Archive for July, 2008

Goodbye to a 20LEGEND

Posted on July 31, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   4 Comments »
Goodbye to a 20LEGEND

August 25th 1996 – a nice sunny day in Manchester and the Champions are up against fallen rivals Blackburn Rovers. The game isn’t going to plan with United trailing 2-1 to the 1995 English league champions; three games in and a home defeat is not a possibility. Enter a young Norwegian who latches on to a big punt up the field which is flicked on by Jordi Cryuff smashing a shot at Tim Flowers who parries before slotting home the rebound. Who is this man who’s name you can’t pronounce? How old is he? Cue the start of a legend being born.


Fast forward just over tens years later and he’s doing again in a vitally important game against Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford. His final goal for Manchester United coming in the 4-1 victory that spurred United on to their first Championship in four years. The ten years in between were ten glorious years for the club in which Ole Gunnar Solskjær played an enormous part.

Signed for £1.5Million by Sir Alex Ferguson in the summer of 96 along with fellow countryman Ronny Johnson, Dutch international Jordi Cruyff and Euro 96 superstar Karel Poborsky (Raymond Van Der Gouw in there aswell!) – he proved to be one of the managers greatest purchases in terms of impact he had in front of goal. Not the quickest of strikers but one of the most accurate in the whole of Europe. Solskjær operated best as a striker in front of someone like Cantona or Sheringham but was such a good professional that he never objected to the boss playing him out of position wide right – for a time keeping David Beckham out of the side in 2003.

No red will ever forget May 26th 1999 when Solskjær came off the bench to hand Manchester United the European Cup on what would have been Sir Matt Busby’s 90th birthday. His instinctive flick of the right boot from a Sheringham flick on, will live always in the memory of the Old Trafford faithful. Solskjær really was a manager’s dream that helped him achieve immortality at Old Trafford.


The Stretford End has worshiped some incredible players and managers over the years including Sir Matt Busby, Duncan Edwards, George Best, Denis Law, Eric Cantona and one Ole Gunnar Solskjær. The 20legend flag has been a distinctive part of the Stretford End for a number of years in respect for the man. The chants still ring around to the tune of ‘you are my sunshine’ and no we wouldn’t have swapped him for Alan Shearer.


Solskjær will forever remain in Manchester United fans hearts for that faithful night in Barcelona but he helped himself to some more great memories in a glittering Old Trafford career. Who could forget the late goal he scored past Liverpool in the January of the treble winning year? Or the four goals against Nottingham Forest the next month? Or the late goal against Aston Villa in the FA Cup in 2007? Solskjær deserves all the plaudits he will get on Saturday against Espanyol as Manchester United fans say goodbye to a legend or should I say 20legend.

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Tevez, Berbatov and ermm…Jovan Kirovski!?

Posted on July 29, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   2 Comments »
Tevez, Berbatov and ermm...Jovan Kirovski!?

So Robbie Keane has signed for Liverpool for a £19Million fee that could rise to £20.3Million with regards to appearances – has this blown our opportunity to lure Berbatov to Old Trafford? To be honest, I don’t know – Yolkie raised an issue yesterday morning about both potential transfers and it’s funny that Liverpool’s one comes off first without any trouble.

We’ve blogged before about the talented Bulgarian, but this transfer really has dented our hopes of capturing the front man. This will surely raise his price even more so in the bid to boost our strike force. Levy has, as Fergie did actually say, embarrassed himself over this transfer as those words didn’t come out of the gaffer’s mouth as suggested by his reporting of ther club to the Premier League.  If Levy’s Tottenham lose both Keane and Berbatov they will be left with out of sorts Darren Bent to man the front line on his own – something I can’t see Ramos doing.  With only 18 days till the start of the 08/09 campaign things will have to move pretty quickly.  The irony is that 12 months ago Spurs’ front line was the pride of the Premier League apparently – four great strikers in Keane, Berbatov, Defoe and Bent that would push the club above Arsenal.

