The Wonder That is John O’Shea-John of All Trades

When Johnny goes marching down the wing,
O’Shea! O’Shea!
When Johnny goes marching down the wing,
O’Shea! O’Shea!
When Johnny goes marching down the wing,
The Stretford End are gonna sing…
“We all know that Johnny’s gonna score”

The wonder of John O’Shea, according to thousands of Manchester United supporters, is that he is somehow a United player.  If they had their say he would play about 4 games for United.  However, so far he has managed close to 400.  Yes, that is not a typo.  In fact John is 30th on United’s all time appearance list, and by the end of next season he should pass the likes of Bruce, Beckham, Law, Crerand, and Stiles.  Yet in 20 years hardly anyone will remember John O’Shea.  Certainly he will not be joining the likes of Schmeichel, Solsksjaer or Ronaldo when fans will look back on the Sir Alex Ferguson era.  Yet John O’Shea has lasted at United for 12 years.  He made his debut after the treble season and was lauded as a versatile and very talented defender.  The future of United.

And John has played a big part in that future.  He has (so far) 4 league medals, 1 FA Cup medal, 3 League Cup medals, and even a European Cup medal (unused substitute, he did play in the loss to Barca a year later).  That is an impressive medal haul.  Especially for a player so many consider to be utter shite, useless, and at fault for most of United’s problems.  When in doubt blame John O’Shea.  Whenever he plays and we fail to win or just give up a goal, someone somewhere will point out that he was to blame in one way or another.  If he was Scottish (like with Fletcher a few seasons back) fans would point out his nationality as the reason he gets picked.  Or that he is Fergie’s illegitimate lovechild (yes, I heard that one, said only partly in jest).  So, just how the hell could such a shit player manage close to 400 games at United?

Seriously, how?!  He has no proper position at which he excels.  And he has played everywhere, and by that I do mean in every possible position.  He has played all across the back line.  He has been a winger, both sides, a central midfielder, hell he has played up front as an emergency striker.  And of course, you not need ask, he has put on keeper gloves and even made a save.  A jack of all trades, and a master of none so it would seem.  He has rarely been first choice anything when everyone was fit.  Yet, since 2002-03 season he has managed to average around 40 games per season.  Managing close to 50 in 5 of those seasons.  So he is not a Scot, does not looks like Fergie, how then?  How the hell did this ideal example of mediocrity manage close to 400 games and counting for United.

The answer to that question is fairly simple.  And in short its because he is one of the most important United squad players.  Yes, he is, shut up.  When first choice defenders and midfielders are healthy and John does not start he is usually on the bench because he can cover for almost any substituted player, and in days of  of 5 on the bench that was even more important, it gave the manager more choices elsewhere.  He can not only do it, but does it well most of the time.  John O’Shea is rarely the best player on the pitch, but he is also usually far from the worst, though in many United fans’ eyes the latter is almost always opposite.  No matter how well O’Shea plays there will always be a section of United fans who will refuse to see it.  At best they’ll admit that he wasn’t shit for a change.  However, while John lacks the flair or the charisma of some other players he is usually stable, dependable, and solid.  Yes, those are not attributes that fans salivate over, but we can’t have a team full of Nanis.  A John O’Shea is a vital and necessary part of any good squad.

He solves so many problems for the gaffer.  A player injured, not a problem, “number 22 come on down!”  Someone needs a rest?  Sure, “here’s Johhny!!!”  Need a change of formation or tactics?  “Mr. O,shea, a call for Mr O’Shea!”  Johny on the Spot he should be called.  As I mentioned he plays anywhere asked.  And not just in emergencies for a few minutes.  When pretty much all of our central midfielders were out in the winter/spring of 2006 he and Giggs run the centre of the midfield for several games, and they were quite good at it.  A big part of our 10 game unbeaten run that lasted till Chelsea showed their dominance that season at the Bridge.  And there are times when he does not play for weeks and then is asked to slot in for an important match because someone gets hurt. He does well and contributes.  You never hear a word of complaint from him.  He never asks for a raise, never for more games, is hardly in the news.  Always loyal.  Does what he is asked to do and goes home.

Of course his detractors will say that he has no reason to moan.  That he should be grateful that he is even allowed to train with the first team…  They will never be convinced.  But we all have our prejudices.  Hardly anyone noticed how poor Evra has been for a year.  But Evra has become a fan favourite, so it took quite a while for him to get some stick from the United faithful.  O’Shea on the other hand is usually the first one blamed whether he deserved it or not.  Now that Fletcher is no longer the fan favourite for “shit” (as one United fan told him to his face at Carrington some years back), its all usually on just O’Shea.  Sure we have a good laugh at Obertan and the Homeless Wonder, but they hardly play and no one really takes them seriously.  O’Shea on the other hand is a vital and long standing member of the squad.  In a couple of weeks he will be 30.  In a few years he will retire.  And if Fergie is still around, it will most likely be as a United player.  This summer we might have two testimonial games, one for former Captain Gary Neville, and one possibly for Paul Scholes.  According to tradition John O’Shea has earned himself a testimonial match.  Though I do not think that one will be a sell out full of tears of sadness and chants of gratitude for such loyal and good service provided for the club.

And that is unfair.  No he should not be remembered on the same level as one of the greatest midfielders we ever had, or possibly our greatest RB and a passionate United supporter.  But we should remember and be thankful for what he truly was (is still).  A solid player who always did his best at any time, at any position, without a word of complaint.  He like so many others who did, could have gone to some other club and would be almost guaranteed a starting place in his favourite position.  He could be Captain of some club, not just a stand in for some Fa Cup game twice a year.  It would have helped his career, he could have made as much money elsewhere and he might have become the Captain of his country then.  But he stayed, grateful for every chance.

