So I had an idea a few months ago to start a collaboration blog which featured the best United writers I could find. Well..I found the perfect writing partners and it was time to man the battle stations and go public.
It is a blog to be aimed squarely at you lot...The Manchester United Faithful. A blog filled with partisan passion, but also to be objective and honest.
So if you like View From Tier 3 then you will love The Faithful...take a look
It seems like yesterday that we were all bleating on how Michael Carrick should be the anchor for the Lampard/Gerrard England midfield. Yet here we are, five minutes before a World Cup, and the boy cant even get in the United side ahead of the aging legs of Scholes and Giggs, and the inexperience of Darron Gibson.
What has happened to Carrick this year is baffling. Never a player of swaggering arrogance, the Geordie boy was initially bought to complement the less defensively disciplined midfielders at the club, and to add a touch of calm to the sometimes erratic and bombastic style of the team. The idea was to let Carrick develop into the player we knew he had the talent to be...a player who could both defend and attack..score goals of immense quality but still do his defensive work..but something, somewhere has broken.
As Darren Fletcher has blossomed into a player of genuine pedigree, Carrick has dilly-dallied his way through 2009/10. Neither disastrous or excelling, he has done what many players who struggle with form over a long period do..and that is continually roll the dice with lady luck to keep his head above water. And that luck ran out in the second leg versus Bayern in the Champions League. His performance of epically poor proportions that night resulted in the Germans two goals. It was a bit of bad luck waiting to happen to a player that has hid in the shadows for most of the season. And it has cost him, and his team, greatly.
Carrick's turning point came last year in the Champions League final against Barca. A masterclass by Xavi and Ineista didn't mask how poorly the central midfield of Carrick and Anderson did that night. I believe you can trace back all of Carrick's poor form right back to that one solitary night. His confidence has never quite been the same, and the fragility of his mental make up since that night is hugely worrying to The Faithful. A bit like Berba, Carrick plays the game at one speed. He is never gonna give you a blood and thunder tackle or a lions roar. So when things are not going right for him he simply doesn't have the tools to fight his way out of the corner. His calm is probably both his greatest asset and his worst enemy. The point where class gets interpreted as being short of a pair between your legs.
Ferguson is well aware of all this and that is why he has pulled him from the firing line. But what it has done has left the team relying on the old boys again, and that is worrying for Carrick's future at the club. Much has been made of our lack of invention and goals from midfield. Scholes and Giggs will be gone and retired within the blink of an eye soon, and there is nothing else like them at the club that even comes close to doing what they do. Carrick should have been one of their heirs apparent. But can Fergie really trust him going forward...when he needed individual players to stand up and be counted after losing his best player, and a pretty good Argentinian chap? Fergie needed his midfielders to batten down the hatches this year. Fletch has read the script and done it. Gibson has showed he may be able to do it in the future. Anderson failed but in many ways getting injured saved his reputation! Carrick however, despite a promising run around Xmas, has deceived too many times.
He is walking the plank now in United fans eyes..hanging on to the coat tails of a certain Bulgarian. It would surprise none of us if he is traded out of the club in the summer, but it also wouldn't surprise anyone if he was still in the squad come pre season. If he is, then he has got to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
Because it will not take long to decipher if he knows the dance or not, by simply watching his feet to see if he knows the steps.
For many...this season will be viewed as a failure. That's if of course Chelsea follow the script and skip their ways as they should through their next two games. Ronaldoless. Tevezless. Trophyless. (nobody mention the League Cup cos it makes me angry people think that's a 'major' competition)
But lets look at some facts:
United have taken City to task on no less than three occasions this season, beating them in what can only be described as 'dramatic circumstances' with last kicks of balls etc etc
United have beaten and mauled both Arsenal and AC Milan this season in their own back yards
We got to the last 8 in Europe and KNOW that we should have progressed further
Nani and Valencia have proven they both have massive futures at the club
Darren Fletcher is now a world class midfielder..detractors you may well mock!
