Tag Archives: Sir Alex Ferguson

Mourinho out? Here we go again…

Immediately following last night’s defeat to Sevilla I turned my phone off. Not because I was a sore loser. Not because I was sulking. I knew we got what we deserved. The two legs were terrible, devoid of anything resembling the so-called United way. No, I turned my phone off because I knew I would be tempted to go on Twitter, see the usual ‘Mourinho out’ brigade and end up in an argument I didn’t want to be in.

Even after watching that performance last night, the thought of Mourinho leaving Old Trafford is one that wasn’t even close to entering my mind. To jump on that bandwagon would see me as a hypocrite, as a man who has constantly backed our manager. Unless things drastically change, you will not see me calling for Mourinho’s head. Why? Because I’m a realist.

My thoughts on those calling for his head are simple. Are their memories so short-sighted that they do not remember the dross that was served up under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal? Do they not remember that LVG famously stated how he had guided us back into the Champions League after Moyes’ failure, only to see us crash out of the competition at the group stage? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Mourinho inherited the worst Manchester United squad of recent times.

Fixing this squad was never going to be a quick fix. Before anyone jumps on the hundreds of millions that have been spent, it was always going to take more. In a market where strikers now cost £150 million and defenders cost £75 million, the amount of money spent is almost irrelevant. £80 million for a player these days is what £30 million would have bought you less than five years ago.

The Manchester City comparison is always going to be at the forefront, particularly because of the dominant nature in which they will storm to the Premier League title this season. Guardiola has also spent an astronomical amount of money but it is true that he inherited a better squad than what Mourinho did at United. However, what scrutinises Mourinho’s position further is that, whether we care to admit it or not, Guardiola has City playing in the way in which us fans want to see our club play.

 

 

Whichever way Mourinho is criticised, there is no getting away from the fact that United under him have improved. Sixth last season, five points clear in second this. Try and disguise it all you want, but progress is progress. The former Chelsea manager stated he wanted to win the Premier League within three seasons. That target is still more than achievable, and his record at other clubs, for me, confirms that he is still the best man in the job to do this.

Some are saying that his comments after the defeat last night were unacceptable. Listen to them back now that the adrenaline has subsided. Was it that bad? What he said was factual. United are used to crashing out of the Champions League. Fergie ‘only’ won it twice. The great man himself will be the first to admit that he should have won it many more times. Mourinho did knock us out twice, and losing to that Porto side was unacceptable, whether they went on to win the competition or not.

Last night was horrific, but it was under Fergie at times. Many will point to those classic nights in Barcelona and Moscow but who remembers going out at the Group Stage in a group that contained Benfica, FC Basel and Otelul Galati in 2011. Did we call for his head then? Of course we didn’t.

Guardiola represented our chance to grab a manager who would play in the way the fans want to see. We didn’t take it, opting instead for blind faith in LVG. Mourinho was the next best option, still perhaps the best option given his track record in the Premier League with Chelsea.

Ashley Young watches on as Sevilla take the lead (pic: gettyimages)

My response to the Mourinho out comments every time I see them is always the same. If not Mourinho, who?

Usually this argument lands at the feet of either Mauricio Pochettino or Carlo Ancelotti. Ancelotti I can kind of understand. Premier League winning experience, various trophy-laden seasons across the continent, including three unrivalled Champions League wins, and currently out of work. However, would it be anymore of an upgrade to a manager that also has Premier League winning experience and multiple trophies across Europe.

The Pochettino argument I really struggle with. Yes, he is a manager which plays an exciting brand of football, but at what cost? Mourinho is being rightly chastised for his team selection against Sevilla and how wrong he got it tactically. Rewind one week when the exact same scenario panned out at Wembley. Tottenham 3-2 up on aggregate three quarters of the way through a two-legged tie against Juventus. Instead of shutting shop, the Argentine manager pressed for a fourth, instead conceded two and lost the tie.

Mourinho gets it wrong and crashes out of Europe…sack him. Pochettino does the same…hire him. Get your heads around that one. And, remember, Pochittino famously guided Spurs to a third place Premier League position when they were in a two horse race for the title.

My suggestion for the Mourinho out brigade, be very careful what you wish for. Slowly but surely, he is starting to rebuild our club. It isn’t pretty, but rebuilding it he is. 65 points last season at this stage would have had us in a title race, and then who would be complaining?

