Tag Archives: Rooney

Pre-Season Crossroads


What was meant to be a glorious summer for English football fell apart as always, crumbling into dust in the corners of history. The signs of disintegration began to show far too soon, making way for the traditional war of words between the believers and the pessimists. The sceptics may have been proven right by England’s capitulation in Bloemfontein but it was not a victory anyone wanted to savour.  With good reason football fans turn expectantly to the approaching juggernaut of the new Premier League Season, wanting to fall in love again with the game, happy to consume the product many say ruins the national side’s chances before a ball has been kicked. The best league in the world stands ready to blast aside the cobwebs of defeat and national humiliation.

Inevitably in this lull before the stormy rebirth of football changes are made, estimations reasoned and expectations adjusted. Every single team has its issues to resolve, its weaknesses, its reasons for optimism and its irreparable limitations. Decisions made in this vital period of preparation are likely to determine whether or not a team embarks on a path of progress or a slide to disappointing underachievement.

The traditional title contenders are examined in particular detail of course. On Sunday the two main protagonists flexed their muscles on the familiar, somewhat pedestrian battlefield of the Community Shield. Manchester United emerged victorious over Chelsea, with a two goal cushion that seemingly sent a defiant message to the new Champions that the trophy shall not be permitted to stay in London for long. And yet the experts and pundits doubt United’s title credentials and the Chelsea fans remain confident despite only modest moves for the likes of Yossi Benayoun in the transfer market.

Those who doubt United and praise Chelsea do so on the evidence of last season. Chelsea will start this campaign with essentially the same strong squad and finally have a consistent, capable manager at the helm, whilst United start the new season with glaring gaps, deficiencies and accidents waiting to happen. It would be wrong, on the basis of Paul Scholes’ dominant display in the Community Shield and Ryan Giggs’ continual class, to say that many of the key cogs in the machinery of the Red Devils are decaying and rusting into ineffective scrap. It is more accurate to describe these Old Trafford legends, preserved from the golden era of the treble in 1999, as priceless antiques capable of the highest quality but only now on rare occasions, due to an increasingly fragility that requires they be handled with the utmost care. And when Scholes and Giggs sit wrapped in protective cotton wool on the sidelines the burden falls all the more heavily on Wayne Rooney. Last season United were reduced to a one man team for long, dangerous spells when Ronaldo’s absence was acutely felt and the likes of Berbatov and Owen continually failed to step up and contribute sufficiently. No one is backing United for the title because the perils of an overreliance on Wayne Rooney’s brilliance were well and truly exposed at the World Cup.

One of the principle architect’s of England’s demise in South Africa was Mezut Ozil, the marauding young German midfielder who carved counter attack after counter attack. I believe that the outcome of Ozil’s future shall reveal a great deal about the true strength of not only United’s title challenge but future success. For recent coverage in the press has made it clear the Fergie is interested in the player and also that his contract issues at Werder Bremen provide a bargain. If United were to fail to sign Ozil, one of Europe’s most exciting prospects and a long term replacement for the creativity of Giggs and Scholes in midfield, it would expose a lack of support from the board and a step backwards in ambition that would not bode well for the future. This time there would be no excuses about wasting money with the sort of prices being discussed for a player of such potential. In the future United will need to replace the likes of Edwin Van Der Sar and Rio Ferdinand and if the Glazers cannot find the funds for a shrewd midfield acquisition now then the club’s finances must truly be in peril and the quality of the squad destined only to deteriorate.

Having said this no one has been foolish enough to discard United from the title mix, perhaps at the expense of big spending local rivals Manchester City. City have brought in high quality players and will have an excellent squad once again. Yaya Toure was once the solution to United’s lack of grit in midfield and David Silva the wing wizard to replace Ryan Giggs, but now both reside in the blue of Eastlands. The doubts remain over whether Mancini is the right man to lead a title charge however and whether he can possibly mould such a glittering squad into a productive starting eleven. United also have some fresh reasons for optimism, in particular the young Mexican Javier Hernandez, which will continue to ensure their presence in the title run-in. Hernandez’s pace will give United the threat of a genuine striker for the first time since Louis Saha left the club and the fans will hope he quickly contributes goals, as he has done in pre-season, to ease the burden on Rooney. The youngster certainly seems set to provide a more reliable threat than Michael Owen’s handful of appearances last season and provides another option for bringing out the best in Dimitar Berbatov, which is still surely yet to come. Overall though the critical consensus seems right to insist that unless United surprisingly strengthen before the end of the transfer window another season of magnificence from Rooney shall be needed for them to prise the title from Chelsea’s grasp.