He is quiet, unassuming, both on and off the pitch.  Not many back pages are filled with his pictures.  Or many tabloid pages.  And he most likely will leave quietly.  Even though he deserves better.  We have rarely been thankful when it came to John O’Shea.  Yet John had some great moments for us.  That game at Arsenal, with Roy, Gary and Viera.  When Ronaldo got his brace and Johny went marching down the wing.  That was a great game.  Or when we were struggling to keep our points lead and regain the league title in 2007.  And Scholes was sent off, and we prayed for just a point in those dying minutes at Anfailed.  And then Ronaldo took that free kick, and O’Shea……!!!!  And less than two months later, when we were losing to Everton, and the league was slipping away.  He popped up and got one, and we went on to win and to win the league.  That season we all joked how great a striker he was.  He scored 4 league goals on just 5 shots.  80% conversion rate!

But mostly we should remember him not for the moments when he scored for us.  But for those countless times when he came in, did his job well and went quietly back to the bench waiting for his next chance.  So yes, John O’Shea was hardly the best player for United, hell hardly the best defender, or a leftback, or a rightback even.  Usually there was always someone who was in front of him and most of the time, it was for good reason.  They were better.  But no one, for so long, could do what O’Shea did for this club.  And that is why he has lasted for so long and played so many games.  He was never a United favourite, will never be remembered as a legend.  Hell, he’ll hardly be remembered at all.  But he also does not deserve the stick he gets.  He deserves our respect and gratitude for the long years of loyal service.  Because not many players would be willing to do what he does.  I could compile a long list of players who as soon as they lost a starting place have asked to be sold, we all remember them.  Hell some of them are remembered more fondly than O’Shea is.  Even though they refused to do what the does.  Yet John O’Shea does it, does it well and without a word of complaint.  That is what makes him such a vital part of Manchester United.

And that is why he is still here.  To do a job.  Its not glamorous.  It does not get him much praise or appreciation from the fans.  But one praise he gets is most important of all.  He is still around.  Because Fergie knows the importance of John O’Shea and appreciates his service.  That is why he is still puts on that famous red shirt and has done for so many years.  And that should be good enough for us fans.  This is not someone whom Fergie tried for the hell of it, like Dong, Manucho, or Obertan.  Or some kid who is just not good enough, like Eagles, Richardson, or Gibson.  Or a mistake like the Djemba twins, Kleberson, or Prunier.  No, O’Shea has been at United since 1998, and for good reason.

Patrice Evra- The Rise and Fall of a Fullback

He arrived without too much fanfare, and his acquisition left many Manchester United supporters confused.  He came with Nemanja Vidic, another puzzling buy that Fergie made in January of 2006.  Not many United fans knew much about the two defenders.  They cost decent money (for the time) and we didn’t really need them.  We had enough centerbacks, so the Vidic purchase seemed like spending money on luxury when we needed players elsewhere.  And we had a leftback, a fan favourite, Gabriel H****e.  Why the hell did we need another leftback for?  He was small, did not look like he could defend and had no aerial presence.  Maybe we could make him into a winger?  We all read in Wikipedia that he did play on the wing at times for his old club.  Either way, the money that was spent that January did not appear to be a great investment.  And it looked even worse once we saw them play.

But as any armchair fan has (or should have) learned by now, we can’t judge players based on Youtube videos, or just a few games.  Evra made his debut just days after his arrival, against out bitter local rivals Manchester city.  And he was shit.  We were awful all around to be honest, but Patrice did not make a good first impression.  Or second, or third.  He was quite poor all winter and spring.  In most of his 14 appearances.  So we were left wondering, just why the hell did Fergie buy him, and what did he see in him?  Well by the end of his second season at United we all knew why.  He displaced the fan favourtie (his injury helped) and became the undisputed number one leftback at United.  He had pace, despite his small frame he was pretty good in the air, his tackling was very good.  He had good positioning and awareness, he was combative, and boy could he attack.  Pretty soon Evra became a fan favourite.  Everyone loved him, well except for the opposition players and fans.

Less than two months after his arrival Patrice picked up his first medal with United, a League Cup medal, he came on as a sub.  And he continued to pick up medals in every season he has been at United so far.  3 League medals, a Champions League medal, and 3 League Cup medals along with a CWC medal and a few lesser ones.  He has won everything at United except for the FA Cup.  And he was instrumental to United’s success in all of those seasons.  Not only a fan favourite but consistently one of our best players and one of the best leftbacks in the League and the world.  He even captained the side on several occasions.  Patrice also has shown to be a proper United player by learning about United and the club’s history.  Even though he is a foreigner he speaks about United as if he was from Salford.  And he winds up the opposition.  Arsenal fans and players I think love him the most, closely followed by Chelsea and our main rivals Liverpool and city.  So the perfect United player.

Defends properly, attacks with flair, knows what it means to be a United player, the opposition hate him, we love him.  Its a wonder why there are no great songs about him.  Only knock could be that despite his great attacking abilities he does not score enough, just 3 goals in over 220 games.  But we did not get him for goals.  We loved him when he called Arsenal players babies.  We loved him when he went after the racist groundsmen.  We loved him after he displaced a former fan favourite.  He was dependable, rarely injured, and hardly ever made mistakes.  The perfect United player.

Or so it was till about a year ago.  It was then that I noticed something wrong with his game.  He still helped out in the attack, bombing down the wing and making the opposing defenders’ lives difficult.  But a lot of times he did not track back.  His tackles became mistimed more and more.  He seemed lost at times.  Did not read the game well, was out of position more and more.  He became a bit shit.  Then there was the disastrous French World Cup in South Africa.  But he got a bit of rest and we all thought that once he got back to his proper team the old Patrice would be back.  Well he was back.  The Patrice of his early days at United, or of last Spring.  That one we don’t like so much.  And as the season progressed he became worse and worse.

Now in the last months of last season, and the first months of this, many fans simply did not see his poor play.  Evra’s reputation got him off from most of the criticism.  Instead we concentrated on Evans, Rooney, Neville, Fletcher, Carrick and others who had poor games.  Evra was our dependable great fullback, the best in the League, one of the best in the business.  He still had his moments here and there.  Still attacked with flair.  He still made a few great tackles.  So more games passed and he played as badly as he did earlier.

