Archie’s Off Too!

Paul Scholes is expected to make Sunday’s game with Swansea more emotional that in it was already going to be, by announcing his retirement from football. This is of course the sequel to his first retirement, which hit United fans in May 2011 to unhappy reviews and this time it is expected to stick. There had been rumours of a coaching role with the incoming manager David Moyes when the current Everton boss brings Pip Neville back to the Theatre of Dreams on his staff (employed staff, that is, not some sort of long stick thing with Phil sat on it).

It marks the end of a quiet few months for Archie, when news broke that he would not be included in the squad to face Real Madrid in the first leg, Given to Score was first to break the news that he was off buying a kitchen. It is perhaps fitting that a man who spent most of his career happy to be in the background, bows out in the last home game under Sir Alex Ferguson, whilst the spotlight will be on Fergie, the midfielder may think he can sneak off without being noticed; Manchester United noticed you, Paul and in a week where thank you seemed woefully inadequate, I’m afraid it’s all we have.

Thank you for your contribution, thank you for coming back, thank you for Port Vale in the League Cup, Bradford, Man City and all those magical bits in between.

He may have preferred life out of the spotlight but thank heavens his football put him in it.

One last thing, no-one else is allowed to retire now. Has anyone checked Ryan Giggs’ contract? Is it signed? That’s what they said about Mark Hughes and then we found out there was pension issues and he leaves for Chelsea. Even if it’s signed, get him to go over it.

No one else is retiring, surely the kitchen isn’t that nice!



Arms Aloft

SAT in the car on the way to Old Trafford last Monday was the first time in a long time I had absolute confidence in Manchester United. I mean simply, I didn’t anticipate Aston Villa throwing any spanner into the works. I had a feeling Manchester United would not let them do so on this night. There were no thoughts of well if they score first we will score two, and we’ll get there eventually… last week I had a feeling we would destroy Aston Villa and enjoy doing so.

For a long time we have not been playing for title, it’s been ours, it’s just a case of when we were going to be confirmed Champions. The ‘keep ticking matches off’ mentality was beginning to do my head in if I’m honest, so I’m glad the maths got really easy and it looks like the team think so too: win this match, win the league. Sorry, Villa, you didn’t stand a chance.

Continue reading “Arms Aloft”

Out of Gas

IT may be me out here on this limb by myself but I think that winning the Premier League title, should we do so, may lose some of its gloss if we limp over the line like a pathetically wounded gazelle instead of striding away like a magnificent stallion. Some may be happy just to win, but it looks like we’re dragging ourselves across the finish line. Believe me, I waited to write about this, I waited through an epically painful International Week and one or two  games either side to see if the team proved me wrong and I’m sure you can guess where I am going with this; they didn’t. Two nil up against Chelsea and the collective foot comes off the gas, worst still; we’ve not been cutting edge since those goals went in.

Continue reading “Out of Gas”

Sir Alex Ferguson and On

If the Premiership teams are ruled by managers, we might need to come up with a different term for what Sir Alex does. He does not merely ‘manage’, he soars.

There should never an occasion when winning trophies bores anyone connected with a sports team. If that day ever comes, it is our considered opinion that you leave the sport and never approach the field again. This weekend Manchester United claimed their tenth Premiership title and our manager looked as happy as if it was the first.

The final destination of the Premiership trophy had to wait to the final day of the season but in truth United had always done enough to remain in front going into the game, our advantage has been greater at other points this season but the simple fact is that however small that advantage was before kick off, the power was in our corner and it was ours to give it away.

That I never felt true panic is due in no small way to the fact that our team went after this title, in this game, not like it was their tenth and the manager had been there and done it before, but like it was his first and he was on the verge of losing his job had the result gone the wrong way.

