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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What the papers said, part 1

The sort of stuff you miss out from the mag, this from RN 125 (part 1)

A year on from us asking several football reporters what they thought about United, we decided to repeat the feat to get a better understanding away from their column restrictions, of what a cross section of journalists think about all things MUFC related. Red News exclusively found out what 10 of the leading sports journalists think right now about our club. Our first part features those who are part of the Manchester ‘rat pack’ starting with Andy Hunter who started covering United matches last summer.

Andy Hunter. independent
Where do you think it went wrong - we asked the same question last year hoping for an improvement - and right for United this season?
I thought United made an impressive start and had obviously taken Fergie’s warnings about Chelsea raising the bar into their pre-season preparations, but they went into the season ill-equipped in midfield and it showed. No-one could have predicted what happened to Keane and Scholes, obviously, but for a club intent on taking Chelsea all the way and improving in the Champions League the midfield was not strong enough to begin with. I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that things started to improve once the manager came up with a settled partnership that complimented each other in the middle. Reverting to 4-4-2 was welcome too. you think he will be given one more season by the new owners? How do you think it will 'end' and have you any very early predictions for next season?
The Carling Cup win helped Fergie as much as the young players who needed to realise what winning was all about, as the run of form and results since Cardiff eased the pressure on the manager and strengthened his argument about needing to give these lads time. Saying that, it’s been a long time coming and they’ll have to show it over the course of a full season to prove him right, not just at the tail-end of a campaign that has no European or FA Cup football. He’ll definitely be given more time by the Glazers, it will ‘end’ on Fergie’s terms, complaints about Chelsea’s economic advantage will be aired by the end of September and David Gill and Peter Kenyon will scrap it out over John Obi Mikel at the MEN.
United have put further limitations - with the one Friday conference with Fergie - on their relationship with the media, why do you think they did this and would you agree that relations, on the whole, between United and the media are worse than a year ago?
Relations are certainly not great, and both sides have to take a share of the blame. I think the one Friday press conference with Fergie had been coming for a while and the criticism over the Champions League exit just brought matters to a head even though that criticism was based on poor results. I don’t think the one press conference suits anyone though. Off the record conversations are no more and the manager has to be more restrained in front of the TV cameras.
Which do you think is the biggest - or the one that will have the most impact - story at United from this season?
A close call between how United get on in the Champions League (a good run is essential) and how good Fergie’s new signings prove to be, especially in midfield. As David Gill said publicly the other week, the club cannot afford to make any more mistakes.
The Glazers have been in charge for nearly a year now. First - and possibly future - impressions?
So far they’ve been extremely low key, with good reason obviously, and that has helped their first season in charge to pass without the acrimony expected. I’d expect them to become more involved and high-profile next season though, especially if the team is doing well.
Which one question if you could ask any - without fear of retribution - would you ask Sir Alex at this moment in time?
How many of the opinions voiced by Roy Keane on Play the Pundit did you secretly agree with?

