We all fancy ourselves armchair managers or voyeurs who can predict a line-up or substitution or a transfer. We sit at home, pint in hand, and we figure that we know what’s best for our club. And a few weeks ago when the rumor mill was churning about the end of the transfer window and who would/wouldn’t be leaving their clubs, all of our eyes shifted to the rumors about our Ravel Morrison. The enigmatic player who had only made 3 League Cup appearances was suddenly the talk of the United Kingdom. The buzz about this player was a mix of the good and the bad. The best academy player since Scholes mixed with the attitude of someone like Balotelli. In his limited appearances for the club, he had become a cult legend. If he made the bench, Twitter exploded. If he made it on the pitch, Twitter imploded. The only thing that was for certain was that all Reds wanted him to come through the ranks and live up to the billing he brought with him. As of January 31st, that door closed with the closing of the transfer window.
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I remember when I was still playing football on a regular and competitive basis. One weekend our team traveled to Olney, Maryland to play against their travel team. Here in the States, we don’t have academies, really; we have what we call “select” or “travel.” Aside from ODP (Olympic Development Program), it’s the closest we have to competitive youth football.
So, we get there and the atmosphere is pretty typical. Olney was known for being a dirty team. Even the parents were dirty – yelling at the opposing team’s kids, swearing, threatening, etc. We never ever liked playing them. From the get-go, their kids are acting like total heathens. It quickly turns into a battle. As the game got into the last few minutes, one of their players slides in studs up – from behind – and takes down our sweeper. In the heat of the moment, I chase him down, a la Wayne Rooney, and absolutely take him out. The play was dead. Everyone saw it. Ref shows me red. I knew it was coming. I storm off the pitch, more upset at how out of hand the game had gotten than actually getting the red. My coach grabs my arm, looks at me, and reprimands me for stooping to their level. I didn’t want to hear him, so I grabbed my bag and stormed off to the car to wait, a la Balotelli. He was old and he didn’t get it. He was out of touch with the game. I was 13 and that’s exactly what I was thinking at that exact moment. In that instance, I had no desire to listen to anyone. I was above it all. I was right; I was defending my player; I wasn’t going to be told otherwise. Sound familiar?
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If you know me, you know I’m not one for knee-jerk reactions. I run my mouth on Twitter, but anything that seems knee-jerk is more than likely just me being facetious. It’s a blessing and a curse that I think all Twitterers have. We use social media as an outlet, opting to type it out rather than scream it out. I should say that I do both. So, when I say that this result isn’t as shocking as Ian Darke, Steve McManaman, or any other pundit are making it out to be, you know that it’s really how I feel.
The exit from last night’s Champions League Group Stage came long before the referee blew the final whistle. Some will say that it was when we failed to win home matches against Basel and Benefica. Some will say that it came when we made so many changes to the side that faced Benefica. Some will even say that it was when Hernandez went down injured against Villa this past Saturday. I’m going to say that it came back on August 31st, 2011 – the day we failed to secure a CM that we’ve desperately needed. Sure, sure, that may sound a bit harsh, but it’s really not if you think about it.
It’s one of my favorite things to say about our noisy neighbors, but “Let’s all laugh at City” could soon be shelved, right next to the “35 Years” banner we literally held over their heads for the last 3.5 decades. With an FA Cup in their desolate trophy cabinet, City have started this league season with more than just a few pipe dreams. As I type this, they are 5 pts clear of us and a week off a 6-1 thumping of a United team that was a miniscule shadow of our early season form. We have some fickle fans, but even the most grounded United fans can share in some trepidation when it comes to this year’s City team. The real question is: Are they better than United? Let’s find out.
Despite our most recent success, most notably over the last five seasons, there have always been issues that needed addressing. This is nothing new for any team because there’s always something that can be fixed. But during the last few years, injuries have plagued our defense, lack of creativity has plagued our MF, and true depth has plagued both those areas. With this new squad, we are chock full of options, especially in defense. This hasn’t always been the case.
Fans will never forget the injured plagued season of three years ago, when it seemed like we never had a fully fit back four. Fans will remember SAF plugging the damn with makeshift defenders (Michael Carrick) just trying to stay afloat. With four titles in five years, SAF made it work. All of a sudden, we have a strong back line with options. When Rio or Vidic would pick up a knock three years ago, we cringed at who would be put back there. So far this season, Rio and Vidic haven’t really played and we’ve still looked excellent. This begs the question – Is our back four really that good? The answer isn’t as clear-cut as what the beginning of this campaign would have you think.
Did you hear that noise? It was the sound of the transfer window closing. Did you hear that other noise? Probably not. It was the sound of me cracking a beer and making a toast. This summer seemed to be especially long for me as a United fan, particularly because we did most of our signings early in the window. Hell, the season was barely out when we signed Phil Jones. But, doing our business early made for an excruciatingly long and tedious summer. Throw in Sneijdergate 2011 and I had had enough by the start of the US Tour.
The Community Shield is usually nothing more than a ceremonial opening match to kick off the beginning of the new season. Had we beat City in the semi-final last year, or if Stoke had beaten City in the final, the game on Sunday would be nothing more than a glorified exhibition where the winner receives a silver plate. In our case, it would be yet another piece of silverware to stuff in the cabinet. If it happened to be against Stoke, I’d still want to win, but wouldn’t much care about the match just so long as every one of our players came out unscathed. Any other scenario where City isn’t involved is also fine by me. This year, however, the game is the same, but the stakes are just a bit higher.
