2011-12 Season Review

by Teo Teng Kiat

Phil Jones reacts to City’s win on the last day. (image from ManUtd.com)

For two minutes, it seemed as if United had won the title. It looked like City were going to throw away the opportunity to win their first-ever Premier League crown as they were level at 2-2 with QPR, while the Red Devils had beaten Sunderland by a single goal in their final match.

Two minutes later, one half of Manchester had erupted in celebration. But the cheering did not come from those in red; Sergio Aguero had clinched the title for the “noisy neighbours” in dramatic fashion, after jinking past one defender and coolly slotting the ball home for a late winner.

As I contemplate writing a season review for a campaign that ended without a single trophy, it is obviously difficult to feel very cheery, but it is not all doom and gloom. I will briefly look back at the positives and negatives, as well as ponder a little over what next season holds.

Could do better

When United supporters reflect on the run-in during the last few matches, they will inevitably look at the game at Old Trafford where the team somehow contrived to throw away a 4-2 lead in the last twenty minutes to end up with a costly 4-4 draw against Everton.

People talk about the experience, the ruthlessness, the single-mindedness to win matches that United always seem to possess during the closing stages of the season; such qualities were disappointingly found wanting this time round.

Coupled with the insipid and abject performance in the away loss to Wigan the game before, this was NOT the type of United display that people are used to. If you had asked anyone whether United would squander an eight-point lead in “squeaky bum-time” before this season, the answer would most likely be ‘no’; but they did exactly that.

Whether it was due to complacency or inexperience, the fact is that the Red Devils botched this crucial run of games, while City, playing without pressure, took maximum points from their games to take advantage; it was a strange reversal of roles.

It could also be argued that the tactical set-up in certain matches was questionable, none more so than in the crucial derby against City. True, United could have done with a draw to maintain their lead over City, but it was just baffling that Sir Alex sent out a side which screamed “we are playing for a draw”, and more or less handed the initiative to City.

While it must be noted that City did not exactly play terrific football, Roberto Mancini’s men had already won the mental battle. Playing a 4-5-1, shorn of the in-form Valencia and with the inclusion of a woefully out-of-form Park Ji-Sung, the City players knew in their minds that United were scared of losing, which was exactly what happened.

The dismal performances in Europe were also a particular let-down for supporters, especially being eliminated in the Champions’ League group stages. Failure to qualify from a group containing Benfica, Basel and Otelul Galati is quite a disaster, with due respect to the three teams.

The subsequent elimination against Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League, after scraping past Ajax in the previous round, was also galling, especially given the fact that United fully deserved to get knocked out from both competitions, because they were well beaten by their opponents.

Having gotten to the final only just the season before, it must be baffling that the team crashed out so tamely in the group stages, and this is clearly an area the gaffer needs to correct in next season’s Europe ventures.

Positives

The re-emergence (of sorts) of Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans must be one of the most pleasing aspects of this season, who must be the two most-maligned players in the current United squad.

There is no doubting that both have had a superb campaign.

Carrick was pivotal in central midfield with his ability to keep play going and retain possession, as well as make numerous interceptions to help out defensively. These are the small things that many people do not seem to take note of, preferring to instead criticize his lack of goals and his supposed tendency to play backward passes.

Indeed, while players like Xavi and Xabi Alonso recognize the true value of his role, with Alonso even claiming that United’s number 16 “has the profile to play for Barcelona or any of the Spanish teams”, it is baffling how under-rated and under-appreciated he has been amongst supporters.

Meanwhile, Evans found himself thrust into the spotlight when Vidic’s ACL injury ruled the defensive rock and United captain out for the season early on. The Northern Ireland international has certainly repaid the manager’s faith in him though, putting in many sterling performances alongside the rejuvenated Ferdinand, as both formed a capable partnership which was crucial in seeing United get back into the title race.

A product of the club’s academy, the centreback seems to have become a much stronger player this season, often winning challenges that he would have lost in the past, while also displaying superb reading of the game, as well as the ability to pick out his teammates; in fact, his pass-completion percentages in games are amongst the highest for United players.

In addition, the terrific form of Antonio Valencia in the second half of the season is also a positive, as the Ecuadorian established himself as one of the finest wingers in the league. His sheer power and pace means that he has the ability to destroy any fullback, while he also packs a powerful shot. It remains puzzling how he was left out of the starting line-up at the Etihad, and no one can argue that he did not deserve to sweep all the awards at the club’s annual awards night.

