All posts by Jamie Ward

Are Valencia Set To Ruin United’s Plans?

Last night Valencia sacked Manchester United legend Gary Neville and immediately turned their sights to Jose Mourinho, according to several media reports.

The deal between Manchester United and Jose Mourinho has long been thought of as all-but-complete for some time now but with Valencia keen to act swiftly following Neville’s dismissal, the former Real Madrid manager could be tempted by the immediate availability and guarantees that the Spanish club could offer, despite an alleged pre-contract between United and Mourinho thought to be in place.

It is thought that last season’s Premier League winning manager would prefer to be at Old Trafford next season but with United still clinging on to Louis Van Gaal, a return to La Liga could very much be on the cards. However, it is worth noting that Mourinho did appear to rule out a return to Spain in February this year after claiming that the competition amongst the top clubs was poor.

“I always say that I need competition and I need competition every week and in Spain, I was at an amazing club but I had four matches a year: Barcelona v Real Madrid, Real Madrid v Barcelona and after that we’d win 4-0, 5-0, 4-1, 6-1.

It was difficult to win because two monsters are together, but it was easy to win matches. Difficult to win the league because you are competing against another team that also win and win and win like you do, so in the end, I was champion in Spain with 100 points and I lost a league in Spain with 91 points.

In England, you can win the leagues with 75 points, maybe less, so I needed competition.”

Mourinho is still odds-on with the bookies to be in charge at Old Trafford come August, although he is now 8/1 to be in charge at Valencia at the beginning of next season.

Is Gonzalo Higuain On Mourinho’s Radar?

Reports surfaced today that Jose Mourinho is keen to sign Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli this summer if he is to take over the reigns at Old Trafford. With Chelsea and Arsenal, amongst others, apparently waiting in the wings, Mourinho is reportedly willing to part with up to £74 million of United’s cash to land the Argentine superstar.

Higuain was part of the Mourinho’s La Liga winning Real Madrid side in 2012 and finished the season with 22 goals, the second highest for the club that season behind only Cristiano Ronaldo (who, granted, did score an incredible 46 league goals that season).

Deemed surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu at the end of the 2012/13 season, the 28-year-old moved to Napoli where he has thrived in Serie A. Having hit an incredible 29 goals in 30 appearances to date this season, Higuain sits top of the goalscorers list by an incredible 15 goals, with Carlos Bacca of Milan and Paulo Dybala of Juventus tied in second place with 14 goals.

The Argentine international is widely regarded as a world-class striker, something that United have been lacking this season and Mourinho has made that position his top priority this summer. Signing a player such as Higuain would show a huge signal of intent as United look to catapult themselves back to the summit of English football.

United have reportedly long been admirers of the striker but, with a host of clubs looking to secure his signature this summer, it could force the clubs hand.

Michael Carrick Set For New Deal?

Fresh off the back of Sunday’s 1-0 victory over bitter rivals Manchester City, long-serving midfielder Michael Carrick has revealed that he is confident that negotiations over a new contract will begin shortly.

After the win, the 34-year-old was quoted as saying “I am not sure yet to be honest. I haven’t heard anything just at the moment, no. Hopefully some time soon. I have been here a long time, I have had some great times here and I love the club. It’s a great place to play. Playing games like against City keeps you having that buzz and enthusiasm to play for longer.

“I am not making a big deal of it, to be honest. I will just have to wait and see what happens. I am quite relaxed about it.”

If Carrick was to sign a new contract, it would coincide with a tenth year at the club having signed from Tottenham Hotspur in July 2006 by Sir Alex Ferguson for a reported £14 million. The England international has been pivotal in the club’s success ever since, the highlight being a starting berth in the Champions League victory in 2008 over Chelsea.

Manchester United fans have long admired the attributes that Carrick brings to the squad, having been a stalwart at the heart of the midfield during some of the club’s most successful years. He was a key member of the squad which won three successive Premier League titles between 2007 and 2009 and, with over 400 games for the club to date, sits within the top 25 appearance makers for Manchester United. His 34 caps for England to date show no reflection on his talent and it could easily be argued that Carrick has been vastly underused at international level.

