Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Tom Cleverley AKA #TC23 - The Mediocre Brand

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There comes a point in every season where a scapegoat is created at a football club and this individual is chastised as being the sole reason the club is not living up to expectations. Last year it was Tom Cleverley, the year before that it was Tom Cleverley and again this season it is Tom Cleverley.

Once the darling of Watford and Wigan and now the choir boy for Roy Hodgeson and David Moyes, it's a little strange as to why the football watching population can see something that two high profile managers can not. There was once a time when #TC23 looked like becoming the player that he wanted to be; a player of Spanish ilk having being conceived in the Basque region and playing for his home town club. It's quite apparent that Thomas is in fact not Spanish and does not possess the qualities he believes he does. The game was the Charity Shield match against Manchester City and his one touch football that lead to Nani's sumptuous goal had the media and twitter awash with excitement. Finally, as part of an oft-questioned midfield, there were two ball craving midfielders (the other being the pie loving Anderson) playing ahead of the quietly effective Michael Carrick. It would seem that this high point in his career was at no point surpassed let alone matched and the TC23 you see before you is the one that everyone feared existed.

There has been a strange timeline of events for TC23 this season, not in terms of his usage but more about the way he has conducted himself. He has been used 19 times out of a potential 27 in Manchester United's midfield more often than not alongside Michael Carrick. This would strike most as strange considering that this United team won the league and now under the stewardship of Moyes, there appears to be a distinct lack of creativity. With a grand total of zero assists this season and only 11 chances created, it seems that his 89% passing accuracy is what's keeping him in the side. Now to look at TC23 a little more closely, it's quite obvious that the reason this accuracy is so high is due to his love of passing back to the player who gave him the ball. This was very much like what Carrick was hated for when he played alongside Paul Scholes. Carrick's change in fortunes came about after Scholes retired and now when he isn't in the side there's always a worry. The same will never be spoken of with regards to TC23. Yes Carrick does not score very many goals, however his forward passing ratio, reading of the game and interception stats make him one of the first names on the teamsheet and is the very reason Spanish players speak of him and not Tom.

Tom once had a twitter account, it did not last very long. He was hounded so much and blamed for every Manchester United failing this season that he deleted his account. Sure he shouldn't have to receive such abuse but what is inexcusable is having such lofty ambitions and never attaining those heights. Often comparing himself to players in La Liga who get applauded for keeping the ball, he is just not that guy. Taking a closer look at that statement, you do not get applauded for retaining the ball as a player. That is your duty as a footballer. Spanish players get applauded for their ability to string a number of passes together that can get them out of trouble or create a goalscoring opportunity. Neither of these two abilities are on TC23's CV as there has probably not been a point where you would appreciate his excellent first touch or pin-point through ball. That is the inherent problem here, what is Tom's purpose on a football field as a midfielder for Manchester United? Every midfielder has a purpose right? He admits that he isn't going to dribble past players and score a goal or be a tough tackling midfielder so that, by powers of elimination, leaves a floating midfielder that always wants the ball like David Silva for example. For the sake of not going insane, TC23 is not David Silva. What is most infuriating about all of this is when Tom is angry at himself when he fluffs his line at an attempt at goal. (It's at the end of the video). What is he frustrated at exactly? That he isn't scoring as much as when he was at Watford in the Championship? This frustration occurs every few games and as shown below, Tom doesn't shoot very often so leaves many people perplexed.

fqQXp1U The damning graphic of Man United midfielder Tom sideways Cleverley v Stoke

There comes a point in every human being's career where he realises he is not up to the job. You know, when something is asked of you and you realise that you are just not good enough. At 24 years old for the short career of a footballer, there is not much more room for improvement. In such a case 99% of these people take a look at themselves and take the required step down. However under the stewardship of a rule-breaker such as David Moyes, why would TC23 take a step down when, in reality, his mentor will never do the same.

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Hardest Way To Score A Goal

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A conversation with a Manchester United fan about their current troubles is always an interesting affair. The majority blame the midfield and the minority blame David Moyes. There are also the camp that blame both due to a 'failed' summer transfer window however that is just semantics. 