Also, it seems like the form of Wayne Rooney has gone somewhat un-noticed, despite him enjoying his best ever goalscoring season in a United shirt. The England international banged in 35 goals in 44 games, with two memorable goals in a 2-1 victory against Liverpool the most notable. He is arguably the team’s marquee player, and it is my personal opinion that Sir Alex should look to build the team around Rooney, who is entering his prime years.

Looking forward

It must be noted that this United team contains many youngsters, many of whom have acquitted themselves decently enough this season.

David De Gea seems to have settled in well after a rocky start, and it is my personal belief that he will be one of the best goalkeepers in the world in a few years’ time. Rafael has shown marked improvement during his spell at rightback, legitimately stating his case for being a first-team regular. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones both enjoyed fine starts to the season, but saw their progress derailed by injury. Both are still young and promising though; I feel Smalling will make a superb centreback, while Jones could possible assume the mantle in defensive midfield.

Danny Welbeck had his first full season back at the club and definitely impressed upfront, especially with his partnership with Rooney, which shows signs of promise. While guilty of taking too many opportunities to score, his finishing and composure will improve with time, and he also offers a more mobile option as compared to the poacher-like Javier Hernandez, capable of being involved in attacking moves and creating goals.

Elsewhere, the Reserves won their league, with the likes of Davide Petrucci, Will Keane, Michael Keane, Jesse Lingard and Larnell Cole figuring prominently. With Zeki Fryers and Paul Pogba already seeing first-team action, the hope is that at least a couple of the kids will make the breakthrough and transit to the first-team in future.

While a section of supporters are clamouring for a major team overhaul in light of City’s success, it is worth remembering that United lost the title only on goal difference and not by 20 points, and that this season can be seen as a transitional stage.

As with many fans, I reckon the midfield needs to be strengthened. While Shinji Kagawa will certainly be a welcome addition, I believe the centre midfield should be bolstered as well, where Paul Scholes will eventually have to be replaced. Personally, I would like Modric in United colors; the Spurs playmaker should be a fine fit, with his ability to dictate play and his willingness to track back and help out defensively.

With Fabio likely to be loaned out, getting another leftback as cover has been suggested, but it is hard to see the likes of Baines being willing to come and sit on the bench, as I feel Evra is likely to continue being first-choice, despite having a markedly mixed campaign. As such, it could be worth promoting Fryers to being his deputy, and giving the youngster 10-15 starts in ‘smaller’ games.

The club might also look to get another striker in, with Michael Owen being released and Dimitar Berbatov likely to leave the club. Will Keane, the Reserves top-scorer who was initially ear-marked to be in the first-team squad next season, has been cruelly ruled out for at least half a year with an ACL injury. I would not be too concerned though if no one is signed in this area, as Ashley Young can be played as a second striker, while if Kagawa arrives, he will also play behind Rooney, leaving the option of Welbeck and Hernandez as back-up.

A worry is that United seem to not be able to compete in the transfer market with the likes of Chelsea and City, who have the cash to splash. Highly-rated Lille prospect Eden Hazard looks to have opted for Stamford Bridge, where Roman Abramovich is also seeking to add Porto’s Hulk for a staggering 38million pounds, having already secured Marko Marin’s signature.

It is hard to envisage United spending that kind of money, contrary to whatever David Gill says, and it is a little worrying that the club is being linked to cheaper options like Fulham’s Dembele, with all due respect. City and Chelsea also offer the option of being genuine challengers on the domestic and European front now, which is an extra incentive on top of the financial rewards for potential new players.

City will definitely not stop spending, despite the threat of the new Financial Fair Play regulations. They will certainly be a much stronger force next season, whether we like it or not, and the manager will have his work cut out in trying to wrest back the title from the neighbours.

It will be interesting to see which players the club manage to land by the start of next season, while it will also be crucial that the progress of youngsters like Tom Cleverley and the others already mentioned are not hindered.

This United side are not as bad as some have made them out to be, but they face a real challenge to become top dogs in their own backyard, as well as in England again, and the famed resilience and traditional never-say-die attitude of the club will perhaps be needed more than ever come August.



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Reserve watch: Sam Johnstone

by Teo Teng Kiat

Sam Johnstone.

