Category Archives: Blog

Nemanja Vidic, Skipper, Leader, Legend

When Sir Alex Ferguson brought then unknown Serbian Centre back Nemanja Vidic to Old Trafford during the January transfer window of 2006, you could have forgiven Sir Alex for thinking he may have made a mistake in signing the Serbian, after witnessing his new centre back get off a shaky start to his Manchester United career.

The doubts raised were not just around Vidic, but too for fellow team mate Patrice Evra as the club looked to win back the league title from then Champions Chelsea. What was to follow was nothing short of incredible as Vidic became arguably one of Sir Alex Fergusons finest signings during his managerial career at Old Trafford, going on to play a crucial role from the back , as Manchester United climbed to the peak of not just English football but World Football.

During Vidic’s time at the club, he won virtually everything there was to win in the game both on the pitch and off the pitch. On the pitch he won 5 Premier League titles, (2007,2008,2009,2011,2013)  One European Cup (2008), 3 League Cups (2006,2009,2010) and to top it off One Club World Cup back in 2008. Off the pitch his efforts were recognised as he on many occasions was named Manchester United’s player of the season and was named Premier League player of the season.

His Partnership formed with team mate Rio Ferdinand in particular was sensational. The pair became a solid rock at the back stopping everything that got in their path and with Edwin Van De Sar in goal, it was easy to recognize why United were at the peak of World Football. Yes the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez may have grabbed the headline’s but Vidic and Ferdinand’s contribution was just as important if not more.

He wasn’t just noted for his defending either, he became a real nuisance for the opposition at the 0ther end of the pitch.  Not many centre backs out there can boast a record of scoring 21 goals in their career. Moments such as scoring the winner against Everton at Goodsion Park to scoring a vital header in the Champions League against Inter Milan, when the big occasion came Vidic didn’t go missing.

If I had to pick the years where Vidic was the peak of his powers it would be between 2007-2011. There was no defender on the planet who could touch him, week in week out he delivered outstanding performance’s on a regular basis. When you seen his name on the team sheet you just couldn’t see Manchester United conceding a goal, he was that good!

Vidic’s consistent performances for Manchester United eventually led to him been given the captains armband, which was handed over to him back in 2010. This was a responsibility Vidic excelled at where under his leadership United went on to win 2 Premier League Titles (2011,2013) In many respects he didn’t really need the captains armband, his leadership on the field was always ever present, but for Sir Alex to hand over the armband to him just shows how highly he recognised him.

Of course just like anything good it has to come to an end eventually and when Sir Alex Ferguson left Old Trafford for the last time back in May 2013, so in reality did Vidic. He may have been ever present under then new Manager David Moyes but he just wasn’t the same player, The Vidic we all knew had gone and he wasn’t coming back as the club went into transition.

Despite leaving the club in somewhat negative circumstances, his legacy at the club will live on forever amongst the Old Trafford faithful. He quite easily ranks as one of the finest Centre backs I have ever witnessed in football and I am sure even people 30,40 even 50 years older than myself, would say the exact same thing, he really was something special.

vidic

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.

LVG one of many recruitment mistakes

Let’s lay out some of the facts. Manchester United have picked up a mere 3 points from a possible 18 in their last 6 games. This includes no wins and only 3 goals. That poor form has led to Manchester United having their lowest points total in their  Premier League history. Ever lower than the famous David Moyes season. Even then the club was still in the Capital One Cup and into the last 16 of Europe. Neither claim can be made by Van Gaal and his men.

The poor results have left the Dutchman with a win ratio of less than 50%.  These games have not come against top sides. Leicester was the only side in that group with realistic Champions league ambitions. With all this in mind it would be very easy to point the finger at Van Gaal for everything. While he must take the blame for the boring style of football and questionable team selections. One problem has persisted at the club for many years now. It goes back as far as Sir Alex Ferguson. That problem is recruitment. What many fans may find shocking is that Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal are all to blame.

Van Gaal and his coaching staff look on.
Van Gaal and his coaching staff look on

The ironic twist to all this is that if Manchester United had done half as well over the last 5 years in the transfer market as they have in the commercial one the club would be walking away with the current Premier League title race. The poor judgment includes selling too many players, selling the wrong players, letting talented players leave for nothing, buying poorly and overspending. If you were to grade the clubs transfer activity since the day Paul Pogba walked out for nothing you would give them a D+ at best.

