Madrid player David Beckham sent a massive condolence bouquet, it was still dwarfed by the bouquet from the Ferguson’s.

None of this was done for the public’s benefit or with an agenda, if not for the widow speaking none of it would have ever come out.

Despite his critics, Fergie is a man in the old school sense, where family means everything, and United is his family.”

It is a lesson that I am still trying to fully appreciate. We are all human beings with lives outside of our jobs. He genuinely cared about people, no matter how successful for famous he became. He always remember those he met, where he came from, and was fiercely loyal to his friends.  The other part to this, and perhaps the most important, is that every employee has a role to play.  We all have superstars, we all have role players, and we all have those that do the grunt work.  We shouldn’t treat people different just because of that.  Everyone is important for the team to function at its peak.  There are reasons that his former players so often referred to him as a father figure.  He was hard on them, but they knew he’d take care of them.

You’ll also find many quotes from other managers showering Fergie with praise about how he was the first to call them when they got their jobs and offer help and advice, and he’d also be the first to call to help if they were fired.  He was always around to help other managers and advise young managers just getting in the game.  I think this is an important lesson for me as well.  In the corporate world we see each other as competitors for that next raise, next promotion, but that is largely figuratively.  He was quite literally in competition with other managers and was very quick to help.  I hope to apply this in my life.  Nobody ever lost, or suffered, because they were too helpful.

I think it says a lot, to just mention all of his former players who are past and current managers in the Premier League: Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Gordon Strachan, Alex McLeish, Graeme Souness, Roy Aitken, Paul Sturrock, Mark McGhee, Ray Wilkins, and Paul Ince.  That is not even counting those that went abroad, such as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has the Norwegian Premier League in both of his first two seasons in charge of Molde.

Finally, when I do fail at something, whether its missing a deadline or flat getting a project wrong, I always think of this: “Only true champions come out and show their worth after defeat- and I expect us to do that.” We’ve heard it in many different forms, from many different people, but success is truly getting right back up and facing failure head on. I try everyday to live this in my life and hopefully I instill it in those around me.

If I had to sum up Sir Alex, I believe his greatest achievement was taking the world greatest talents and molding them to play for the team first. They played for pride, the club, and each other … not money. I hope that I can grow throughout my career and have my teams perform that way, If I can, I’ll consider myself as a successful manager and leader.

So, now that Sir Alex has retired, part of me is sad for reasons completely outside of football. Not only did he manage my favorite football club, but he was also a hero of mine. A leader that I looked up to, and learned from, from afar. I only got to briefly meet him one time in Kansas City while covering the Manchester United summer tour a few years ago, and he’d have no idea who I am, but I feel compelled to write a huge thank you. You have no idea the impact you’ve had on people’s lives, completely outside of bringing happiness every week on a football pitch, Mr. Ferguson, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels this way.

May 102013

Sir Alex Ferguson 002 Sir Alex Ferguson: Goodbye Big Boss Man & Amen!
A lot of pundits and so-called football experts have been composing what are tantamount to eulogies and obituaries. Well, let me tell you, the rum old bugger is not dead yet and, even though his successor, David Moyes, might wish it so, it’s never far from the boardroom to the manager’s office. I’m not going to bore you with one more inventorial itemization of the honors he’s won. If you need stats and facts go to your search engine. What’s amazing to me is the way he outlasted all the other great ones. Of course, the ultimate swan song is dying on the job. like Jock Stein being stretchered off while managing Scotland with our young dearly beloved Fergie at his side as assistant. That was what I hoped wouldn’t happen to him, and didn’t. Jock Stein was 62, but it seems all of Fergie’s other influential elders and contemporaries jacked it in early. Matt Busby quit at 62, Bill Shankly at 60; fired by Everton at 60, Harry Catterick died an embittered geezer of 65; Bob Paisley killed by the stress of success at 64; Brian Clough, an alcoholic wreck of 58. Take a look at photographs of any of them after their pomp, and , like being the President of the United States, the stress of the job shows on their faces early. Being a manager then was hard. The money now is much bigger, but being a manager now is even more debilitating. Yet, at 71, despite carrying a pacemaker in his chest and a looming hip replacement, “Mr. Glaswegian hatchet-face” as journo James Richardson likes to call him, looks bloody good. Anyone who’s ever watched a United match knows that Ferguson could clearly be a nervous or angry man. Yet he always had a sort of zen-like gift of being able to compartmentalize his feelings in a manner the his aforementioned colleagues couldn’t.