For all of United’s much vaunted youth system, to the best of my knowledge, current third-choice goalkeeper Ben Amos, who made his league debut this season, is the only shot-stopper in recent memory to have successfully graduated from the Academy and gone on to play for the first team.

The England U21 player is regarded as one of the best ‘keepers to have come through the youth ranks in recent years, and has not looked out of place when called upon during this campaign. Another ex-youth goalie to have come good is Hannover 96′s Ron-Robert Zieler,  who became only the fourth United-produced custodian to be capped for his country, after he made his debut for Germany in a 3-3 draw with Ukraine.

Below Amos, there is another genuine prospect between the sticks in the form of 18-year old Samuel Luke Johnstone. The Preston-born lad joined the club in July 2009, and was part of the squad that lifted the FA Youth Cup last season.

Promoted to the Reserves this season, the England U19 goalkeeper has continued to progress. He possesses fine reflexes and agility, and pulled off a few blinding saves in the handful of games I have managed to catch. His shot-stopping ability is probably his best attribute, while he also commands the area well.

He went on loan to Scunthorpe United in League 1 during September last year, and impressed enough during his twelve appearances to have his spell there extended twice. Johnstone returned to United on 10th January this year, and is first-choice for the Reserves now, following Amos’ promotion to the first team, and Kuszczak’s loan out to Watford during the transfer window.

There is no doubt that Johnstone is talented for his age, but he is unlikely to break into the first team any time soon, with De Gea, Lindegaard and Amos ahead of him. A full-season loan spell next year at Championship level, getting regular games, should help his development and hopefully see him make the step up at the club ultimately.

Behind him, there is Jonny Sutherland, Liam Jacob, Joe Coll and highly-rated recent acquisition Pierluigi Gollini in the Academy team. Sutherland has turned in some fine performances for the U18s this season and earned a call-up to the England equivalent last year.

The future does look promising for youth goalkeepers at the club, and perhaps the day will come when an established number one will come from within the ranks of the system itself.



You can follow me on Twitter here.
Sam Johnstone on Twitter here.

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Possible United Stars of the Future

by Teo Teng Kiat

Paul Pogba: a future United star in the making.

Following the retirement of veterans Van der Sar, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes (until he made his U-turn mid-season), this current campaign has seen the emergence of many United youngsters. David De Gea, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley have all played their part at one point or another, while the Da Silva twins have started to feature more frequently as well. In fact, since 1937, at least one youth player has featured in every United matchday squad (via Mr. Mujac), which reflects the good work of the youth system in place at the club.

Undoubtedly though, the name on the lips of most United supporters this season is that of Paul Pogba. Touted as a future midfield star, the 18 year-old French midfielder made his first-team debut in the Carling Cup against Leeds, and hopes are high for the former Le Harve youth player at Old Trafford.

A certain Ravel Morrison had also been hailed as one of the most naturally gifted teenagers to come through the United ranks in recent years, but unfortunately, personal problems led to him being sold to West Ham, as his talent looks set to go to waste.

Apart from Pogba and Morrison, leftback Ezekiel Fryers has also made a handful of appearances for the first team, and suggested that he has what it takes to continue being a part of the United set-up in future.

There are still quite a few other talented young players in the Reserves and Academy, who have shown promise at their respective levels. Not all of them will ultimately get to don the famous red jersey, and certainly only a select few will go on to have successful United careers, but nevertheless, they are almost assured of a decent footballing career elsewhere. A look at ex-Reds currently playing elsewhere in the Premier League, and the lower leagues, will prove that even if you are not good enough for United, you will be good enough at other clubs.

In a series of articles to follow, I will attempt to single out some of the players worth keeping an eye on, and provide some background information on who they are, so as to let you all get more acquainted with these possible United stars of the future.

 

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FA Youth Cup Quarter-Final: United 3-2 Charlton

by Teo Teng Kiat

Jack Barmby celebrates with Tyler Blackett after opening the scoring

Scorers: Barmby 42′, Van Velzen 76′, Wilson 97′; Sho-Silva 45′, 77′

In front of a watching Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s Academy team advanced into the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup after edging out Charlton in a thrilling 3-2 victory at Old Trafford.

The young Red Devils’ bid to defend their trophy was hampered by injuries to key players Tom Lawrence and Adnan Januzaj, while Joe Rothwell and Donald Love were both ruled out as well. Luke McCullough returned in time from injury to skipper the side, while Mats Daehli, Tyler Blackett, and Jack Barmby were all restored to the side after missing out during the 3-3 draw in the previous Academy game against Southampton.