King Cole

Every top side needs an outstanding forward, a man who leads the line, who holds the ball up for his team mates when necessary, who finds space and links the play and who scores freely at the top level, contributing to the team and taking the pressure associated with the obligations that the role demands.  In Andy Cole, United had a rare gem of a player, someone who was excellent in all aspects of the forward role and above all had a mentality, resilience and fortitude in the face of so many denigrators over the course of his career. He talks of the sacrifices he made during his career, including some he regrets such as missing the birth of his eldest child to play a match but this is a by-product of the edge and resolute focus which all top professionals need to succeed in their walk of life.  Cole was not someone who welcomed the media spotlight that his talent invited; he was someone who was completely focussed on the game, a single-mindedness that helped him to cement his place as one of the greatest Premier League strikers of all time.  Indeed there can be few strikers even amongst that illustrious pantheon who can compare with his aptitude in so many facets of the striking position, in particular his shooting ability off both feet was remarkable and spoke volumes for his special talent.  As a United fan privileged enough to watch Cole at his peak, there can be no doubting the striker’s place at the top table, as he won his way into so many hearts with his desire and passion, the honesty and integrity with which he threw himself wholeheartedly into battle for the club to secure us the trophies which we craved.

Andy Cole’s childhood, as for so many footballers, was totally based around football, his love and passion for the game was evident from an early age. His background as is typical of many footballers’ was one of hardship, struggle and strife with money, or the lack of it, prevalent. In 1985, Cole joined the FA’s School of Excellence at Lilleshall, which he himself admits was an extremely tough experience for him as a youth, leaving home at just 14 years old. Cole’s first club was Arsenal, when he signed schoolboy forms for George Graham, the Gunner’s then manager. Cole reflects with a wry smile on his time with Arsenal where he had just a couple of starts that there was a personality clash with him and the boss which doomed his fledgling career with the club. Cole was loaned out during the 91/92 season to initially Fulham and then Bristol City, with a permanent move to the latter cemented by a club record fee. In 1993 on the back of tremendous goal scoring achievements with Bristol City, Andy joined Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle. Cole’s price tag again was large for its time, especially for someone still so young but Keegan’s faith was vindicated as he once again scored freely for the North East side. The following season with Newcastle promoted Cole enjoyed the most prolific season, scoring 41 goals in all competitions and winning the Golden Boot, he was simply outstanding. In October 1993, Cole was accused of walking out on Newcastle after once more his fiery temper flared and he was involved in a training session flare up with Keegan. Cole recounts how his stubbornness and pride allowed the situation to develop when Keegan told him that he could leave if he didn’t feel up to it and Cole complied in a fit of self righteous pique. The following week, Cole was brought back into the team and the episode was consigned to history. Cole’s strikes secured Newcastle a 3rd place spot in the Premier League and his efforts were rewarded on a personal level as he secured the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.

In January of 1995, Manchester United broke the British transfer record to bring Cole to the club in a deal worth 7 million pounds. Sir Alex recounts that United at the time, needed someone with the spark and electricity in the box who was two footed which were certainly in Cole’s locker in abundance. The publicity that Cole’s goals brought was unwanted as alluded to previously; he was someone who was economical with his words, who resented the media attention which his career brought from the journalists and there was a degree of animosity between the two parties. This since his career has proved something of an enduring legacy since Cole seems almost the forgotten man, when other great strikers of the era are mentioned there are people with fewer goals and less impact who are more prominently represented consequently. Cole talks about how he enjoyed the diversity and range of personalities in the United dressing room and also how he loved Roy Keane as captain, describing him as phenomenal. On the pitch, though at the end of the season, United needed a win to claim the Premier League but were held to a one all draw with West Ham, a disappointing climax to Cole’s first few months in a United shirt. Cole received the majority of the flack, following the grief at not obtaining the prized crown, having missed a few chances in that match. Nevertheless, Cole, being the tenacious and determined individual that he is, accepted the criticism and determined that this one game would not define his playing career. Indeed, it was around this time that Devante his son was born and adoration of his family shone through in Cole’s motivations as he mentioned lovingly:

“My little boy said it would be nice if I got a hat- trick to celebrate my birthday, so I dedicate my two goals to him”.