I try to imagine these last few days before his final match as he drives into Old Trafford past his own statue and that of Sir Matt Busby. The Routine. 6:50 a.m. every morning. As regular and reliable as clockwork. I think it’s going to be a lot harder on him than us. And the temptation to be be like Sir Matt in dealing with McGuinness and O’Farrell. You can talk all the talk all you want about “my door is always open,” but all the well-meaning rhetoric in the world more often than not clashes with the reality of that old cliché that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Indeed, Mr. Moyes may leave his door wide open, but that doesn’t sincerely mean that he wants a visit from the Gaffer. So what will He do? Married to a job for that long and so bloody good at it. What will He do?

My cousin in Glasgow has already messaged me predicting the imminent resignation of wee Gordon Strachan. One last campaign looms, he insists, where, like William Wallace, the old general reunites the clans and having failed to qualify for the World Cup tournament in Brazil, leads his national team to glory in Qatar at 80 years-of-age. Nice idea if you’ve got the horses, of course, but I fear Scotland barely has the carts these days. Sad!

I think the picture of Sir Alex Ferguson that I want to keep in my head is the one of his sadness after losing to Real Madrid at Old Trafford in March. Never mind the ref being bent, or the lads desire disintegrating almost instantaneously after Luka Modric’s fabulous equalizer. What I see now in armchair retrospect is the disappointed loss of a defeated gambler, one who already knew that this was his very last game ever in European competition and that he’d have to settle for only winning it twice.

Goodbye Gaffer, but not farewell. Work on your golf swing and your French. Buy some more gee-gees! Count your dosh and then make some more. I’m going to miss you! And for the Haters. Those who didn’t like him because of his success or because he didn’t tolerate fools or maybe because he wasn’t the world’s nicest person or any of a thousand other reasons… You’re going to miss him! Indeed, I think you have no clue at all as to just how much youre going to miss him.
Sir Alex Ferguson patrols 002 Sir Alex Ferguson: Goodbye Big Boss Man & Amen!

May 092013

143252584 1876000 Changing Tracks at Old Trafford

After spending two hours drafting an article on Manchester United last night I thought I had a good bead on the team’s emotions and where it would be going after the season. I had felt that this season that they were a tad too businesslike, that the shine of winning the Premier League had lost its luster. The reaction of the team and its fans at the end of the Aston Villa match was subdued, nowhere near the same level of hysteria that I had seen in previous years. I was going to write at length about how the team had almost grown beyond the Premier League, that only Champions League glory would satisfy Sir Alex Ferguson and the squad. That of course all went out the window yesterday morning with the retirement of Sir Alex. While it would be easy to say that Manchester United will simply hire one of world football’s top managers and keep on trucking, it is not that simple. The Manchester United that we have all come to know and love (and some of us hate) is gone. It is now David Moyes turn to run the Red Devils and his ability to cope with the expectations and history of this club will dictate their ability to move on from the era of Sir Alex.

The closest thing that I can remember for a lion of the game retiring was when Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls in 1994 and in 1998. When a team loses such a staple there are only two options: try to replace the piece and keep pushing or rebuild. During Jordan’s first retirement, the Bulls made a go of it making it to the Eastern Conference Finals before finally losing to the Knicks. After his second retirement, which also saw their Head Coach Phil Jackson and future Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen also leave, ownership decided to rebuild and the team finished with a record of 13-37, one of the worst in NBA history. This is the price of success. While Manchester United has been able to cycle through players through the years and rebuild when it is necessary, it was always done under Sir Alex’s watch.

Although I do not think that Manchester United will see a drop-off of the level of the Chicago Bulls, the fact of the matter is that there will be a drop-off. No one can do what Sir Alex Ferguson did for 27 years. Managing the demands of an ownership group like the Glazer family, while dealing with the expectations of a storied club like Manchester United is difficult. When you add in the egos of players who earn tens of thousands of dollars a week, it can be almost unbearable. Finding someone who can meet all of these challenges is difficult. It requires a certain type of personality. I may loathe the New York Yankees, but I have always thought that Joe Torre was probably the best baseball manager I have ever seen. It takes a certain sort of personality to manage a team like the New York Yankees or Manchester United. You have to be cool under pressure, able to work with difficult personalities that do not always mesh, and deal with ungodly expectations. These are billion dollar franchises that have fans in every continent that expect championships. Not a winning season, championships. Joe Torre knew this, Sir Alex Ferguson knew this. Does David Moyes know this? Time will tell.

While this club has too much talent to not finish in the top four next year, and probably the year after that, it is their long-term future that is in question. Moyes’ relationship with the Glazers will be critical in how this team evolves. This is a team whose core is aging in all of the wrong places. Patrice Evra is 31. Nemanja Vidic is 31 and has been devastated by injuries. Rio Ferdinand is 34. Ryan Giggs is 39. Paul Scholes is 38. In the coming years, United will have to replace all of these players through their youth system or through transfers. But how does one replace Ryan Giggs? How do you find playing minutes for all of your veteran players? Is Tom Cleverley the future for Manchester United at midfield? These are the types of questions that the next manager will have to answer.

