So on one hand Manchester United are being linked will all and sundry as usual, and on the other Sir Alex is saying he is not going to sign anyone...as usual. You will be used to this transfer window role play by now if you are a die hard.
So on this tour of our American owners homelands, it's the normal pre-season chance for many of the kids and reserve players..all competing for a coverted place in the Red Devils side..but this all feels a tad slightly different at the minute.
One of the reasons I say that is because it really does feel like we are now the poor man of English football. Not really in the cash sense of the word. But we know now that if a decent player comes up, then City will nab them..even if it's just to use them to mow the Eastlands pitch rather than play the game. David Silva could well become the worlds most famous groundsman in the next twelve months! The allure of United will always be there for potential targets, but it feels that we have to search that bit more harder now for our new blood, or pray that neither City, Madrid or Barca want any of them...'Biggest Club In The World'?? Maybe in fanbase terms..but most of these players are businessmen and it's really not a time to be signing contracts to a club kicking on with a billion pounds worth of debt.
But I am totally cool with that when it comes to player recruitment. If we cant sign the £30 million plus players in world football then so what? Some of the clubs greatest players have cost peanuts from this last generation. A paltry million pounds for Cantona in the 90s. Cole, Yorke, Sheringham and Solskjaer were all great business. Denis Irwin cost peanuts..as did Patrice Evra. And even Vidic and Ronaldo were relatively cheap. Yes, there has been big signings and also some mistakes along the way..Juan Veron cost a small fortune, but the success of Rio and Rooney as big money signings offsets that. Berba is yet to justify his fee, but could a successful first season by (3 months ago) an unknown Mexican supplement the goal tally we need for success? United never do things the easy way.
Which leads me on to the youth at the club..
The primary reason why things feel different this pre-season, is we are seeing a crop of young players who are very much nearly men. Danny Welbeck looks to have become physically stronger over the course of the summer as his body matures. I remember Fergie saying the shock he previously had with both OShea and Fletcher, when they left at the end of the season as kids (a few years back) and returned at pre-season like physical monsters! That's how I see Welbeck. Technically he still has to improve. But if he is powerful and mobile, he will get more chances.
Also off the production line on this tour are Cleverley, Kiko, Rafael, Fabio, DeLaet, and Corry Evans. Add to that the relatively young pros like Obertan, Mame Diouf, Gibson (no longer one of the kids) and Jonny Evans (positively a senior now!) then you start to see the skeleton frame of a fantastic young side..one which Arsenal would love to produce, but in no way do they currently have that kind of depth of quality, and range of ability. I didn't even mention Smalling then..lets wait and see with him. And there is the very exciting prospect of Paul Pogba, an 17 year old who could have the world at his feet very soon. A Michael Essien/Patrick Viera type player who also scores goals...his time will come soon. Davide Petrucci is also an immensely talented young man who could become a United dynamo!
For me Cleverley is the wild card this year. We don't quite have a player like him in the squad. He had a phenomenal season in the Championship last year as Watford's player of the year and brings a scurrying Gordon Strachan like quality to our modern day midfield. He has got the tricks in his feet, and the drive and desire to succeed, and I think he will surprise a few opposition teams this year if given the chance. In fact...could he be that creative midfielder that we've been begging Fergie to buy??
I also expect the DaSilvas to play alot more this year, barring injury. They are without doubt in my mind the future of United's full back positions...Philipp Lahm? Who the hell needs him! Despite the odd error, at 20 years old I have rarely seen such exciting talents for United in these two positions. They are brave as lions and are totally progressive in their play...something we demand at the club. I trust Fergie to turn them into top class players very soon.
On the other hand, Kiko and Obertan are part genius, part enigmas. Neither has really had a run in the first team, and it is obvious they will need football this year. Do you keep them and break them in slowly? Or is a loan the best option. I know for sure that if both only feature in a dozen or so matches this season that their progress...and their confidence...will be thoroughly stunted.
So I'm quietly optimistic about 2010/11. Every media source is writing us off, and all I'm waiting for now is for Alan Hansen to say "Ye cannae win anything with kids" These lads are progressing well. With the guidance of some brilliant senior footballers at the club, and maybe then add the spark of a Nani, or a Valencia, or even an Anderson..then I think we have every chance of winning silverware this season.