His faith was rewarded as United were successful the following season with a League and FA Cup double and then in the 96/97 when they retained the league with Cole contributing a fabulous 25 goals in all competitions. Cole was on an upward trajectory in terms of his development as well, he improved upon how he held the ball up, how he linked up with his team mates and other key facets which make up a striker’s job description. This was helped in no small part by the excellent relationship which he enjoyed with Sir Alex Ferguson, who Cole believes was the only manager he worked with who truly understood what he was about and appreciated him fully.  Sir Alex realised Cole was someone who demanded respect and honour when dealt with and they held an accord on this.  Cole’s striking partnership with Teddy Sheringham, during the first part of his United career, was strictly professional since there was no love lost on a personal level but it was one that thrived nevertheless. It stemmed from when Sheringham snubbed Cole on the touchline of Wembley on the latter’s England debut, it was a slight that Cole cannot abide given his strict rules on respect especially in such a public forum. The pair’s striking partnership proved fruitful with a combined 54 goals together as a duo.  Cole, throughout his career, is perhaps not appreciated enough for his ability to combine in a strike partnership, his selflessness and ability to work cohesively with others was a hallmark of his career. The enmity with Sheringham is so bad that Andy Cole has famously said he would rather meet Neil “Razor” Ruddock again, the uncompromising defender who broke both of his legs than his former striking partner but as always despite journalistic revelations about a poor temperament, Cole proved that on the football field with the serious business of matches and trophies to be won the greater good triumphed, where he was a constant thorn to the opposition.  As Robert Laurent summed up perfectly:

“With Andy Cole up front they can score at any time. We’ll be watching him”.

However, in August 1998, Cole was to get a partner whom he got along with famously both personally and professionally as Dwight Yorke signed, the players would strike up an instinctive, telepathic understanding of one another, providing the scoring basis for the greatest season in the club’s history, the Unprecedented Treble. Cole himself puts undoubted emphasis on the off the cuff aspect of their bond, playing what they saw and how they felt as they put defences to the sword on countless occasions with their rapier sharp exchanges and interchanges. Yorke too when interviewed replies that there’s was a natural synergy, not contrived through training regimes or drills. Unlike Sheringham, Yorke can be nothing but complimentary about Cole whom he shared so many magical moments with during a season where they became the most feared strike partnership in Europe. During the Champions League group stages, at the Camp Nou, Yorke and Cole combined to their most memorable degree exchanging passes and leaving the Spanish giants’ defence torn to shreds as Cole finished deftly. This summed up their quickness of thought and action perfectly; it was a goal that was simply majestic in its poise and execution. Cole was to score many important goals during that season, one of which was the winner in an enthralling against all odds victory in Turin, another in the final match of the Premier League when he again scored the decisive goal against Tottenham, a moment Cole describes as euphoric as he chipped Walker to win United the first of their trio of trophies that term.  Cole describes his incredible relationship with Yorke thus:

“When we started playing together, it was like meeting a special woman and falling in love. Everything felt right. We never had a cross word.”

Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of Cole’s career was how infrequently he was used by England; something which the striker admits never worked out and just wasn’t meant to be. It was Glen Hoddle who’s infamous words that Cole took five chances to score which seemed to mark a death knell on his credentials at international level. As Sir Alex and Cole both articulate the fact that Cole scored goals in Europe at the time, showed that on a continental basis he could be trusted as he had the pedigree at the highest of levels. Much like Scholes though England’s refusal to use the talent which they had at their disposal was United’s gain as the striker continued to find the back of the net with the regularity needed to fire them to the numerous trophies we accumulated during our period of dominance. Sir Alex, like all the best managers, was not one to take notice of what others thought or felt and continued to believe and trust the striker who paid him back handsomely. It was not within Cole to be anything but motivated to prove his doubters wrong; he becomes emotional particularly about the struggles which his father had to combat regarding racism when he moved to the United Kingdom and that desire to succeed when all hoped for your failure made Andrew a chip off the old block.