The other question is how much time will the next manager be given to create their own system within Manchester United? Most managers that coach a club like Manchester United work on a very short leash, and can be fired on a coach’s whim. During Sir Alex’s time with the club, Real Madrid has had 24 managers, Inter Milan has had 19, Chelsea has had 14, Bayern Munich has had 14, and AC Milan has had 14. Every decision that the next manager makes will be compared to Sir Alex Ferguson and what he would have done. It appears based off of the Glazers history with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers (only four coaches in 16 years) that they do show patience with their managers and allow them some time to implement their system. But this is still a results-driven sport and whomever takes over will not only have the expectations of the fans and ownership to contend with, but the legacy of one of, if not the, greatest coach in professional sports history. Moyes was given a lot of time to develop his vision of Everton Football club and managed a team that had far lower expectations.

With Manchester Unite, David Moyes is going to have the opportunity to coach some of the best players in the world and will have access to infinite resources to win titles both in England and Europe. They will also have to contend with tremendous egos and a fanbase that expects a victory during every match. Replacing Sir Alex Ferguson as a person is easy. Replacing his history and his C/V is another story.

May 082013

Manchester United 0 -1 Chelsea
2013 05 05T171237Z 1 CBRE9441BT700 RTROPTP 2 SOCCER ENGLAND Shameless on the field of Our Dreams!It was, according to my old mate and midfield partner from the Prestwich Heys team, Rob Cockcroft, in the message he sent me from Pnom Penh, the very worst single display of a team at its worse in at least 34 years. An exaggerations, perhaps, or else an apt clarification of just how mediocre the football has been in the Premier League this season. Having been crowned champions, however, good, bad, or mostly mediocre, as I would have it, the players of Manchester United have quit. All well and good for them. It’s nice to be a millionaire. But, really, for the season ticket holders, satellite dish owners and suckers who order a la carte from their cable supplier, expecting the lads to at least give enough of a damn to try just a bit seems too much. Why is this asking so much? Worse yet, is the sound of my Spurs’ fan acquaintances’ sarcasm, as, humiliated by 63 years of the F.A.’s favoritism, they sincerely wonder why United’s players would prefer not to have them in ECC instead of Spurs. Even the guys on Republica Deportivo posited the idea that not qualifying for the top four will cause Spurs’ owner to flog Gareth Bale to United(and thus why we would let them win!). That, of course, is ridiculous, but no less ridiculous than the fact that Danny Levy would rather sell the Welsh chimp boy to Les Gooners than Us.

Not that Chelsea were particularly good. Going into their 65th match of a long long season, the royal blues had to do without an injured Eden Hazard. Yet, even minus the slick Belgian playmaker, Chelsea were far more creative than a jaded United, who were bound and determined from the get-go not to score at Old Trafford for the first time in 67 league matches, and didn’t. Adding another piquant soup con of insult to treating their millions of fans around the world like a roll of one-ply toilet paper, the red devils appropriated their very first red card of the season as a dimwitted Rafael Da Silva let himself get suckered into retaliating against his fellow Brazilian tormentor, David Luiz.

Yet none of any of this would have mattered a whit had not the indefatigable Oscar not located Juan Mata with an absolutely exquisite pass four minutes from full-time. With Patrice Evra’s elderly legs having given out somewhere after the beginning of the second half, he was a frozen, grinning twit of a witness as Mata seized the moment. Firing a curving left-footer at the bulk of Phil Jones, Mata was like a sniper doing maty in his head, calculating wind and spin and the manner in which United’s goalie Anders Lindegaard–who had virtually nothing to do throughout the game–would angle his dive for the ball. And even though the goal will be credited as a Jones own goal, we’ve all seen enough of these clever Mata deflected masterpieces that they may soon deserve a category all of their own.

Hard to say much about the rest of this match. Chelsea were marginally better in a yawn of a first half. Mata missed twice after nice passes from Demba Ba. Moses shot over the bar and Lindegaard made a single save, smothering a fine shot from Oscar at the post. United’s single tactic seemed to involve always locating Robin van Persie after too many tiki-tiki-tak short passes. Indeed, only Ryan Giggs manage to surprise the flat-footed Chelsea back four as he stole the ball off RVP’s toe and shot past a diving Peter Cech, only to see the ball waylaid by a bump and go a centimeter or so past the post. The old wizard also came close with a header off a Vidic cross, but Cech was there in the way with plenty of time to to smother it.

