Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Manchester United - Not bad at all for the worst team under Sir Alex Ferguson

I don’t think Manchester United fans should be too worried right now.

Sir Alex Ferguson saw his Champions League gamble backfire, but talk of his team being the worst he has had in his 25 years is well wide of the mark.

Manchester United have come in for a lot of criticism this week.

Rightly so, after their exit from the group stages of the Champions League.

However, talk of the demise of this team, because of the lack of a genuine world class creative midfielder is a tad premature.

Sure, they haven’t found a replacement for Paul Scholes yet.

Nor did they ever find one for Roy Keane.

And Ryan Giggs will not be replaced too easily either.

Because these players are genuine world class superstars of the game.

They don’t get replaced.

There just aren’t enough of them to go round.

This made it a tough summer for Sir Alex Ferguson.

The loss of key senior figures such as Edwin Van Der Sar, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville to retirement was coupled with the sale of John O’Shea and Wes Brown.

Four of those players had come through the ranks at Old Trafford and between them had amassed 68 seasons under Sir Alex.

A rebuilding process was under way even if it was Father Time who had dictated it.

So Sir Alex went out and spent big.

He had also timed the emergence of another crop of youngsters to coincide with the departure of such a senior element of his squad.

Assembling a squad of some of the best young players around.

David DeGea is widely regarded to have the potential to become the goalkeeper of his generation.

Numerous managers have predicted Phil Jones to be the England Captain for many years to come.

Add to that Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverly and Danny Welbeck - you’ve got three stars of the England U21 Championship side.

Then Javier Hernández, Nani, the Brazilian twins are all still quite young.

Mix in the established stars such as Rooney, Vidic and Evra and this team could be around for years to come.

But these young players will take time to adapt.

Some of them need time to adjust to the Premier League.

All of them need time to adjust to the pressures of playing for Manchester United.

Like the pressure they would have experienced against Basel.

There’s no doubting Sir Alex took a gamble on the Champions League group this season.

He felt he could have progressed without having to use his first team in every game.

But when he realised he would need his strongest team going into the last game, most of them were in the treatment room.

Going into a game of the significance of Basel with so many injuries would have handicapped any team.

Hernández, Berbatov, Owen missing from the front line along with a half fit Welbeck.

Carrick suspended, Fletcher, Cleverly, Anderson out and Valencia not yet match fit.

Then Vidic limped off in the first half.

To lose the game with that many players out did not scream of a team in demise but rather a team unable to cope with so many injuries.

Wesley Sneijder would not have made that much of a difference to this team.

A team, who should be judged when they aren’t decimated through injury.

The Champions League campaign can be judged as a disaster alright.

But their defence of the title has just gained a lot more focus.

Sir Alex has always approached the first half of the season as the time to get your injuries sorted.

If you need an operation to get rid of a niggle, you sort it our before Christmas.

His team always start sluggish but comes strong the second half.

All he’ll want is to be within touching distance of Man City when his team hits top gear.

The bad news for City is that United have had their second best start to the season in the Premier League.


This without a world class creative midfieler.

From a team in demise.

For all their supposed troubles and loss of form - coupled with City lighting up the Premier League, there is only 2 points between the Manchester rivals after 15 games.

Not bad for a team who starts slowly.

Who’ve played a lot of their tougher fixtures already and have done this through quite a bad spate of injuries.

For supposedly the weakest team under Sir Alex’s reign as manager - making their second best ever start is not bad at all.

The only reason they’re not top is because City have the best start of ‘any’ team to a season.

As for finishing top come the end of this campaign, Sir Alex will be feeling quietly confident right about now - whether he finds another midfielder or not.

Even if it is perceived as the worst team he has ever had...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Irish fans should be delighted with the draw for Euro 2012 - Even if we are the worst team in the group

Being in a group like that is what it’s all about.

Every fan should embrace this opportunity our heroic team has landed.

On paper we are in the bottom seeds.

So we were going to be the worst team, no matter what group we were drawn in.

Which is great news.

We will be second favourites in every game.

A tag that sits a lot more comfortably with Ireland then the dreaded pressure that comes with being favourites.

Being the worst team also takes all the pressure off hoping to secure a ‘nice’ group.

No matter what other three teams ended up in Ireland’s group, they were all going to be better than us.

Croatia to start with - is one such team.

This opening game will be crucial and a win here will really set us up.

The Croats are quite similar to ourselves, albeit having had the better of things more recently.

But Ireland have played Croatia on numerous occasions over the last ten years in friendlies.

There has never been much between the sides.

And there won’t be again this time round.

Whoever wins this one, will certainly fancy their chances in what could effectively be a straight knock out game against the Italians.

Spain are the stand-out team in the world right now.

They are far superior to every team, let alone the worst team in the group.

Every player and every team should have the ambition of playing against the best team in the world.

A side aiming to be the first ever team to win three major tournaments in a row is the stuff of dreams.

The Spanish will be clear favourites to win the group.

1 defeat in their last 41 competitive games is a startling statistic.

Let’s hope they get two victories against Italy and Croatia.

If we can sneak a draw, with the sort of luck that England had against them in their recent victory, it will be a massive result.

But defeat should not harm our chances too much, on the premise that Spain will be looking to win all three of their games.

Then we finish with Italy.

We have played the Italians 3 times under Trap.

2 draws in the qualifying group for World Cup 2010.

And a 2-0 victory in Liege at the start of a summer.

Of all the big teams to get, Italy were certainly not the worst.

Trap will know them inside out and the fact he will play against his country of birth will add spice to the occasion as well as deflect some of the attention off the players.

This will hopefully be a straight shoot-out to qualify for the knock-out stages.

And if we are to have ambitions to win the tournament, which I think we do, then getting Spain in our group is also a massive advantage.

It of course means that we can’t play them again until the final.

And with the two teams from our group set to meet two teams from the England France group, the quarter final looks as mouth watering as it could be for an Irish fan.

Yet not a lot of pundits seem to believe Ireland have a chance of getting out of the group let alone winning the tournament.

I wonder what Roy Keane would think.

If ever anyone needed proof that the underdog can triumph, they need look no further than the European Championships.

Greece were the worst team on paper in 2004.

Denmark weren’t even in Euro ‘92 until a few weeks before the tournament started.

They too were the worse team on paper.

Both handed tough group draws as is the case with most groups throughout the history of the European Championships.

Greece were given Russia, Spain and hosts Portugal in 2004.

Denmark given England, France and hosts Sweden in 1992.

But being in the European Championships is all about playing against the best teams.

This gives us a great opportunity to play against the winners of the last two World Cups.

The current holders of the European Championships as well.

Ireland are most definitely sitting at the top table now.

It’s great being back.

Everyone in my generation remembers Houghton sticking the ball in the English net.

Bonner against the Romanians.

Houghton again in Giants stadium.

Getting Spain and Italy in our group has just handed us 2 huge opportunities to create similar historic occasions.

And all of these occasions came when we given a tough group.

‘88 and ‘90 saw us paired with England and Holland.

Throw USSR into our European Championship group and we had the two eventual finalists.

‘94 had us paired with eventual runners-up Italy along with Mexico and a Norwegian team that had lit up European qualification by finishing top of a group with the English and the Dutch.

‘02 again had us with the runners-up in the form of Germany and reigning African Nations champions Cameroon.

What this current group has done is hand us an opportunity to play against the best teams in the world and to create history again.

It took a long time for this Irish team to get back to the top table.

The players will be relishing this group.

So should we.

Even if we are the worst team in it...