In the 99-2000 season, Cole was once again United’s top scorer with 19 goals in 28 Premier League matches. Another title followed in the season afterwards, despite an injury plagued year which saw his appearances restricted, he scored 13 goals but it was to be the final full season of his United career, due to the arrival of Ruud Van Nistelrooy and he was sold in December 2001 for 8 million pounds.  It had been an incredibly successful stint with Manchester United for Cole where had won an astounding 5 Premier League medals, 2 FA Cups and the UEFA Champions League, he had contributed in no small amount to these successes, his United career ending with 275 United appearances and 121 United goals, putting him 17th on the club’s all time list of record goal scorers.  For Cole there are records and numbers which prove he was an accomplished finisher, in the history of the Premier League he has the third most goals in history, and he also boasted 73 assists in the Premier League which puts him right up there with the best in that regard as well. He was an extremely well rounded footballer who was equally accomplished on both feet and possessed an unerring heading ability to boot.  He was the blueprint for the striker that was to come later, one who possessed a complete repertoire of talents and not just a predatory finisher and as such deserves the respect and recognition which his talent justifies. Cole regards his time at United with the fondest of memories and he will always deserve recognition for the memories and trophies which his extraordinarily diverse range of goals helped acquire, an underrated and underappreciated legend elsewhere but not in United fans’ hearts.  As Sir Alex Ferguson says:

“I’ve been very fortunate having these fantastic strikers but I would say without question he is in the top part of the pantheon of the greatest strikers I’ve ever had- absolutely no doubt about that in my mind”.

Captain Crimson

In my formative years growing up I spent a great deal of time, like many a boy, searching desperately for an idol to emulate, or people from whom to gain guidance on how to behave and act in certain situations. One of my heroes was a fictional one, a superhero “Captain Crimson” who came to life from a comic book writer’s strip and who embodied the ideals of heroism in an altogether educational form as BBC’s Look and Read was at the time. Another was our very own Captain Crimson superhero, Roy Keane, for me, still the best captain that Manchester United have ever had, in my lifetime. As a youth, I watched him and adored the way that he led the team, he was tenacious, fearless and incredibly talented. As I grew older, I grew to appreciate and love Keane more as I saw that no one embodied desire and passion better than he did. Keane had a multitude of impressive skills amongst which tremendous tackling, fearsome shooting and excellent passing were his most renowned assets.

Keane had an unremitting fire in his belly; he wanted to fight everybody who stood in the way of him winning. He is the most successful Manchester United Captain of all time for good reason; his drive carried the others forward. Perhaps the greatest example of Keane’s self-sacrifice was the infamous 1999 Champions League Semi Final against Juventus. In the match, which I watched live at the tender age of 8, Keane was absolutely peerless, it was a stunningly exceptional performance especially given the circumstances that his yellow meant being suspended for the Champions League Final. The entire team were on their game, so razor sharp; willing to fight for every ball and Keane was at the heart of it, cajoling the players, making interceptions, threading intricate passes. In short doing what Roy Keane does, leading by example and competing to win every ball and working harder than anybody to win the game. You can see him harrying the Juventus players like a terrier and winning the ball through sheer grit, determination and hard work. The Juventus star studded line up couldn’t get anywhere near Keane, as the UEFA.com official website describes it in their match report:

“Such was the Republic of Ireland midfielder’s influence in Turin, United may as well have had an extra player; there was one Keane to supplement their attack, and another Keane to stifle Juve. He was immense.”

Sir Alex Ferguson is a legendary figure with the club but there are certain things which he has said or done which seem illogical or erroneous. When he listed his four world class players he omitted Roy Keane which immediately raised the eyebrows of the majority of the football community. So the player who possessed every conceivable asset you would want in a midfielder is not world class? The player who exuded confidence, leadership, passion, dedication isn’t world class? Quite frankly, in my book, that is absolutely laughable. When you’re world class you turn up in the big games and Roy Keane made sure he turned up, even in the 1999 UCL semi final when he knew he wasn’t going to make the final, for Roy the team came first and he was incredibly professional and resolute in ensuring United’s safe passage. As Sir Alex Ferguson commented on that performance:

“It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.”

I still get the shivers as I watch Roy Keane’s goal against Juventus and the commentary fills my ears, it is the pure brilliance of Keane.  As the commentator says about Keane’s textbook header “Roy Keane with a Captain’s goal”. My brother and I will often use this line to one another when a captain scores an important goal for his team in a match. It is in homage to Roy Keane, the Captain who scored the most important Captain’s goal of our lifetimes, as Manchester United fans.