Charlton were the much bigger side in terms of size, and they set about with a physical game-plan. Jonny Sutherland, picked ahead of Liam Jacob in goal, had to pull off a stunning stop from Callum Harriot early in the game. The midfielder was a constant menace, along with their giant striker Tobi Sho-Silva, while there was a famous name on show as well in Diego Poyet, the son of Gustavo Poyet.

United though, gradually got into the game, and took the lead when Jack Barmby lashed in a superb shot from just outside the box, which looked to have caught the ‘keeper off guard. The son of former player Nick Barmby has now scored in every round of the FAYC so far.

However, the lead only lasted three minutes, as Charlton equalised just before the break. Harriot’s shot from distance was superbly saved by Sutherland, but Sho-Silva was on hand to head home the rebound into the top corner, which the goalkeeper very nearly got a hand to as well. Harriot then wasted a glorious chance as he fired over in the box, as the teams went into the break level.

Nick Ioannou narrowly sliced a clearance over his own crossbar in the second half, but United took the lead when Daehli skipped free in midfield to tee up Liam Grimshaw. The rightback sent in a peach of a cross to the far post, where the lurking Van Velzen had no trouble heading in.

But Charlton equalised again within 21 seconds, as Sho-Silva’s precise low shot from the edge of the area found the corner of the goal to make it 2-2

The striker then headed a hat-trick chance over the bar, as Charlton looked the stronger team despite having gone down to ten men following an injury to Harry Gerard after using up all three substitutes. Top-scorer Adebayo Azeez came on and forced a stunning goal-line clearance from Ioannou, and when he raced clear to face Sutherland, the goalkeeper denied him with a superb fingertip save.

Those defensive heroics would prove to be vital when Charni Ekangamene sent Van Velzen racing down the left with three minutes left, and the Dutch winger held off his marker well to roll it back across goal for substitute James Wilson to steer superbly into the bottom right corner for the winning goal.

Hard-fought

It was a hard-fought victory for the lads against a physically imposing Charlton side, who proved they were no pushovers after beating Tottenham in the previous round.

Daehli was lively in midfield, while Van Velzen and Barmby both impressed, but Nick Ioannou stood out for me with his excellent defending. The 16 year-old schoolboy rarely put a foot wrong in defence, and also put in a superb last-ditch tackle at 2-2, in addition to his absolutely stunning block off the line. The son of Cypriot legend Demetris, he is the first player from Cyprus to represent United. Sutherland was also impressive in goal as he made a few very good stops, the pick of the bunch which was the save off Azeez at 2-2 as well. Grimshaw also had a good game at rightback, showing composure to get out of tight situations with good skill, while also delivering a Beckham-like cross for the second goal.

It is heartening to see this side do well, after they got off to a shaky start at the beginning of the season. They have certainly grown tremendously as a team, and the U16 boys have also never looked out of place when required to step up, due to an injury crisis which has at times hit the side pretty hard this season.

While it might be asking a little too much of them to emulate the feats of Pogba and co last season, we can be sure that they will definitely give the Chelsea boys a good fight over the two legs of the semi-final.



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Post-match: Chelsea 3-3 Manchester United

by Teo Teng Kiat

De Gea's stunning stop (photo: Reuters)

Scorers: Evans (OG) 36′, Mata 46′, Luiz 51′; Rooney (pen) 58′, (pen) 70′, Hernandez 84′

On the eve of the 54th anniversary of the Munich disaster, Manchester United did the Busby Babes proud as they clawed back from three goals down to leave Stamford Bridge with a point in a stunning comeback.

It was an outcome that did not look likely when Chelsea took the lead after some clever play from Sturridge. A nice reverse pass from Mata got through to the striker on the right byline inside the box. A lovely shimmy saw him flash past Evra, and his low cross ricocheted first off De Gea’s outstretched leg, and then off Evans and into the net.

It was particularly galling for the away side, who were much the better team and saw a shirt-tug on Young in the penalty area go unpunished, before Gary Cahill appeared to take out Welbeck when the striker was clean through. The Blues defender was shockingly deemed to have played the ball by Howard Webb, who was poor throughout.