Putting an onus on the current tactics employed at Manchester United is something that isn't making the headlines, rather blaming the midfield that lacks a creative spark. Let's not skirt around the issues here, Manchester United are 7th in the league, have lost more home games than in any other season over the last decade and are playing a prehistoric brand of football. There are many factors that could be blamed here but the latter of that list is where the problem lies and an open January transfer window is not the ailment that fans are looking for. The core issue is the style of play that a new signing would not change, for example, to buy Ilkay Gundogan to play alongside Michael Carrick, would not change very much other than make the midfield slightly more robust. Thus, not much of a difference would be made with there being an inherent penchant to bypass the centre of the pitch and play it wide.
Crosses into the box are ingrained into Manchester United and this was also the case at Everton under Moyes. However the crosses at United are usually provided by the world's best wingers: Kanchelskis, Beckham and Giggs to name a few. Currently, other than Januzaj, the wingers are nowhere near the required level in any way at all. Nani has been taken out of the frame entirely, Valencia has forgotten how to be a winger and Ashley Young has just, well he's just awful. For anyone that has played football, scoring from a cross is one of the hardest things to do. Rather than play any sort of intricate football, the predictable pass out wide is made and a cross comes in. So far this season that number is up to 533 as of the Spurs game at Old Trafford. This is by far the most in the league and this game also let Manchester United eclipse their own crossing record to have the most crosses in any game this season. That United failed with 36 was one of the reasons as to why they lost this game. Moyes pointed to poor refereeing decisions but anyone who may have actually watched this game can attest to the fact United actually didn't look like scoring at any point after they had got their goal through Danny Welbeck.
There is an element of luck in football, and granted you make your own luck however the best teams will do their best to remove luck and beat a team by passing their way through them. Crossing the ball is not an efficient way of playing final-third football whereas through-balls tend to pick the lesser teams off. Conveniently, this was the way that Welbeck did get United's goal in that game from a Januzaj pass. A point to retain here is that out of the 533 balls thrown into the box from a wide area, 423 have failed. To take a pragmatist's view of that, is that not 423 times United could have tried something different? Sure they wouldn't have scored from all of them, but if a team coming to play Manchester United knows what's in store, then the surprise factor is taken out of the team. If teams know that all they need to do is take care of the forwards, United are bereft of ideas. All an opposing side needs to do is win the initial header and the ball would then be recycled to start the process all over again.
Going back to the wingers mentioned earlier, the best wingers United had were goalscoring wingers. As of right now, again discounting Januzaj, Nani, Valenia and Young have contributed 3 goals between them. Beckham would regularly score, as did Giggs and Ronaldo needs no statistics mentioned. With there being a lack of goals coming from the wide players, central midfield has to be a source of goals. Currently with Carrick playing in a withdrawn role and negating his efforts in the final third, the onus is on Cleverley to help out. With 1 goal in 26 appearances, it doesn't seem that he will turn into the midfielder that United would expect. Moyes's only purchase in the summer was Fellaini and with his 11 goals last season, there was every reason to think that goals would come, regardless if they were coming from crosses. However no goals in 11 appearances as well as just not being very good hasn't helped anyone at the club.
There is an over-reliance on this brand of football and without Van Persie and Rooney, this has exposed United to be playing some of the worst football in the top half of the league. It was only last weekend that David Moyes switched from playing 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 system (aided by the return to fitness of Fletcher and Kagawa) and the difference in the football being played here was stark. and United looked like a force of old and this may have only been a fleeting view of what's to come but hopefully it will give Moyes the reality check he needs. 
Last season Manchester United were 8th in the 'league' of playing through the middle, this season they are bottom of the league. A high calibre signing such as Thiago Alcantara or Cesc Fabregas would have made a statement however what worth is a player of such luxury when the ball bypasses them? Without their runs into the box or their presence for strikers to lay balls off to them, how can the lack of summer signings be blamed? Fans are crying out for the money to be spent and where this may be true, the manager needs to adapt to a new brand of football that can include these players. The midfield will most probably not change this January however the problem can be seen in the dug out and not on the pitch. A title winning team doesn't change to a team in 7th overnight. Only one thing changed, and that's the manager.


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Wenger needs more from the talented Özil

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Arsenal's Mesut Ozil

The assist master is in the Premier League and forty-two point five million pounds later the reviews have been somewhat mixed. Some for quite laughable reasons and others more justifiable however the consensus on my side is that one of the best players in the world is now in the acclaimed world's greatest league and too much may be expected too soon.

Manchester United fans looked on in awe, first, at the spending power of Arsenal, and second, Fellaini in comparison was nowhere near in the slightest. This signing shocked world football and although it may have seemed a luxury for Arsene Wenger, the statistics don't lie and with 47 assists in two seasons who wouldn't want a player like that? With all the money being spent around Europe, from Neymar (£48.6m), Falcao (£50.6m), Cavani (£55m) to Bale (£85m), other than the Neymar signing, this one stood out. Firstly due to the fact Özil was going to grace the Premier League and secondly for the fact that he's brilliantly ruthless at what he does.