Sadly losing a talented youth product is not an isolated incident at the club any more. The poor judgement of players goes back as far as 2007 with Gerard Pique. The now World Cup and Champions league winner was sold for £6 million while Sir Alex decided Jonny Evans who moved to West Brom last summer was the better prospect. While in more recent times two former strikers who came up from the clubs academy have come back to haunt the club in the form of Josh King and Danny Welbeck. While few would argue King was a loss to the club many fans still feel disgruntled at the sale of England international Welbeck. While the club has brought in a younger striker in Martial, his goal return ratio so far would not back up the theory that Welbeck was surplus to requirements.

Welbeck scores the winner at Old Trafford
Welbeck scores the winner at Old Trafford

Before Manchester United fans could always argue that any player who left the club never achieved as much at their new club as Manchester United was achieving. This even includes the loss of big names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Everywhere was a step down from Manchester United. This has changed in recent seasons, even if we look at the last two seasons  Former players Danny Welbeck, Patrice Evra, Rafael Da Silva, Angel Di Maria and Javier Hernandez are all at clubs that have reached the last 16 of the Champions league. There is now life after Manchester United and it’s very enjoyable for many. The club has let go of many players that are still capable of playing at the highest level, while not bringing in enough replacements. A problem made evident by the sheer lack of numbers in the squad.

The Mexican now has 17 goals in 14 games in Germany as Manchester United struggle for goals.
The Mexican now has 17 goals in 14 games in Germany as Manchester United struggle for goals.

The club has also bought poorly in recent years. While some players have been successes such as Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin the problem can be shown to its full extent with a few comparisons. In 2010 Manchester United signed Bebe for £7.4 million. Sir Alex Ferguson later admitted he had never seen the player play. Little wonder when he only signed his first professional contract a few weeks previous. Had Sir Alex seen Bebe play he surely would not have made the purchase. While mistakes happen, in recent weeks Manchester United have been linked with a multimillion pound move for Real Madrid playmaker James Rodriquez. In the same summer that Bebe went to Manchester United, Porto signed Rodriquez, for just £5 million despite the fact he scored 5 goals in 7 for Banfield in the Copa Libertadores which is the South American equivalent to the Champions League. It was almost like the club was determined to prove they were smarter than  everybody else by finding a gem nobody had heard about while ignoring a prospect attracting the attention of many of Europe’s leading powers.

The signings of Marouane Fellaini and Nick Powell a little closer to home come as the more obvious examples. In the summer that the club signed Marouane Fellaini for over £27 million, Tottenham bought Christian Eriksen another “Number 10” for just £11 million.  While Fellaini is used as a scapegoat by many United fans, Eriksen has gone onto be one of Tottenham’s leading men as they compete with Manchester United for a top 4 spot. Which player fits into the philosophy of the club more? Manchester United have also wasted millions on big names signings such as Di Maria, Falcao and Zaha.

Could Wilfred Zaha have provided more pace than Juan Mata out right this season?
Could Wilfred Zaha have provided more pace than Juan Mata out right this season?

As mentioned above the final example I will mention is of Nick Powell and Deli Ali. If any two young midfielders have made an impact in the football in recent years it has been these two. While it seemed like a good signing at the time, Nick Powell one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signings has failed to deliver. Problems with injuries on the pitch and discipline off it have meant that the one – time prodigy like so many others seems to have missed his chance. While on the other hand Ali has impressed consistently for Tottenham so much so he looks set to be a major part of England’s plans for the European Championships in France next summer. What makes it worse was that Manchester United could have signed Ali soon after Van Gaal arrived at Old Trafford. The boy had a chance to impress and he did just that, dominating the Manchester United midfield as the MK Dons beat United 4-0 in the Capital One cup. The talented young man who would be scoring goals in the Premier League 12 months later, ripped United apart in front of their very eyes and yet they did nothing about it. A far cry from the days, when Manchester United made a move for Cristiano Ronaldo, just hours after he had impressed in a pre – season game. How no coach or player spoke up and said something similar about Ali is only a mystery. But in reality fans can say the same thing about many of the recruitment decisions at Old Trafford in recent times.

Mourinho: why “the special one” is the only one

With 2015 coming to an end, it would seem that the long awaited prophecy that Jose Mourinho would one day be appointed as Manchester United manager will be fulfilled. Ever since his Porto side won at Old Trafford knocking Manchester United out of Europe in 2004, the charismatic Portuguese has looked destined to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor.

With the Red Devils struggling for form and identity under the rigid Louis Van Gaal, the personality and more importantly the track record in both England and abroad of the Special One may be exactly what Manchester United are crying out for.