Poor Tom Cleverley, slow on the uptake as ever, was well set up by both Anderson and Giggs, and allowed all the time in the world on the edge of the box, but twice he hammered the ball on the edge of the area, yet with a better opportunity than he possibly realized the fringe player lacked the composure to take advantage, shooting early and blazing over the bar. Those of you who are as utterly exhausted by the mediocrity of Cleverley and puzzled by Roy Hodgson’s penchant for picking him for England must remember, he simply is not very good and has regressed rather than improved. As he was such a hit under the tutelage of Roberto Martínez at Wigan Athletic, I suggest we put him in a parcel with a bow and pawn him off in some kind of part-exchange for Jamie McCarthy.

Chelsea might have had a penalty at the start of the second half when Giggs hauled down David Luiz as he entered the area. Howard Webb waved away their claims, however, which seemed reasonable as the offense seemed to originate outside the box, though it appeared overly generous of the referee not even to award a free-kick or a red card after Luiz managed to simultaneously take the kick and dive forward as if wounded from behind my a high caliber bullet.

Even introductions of Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres as substitutes didn’t work. Both seemed distracted. Rooney looked particularly enfeebled. All the repeated rumors of Rooney’s transfer requests to leave for new partnerships with Lewandowski at Bayern or Ibrahimovich at Paris S.G. may have been deemed absurd, but there clearly is something wrong once again with Wayne Rooney. His losing of the ball to the aggressive Ramires in his own half is clearly understandable. Goes with the territory? Right! But Wazza’s attitude, having only just arrived on the pitch full of pizzazz, was, one might reasonably expect, to give chase. Ramires, clearly Chelsea’s best, most consistent player this year, was off to the races but clearly exhausted, puffing as he looked all around for someone to pass to. Our stocky little Scouse should have easily been able to run him down, but he did not.

Consequently, although United and Chelsea had each looked deliriously happy enough to settle for a draw. Ramires urinated in the punch bowl. Ramires to Lampard to Oscar who found Mata before the Spaniard fired a masterpiece of a left-footed beauty fit to deflect in off Jones’ back and wrong foot Lindegaard at the far post.

Any last second hope of a last-second United miracle comeback evaporated as David Luiz made easy sucker-work out of his Brazilian compatriot Rafael Da Silva after elbowing him twice and then falling down tragically once again “like a dying swan,” as Fergie put it. United ‘s hotheaded right back really ought to know better now that he is no longer an adolescent. Sure, Luiz was seen all over the world smirking at the referee, Howard Webb, after he sent Fabio off. It was indeed sad for the club to receive its first red card of the season over something so petty. Yet the collective naïveté of the team is not at all touching as it is in a club full of kiddiwinkies like Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa. Nothing cute at all, just embarrassment.

Ferguson was clearly not best pleased when he made his post-match appearance before the press. With his face fixed in a sort of gargoyle state of rictus, the old veteran looked as devastated as he had more than a year ago after the club took a 6-1 home hammering to Manchester City. “The desire was not there,” he said from between pursed lips. “It just wasn’t there.”Chelseas Juan Mata and a 008 Shameless on the field of Our Dreams!

May 082013

Sir Alex Ferguson 007 Sir Alex Ferguson to retire as Manchester United manager

The most successful manager in English football history will bow out after the West Bromwich Albion game on 19 May and join the football club board.

Announcing his decision to retire, Sir Alex Ferguson said:

“The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly. It is the right time.

“It was important to me to leave an organisation in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so. The quality of this league winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level whilst the structure of the youth set-up will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one.

“Our training facilities are amongst the finest in global sport and our home Old Trafford is rightfully regarded as one of the leading venues in the world.

“Going forward, I am delighted to take on the roles of both Director and Ambassador for the club. With these activities, along with my many other interests, I am looking forward to the future.

“I must pay tribute to my family, their love and support has been essential. My wife Cathy has been the key figure throughout my career,providing a bedrock of both stability and encouragement. Words are not enough to express what this has meant to me.

“As for my players and staff, past and present, I would like to thank them all for a staggering level of professional conduct and dedication that has helped to deliver so many memorable triumphs. Without their contribution the history of this great club would not be as rich.

“In my early years, the backing of the board, and Sir Bobby Charlton in particular, gave me the confidence and time to build a football club, rather than just a football team.

“Over the past decade, the Glazer family have provided me with the platform to manage Manchester United to the best of my ability and I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with a talented and trustworthy Chief Executive in David Gill. I am truly grateful to all of them.

“To the fans, thank you. The support you have provided over the years has been truly humbling. It has been an honour and an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to lead your club and I have treasured my time as manager of Manchester United.”

Joel Glazer said:

“Alex has proven time and time again what a fantastic manager he is but he’s also a wonderful person. His determination to succeed and dedication to the Club have been truly remarkable. I will always cherish the wonderful memories he has given us, like that magical night in Moscow.”

Avie Glazer said:“I am delighted to announce that Alex has agreed to stay with the Club as a director. His contributions to Manchester United over the last 26 years have been extraordinary and, like all United fans, I want him to be a part of its future.”