Voted Players Player of the Year in 2013, Carrick has won five Premier League titles, one League Cup, one Champions League, one World Club Cup and five Community Shields in his time in Manchester. Whilst clearly in the twilight years of his career, a one year extension to his current deal would represent a huge positive for the club.

Young and Borthwick-Jackson Could Feature Against Liverpool

Louis Van Gaal has been handed a boost ahead of tomorrow nights make-or-break Europa League tie against Liverpool as it has been reported that Ashley Young and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson could feature in some capacity, as seen in The Guardian

Coincidentally, Young last featured for United in the victory over Liverpool on January 17th, where he suffered a groin injury, and the 30-year-old joined in training with the first team squad this morning. 19-year-old defender Borthwick-Jackson also rejoins the first team squad having not featured since the FA Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town in February.

Borthwick-Jackson has been one of the success stories this season since making his debut against West Bromich Albion as a substitute in Novemeber last year. He has since made 11 appearances for the club in all competitions and has earned many plaudits for his attack-minded displays reminiscent of those displayed during the Sir Alex Ferguson era.

With United trailing 2-0 to bitter rivals Liverpool after defeat in the first leg at Anfield, the return at Old Trafford is seen as crucial to the clubs hopes of reaching the Champions League through the back door as a top four finish remains in the hands of other teams. The return of Young and Borthwick-Jackson could prove to be pivotal as United look to qualify for the Champions League through the back door with hopes of a top four finish in the Premier League currently out of their hands.

Injection Of Youth Breathes Life Into Soulless United

Even the most avid Louis Van Gaal fan would struggle to reel off a list of things he has got right during his time in charge. It is no secret that his near two years in charge, this season in particular, has been dire to say the least but, if there is one thing that he certainly is not guilty of, it is sticking to the club tradition of blooding youngsters into the first team squad.

The more skeptical of us may believe that this is due to the squad being unnecessarily thin whilst LVG himself claims that he deliberately scaled down the squad in order to bring in youth players. Whatever the truth is, recent weeks have seen some much improved performances on the pitch, with the recent emergence of Marcus Rashford proving to be the real highlight.

In truth, the writing was on the wall from the very beginning of LVG’s tenure, having included Jesse Lingard and Tyler Blackett in his very first matchday squad in 2014. Since then, a further 12 academy players have made their debuts for the club, with some of those beginning to become a regular presence around the squad.

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, at 19-years-old, looks like he has massive potential and has recorded some steady performances within the back four this season. Tim Fosu-Mensah made his debut as a substitute in the recent win over Arsenal, before starting the subsequent game against Watford where he put in a decent shift. And then there is the aforementioned Marcus Rashford. In only three games for United, the youngster has already been sounded out for an England call-up and been touted as ‘the next big thing’.

Granted, it is far too early to claim that Rashford will indeed turn out to be a top player, we have been here before after all (Macheda anyone?), but the early indications are positive, with the well-documented doubles against FC Midtjylland and Arsenal propelling him from the unknown to household name.

The most frustrating aspect of the youngsters utilised to date by LVG is the under-use of Andreas Pereira. The 20-year-old is seen by many as the crown jewel of United’s academy but has seemingly been overlooked on occasion by Van Gaal. What is more frustrating is that the Brazilian is being overlooked by Jesse Lingard who, as another academy graduate given his debut under the Dutchman, has produced moments of brilliance and mediocrity in equal measure. It is widely known around Old Trafford that many fans would like to see Pereira given more of an opportunity over the coming months, with many sensing he could prove to be as big a loss as Paul Pogba if he was to decide his future lay away from the club.