Finally people started to notice.  The slow trot back to our area while the opposition attack.  The frequent loss of possession, the poor tackles.  The great Evra had become a liability.  What was wrong with our great Patrice?  My theory is simple.  Fergie burned him out.  Out of the 56 games we played last season, he played in 51.  The next ones were Valencia (11 less starts, but 49 games), Rooney 44 (42 starts) and Fletcher 41 (39 starts).  There is a common theme with all those players, bar Valencia who was injured for a long time.  They have been shit this season.  Fletcher is half the player he was last season.  And Rooney, well we all know what happened with him.  In the past 4 seasons Evra has not played less than 48 games (37 already this season, all starts).  Now that would be fine for a centerback, but is a bit much for an attacking fullback like Evra.  He simply works too hard to play so much.  While in the middle of last season pretty much all our defenders were hurt, it was Evra playing alongside Carrick and Fletcher in defence.  It fell on him to lead the line.  And while we had injuries there was no one to come in and relieve him from time to time.  Fergie did not yet trust Fabio, while O’Shea was either injured or playing RB, or CB, or CM.  So, by late March and April Patrice was burned out physically and mentally.  Now, instead of resting in the summer he went to the WC with France and captained that side.  And we all know what a disaster that was.  It lead to his suspension from the team.  He just had a few short weeks of rest, along with official inquiries in France, and he came back to United.

Our poor midfield play added more pressure on defenders.  Soon we fell behind in the title race and we needed our veterans more and more.  And since Patrice is hardly ever hurt it means he’s had more starts than any other player on the team.  And so his poor form continues.  That is by no means to suggest that he has been one of our worst players, or even the worst defender, we have enough of worthy candidates for that.  However has has been far from the stellar fullback we all know and love.  And certainly not one of the best in the world anymore.  But I have not given up on Evra.  Fabio’s maturing  and good performances will mean a rest from time to time in the future.  And there will be no great pressure of a major international tournament this summer.  Finally Evra will get a proper rest.  And that should mean he will be back next season as good as ever.  He will be 30 in a month or so.  This means he still has a good couple of years in him.  In the meantime Fabio will come good.  And by 2012 might be ready to take over.  So we will be fine at LB no matter what.  There is no need to panic.  No need to sell Evra, or buy replacements.  He can still give us good service.  And for what he did over the time he has been here he deserves our loyalty and support.  So far that support has been there.  The evidence is the lack of criticism for a year’s worth of poor performances.

Now it may seem harsh to some that I felt the need to write about how shit Evra has been.  But I hardly hear a peep out of anyone about his poor play.  And I am judging him by the very high standards he has set.  So no, he has not been as shit as Evans or Carrick, but he should also not get a free ride from criticism when we are ready (and in most cases correctly) to criticize almost anyone in the squad.  And unlike with Gibson or Carrick my sentence, while harsh to some, is not a life sentence.  I do not believe that Patrice is done, just burned out a bit and in need of rest.  Once that comes all should be fine.  Hopefully.

Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm  Comments (16)  
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Yet Another Rooney Controversy?-Swearing on Television

What?! Fucking, what?!

Edit:  Wayne Rooney was charged by the FA and faces a possible two game ban.

I have a proposal to make.  In light of the latest controversy involving Wayne Rooney and his mouth I propose that we move the Premier League kickoffs from lunchtime, 3 pm, or tea time and make them play at 9 in the evening.  Then no one would care what Rooney said.  Yes, if he uttered his “foul and abusive tirade” as some are calling it, after 9 when its ok to swear on television then everything would be fine.  Unfortunately for Rooney this was the early Saturday game.  And apparently kids were watching.  To be honest I found out about him swearing from twitter.  I was too busy celebrating to notice it live.  But we have vigilant people who watch over football and want to protect us from the likes of Potty Mouth Wayne.

Now I am sure that in pretty much every newspaper there were articles about this, I, so far, have limited myself to reading the Daily Mail.  And there are no less than four articles on Rooney.  Former referee Graham Poll, Tom Kelly and Patrick Collins have gone the respect route and have called called for Rooney to be suspended.  Martin Samuels on the other hand ranted about Rooney’s anger and went as far as to call for Rooney to leave the sport if he does not find joy in it.  And all I have to say is:  “wow, fucking wow!”

An angry young man

A grown man has sworn on television.  Now there is breaking news….  Of course he is not the first nor will he be the last.  There is quite a long list of players swearing either during games straight at the cameras, or during post match interviews.  Of course we see every week that players swear at the refs, though realizing it requires a bit of logic and lip reading as its not always audible.  Personally, even if I had noticed I would just chuckle.  No, not because I love Rooney and United, but because I do not believe that there are such things as bad words.  What people consider foul I may not.  However some may not consider certain words abusive or disrespectful, yet I may be offended by them, even if they are not your ordinary “bad” words.  Its all rather subjective and depends on the context.  A man calling another man a daft cunt has insulted him.  However sometimes that is just two mates giving each other stick and no one is insulted by it.  The insulting word is “daft.”  Now I have never appreciated anyone calling me stupid nor should anyone else.  If they call me a cunt it washes over me.  It would be insulting if someone called a woman a cunt, a man though, that’s not really an insult, just a bit of juvenile name calling.  Context and subjectivity.  Most seeing the daft cunt example would find insult with the C word.

And here we come to Rooney.  Or rather the shit-storm that followed his using the word fuck twice on tv.  Graham Poll, who has heard every insult possible on the pitch or on tv, calls for a 3 match ban, for “abusive language and inappropriate behaviour.  He also uses words like “tirade of aggression and abuse.”  Now as far as I know, and I have since watched the “incident,” Rooney was not abusing anyone.  He just said “what, fucking what.”  Nor was this a tirade.  Mr. Poll would do well to consult a dictionary, because mine claims that a tirade is a “a long angry speech of criticism, or accusation.”  So perhaps Mr. Poll is just using language to perpetuate the controversy and blow it out of proportion.  Not an uncommon thing in the English media.  Even for Rooney two very short sentences are not a tirade, and while he swore he did not abuse anyone.  So what gives here?  Mr. Poll and Mr. Collins both cite the new Respect Campaign announced this past week by the FA and want it to start with Mr. Rooney.