With Jurgen Klopp now at Liverpool and Carlo Ancelotti going to Bayern Munich next summer the managerial merry-go-round at Europe’s leading powers has cleared up as we go into the Christmas period. Should Manchester United choose to sack Louis Van Gaal, their options are running out quickly. Why the move has not happened already is a mystery to many with the problems piling up at Manchester United like the presents under a Christmas tree – should you be so lucky.

It is true that Manchester United have the most clean sheets in the Premier League and that stat has been thrown out a lot in defence of LVG but ever since that faithful night in Wolfsburg the so called unbeatable defence has been beaten again and again. Sadly this sacrifice has not come with the award of more attacking football and goals for Manchester United fans to feast on. The feeling summed up by the fact that captain Wayne Rooney has averaged a mere 0.3 goals per game under the Dutchman. And to add insult to injury Manchester United’s brightest attacking spark this season, Anthony Martial, spent more time tracking Norwich left back Martin Olsson, than he did in the oppositions box, despite scoring a goal.

United manager Louis van Gaal's job is in danger (Source: The Guardian)
United manager Louis van Gaal’s job is in danger (Source: The Guardian)

For LVG, many of the problems have gone beyond the 90 minutes themselves and most noticeably involve team selections. From the constant switching of positions of players like Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian, Ashley Young and Anthony Martial to leaving certain players out altogether, in particular Spanish speaking players, like Victor Valdes and Ander Herrera, very few would feel settled under the former Barcelona manager.

Players such as Angel Di Maria and Javier Hernandez who are now doing well at their respected clubs have made their negative feelings very clear towards Van Gaal. The other main concern many have with Van Gaal is the constant selection of Marouane Fellaini and in particular Wayne Rooney. Both have been consistently selected despite a string of poor performances in comparison to fan favourite Ander Herrera and Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin.

On the eve of Christmas and possibly Van Gaal’s most important game during his reign at Old Trafford, captain Wayne Rooney has come out in support of the manager saying “We are working hard, we are fighting with the manager to try and get the results and turn this season around.” It is clear that at least some parts of the dressing room are behind the manager. Ironically it was been widely reported that Jose Mourinho had lost the dressing room at Chelsea in recent months. So why is it a perfect fit?

Well it’s not. No manager that is still in the game can say that they, like Sir Alex, have won the Premier League, Champions League, plays attacking football and promotes youth. The one near exception being a certain, Arsene Wenger. But Jose does tick many of the boxes, most importantly a winning mentality. He has won league titles in Portugal, Spain, Italy and England. Unlike Van Gaal he has achieved this in recent years and not in the 90’s.

It has been said that Jose does not play attacking football. This is not entirely true. It is not the swash buckling football we have seen down the years at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ but it is a style based on power, pace and moving the ball up the pitch quickly. Sides like Leicester have shown this season that tika-taka, for all its worth, is not the only way of doing things in
the modern game. In fact in the season Real Madrid won La Liga under Mourinho, Real Madrid outscored Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side when they were arguably at their strongest.

Jose Mourinho celebrated winning the Premier League with Chelsea in 2015 (Source: Eurosport.com)
Jose Mourinho celebrated winning the Premier League with Chelsea in 2015 (Source: Eurosport.com)

When Mourinho is at a club that demands attacking football he can deliver. While his style at Chelsea has shown that with no pressure to play in a particular manner, he will play a defensive game, but his time at Madrid has shown that the ‘Special One’ will adapt his natural defensive philosophy. It goes without saying this is a far cry from the man he may potentially replace. Fans can only hope that Mourinho would also be willing to adapt to the idea of bringing through youth in the same way Van Gaal has. Fingers crossed the club will receive the rewards of Van Gaal giving players like McNair, Valera, Periera and many more chances in the first team. Whoever the manager may be next week, month and season.

Like Van Gaal (to a point) and Sir Alex before him, Mourinho would bring a personality to everything he does from shouting on the touch line to finding new ways of making other managers lives a misery. Mourinho is one of the villains of football but, maybe that is exactly what the red devils need to regain their fear factor. A game against Manchester United has become an opportunity that many feel they can take advantage of. As Thierry Henry recently said on Sky Sports, the big teams in England need to stand up for themselves and take control of the league. And for this, Mourinho is perfect.

If he could bring the mentality he had at his previous title winning sides to Manchester United from now to the end of the season it may actually be enough to win the league with nobody in the league currently showing any sort of consistency. The big question is will the board take that plunge?

By Diarmuid Gillingham
Follow me on Twitter: @Diarmuid_MUFC