For two games in a season, we share the city with our neighbours in blue. For most of the season we are on a completely different planet. In the red corner, a manager who most certainly could have been dismissed early in his United days. We have been privileged to be there to see the results of the decision not to show Sir Alex Ferguson the door. Our team has benefited from his insatiable need for success, but his hunger has been able to grow together with our team. His celebration at the final whistle reminded me of the famous Sheffield Wednesday full time whistle in 1993.

He has managed to compete and never lose his sense of always wanting to be the best. He has managed to manage the best young talent and create new generations of players from all over and make sure they share his hunger.

Our manager does not simply manage. Managing is dragging a team into Europe and one place below their city rivals who have had more money to spend than most. To manage suggests that you ‘manage’ to make the best situation with the tools you have. Perhaps, therefore we need a new word for what Sir Alex Ferguson does with Manchester United.

Jose Mourinho managed to win the league twice, with an unlimited budget before he walked away. He was able to do that job because he had managed to win the European Champions’ League with a team that only the very incredibly drunk would have backed at the start of the competition. He achieves success and then moves on. Rafa Benitez has managed to get Liverpool to a couple of European Champions’ League finals while spectacularly mismanaging their domestic seasons.

Sir Alex Ferguson has not ‘managed’. Managing is for mere managers!

He has brought our club the Premiership 10 times and many more trophies besides.

The tenth time is no worse than the first because it was no easier. In fact it’s all the more impressive because it’s harder. Sometime it’s new faces that wish to challenge, sometimes it’s the same leathery French ones. The desire is no different, no weaker.

Creating success is one thing, maintaining a consistency of success is another. Let the others ‘manage’. The man at our helm tries to create history.

Stick Yer Bubbles, We Got Our Trophy Back!

First things first I thought today was going to be all poetic and historic. As it happened, only the historic part caught on because we got our trophy back, or rather the Busby Babes delivered it back to us, nice touch I thought. But I missed the poetic part, the part where we sent West Ham spiraling into the fizzy cola leagues like the rest of the Premiership wanted, and finally gained payback for both of those days at Upton Park when they played their part in denying us championship success. That day when that West Ham no mark turned up and scored to defeat us in 1992, his one and only moment of West Ham glory, and that day when try as we might we just couldn’t put the ball in the net. It was all so poetic, we would finally get revenge and do what the whole of the stadium (bar the ones ‘forever blowing bubbles’) wanted: Send ‘em Down!

Of course the ability to perhaps send them down relied on us actually being able to play a half decent game today and despite dominating the game for huge parts of it, we didn’t seem to be able to shift the wall that the Hammers had erected. Despite my words of praise for Darren Fletcher elsewhere this season, nothing could convince me that Kieran Richardson is worthy of the same praise, certainly not today. You see I freely admit now that Darren Fletcher is worth the medal that hangs around his neck, when we needed him he turned in a solid performance or two. He is the microwave meal of footballers, you can probably get better but when there is no time for absolute total quality, he is adequate enough to fill a hole. You wouldn’t want a microwave meal all the time but when you need it, it is there for you. Like a microwave meal, you can sometimes be surprised by the quality you find in the finished product. I can only hope Kieran Richardson played today and most of the other times in the past few weeks, because Sir Alex wants to sell him.   

The players we had out there should have had enough to win the game so to use the ‘weakened side’ argument is wrong and disrespectful to the players who were out there. Ronaldo, Rooney et al also turned up for the second half and still couldn’t break through. West Ham get one chance and bury it, and it happens to be the player that is at the centre of the storm. A good player he is too, one that I highly doubt will be wearing West Ham colours next season. Most of the league wanted West Ham to go down, me included, not only for the reasons already stated but for the fact that this player who is supposedly legally registered with the club, a fact that many managers and chairman elsewhere doubt, has been the focal point of their revival and possibly should not have been playing at all.