David Gill said:

“I’ve had the tremendous pleasure of working very closely with Alex for 16 unforgettable years – through the Treble, the double, countless trophy wins and numerous signings.

“We knew that his retirement would come one day and we both have been planning for it by ensuring the quality of the squad and club structures are in first class condition.

“Alex’s vision, energy and ability have built teams – both on and off the pitch – that his successor can count on as among the best and most loyal in world sport.

“The way he cares for this club, his staff and for the football family in general is something that I admire. It is a side to him that is often hidden from public view but it is something that I have been privileged to witness in the last 16 years.

“What he has done for this club and for the game in general will never be forgotten. It has been the greatest experience of my working life being alongside Alex and a great honour to be able to call him a friend.”

May 012013

Arsenal 1-1 Manchester United
Robin van Persie Arsenal 008 1 Arsenal: If it Wasnt For No Class, They Wouldnt Have No Class At All! The story behind the story. My dream. Friday at the Arsenal training ground. Theo Walcott is staring at his opened locker door. Scotch-taped to the door is a carefully cut out newspaper photo of Rio Ferdinand. Theo is making his war face.
“You talkin’’ to me?” he says in his thin Berkshire boy-soprano mockney. “Are you talkin’’ to me?”
Rio just stares back, which makes Theo madder and madder. “Are you talking to me?”
He feints and then throws a left hook just short of the photo. Doesn’t want to dislocate his shoulder again, does he?
“We-ell I don’t see anyone else in this room,” he says real Yardie-like. “So I’m gonna have to kick your arse.”
Next to him, on the left is Gervinho, his funny, string and real hair toupée-cum-extention do making funny noises as it taps against his forehead while he swears in French at a photo of Jonny Evans. To his right, Per Mertesacker, lovingly referred to as “Der Meatsack” by his teammates, keeps staring at Wayne Rooney and calling him “Shkausser Schweinhundt!”
Meanwhile, behind them, an old skinny Alsatian named Arséne is smacking a riding crop against a bench while his even dourer assistant sucks his teeth. “Zey got our little gift on Sunday, right Steve?” Steve Bould, nods repeatedly.
“Venez sur mes garçons de poupée lttle. Montrez-leur ce qui, dans le coeur d’une poupée, est un guerrier.!” *
Theo does not know what his silly French boss is talking about. He never knows what his silly French boss is talking about. But he does know he’s going to beat that bloody Rio Ferdinand all the way back to Pinner or Peckham, or wherever he comes from.
A dream? How else can one explain Sunday’s comic draw? Arséne Wenger, Nick Hornby and Piers Morgan with their simpering platitudes about their team being on its best behavior proved to be about as sincere as a pregnant nun. One more desperate, tragic attempt to seize an early advantage. Sure, the crowd booed at Robin Van Persie and, sure, the Dutchman looked sad. The full human comedy had to be played out, however, and, at the end of the game, Robin Van Persie had scored 25 league goals for Manchester United, 29 in all competitions, and taken over the lead for the Golden Boot from the hungry one, Luís Suarez of Liverpool. Arsenal fans went home even more miserable than they had when they arrived

Nevertheless, the goal he scored against Arsenal may turn out to have a truly resonant impact. Should Les Gooners miss out on a top four place in the Premier League and thus the Champions League next season, it will be the first time they have gone without the most lucrative of cash cows for the first time in fifteen years. Let me reiterate. You know the cliché–the one that says revenge is a dish which tastes much better when served cold–it was one Arsenal fans had to swallow in a state of deeply deserved anguish on Sunday. Having booed their former hero throughout the first half, they got their comeuppance. Yes, irony was well noted on all sides as Robin Van Persie stepped up to rocket home a well deserved, icily dispatched penalty in the 42nd minute while the fat lady sang.

United versus Arsenal matches are by their very nature ugly affairs. Not ugly in the vicious sense of United’s tactically ugly matches with Liverpool are. They are, rather, emotional, slapdash, petty, often badly behaved matches on both sides, full of sneaky off-the-ball encounters, relentless speed races, shocking mistakes and always always always too chock full of drama for mortal referees to handle. In this case, with Howard Webb’s favorite assistant Phil Dowd running things, veteran United fans were all well aware that if anybody was going to make sure He was going to be the star of the show, it would be Phil himself. And so it came to pass!