Mr. Kelly has called the incident vile and disgusting.  Strong words I must say.  He quotes Poll’s article in which a 6 year old boy supposedly asked why Rooney said ‘fuck,” so Poll claimed (funny how he quoted another DM article, its like Fox News reporting on what one of their pundits claimed the night before and saying that they are just reporting the news).  Now that 6 year old boy obviously has heard the word before, and knows that its bad, therefore he must have come across it several times.  Of course Rooney should not have said “fuck” on the telly.  It was wrong but lets not kid ourselves this is not the first time a footballer or another athlete did it.  Its the first time however that a couple of words have caused so much controversy.  And it all reeks of hypocrisy and agendas.  The hypocrisy is obvious.  Every week parents take thousands of kids to football matched knowing full well that they will be exposed to songs in which there is a lot of swearing, and far worse than what Rooney said, and also a lot of really vile and disgusting (truly this time, not in the Kelly way, though personally, I am not bothered with most of it) abuse directed at the opposition fans, players, managers and clubs.  Rooney himself has heard a lot of abuse.  Just ask the Everton fans for their Rooney songbook.  That same game he was constantly booed and abused throughout the whole match.  Very audible chants of ‘you scouse bastard’ were heard throughout whenever he touched the ball.  And these are the same people who are now insulted and outraged by Rooney?  Fuck off!!!

Once a Blue...

Seriously, football fans have no right to act like angels.  Again, Rooney should not have said it.  It was wrong.  And he should be reminded to watch his mouth.  But that is all.  All the indignation is hypocritical.  Now we are reminded of last year when Rooney ‘assailed” the camera and “verbally attacked” English fans for not supporting the team.  I shit you not, the quoted words were used in articles to describe Rooney’s little rant last June.  Again more media bollocks after a player shows a bit of frustration.  Stories were written, it was discussed by pundits.  As if Rooney had said something really important.  Who cares what he felt after a dismal outing.  And this is the problem me thinks.  Rooney has been disappointing for England.  After a great early Euro 2004 campaign he got hurt and England were knocked out.  He stomped on an opponent and got himself sent off in the WC 2006 while England lost.  This time the media tried to find a foreign villain, his club teammate Ronaldo.  There were still high hopes for him after all.  But it kept going down hill from there.  He was part of the useless lot that failed to qualify to Euro 2008 and was part of the shocking England team in last year’s World Cup.

And last fall he fell out with his club’s fans.  Many of those who loved him joined the legions of disappointed fans of England and are now also frustrated with Wayne Rooney, the White Pele, the star that was supposed to lead England to the promised land.  And that I think is part of this whole blown up controversy.  If World Cup winner Wayne Rooney said fuck on the telly everyone would forgive him.  But he was shit, along with the rest of the team.  So England does not like Wayne Rooney very much.  This “rant” follows the very famous elbow.  Then too there were many stories, many calls for punishment, his elbow got more play and stories than a properly violent tackle in one of the biggest games of the season a week later, but Rooney was not involved in that one, so it did not matter very much.  And several fans and football pundits are obviously not over the fact that he got away with the elbow.  So here is another chance to get him, and to sell papers of course.  a couple of “fucks” have overshadowed a great, and perhaps title winning, comeback by Manchester United.  One in which United have scored 4 goals in just 19 minutes.  And Wayne Rooney himself got 3 of those in under 15.  Yes, Wayne Rooney scored from a free kick, a very good open play goal and got the winning goal from a penalty spot.  But that apparently is not a newsworthy story, he after all said fuck on tv.

Is that a smile?

He did look frustrated and angry as Martin Samuels suggests.  He did not celebrate the first at all, the second he did, a little, and the third is famous now.  Samuels claims anger and lack of joy from football.  I claim bollocks.  Rooney looks far from happy yes.  But his reasons are surely not so simplistic as Mr. Samuels would have us believe.  We all know that Wayne Rooney loves playing the game of football.  We also know that it brings joy to him and makes him happy.  Or it did, till last summer.  Wayne Rooney’s injuries, personal issues, contract “negotiations,” and lack of form have all contributed to his frustration and apparent lack of joy.  But to claim that he is simply just angry and therefore should not be playing is, well, a bit simple, and Martin Samuels is, or should be, better than that.  We were all angry at the team in that first half.  We were not too thrilled with Wayne from most of this season.  And we certainly were none too pleased with him on Saturday till he started scoring.  Lack of movement and awareness.  Bad touches and passing, terrible decisions, team losing.  Useless, waste of space, substitute him, were just a few of the nicer things said about him till the 65th minute of the game.  By Manchester United fans!!!  Imagine how he felt.

Now we all realize that Wayne Rooney is not the most cerebral of players.  But even he must have realized that the team was playing like shit and he was a big part of why.  So when he finally got his third all that anger and frustration with himself came out.  And if we are to believe some of the reports that the Sky cameraman asked him to kiss the camera a la mark Noble, and made “famous” by Steven Gerrard, then the frustration was also with the cameraman.  Either way, the “fucks” were not anger at the world, or disrespect, or abuse, or even yob behaviour.  They were a release of frustration from a difficult year in general and that game in particular.  And in that context the reaction was quite understandable even if wrong.  Wayne Rooney is a winner, he gets angry when he does not win.  Nowt wrong with that, only losers accept losing as if it was nothing.  When he finally put United ahead the pressure released.  Simple really.  And no, not worthy of a beheading.  The world is full of foul mouthed athletes.  Remember McEnroe?  Connors?  Britain’s number one Murray?  They did/do it all the time.  Not once.

What makes Mr. Samuels’ anger and lack of joy theory utter bollocks is his own example of Javier Hernandez.  To show the contrast between the two he pointed out how Mr. Hernandez was full of joy and showed and open smile after scoring the fourth United goal of the game.  That’s nice and all, but if Mr. Samuels had watched the celebration for a few more seconds he would notice a very happy and smiling Wayne Rooney hugging and congratulating our young Mexican.  What, fucking what?!  Rooney smiled?  Football brought him joy?  No way!  Well, yes way.  Now of course my analysis of Wayne Rooney’s mental state may be as useless as Mr. Samuels’, but I do believe mine is closer to the truth and more thought out than his.  Simply because mine makes a bit of sense and actually follows a logical thought pattern all throughout and includes Rooney smiling after the fourth goal for a bit of balance.