The youngsters have got another good solid year under their belts..Evans, Gibson, Rafael et al
Rooney has been one of the top three footballers in the world this year..and is now the PFA footballer of the year..the fourth time in a row that its gone to a United player (worth noting as well that we had 4 of the 11 players in the team of the year..better than anyone else)
..and at least we have pushed for the title ALL of the way..which is more to be said than Arsenal, Liverpool and the rest.
There was always a massive danger that we wouldn't win the title this year. Four in a row has never ever happened. It would be unprecedented. But the truth is that had the squad that got to last years Champions League final still been in place we would have won the title in March..and be in yet another European final. As Benitez would say...That's a fact! But things change. Players come and go..and you have to accept all of this, suck it up and just flipping get on with it.
Assessing this season, there's been more highs than lows (as you would expect) but with a squad ravaged with injury and two or three players well below what you would expect of them, well it was always going to be a Herculean struggle to win anything. Seven league defeats show how stretched life has been at Old Trafford this year. Fergie has already added a new defender and striker ready for next year, but you cant help but think there will be a couple more at least.
I was desolate after the Blackburn game. I witnessed the Bayern fiasco unfold and I could just see the hinges unspring. I watched Chelsea come to our back yard and mug us and I knew the title was like water slipping through our fingers and over our palms. I vexed about Berbatov. About Carrick. And others...
But ultimately.....I'm happy with this season!
I never expect United to win anything. It gives me a freedom to support my team devoid of arrogance. I knew this year would be hard. I even thought Champions League qualification was going to be difficult. So to get to this junction on target for 85 points does not upset me too much. Its worth noting that Chelsea got 83 last season and that they are only on their way to getting 86 this year...so not a massive difference since we lost £110 million of football talent last year..is it?
If only the last couple of minutes in Germany had been slightly different..an Olic goal denied and a twisted ankle prevented..this year could well have been one of our greatest ever..but them the breaks! There is alot to look forward to once the World Cup circus is over and done with, and we pack our bags ready for pre season in the USA. If the inevitable happens, I will applaud Chelsea. I don't hate them like I do Liverpool and City. They play solid football and have excellent players. They will have deserved their day. But we will be back..and that is because we'll never die. The red blood courses through our veins and we will return..breaking down the football door as ever in 2011.
The Faithful will rule once again. And title 19 will be ours.
With 30 seconds left of stoppage time the season was officially over. And yet here I sit. Monday morning. Writing about the most epic weekend in the calender for Manchester United where the dice rolled in our favour in absolutely every instance.
Paul Scholes' last seconds header will go down in United folklore. A one of those 'where were you?' moments. The 36 year old's desire to start a move that he finished off with a trademark late run into the box is a credit to the spirit of the club and the effervescence of a player that many believe is finished. It was so special that Gary Neville even gave him one of his 'special kisses' normally reserved only for his best bud David Beckham. You really think you have seen it all when it comes to our football team, and then that somehow goes and happens.
Overall I thought we did very well against City. Compared to the Blackburn game, you can see what a different side we are even with a disabled Wayne Rooney up front. He bubbles with confidence and his team mates feed off that like blood thirsty leeches. City showed that inspite of the zillions of pounds, they are still immature when it comes to the business end of a game. Tevez, Bellamy and Adebayor all looked liked strangers on the day, and played like players with one eye on the summer.
United on the other hand fought for the little bit of life they had left in their season. That was all i wanted to see really. I had conceded the title in the way that bookies pay out early on odds in football. I could hear the fat lady (or was that Frank Lampard?) starting to sing in the distance and presumed that it would all be over quite soon. I just didn't want United to get beaten by City and then end up losing the title by 10 points or something like. I just wanted a modicum of respect and dignity..a noble death. But we all got a glorious stay of execution! Lady luck saw us on our knees, and reached out with her precious, delicate hand.
As I threw myself around in front of the telly, convulsing in derby day glory and foaming at the mouth, I still had no hope in the fact that Spurs would actually turn up twice in a week and beat a big four team. I was just pleased that we could look back on the end of the season and feel that the lads stretched themselves and finished with a bit of style. Chelsea were going to be champions and I would pat them on the back....well, that could still happen. But with the result at White Hart Lane, and the miracle that was Wigan destroying a spineless Arsenal in ten mental minutes, the race is very much back on. How we are in this position I just don't know. After watching the team trudge around Ewood Park last week, it really all seemed like a formality.