Carlos Tevez, every defenders nightmare with his low centre of gravity, exquisite movement and his relentless closing down makes him a fans favourite.  Over the past five seasons, United have been linked to a whole host of strikers including Torres, Huntelaar, Agüero and Benzema to name a few.  Tevez was also one of those players, a man who wore the United strip three years before kicking a ball for the club in a press conference for Corinthians .  Few fans would argue against the work rate of the little Argentine and also his intelligent movement that complements Wayne Rooney so well.  I guess we all forgot that he is still owned by Kia Joorabchian and will now command a £32Million fee making him the most expensive player to play in England.  I agree with the Premier League regarding third party ownerships and I don’t like the way in which he was brought to England but this process in a common day occurrence in South America and also a bit closer to home in Russia.   So our transfer spending could rise to £63Million by the end of August if the captures of Berbatov and Tevez are complete.  I’d be more happy if the Tevez deal was finalised over the Berbatov deal due to the amount of important goals Tevez scored last year – that in my memory was only ever replicated by Eric Cantona (sure Ronaldo scored 42 goals but Tevez’s late goal were a reminder to the goals that Eric scored in that 95/96 season).  Tevez scored past Lyon to make it 1-1, against Liverpool in a 1-0 win, against Spurs to capture a point and against Blackburn again to save a point.  Fergie has also commented on his knack of scoring vital goals and I believe this would be £32Million well spent.

So, Jovan Kirovski, some of you may be anticipating a new Manucho signing that could go on to play a key role in the forthcoming season – you’d be wrong.  Jovan Kirovski is a 32 year old American currently playing alongside Darren Huckerby in the MLS for San Jose Earthquakes and a former youth team player of Manchester United.  I end up doing this quite often when I have to research players (was research Huckerby – for my job i’ll have you know) and then coming across ex-reds or ex-United youth team players, I did the same the other day for Alex Notman (scored in the Munich memorial game in August 1998).  Does anyone even remember Kirovski?  He had work permit issues and then went onto Dortmund to become the first American to score in the Champions League and then win it.  That was probably the highlight of his stop start career but much more than some players could ever do.  Anyhow, just wanted to see if you’ve come across any former Reds, be it youth team, ressies or first team – that you were surprised to see?  I heard Ben Thorley is now driving a taxi?

I thought, in my teenage years, that Jovan Kirovski could go on to partner Eric up top and become a European class striker after his successful stint in the reserves – sadly in my naive years that didn’t materialise and we bought Ole instead, every cloud.

Borat decided the Mustache was soooo 1980′s
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Football365 pushing the boundaries allowing Fergie to be depicted as a hypocritical, immoral racist

Posted on July 21, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   3 Comments »

Good old Football365.

After having various emails doctored when published to encourage replies from brainless halfwits “shooting me down” from a point that was implied through the edit, only to have my subsequent email to F365 ignored, seemingly on the grounds no-one likes a Man Utd fan to be right, recent mailboxes have been a hoot, and Monday’s mailbox (“A Mailbox packed full of anger and hate”) further strengthened my view that while there may be no agenda, there’s definitely a tendency to unfairly paint United fans as irrational megalomaniacs (that’s Manchester United), while the countless mails they publish from patronising and totally myopic supporters (generally Arsenal fans, strange that) always seem to be the usual suspects. They know who they are, too.

The kind of fan who hates Gary Neville because he has face hair but fawns like a raging homosexual over Sagna’s dreadlocks. It’s as far away from football as you can get but if it gives you a reason to hate United rather than just admit you’re stinking jealous of the fact they have been a better team for the last generation, then fair enough. I think publishing a mail from a supposed football fan all but accusing Fergie of being racist in his comments about Levy is pushing the boat – instead of removing said comment in case of offence, Football365.com decided to accompany it with an article that is apparently supposed to prove Levy’s point, about what they perceive to be immoral dealings by Fergie in the past. (This was only marginally more jaw-dropping than their decision to print, without a hint of irony, an email from a Scouser defending Benitez’s transfer dealings – naming Josemi, Kromkamp, Nunez, Sissoko, Bellamy, Arbeloa, Kuyt, El Zhar, Plessis, Hobbs, Anderson all as successes.. yeah I know, I don’t know who the last few are either).

I look forward to what I presume to be a forthcoming piece on their crusade against the evils of football, the snaring of 15 and 16 year old boys from other countries with sky high wages by Arsene Wenger and co at Arsenal. The connotations are there for all to see and I can’t help but feel that if Ferguson had conducted his transfers in the same way Wenger has then he would be subject to even more irrational hatred. That’s not a problem with Ferguson or Wenger, it’s a problem with the system and the way the news is presented to people who believe what they read. There is a moral obligation for any source of news and fan interaction to at least be fair in their presentation. Sir Alex himself took issue with a similar principle with the BBC, and does not speak to them – football365 is probably small fry for Fergie, but for news hungry fans like myself (starved in pre-season), though admittedly I have the option of not reading the website, morbid curiosity always wins as I stare open mouthed at the depths to which some people will sink.