Özil's first game was against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light and for all the expectation, he didn't disappoint. His first touch to bring down a lofted through pass and then the weighted ball to Giroud to score was sublime. His next Premier League game against Stoke at The Emirates yielded two assists and he was the new darling of North London. While Spurs were spending £100m to assemble a squad worthy to finish in the top four, Wenger went out and bought arguably the best creator of goals in the world. Quite the coup. A quiet away performance against Swansea followed which was a precursor to the game against Napoli where he showed the rest of the league, and Europe for that matter, what £42.5m buys you: a fantastic goal, an assist and a man of the match performance in a battering of Napoli at The Emirates. Mesut Özil was here and announcing himself to the world as not making a mistake in leaving Real Madrid for Aresenal. Many in Madrid claimed that he was a coward for leaving and that he should have fought for his place in the team. However the problem stands that if he wasn't to be sold then he wouldn't have left. Quite why Real Madrid decided he was surplus to requirements given his stature in the team might not ever be known. What is known is that his sale funded the purchase of Gareth Bale who is, only now, starting to hit a slight run of form. It's even come to the point where Madrid based paper Marca wrote an article earlier this week titled 'Who needs Özil?'. 

That poses a good question as it's quite clear that Real are scoring just as many goals and the only reason that they're not doing so well in the league was the long term injury to Xabi Alonso. Something that could be seen in the game against Real Vallecano as when he was substituted, Vallecano should have won the game after being 3-0 down. It can be viewed that Özil's stats may have been slightly skewed given that he was passing (for the record these are key passes) the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet when you take away Ronaldo's goals from Özil's assists statistics, he still had more than anyone in the Premiership last season. To make a comparison, albeit not the greatest one, Özil was assisting Ronaldo, Benzema, Higauin and Di Maria. At Arsenal, currently, he is assisting Giroud. It may not be the fairest of comparisons however it is the reason that he isn't playing at the level required when he has only one recognised striker to assist. Özil's impact since his two goals against Norwich hasn't been at the same level and that is down to personnel. It is only a matter of time before his German counterpart Podolski returns as well as the speed of Theo Walcott. With these two in the side, Özil will shine and his key pass ratio will sky rocket. 

On the other side of the coin, aside from Özil's clear ability, there are some points that have been raised and creating negative press. If you detract from the point that Özil is mostly effective during the first 65 minutes of games and his stamina isn't the best then his big game performance is what's in question. In two meetings with Dortmund this season, Özil was nowhere to be seen and the same can be said against Arsenal's recent loss to the stuttering Manchester United. From his dismantling of Napoli and shining in games against Sunderland, Stoke and Norwich it should not be difficult for a player of this class. What is worrying is the ghost has followed him from Spain: that he can go missing in the big games. As much as many don't want to believe that, games against Liverpool and Chelsea along with the aforementioned two, Özil did very little to justify his price tag. This price tag was Wenger's hope to have more impact in the big games, the games where Arsenal would always lose ground at the top of the table. While the former Real Madrid man should not be expected to single-handedly win every game, it is felt that he still has to deliver more on the big stages.

Arsenal have failed to match teams with high pedigree in Europe and this has left them trailing in the Champions League. Özil was Arsenal flexing its new-found financial muscle and this was a supposed means to an end in that Wenger finally had the resources everyone had been crying out for. He was now able to recruit the talent that can move Arsenal from a team on the fringes to one that can match the heavyweights. It is this level of expectation that is now facing Özil and he seems to be struggling to shoulder this burden. 

Showing the class that he has against Sunderland, Norwich and Stoke should never be looked upon badly however these are games that Arsenal would be winning without him in the side. The price tag involved demands big stage performances and at Old Trafford it could not have been a better place to showcase his talents. However, in what was one of his worst performances this season, Özil was largely anonymous and finding himself dropping deeper and deeper in search of the ball. It isn't fair to say that he had a bad game, this was more of a flat performance against a first half display from a very Evertonian looking Mancester United. Wenger can take encouragement from their second half where they appeared to be gaining some momentum but he shouldn't be castigated for wanting more from his new talisman.