I have seen Wayne Rooney smile and look full of joy many a time.  Not so much lately of course, because personally he did not have much to smile about.  But I never, for even a second, believed that he has lost his love for the game and that it does not bring him joy anymore.  That is hackery.  Just another frustrated and ANGRY England fan blaming his, so far, fallen idol and blowing things out of proportion, that last one reflects typical English journalism, if we can call it that.  I too am frustrated with Rooney.  I fell out of love with him in October of last year.  It was under the Trinity statue that I found out that Rooney confirmed he wanted out of the club he claimed to love and and said he never wanted to leave just months earlier.  It was only a couple of hours before kickoff.  Just days before we chanted his name when he was warming up.  So I am not simply defending a player I love and will not accept any criticism of him.  I have criticized him plenty of times in the past 6 months.  I don’t do blind devotion, even for United players.  The last perfect one was Bryan Robson, though Kenao and Giggsy came close.  And the only one who is god is Fergie.  But even I see when mistakes are made, when criticism is not baseless.  I am old enough and cynical enough to see things for what they truly are.  So Wayne does not get a free pass just because he wears a United shirt.

On the other hand I am not some silly ABU idiot who will blow out of proportion anything to do with United.  And as much as everyone denies that ABU-ism exists things look rather suspicious when there are tonnes of stories whenever Rooney swears, throws and elbow, or Fergie has a go at the refs.  Yet similar is ignored when anyone else does it.  I get that being the biggest club in the land comes with a price, but some thing are a bit much.  Especially in light of the recent survey that had United as the number one hated company in the UK.  More hated than banks, shitty airlines and deplorable places like McDonald’s or Starbucks.  So no, we are not all that paranoid.  You do hate us, and we enjoy the hatred.  Personally it amuses me.  However there are times when all the ABUs go a bit far.  And this is one of those times.  The kid said fuck on tv.  Its not right, but lets not act as if he did something truly evil and bad.  Some sense of proportion please.

Published in: on April 4, 2011 at 6:26 am  Comments (2)  
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New Premier League Respect Campaign- An April Fool’s Joke?

To Gain Respect One Must Earn It First

So the motto goes.  Problem with referees is that no matter what you say to them on the pitch you are hardly going to change their mind.  So whether its either “please ref, I got the ball,” or “fuck off ref, I got the fucking ball you blind twat,” the result is likely to be the same.  The ref’s decision is final.  There is of course the school of though about working the referees.  Meaning that if you moan long and loud enough you will get the benefit of the doubt next time, if for no other reason that to shut you up.  I wonder how effective that one is?  I would think that its not as effective as some players believe.  Whether one is respectful or not, its quite futile.  If anything it may just annoy the referee in question.

And players should not want annoyed referees.  Nor should the managers.  I do not believe that the refs are biased, no matter how they appear.  But subconsciously there might be something.  Something that in an instant would make them give a questionable decision against the team they are annoyed with.  Its not a knock on their integrity, its just how human beings work.  A professional referee should of course be above that, but as mentioned, they do belong to our species (its true, they did tests and everything), and are flawed.  A month ago Manchester United visited Chelsea.  And Martin Atkinson had a shocker.  I said this already in the first half.  Before the Luiz non sending off.  United had most of the ball, were not playing physically and in the whole game United were officially fouled 10 times, while the whistle blew 14 times against them.  Now I do not think that Atkinson is a bent ref, but I wholeheartedly agree with Fergie when he said Atkinson was not fair.  He was not.  He sent of Vidic but not Luiz, who could have received 3 yellow cards.  He did not call a penalty on Terry.  And he let several obvious calls go when Chelsea players were fouling United players.  So bent?  No.  Fair?  Hell no!

Martin Atkinson worked the same fixture last season too.  Chelsea got a very soft free kick near the United box, and scored.  There was an obvious foul by a Chelsea player in the area where the ball arrived and because of it Terry was able to score.  Nothing was called and United went on to lose the game by the score 1-0 and then lose the championship to Chelsea by one point.  Is it any wonder why Fergie is not happy with Mr. Atkinson?  To be fair of course, United had their share of favourable calls.  Its not about that really.  Its about the reaction and the new respect campaign that was the result of said reaction.

Fergie got a five game suspension for calling refs shit.  Atkinson unfair and weak, and Whiley (the 2 out of the 5 games are for him) fat and unfit the season before.  And make no mistake, if Fergie does not say this last comment about Atkinson there is no new respect campaign.  So Fergie has a go at a ref.  Now there is breaking news for you!!!  And the FA and the Ref’s association are appalled.  Why?  Was he wrong?  No, only Chelsea fans and ABU’s think Atkinson was fair.  And even some of them will quietly agree with Fergie.  Its not as if the FA and the refs went all out to defend Mr. Atkinson’s performance.  No they just said Fergie should not be saying such things.  And herein lies the problem.  There is no communication.  Now Fergie may have (very likely actually) said all this to deflect from United’s inept second half, but he was still right.  Problem was Fergie has a perfect excuse.  Just minutes after the game he has a microphone shoved into his face and instead of being asked about the tactics, formation, adjustments, he gets asked about the non sending off of Luiz.  So he goes off on a bit of a rant, an accurate one too, and gets five games in the better seats and a private phone line.  And other than shock at Fergie no one from the authorities came out and explained Mr. Atkinson’s decisions.  Mr. Atkinson himself is not allowed to, because god forbid he should explain to the fans why he did what he did.  God forbid we learn how a referee comes to a split second decision.  We don’t want a media fight between the refs and managers or players.  But a nice statement explaining major decisions (such as I did not see the foul, upon reflection I think I got the call wrong, but in the heat of the moment I thought it was the right call, please remember I do not have the benefit of the replay on the pitch).  You know, controversial stuff like that.  A simple explanation and a reminder to all of us that they have only a second to make that call and no replays.  How shocking would that be?  Now of course some see this idea as referees having to answer every questionable decision and if once they do engage in the debate their will be sucked into it.