Louis Van Gaal has always stated that when he leaves the club he will leave it in a better state than when he arrived. As recent as three weeks ago that was hard to believe. However, these claims are now becoming easier to understand. Of course, any manager could have come in and spent what the Dutchman has, and more than likely delivered some silverware, but what LVG is achieving is a squad which could be able to compete for the next 10 years. It is far too early to launch any ‘class of 92’ comparisons but the latest class could be one that helps the club begin to reach the levels that we are all used to and expect.

Will Keane – Is It Time He Got A Chance?

It may or may not have slipped under your radar but, last night, United Under-21s thumped Norwich City 7-0. In an attacking performance which fans have been crying out for the senior side to produce, Andreas Pereira tucked away a penalty whilst young defender Tim Fosu-Mensah also found the back of the net. How about the other five? Well, they were all scored by Will Keane, taking his tally for the Under-21s this season to 10 since he was recalled from his loan spell at Preston North End in January. After an impressive run of form for the second team, is it time that the 23-year-old finally gets his chance in the first team?

Since making his debut for the club in late 2011, Keane has found himself shipped out on loan to no fewer than four different clubs in a bid to ready himself for the vigours of the first team. A short stint at Wigan Athletic was ended prematurely to injury before a six-month loan deal to Queens Park Rangers proved to be equally unsuccessful. Hillsborough was to be his next destination in early 2015, where he found the net on three occasions for Sheffield Wednesday before heading to Preston North End at the beginning of this campaign on a season-long loan deal. His time at Deepdale hardly proved to be prolific, finding the net on two occasions in 22 appearances for the club.

When it was announced that Keane was to have his loan spell at Preston cut short to provide extra cover to Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial in the wake of James Wilson’s loan move to Brighton, it smacked of desperation. In fact, with Adnan Januzaj returning to the club shortly afterwards, the conclusion that many reached was that manager Louis Van Gaal would not be trusted with any money during the January transfer window, a statement that has intensified since the closure of the window after United failed to sign a single player. However, Keane’s form for the Under-21s has done nothing but raise his stock and he could well find himself amongst the substitutes for this weekends game against Sunderland.

Whilst scoring five goals is impressive at any level, it was the nature of the goals which should not go unnoticed. His third goal, assisted by one Memphis Depay, was probably the neatest tap-in you are likely to see, whilst his fourth goal was nothing more than a thing of beauty, chipping the goalkeeper from the edge of the box after some sublime skill.

It is easy to get excited about a prospect from the Under-21s. The level of football down there is nothing compared to the Premier League, and his time away on loan has shown us nothing in terms of his progress. However, perhaps Keane is now willing to knock on the door and show LVG exactly what he has to offer. Keane cannot be judged on his loan spells. After all, one Harry Kane failed to pull up any trees during his temporary time away from Tottenham Hotspur, and it is probably fair to say that he is something of a success now…

Guardiola Joins City – What Next For United?

So Manchester City have finally confirmed the world’s worst kept secret and announced that outgoing Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola will take over the reigns at The Ethiad from next season. The question is, with Manchester City now going for broke, how can Manchester United counteract what could effectively prove to be checkmate?

My initial reaction to the news that Guardiola had made Manchester City his next venture was one of anger. As I let it sink it, it was still anger. How could Manchester United, the biggest club in the world lose out on the most sought-after coach in world football? Worse still, how could they lose out to the ‘noisy neighbours’? Whichever way one looks at it, this could prove to be the biggest and most fatal error made by Ed Woodward. Manchester City have everything in place to dominate European football for years to come whilst Woodward’s blind faith in Louis Van Gaal could leave United playing catch up.

Manchester City have been ruthless. Nobody agreed with the sacking of Mark Hughes and the treatment of Pelligrini has echoes of that that Sparky endured at the beginning of their takeover. However, what City have recognised is that the capture of Guardiola is a significant one. Pellegrini has, without doubt, been a success at City and could still end this season with four trophies. It would seem, at first glance certainly, that outing the Chilean is incredibly harsh and winning at least one of those trophies would back that fact up. However, Guardiola is worth taking that risk. United, and Woodward in particular, have once again failed by failing to act quickly.