It's harsh to judge him so early on in his career at Arsenal and his glimpses of utter brilliance are reason enough to never lose faith in a player that can make Arsenal, with signings and the aforementioned returns from injury, the force that they have been wanting to be for a number of years.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Playing The Blame Game

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It's Monday morning and the vitriol has started. From the #MoyesOut campaign on Twitter to the fallout in the press for Manchester United's demolition by their city rivals. Watching the game, it was tough to argue with either points and there was an air of ineptitude from the first minute that left a feeling of angst among the United faithful. 

Social media was awash with the rumours that Manchester United's best player is injured and out of the derby. From here the snowball was created and resulted in United's downfall as it looked like this knocked the confidence of the players and it could be seen on the pitch. Other than Welbeck's first minute foray into City's box, at no point did Manchester United really look like a team capable of creating opportunities, let alone scoring and this is a problem that will be inherent for the season unless some changes are made.

David Moyes isn't far into his tenure but he should know better than to blame the players when tactically he was shown up to the world's viewing eyes. He claimed that he has never suffered at the hands of Manchester City in this way when he was the Everton manager and herein lies the problem; this isn't Everton, this is Manchester United, the champions elect. Once the rumours had been confirmed that Robin Van Persie wasn't in the match day squad, everyone had their opinion of what the team should be. These opinions circled around the fact that United would play a variation of the 4-2-3-1 system and no one would have come up with the starting eleven that actually came out. United are a team that relies on old fashioned wing play coupled with overlapping fullbacks that create goalscoring opportunities. However it was the blue half of Manchester that adopted and executed this system ruthlessly and it couldn't have been more ever-present than in their first and fourth goals.

On the subject of wingers, the constant inclusion of Ashley Young is now worse than a bad joke. Since his arrival at United in 2011 he has never looked up to the task of being a Manchester United winger. Last season he provided three assists and other than 'those' two goals against Arsenal in his debut season, has he ever provided the kind of threat required at this level? More to the point, has he ever made another team worry once they've seen him included in the starting eleven? It is tough to explain Ashley Young when there are players who can change games in the squad. Namely Zaha and Januzaj not even making the bench with Nani keeping it warm doesn't even create conjecture. Antonio Valencia was good against Leverkusen but not great, let's not get ahead of ourselves as this is the same Valencia but with a different squad number. This was just as apparent yesterday as it has been all season bar that one aforementioned game. Given that his shortcomings as an attacking player have been exhausted by all, his inclusion must be merited on his defensive capabilities and with that gone (as was apparent in their first goal), what is his basis for inclusion in the next game?

The use of 'hard working' wingers and a more robustness to the team is how David Moyes is displaying his cautious mindset as a manager. Deploying two like-minded defensive midfielders, one of which is his darling from Everton, and the constant running of Danny Welbeck plus the two attackingly inept wingers is erring on the side of caution. It protects against a loss as opposed to going there to win and these same tactics have been displayed against Chelsea (h) and Liverpool (a) yet only one point has been gained. This is Manchester United, comparisons to Everton are nonsensical and Moyes needs to be shorn of this cautious mindset in order to flourish at this club. Playing 4-4-2 against the riches of Manchester City was a car crash waiting to happen and you have to remember that City paid £30m to put Fernandinho next to one of Europe's best midfielders. (Fernandinho made more tackles/interceptions/key passes than the whole of Manchester United's midfield). After the game Moyes claimed that United couldn't get to grips with Manchester City's midfield and due to that, they dominated the game. What confidence does that instil in the fans? More to the point, what does that tell the rest of the managers in the league? That tactically, Moyes got it very wrong. Playing the way they did was more to combat the way that Manchester City were set up yet Pellegrini set up in only one way; to get a victory. That's the difference here and changes need to come quickly against Liverpool in the cup on Wednesday. This point is further compounded with Tom Cleverley's introduction when United were 4-0 down. As much as it made hearts sink to see Tom taking his tracksuit off, it did bring stability to United. It may have been down to fatigue in the Manchester City team or the fact they were 4-0 up however it gave Manchester United more of the ball in the final third of the game. This change should have been made at half time when it was clear as day that United were being overrun for an entire half of the game. Yet it leads people to think that why was this not foreseen before the match? Welbeck played as a striker, as did Rooney and 4-4-2 does not work away from home to a title rival, it hasn't for a number of years and it didn't on Sunday. 4-2-3-1 is not a cautious formation, it is not entirely attacking either, what it does do is afford the opportunity to manager and players alike to adapt to a football match and it is a shame Shinji Kagawa could not get a game. That, however, is a discussion for another day.

