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Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Red Perspective on the Charity Shield 2009

A Red Perspective on the Charity Shield 2009

Seamus is nothing if not professional so when he got a call from his other editor asking him to take on a tricky assignment, deep behind enemy lines, it was without hesitation that he seized the opportunity.
- “What is it Ed?”, Seamus eagerly inquired.
- “I want you to cover the Charity I mean Community Shield match down in that there London”, said the Ed.
- “Of course I’ll do it boss”, replied Seamus.
-“There’s just one thing though, Seamus……….it means you missing the ‘Mixed Bowls Pair’s Competition BBQ Shindig Hoedown Showdown’ at the Heights’ Barrfield Club!”
The Ed. sensed Seamus’ hesitation but, in a transparent appeal to his vanity, secured our hero’s services with this plea:
- “Seamus you’re my best man, I wouldn’t ask any one else to do it, your fellow Reds need you!”
And so it was that Seamus caught the first train out of Piccadilly, on Sunday the 9th of August, destination not Bangor, Maine, but Wembley Stadium.

Now the first time I went to Wembley it was in 1990, to see the Stones in the “Steel Wheelchairs” tour, and as a music venue it wasn’t great. However, that was more than made up for by the munificence of Mick, Keef, Ron, Bill and Charlie. I then didn’t go back until 1997 and that was for a Charity Shield match against Chelsea. Growing up in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s I firmly believed the ‘Wonderful Wembley’ myth so each time I went, in later years, I was appalled to see what to my eyes was a crumbling edifice, a decrepit mausoleum, symbolic perhaps of the Empire it was named after. Coupled with horrendous queues for extortionate food and drink as well as overcrowded and often literally overflowing toilets, the ‘Wembley Experience’ was rarely a pleasant one. However the new ‘National Stadium’ has been with us for a couple of years now and whilst gushing testimonials, about the venue itself, have been thin on the ground so have any negative comments either. Most griping has been reserved for the soulless swathes of corporates who usually miss the opening minutes of the second half because they’re quaffing shampoo and stuffing mushroom vol au vents down their scrag ends. As this was not a criticism of Wembley itself I got out of the Tube at Wembley Park with a keen sense of anticipation, not only about the first game of a new season (after a horrendously long close season), but also for what will the new Wembley be really like?

The view from the top of Wembley Park down Wembley Way was glorious; fans of all ages, some in red, some in blue eagerly making their way to the season’s traditional curtain raiser. I must confess even a cynical old goat like me felt a sense of nostalgic frisson. For a split second that view alone brought me back to FA Cup Final Grandstand. Anyway, kick-off was fast approaching and shanks’ mare was going to need a good gallop if I was going to get there in time to greet our red shirted heroes on to the pitch and, after a quick stop at Bobby Moore’s statue, I was in. What a transformation. A seamless automatic gate entry, toilets everywhere, hundreds of kiosks characterised by orderly queues and organised staff (are you watching Manchester?). It truly was a breath of fresh air with the exception of the fish and chip stall whose waft was, according to one of my companions, reminiscent of “a room full of rum women”. The pitch was immaculate, the seats had plenty of leg room and with a magnificent 80,000 seat panorama all around, it’s a stadium to match Camp Nou, San Siro and the Willows.
With excellent seats secured right beside the 4th estates’ box, a moving tribute and applause to Sir Bobby Robson observed, and the painful dirge that is “God save the Queen” over, finally United and Chelsea kicked off the 2009/10 season.
The talk all around me was about “Valencia and Owen” and “who’d be in nets”? The only people mentioning our erstwhile number 7 were the tabloids. Us United fans have moved on and are palpably looking forward to another season.