Anyway, back on point.

An issue I raised in an email that was published about the tendency of tabloids to get their information from a source as obscure as the neighbours dog (re: the Brazilian website ‘quoting’ Ronaldo) was disregarded as paranoid nonsense – one of the letters I seem to recall quite categorically insisted on defending the morality of these journalists. Untruths don’t get published in newspapers, do they? Two examples recently that question that opinion have been Hleb supposedly slagging off Fabregas only to have to release a statement denying it, and now, the Ferguson/Sun incident, which “inspired” the aforementioned incredibly witty article. I don’t need to point out to anyone that tabloid newspaper journalism is sketchy at best but I do find it a little confusing that a website that occasionally derides the Sun, posts mails from people defending its honour in an attempt to make a United fan look daft.

Of course we all know that after the Madrid/Ronaldo fiasco that it was the end of Man Utd’s days as a buyer in the transfer market. Because they would be hypocrites, right? United could never make another bid for a player without being subjected to the same comments from ill-educated fools as they had given Madrid. Football365.com, indeed, shot down a Utd fan who made the point (several, actually, all reasonable and intelligent enough) that the Berbatov and Ronaldo situations couldn’t be more different, by ‘triumphantly’ appending a link to their marvellous article at the end of his mail.

An article that, as I stated, attempts to paint Fergie’s dealings as immoral – listing Paul Ince and even saying “No question of any wrongdoing from Ferguson here”… that’s like me calling someone a murderer, naming someone they killed, then saying “well he didn’t kill them but”.. maybe it’s not exactly the same, but the principle is.

So because Real Madrid never bid for Ronaldo but told everyone who would listen how it would be a “honour for him to play for them”, reserve a car park seat, tell sportsmen and their own players that he’s already signed, and United were unhappy with that (some might say understandably.. but eh, what do I know?), that has somehow put United into the situation where any bid for a player will make fans call Fergie and the club hypocrites. No clubs are forced to sell their players (well, maybe, but wait for that)- Berbatov didn’t move last summer, Spurs rejected a bid (and he played a full season, pretty well by all accounts), exactly the same thing has happened this summer but because United have been in the spotlight some nobody tries to make himself look big by questioning Fergie. It’s clear for anyone with any common sense to see, alas, the masses seem to be lacking in that fundamental. They can’t even see the hypocrisy in Levy’s statement considering that despite it being very rare, he actually committed as close as it gets to football theft when poaching Bostock from Palace. Of course, there must be a reason why that topic was not favoured by football365 and the Fergie one was.

In my last blog I clearly stated my despair for the modern game but when this is the way it’s being reported to the fans, with agenda, misrepresentation and provocation to appease the idiotic majority, is it any wonder?

By Yolkie

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Manchester United v.s Liverpool? Sorry mate Al Ahly v.s Zamalek is on…

Posted on July 20, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   15 Comments »
Manchester United v.s Liverpool?  Sorry mate Al Ahly v.s Zamalek is on...

You’ve just finished that third and final pint in your local boozer before heading off into the afternoon sunshine to watch your side take on your biggest rival. In England, it doesn’t come much bigger than Manchester United v.s Liverpool for sheer passion, hatred and high tempo football match. So it did come as a surprise that the Manchester United v.s Liverpool derby was only considered the 28th greatest derby in the world by World Soccer magzine, behind the mighty Kaizer Chiefs v.s Orlando Pirates.

Seriously though, how can the United Liverpool match be ranked at 28th in the world? I’ve never seen such a hostile environment which is driven by the desire to be considered the best team in the land. Of course hatred doesn’t just make a derby exciting to watch; you need to have the whole package – which does include history. Historical statistics provide an insightful view into the understanding of what it means to win a match against Liverpool. The two clubs have contested 175 football matches to date, the first being a 2-0 defeat in 1894 – when United were known as Newton Heath. Since that game, United have won 68 of those 175 games whilst Liverpool have won 57 – a statistics that summarises the record Manchester United had over Liverpool in the 1980′s when Liverpool were at their most powerful. So its clear to see how much this game means to the fans in terms of tradition and historical value, then there is the bragging rights.