After the game the bile inducing comments about United's opening fixtures were again mentioned by Moyes. "Any manager would have found it difficult taking over the club with that run of fixtures." and "It's been a difficult start - the way the balls came out at the start of the season, I said I wasn't convinced, and I'm still not convinced." were mentioned by Moyes post-game and as embarrassing as the team looked on Sunday, the whole club are looking even more embarrassing citing a conspiracy that has not an ounce of evidence to back it up. To point to this as the reason Manchester United have made their worst start since finishing 3rd in 2006 rather than beat what's in front of them is not an avenue that Moyes can be afforded. Firstly due to the fact he isn't Sir Alex Ferguson who was all for conspiracies against United but namely that he is the manager of a completely different entity to Everton. Claiming that he's not been demolished like that as their manager (which is laughable given their failure to win away to a top 5 club in a decade) has no place in a post-match interview. He has to choose when he's wearing his Manchester United suit or his Everton tracksuit and decisions like that were the reason he's hired so let's hope that he chooses the former rather than the latter going forward.

Caution shouldn't be overlooked however pragmatism is best served with an equal measure of optimism. Now David Moyes's attempts to alleviate pressure on himself has backfired and he looks more out of his depth than he did before he started the job in July. Had he placated the fans by taking the majority of the blame by looking inwardly at his own tactics rather than pointing the finger at his players, this Monday could have looked a whole lot different.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Deadline Day Analysis: Manchester United's failings exposed.

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Finally it has passed; the male's version of Valentines day is now over and the fallout continues on social media. Logging on to twitter in the late hours last night, it was apparent that there was a distinct consensus with how Manchester United handled the summer transfer window. There have been calls for Ed Woodward to resign, Moyes to come out and apologise and Manchester United to admit their failings. None of which will ever come to fruition but that can't hide what has happened over the last two months.

Ed Woodward took over from David Gill as Chief Executive around the same time David Moyes took the reins from Sir Alex Ferguson. At first, this wouldn't have looked as bad a move as it has done with Woodward's expertise in sponsorship acquisitions. His ability to promote the Manchester United brand, currently, is unparalleled however this isn't what was needed in the transfer window. The signings that came in were from around the world but unfortunately couldn't play football: United needed players, not sponsors. They needed a person to promote the club to players and keep the well oiled machine ticking over - spending big on great talent every window to keep the team as a team of winners. However coming out from the window's closing last night, it's obvious that Manchester United's standing in Europe has diminished somewhat and the gleaming powerhouse has lost it's shine.

When Ed Woodward claimed that United had the budget to go in for any player that was needed, he was saying all the right things. It made everyone, and not just United fans, sit up and take notice. It was a statement to the world of football that David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson's departures would not hinder the club at a time when stability and tweaking of the squad was paramount. However now the months have past, his claims were hollow and akin to a politician lobbying for votes and making claim after counter-claim, Ed Woodward had no idea how to handle the behemoth that is Manchester United. Even with David Gill on speed dial, the fumbling around and wince inducing media mentions took away the charisma of Manchester United and left players either wanting to stay at their clubs or go elsewhere. It's easy to say that the transition to the CEO of a club like Manchester United would be a simple one so some caution needs to be heeded here, however there are ways to do things and it seems that mistakes were made, and then the hole that was dug just got deeper and deeper. It's also worth a mention that the spotlight on United is bigger than anywhere else in the country. Due to this alone, the media speculation is unrivalled and creates hyperbolic hysteria that can cloud judgement so a measure of pragmatism is needed here.

Thiago Alcantara was the first name to land on the wheel of transfer fortune for United. What looked like a simple task and what would have been a shrewd acquisition turned out to be nothing of the sort. His €19m release clause was known to the world and for what seemed like his only destination, United were in 'pole position' according to the laughable media outlets in this country. 'Ed Woodward 1 - Every other CEO 0' was the message here but out from left-field, Pep Guardiola stated his intentions and the rest is history. What seemed like there not having a gap to bridge post-David Gill; the chasm couldn't have been wider. The flirting with Thiago was over and the haymaker was delivered:

"The truth is that in no moment did United come to us and talk to us. It came from the press, it was always a lie," said Thiago once his move to Bayern was confirmed.

At the beginning of the window, David Moyes played perfectly into the hands of every United fan when he declared that the midfield is an area of concern and he will do his utmost to address it. Not even being in the stadium let alone the ring for Thiago is a huge opportunity missed. It's easy to say that there could have been other factors involved but an explanation as to what went on wouldn't go a miss. Ed Woodward 0 - Every other CEO 1. 