Arsenal were shockingly dominant for the first half hour. Testing Dowd with every single tackle, ankle-tapping and rabbit-punching off the ball, the Arse were the 2005 team temporarily reincarnated, minus the purity of talent and finesse, though. Much quicker to the ball, playing with width, sprinting to fill every space, repeatedly taking turns kicking Wayne Rooney as if he were a sort of Scouse Guy Fawkes dummy, they kept United pinned back while repeatedly, relentlessly daring them to retaliate for a series of cheap shots. Yet United did not retaliate. It all being part and parcel of a season of ridiculously good behavior. Yet the crew of officials seemed to blow everything Arsenal’s way. It became pretty clear once they’d received their fifth yellow card in a row after Rooney collided 50/50 with Arteta and Rafael Da Silva took umbrage after receiving a throw-in in the mush, that Phil Dowd was not in a state of empathy.

The one goal Arsenal did score came in the second minute and was so clearly offside that United actually took it well, seeming to sort of collectively shrug their shoulders. Ironically, Van Persie was the culprit as he carelessly gave the ball away to the thieving magpie Rosicky. The Slovak schemer was quickly off to the races before firing a fine pass into the box which Walcott sped onto from an offside position before firing a finish at an obtuse angle past a stranded David De Gea, who had no chance.

And from then on, until about the 40th minute, Arsenal played well. Still, led by Lucas Podolski in place of the suspended Olivier Giroud, although they attacked relentlessly, they were mostly ineffective. In spite of the relentless energy displayed by Rosicky, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazoría and, later. Wilshere, they were simply never looked capable of executing that effective last ball in United’s third of the field.

To say United took a long time to get going is a copious understatement. The boys were obviously hungover, many said. But these young millionaires really are quite fit and surely young enough to shrug off what might well hinder lesser men. Yet how did Rafael da Silva and Phil Jones both end up passing the ball to an invisible teammate and out of touch under no opposition pressure? Sure we expect De Gea to drop a clanger under pressure, but how did he simply drop a corner kick he caught cleanly and make a bollix out of a subsequent clearance? Wayne Rooney was fine in the second half, but in the first half he seemed to spend a lot of time admiring the hue of his boots. Nani and Valencia were more or less invisible beyond passively absorbing cheap shots from Arteta and Ramsey. With Ferguson letting loose a very audible string of invectives at the fourth official and a grinning Phil Dowd, United’s ‘hangover’ seemed to be more of a case of narcolepsy. The kind of body-snatched stupor associated with absinthe, not champagne!?

Yet, as bizarrely un-United as they so often seemed early on, they still created a couple of opportunities of their own before Van Persie’s equalizer. Phil Jones, as cumbersome and awkward as he seems, was a more and more of a menace in midfield as Arteta and Ramsey’s off-the-ball bullying upped his ire. Well set up by Evra and Rafael Da Silva, he headed two gaping sitters wide of the goal. Then, having botched a series of half-chances, Nani sold Arteta an exquisite dummy, lifted a breathtaking cross into the path of Van Persie as he sprinted into the box. How Szczesny saved his shot is hard to know.

But, minutes later, Van Persie shrugged off the cobwebs again. In fairness to Dowd, his judgment was impeccable for the penalty because, at the speed the actual play was made at, it was anything but a straightforward decision. Picking up a Valencia pass, Van Persie took off at speed down the left-hand channel, leaving right back Bacary Sagna flat-footed and humiliated. Having made a mistake, Sagna swiveled and gave chase. In an attempt to make up for his mistake, he slid in on Van Persie’s ankles and threshed him down well inside the box. Dowd, who had already forgiven an identical foul by Sagna on Evra earlier, grinned back at a caterwauling Ferguson, blew his whistle and pointed at the penalty spot. Many in the crowd were amazed. A wall of boos accompanied that penalty, but Robin Van Persie is made of strong stuff. His shot, a piece of raw, pure, beautiful left-footed power, beat Wojciech Szczesny easily.

Whatever did go wrong on the day for United, I think none of us or them have any idea of what it was. Absinthe drinking offers up as silly a reason as any. The sad reality is that they had a fine opportunity to set a record and overtake Chelsea’s 95 points, from José Mourinho’s first title-winning side in 2005, but that chance is now gone. The game could have gone either way in the second half but it was an erratic performance from the champions. Indeed as monentous as some of the bad moments have been this season, it’s rare occasion when they look as disheveled and disoriented as they had in the opening 40 minutes.

I don’t mean to belabor this issue again and again, but, really, how is it that, despite being so close to London, the ruling class at the F.A. and by virtue of always having their noses up in the air and always out of joint, and thus, by implication, closer to God, why do Arsenal have no dignity or class? Poisoning Spurs’ buffet on the night before a crucial last match of the season over fourth place in 2007 typifies how they operate. Their willingness to form a guard escorting the champions on to the field was, their manager said, a sample of just how sportsmanlike they were. Yet any good will ended there as, clearly having noticed what everybody else has also clearly taken advantage of this season, that this current United squad, although massively talented, is both physically and emotionally the weakest Manchester United have fielded ever. Indeed, having been beaten up plenty this season, winning the championship surely is even more of an achievement. Taking one’s lumps goes with the territory. We understand that. Nevertheless, the petty acts of sly, underhanded , off-the-ball skulduggery perpetuated by Les Gooners and willfully turned a blind eye to by Phil Dowd should be duly noted by United fans. No matter what, I pray that Sir Alex Ferguson buys at least one player who is familiar with the dark arts of the game for next season. Those who doubt me might tune in to Bayern’s Champions Cup steamrollering of Barcelona. The natural toughness and adaptability of a certain Javíer Martinez they bought for 50m euros from Athletic Bilbao had made a world of difference to them which the Gaffer shouldnote