So as Manchester City collect a fantasy league squad of players to fulfill an ambition that they dared not even dreamed before the oil money came in, it will give us immense pleasure to put them in their place with a bunch of old guys and a collection of kids. It would surely be one of Fergie's greatest achievements..and I bet he can smell blood right now.
I must say Nike have out done themselves this time...a totally 1970s retro cool version of the shirt that we got relegated in back in the day..you know..the one that Macari, McIlroy and Stevie Coppell wore. I think its a great looking piece of apparel...and I'm definitely not buying it.
It's evident that the whole Red Knights saga has left many United fans with a bitter taste in their mouths. From only months ago marching around in Green and Gold and spouting songs about Malcolm Glazers untimely demise, to now eagerly discussing how excited they are about purchasing their new shirt, and defending their right to still be called a real United supporter. It makes me laugh on one hand, but on the other makes me want to break down and cry.
I could saddle you all with a million statistics about the Glazers ownership and the like, but what is the point? The Green and Gold movement is not about bringing down the Americans in a vicious war. We wear these colours because we understand what is happening to the club...the one we love. But it now appears that from myself being a moderate on the subject, as Ive always claimed to be, I am now being aligned with the hardcore element of the support! The ones that stand in front of the club shop and let off gas bombs and spray LUHG where ever they go...well...im afraid to say that ain't me.
What I stand for when it comes to this emotive issue is simple. I want the Glazers to sell. And the reason for that is because we have evidence that we are now their cash cow. When they first bought the club I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I didn't really care who got the profits as long as the club was structured to succeed. But now its clear that Manchester United will cease to exist sometime in the future, if it continues to service an incredible debt, and has the misfortune of a few barren seasons included. Now there is plenty of 20 somethings who have no idea about what it was like to support United in the years we won NOTHING, but those years may only be just around the corner. And if they are, with the debt we now carry, we are on the road too destruction and extinction.
Which points me back to that lovely kit..
I will not be buying it and that is because merchandise is very important to the Glazers business. The obvious reason for this is because it serves their financial model..the one they use when they talk to their bankers and try and attract new sponsors. If I buy that top, which I do so very badly want, then I am condoning that financial model. I am standing up and wearing on my chest 'I may not like the Glazers, but I will continue to fund their fat arses' As a season ticket holder I obviously get the 'oh but you buy your ticket which is the same'...It is not. If I give away my ticket to a fan who will not give two hoots about the survival of the club then it's all over for United as we know it. I pay for my ticket as a minimum, to give me a voice at the Theatre, and to allow me to stand with like minded fans that would bloody die for this club. The days where we once upon a time may have rioted and burned Old Trafford to the ground have thankfully gone..again some younger fans wont have a clue about all that..but the fact that we turn up every week, and dont let the world forget that we are The Faithful and we wont see United die...well, I think that's worth giving the Glazers a few hundred quid for. They hold the keys. It's up to us to rent a seat.
Yet other United fans have the cheek to play the devils advocate roulette wheel and try and use their faux reasonings for buying the top. They claim that they too want the Glazers out, that they care about the club and its future....BUT OH MY GOD they soooo need that new shirt...it's how they identify with the team!!! Utter rubbish. You buy that shirt because you cant resist to buy it. You cant help yourself but to parade yourself in Nike's latest invention, showing the world your 'colours' You think this makes you a Die-Hard..a member of The Faithful..a true Manchester United supporter.
Well I'm afraid to tell you that you are wrong.
If people want to buy the shirt, then personally I'm totally OK with it. But what I will say is please don't kid yourself and think you are aligned with the sort of fan that I am and many of my piers are. I'm not prejudging you. I just don't want you standing next to me the day we get rid of the Glazers, for you to pretend that 'you did your bit' If you want to follow United (not support, but follow) then that is cool. Millions do that from around the world. And if that means you buy United product then fine. But do not think that when judgement day comes at Old Trafford, that you'll be able to raise your hand and say 'I gritted my teeth and did the very small amount that only one fan could do'...because you will be a fraud.