It's wondrous that we are going to the wire. Spurs will be a formidable hurdle to get over next weekend, but the fact that the game now has relevance is a victory in itself! If we can keep Rooney patched up for the next three games we have a puncher's chance. Chelsea are edging it with a couple of more rounds won, but if this is the twelfth and final round, we are the ones with the momentum. They look bloody and battered, whereas we have the intestinal fortitude of a Rocky Balboa.
It's gonna be emotional!
Liverpool will do us no favours, so lets hope that Stoke or Wigan can do us all a massive one. Glory glory!!!
Last season Dimitar Berbatov, despite appearing static reading his thumbed copy of War and Peace while smoking a Cuban in the centre circle, statistically ran more than virtually every other player in the team. That is what the stats say...they must mean something!!? Right?
The game at Blackburn was Manchester United and Berbatov's last chance at proving the doubters wrong. The chance of defiance. The chance to get that cat and put its ugly moggy face amongst the pigeons. What actually happened was the expected...United tired early, looked in the main thoroughly impotent, and Berba kopped all the flack as per usual. Its a script we've seen alot this year. An aging side that needs to replace some old legs. A team that lacks the world class invention of two catalysts from the last two years. And a player that to the common fan now embodies why it has all gone a bit pear shaped this last twelve months.
We all knew what Berbatov was when we bought him. He was never a runner. Never a worker. He was the cherry on the cake rather than the icing on the top. Turns out that cherry is an old dirty piece of coal which is rock hard. There has been reports about how Fergie has destroyed Berbatov. That the manager has taken a free flowing genius from Tottenham, and crippled him...but with what? Responsibility? Expectation? Well, I'm sorry Mr Berbatov..this is Manchester United. This is what our players do. they bear this burden...and they flourish for it.
The buck stops at the Bulgarians door for me. Two years of settling into the team has led to underwhelming performance after another. I have been present during the bits of magic..the over head kicks..the Cruyff turns...the mesmerising second of skill that fools not only his marker but 75,000 supporters watching on. For those moments he is a genius. BUT IT IS NOT ENOUGH!
There is no witch hunt for Dimitar..far from it. But United's failure this year is equated to the failure of individuals in the team. One of those players is Michael Carrick. You could also point fingers at Anderson (pre injury), Scholes, Ben Foster (when he had a chance)and maybe even Giggs this year. But not one player can really be put on the spot MORE than Berbatov. His stats may look acceptable, but his performance level (that's the thing you actually judge with what you see using your very own eyes!) has been average at best..and you expect more than average for a £30 million footballer. Of course, the price tag isn't his fault, but as it stands if Fergie had snapped him up for £10 million it would currently look expensive. Its funny how many of his supporters still have the cheek to criticize Michael Owen when he cost the club less than a packet of crisps.
Fergie is no fool. I expect him to dispose of Berbatov in the fashion he got rid of Veron. When it doesn't work, even the Scotsman's most fiery stubbornness gets put aside for the victory of common sense. We cannot start next season relying on Berbatov to take the weight of responsibility off Rooney's young shoulders because he has proved that he is no where near worthy. Call it bandwagonesque...call it what you want. But the truth is Dimitar Berbatov is from the Garry Birtles school of MUFC strikers. (if you don't know who Garry Birtles is and his story, and you support United, you need to go Google it all now and learn a bit about your club) It's such a shame as i eulogised the day he signed from Spurs, but that is life i guess. You either achieve or fail. Sometimes it is in your hands and sometimes it is not. Dimi has had 60 games in a United shirt nearly, and we are all less convinced now than when he wore the shirt for the first time.
That means something to me.
Perspiration has to come before the inspiration. Someone should tell Berbatov that.
I wrote this article in July last year about Berbatov..he obviously didnt read it.. CLICK to read here
One Chicharito. Theres only one Chicharito. One Chichariiiiiittoooo
So its clear we need new fresh blood up front. Berba is much maligned and cant even get a start ahead of a one legged Wayne Rooney. And Fergie knows a striker when he sees one, having been a centre forward himself.