Then came the bid for Leighton Baines for £12m that was swiftly rebuffed. Take away the fact that Baines is one of the best left backs in the Premiership, £12m is not justified whatsoever. As is well known, when Steward Downing costs £20m, Baines has to cost more than that out of principle. It's a shame that the benchmark has been set in such a way but this derisory bid was the first page in a chapter of events that were about to unfold.

Up next was Cesc Fabregas. A great player and a perfect fit for a United midfield shorn of creativity sans Kagawa. It seemed an odd pursuit given that the player only recently returned to his home town and was now back with his family (players and relatives alike). Why would he leave such a club? The rhetoric aside, David Moyes publicly declared the interest and that a bid was made. After being rebuffed, Moyes came out to say that another bid has been made. This tactic left a lot of fans scratching their head as to why the club are declaring to the world what they're doing in the transfer window when there was utter silence whilst the Thiago furore was taking over. Alas, Fabregas and Martino stated their love for each other and the club and Manchester United moved on, now with two black eyes. 

Then came the bid that many had assumed would happen: the joint bid for Fellaini and Baines. The bid came in at £28m which, going by the original £12m offered for Baines, values Fellaini at £16m. To quote another Liverpool misdemeanour, Jordan Henderson cost £15m so, again, this bid was rejected out of hand. Fellaini was purchased by Moyes whilst at Everton and he came in for £15m so adding £1m to his value after 5 years makes not one ounce of numerical sense. With Moyes having an inherent knowledge of Fellaini/Baines and the workings of Everton FC, it's puzzling as to how it came to this.

Fast forward a week from the original bid of £28m, Manchester United improved it by £7m and came in for a final time to land the two Everton players. Again this was rejected quite swiftly with Roberto Martinez not happy at the manner in which this was taking place. £35m should have been the first offer and maybe the picture would have been painted differently but this was a bid taken to an already angry club. United were a week away from the window closing and no closer to a player coming in. If anything they were further away from where they started due to the nature of their transfer movements.

Around this time there were rumblings coming from Spain that there was concrete interest in Ander Herrera. Now here was a player of fantastic ability, not courted by the majority of big clubs and has a buy out clause of €36m. Herrera ticked all the boxes of a player United's midfield was crying out for, a player that commands the ball and picks the correct pass nearly every time. He was in the top ten for completed passes per game in the whole of Spain and considering that six of those play for Barcelona, it's easy to see why he'd have worked at Manchester United. Couple that with being the most fouled player in Spain, his tenacity to want the ball all the time spoke volumes. Athletic Bilbao are not a selling club, they never have been and they don't want to be. A club that only plays footballers from the Basque region of Spain, there was no way that they'd be held to ransom. Amorebieta, left for free. Their best striker in a number of years, Fernando Llorente, left for free. The stall had been set: Athletic Bilbao will only sell a player if their release clause is met and the player wants to leave, it's as simple a fact as that. 

Deadline day came and went with a flurry of deals and media speculation. Ander Herrera was on the verge of joining Manchester United and Guillem Balague's confirmation of this left the majority wondering 'who will be next'. Of course Guillem Ballague, for all his pundit ability and football knowledge, isn't always correct. Again this time he wasn't as his claim of United activating Herrera's release clause couldn't have been further from the truth. The actual truth was that Ed Woodward was trying to negotiate a lower price to no avail. It's not difficult to see that Bilbao would at no stage budge from their original stance so it's crazy to even go down such an avenue. Albeit whilst this was all going on, United were finalising terms for a £27.5m for Fellaini. £4.5m than his recently expired release clause yes, but had Fellaini been the first choice on the list, this would never have happened. United's midfield is instantly better with the presence of Fellaini on the team sheet. He may not be the superstar that was wanted by the masses, but he's exponentially better than Tom Cleverley in nearly every aspect of the game.

The mistakes that were made this summer were exacerbated by a number of factors. From the public display of affection towards Cesc Fabregas to the insulting bids for the Everton duo it has to be said that lessons must be learnt. Actions such as these have the opposite effect when attempting to lure a player to a side like Manchester United. The star could be fading, or this could be the only way in which one can learn: first a mistake has to be made. January isn't far away and it will leave Woodward/Moyes with four months of extra experience. Experience that is vital at this level and it's quite clear that this amount of stupidity can never happen again.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Three Players David Moyes Should Have Signed

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It's transfer deadline day and Manchester United, after another inept performance, are yet to make a signing that can add any dimension to the squad. Do not let the 4-1 opening day victory over Swansea fool you, Manchester United were not 3 goals better than Swansea. For it not for the ruthless finishing of Robin Van Persie and the teasing increased shooting ability of Danny Welbeck, Manchester United had as many shots as Swansea and less of the ball.