So happy purchasing to the many fans who will wear that cracking looking new top in a few days time. But I will be Green and Gold til the club is sold. Go look in the mirror. If you see a real United fan..one who would walk over hot coals to go watch the reserve team play, then I trust you to do what you know is right.
I felt sick yesterday when I heard the news that all good United fans were wishing their ears not to listen to.
Owen Hargreaves is back in the States because of his injury again.
When Hargreaves was purchased, which seems like an age ago now, I was delighted. And that was because I believed he was that mythical player we like to call 'The Missing Piece of the Jigsaw'.....and I was right. That year we won the league and European Cup double, and despite injury, Mr Hargreaves (and a certain Argentine) drove us on to glory with our usual suspects.
But now, in the year 2010, Hargo has not started a game for the club for what will soon be two years. Both United and England have suffered for this..what would have happened in that Champions League final against Barca if Hargreaves had played? Would United have got that extra couple of points last year to get championship number 19 if he had bossed our midfield? Would England have faired any better in the World Cup with a genuine driving force?
All 'Ifs' and 'Buts'..but all valid questions of retrospection.
The news that Hargo has again been packed off to Colorado is a bitter blow to him, but also to the progression of United as a team. A fit again Hargreaves would have had the press and Sir Alex wheeling out that old chestnut 'He's like signing a new 20 million quid signing' ..and they'd have all been right. Emotionally there's a balance to be met when dealing with injured players. Of course a club must always be patient and United have been brilliant in the past to talent which has been cut down with injury. But maybe time has now officially run out for Hargreaves.
I personally have begged whatever God or beast that controls our destinies the chance that Hargreaves will play again for United, but yesterday I feel that that request was firmly answered. Once I get that bolt from the blue, my mind changes tact in a split second. I believe we have to now face facts. If Hargreaves ever made it back to the level that we demand at Manchester United it would be a minor miracle...but how long are we supposed to wait??
Another 4 weeks? Maybe 3 months? What about 6?
You can only let the head rule the heart for a certain period of time.
I think most United fans feel that we need an injection of talent this transfer window. There is now a hugely diminished chance that Hargo will even get the opportunity to earn a new contract, and that is shrinking by the day. With a mooted £25 million bid in the Ferguson pipeline for Mehmut Ozil, who is in the last year of his contract at Werder Bremen, and the epic performances of Darren Fletcher, who has made the non-Hargreaves months so much easier to deal with, it is time we all looked ahead, rather than to the treatment table.
Despite only playing a handful of games, I will miss Hargreaves. He is the closest thing United have signed to both Bryan Robson and Roy Keane..lots of blood and thunder and putting yourself where it hurts. Lady Luck has been cruel to the lad, but the timer on the oven is nearly pointing to 'cooked' I hope maybe we can retain him in a coaching capacity, and give him a post playing career..but once again i guess that is thinking with your heart again rather than your head. As I just mentioned, Darren Fletcher has turned into a glorious footballer..one which I certainly didn't predict. His combination of aggression, work-rate, tactical knowledge and ball skill is a testament that even those with limited ability can become top class professionals of genuine value. Some football fans still don't see this in him. But most of us know better. I'm happy for Fletcher to become United's enforcer for the season ahead and probably for a long time after. If Arsenal had a Darren Fletcher last season, they would have won the league.
So...thanks for that freekick against Arsenal, Hargo. Im happy to say I was there and screamed the house down with 70,000 other Mancs. And thanks for the penalty scored in Moscow. We all died a thousand times behind that goal in the Luzhniki Stadium that glorious night, but we all somehow knew you would bury your kick.
As the song goes..Oh Owen Hargreaves you are the love of my life. Our time together was fleeting, but never ever forgotten.
The panes of glass in the transfer window have well and truly been cleaned up for its grand central placing in all football fans' minds when we get the World Cup over and done with this weekend. For us from countries that didn't do so well (ahem...England, Italy, France, etc) it couldn't really come quick enough. We are already drowning in speculation of new players, and eat every morsel of nourishment that is fed to our salivating mouths.
The latest (and biggest for United fans) one that has surfaced is about the alleged impending swoop by our club for Wesley Sneijder.