Keane captained Manchester United to nine major honours, which makes him the most successful captain in the club’s history. He also won, overall, 7 Premier League Titles, 4 FA Cups, 4 Community Shields, 1 Champions League and 1 Intercontinental Cup, the last of these won by his winning goal. He was also named in the PFA Team of The Year 5 Times, the PFA Team of the Century (1907-2007) and was the Football Writers and Players’ Player of the Year, both in 2000.  These are just a smattering of the team and personal prizes which Keane picked up for Manchester United during a time of unparalleled glory in our club’s history. Furthermore, Keane scored 51 goals in his Manchester United career, the majority of which were extremely important and were at times where Manchester United needed him to step up and finish when the strikers couldn’t. Amazingly, in all of the matches in which Keane scored, Manchester United never lost, showing how his goals were always integral in winning games for the club.  The players knew how much Keane meant to the team, in particular summed up amongst the myriad of glowing quotes from team mates, I felt, by this:

“If I could pick one player in my team, I would always pick Roy Keane, in front of any other players I’ve played with. Keano had everything; he was a leader, a great player, and probably the best I ever played with.” — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Manchester United, during Keane’s time, were serial winners. Driven on by Keane and Sir Alex’s mirroring insatiable thirst for silverware, United plundered trophy after trophy. During Keane’s time at United, we often defended our Premier League title, or quickly snatched it back if Blackburn or Arsenal managed to secure one.  It is testament to Keane’s winning influence and how difficult it is to retain the Premier League that only one side (United apart) have managed to retain the Premier league, Chelsea in 04/05 and 05/06, which coincides nicely with Keane’s departure from United. In fact, at the height of Keane’s powers at the turn of the Millennium, United won three league titles in a row, a feat only achieved thrice since World War 2. In the year, Keane picked up his individual Player awards, Manchester United also secured the biggest title winning margin of the Premier League (18 points) which remains a record to this day. All of these statistics reinforce the assertion that Keane was absolutely vital to United’s extraordinary performances over his playing years for them.

One of the aspects of Roy Keane’s character that defined him was his inability to accept slights. It was to be perhaps the worst and most inglorious moment, which epitomised this, when he flew in with a completely unacceptable and outrageous tackle on Manchester City’s Alfe-Inge Haaland. In Keane’s autobiography he revealed that it had been premeditated and was a consequence of Haaland mocking Keane for feigning injury in an earlier encounter. For someone like Keane, a man who prided himself on honour and integrity, this seemed a grievous barb which demanded requisite retribution.  A significant proportion of the best footballers’ share this side to them, a characteristic which is best summed up by the one word which Keane uses to describe Sir Alex Ferguson, “ruthless”. In another interview with Kevin Kilbane, Keane admitted that this reputation and persona was something of an “act” and that he felt footballers, like other sports people, had to go into a zone to perform at their best. As with a lot of what the fiercely intelligent and articulate Keane says, there is more than a grain of truth in that admission.

Another fascinating nugget of Keane’s character and his football career at Manchester United can be found in how he confronted injuries, head on and like a man. However, as he often points out he could have been more careful and conscientious in how he dealt with these kinds of physical setbacks.  The hip injury that he had and which still affects him, is further confirmation that Keane never accepted lower standards and of the tremendous strain that his constant, relentless, over exertion in pursuit of victory took on his body.

One of the incidents which occurred late in Keane’s United career was that of the infamous Highbury Tunnel incident of 2005. When Gary Neville seemed to be under attack, Keane emerged from the back of the tunnel, as the fiercely protective leader he had so often been, vehemently defending Neville and insisting assertively “We’ll see you out there” to the Arsenal ringleaders. United ran out 4-2 winners confirming that Arsenal were beginning to lose some of the edge and lustre that they had had at the turn of the millennium. This was further reinforced by the 2005 FA Cup Final, a match that having watched myself, I still remain flabbergasted that United failed to win such was our overall dominance over the 120 minutes before we lost the shootout to the Gunners.

Possibly, the primary reason why Roy Keane doesn’t get as much respect or love as he might have done was the nature of his departure from the club.  The impossibly high regard that Sir Alex Ferguson is held in by the Manchester United fan base means that anyone who dares to question or contest him is fighting a losing battle. Keane, typically, doesn’t know a battle he can’t win and won’t concede defeat whatever the cost to his reputation with the United fans. The catalyst for Keane’s departure was his interview with MUTV where he was asked his thoughts and feedback after a 4-1 loss. Ever the pragmatist Keane outlined exactly where he felt that United players could have improved and that certain aspects of their performance had been unacceptable.