There is no doubt which set of fans can claim to be the best football team in Europe at the moment, although when this is brought up the Scouse cry’s of “18-5″ ring out. To be honest, this isn’t a post about comparing triumphs (or past triumphs in Liverpool’s case), it is merely looking at the history of achievements to add weight to the fact that this derby should be much higher than 28th. Manchester United, three times European Cup winners and the first English side to lift trophy against Liverpool the five times European Cup winners. Add the domestic success and you can see clearly how successful both sides are. The article comments on Ferguson’s loathing for Liverpool but also his respect for them in terms of European achievements.

So looking up the list, a task that Liverpool fans should find quite familiar, you see a wide range of games spanning from all over the world. Now, this is not a narrow minded view to not accept the quality, history and tradition behind other big derbies. Of course they mean a lot to their fans and of course there is wide spread interest in the football world when these matches are played – but my argument is that United against Liverpool should be much higher than 28th. Barcelona v.s Real Madrid is ranked the greatest derby in the world, followed by River against Boca and then predictably Celtic v.s Rangers. To be honest, I wouldn’t disagree with either of those choices. Barcelona v.s Real Madrid is a massive, massive game that is watched by millions throughout the world. Two top footballing clubs that offer some of the greatest players in the world, is only one aspect that makes this game fascinating. No other game in Europe mixes both politics and football to such an extent as these two. Barcelona – the oppressed Catalonians against the centralism ruling of Franco’s Real Madrid. I won’t dwell too much on this as there really is just too much to cover – but the documentaries i’ve seen on the history of these two clubs is quite extraordinary. The conspiracy theories of refs favouring Madrid, the transfer saga of Di Stefano and the rivalry that even involved the Spanish civil war that started in 1936. The second in the list, Di Stefano’s old club River Plate and Maradona’s Boca, is again a fascinating football spectacle that battles the working class Boca Juniors and slightly stuffy River Plate. The first official game played was in 1908 – across the dockyard apparently. Boca have always had the aura of ‘working class boy done good’ with outstanding players over the years such as our very own Carlos Tevez, Diego Maradona , Claudio Caniggia, Gabriel Batistuta (having played for both River and Boca) and Juan Román Riquelme. River Plate, who have always been referred to as the better footballing side, constantly mock Boca in terms of achievements (River lead by 33 to 22) and Boca immigrant roots. Lastly, the Celtic v.s Rangers match that whether the Old firm like it or not remains inexorably linked to Northern Ireland politics. Whenever religion is involved there is always going to be fireworks and there are similarities with the Barca Madrid matches with one side showing loyalty to the nation and another’s struggle with oppression. I would not argue with WS about the top three.
Below is the list above Manchester United v.s Liverpool and I have highlighted the games in which I believe should not be higher:

1. Real Madrid vs Barcelona (Spain)
2. Boca Juniors vs River Plate (Argentina)
3. Celtic vs Rangers (Scotland)
4. Galatasaray vs Fenerbahce (Turkey)
5. Ajax vs Feyenoord (Netherlands)
6. Lazio vs Roma (Italy)
7. Shalke vs Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
8. Al Ahly vs Zamalek (Egypt)
9. Betis vs Sevilla (Spain)
10. Partizan Belgrade vs Red Star Belgrade (Serbia)
11. Marseille vs Paris St. Germain (France)
12. Juventus vs Fiorentina (Italy)
13. Flamengo vs Vasco da Gama (Brazil)
14. Olympiacos vs Panathanaikos (Greece)
15. Milan vs Internazionale (Italy)
16. Athletic Bilbao vs Real Sociedad (Spain)
17. Benfica vs Porto (Portugal)
18. Coirinthians vs Sao Paulo (Brazil)
19. Racing Club vs Independiente (Argentina)
20. America vs Guadalajara (Mexico)
21. Nacional vs Penarol (Uruguay)
22. Pirouzi vs Esteghlal (Iran)

23. Spartak Moscow vs CSKA Moscow (Russia)
24. Steaua Bucharest vs Dinamo Bucharest (Romania)
25. Kaizer Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates (South Africa)
26. Slave Prague vs Sparta Prague (Czech Republic)

27. Corinthians vs Santos (Brazil)
28. Liverpool vs Manchester United (England)

I do believe that more weight should be placed on games that are played in Europe and South America. Some people may find that quite arrogant but when assessing the history and tradition of football you see how important Europe and South America are to the development of the game. As mentioned before historical achievements in quality tournaments is also a bench mark – so therefore the Champions League and Libertadores Cup are head and shoulders above any Asia or North American competition. For these reasons, I find it hard to see why the game is not ranked higher. A lot of discussion on the forums and blogs have suggested that the game should not even be included due to the fact that the game doesn’t constitute to a derby because both clubs are not from the same city. A derby is a game in which two teams from a specific area play rather than a specific city. Liverpool and Manchester are 33 miles apart – from Sir Matt Busby Way to Anfield Road – and rivalry is fierce between the two cities. So this factor doesn’t really come into it.