The game itself was a credible 2-2 draw with United and particularly Nani shining in the first half. Chelsea really came back in to it in the second half, though how much of that was due to Foster’s jitteriness and the ref’s inconsistency is open to debate for greater football brains than mine. But for me it was heartening that Wayne Rooney never tired, never gave up and scored with his only real chance of the game. I’ve no doubt he’ll be expected to do that a lot more this season and it was to good to see that he stayed calm, kept plugging away and got his reward against top class opposition. For me the penalty shoot out was immaterial as was the destination of the shield. The 90 minutes of action gave me a hint of how we’ll go this season, particularly with our new boys Valencia and Owen, and I have to say that I was encouraged by what I saw. I’m not saying that we’ll conquer all before us, Chelsea and Liverpool could well win the title. Arsenal, Villa, Everton and City will all have a huge, or should I say massive, say but we’ve as good a chance of winning it this season, as we did last, and that my fellow Reds is all you can ask for.


A Red Perspective

Summer business and new season hope

As at mid-July Fergie declared ‘our business is done’ which surprised me. Maybe he was just winding us all up, perhaps not.

I know we’re spoilt, seriously challenging for, or winning the title, most seasons since 1992, but that’s where we want to stay. Maybe a lean year, or two, wouldn’t be totally bad. Winning the title again in 2006/07, after a gap, improved temporarily OT’s sometimes complacent atmosphere. It meant that bit more again. But, having spent my school years watching the Scousers go out of sight, and then my adult years watching them reeled in, it’s more important than ever to keep that top perch. They were close to us last season – too close. Now we have 18 and that’s a fact. For 19, do we need more ambition than this summer has shown?

Losing our top scorer of the last 3 seasons and that man from Argentina leaves us relying on Rooney, Berbatov and young potential in Welbeck and Macheda, plus a 29 year old ex-Scouse star, who has inherited the famous number 7 shirt. Oh – and a 20 year old Bordeaux winger who looks worryingly like Mikael (hope he’s better than Bellion), plus Valencia, who looks to have good potential. It’s a gamble, but then Fergie and we have been here before. Doubt him at your peril – just ask Alan Hansen.

Although I’m sad to see him go, shame on Tevez. I hope he gets what he deserves at Citteh - eventually a League Cup runners up medal. Unless he scores on every appearance, how will he stay first choice ahead of at least five dozen strikers? Just wish he would cut out the smokescreens. Ronaldo went to Real because he had always dreamt of playing there, plus the extra money. He gave us 6 years, £70 million profit and an average 30 goals over each of last three seasons. Tevez went to Citteh just for money. Pure and simple, end of story. I enjoyed his short contribution, but he’s hardly in the Ruud or, dare I say, Torres class. If he needs regular first team football he’s gone to the right place then!

Back to money I suppose - £80M from Real, plus major wages saved on Tevez and Ronaldo (doubt Owen and Valencia will equal half their wages), plus up to £10M for Fraizer Campbell and other fringe players. A spend of around £20M for Valencia and Obertan. Net transfer income of £70M means United, unlike their major rivals, are suddenly a selling club – sorry, franchise. Bizarrely, I believe £70M is about one year’s debt interest, or almost one year’s profit. If the Glazer debt didn’t exist, which of course it didn’t before they created it, then £70M plus £70M profit would mean United would have almost as much to spend as Real! Biggest club in the world? That’s a bit hollow at the moment. In reality we now appear to have to wait and see who Real, Citteh, Chelsea and Barca buy, then pick up on what is left.

If Rooney, or Berbatov, or Owen get a bad injury we have real problems. It smacks of complacency, especially when we scored so few goals last season and reminds me of 2003. We were complacent then in the face of the Chelski threat, plus Arsenal’s challenge and were left floundering around for 3 seasons. We have gone from 4 strikers plus kids, to 2 strikers, a gamble on a 29 year old ‘free’ transfer, plus kids. In the event of injuries/suspensions, yet again we will have a bench without experienced reserve striking threat. I think that is both a dangerous and an unnecessary gamble.