stuart mathieson. men
Where do you think it went wrong - we asked the same question last year hoping for an improvement - and right for United this season?
I don't want to sound too much like a manager here but you cannot hide from the fact that key injuries early in the season didn't help. Big characters like Gary Neville (groin op), Roy Keane (broken foot), Gabriel Heinze (Cruciate knee ligaments) and Ryan Giggs (fractured cheekbone) virtually all missed September to November. Years ago you could get away with that and come back in the New Year but Chelsea were almost over the horizon by then. I don't think any other side could have survived losing four key names like that.
Of course there was also the thorny issue of United's formation. United may have thought it was a media campaign against the alleged fingerprints of Carlos Queiroz being all over the lone striker theory but it wasn't the media chanting ‘4-4-2’ at the Blackburn match. Whatever the factor it was United's inability to put together one of their famed winning or unbeaten sequences until late in the day that handicapped the challenge early on. I never got the impression they had another winning run in them quite honestly. The latest one came virtually out of the blue and showed what could have been done if they'd had the belief and tactics earlier in the season.
Although a lot of people had lumped Phil Neville's name among the so-called ‘deadwood’ that needed to be got rid of last summer you can't help but think that United's midfield problems wouldn't have been so severe if he'd still been on the payroll. If the unusual combination of Giggs and O'Shea has made such a difference surely Phil would have made an impact in the first half of the season. He'd have relished it. you think he will be given one more season by the new owners? How do you think it will 'end' and have you any very early predictions for next season?
The Glazers, via their PR and through David Gill, have obviously said now they have no intention of getting rid of Fergie. Depending on when United win their next title I think he would then call it a day unless he's won the Champions League again before then. It's a race between old age and one of the big prizes and which comes first!
United have put further limitations - with the one Friday conference with Fergie - on their relationship with the media, why do you think they did this and would you agree that relations, on the whole, between United and the media are worse than a year ago?
It seems that after the ‘74-second’ Wigan press conference in December and reports that Fergie had ‘stormed’ out of that briefing (when he hadn't actually) he decided that enough was enough and in future any conferences would be on TV so everyone could see his demeanour for themselves. Unfortunately from the MEN's perspective and mine this meant an end to my one private call a week as well. 11 years of a decent working relationship was over just like that! Still haven't found out why we suffered as well. So from that respect relations are definitely worse than last year.
Which do you think is the biggest - or the one that will have the most impact - story at United from this season?
If you count the Glazer takeover as last season then the biggest story has to be going out of Europe at the group stage and humiliatingly not even making the UEFA Cup. Villarreal, Benfica and Lille was not a tough group no matter what the first two mentioned have done since. Impact-wise it can't have helped financially but it should focus United's thoughts for next term in the Champions League and hopefully the Reds will play two men up front in Europe as well. Four blanks in six matches surely tells you something.
The Glazers have been in charge for nearly a year now. First - and possibly future - impressions?
I don't wish to be flippant but as I don't have to buy a season ticket and price hikes don't impact on me I can only view them from a football perspective and that has had no effect whatsoever. Fergie has still bought the players he wanted to and they haven't interfered. From that angle there has been no change from a plc or Martin Edwards era. I just wish they'd be more available. Frustrating that they have still only done the one MUTV interview.
Which one question if you could ask any - without fear of retribution - would you ask Sir Alex at this moment in time?
Can I phone you during the week again?