So to conclude, the game should be ranked higher than it currently is. 28th position slightly belittles the match and placing the Cairo derby in 9th is hard to believe. We all think our club is the best in the world and we’re all proud to belong to the club, but this isn’t a argument to promote how great Manchester United is. It’s a argument to state that the Manchester United v.s Liverpool rivalry should be considered one of the most fierce and passionate games in the world. It may not have the political mashup of Barca and Madrid or the battle of the classes like Boca and River but in terms of history, tradition, achievements and standard of football – the game should be ranked much higher.

So what do you think? Make sure to leave a comment if you disagree or agree with the argument. Am I naively writing off these games? Should I experience these games live before commenting on the derbies?

Boca and River, Manchester United and Liverpool? Bollocks to that we’re off to Cairo.

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Is there any place in the modern game for the old fashioned fan?

Posted on July 17, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   5 Comments »

It seems slightly surreal to be writing an article like this, after what on the face of it seemed like one of the greatest seasons ever in the English game. A true three horse race up until April for the domestic title, Englands top four teams being the four favourites to win the European Cup – the final being the first ever to be contested by two English teams, the top two in the country. The domestic Cups won in fairytale fashion, first by a Spurs team beating their recently more successful local rivals along the way in Arsenal and Chelsea to win the League Cup, then Harry Redknapp creating a bit of FA Cup romance by taking unfancied Portsmouth all the way.

The league title and European Cup were both sealed with the left foot of the most decorated player in the history of the English game, in his record equalling and record setting appearance for the only club he’s played for in his 17 year career. A season for the purists, and for those who like to think football not only rewards the good guys but punishes the villains, there was plenty for them to chuckle about in the closing minutes of the season – Drogba being sent off, and Ronaldo, Terry and Anelka all missing penalties in the shoot out of the European Cup final.

So how did a season that was packed with so many highlights for any football purist get followed by a summer full of headlines that show todays top players as greedy, ruthless, despicable mercenaries?

Whether it’s the games “top dog” Blatter accusing the European Champions of dallying in slave trade by dishing out a paltry £120k a week, whether it’s Ronaldo’s public declaration of commitment, followed by a public non-commital, followed by a public agreement that he is a slave, whether it’s Lampard turning down a four year contract worth £140k a week because he wants, apparently, “more security for his future”, whether it’s Adebayor publicly stating he wants to stay then an hour later changing his mind, whether it’s Hleb whining that he hates London because he finds everything so intrusive, all the while angling for a move to the goldfish bowl of Barcelona – it’s enough to make fans of the top three clubs, previously so fevered in competition with each other, unite in dismay.

The baffling thing as a fan of just 27 years old is, that this isn’t even a generation thing. The players mentioned above spale in comparison to legends that still play the game – Scholes, Giggs, Maldini, Raul, for example. Can you even imagine one of todays prima donnas doing a “Bergkamp” and travelling by road or rail to play an away European game because they had a HUMAN fear of flying? Everyday professionals who started playing because they loved the game, and were fortunate to get caught in the financial whirlwind of the last 12 years. Fortunate, and aware of the fact.

How many of today’s players under the age of 24/25 are playing for the love of the game? Play with a natural desire to create on the ball, a freedom of expression? That looseness, the individuality that sets them apart from the system because they will break from a rigid system and do something unexpected? Play with their heart and not their mind? At Old Trafford I think we have two, Rooney and Anderson – others in world football can be counted almost on one hand. Fabregas (who I openly state regularly I think is incredibly over-rated, but I’ll admit plays with all the above criteria), Messi, Aguero..

