Archive for the Players Category

Rise of the Tenderfoots

Posted in Academy Football, Players on June 23, 2011 by united101

Last season United fans had so much to celebrate yet had more reasons to feel gutted at the same time. Having won the premier league a record 19 times, Manchester united lost to an exceptional Barcelona side in the Champions League final at Wembley.Sir Alex admitted that they were the best side he had ever faced in his career. Even though featuring in 3 out of the last 4 European cup finals is a tremendous achievement, United had to be content with winning only one final, over Chelsea in 2008, and losing the other two finals against Barcelona in 2009 and 2011. In both of those finals, United’s aging midfield was unable to hold possession and they finally crumbled under the wave of Barcelona’s attack. Fresh legs and creativity was found missing in the midfield on both days.Last season United had to bid adieu to three of their most experienced players, Fergie’s fledging’s Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and also Dutch legend Edwin Van der Sar. Finding a replacement for them will be a hard task, especially for Scholes, and Edwin.

Previous United side’s back in the 90’s relied on home grown academy players instead of signing big names. Sir Alex’s faith in them was rewarded by winning the famous “Treble” in the historic season of 99.

Similarly the current Barcelona side has developed some fantastic players from their youth academy known as ‘La masia’. More than half of their current squad has players that graduated from this famous academy. The heart of their midfield consisting of players like Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, and Pedro were all products of La masia. Barca’s manager Pep Guardiola has put their skills to good use by effectively employing Tiki-takka (a style of play) during their matches. Barcelona grew from strength to strength under Guardiola with help from his “fantastic four”. In this period the Catalan side won a “Sextuple” in Pep’s first year at the club and they also went on to win the La liga for the next 2 years.

After becoming United’s manger in 1986, Sir Alex drafted several academy players into the first team during the season 1988-89. The media christened this young crop of players as “Fergie’s Fledglings”. However not all his Fledglings were able to fly, some because of serious injuries and others because of loss in form forced them out of their nest, to look for a career elsewhere. Lee Sharpe and Lee Martin were the only players that remained from the original batch of Fledglings. Soon after, the term “Fergie’s Fledglings” was forgotten altogether.

In the season 1995-96 a second batch of Fergie’s Fledging’s hatched inside the youth academy and were ready for first team football. Sir Alex sold senior players like Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis that summer, with the intention of bringing the youngsters into the side. This ushered a change of guard from United’s old to the young players coming into the squad.

Fergie was famously mocked by t.v pundit Alan Hansen (former Liverpool player) that he would never win anything with kids, after losing their opening game of that season. However, United went into overdrive in January 96 and cut a 10 point gap between them and Newcastle by the end of the season, winning their 3rd title in 4 years. A week later, they won the FA Cup after defeating Liverpool in the final and there by becoming the first English side to repeat the “double”. The term “Fergie’s Fledglings” once again came back into common usage.

The present United side has only Ryan Giggs left from the previous golden generation of the 90’s. With players like Beckham, Nicky Butt, and Phil Neville sold to other clubs and Scholes, Gary Neville retiring from football, United have some big shoes to fill especially in the midfield.

Recent signings by the United manager suggests that he is determined to put on better show against Barcelona in Europe after failing to beat them on two previous occasions. Sir Alex has previously burned his hands when he spent more than what was necessary for buying a player, however his policy to buy players at a young age and carefully mold them into superstars, has always helped in ensuring United stay at the top of the game.

But, at 69 Fergie doesn’t have the time or patience to build another United side with players Chiseled to his requirements. So he is looking for ready made replacements to fill the void left by the previous United Legends. During his initial years at United, Sir Alex struggled to form a winning combination from the team he was given. His calls for help were answered by the academy, which provided players custom made for him. But now Fergie seems to be looking for reinforcements from outside Manchester when he has all the cavalry that he needs inside Altrincham.

The solution to his problems in midfield lie in United’s reserve team. Midfielders like Paul Pogba, Ryan Tunnicliffe, and Ravel Morrison are waiting for an opportunity to prove their mettle.

Paul Pogba, a tall and strong lad from France who learnt his craft at his previous club, French Ligue 2 outfit Le Havre. He can be best described as a player who is powerful, skillful, creative, plus also has the vision to pick out key passes, an eye for goal and a penchant for the spectacular. Pogba scored some stunning goals for the Reserves and the academy last season. He is certainly a bright prospect for United in the future.

Ryan Tunnicliffe winner of the 2010-11 ‘young player of the year’ award is a player with no shortage of natural footballing ability. His bursting runs from midfield, his ability to open up rivals defenses and his searching long balls are huge assets to his game. He looks like a lethal combination between Paul Scholes and Roy Keane. Ryan is a player who doesn’t hesitate to take a shot at the goal like Scholes or make a challenge for the ball like Keane. All these characteristics match with the United DNA and he could be the answer, which United is searching for after Scholes retirement.

Ravel Morrison is a creative midfielder capable of both scoring and making goals. He can play in wide positions, in the center of the midfield, or just behind the front man. Pace and showboating are the best weapons in his arsenal, which he often uses to ease past several players. His performances for the reserves were noted and he was awarded with a few starts on the bench for United’s cup games last year. Though his appearances were limited, he shined in the youth games.