daniel taylor. guardian

Where do you think it went wrong - we asked the same question last year hoping for an improvement - and 4 right for United this season?
Dropping 12 points before the end of October killed them and Fergie has to take the blame with all that 4-3-2-1 nonsense. There was a run of three games in September when they managed a total of five shots on target. Rio Ferdinand’s form didn’t help (Fulham and Middlesbrough away stand out) and the Keane thing blew a gaping hole in the season. The fans were already pissed off, moaning, harbouring grudges, because of the Glazers, poor form, etc, and it felt like open mutiny for a month or so. There was no harmony between the crowd and the team whatsoever and that probably rubbed off on the players. Where did it go right? I’m not sure it has. It’s no good coming out with all these lines about being in transition and ‘we’d have won it if it wasn’t for Chelsea etc etc . . .” Sport at the very top is meant to be about taking on and beating the best. you think he will be given one more season by the new owners? How do you think it will 'end' and have you any very early predictions for next season?
There’s a nice ring to him ending after his 20th season, hopefully on a high rather than a low, but if he doesn’t win the league/EC next year then could you really blame the Glazers for deciding it was time for a change (as long as they did it in a sensitive manner)? A few months ago everyone - papers, fanzines, everyone - thought his time was up. He deserves another season after this late run but it’s a bit too simple saying United have rattled Chelsea when Ballack, Shevchenko and Cole could all end up at Stamford Bridge next season.
United have put further limitations - with the one Friday conference with Fergie - on their relationship with the media, why do you think they did this and would you agree that relations, on the whole, between United and the media are worse than a year ago?
Much worse. I was surprised RN, in a previous issue, seemed to fall for the club’s slant on the reasons for the change. It came about after the 74-second press conference in December when it was reported that Fergie had “stormed out”. Technically, he only half-stormed out. . .but 74 seconds??? Some questions are longer than that at England press conferences!
Ask any football writer and they will tell you the same. He did it because he wanted to take the focus away from the team’s bad results so he kicked up a fuss in the media and accused us of hating United. Suddenly everyone was taking about the press hating Fergie and that we were trying to get the fans to boo Fergie. Er, hello, it wasn’t us who went to 4-3-2-1, signed Liam Miller and got rid of Keane. We don’t hate Fergie. Okay, we wish he was a bit nicer. But most of us want to like him and want him to like us. Slagging us off was a classic diversion technique (post-Benfica) that too many people got sucked into.
As for the new format, it’s a nightmare because anything newsworthy is now put straight out by Sky or radio and it looks old when it appears in the papers the next day. It’s bad for the dailies and even worse for the Sundays (who Fergie has fallen out with big-time). The Friday press conferences can be dull affairs now. The television cameras are always on so he can’t go off-the-record or even lose his temper.
Which do you think is the biggest - or the one that will have the most impact - story at United from this season?
The biggest story was Keane. People point to the number of league points since he left and, true, he’s not exactly set the world on fire at Celtic but would United have lost to Benfica and waved the white flag at Liverpool (FA Cup) with a fully-fit Keane in the team? I don’t buy into the argument that the players had had enough of him either. Not when you see Rooney up at Celtic Park on Keane's freebies and the number of players who have said how much they admire/miss him (Fletcher, O’Shea, RVN etc).
The Glazers have been in charge for nearly a year now. First - and possibly future - impressions?
All a bit mysterious why there was so much uproar before they came and comparatively nothing now they’re here. They’ve not been as bad as everyone thought but it’s still early days. To be fair, they’ve not tried to jazz up the club, USA-style, too much but making the youth-team players pay for their CC final tickets was a classic and there will be more.
Which one question if you could ask any - without fear of retribution - would you ask Sir Alex at this moment in time?
What does he think of FC United’s promotion? I’m not sure he would answer so, alternatively, do Manchester City play at a) Eastville b) City of Sport or c) Maine Road?