All in all, the way Keane portrays his exit from Old Trafford, paints the Manchester United hierarchy in a pretty unflattering light. Even on the prepared statement for his exit, the wording of the eleven and a half years tenure was a year short of the actual length of service given. Keane points this out as a particular flaring point, as we know with the Republic of Ireland in World Cup 2002, another issue which really infuriates Keane is unprofessionalism. Understandably, Keane was incredibly emotional at leaving the club into which he had poured so much of his heart and soul, the club where he had realised so many of his dreams and spearheaded so many indelible successes. He admits to crying in the car following the decision but resolutely retaining the belief that the club had lost respect for him, forcing his decision to accept their concerted efforts to eject him from the club.

It’s obvious that Keane doesn’t bear too much of a simmering grudge towards his treatment and that Manchester United still remains firmly ensconced in the Irishman’s heart. He goes on in his book to say that he “loved everything about United”.

However fabulous Roy Keane was as a footballer, it was his honest, down to earth character which got him into trouble and made him an indefatigable driving force in Manchester United’s engine room as Captain. As Roy Keane said of Sir Alex’s particular praise over his incredible performance against Juventus to him “it’s like praising the postman for delivering letters”. It is a line that reminds me of my other childhood hero Captain Crimson who used to say “It’s all in a day’s work” after whichever act of heroism and courage that he performed.  Keane, like Captain Crimson, was a superhero who epitomised so many values of bravery and tenacity, yet never took the credit he deserved. Of course, like Captain Crimson, that doesn’t stop him being idolised and venerated for the inspirational leader and hero that he was. As when Captain Crimson was sent back to the comic world and Keane retired, their names and deeds will never be forgotten nor the legendary status that they richly and fully deserve.

“Roy’s obsession with winning and the demands he put on others made him the most influential player in the dressing room. He became a great captain through that and, to my mind; he is the best player I have had in all of my time here. Over the years when they start picking the best teams of all time, he will be in there.” — Sir Alex Ferguson (on Keane’s retirement in 2006)

Wayne Rooney: United Legend?

The major talking point of Twitter, and indeed Talk Sport, who ran a poll on it after the Manchester United vs. Reading game, in which Wayne Rooney equalled Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 249 club goals is, unsurprisingly, a Wayne Rooney one. Not the one where he was congratulated for his scoring feat but rather the debate which continually rages over Wayne Rooney, our club captain, and the exact nature of his legendary status as his career draws to a close.

In the distasteful poll, Talk Sport enquired as to whether Sir Bobby Charlton or Wayne Rooney was the biggest legend at Manchester United. Whilst some dismissed the poll as a joke, others became aggressive that Wayne Rooney should be compared to Sir Bobby Charlton, and went on to extol the virtues of the latter compared with the younger man.

All of this bitterness and furore which the achievement evoked left a sour taste in my mouth. Particularly given the fact that the pair about whom this argument entails have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for one another.

In this article, I will not be drawing a direct comparison between Sir Bobby Charlton and Wayne Rooney, particularly given the fact that no Manchester United fan I know of disputes the former’s legendary status.   However, Mark Goldbridge, of our very own United Stand, reflected that the past few years of Rooney’s tenure at Manchester United had seen such a steep decline in his overall effectiveness and telling contribution to the team and that he was not a Manchester United legend.

Added to this is the feeling that Wayne Rooney’s flirtation with our City rivals in the summer of 2010 which forced even the redoubtable Sir Alex Ferguson into budging over contract demands, has demanded that regardless of exploits, his reputation irks to the degree that he does not merit legendary status. With all of these factors in mind, we will now take a look at Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United career and ask ourselves is Wayne Rooney truly a Manchester United legend?

Our tale begins over 12 years ago, when Manchester United paid out a then record amount for a young player under 20.  Indeed, Rooney was still only 18 but had already inspired Sir Alex Ferguson to stop at no sum in order to bring the hottest young prospect in Europe to Old Trafford. At this juncture, in Rooney’s fledgling career, he had already proven his merits in a simply outstanding Euro 2004 where he had scored four goals, become the youngest goal scorer in the history of the combination and been named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.  Undoubtedly, Sir Alex might have strongly suspected he would reap the rewards from his purchase but little would even he have expected Rooney’s astonishing introduction. He made his debut in a 6-2 Champions League victory over Fenerbahçe where he scored a hat trick and even got an assist. The hat trick meant that again he became the youngest player to ever score a hat trick in the Champions League and although Manchester United failed to take a trophy, despite totally dominating Arsenal in the FA Cup that year, Rooney top scored with 11 goals for the season. Additionally, he was awarded with PFA Young Player of Year for his efforts during his debut season.  To put into context, how phenomenal an achievement this was, the only other Manchester United player to win this award since the turn of the century, is Cristiano Ronaldo, once, and Rooney won it twice. In fact, in the entire history of that trophy of 43 years, only 2 others have won the award twice, Robbie Fowler and Ryan Giggs. Ryan Giggs’ legendary status is undisputed for his accomplishments with our club.