Now I don't claim to be a mind reader, but when we sold ol Cristiano to those fellas at Madrid, I begged for Sir Alex to sign Sneijder as part of the deal. The Spaniards were willing to let go of him for under £15 million and I just thought it was too good to be true. Even a year ago it was evident that Paul Scholes was slowly edging his way to the knackers yard in the sky, and at that price it was too good to be true....so of course we let him sign for Inter Milan.
Fast forward 12 months on, and the Dutchman has won the treble with a dogmatic Inter team, and is now staring a World Cup final in the face. His value has trebled, and it's fair to say he now sits at the table that was exclusively reserved for Mr Xavi and Mr Ineista. It's not a particularly meteoric rise, as his quality has always been there, but it's been a quick succession from being a very very good footballer to be a truly marquee name.
..and now suddenly United want him....to replace Scholesy.
The press report that United have made a £29 million bid, which is all very nice. But does anyone really think that will make the Italians sell?
I don't. And here is why:
The market now consists of three elements...
At the bottom of the tree lie 99% of all football clubs, from your Athletico Madrids to your Wolfsburgs. From your Aston Villas to your Fiorentinas. Then in the middle lie a hub of teams that are considered 'very good/elite'. We are one of those elite clubs..along with Chelsea, Inter, AC Milan and Barcelona, going through to Arsenal, Liverpool, Juventus and Bayern Munich and ending with the likes of Spurs, Roma and Lyon.
And at the top of the tree lie two teams:
Real Madrid and Manchester City.
Now anyone can distinguish the difference between these two clubs. One is a multiple times European champion, and the other wants to at least play Champions League football! But that's were the comparisons stop. City have already shown their muscle this summer with the signings of Yaya Toure and David Silva...ok they are not marquee names as such, but they are considered as immensely talented. Add a Fernando Torres to this, and God forbid a Nemanja Vidic, and you suddenly have a team capable of winning any club trophy on the planet. City have signalled their intent, and unfortunately they have the bank balance to back it up..
Which leads me back to Sneijder..
If Wesley becomes available there is only two places he is going. Mourinho now holds control at Madrid, and Sneijder is his boy. On the other hand, if Sneijder wishes to become wealthier than his wildest dreams he may well have a chat with Yaya, who has been given a £200k a week contract, and that may well turn his..and his agent's head.
It is folly to believe that any footballer would turn down the sums of cash that only City and Madrid can offer. You often hear the players mouth the old cliche that 'a footballers career is a short one blah blah blah' and when it comes to wages, they get their agents to act as such...huge 3-5 year contracts, so they can sit on their yachts in the Med for the rest of their lives after the age of 36. It's nice work if you can get it. Its also crass to think that players move clubs in the modern age for the reasons of prestige. Would Cesc Fabregas want to 'go home' to his local club if it was Espanol? I doubt it. At the highest level players only really move clubs because their team no longer wants them (as when Sneijder left for Italy) or if they are offered a King's random. Simple and ruthless. It's a business.
So just from a point of logic, Wesley Sneijder will not be wearing a United shirt anytime soon. Like many fans I want the Glazers out, but I did also think they would understand that a marquee signing was needed when you lose two in both Ron and Tev. It's clear that United now have a 'ceiling' when it comes to the total transfer package of fee and wages. This is no bad thing, both financially and from a stance of morality. But when we start talking about the biggest and best players in the sport the truth is none of them will be heading to Old Trafford. £29 million is ALOT of money..but it's just the small change of coins dropped down the back of Man City's sofa!..or just a small slice of Perez pie!! Any player that is 'that' high profile and is on our radar will almost definitely be snagged by the new Big Two..even if it's just to spite us!
So I advise my fellow United fan...don't get wrapped up in the hype. The agenda is for us to go after players that have 'that' potential, and are not already winning their teams Champions Leagues and World Cups. I heard mentioned today that Lucas Podolski was now a target. After a fine World Cup his name is back up there, but it was only five minutes ago that his name was mud in club football. At around £16 million, he is the sort of target we need to concentrate on. Chicharito wasn't really getting anyone excited four weeks ago, and now suddenly post World Cup he already looks like a bargain at £10 million! Lets hope that translates into Red Devils form and goals sometime soon.