If progress at Old Trafford has stagnated then things at Villa Park appear to have taken a wrong turn. The resignation of Martin O’Neil has left the club leaderless just days before the new season and groping around at uninspiring alternatives such as the American coach and Sven Goran Eriksson. After achieving a regular sixth place finish and a few impressive cup runs O’Neil leaves with his own reputation intact, perhaps wisely before his team’s limitations begin to show. The imminent sale of James Milner, following the previous saga of Gareth Barry, was understandably the final straw for O’Neil as he sought to take Villa to the next level of European football, despite the ever present obstacles of the Big Four and emerging powers with financial clout such as Spurs and Man City. If O’Neil was ever going to achieve that he needed backing in the transfer market as well as his motivational qualities. Frustratingly for him in the time it took Villa to admit to their lack of ambition exciting challenges like the Liverpool and England jobs slipped away. It remains to be seen if he’ll ever get his big break.

Fabio Capello meanwhile certainly received a big let off. He has admitted that he would have understood had the FA dismissed him following the World Cup debacle and it is difficult to see how he can recover his position. Prior to the tournament he was hailed as a cold disciplinarian with the tactical genius to steer England to glory. Now public admiration has turned to suspicion and derision and his new squad reveals a lack of ideas for reviving the body of English football from a paralysis inflicted courtesy of counter attacking German boots. The international resignations of Paul Robinson and Wes Brown following the squad announcement for this week’s friendly with Hungary have added further lashings of humiliation and embarrassment to Capello’s feast of failure. Whatever happens in this futile friendly fixture, the England players shall be deservedly snubbed in favour of the return of club football and any new hopes shall take much longer to create and younger, visionary squad selection from the Italian in the future.

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Fergie should ditch Berbatov in the summer, but Utd fans better hope he steps up in the meantime


As a fan of Manchester United I’ve become accustomed to the strange ways of our legendary manager. The approaching return of a certain Mr Beckham to Old Trafford has prompted a review of Sir Alex’s past judgments in the press. There is no doubt that subsequent events seemed to prove Fergie right in Beckham’s case and he’ll relish the flattering questions at the press conferences. Beckham won only one La Liga with Real Madrid and he and other “Galiticos” saw Barcelona surpass them as not only Spain’s best club but arguably Europe’s. Beckham peaked at United and Fergie rebuilt his side and found an even better successor in Ronaldo, who led the team to new heights with that long craved second Champions League trophy.

In the past I’ve trusted Fergie’s proven ability to make the right call for the club in the long term. When he sold Beckham I agreed with the decision and likewise when he recognised the need for a new style in the form of a Rooney/Saha  partnership that saw the demise of the God-like Ruud Van Nistelrooy. He clearly has an instinct for recognising when a player has given his best and when what’s best for the team is to let a good player go. Sure he’s made mistakes too, notably the ego driven ousting of Jaap Stam following a row over revelations in the player’s book. That led to the acquisition of Laurent Blanc, an ageing player who failed to even dampen the flames left roaring at the back following the departure of the Dutchman. He also struggled to find a new keeper after the departure of a red nosed great Dane but who wouldn’t have? That’s why when the Fergie sold the world’s best player at the start of this season I followed his logic and expected to see him take the necessary action to maintain the club’s challenge domestically and in Europe.

However like many other fans I was disappointed by the lack of reinvestment of that gargantuan transfer fee back into the squad. Ronaldo was a winger and top scoring striker, so at least two players were needed to fill two gaping responsibilities in my view. Then there was the lightweight midfield, brushed aside in the final with Barca, which may as well be sorted out with the treasure chest overflowing. No such luck. Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen were the only signings of note; neither has become an integral team member.  Disappointed, I consoled myself with the thought of what happened when Beckham left; an obscure young winger signed to replace him who would in time spearhead a remoulded attack to glory. Then I realised Valencia wasn’t young or obscure, just averagely effective at Wigan Athletic. This time then would the recovery take even longer?

Wayne Rooney is the reason why there have been no major criticisms of the lack of transfer activity as yet. His form, along with some stumbles by Chelsea, has ensured United stay within touch at the top. Fergie’s reluctance to admit defeat when it comes to big money signings of his own however may damage Rooney’s long term prospects. It happened with Veron, who Fergie desperately struggled to accommodate, and now it’s happening with Dimitar Berbatov. Rightly wowed by his dazzling football at Spurs, Berbatov actually seemed a relatively low risk buy at the time, proven in the Premiership already. Like Veron though his swagger and temperament have been hard for the fans to accept, especially when he has rarely found form. At Spurs the odd less than divine performance would perhaps go unnoticed but at Old Trafford the pressure rises. From the start many have said he is too similar to Rooney, a player who likes to drop off rather than poach in the six yard box. This criticism was brushed aside by Fergie, who seemed to have proved with the Rooney/Tevez partnership that a recognised “striker” was no longer needed for fruitful attacking play. With Tevez’s departure though Berbatov has failed to really connect with Rooney, doing so only on occasion. It now seems quite likely Fergie will rebuild again in the summer, offloading Berbatov and searching for Rooney’s perfect foil.