After displaying the “35 Years” banner for years, we can no longer use that as a source of jeering against City fans. The banner and the drought came to an end last year in the FA Cup Final, a cup that I would’ve loved to win, if only to make sure City went yet another year winning absolutely nothing. Alas, this is not the case. And as it were, we are now playing them in a game that not only means there’s a potential for City to take away another piece of silverware, but a game where they can try to hold the victory over our heads heading into the season. I’d like to make sure this doesn’t happen. But, not at all costs.
Manchester is Red, we all know that. Anyone who honestly tries to deny that is a delusional City fan. And we know they’re everywhere, like roaches. We’ve won the league 4 out of the last 5 years. We’ve been to the CL Final 3 times in the last 4 years, winning one of them. We just secured our 19th league title. City hasn’t won the league since 68. The only thing City can hold over our head is beating us in the FA Cup semi, eventually going on to win it. Years and years ago, the FA Cup was the piece of silverware to have. Now, it’s become more ceremonial than anything else. But when you don’t have anything to show for the last 35 years, you’ll take anything. So going into the Community Shield on Sunday, City has a whole lot more to play for other than just community bragging rights. We have a 19th league title to defend, so as much as I’d love to blank City 5-0, if we don’t win but keep all the players healthy, that’s okay by me. Let’s not roll over – and we won’t – but let’s keep our eyes on the real prize – a cup, not a plate.
With that said, I’d like to see us start our strongest 11, whoever Fergie thinks that is. With news that Carrick picked up a knock and Rafael (who is starting the testimonial) won’t play, I’ll just count them out. After thinking, and reconsidering, I’d say start De Gea in goal. We paid a handsome fee for him, and if he’s going to be the starter, throw him in there and see what he has in a game that means more than a friendly on a US tour. He needs the pressure, he needs the pitch time. Our back four should be Evra, Vidic, Rio and either Fabio or Jones. I wouldn’t mind seeing Jones back there. In MF, I’d like to see Nani, Park, Anderson, and Young. At some point, I’d like to see Valencia and Giggs on the pitch, (even Cleverley) but I’ll let Fergie decide when he wants that. Up front, I’d like to see Rooney and Berbatov. Forget that Berba hasn’t really played much for us, I think they are the best pairing sans Hernandez in the line-up. I’m not sure that Welbeck and Rooney can link up right in a game that could send a clear message to start the season. I wouldn’t mind Owen and Rooney, but feel like that could be hit or miss really. Our flanks and wingers will generate the most creativity and scoring opportunities, with Rooney probably dropping deep into the role that suited him so well in the second half of last season. With that 11 for at least 60 mins, I feel like we can beat City, regardless of who they put on the pitch.
In a day and age where the invention of Twitter allows for the instantaneous spreading of news, it’s really no surprise that transfer rumors can never be kept under wraps. It’s also no surprise that all it takes is a single tweet to catch on and, boom, you have yourself a story. It used to be that Twitter would run with a story from Sky News or ESPN, but now, ESPN and Sky News run with stories from Twitter. Athletes themselves fuel the fire. Even their girlfriends or wives help with that. The information that circulates around the horn makes it almost impossible to escape. News comes in by the minute and unless you’re disconnected with the world – which is basically what you’d have to do – you’re bound to get wind of something whether you want to or not.
So, in one of the busiest transfer windows this club has seen in over a decade, we have all been brow-beaten with the news of this person coming or that person going. Two years ago when Ronaldo’s quote about it being his dream to play for Real Madrid, we endured what was akin to a real life version of “The NeverEnding Story.” Every week United fans wondered if he was leaving or if he’d stay, and we all invested in larger bottles of Advil because of it. This summer, Sneijder has been what’s kept the rumor mill going. If it wasn’t him, it was either Nasri or Modric – both of whom seem to have dropped off our merry-go-round. But, as the window gets closer and closer to being shut, fans are hoping to squeeze another good signing in under the wire. Other fans, myself included, have had enough of the transfer window and wouldn’t mind closing up shop a few days early.
Like the other thousands upon thousands of United supporters here in the States, I was excited to see that our team was coming to my city. Us Yanks wake up early every weekend for 9 months to see our team play some 4,000 miles away. We don our kits and our scarves in the wee hours of the morning, attempting – but failing miserably – to keep the decibel level at a minimum for the other people in the house who are rightfully sleeping at that time of day. Our TVs are turned down, but that doesn’t matter because we provide our own color commentary to more than make up for it. We feel like we are right there – at Old Trafford or White Hart Lane or Anfield or Stamford Bridge or Craven Cottage or even Liberty Stadium as of this year. It isn’t often that we get the chance to be a part of the live action, so we relish the opportunity to see the exhibition matches when they tour the US. Whether it’s a father taking his son to see the match or a football loving family all going to experience United football together; these matches definitely mean more to us, the lot who doesn’t see them in the flesh week in and week out, than to our brothers and sisters across the pond. But let’s not let nostalgia and a few pints get us deluded over the true reason behind these exhibition matches – exposure, fitness, and team cohesiveness.