And so, finally, picture Theo in his parents basement in Compton, Berkshire. Still staring at the same newspaper cutout of Rio, only now it’s attached to a mirror and he’s wearing boxing gloves.
“You talkin’’ to me? You talkin’’ to me, Rio? Offside? Rubbish.” He throws a combination at the mirror. “Is there anyone else in this room?”
Arsenal v Manchester United Premier League 1858663 1 Arsenal: If it Wasnt For No Class, They Wouldnt Have No Class At All!

*”Show them that inside the heart of my doll-boys is the heart of a warrior!”

The Beautiful Number 20!

 Posted by on April 24, 2013 at 12:27 pm  Aston Villa, Blogs/Media, England, Manchester United
Apr 242013

Manchester United 3-0 Aston Villa
Manchester United celebra 006 The Beautiful Number 20!Ah! Where to begin? Twenty minutes after the end of the match Sir Alex Ferguson is bowing to the Stretford End while, across the field, Robin Van Persie is encircled by the Dutch press, both of them serenaded by Queen’s We Are the Champions. Is this the same crowd–most of them clad in the green and yellow striped scarves of M.U.S.T. protest–that has repeatedly voiced so much ambivalence about their manager’s unrelenting support for the club’s American owners, the Glazer family? On the night, resentments have been set to one side. They adore him and he adores them back. As with most families. The relationships may be fractious and sometimes truculent, but the club is beloved by all in their own way and winning the championship back is sweet to all and sundry.
Meanwhile, Robin Van Persie is being adored and assaulted with questions by a Nederlander press corps he talks to on a first name basis. An old aquaintance from Rotterdam, Henk Van Sleewanhoek, who has , I’m told, been his tormenter since leaving Arsenal for United instead of (the journo’s preference) Juventus gets the most attention.
“Did you ever think you’d come out of your dry spell of terrible misses?” the cheeky writer asks.
“I was worried,” says Robin. “I was not sleeping.”
“So this hat-trick you scored must feel fantastic.”
“I have never been so happy, This is my greatest day ever as a player and the first time in my career I have ever won a championship. No thanks to you, Henk!”
I only mention all this because I caught it all on the iPad of a Dutch friend. A long time mate and a fellow United fan, Jaapie has been following Van Persie’s career since way before he signed for Feyenoord in the Eredvisie. With a history of never ever having played a full season of football until last season’s contract year, Van Persie had been thought of as an inconsistently brilliant. An awesome talent who, like his compatriot, Arjen Robben, was unable or unwilling to play through pain. United paid a fee of £24m and wages of £220,000 per week for a player who was too often hurt and it seemed like no bargain at all, especially because he was taking up a place in the squad vacated by the departure to Fulham of Ferguson’s grand folly, the consistently inconsistent Dimitar Berbatov. Well, we were as wrong can be! Van Persie has been as brilliant as a newly discovered sun appearing in the firmament out of some black hole. Beyond the spectacular goals he has scored is his place as the best Manchester United table-setter I have ever seen. A brilliant taker of corners and free-kicks his clever linkup play has been instrumental in the improvement of Wayne Rooney, who is now a more complete player than ever before; Javíer Hernandéz, who is becoming better and better at screening the ball and setting up teammates; even the sometimes out-of-control ungainly presence of Danny Welbeck has been much improved by playing in his proximity.
Robin Van Persie celebrat 003 The Beautiful Number 20!

Of course, there were hints of this at the last World Cup. Especially when RVP, alongside Wesley Sneijder and Rafael Van Der Vart dismantled Brazil’s self-anointed Samba machine. A great player for the great occasion, Van Persie arrived at Old Trafford on Monday afternoon about as ready as ready has ever been. Having won the championship nineteen times and having blown it big-time a year ago on, of all things, goal average, United played like a team of destiny. This has not always been the case over a surprisingly inconsistent season, but United wanted to clinch at home, especially considering next week away match away at United’s long time rivals Arsenal, who just happen, in case you live in a vacuum and don’t know, to be Robin Van Persie’s old club. Primed and prepareed, thy were a red steamroller determined to be reunited with their trophy. And with Robin van Persie playing at his maximum exquisite artistic best, it seemed apt and altogether natural that he would completely dominate the match. Indeed, it felt appropriate that the Dutchman should be so transcendent and dominant on the night.