Javier Hernandez is a 21 year young Mexican striker plying his trade at Chivas of the Mexican league. He has 4 goals in as many appearances for his country, and appears to be of the Diego Forlan type of striker..diminutive at 5ft 9 inches tall. He has 28 goals in 68 appearances for his club..and now he is a Manchester United player, subject to work permit (gulp Adem Ljajic!)
His nickname Chicharito comes from his father 'el Chicharo' who was also a footballer for Chivas Guadalajara and the Mexico national team. Both his grandfather and father played for Chivas, making Hernández the third generation to play with the All-Mexican club. In straight terms the translation of his nickname is 'Little Pea'
So expect a sponsorship deal with the Green Giant to be forthcoming!
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
The quarter final between ourselves and Bayern highlighted exactly what is right..and wrong with the current side.
Some thought my twitter ramblings (and believe me they are ramblings!) was some sort of mad negativity, but I hate to say i saw this all coming, and take no satisfaction in that. On the night it was all about which United turned up. And unfortunately it was the one that our form dictated would. To be knocked out in this manner is typically United. The Germans were never going to crush us at Old Trafford, but I genuinely thought that 3-2 was on the cards before the match. I feared Robben more than Ribery. I knew what he could do to us. And I have seen the away goal rule 'do' us so many times before.
Once upon a time the early goal would lead United on to the promised land...but at the moment it seems to give us the excuse to play some strange form of defensive football. Of course, there was nothing defensive about our display in the first forty five last night. The way we tore in to Bayern was impressive and a breath of fresh air. The stadium was rocking, and as the three goals went in we were all in dream land.
And then the curse of the individual error came into play.
Michael Carrick, like Dimitar Berbatov, gets alot of stick from The Faithful for his playing style. Though not as languid as the Bulgarian, his ability to appear only in third gear during a game has caused many a heated discussion. Last night we saw the worst of Carrick. Whereas Fletcher and Gibson fought and closed down everything that they could, and turned defence into attack, Carrick looked once again underwhelmed by the occasion. His ineptitude in dealing with Olic for the first German goal will not be forgotten for many years. Couple that with the fact that he gave away cheap possession by dwelling on the ball several times - which lead to the corner for the Robben strike..well..the lad just had a stinker. And it's not the first time this season. He is just one water-carrier too many.
Some will point to the sending off of Rafael as being the cause of the defeat, and in many ways going down to ten caused us all sorts of problems. Up til then I thought the young Brazilian had had a stormer, and I still believe he will become one of the world's best right backs. But he is young..and he is naive. Bringing on OShea to plug that gap and leaving Nani to run free up top should have given us enough to deal with the Bayern threat..but it didn't. Once again we saw a United side sink deeper into itself. Consumed by fear. After 70 minutes of the match there was only one side that looked like it was going to go through, and it wasn't us. The body language of the team once again turned from marauding monster to a deer being chased in the woods by a larger predator. This is NOT the Manchester United way.
I think this season is now all but over. I think Chelsea will drop points, but I'm also convinced that we will too. That's not a negative view point. It is just a simple assessment of the current state of play. A technical view point rather than an emotional one. Last night showed that there has been positives and negatives this year, and not complete doom and gloom. Whereas Berbatov and Carrick have failed, both Nani and Valencia have succeeded. Darren Gibson could yet become our Frank Lampard. Fletcher has attained even further cult status with his heart busting performances. And Rooney...well...I need not eulogise about his wonders. You just know.
United are about to go into transition once again, as we were five years ago. Its wrong to think that last night was about a referees performance, or the German baiting to get Rafa sent off. You can't win titles with a squad that has this many weaknesses in key positions. We need a striker to take the burden from Roo. We need a creative midfielder. And we need to plan for the future without Van Der Sar, Ferdinand (as injuries catch up with him) and Vidic (if he fancies some sun on his back) These are massive issues for the manager..but he could well be the biggest change that we need plan for. Will he want to rebuild again entering his 70th birthday? I don't think so.