Just 24 seconds into the second half, an unmarked Torres crossed from the right, and Mata ran ghosted in unmolested at the far post to slam home a sumptuous sidefoot volley. Five minutes later, it was three. Mata swung in a freekick, and his excellent delivery was met by a free Luiz header which took a huge deflection off Ferdinand’s back and into the opposite corner of the goalkeeper’s movement.

For most teams, it would have been impossible to envisage a comeback. With United, it is highly unlikely, but never completely out of the question.

Hernadez had already come on earlier, before Sturridge’s needless trip on Evra in the box handed United a lifeline, which Rooney made sure of by smashing an unstoppable penalty into the top corner. Suddenly, their tails were up. Scholes came on, and United moved into the ascendancy as Carrick and him started to boss the midfield and dictate the tempo.

A second goal duly arrived when Welbeck was adjudged to have been tripped by Ivanovic in the box. It was a soft one, as it looked like the striker ran into the fullback’s sliding leg, but Rooney wasn’t caring one bit as he sent Cech the wrong way from the spot.

The Chelsea supporters were quiet by this time, and their worries were given validation when the equaliser came six minutes from time. Valencia’s driving run saw him cross to Rooney, who did superbly to unleash a shot. Cech could only push it out to Giggs on the left, and the 38 year-old swung in a perfect cross for Hernandez to nod home.

It would not have surprised anyone at that stage if the Red Devils had gone on to score a winner, but they were hugely indebted to their young Spanish custodian in the end. A Mata  freekick from just outside the area looked to be arrowing into the top corner for a sensational last-gasp winner, but David De Gea flung himself at the ball to claw it away brilliantly.

The much-maligned goalkeeper then tipped over a rasping Cahill drive in the last few seconds to preserve a point, and perhaps make one for himself as well.

It was a draw which would have felt more like a defeat for Chelsea, having thrown away a seemingly unassailable lead at home. Cahill was extremely lucky not to have been sent off, while it was puzzling that Sturridge was taken off midway through, given the torment he had been inflicting on Evra. Fernando Torres is clearly still suffering from a confidence crisis, as his old self would surely have smashed home that clear chance he had at 2-3, instead of delaying and turning into trouble.

Given the circumstances, this point would feel like a massive one for United, and boost the morale in the dressing room a huge deal. The character to fight back was unbelievable, and it says volumes that most of the players were disappointed that they didn’t win the match in the end.

Carrick continued his superb form, making countless interceptions and helping to keep possession, a job made much easier when Scholes came on to help him. The old master instantly changed the game, dictating the pace as he constantly passed and then moved to receive the ball. Rooney showed nerves of steel with his penalties, while Evans was immense as he shackled Torres throughout with ease. De Gea proved his worth with those two late saves, and the boy’s potential should be clear to all now.

There are clearly still worrying parts of the defence to be worked on, but Sir Matt Busby and his Babes will surely have been proud of this performance.

 

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54 years on, The Flowers of Manchester.

by Teo Teng Kiat

The Busby Babes

Did you know Duncan Edwards, Dad, I mean really really know?
It’s just you’ve kept so many cuttings from all those years ago.
And were the Babes the greatest, the greatest ever team;
Or just enshrined here in this history, just a bygone boyhood dream?
Now I know you idolised them, Dad, you gave each one their own page;
the pictures are well faded now, but I suppose that comes with age

Dad, did Tommy Taylor really head a ball against the bar,
which Harry Gregg collected, it had rebounded back so far?
And was Duncan Edwards really the greatest of them all,
with silken skills and feathery touch, thirteen stone and six foot tall?
Now there’s a contradiction surely Dad, but I’m going to let it pass,
but Billy Whelan must have played once, without first going to Mass.

And was Harry Gregg a goalkeeper supreme?
Were Eddie Coleman’s hazy runs like red blurs on swards of green?
And Dad, can you explain to me how it ever came to pass,
that Roger Byrne, just five foot nine, covered every blade of glass?
Or how David Pegg whose swerving runs, like a scorpion you said,
always struck the ball with venom, yet left no one for dead?
Or how it was that big Mark Jones could soar into the sky,
yet still patrol his area, so that nobody got by?

Then there’s the team of Sixty Eight, and Dad I’d like to know,
how George Best was always missing, yet played five hundred games or so?
And how was it Bobby Charlton, who played so many vital roles,
could be both a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals?
Or how Denis Law had chipped a ball from forty yards or more,
it came back off the crossbar, and yet Law was there to score?