Terry showing respect

The problem is they are sucked into it anyway, without us hearing from the man who actually made the call.  Now how many of us would love to have Mr. Clettenberg explain that Nani goal against Spurs?  Or why he did not send of Rooney and his elbow?  A simple and short explanation of his point of view and we could move on.  Instead we speculate to this day.  And we wait.  We would still have to wait to find out why Graham Poll waited for a third yellow to send of that Croatian bloke in the 2006 WC, but he wrote a book.  Because of said book we got to find out why John Terry was sent off by Mr. Poll in the 200-07 season.  Right in the middle of the FA’s  last Respect campaign.  Wonder how Mr. Poll felt about that one?  Oh wait!  We know, he retired and told us what he thought of it.  It was a joke.  He dared to send off the captain of England for dissent and stories started in the media.  Mr. Poll was a spotlight whore.  he loved to be the centre of attention.  And what did the FA do, even after Terry admitted to the charge?  Nothing.  They did not back their referee.  And soon after that the respect campaign became a joke, we went back to Rooney, Terry, Cole, Gerrard and others abusing and arguing with the refs.  But apparently Sir Alex Ferguson is the problem.  Players are really an afterthought.

This incident did not reignite the respect campaign

And its not what happens after the game, whether or not Babel retweets some silly picture, or what Fergie or Moyes says.  Who cares!!!  Because for 90 minutes I see constant arguing by the players, they question every decision.  I see players trying to get other players sent off by either waiving that annoying imaginary card or screaming at the ref reminding him about a previous decision.  And I have a feeling that by this time next year we will have as much respect on the pitch as we do now.  Because the authorities will not back the refs.  Nor will the media.  The media will moan when the first ref sends off a famous player for dissent.  “Oh no, he destroyed the game, he should have done everything to keep 22 players on the pitch, he thinks he’s important, he wants the spotlight, arrogant ref, is that really worth a sending off, etc, etc,.”  You can see the headlines now.  And soon after that the refs will be told to quietly ignore the abuse, the cheating, the card waving, and we will go on as always.

I noticed something this week.  I was watching the friendly between Germany and Australia.  And while Germany had some shocking calls go against them, especially that joke of a penalty, the German players hardly went after the ref and his assistants.  They made weak protests or none at all, and went on with the game.  Meanwhile Australian players, especially the EPL veteran Lucas Neill was in the ref’s face after every call no matter how obvious.  It was a stark contrast in reactions.  But the Germans were taught that dissent will be punished, while Mr. Neill got away with it for years in England.  How else was he supposed to react?  I watch the NHL and I remember the times when coaches used to throw water bottles and sticks onto the ice in protest, and players went after refs like they do in English football.  But not long ago the NHL instituted a no nonsense policy, and no dissent is allowed.  And the players just meekly go in to the penalty box even after the worst of calls. while the coaches politely ask sometimes for an explanation.  Imagine that.

Rooney, "respectfully" disagreeing

Imagine Rooney or Ashley Cole just walking away after a bad call, or standing quietly while they are being booked for an offence.  Yes its fantasy, but in any other country it does happen.  Unlikely in England of though.  The refs are too weak, the authorities are cowards and the media complicit.  A perfect storm for the first time someone gets sent off.  Now while this month long story about Fergie and Atkinson raged I laughed.  I have no problem when managers speak their minds, even if they question the refs in a manner that Fergie did.  I don’t even have a problem if managers give a bit of abuse to the fourth official during the game.  Its no biggie, the fourth official does nothing anyway, so who cares if he gets an earful.  My problem is that after the game no one will explain to us why the calls were made.  No matter what Fergie said I have my own opinions.  Now being a United fan I think of Fergie as god.  But bing an atheist I don’t really believe in what gods say.  So he could have come out and said that Atkinson had done the best job he has ever seen and I would still think he was utter shite.  I do have eyes and a brain.  So do most fans.  We know that Fergie was trying to deflect.  We only agreed with Fergie about Atkinson, he did not change our minds.  And that is the issue.  Who cares what the managers say after games.  They questions they are asked are stupid, pointless, and obvious anyway, and most of the time the answers are bland, cookie cutter, obvious crap.  A big yawn.

And that is what the new respect campaign will be if the FA wont change.  We all have a good laugh, to this day, at Graham Poll, but he was a very good ref.  And that is how the authorities supported one of its best.  How will they support the next ref who dares to act?  I think in the same way.  In order for this new joke of a campaign to work, before each game the referees must call the two captains and tell them that no dissent will be tolerated, only the captains can speak to the ref (respectfully), no one is allowed to touch or approach closer than 3 feet of the refs, and card waving will mean an instant yellow.  And any break of said rules will mean a caution, or in serious cases a sending off, and then the refs must follow their own instructions.  And afterward the league and ref association must back the refs fully.  And let them speak for god’s sake!  And this must continue not for 3 months but for the whole season and seasons beyond.  And the managers must be given some slack about what they say during the game or after it.  Only then will this work.  because the first time Ashley Cole refuses to come to the ref when called and gets away with it, the respect campaign will be over!!!

Second Manchester United Treble?- With This Lot!?

Will We See This in May?

Can History Repeat Itself?

In 1998-99 Season Manchester United won the famous and dramatic Treble.  The Premier League Trophy, The FA Cup, and The UEFA Champions League.  Oh what a month it was, almost two months actually.  The whole season was dramatic, but the run in was epic.  Our League form was a bit dodgy, we finished with 4 wins and 4 draws in the last 8 matches and the final league table looked close indeed as United won the League by just one point over Arsenal.  It was the domestic and European cup runs that made this an epic season.  A draw and replay in the FA Cup semi final against Arsenal.  And in the replay, that last minute red card, Peter Schmeichel saving the penalty, and that run by Ryan Giggs in extra time.  What a run it was.  I can still see it.  I never get bored of watching it.  Then I see him waving his shirt running towards the bench like a mad man.  We were all mad then.   Then the Final against Newcastle.  Only minutes in and Keane gets hurt.  Fergie puts in Teddy, and he scores one of the goals, and assists on the other if I remember correctly.