Man Utd is not a club that has ever stood still. In the 60s we won everything. In the 70s the club slid into oblivion and fell out of the top division. In the 80s we flirted with success but could never really achieve it. And then the Ferguson era led us too glory we just could never imagine. United fans must understand that change is a coming, and we must embrace that change. Because if we don't we could easily become Liverpool - a team that does not match its wonderful tradition. I was born into that era. The era where United were failures. I don't wanna go back to that. If the manager cant take us for one last brilliant ride, then I hope the board have had a very long conversation with a certain Mr Mourinho. He may not be everybody's cup of tea, but he drips with the ego and success you need to be a true winner. For me it would be the perfect match going into this new decade.
(this blog entry will not mention Didier Drogba's crude offside and the incompetence of a deluded linesman. The incident is just not worth the words or your reading time as 'Football' will never cure its problems and let technology heal these complete farces)
So I'm back from my weekend long jaunt in Manchester...knackered, disappointed, emotional.........and gutted.
The title is in the bin now, and it is very much our own fault.
For me the seeds of fear were sown pre Bayern Munich. I felt the team had started to run out of ideas. Fans were eulogising about how Dimitar Berbatov was "going to win us the league, mark my words, etc..." But i couldn't see that a couple of goals and deft touches would replace large periods of mediocrity. And there was always the fear that Rooney would get injured..and then wouldn't you know what!?
There are issues at Manchester United. I use the word 'issues' rather than 'problems'. We are not a team in decline, but more a team that has lost it's Mojo and energy. The fuel tank is looking like it is emptying fast. When would you have seen United score an early goal in Germany to then only go and try and be 'all Italian like' and sit deep and defend? Yes defend the last 20 minutes, but NOT for 89! The loss at Bayern was crushing for confidence, and that fact shined through against Chelsea.
The first hour of football was the most soulless i have seen from a United team for three years. It happened when we played Arsenal a few years back, when a showboating Ronaldo lost the ball in the last minute and Adebayor nailed us, jamming the coffin lid shut. That day we looked hollow. Against Chelsea it was the same. There was the traditional United cavalry charge at the end as expected, but overall we were a long way off the standard that Chelsea set on the day. They were more hungry than us. They looked like they wanted to be champions whereas we looked like we would be happy for a draw and a cup of tea.
When i heard the teams i feared the worst. The selection of Park, who had a stinker against Munich, over Nani worried me. I know the manager will point to the energy he brings to the team, but the point is he now looks tired, so his unique selling point has been neutralized. I wanted to see an attacking approach, but the selection stank of "yeah..we will take a draw NOW, thank you very much" As we know, history has proved that Manchester United just don't play that game very well.
However i was equally fascinated and fearful of the impact that the Bulgarian sloth would have. Could he really produce the magic?? Unfortunately, he could hardly produce a run, let alone some mercurial influence. The man is finished at United. I say that with assurance for the reason that at his age he is NEVER GOING TO CHANGE. So if he doesn't change then United need to rebuild the whole squad around him...oh wait! We have Rooney don't we? So, off you go Dimitar. The Old Trafford crowd is as fickle as every other on the planet. We would sing his name if he produced. But there is real venom towards him now and i cant help but feel he deserves every ounce of poisonous spittle. He should do the honourable thing, and try and get himself a move. At 29, he would do very well at a decent German club..or maybe in Spain or Italy? But not at a club like us, who needs our strikers to be both skillful (as he is) and ready to apply themselves to their physical maximum (as he isn't). Ronaldo would do the old gesturing that Berba does..very similar in fact! But he would then go and run at a hundred miles an hour and win you a game, after being kicked to shreds by his marker. Berba always looks ready for the team bath before he has even touched the ball.