Furthermore, Rooney won The Goal of the Season award for his effort against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup.  A feat he would later repeat twice more in his career thus far, leaving him the only man standing alone, on a mark of three of these prestigious awards. When you think of the amazing depth and calibre of players we have seen since this award’s inception in the 1970-71 season till present day, this mark is well worth acknowledging.

During the 2005-6 season, Rooney won his first trophy with United the League Cup, scoring twice in the final and being awarded Man of the Match. He also scored 16 goals in 26 Premier League games during this season. As well as the Young Player of the Year award, Rooney picked up the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year Award. Sadly, we missed out on a title in this season, with Rooney sustaining a broken metatarsal in a 3-0 defeat to eventual champions Chelsea which left us runners up during this period of Manchester United transition.

In the 2006-7 season, Rooney was integral as Manchester United won the Premier League, Rooney’s first Premier League title and he scored 14 league goals.  Manchester United would go close in the Champions League, exiting to a Kaka inspired Milan team, who proved too strong in the San Siro. However, the first leg showed Rooney’s import to the team when he equalised from a quite brilliant Paul Scholes improvised hooked through ball and then showed a supreme piece of opportunism in striking the winner magnificently first time, in injury time, to win us the match.  At this point, Cristiano Ronaldo won the main individual awards at the end of the season but Rooney had proven himself an invaluable asset with his work ethic, goals and overall play. The two combined indeed, superbly for a counter attack goal against Bolton which secured Rooney his 2nd Goal of the Season award.

The 2007-8 season was a season where Rooney was hampered with injuries, missing 6 weeks for a fractured metatarsal in his left foot and also injuring his ankle but managed to end the season with 12 league goals (18 goals overall) as Manchester United won the League and the Champions League. By this juncture, Rooney was being forced often into more of a left wing role at times because of Cristiano Ronaldo’s sensational goal scoring season.  The football played during this year was absolutely scintillating, and Rooney was a major part of that as part of an incredible attacking triumvirate with Ronaldo and Tevez.

In 2008-9, Wayne Rooney ended the season with 20 goals overall (12 league ones) as Manchester United again won the league and fell just short in the UCL final against Barcelona of an as yet never accomplished record of retaining the Champions League. The season was notable for Rooney for one performance against Tottenham Hotspur in the latter stages of the campaign where Manchester United came from two goals down at half time to win 5-2. Rooney scored two, set up two and provided the assist for Carrick to win the penalty for the first as the other.  It was, in short, an incredible individual performance and one that was integral at such a key stage of our title tilt.

In 2009-10 despite a season in which Manchester United only ended up winning the League Cup, Rooney enjoyed his 2nd best goal return for the Red Devils, notching 26 goals in the Premier League. It was to be the outstanding nature of these performances which not only resulted in the contract dispute, which I alluded to at the start of this article, but also Rooney winning the PFA Players’ Player of the Year for the first time.

In October of the 2010-11 season, Sir Alex Ferguson stated in a press conference that Rooney wanted to quit the club. Rooney was angered that Sir Alex was keeping him rested for longer than he deemed necessary and that he wanted to leave due to the club’s seeming lack of ambition. This could be evidenced by letting go of world class players such as Ronaldo in 2009 and not bringing in top class replacements.  The player Rooney brought up in his talks with Sir Alex at the time was the fact that we hadn’t pursued Mesut Ozil who had joined Real Madrid from Werder Bremen. In Sir Alex’s autobiography it is clear that he holds no ill feeling towards Rooney and that it was not a monetary affair.

“It was a sorry episode for Wayne because it portrayed him as a money man who had dropped his grievance the minute his salary was raised. That’s the way it was presented, but I don’t think it was Wayne’s intention to make it a financial issue. It blew over quickly. With the fans, however, there was a residue of mistrust.”