Pellegrini has won two trophies in two seasons at City, whilst over at Old Trafford Louis Van Gaal can’t get a win over Bournemouth. The truth of the matter is that, with Louis Van Gaal in charge, United cannot expect to get anywhere near a Manchester City side with Guardiola at the helm. In truth, with Van Gaal in charge, United can’t get anywhere near a Leicester side with Claudio Ranieri in charge.

The way I see it is that United are now left with no choice. United now need to follow their neighbours lead and chase the next best thing…Jose Mourinho. I get the reasons not to appoint him, I really do. His lack of use of youth players is a real worry, and the one reason I would have picked Guardiola over him. The other reason, the one many United fans have voiced concern over, is one that I cannot get my head around. Negative football. Ok, yes, Mourinho plays a brand of football that is not particularly pleasing on the eye. However, is it any worse than what we are witnessing right now? The answer is of course no. The difference is that it is effective. LVG currently plays negative football, we all know that by now, but the end result is not one that Mourinho will achieve.

And then there is the one big fact, the one that cannot be ignored under any circumstance. Who is the only manager to stop Pep Guardiola winning a league title? You guessed it…Jose Mourinho.

Victor Valdes Departs Club On Loan

Today, the club confirmed what everybody already knew as Spanish goalkeeper Victor Valdes headed to Belgium after agreeing a loan move with Standard Liege until the end of the current campaign. It has been a case of ‘not if, but when’ Valdes would leave the club after his well documented fall-out with Louis Van Gaal, although the destination has been unknown until now, with the likes of Liverpool, Newcastle United and Fenerbahce all rumoured to have been in the running for his signature.

Louis Van Gaal confirmed the spat between the pair had become irreparable during the pre-season campaign after the manager claimed that Valdes had refused to play for the under 21’s last season, something furiously denied by the goalkeeper. Of course, we all know that Valdes did indeed feature for the under 21’s, a fact backed up on his personal Instagram account, leading to speculation that there may be more than meets the eye.

Van Gaal, of course, is no stranger to fall-outs, having clashed with the likes of Rivaldo, Johan Cruyff, Mark Van Bommel, Robin Van Persie and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to name just a small few. All of come with an interesting back story but, from the outside certainly, the Victor Valdes fall-out has been handled in an atrocious way. Forced to train on his own, the 34-year-old wasn’t even allocated a squad number this season, let alone a club suit, as Van Gaal continually ostracised the World Cup winner. Rumours that the club’s Spanish players were becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation began to circulate, with Juan Mata and Ander Herrera allegedly at the forefront of expressing their anger.

A fact that cannot also be ignored is that, despite his alleged refusal to appear for the under 21 side, Valdes did indeed end the last campaign as the number one following an injury to David De Gea, despite the fact the Anders Lindegaard was available to play, and did start the game against Hull City on the final game of the season on the bench. If Valdes had indeed refused to play for the under 21 side, surely Lindegaard would have been the preferred option in that game.

Anyhow, Valdes has become another high profile name to leave the club under Louis Van Gaal, even if all he was ever supposed to be was an understudy to David De Gea. His heartfelt goodbye, posted again on his Instagram account, shows a level of professionalism and respect that maybe a certain manager could learn from.

Goodbye Victor Valdes, and good luck!

Andreas Pereira Nears Loan Exit

As the 2016 Rio Olympic Games edges near, Andreas Pereira has voiced his desire to seek a loan move away from the club to try and cement a place in the Brazilian national side this summer. Speaking to GloboEsporte, the talented youngster is quoted as saying:

“I do not know if United want to lend me, but I’m working hard to get more opportunities. Manchester will decide.”