David Moyes claimed at the beginning of his tenure and the transfer window that the midfield was his primary concern when adding any new players to the squad. Fast forward two months and after the shambolic fruitless eye fluttering at Cesc Fabregas, no bid for Thiago Alcantara and missing Marouane Fellaini's release clause date, Manchester United have embarrassed themselves with only a few hours left to complete any deals. This in itself creates a problem as the club will surely be held to ransom by selling clubs and this works two-fold:

1. Manchester United are desperate. Contrary to popular belief, this day is not when bargains are sought by top clubs. This is a time when any club contacted by Manchester United will add many additional millions to the price of the player United are interested in. Why it has taken so long, only the board and David Moyes know and this is a quandary of their own making.

2. A club that sells it's players today will increase prices just for the fact they will face huge difficulties in replacing that player. Deadline day is great for teams outside of the top six but at the top end of the league, inflated prices are de facto.

With so much time having passed and Manchester United linked with nearly every player around, here are the three players that David Moyes should have signed.

Thiago Alcantara
It was well known to the entire football world that Thiago's hugely decreased release clause was set at €18m due to not meeting the quota of first team games last season for Barcelona. Now any person that has seen Thiago play would have known straight away that this player is brilliant. Samba flair mixed with Barcelona's La Masia upbringing has moulded a player with incredible technique and an astute eye for goal. Thiago's touch and skill is only matched by very few young players in Europe. Now bear in mind these young players would be signed for €30m+, it's crazy to think that Manchester United did not make a bid for him regardless of what the media have claimed. Thiago came out and said United did not show any interest and once Guardiola came out to say Thiago was the only player he wanted, Manchester United were left out in the cold. This is was exactly the type of player that United needed, a player that can unlock defences and play between the lines but without restricting what a Number 10 (ideally Kagawa) would add to the side. Effectively a player that can play between Carrick and Kagawa and this deficiency was as clear as day in the loss to Liverpool at the weekend.

Fabio Coentrao
Patrice Evra is 32. Leighton Baines is 29 in a couple of months. Fabio Coentrao is 25. Contextually, Baines is English and will cost upwards of £25m given what happens in this country with any English player with some semblance of talent. It's clear that United need a new left back to come in once Evra stops playing age-defying football and unfortunately, Baines is not the answer. This is not to discredit his talent but the price to pay for arguably Everton's best player is not the answer to the question at hand. Fabio Coentrao stated at the beginning of the transfer window that he wants to leave Real Madrid. Due to this, a lower price could have been a factor yet no one came in for him. It's been so long now that the player has decided to stay . This is a shame as he hasn't featured at all this season and quality left sided defenders are few and far between. He shares similar traits to Evra with his marauding style and technique on the ball and it's a shame this is another opportunity missed. With Buttner as Evra's understudy, it's a sad indictment for a club of Manchester United's calibre.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Manchester United have more money to spend on players than many think. A club that flirts with the top two places on the income list in football are very rich. Rich enough to pay what it would take to bring back the best player this decade has seen in a Manchester United shirt. United have missed Ronaldo immensely since his departure in 2009, they have won the league in his absence yes, but that's hardly the tall order it used to be with the quality of the league diminishing in recent years. Take a look at last season and a team shorn of a jealousy inducing midfield won the league with relative ease. It's on the European stage that United lack quality and ever since Athletic Bilbao embarrassed them twice in the Europa League, problems have persisted in United's European performances. They lack a quality wide forward and Ronaldo's understudy; Nani and replacement: Valencia are both frustratingly talented but not what Manchester United need. Ashley Young would deserve a mention if he actually knew how to play football at this level so for now, just see this as his mention. Gareth Bale has recently eclipsed Ronaldo as the world's most expensive signing and whether this is deserved or not, Ronaldo hasn't been happy in Madrid for two years. Bale is Ronaldo but 4 years his junior. Quick, strong, technical and with a shot many can't match, they are both vying for the same spot. This was the opportunity for Manchester United to bring home the player that still gets sung about at every home game. The prodigal son needs to return, preferably before he turns 30.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Settling For Moyes

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Having had a chance for the decision to appoint David Moyes to digest for a couple of months now, it still doesn't seem to be the appointment that Manchester United deserved. A pragmatic approach is needed when assessing a new manager however it seems bereft of credence as to why this man has the job of the biggest and most lucrative sports team in the world.