This perfectly sums up how the dispute coloured the view of a significant proportion of Manchester United fans who still hold a lingering grudge against Rooney for his behaviour at the time. However, who can really blame Rooney when you see how, only a few years onwards, that the squad did need a dramatic overhaul which Jose has started to facilitate in the summer of 2016. Furthermore, rather than disrespecting Sir Alex, in a statement he released he said that “For Manchester United’s sake I wish he could go on forever because he’s a one off and a genius.”

By the spring things were forgotten between the pair especially when the record 19th League title was secured with Rooney scoring the penalty to equalise at Ewood Park to win us the title. The season was also particularly noteworthy, due to Rooney scoring an overhead kick for the ages against Manchester City. The goal not only gave Rooney his third Goal of the Season Award but was also awarded the Best Goal in the 20 Seasons Awards and Ferguson described it as the best goal he had ever seen at Old Trafford.

In the 2011-12 season, Rooney enjoyed his most prolific season scoring 27 League goals, bettering his previous best mark in 2009-10 where he had scored 26 but was again runner up for the prestigious Golden Boot. Sadly, that season Manchester United lost out on the title on goal difference despite the fact that Rooney had outscored Sergio Aguero (23).

In the 2012-13 season, Rooney was again required to play second fiddle, to the man to whom he had lost the Golden Boot to the previous season, new signing Robin Van Persie. This season Rooney still scored 12 league goals, 2 of which were in the 3-2 victory over City that, I feel had proven so monumental in our reward that spring, the 20th Premier League title.  Again, Rooney as he had one with Ronaldo, had still done well despite playing 2nd fiddle to another player.

In the 2013-14 season, Rooney during an incredibly difficult transitional period under David Moyes still managed to hit 17 league goals as Manchester United’s top scorer and 4th equal on the overall scoring charts. Also he was top for assists with 10 in the league and had the most assists in the 2013-14 Champions League with 8 out of any player in the Champions League.  All of this during a season in which United finished 7th marked a good personal year but an atrocious one for the club.  This was reinforced by him being named club captain the summer of 2014 by Louis Van Gaal after Vidic’s departure.

During the 2014/15 season, under Louis Van Gaal, Rooney was often utilised as a midfielder but was again top scorer for the season with 14 goals.  Again, Rooney had shown his worth even if the football under Van Gaal had been extremely cagey and uninspiring, with the team recording its 2nd worst ever goals tally in the Premier League.

In 2015/16 Rooney endured a torrid time with injuries and was again used in a midfield role as it appeared that was where he and Louis Van Gaal saw his career being prolonged. The highlight was a majestic mazy dribble against Crystal Palace and cross which lead to the equaliser in the dying minutes of our FA Cup triumph.

During all of these fallow years than for Manchester United, Rooney has proven himself our top scorer, often having played in midfield and has also had many assists as is shown factually above. Furthermore, would we even have an FA Cup trophy had he not torn up the Van Gaal tactics sheet to go on that run?

In conclusion, there is a reason why I have run through a brief summation of Wayne Rooney’s career. It is to allow you, dear reader, the benefit of being allowed to make your own decision based on the facts and figures of Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United career, the trophies and personal accolades he has won whilst at the club.

There will always be fans that dismiss people who champion Rooney’s cause as “Rooney Fan Boys” but as I watched Rooney’s plethora of highlights, researching for this article, I couldn’t help but feel myself smile with pure pleasure. There have been moments of unadulterated brilliance that should never be forgotten. For the players who played with Rooney, there is nothing but respect and admiration when they talk of him, Scholes, Giggs, Neville and Ferdinand to name but a few.

There is an argument to be made that Rooney’s influence and contribution is on the decline. A brief look at Rooney’s appearance total gives, to my mind, the main reason why. As of the time of writing he has 543 Manchester United appearances, putting him 6th in the overall standings, but all the players ahead of him played for many more years than him. In fact, of those five players that have played more than him, only three have played for our club within the last 40 years, namely Gary Neville, Scholes and Giggs and all of them played for the club for twenty years. Put simply, Rooney has definitely put in the work for United over the last decade or so but has borne the brunt of his exertions. Rooney’s records certainly evince his inclusion as a legend but again, it is your, the reader’s, decision as to whether he is or not.

I will just leave you with the quote from Lionel Messi, which sums up my own feelings towards Rooney:

“Wayne Rooney is for me a once in a generation player. One of those special players, who is not comparable to any other. There are many special players, but Rooney has exceptional quality and technical ability as well as being one of the strongest players I have faced with an exceptional work rate- there is nobody like him.”

 

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.