Van Persie might not win the individual honors but he has certainly had the greatest impact of any player on the Premier League this season and his first-half hat-trick, taking him to 24 league goals, saw him leapfrogging Luis Suárez as the leading scorer in the division. And having just been suspended from playing for ten games after a biting offense against Chelsea’s Bronislav Ivanovic in Sunday’s 2-2 tie, Suarez will clearly not win this year’s Golden Boot award. Such accolades and awards are well deserved by Van Persie who is clearly the best striker playing in England. In the match, he was everything, the warhead of United’s multi-faceted attacking game, a constant menace. It seems absurd to think that making it feel like a trick of the imagination that only one week ago he was overreacting to chances, devastated by a short, debilitating patch where he couldn’t score.

Going in with a 13-point lead, Ferguson set the team up with Wayne Rooney as its play making fulcrum. Inspired as much as Van Persie, it seems, Rooney was both a bodyguard for the brilliant-but-brittle Michael Carrick and an inspired passer. If Paul Lambert’s pack of young midfield jackals pressed him, Rooney would execute short and square to the Geordie greyhound. If they tried to cut off Carrick, Rooney was ready and waiting to ping Ginger Prince-style long, probing chip shots from United’s half. And poor Villa, who have let in a grand nightmare total of 64 goals this season were simply powerless to resist.

Two minutes in and Manchester United needed to be nervous no more. A long seeing-eye pass from Rooney found Antonio Valencia on the right. Rafael Da Silva swept up behind the Ecuadorian in support, jinking this way and that toward Villa’s box before finding the Old Master, Ryan Giggs, at the far post. Giggs casually squared his cross into Van Persie’s path out of a clawing Brad Guzan’s reach and, only two steps off the goal line, the Dutchman fired a simple tapper home.
Villa were already gob smacked and semi-destroyed. Four minutes later. Surrounded after picking up a Carrick chip, RVP fired a thirty-yarder of a volley over Guzan’s bar by a bare inch. He was just warming up. however. As if on cue, eleven minutes later, Rooney and van Persie gave us a bit of oo-wah-wow up there with Cantona and the blessed Trinity. Wazza dished up a superb curving chip that Van Persie somehow timed his run onto with a perfect moment of synchronization for the ages. Looking up, he somehow calculated the spinning trajectory of the ball and his perfect left-footed volley, as pure a piece of combined power and execution as I’ll ever see, went flying past Villa’s frozen, open mouthed goalie into the net. Did anyone ever make it look so simple? What followed, his victory run from one end of the pitch to the other with a victorious arm raised, really was the stuff of which legends are made.

For most of the half, Manchester united was a thing of beauty. Giggs repeatedly mugging and nutmegging poor Matthew Lowton. Carrick and Rooney grinning as the crowd sang their songs between marvelous examples of the passer’s art, ran Villa ragged. The sight of Giggsy out sprinting a player sixteen years his junior was the stuff of dreams. And in the midst of a familiar Stretford End serenade about Le Maitre Cantona, the Red Devils struck again.

33 minutes in, Rooney and the casually fluid Shinji Kagawa double one-two’d it in midfield and Giggs was free and clear of his marker Ron Vlar on the left. Robin Van Persie picked up his cross, snaked past Brad Guzan, and utilizing his brilliantly cool, cruel acumen, ignoring the four defenders around him, feinted toward a sprinting Lowton, shifted his balance to his right and pushed the ball home.

To the chagrin of many of the celebrating fans, United eased off the accelerator from then on. The boys taking it light and easy, especially after the interval. Villa launched themselves back into things and, even though they own no worthwhile defensive quality beyond the Job-like sufferings of Ron Vlar, Paul Lambert’s kids gave it a good go. Indeed, Ferguson was angry enough at Patrice Evra for repeatedly fouling a wing-heeled Kieran Westwood and receiving a yellow card that he ventured early to the touchline and gestured both his disapproval at his fading left back and his suddenly lackadaisical teammates. Indeed, Evra, already booked, was way beyond lucky that the referee, Anthony Taylor, did not punish a pair of brutal tackles from behind on both N’Zogbia and Weimann. Van Persie even became a defensive hero late in the match when he headed away a superb shot from Andreas Weimann off the goal line.

From then on it was all party. And clearly, had United put their war faces on again, many more goals could have been scored. Still, both Rooney and Kagawa saw their shots rattle off the bar. Having clinched with the win at home against Villa following Manchester City’s loss to Tottenham Hotspur, the challenge now, with four matches left is to beat out Chelsea’s best ever Premier League tally of 96 points.lRobin van Persie 002 The Beautiful Number 20!