What use was it that Pat Crerand could split defences with one pass,
when the ball only ever landed on a sixpence on the grass?
And was Stepney’s save at Wembley, the best you’ve ever seen,
or was it just that it resulted in the fulfilment of a dream?
So now to Matt Busby, or Sir Matt as he’s now known,
from a mining town in Scotland, yet still one of our own?
Then finally there’s the Munich clock, the disaster time still shown;
why do people say that they never intended coming home?

The boy looked up with pleading eyes, and his father gently said:
There’s a lifetime of old memories in the scrapbook you’ve just read.
And of course there is some fiction, most fact, some strange yet true;
that’s what makes players into legends, now I’ve passed them on to you.
Those pictures may be faded son, but I can see them all so clear,
as if it were just yesterday, and I hold each memory dear.

Now I’ve passed this scrapbook on to you, to treasure for all time,
And you too will find your heroes, and build to them a shrine,
and you’ll add your bits of fiction, but don’t worry son that’s fine,
to make legends of your heroes and then place them alongside mine.
And you’ll understand in years to come, as you watch great United teams,
why it is we call Old Trafford, The Theatre of Dreams.

I could not manage to find out who wrote this piece of prose, but it is such a brilliant bit of writing. It encompasses the feelings of most United supporters, who will always keep in remembrance our fallen heroes, while the club itself moves forwards constantly and new ones emerge.

Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, Roger Byrne, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan were the players who perished immediately, along with club staff Walter Crickmer, Tom Curry and Bert Whalley. Sir Matt Busby managed to survive too, but a certain Duncan Edwards wasn’t so lucky. Tipped by many for greatness, the footballer who used to make Sir Bobby Charlton feel inferior sadly passed away fifteen days after the crash in hospital.

Incredibly, despite the Busby Babes having been torn apart by the tragedy, assistant manager Jimmy Murphy, who took control in Sir Matt’s absence, led a patched-up team to the FA Cup final that year. Despite the loss to Bolton, it showed that the club would fight on.

And that they did. Sir Matt returned the next season to helm the club, and he set about building another great team. Ten years later, the likes of George Best and Denis Law led United to their first ever European Cup, as they beat a Benfica side led by Portuguese great Eusebio. As Sir Bobby held aloft the trophy, emotions couldn’t run any higher, as all of the team embraced Sir Matt on the pitch.

Manchester United had risen from the dead, and it was something which they would continue to do ever so often in the coming years.

The events that happened in Munich 54 years ago will forever be associated with the club, and remain one of the greatest tragedies in football. It is a loss which is felt dearly, and it continues to shape and define the club today.

It is something which should unite all supporters, regardless of club, and so it is incomprehensible why there are still rival fans taunting us with Munich chants, and it is also unforgivable for sections of us who continue to jeer at our Liverpool counterparts about Hillsborough.

Rest in peace all those who laid down their lives in the cold snow of Munich that fateful 6th of February, for you will all be forever remembered in our hearts.


United’s flag is deepest red,
It shrouded all our Munich dead,
Before their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their heart’s blood dyed it’s ev’ry fold.

Then raise United’s banner high,
Beneath it’s shade we’ll live and die,
So keep the faith and never fear,
We’ll keep the Red Flag flying here.

We’ll never die, we’ll never die,
We’ll never die, we’ll never die,
We’ll keep the Red flag flying high,
Because Man United will never die.


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Of Sneijder and Scholes

by Teo Teng Kiat

Scholesy introducing his studs to an opponent

It was all fine and dandy just a few weeks back. Having trounced Wolves 4-1 and beaten QPR 2-0, where Michael Carrick did his best Messi impression by waltzing from the halfway line to slide a sideways pass into the goal, we then proceeded to put five each past sorry Fulham and Wigan in the next two matches. Berbatov was back with a nonchalant backheeled goal (and an even cooler celebration: he just raised his arms and wore a non-plussed look, like it was something he did all the time), and we didn’t even need proper defenders; Valencia was masquerading as Daniel Alves, while Carrick went to centreback to fill in. Injuries? No problem, or so we thought.