And lets face it..it's what Fergie normally does. Evra and Vidic were cheap as chips. Valencia looks a steal. Carrick and Hargreaves were slightly overpriced but well within budget, and we have a wealth of talent from the youth system, whether it be Ryan Giggs all the way through to the DaSilva twins.
One or two 'really good footballers', and I think we will be on the verge of silverwear once again. If Fergie can get the jigsaw pieces sorted early, fitting them together may well be the easy part.
And if we really do have some money to spend, I suggest we take a look at both Rafael Van Der Vaart and Alexis Sanchez..both who would be well within our capture net. And both who could become potential superstars of the game.
The script was written before even a ball was kicked.
Young Mister Rooney got his mandatory dodgy injury towards the back end of the season with his ankle going pop, gets dragged through to the summer carrying knocks galore after a hard year, and then arrives at a World Cup already completely jaded, along with his other numpty England internationals.
It was always going to be a horror show in my eyes.
The criticism levelled at Wayne Rooney in many ways has been largely deserved. When you put yourself up there, you are there to be shot at. And in England we love nothing more than to decimate the reputations of people and players that only last week we were lauding. Rooney looked lackluster in the four England games..half the player he is in the Red shirt. Why this is is not clear. Whatever effected Roo obviously was a collective problem. A Lampard that scores goals for fun for his club looked lost. Gerrard showed bits of quality, only to get continually pulled out of position at vital times through a lack of discipline. And the rest just laboured along.
It was rubbish and so typically English.
Some of the stuff thrown at Rooney in the post mortem of the World Cup has been vile and disgusting. Yes the lad opened his gob to a camera in anger and said something he shouldn't. But now he is being used as the symbol and embodiment of England's failure, when only three weeks ago the filth rags of the British tabloids were quoting that it was possible that Roo could walk on water in the cause of World Cup glory. Anyone with half a brain never believes the so called flagwavers tale that England can face adversity a la the 'two world wars' and turn that into a Dunkirk spirit success on a strip of grass in Africa. Yet the hysteria that has followed just goes to show how many England fans do indeed have LESS than half a brain!
The United die-hard in me really would love Rooney to just pack England in now. Gossip sites have said that Ashley Morality Cole has had texts intercepted that say he hates playing for England....and for once I can see why that mindset exists. United players have always had it hard playing for England. Butt, Scholes and the Nevilles would have their touches booed by the so called Three Lions fans whilst representing their country. David Beckham had effigies burned of him post the 1998 World Cup. And now we have Wazza.
England supporters want to destroy Rooney because he didn't produce what they wanted...and that was winning the World Cup all on his own. And why did they think this? Because The Sun told them that it was possible. Because The Mirror said it was possible. Because The Star said it was possible. England DO have good players, but as a team we KNOW they are not that good. And why? Because they haven't proved it for years. We talk about our success at Italia 90...yes we got to a semi final but the truth was that England were uninspiring during that run, hardly knew where the back of the net was, and without Gary Lineker would have been going home a lot earlier...but we've convinced ourself that we were great in 1990 and that is how the English history books will tell the tale for the rest of football time.
So I say to you England fans...stick Darren Bent in your England team..or Carlton Cole..or Bobby Zamora. And if you think Emile Heskey had so much more of a greater World Cup than Roo then stick with him...BUILD YOUR TEAM AROUND HIM! My opinion now is you do not deserve Rooney battling for the country in years to come. Stick with your Crouch-a-likes instead.
I wont be supporting England in the near future..I've had enough of it. I cant align myself with a set of fans that destroy their team when they've had a few bad games..no matter how big thoses games were. Did you all see how the Argentines welcomed back their team? They took an even bigger beating than us at the hands of Germany, yet their fans turned up in their thousands to welcome back the players and staff, and to let them know that despite the disappointment and adversity that they were all still ONE.
Would we ever see that in England??
So I hope Wayne comes to your ground sometime soon in our Red...and shows you exactly what he is all about.
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 a contributing author/editor at Man Utd blogzine 'The Faithful'