Then there was the small matter of winning the ever elusive Champions League.  That epic semi final  against Juventus.  We were not great in the first leg at home and took a 1-1 scoreline to Turin.  Went down 2-0 rather quickly.  Keane got cautioned which meant he would miss the Final if we went through.  And then he made himself into a legend and led the fightback to make it 3-2 and off United went to Barcelona to face Bayern Munich.  The Final itself was rather poor as far as football is concerned.  But oh what an ending.  Every United fan knows what happened.  The next thing we knew United were parading the big eared trophy while the Germans were crying.  Epic.

And we fast forward to 2011.  Till recently according to the media and some of the very optimistic United fans we were chasing Arsenal’s unbeaten season.  Then Wolves happened, and Chelsea and Liverpool, and now this silliness finally has ended.  Hell there were some talking about the unbeaten run in November.  As if it was just a matter of getting though a few easy games to finish the season.  And now we’re approaching April and United are still in three competitions.  So of course there is talk of the treble.  We have two months of football left.  8 league games.  5 CL games, and 2 FA Cup Games to play.  15 vital matches in the space of  8 weeks, with all of those weeks but one seeing us play weekend and midweek matches.  And some run around screaming the treble is still on!

Well it is of course.  Anything is possible.  But looking at our possible fixture list its rather improbable.  I would say highly unlikely!!!  I would be very happy with just one trophy, ecstatic with two, and pretty much delirious and completely mad if we did in fact win all three.  Our destiny is of course in our hands and while we still have Fergie leading United I would not count anything out.  However right now, and until we actually win anything I am an avowed skeptic.  Perhaps I have misplaced my red tinted glasses somewhere but i just don’t see it.  I would love to be so very wrong but a number of factors make me think that I unfortunately will be right.  Of course it does not take a sage to predict that we wont win a treble seeing as it happened only once in English football history.  So I am not putting myself out there.  But as each game approaches, when taken one at a time, the hope returns, yes we can get a result today.  And of course each game takes us one step closer.  We are the closest to a record 12th FA Cup.  Only two games to play in that.  And a semi final win would be that much sweater as it would mean that we could go on singing our noisy neighbour’s favourite song till at least the end of February.  That would make me very happy.

Then there is the League.  8 games left.  Away trip to West Ham, Newcastle, Arsenal and Blackburn.  Home against, Fulham, Everton, Chelsea, Blackpool.  Not easy, but it could be worse.  At home I fancy us against anyone.  And away we have actually won a couple of games this year so despite our very poor away form all is not lost.  West Ham, Newcastle and Rovers are all winnable matches.  And depending on the table a draw at Arsenal might be enough.  So the league itself, despite our very indifferent form the whole season, is quite achievable.  And winning that coveted 19th and knocking teams of perches would be special indeed.

Finally we come to the last part of the treble.  The Champions League.  Fergie wants one badly.  He wants to be up there with the other top European managers and win it 3 times.  He wants 5 European trophies altogether.  We don’t have an easy draw, but hell, it could have been worse.  Chelsea wont be easy, but without Luiz and Atkinson we will have an easier time.  And we did show we can play them well, if only for 45 minutes.  If we do go through then either Shalke of Inter await.  Shalke are a decent side, but no one is giving them a chance against the Milan team.  After the Benitez fiasco Inter have found their form and are chasing their local rivals for the Serie A title as well as fighting for the CL.  They wont be easy.  They are last year’s winners after all.  But they are not invincible.  And as with any cup game, anything can happen.  So we do have a shot to go to Wembley for possibly the 4th time in one season.  And then there is just the small matter of beating either (in all likelihood) Real Madrid or Barcelona.  Start paining the bus.  But seriously, as I mentioned, its a cup game, anything can happen.

Looking at each of the 3 competitions separately we do have a decent chance to win each of them.  Unfortunately they can not be separated.  The games will all be with 2 or 3 days rest, there will be considerable travel.  It will be an exhausting run in.  There will be no time to celebrate a victory because preparation will have to start for the next game.  It will be mental.  We can win the treble, but by mid April we can just as easily be pretty much out off all three competitions.  We could do an Arsenal.  And what worries me more than anything is United itself.

Yep, we can be our very worst enemies.  First and foremost there is the squad.  Well, it simply is not good enough.  We are leading the league by default.  And those who protest this should remember how it all looked at the end of October.  Not that it will diminish the joy of any trophy, but hardly anyone picked United for greatness this season.  Even many of the more level headed United faithful.  While Fergie was talking about value in the market we all we screaming for players as Ozil, Khedira, van der Vaart and others went elsewhere for basically peanuts.  Most agreed that we needed midfield help.  On top of the weakness of the squad we have not been spared injuries.  Several very important players have been out for sometime.  Valencia, Rooney, Ferdinand, Park, Fletcher, Nani.  And now our area of strength and depth is tested as many of our defensemen are hurt.  Against Bolton we had 5 defenders fit.  Only one, Evra, was a real first choice.

United throughout the season have been criticized for their lackluster play.  Our shocking away form, our poor displays at home, lack of creativity.  A defence that was one of the best in the world now looked ordinary.  On top of that individual players went from great to average, or from good to poor.  And last but not least there were times when our team selection and tactics could be questioned.  Sure there was the odd Blackburn game, or  Arsenal in the FA Cup when everyone went from scratching their heads to mea culpas for questioning the genius of Fergie.  But mostly it was blah.  Now we may still win trophies, hell, we may win more than one this season, but this team will not be remembered as a great team.  As far as trophy winning United teams go, this one will be quite low on the list.