Then Phil Jones got hit by the injury curse, Smalling contracted tonsilitis. So Fergie fielded four wide players in midfield against Blackburn, with Rafael and Park in the centre. Surely we couldn’t lose against the bottom club. But Yakubu had different ideas, De Gea dropped a clanger, and suddenly the 2-3 loss prompted a slew of quickfire comments from United supporters all over the world, clamoring for Sneijder, Gaitan, Hamsik, Mats Hummel…the list goes on. The pressing need for new players were seemingly made even more urgent when Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye combined to deal the Red Devils a second successive defeat at St James Park (I refuse to call it any other way).

And from being level on points with City and seemingly on our way to secure a 20th title and not a squeak about January signings being heard, these same bunch of fans are now calling for the gaffer to splash the cash. These people are probably the same ones who called for Lindegaard to start against Newcastle, only to stick the blame on the Dane after the loss, despite none of the goals actually being his fault. And also, Berbatov has apparently gone back to being a lazy bugger who does fuck-all, while Rooney repaid the supporters’ faith with a performance so tepid, the manager would have been better served sticking Albert the kitman out there.

Then this morning, lo and behold, Paul Scholes is suddenly going to come out of retirement and salvage the season for us, ala Thierry Henry (he’s going to partner Van Persie and fire the Gunners to the top), or so the papers claim. While we are at it, why don’t we ring up Denis Law or Eric Cantona to replace the soon-to-be-sold Rooney (because he was dropped for ONE match)?

I am genuinely sick of all the knee-jerk reactions. How can people honestly believe that the club will sell a top player in the middle of a season, when we are chasing a title that we have every chance of winning, despite the recent defeats? People claim that the current midfield has no creativity and no spark, but it is a little disturbing that many also believe that the return of a 23-year old midfielder with only a couple of seasons’ worth of Premier League experience will somehow transform the team and get us playing like Barcelona.

Take a look at the table again. Manchester United are second. Yes, only one place below an admittedly very impressive-looking City, despite having an injury list that would have already crippled most other clubs. Heck, we could field our injured players as “Manchester United Injured FC” in the league, if not for the fact that none of them are actually fit enough to kick a ball. All this, and we are only three points behind a team which is backed up by unlimited reserves of crude oil billions, with slightly less than half of the season to go. Not bad, ain’t it, when you put it into perspective.

I am obviously not saying that I won’t welcome any top players to the club in January, if it happens. I salivate over the class of Luka Modric when I watch Spurs play, I admire the graft of Cheick Tiote in a Newcastle shirt, I marvel at the heroics of Van Persie for Arsenal, and I know that Mario Gotze and Christian Eriksen are bloody brilliant players for their respective clubs, but that doesn’t mean that if Fergie wants them at Old Trafford, it will definitely happen, never mind what anyone else thinks. And if I hear another word about Sneijder (plagued by injury this season; ten appearances only) coming to United, I think I will weep.

I really don’t think we need to, or should, buy any players during this transfer window. It would be much more prudent to assess the squad again at the end of the season, after seeing how well we have done (or not), and then decide on whether there is a need to get anyone in. The recent spate of injuries might well end up costing us the title, but these players won’t stay injured forever; what happens if we buy new replacements and they come back? We are not like our neighbours, who can afford to buy players on a whim, and then dump them to train with the Under-18s when they are no longer required due to new arrivals superseding them.

What I feel we can do is to actually get a team out there with eleven players in their natural positions. Give the youngsters a chance, there’s nothing much to lose really. Fryers has looked decent whenever he’s played this season, while there is Scott Wootton to recall from loan if further cover for the defence is needed. Start blooding in Ravel and Pogba by putting them on the bench, with the odd ten or fifteen minutes; surely their ability can’t be that far behind Gibson. Macheda has gone on loan, and if Diouf is loaned out as well, then Will Keane should also get more opportunities upfront. Any reasonable sort of playing time will surely only benefit their development, and stand them in good stead for future loan moves to other clubs where they will get regular action.

Much as I would love for us to retain the title, I honestly don’t feel that it will be a disaster if we don’t. This team is a one in a transition period right now, after the departures of Van der Sar, Neville, Scholes, and probably Giggs in another year or so. The likes of De Gea, Jones, Welbeck, Smalling, Cleverley are still young and learning.  Give them time, and together with the more established players as well as the upcoming Academy lads, and the team will be a potent force to reckon with very soon in the future.

We need to be patient as supporters, and trust in the manager and the team to put things right again, hopefully starting with the FA Cup derby against City tomorrow.


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