More players from the academy and the reserve team like Matthew James, David Petrucci, Oliver Norwood, Will Keane, John Cofie and Joshua King are among the other exciting future prospects waiting for their turn to start for United. Every successful club has its foundations built on youth football. Clubs can buy success like Jack Walker’s Blackburn Rovers who won the Premiership in 94 or Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea side that spent over £100 million on new players after his takeover. But sooner or later they will realize that money won’t buy them long lasting success, unless of course they keep spending inane amounts of money every year, but even that doesn’t guarantee success.

Blackburn Rovers learnt their lesson after the title-winning team of 94 split up and, in 1999, the club was relegated to championship football. Chelsea are yet to learn their lesson in spite of chasing their European dream for the last 8 years and failing. Pumping millions of pounds into player transfers and changing as many as 5 mangers in 5 years bought them fans and success domestically but it did not help them win at Europe.

Spending big money on the right players is appreciated but instead of splurging on expensive finished products, investing in youth and buying raw products will reap rich dividends for any club in the future.

O’Shea, Brown, and Fletcher are the 3rd generation of academy players to play first team football under Sir Alex. The last academy graduate to make a foray into the first team was Darren Gibson who made his debut back in 2008. This season Tom Cleverly, the highly rated youngster who has come through the academy, is set to feature in the team. There are already 4 established stars vying for the two center midfield positions. However Cleverly has the experience playing in the league before, when he was loaned to Wigan last season, and helped them survive in the premiership.

Many clubs had learnt in the past that castles built on sand, fall eventually. United should not make the same mistake by buying established stars for huge sums of money, they must continue to build their team around youngsters. To make Old trafford an impregnable fortress for the next 4-5 years, like they did last season, Sir Alex must forge together a side with players who would leave a lasting legacy behind, long after his retirement.

The situation in Europe is quickly turning out to become a cold war between the clubs, where teams are stockpiling players like nuclear bombs, ignoring Uefa’s financial fair play regulations (Applied for the financial years ending 2012 and 2013).

With young players Like David de Gea, Phil Jones and Welbeck joining the team, United must continue recruiting young talent in the future. Every team has an expiry date, Ajax went into decline after Johan Cruff moved to Barcelona, Liverpool dominance ended after Bob Paisley’s retirement, even Barcelona will reach that date sooner or latter.

If United keep moving in the right direction, a day will come when United usurps Barcelona from their throne and reigns over Europe once again.


First published on Banglore to Old trafford


The Knight of Salford

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , on June 17, 2011 by united101

It was 1999 FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park. Arsenal were piling pressure on a 10 man United side, with Roy Keane sent off for a rash challenge. United pushed the game into extra time, but were still struggling to find possession over a dominant Arsenal side. Five minutes into the second half of extra time Ryan Giggs, intercepted a cross field pass from Patrick Viera and, set off on a brilliant run that took him past four Arsenal defenders before he drilled a fierce shot into the nearside roof of the net. It was a goal of the highest quality, and Giggs impromptu celebration, whipping his shirt off and twirling it above his head, became one of football’s most memorable moments.

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” — Bruce Wayne

His high work rate, unparalleled skill on the left wing, and his hunger for more success at his age are the qualities that define Giggs as a player. Writing about his list of honors and achievements is not within the scope of this article, so when someone writes a book on his past glories, you can read it to your grand children as a bedtime story.

Underneath his light stubble and mop of thick black hair Giggs is a man who chases women for sport when he is not busy training and has had affairs withcelebrities and his family members alike. His aunt Joanna Wilson calls him a ‘predator’ who can’t keep his trousers up! His dad Danny Wilson says he is disappointed at what Ryan had done and wants him to to man up, apologise to his family and take it on the chin.

It surprises me to read a estranged father talk about his sons business whilst he deserted his family and left them to fend for themselves, Giggs was just a young lad while this happened.. I wonder where his aunt was when her brother ran away from his responsibilities with his trousers up!

He may not lead by example off the field but when you put him on the pitch he breathes energy and commitment into the proceedings, something which is infectious and catches on with the rest of the squad. Last season United were trailing by 2 first half goals against Blackpool away from home. After the hour mark Giggs came on as a substitute for Gibson, and he quickly made an impact on the game by putting pressure on Blackpool’s defense by pressing for the ball. Berbatov made it 2-1 at 72′ mins and the comeback was completed on 74 minutes when Hernandez beat the offside trap when he latched onto a pass from Giggs and tucked it past the keeper.

Giggs credits his fitness to yoga which he says has helped him prolong his career, but now I wonder whether he really took up yoga out of his love for the game or just to try out a new position in bed. Whatever the reasons might be, which are best known to the guru himself, due Credit to him for reinventing himself and challenging the likes of Nani, Valencia, Park and Anderson for a place in the starting eleven.