David Moyes is a good manager. He's been described as a 'worker' and there's nothing wrong with that. He has been brought up in the same vein that Sir Alex Ferguson was and again, there is nothing wrong with that. His list of achievements are getting Preston North End promoted and working on a limited budget. Outside of the top 8, which manager isn't working with a limited budget exactly? Is that something to put on a CV as an attribute? It's akin to being close to pay-day and getting lunch from Tesco rather than Pret A Manger. Once again, pragmatism.

Manchester United have a claimed legacy of hiring managers that are there for the long term however it's not hard to look online and notice that other than Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, the managers in between stayed no longer than 5 years. Maybe that's why David Moyes has been given a six year contract? Who knows but this appointment wasn't sitting well when announced in June and it still isn't sitting well now. Looking from the outside in, I'm sure other teams are envious of the 'long term project' being afforded to Moyes. Case in point being Chelsea prior to re-hiring Jose Mourinho. They could have done with someone like Moyes just to settle the ship and make the team the winners that they should be considering the astronomical amounts of money that has been spent. In light of this, David Moyes at Manchester United just doesn't look right from any angle.

Staunch United fans are built as such to stick by whomever is in charge. That is not a bad thing in any respect. It is why football exists. A team is chosen to be supported and the key word here is 'supported' and regardless of the decisions, the players and manager are backed irrespective of the clientèle. This hasn't been written to create an aggressive response from these fans, in fact they should be applauded for being true to their beliefs when, at the opposite end of the spectrum, football has bread the supporter that is epitomised by Piers Morgan. No more words need to be said about such a person.

The dilemma here is that it is quite clear that across Europe, not one of the top 3 or 4 teams would have hired David Moyes as their manager. To lure players to a club, the footballer looks at the manager first and himself second. If the manager is not going to improve a player's ability then he'll have second thoughts. It's a question that needs to be asked: 'Are Manchester United not making transfer moves or are players just not blown away by the lure of playing for Manchester United under David Moyes?' It's a quandary for any Manchester United fan and it's not just transfer activity that seems to be the main problem. Along with Sir Alex Ferguson moving into the upper echelons of the club; David Gill has also moved on to pastures new. David Gill was one of the best CEO a football team could have asked for and now two novices: Ed Woodward and David Moyes are in charge (along with many other members of staff) of taking the club forward. It's a sad indictment for United in that there has been so much change in such a small amount of time. Now time is all that they have for this project to come to fruition and as Moyes has said, it will take a little while for things to get back to normal for fans and players alike.

Alongside the factors mentioned above, the embarrassingly public pursuit of Cesc Fabregas has been something else out of the norm. It's not normal for the pursuit of transfer targets to be in the public domain so much. The norm is meant to be that the manager may or may not admit that he likes the player and after that, the player signs or he doesn't. The parts that have taken place in between have been cringeworthy. It's not clear as to the strategy here but it's plain to see that it is not working. Fabregas aside, the non-pursuit of the cliché that is Thiago Alcantara was something strange. The media claimed that United were favourites to sign him, only for Thiago's mentor and Agent's brother, Pep Guardiola to come out and say he is the only player Bayern are looking to sign. From there it was only going to end one way, Bayern adding another star to their already star-studded midfield. The odd part of all of this is that after signing, Thiago came out to say that Manchester United didn't make a bid or show any interest at all. Now you can believe who you want but let's just say that Thiago will be one of the best players in Europe very soon and it's a huge opportunity missed if what he is saying is true.

Keeping a keen eye on NewsNow for any transfer activity attributed to Manchester United has been laughable and frustrating. From Baines to every available midfielder on earth to Ronaldo. Not one of these has any credibility to it and herein lies the problem. Baines created the most chances in the Premier League last season yet £12m was offered. Liverpool skewed the English transfer market with their penchant for paying 6.3 times the worth of a player and with that in mind, £12m found a swift rebuttal. It's moves such as these that are showing Moyes's naivety at now having money to spend. Other than a back up right back who is sure to go on loan straight away, the only signing Manchester United have made is the appointment of PepsiCo. Now the last time I checked, given that the midfield has publicly been highlighted as an area of concern by Moyes, PepsiCo wasn't and never will be a footballer.