Dave Whelan says that he and other club chairman are prepared to take this further and see that West Ham are dealt with in courts. I do not know how much water any case will hold but I do know that in other cases points were docked and huge potentially crippling penalties were imposed. As a Lancashire lad born and bread I speak specifically of the Bury FC incident when they unknowingly fielded an ineligible player and were subsequently thrown out of the FA Cup and ordered to pay back prize money and gate receipts because of a simple case of one mistake with paperwork. West Ham on the other hand were knowingly deceptive in their dealings and admitted to such to the Premier League. Not for one minute would they have stood up and asked for the points deduction instead of the monetary fine but it does make you wonder. Bury, nor any of the other smaller clubs that this has happened to, do not have 5 million pounds to give away in fines but when a fine was suggested for the Shakers it was suggested by the powers that be that in the interests of equality the punishment should be competition based rather than financial. In the case of West Ham that has not happened. I seriously doubt that anything will now happen to the club, it may all be viewed as done and dusted by the Premier League.

I should also say that this is in no way an intended defence of Sheffield United or their manager Neil Warnock. Warnock has gone through this season blaming every single other person that he can for the results of his side, West Ham, Manchester United’s line up today, referee A, referee B. Quite frankly the man needs to look closer to home as to the reasons for his sides relegation. The sort of form his side put together recently was relegation form, his stubborn desire to stick to 4-5-1 did not help and I am glad that moaning loudmouth is out of the Premiership.

But then again, relegation is not my concern. I did after all just witness my team claim our trophy back. It was the last game of the season for me at the Theatre of Dreams and what a wet, cold, but unbelievably happy way to see out the season. There was this moment where everyone was gutted about the performance and urging us to score then a second later, as the clock showed only a minute remaining it was as if we suddenly remembered that we had a trophy to collect. We must play better next week at Wembley but I have a feeling we will, we would have done if this game had meant more to us in terms of winning the league, it would have been nice to end on a victory but it doesn’t really matter. The gap between us and Chelsea was SIX points at the end of the season, now that is a gap – it’s not the size of the gap it’s what you do with it but the fact that Chelsea didn’t claw us back to within one or two points is impressive.

Nine Premiership titles, 16 in total…we got our trophy back!

“Play For The Shirt, Lads”

A season of fantastic highs and occasional lows essentially came to an end on Sunday with Chelsea’s draw at the Arsenal confirming Manchester United as the champions of England for a ninth time in the Premiership. Manchester United fans all around the world deserve to shout it out loud and truly revel in this moment because this has been a well earned success when few outside Man United actually predicted it. The ‘special one’ himself at various times in the season predicted that the table was false and that his Chelsea team would eventually topple United from the top and eventually win the league. They got close on a few occasions especially when our injury list got longer, and I actually believe that if we had been removed from top spot, Chelsea would have gone on to win the league. That they didn’t says an awful lot for our players, the ones that get the headlines and the ones that do not. I’m speaking specifically here of Darren Fletcher, who I have been critical of in the past but who, even I will admit, has risen to the challenge in recent weeks. Such players may not be first team material on a week in week out basis and there were times I wondered why we kept such average players around even for the bench. The fact that we did shows why Alex Ferguson is the manager and I am not. We built a team mentality that was not based on superstars in every role, but was instead based on players playing for the shirt whenever and wherever they were required.  You do not need twenty two headline grabbers!

Continue reading ““Play For The Shirt, Lads””

As You Were

Hands up all those who expected this at the end of Saturday’s game against Middlesbrough? Still three points clear at the top of the league with one fewer week to play. In the great scheme of things that is like Christmas considering how I felt at full time at Old Trafford. I know it’s terrible to admit it and I should have had faith but for the first time since Christmas when we first went six points clear, I had real doubts about our chances of staying in front and winning this league. I could see nothing but a Chelsea victory, Chelsea team celebrations and an arrogant post match interview with Jose. In the event only one of those things happened, Chelsea looked like a team dented as they left the St James’ pitch and it is all a case of as you were in the league. It would have been lovely to take three points from Boro and get the Newcastle result the same but life doesn’t happen like that. We should thank whoever you like that we were not made to pay for our stumble.

Continue reading “As You Were”