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Rooney's new Nike ad

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Liam O'Brien interview

copyright Red News

Having two United trivia questions to your name is some feat, especially if you only made 36 appearances for the club, but Liam O'Brien can claim just that. In retirement he's taken a unique path too, and in between the odd Masters appearances with former teammates for United, he set up his own limo business in Ireland.
The claims which O'Brien can - if he wanted to - lay fame to? Well, he was Ron Atkinson's last ever signing for the club, a £50,000 transfer fee (plus clauses, from Shamrock Rovers) in October 1986, and lasting under the new Fergie regime until he was sold to Newcastle in November 1988 for £300,000. Oh, and he also has the distinction of the quickest ever sending off for a United player, lasting a mere 85 seconds from the start of the match after a late tackle (but never a red card, I'd still argue, as I recall that twat of a ref Roger Milford being the hoister of said card) at the Dell against Southampton on January 3rd 1987. 85 seconds!
How does he feel about both records? “I remember the sending off as if it happened yesterday. It's a record I am not proud of, nobody wants to get sent off, especially after 85 seconds. I still don't think I deserved it, it was the first tackle of the game and I was not the sort of player that went out to ‘do’ any other professional. I was devastated as it was the first live game shown in Ireland. All my family and friends were watching it - so I was understandably gutted. The management, staff and players were great about it; they knew that I wasn't that type of player. As for being Ron Atkinson's last signing, someone had to be and it turned out to be me. I don't think I was one of his biggest signings (joke), I was one for the future.”
That he certainly was when he signed, and though it can be argued that he'd possibly never have been able to carve out a lengthy career at United, his arrival didn't just coincide during a time when any player would have struggled in that underperforming United era, but he was also unjustly given the tag by some media that has blighted so many kids coming through at Old Trafford - ‘the next George Best’. Giggs of course managed to eventually conquer and distance himself from a similar tag but what pressure it must have been on a kid who wasn't as naturally gifted as Giggsy. But O'Brien doesn't see it that way: “There wasn't that much pressure on me, the manager made sure of that, also the players were very encouraging and supportive. They told me to enjoy it and just play my own game.”
So how did the signing come about? “I was playing for Shamrock Rovers at the time and I was doing quite well for them. We played against Manchester United in a couple of friendlies and I scored in one game. Ron Atkinson was the manager at the time and decided to sign me. Seemingly, he had been watching me for quite some time. When I signed I was so nervous coming from a small club such as Shamrock Rovers to arguably the biggest club in the world. Its every boy's dream especially in Ireland to play for Manchester United, so just to be there was a dream come true for me. Being around so many world class players was fantastic, I learned so much from them.”
It must have been strange that signed by Atkinson, his new boss was suddenly his ex-boss in a matter of weeks. “To be honest, I was only there for a month under Ron Atkinson, so I was mainly training with the Reserves. I never really got to know his management style. I remember when we were told that Fergie was to become manager, players that knew him were saying how brilliant but strict he was, which became very true, but I got on well with him. He was a very down to earth man whose background was very similar to my own. It's like with all managers, they have their own management style and he is no different, but the players all respected him. I got on quite well with Fergie, he was always very helpful to me as was Archie Knox, his Assistant.”
I grew up in that era of supporting United that is hard to describe to youngsters- suffocated in success - just how bleak at times it was watching United. Not as bland and dull as Sexton of course, but soul destroyingly depressing as we contemplated the knowledge that these barren years - bar the odd Cup win - were all we had to look forward to as our biggest rivals, the Scousers, dominated. I remember in its former incarnation, the Masters indoor 5-a-side tournaments, actually involved current players and at one such event in Manchester after watching the first team falter for weeks, those present actually got a bit delirious that we could win the tournament. As if it mattered!
We didn't win it, of course, but I can remember O'Brien scoring a cracker of a goal. It was the first time I'd really seen him play well, away from the first team, with no pressure. Mad times. “I think the team underachieved because one team - Liverpool - were winning everything at the time. With such a high profile club, you are always going to get people saying that there were drinking cliques. I didn't see it, I am sure the players liked a drink but they knew when it was appropriate to do so, they were all good professionals.”
So how about being shunted straight into the first team by Fergie so soon after being labelled ‘one for the future’? “I didn't expect to be involved with the first team so soon, I was only there two months - and one month into Fergie's reign. I actually found out I was in the team for the debut (20th December in a 2-0 win over Leicester) on the Wednesday before, we were playing in a mini tournament out in Bahrain. I played well in the game and when Remi Moses got injured the Boss told me I would be playing on Saturday. Needless to say I was very surprised - but it was a nice surprise!”