And there is a reason for the very average displays and lack of the usual United attacking flair.  We’re shite.  Yep, this team is quite poor.  But its not all bad in terms of talent, on paper we’re not as bad.  However the form of some players has been shocking.  Our defence has overall been ok.  We have looked dodgy at times but its not the defence’s fault.  A couple of seasons back Edwin broke the record for minutes without conceding a goal.  It went something like 1300 minutes without conceding.  And during that time he made about 20 saves.  Less than two per game.  This season, despite a couple of dodgy moments he has been one of our best players in several games.  `And I still maintain that its not the fault of our defence.  Yes there is the form of Johnny Evans, who has been simply shocking all season.  Age has finally caught up with Gary to the point that he retired.  And Evra has been quite poor by his very high standards for a year now.  In my opinion Fergie burned him out last season and he still has not recovered.  He looks so disinterested at times.  But the rest have been good.  Vidic has been a rock, he and Rio, when fit, are still the best CBs in the world.  Smalling has been a revelation.  The twins have shown great improvement.  O’Shea as reliable as ever, anywhere he is played.  Brown hardly played, so one can’t fault him for anything really.

So our defence has been good overall.  Our forward line on the other hand is a strange one.  Hernandez is looking like one of the buys of the season.  Berbatov finally started to look like the player we hoped he would be.  He leads the league in scoring.  Of course there were some shocking surprises.  Micheal Owen got injured…  Wayne Rooney.  What a season eh?  He started extremely poorly, and it went downhill from there.  Got hurt, wanted to leave, got kicked by Scholes, signed a huge contract, finally came back, and was shit.  And kept being shit for sometime.  And Fergie kept picking him.  I suppose  its understandable considering how important he was last season and now that United have invested so much money into him it would not be good business not to play him.  But at times I wondered what the hell is he doing on the pitch.  Especially when one considers that at times it came at the expense of either Berbatov or Hernandez who have played well for most of the season.  But Rooney improved, he even had a few great games.  However I still have not seen the Rooney of last season.  Overall though our forward line has been pretty good.

What has not been good is our midfield.  Particularly our central midfield.  Our wingers are ok.  When healthy the duo of Nani and Valencia can give any defence fits.  They both create a lot of goal as their assist stats show.  We do have a worry with our depth there however.  Giggs is a legend and has been great this season, especially in the first half of the season.  But we can not rely on a 37 year old to save our asses.  Park is Park, not spectacular, but a useful squad player who has been missed badly these past few months.  After that we have no one.  Well we have bodies, but I doubt anyone is counting on either Bebe or Obertan to create a couple of goals in the CL final.  The sooner we get rid of them the better.  I am being harsh on Bebe here as the jury should still be out on him considering, but I wont shed tears if we let him go.  Obertan is just shit.

You know who else is shit?  Gibson.  Yes he has a hard shot.  What?  I finished saying positive things about him.  Though he did have a couple of decent games this season, the rest were either very forgettable of shocking.  I have a lot of patience for players who come from the academy and through the reserves ( I defended Fletcher in 2005 and 06), but I have given up on him.  Not good enough.  Cleverly hardly wore a United shirt but is already better than Gibson.  And Gibson is just a small part of the problem that is our central midfield.  The former fan favourite for abuse, Darren Fletcher, blossomed into a vital member of our squad to the point that many claimed that if only he played in Rome..  However Rome is almost two years past, and while he was very good last season, the same can not be said for this  term.  He has not been shit, but great has has not been either.  He went from our midfield dynamo, the man that brought memories of Keane into mind to being bland and average.  Still, it could be worse.  His name could have been Michael Carrick.

Now I was a great admirer of Carrick and appreciated the little, hard to notice, things he did.  On top of that he was one of the best passers in the league.  When Scholes could not play or was poor no problem, Carrick could control the game.  Now, not so much.  Not in any way as a matter of fact.  His positioning has been poor, tackling bad, he losses possession constantly and the only way he knows how to pass these days is backwards or sideways.  There are times when he reminds me of Kleberson.  Anderson has shown only glimpses of the talent he has.  Then he got hurt again.  So now, on top of relying on a 37 year old to beat fullbacks, we have been forced to rely on a 35 year old to run the midfield for us.  And sadly the great Paul Scholes has reached the time when he is no longer capable of running the game all by himself.  Oh he can still do it from time to time, and even when he is not great he still is better than the shite alongside of him, but its time.  We simply can not rely on Scholes’ genius on a regular basis.

And there is the rub.  Our heart, our centre of the team, our brains, creativity, protection, is not good enough.  That is why we did not record a shot on goal against the Wolves for the last 70 minutes of the game.  That is also why we give up so many cheap goals and why our defence is under so much pressure.  When Scholes returned from his eye thingy in 2006 and we got Carrick all of a sudden we dominated teams again.  Our keeper could have come to the game with a book and our attackers simply flooded the opponents goal.  And it was all due to the two men in the middle of the pitch.  Right now though they are either not playing well enough or simply are not good enough.  And that is what is supposed to win us the treble.

Yes, our hopes and dreams of glory rely on a midfield that is not even in the top 4 in quality in the league.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Paul Scholes, he is a legend, and to me, the best midfielder in the past decade and a half.  I love Fletcher too, had faith in him when not many did, and I still do.  I did fall out of love with Carrick.  And I think that Gibson is not good enough.  And I am struggling to decide about Anderson.  Will he be the next great midfielder for United, or did we buy a Kleberson?  But is this midfield good enough to beat Chelsea twice, or even three times?  Or Inter, or Barca?  We may have to rely on our wide players for creativity and on our defence and keeper to save us.  And that is what worries me this season.  Aside from the silly and premature talk of the treble.  There are big holes in this team.  All we really need is for two players to step up, or buy next summer.  But what important players they are.  Because unless we go back 30 years and start hoofing the ball, everything goes through them.

In the end I am pretty confident that we will win something this season.  Just how much and what remains to be seen.  But it will be a strange season.  Full of worry and controversy on and off the pitch.  And after we celebrate we will be left with more worry.  Worry about the future.  Because as much as Fergie can be a miracle man and one can never count out a team managed by him we do need reinforcements.  And how can we get them when there is absolutely no value in the market even though we have 160 million just sitting there, waiting to be spent.  We know its there, Mr. Gill told us it is so, our owners have assured us.  They would never lie, would they?

Published in: on March 26, 2011 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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