Perhaps Fergie is bluffing and a further striker, or midfielder, will be signed. Perhaps Owen will score over 20 goals with the quality service from those around him. Perhaps Macheda and Welbeck will step up. They will need to do so to replace what we have lost. However, I doubt Barca and the rest will be losing too much sleep over our latest apparent challenge. Midfield is another area that needed addressing and so far we seem to be just hoping Hargreaves will get fit again, or that Darron Gibson comes through.
Having said all that, I suppose it could just as easily be another Fergie master stroke. Owen is the sort of out and out finisher we have been missing since Ruud and Ole.

If United were in seriously for Benzema (although I doubt it, as he only ever seemed to want to join Real), then Fergie felt we needed someone else of that potential. Signing Owen on a free should be an extra insurance policy, not the main policy. We need to spot the next Torres, which may mean trying one or two long shots before we strike gold. Berg of Sweden’s U21 team and his recent goal scoring exploits might have been worth a punt. Northern Europeans are worth going for, as they are less likely to hanker after dream moves to Spain. Perhaps the arrival of Diouf from Molde might be such a worthwhile gamble, although I was worried when I first heard we were signing ‘Diouf’, as I sit very near the pitch!
I just think we are missing an important opportunity to strengthen more fully, although I accept we shouldn’t just spend for the sake of it, or try and compete directly with the obscene money Citteh’s Arabs can supply.

Incidentally, what real relevance does a Citteh supporter now have? Exactly how do they help achieve any success their owners might now buy for them? It will be an even more hollow achievement than that of Chelski.

Fans of most other clubs have principally funded the whole operation or, now in our case, the debt. As supporters we contribute. Our contribution matters. A club’s success, or lack of it, has usually been gradual, based on financial reality, on home-grown players, plus carefully purchased players and also accounting for costly mistakes. Put another way, you have to have sort of ‘earned’ the success and the position to build on that success. The playing field amongst major clubs was sort of level, not totally tilted in favour of one obscenely rich owner. Chelski was a major distortion, but even that had limits. Mistakes at Citteh already appear to be irrelevant. Just as well, as they do excel in that field. It’s much more difficult to accept when Arsenal win the title, or perish the very thought, those crafty, tricky Scousers, because you’d feel you could have done better.

If Citteh just suddenly buy it, so what? If you can just buy who you like, for whatever amount it takes to persuade them to join, what’s the achievement? Maybe they will even cock up their new found massive financial supremacy. If they do, it will be hilarious. If they start winning everything – well-aahh, as Sven would say, it will be sort of invalid really. Deep down they will know that’s a fact, a real fact as opposed to the ramblings of the fat Spanish waiter. Anyway, enough of the Citteh flim flam.

At least United have some cash in reserve should it start going wrong, or perhaps not as the debt interest really bites! The Glazer’s spokesman recently said we had ‘£60M net from the Ronaldo sale to spend’. Strange statement, as it implied we didn’t have any other significant transfer budget to begin with? I suspect they will use the Ronaldo money to disguise yet another summer of less than impressive net spend.

I have always believed the day the Glazer’s took over the club was a very bad day. The success since then has little to do with their ownership. It has been Fergie’s management skill that has continued the success, along with much, much more of the fans money, almost success happening in spite of the Glazer effect. The Glazers have contributed nothing, other than ensuring we fans ‘efficiently’ service a debt mountain they stupidly created, along with agreeing to punitive interest rates. Great business acumen. Ticket prices increasing yet again this summer, when others either freeze or cut them, says it all. If United’s success stalls due to the handicap they saddled us with, then the Glazers and United will be seriously damaged. Them, I don’t care about, United I do.

Roll on the new season. Maybe it will be yet another surprise and we will change formation and start scoring more freely. Maybe Nani will set the league alight – maybe not. Either way, I’ll miss Tevez, but especially miss CR despite the histrionics. However, we have lost key players before and continued with success, so hopefully Fergie has gambled well again. Just hope he reduces those odds with another signing, or two.

Pete Burton