Good but not good enough, is that O'Brien's United epitaph? Certainly at times he looked like a gangly giraffe but here was a kid serving his apprenticeship, not in the reserves as would happen now but in a side under immense pressure. Who knows under different circumstances but he carved out a successful career after leaving OT at Newcastle. “I loved playing for Newcastle. I have been very lucky to play for two of the biggest clubs in Europe. Both sets of fans are so passionate and where I lived in both Manchester and 4 Newcastle the people were fantastic, so welcoming and down to earth, I have some brilliant memories.”
A goal he scored against their rivals the Mackems is still fondly recalled by the Cry Babies Support. “Yeah, I was lucky enough to score in a few derby's against both Middlesborough and Sunderland. I scored the winner against Sunderland which is Newcastle's fiercest rivals, it was a free kick at Roker Park. Newcastle hadn't won there for 30 or 40 years so the fans still talk about that goal. To this day, 14 years on I am still being asked to sign the photo of that goal, so I still get a buzz out of it. I know the Manchester United fans have a laugh at Kevin Keegan but if it wasn't for him Newcastle wouldn't be where they are today, he turned the club around. We won the 1st division league under him, I enjoyed working with him, he was a very nice man.”
Somewhat ironically, O'Brien's best game for United - where he showed a glimpse of what Newcastle fans would get more used to - was to be his last for the Reds. Against Villa he showed a composure we hadn't seen before and was starting to look the part. “I really enjoyed that game against Villa and as you say it was probably my best game for Manchester United. I was on a week to week contract since the end of June, that game was in November. The club didn't move on the contract, Newcastle were aware of that so they could talk to me without Manchester United's permission. Also my wife had just given birth to our first baby and I needed stability and security. Newcastle offered me a three year contract which I couldn't refuse. If Manchester United had offered me the contract I was looking for (and it wasn't much), and no agents were involved, things could have been very different, I probably would have stayed longer at the club, so in a way, it was very hard to leave.”
How does he look back at his time at United? “I had two great years there and learned so much. I made 40 appearances for the first team, so it's not too bad, but it was always going to be hard for me to get a good run in the team with so many high profile players there. I was offered a new contract at the club but I needed to be playing regular first team football, that is one of the reasons I left.” He doesn't see much of the old team. “I think you will find most players don't keep in contact but I do bump into some of them occasionally and we have a good chat. I think if you ask ex-players, they would all say they would love to be playing now the way the money is, and I am no different. However I would say I have had a fantastic time, met some great people, been all over the world and I have definitely no complaints.”
And what about our fortunes since he left. “In the 90s it was all about to change thanks to one person - Alex Ferguson.” And now? “It’s been an indifferent season for them by their own standards, they have had a lot of injuries to key players. Also Fergie is rebuilding at the moment, so it won’t be long until they are at the summit again.”
On the takeover, we chatted once before Coolmore had sold out, and O'Brien said: “I would like to think that Coolmore don't sell their shares to Glazer, as they say don't try to fix something that isn't broken.” As we can relate to all too well now.
So how did the limo business come about? “When I finished with football, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so I discussed it with some business contacts I have and came to the conclusion that there was definitely a huge market from inside Ireland and from Europe and the UK for executive chauffeur service for corporate clientele. With my football history I felt I had a lot of contacts and could provide a service with excellent standards of professionalism and discretion. At the moment I am working with the K Club which will host the next Ryder Cup, so we have quite a number of groups arriving from the UK and we arrange all the transport for them. I am thoroughly enjoying it and everything is going well.”
“After finishing my career with Tranmere Rovers, we decided to return to Ireland in 1999. I had one year playing with Cork City and in 2000 - 2003 I was player/coach with Bohemians F.C. I have a U.E.F.A. A license badge, so it was great to give something back to football in this country. We won two leagues in my time at Bohemians which was a fulltime set up but like most clubs in this country, they suffered financial difficulties and I returned to Shamrock Rovers for the season 2003 - 2004. I finished with them at the end of that season to concentrate on the limo business.” Any chance of a managerial comeback? “I would never say never, but I don't think it will happen, there are so many coaches and managers out of work in England, so for the moment I am concentrating on my limo business.”
How does he look back at his career? “The highs were obviously playing for my country and getting the chance to play with and against so many great players. The lows would have to be all the injuries I have had; broken leg, damaged knee ligament, I went through the lot. I was very lucky to play with so many great players, and I must say not one of them was big time. The likes of McGrath, Moran, Whiteside, Olsen, Strachen, Bruce and Hughes, but I must say that the best player I have ever played with was Bryan Robson. He had everything, I have never seen a fitter player and what a lovely person. He was a midfielder like myself and it was a pleasure to be in the same team as him. Manchester United always have Irish connections and I was lucky enough to have Paul McGrath, Frank Stapleton and Kevin Moran who all helped me settle in and gave me lots of advice. Also I stayed in digs when I first moved to Manchester and another Irish lad Joe Hanrahan was there with me and he was brilliant.”

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