The title has gone now, and in many ways i sort of feel relief on this Sunday afternoon. I feel now that if anything comes out of this season it will be a bonus (as them at Leeds Utd used to say) We cant expect to play as we have and win silverwear. We have now lost more games this season than both Man City and Aston Villa and that is simply unacceptable. Tactically we have been caught short many times this season and i wonder how much impact Mike Phelan has on that. Of course Fergie holds the buck, but he has always given his assistants massive parts to play in the team tactics. Brian Kidd was the tipping point of winning us that first title in the 90s. Many of those behind the scenes say it was Steve McClaren's innovative coaching that took United to the treble in 1999. And Carlos Quiroz..though proving hes a bit of a dud manager, proved countless times that he was a great coach with all the pots he won with the club, with his team development ideas..so much so that when he left Madrid Fergie re-snapped him back up in a heartbeat. What does Phelan bring? Yes, interviews for the BBC and i don't know what else. It feels like he is more of a PA come secretary, than a fully fledged first team coach.
I think Bayern will get a result on Wednesday. They have just gone to Schalke and beaten them away to regain control of their Bundesliga title hopes. They are now on a massive high. Personally I would rather be hid behind the sofa on Wednesday night, than in the Theatre Of Dreams (flipping Nightmares this week!)..but i will be there feeling sick to guts with crippling fear. I hope that United at least lose their inhibitions, and play like the team we know...knew...and love. We are on the brink of a disaster of a season. The league is now out of our hands with five to go. But a huge effort and a bit of luck may mean that the Champions League is our salvation.
If Fergie really does have a magic wand as so many think he has, I hope he digs it out for training at Carrington on Monday morning. Abracadabra.
To tell you the truth the last thing i wanted to do or think about after United's lackluster defeat to Bayern was watch another game of football, or even consider Champions League results for a few days. But in England, when Barca and Arsenal..the two purveyors of 'perfect football' meet, you're gonna get it rammed down your throat, unless you go hide under the bedsheets and take a large dose of nightnurse.
The build up to the match was painful. Would this be the greatest game of football that the universe had ever seen? I felt sick to my stomach. I have respect for both teams. Barca ruined us in last years final, but we have put Arsenal to the sword several times in recent memory. I don't get the press adulation that Arsenal get for playing pretty football. It looks lovely against the Prem minnows, but will it win you the big stuff?
In and around kick off time i heard the word 'Art' being banded around rather loosely. Would this game represent an embodiment of art? I swore to myself multiple times. So like most of the nation i sat down on my sofa, jacked up the plasma screen and watched the match.
That first 45 minutes was the most incredible display of football by a team I have seen...well...maybe EVER. Arsenal were taught a lesson in what passing football really is. How the game was still goalless at half time will remain a mystery to modern man for all time. The play was simply scintillating. I watched most of that half with my jaw on the floor and my tongue resting gently on the carpet. It was football from another planet...another galaxy even! Arsenal were on the pitch somewhere, but when the opposition appear to have 15 players what can you do?
The second half was different. Despite Barca scoring twice in fairly quick succession, the half belonged to the Gooners. Walcott's impact was almost immediate, and it thoroughly surprised me to see Arsenal play with heart I haven't seen from them previously. A year ago they would have lied down and died 4-0. But they didn't. And that is where the question in the title of this article starts to get answered.
The answer is: yes
The 'Art' of football was present at The Emirates last night. By that I do not mean just from what we saw from the Spaniards..but also from the reaction and contribution of Arsenal. The art embodied in that match was the end result..and how that result was created. People may say that to consider a game a work of art is pompous and in general they are correct. But art can be revisited and analysed and enjoyed repeatedly. And that game last night falls into that category. Arsenal played their part, although one which many thought was beyond them. They brought the heart to the game. If Barca were the technical magnificent of this piece of art then Arsenal breathed life into it. If you could frame all of this, it would sit proudly in the National Gallery..or maybe even the Tate Modern. It was football from 2010 at its very best and it was a privilege watching this art be created.
I'm a football lover. I'm lucky as a United fan to witness us create our own works of art. But even a supporter as partisan as me can tip my hat too two teams who on the night entertained every football fan on the planet, and earned all of our respect.
Art should be enjoyed by all. Art is for everyone.
Manchester United fan since the age of 9 when he saw Norman Whiteside curl the ball into a Wembley goal in the dying minutes.
He is an Old Trafford season ticket holder in the North Stand Tier 3...and cried tears of joy, on his knees with the many in Moscow.
Rob is now a contributing author/editor at Man Utd blogzine 'The Faithful'