The 20-year-old is viewed as the jewel in the crown in the next batch of United youngsters and this revelation, whilst not a shock, will no doubt hand some sections more ammunition against manager Louis Van Gaal despite a decent start to 2016. With Van Gaal providing a platform for many youngsters during his tenure, with the likes of Jesse Lingard, Paddy McNair, Tyler Blackett and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson enjoying time amongst the first team over the past two seasons, Pereira has found his appearances limited despite United struggling in front of goal.

Many fans have called for the 20-year-old to be utilised more often, an opinion reinforced by his stunning free kick against Ipswich Town in the Capital One Cup earlier this season. A string of impressive displays for the under-21 side have only added more fuel to the fire whilst the return of fellow academy graduate Adnan Januzaj, previously on loan at Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund, could well see Pereira fall further behind in the pecking order.

Interestingly enough, news of Pereira’s current availability has sparked rumours from all angles, although Leicester City are rumoured to be the frontrunners which would be absolute madness. Leicester currently sit second in the Premier League on goal difference, and seven points above United. Handing the Foxes one of the club’s most talented prospects would be a major error. Leicester must be seen as United’s main rival for the lucrative fourth Champions League spot.

Leicester are, of course, the surprise package of the season and their expected decline just doesn’t seem to be coming. Their Christmas fixtures were as tough as it gets, games against United, City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, but the club still find themselves on the brink of the Premier League summit. Realistically, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham are shoe-ins for the top four spots. Leicester are the one anomaly, and loaning our most exciting prospect to them to aid their title challenge would be shear lunacy.

However, with some of the decisions that have been made this season, it wouldn’t come as a major surprise…

Adnan Januzaj – Could He Be The Man To Answer LVG’s SOS?

Adnan Januzaj…remember him? You know, the 20-year-old Belgian wonderkid. Yes, of course you do. Well, he’s back, and ready to answer Louis Van Gaal’s SOS (Save Our Season).

It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for Adnan Januzaj since he broke into the first team squad in 2013. An unused substitute in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game for the club, the youngster became the one major plus point of David Moyes’ ill-fated reign the season following, with some even claiming that he could be the new Cristiano Ronaldo (well, that was me). However, it is fair to say that since Louis Van Gaal took over at the club his progress has been, well, mooted at best.

Used sparingly during Van Gaal’s first season in charge, Januzaj actually began this campaign by starting four of the opening five fixtures, scoring the winner against Aston Villa in the second game of the season. However, after a disappointing 45 minutes against Club Brugge in the Champions League Second Leg Qualifier, LVG decided to let the club’s new number 11 leave on loan and he headed to Germany to join Borussia Dortmund (despite much Premier League interest). Later, Van Gaal admitted that he would have preferred it if Januzaj had stayed in England, hinting that had he joined a ‘lesser club’, his opportunities may have been more frequent. As it turns out, on this occasion, he was right.

It is fair to say that Januzaj’s time in Dortmund has been a disaster. With only three starts, all of which came in the Europa League, United have made a collective decision that recalling the attacker would be the best option, and it could prove to be a timely addition. After all, Januzaj is a favourite amongst the fans having risen through the ranks and it is no secret that the club likes to see ‘one of their own’ go on to achieve success.

Januzaj can be one of those frustrating figures. It is plain to see that he has bags of potential, potential that could see him turn into a truly great player if he is nurtured right. Arguably, LVG halted that progress last season with his reluctance to utilise him. However, it is no secret that attacking options are at an all-time low right now, with Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney the only experienced attackers in the squad. Currently, Juan Mata is the man preferred on the right wing, with Martial on the left and Rooney playing down the middle. Mata, in my humble opinion, is wasted on the right with a lack of pace and a natural instinct that often sees him drift towards the middle. Januzaj, however, on the right wing, coupled with Marital on the left, would offer pace on both flanks.

Currently, United have scored only 24 league goals in 20 games. Januzaj may not score bags of goals (although he can certainly chip in), but he can create. I, for one, applaud the decision to bring him back to the club. I only hope that he is given the opportunity to elevate himself and this weekends game against Sheffield United could be the perfect stepping stone.