Until then United and England fans must hope that the weight of goals on Wayne Rooney does not break him. A supporting cast of Owen, Wellbeck and Macheda cannot hope to ease the pressure on such an inspirational player. In the summer it may be too late for this season, but Fergie must bring in a goal scoring replacement for Berbatov and other strikers if Rooney is to keep playing at this level for many more years. For the coming trophy run-in United fans can only pray Berbatov finds form to save the season and his Old Trafford career.

Why Capello Had to Sack Terry and Pick Rio


The endless revelations regarding the private life of a certain Chelsea defender have dominated the front and back pages of both the tabloids and supposedly respected news publications in recent weeks. However most of us are simply concerned that such trivial drama about the sordid and inevitable escapades of the Premiership footballer will harm England’s chances at another World Cup. In 2010 even I, a sceptic when it comes to England’s chances of actually achieving when it counts, have been persuaded by factors such as a favourable climate despite the far flung locale of South Africa, Capello’s simple organisation, Rooney’s growing brilliance, a gentle qualification campaign and an easy group on paper, that we may actually get somewhere. For sports writers and celeb gossip columnists alike then John Terry’s foolish, failed attempts to suppress details of his adultery are nothing less than a wet dream with ongoing opportunities to prophesise doom in place of success and ask how Capello shall choose to react to such a colossal crisis.

I’ve heard several people comment jokingly that Capello is presumably bemused by the fuss surrounding Terry’s macho behaviour, given his Italian nationality. Before he gave way to media pressure and gave Terry the boot as skipper, these jokers suggested Capello would simply rise above the tidal wave of publicity and leave the only leader in the team in place, armband secure. Critics pointed to the example a national captain must set not only for young fans but for the rest of the team. Capello couldn’t simply ignore the allegations with their mounting evidence and thus condone Terry’s actions.

I would argue that ideally this is what would have happened. Had there been no spotlight of media scrutiny, had Terry not aggravated matters by trying to silence the papers and effectively screaming his deception from the rooftops, the purely football decision would’ve been to leave Terry as captain, despite his behaviour. Let’s not kid ourselves; every member of the national side probably has an equally scandalous skeleton in their closet. Sadly though not every member of the England squad is blessed with the natural characteristics of leadership that John Terry has, in fact none of them are. That fact is made evident by Capello’s choice to succeed the disgraced Terry.

Rio Ferdinand! The news that a crock, himself with a tarnished track record following a missed drugs test, was to replace his centre-back partner as captain, made me scoff at Capello’s supposed genius. After ten minutes brooding over the alternatives though I changed my mind. Who else is there other than Ferdinand? Ordinarily the equally safe but wiser option would be too appoint the first choice goalkeeper to act as an experienced, calm, urging presence from the back. However England has no obvious choice between the sticks. Robert Green and Ben Foster are questionable as squad members and David James would be a step backward.

Strong voices have called for Rooney to be made skipper, a move that would complete his maturing process from raging bull to clinical cheetah in front of goal. However Capello no doubt agreed with the chorus denouncing that option as the death of England’s chances. Rooney still isn’t primarily a goal-scorer and he needs to retain a degree of savagery to be England’s world class talisman. Making him captain would have burdened Rooney with one responsibility too many and would have seen a return to sights like Rooney valiantly tracking back only to give away a penalty to Russia in the left-back position, costing England their best player and the match. Steven Gerrard then? He too is far from free from scandal and is another player Capello will be praying can recapture his best this summer, another match winner who could do without the extra weight on his shoulders.

And so whilst Ferdinand is clearly not the perfect choice as captain Capello has logically chosen him to maximise England’s chances and minimise the impact of the whole incident on the team’s preparations. Up till now Capello has got things right and the team had been in buoyant mood. Whilst Ferdinand may not be a guaranteed starter due to his own fitness problems, ideally Ferdinand will partner Terry come the summer. He is also a proven winner with Manchester United. Capello will no doubt hope that little will change with Ferdinand wearing the armband and his big players, including John Terry, will feel liberated to produce their best football. I understand those looking at Capello’s handling of this whole affair and likening it to the safe, failure inducing calls made by past England managers. However if those critics take a moment to think they might realise that Capello is rising above the media bubble, (whilst not ignoring it) and is pursuing the same pragmatic, hard-line tactics that so far have only brought him praise and England consistent success.