“With great power comes great responsibility”  Peter Parker

The frailties of being a teenage pin-up, a poster boy, and the ‘Boy Wonder’ are a huge burden to live up to. It could end a player’s career just as fast as it had begun. Also the fans could pull him down hard from the top the very same way they pushed him to super stardom. If you look around you can see  Diego MaradonaGeorge Best, and Paul Gascoigne to name a few stars who threw away their life for a glass of liquor and few kicks.These players lives stand testimony to the fact that living under the spotlight could damage one’s game and  life entirely.

Giggs has always kept his feet firm on the ground despite his popularity and the money which he is earning at United. He always shied away from publicity and spotlight. He closely guarded his privacy and also his aversion to media intrusion is widely known. Giggs carved a superficial clean image for himself until the news about his affairs were aired, permanently damaging his reputation and shredding his image to tatters.

Giggs was allegedly blackmailed by Imogen Thomas , a model and former contestant of Big brother reality show, to pay 100,000 thousand pounds to keep her from sharing the story with the media.

The media was prevented from reporting details of the affair after Giggs lawyers were granted a “super injunction” by the High Court. Details linking him to the secret footballer who had obtained an injunction from court to prevent his identity from being made public were first reported here on April 14th and the news spread like fire across Twitter. As a result Giggs was all set to sue social networking site Twitter after users leaked his identity. However, his name only became public after John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP, named him in Parliament, using his Parliamentary privilege.

“Once a man has seen society’s black underbelly, he can never turn his back on it. Never pretend, like you do, that it doesn’t exist.” — Rorschach

Later his affair with his sister-in-law was splashed all over the tabloids. Natasha Giggs was supposedly having an affair behind her husband (Giggs brother Rhodri) for the past 8 years. The timing of her confession and the fact that she choose to reveal it through Imogen Thomas publicist Max Clifford (who made sure the story made news) is suspicious. More news about Natasha’s previous affairs poured in and according to these reports she had affairs with as many as three other Unitedfootballers 

Ryan’s brother Rhodri Giggs tried to hard ball him by playing the victim, but according to yesterday’s news, even Rhodri doesn’t come across as what we can call a family man.

Another notable footballer who used “Injuctions” to gag the media was John Terry. The injunction was lifted and the media had a field day reporting the affair with his England and club team-mate Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend Vanessa. Latter Terry was stripped of his England captaincy and also fell out of favor with best friend Wayne Bridge. Terry is not new to public embarrassment, considering both his parents were separately charged for crimes ranging from shop lifting to selling drugs.

Sadly both Terry and Ryan could not keep the news hungry tabloid newspaper ‘The Sun‘ from sensationalizing the stories. The Sun is part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire ‘News corporation‘.Strangely the tabloid never ran a story about his affair and subsequent marriage, to a journalist working for his Sydney newspaper after divorcing his previous wife. He divorced his last wife too and remarried within 17 days of the divorce to the Chinese-born Deng Wendi.  Oddly ‘The Sun‘ is contesting the High Court order which prevents the media from naming Giggs on the grounds of ‘right to freedom of expression’.

“We did what we were trained to do, what we were bred to do, what we were born to do! ”  — Dilios

It was four days before the Champions League final when the Giggs affair started making news. Giggs however made a bold public appearance in Gary Neville’s  testimonial match against Juventus, just two days before the final on big final on 26th may. Ryan Giggs did everything to protect his family’s privacy but failed. With the final showdown against Barcelona looming large ahead, he could not fail his team at this crucial hour. Giggs put his personal problems behind duty, and rose to the occasion when United came calling! He put on his famous number 11 shirt for one last time before the season ends, playing in center midfield out of his usual position. United lost eventually but Giggs deserved an applause for playing as his usual self at such high level despite the numerous distractions.

“This is embarrassing to say but I have cried twice in my life watching a football player; the first one was Roberto (Baggio) and the second was Ryan Giggs”   Alessandro Del Piero 

“All of us at Juventus agreed Manchester United were the best side we met in the Champions League. They have so many talented young players and can only get better and better. Giggs is truly world class” – Zinedine Zidane

“Eric Cantona is a great player, but he’s not as good as Ryan Giggs” – Johann Cruyff

His greatness is widely acclaimed by every football fan and player across the world. Such are his achievements that we hear chants in his praise in every home, every bar, and every stadium home or way when he’s playing.

In the age of modern football where we see footballers turning their backs on their clubs to earn more money elsewhere, where fans forget the past and move on as though nothing had happened.  Ryan Giggs is a rare sight in today’s world; he has always been faithful to his club and fans throughout his career as a professional footballer. After 876 appearances, 159 goals, and dedicating 20 years of his life for his club, Giggs needs the fans to be behind him more now than they have before. The man, who gave so much for the club and its fans, deserves his faith to be rewarded with silence and privacy for himself and his family.
So when the wizard dons the red shirt to fight for honors for one more season at Manchester United, put your hands together and scream out your lungs

Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, running down the wing,
Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, running down the wing –
Loved by the reds, feared by the blues…
Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs…

Let the noise drown the opposition chants taunting our man, let the noise bring the roof down on the away supporters stand, let the noise fill Old Trafford reverberating around the stands with 85 thousand voices chanting in unison, let Giggs hear you shout his name for one last time. Amen.


First published on Bangalore to Old trafford