11 years ago Eric Cantona fell out of love with the game and simply retired to pursue other passions. Winston Bogarde, who played football for Ajax and Barcelona, signed a mega-money deal for Chelsea and wasted away. Ronaldinho, a player who seems to have lost any romantic connection he once felt for the game, is being touted around for a last big pay packet at a club desperate for shirt sales regardless of the sorry state he’s in – footballs equivalent of a dog that has long since seen his day. And Frank Lampard is looking for a contract to guarantee him £140k at the age of 35 despite having a career that has been no better than that of, say, “Tricky” Trevor Francis, a player well loved in the game but with all due respect, never a legend.

This is football, kid, but it’s “Football 2008 (sponsored by Sky)”.

There’s a question that lingers, however.. is there any place in the modern game for the old fashioned fan?

By Yolkie 

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Dimitar Berbatov – Really the next number 9?

Posted on July 13, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   13 Comments »
Dimitar Berbatov - Really the next number 9?

With the inevitable sale of Louis Saha to whoever has good medical insurance the questions is asked as to who will inherit the number 9 shirt? Many people, including the footballing expert Mr Don Goodman, stated that “Rooney and Tevez are too similar to play together” and United are missing an ‘Old fashioned centre forward’ to ‘mix it up’. At the time I thought this was utter rubbish being stated and I still do. Firstly, Berbatov isn’t a player that you would describe as an ‘old fashioned’ centre forward. He has quite possibly the best touch in the Premiership, can hold the ball up and bring the midfield into play. The only reason people believe he can offer a different option is simply because of the size of the man rather than what he can offer with his superb talent. He is a scorer of one of my personal favourite Champions League goals of all time against Roma for Bayer Leverkusen:



So would Berbatov be a good signing for Manchester United next season? For £20Million, as some reports are suggesting, I think he would be a good signing and will allow both Tevez and Rooney to deploy deeper roles if playing in the Premier League, and when the inevitable move from Ronaldo to Madrid happens. Spurs are apparently holding out for £30Million for the player – which I think is too much. His goal scoring record is good but not outstanding by any means. I would much prefer Fergie to chase after Karim Benzema from Lyon (although Lyon are also asking for an astronomical fee of £48Million). Benzema, for me, was one of the best performers against United last season and would offer us a different option if required. Fast, strong, makes intelligent runs and is very similar to Ronaldo (Brazilian one) in his hayday. Benzema, at 20, has the world at his feet and Old Trafford would be a superb place for him to show this.

Yolkie also mentioned that United are watching Sergio Aguero of Atletico Madrid, a player that I think can become one of the best in the world, which is backed up by Spanish football expert Guillem Balague. He comments on the fact that Aguero will be one of the top three forward in the world in three years time – although he believes that Atletico Madrid is the best place for him at present. I disagree with that as I think he has the ability, character and temperament to play in the Premier League and would be a perfect replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo. One other thing to add, I don’t understand how many new Maradona’s there are going to be? Messi, Tevez, Aimar, Saviola, D’Alessandro, Ortega, Latorre (Old school) and Marinelli (was at Boro). Have I missed any out? So anyone that is small and Argentinian is apparently the new Maradona. Have a look at some of these Aguero goals from his Argentina days:



So, that big signing that we’re all eagerly anticipating, should hopefully be reaching it’s climax as we’re nearly a month away from the season. If I could pick the striker that I would most want at United it would Benzema, followed by Aguero (Don Goodman would have field day if he played up top with Rooney and Tevez) and then Berbatov. I don’t dislike Berbatov as a player, but I think the other two would really benefit United when we operate with such a versatile forward line. Benzema would terrorise Premier League defenses and I just hope that we get him before Chelsea do, or for that matter Real Madrid.

So who would you sign out of the three of them and why?

Christ i’m tall…

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Stretford-End.com’s awards for 2007/2008

Posted on July 10, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   No Comments »

It’s barely worth the cyberspace that it takes up – but the votes for the inaugural “Stretford-End” awards for the 2007/2008 season have been “counted and verified” (trust me, you didn’t need to be qualified in any mathematical standard to have calculated them) – in this case, perhaps it would be appropriate to label this the beta test. Nonetheless, the votes were cast, despite them being low in number, so the awards are legitimate.

Moment of the Season

A two way split here, February’s FA Cup demolition of Arsenal in the FA Cup ranked alongside Ryan Giggs’ winning penalty in Moscow. An argument could be made for either being the winner so that those moments share the honour is not detrimental to either.

Goal of the Season

A four way tie in this award – two long range screamers and two freekick piledrivers, as Nani and Scholes rattled 30 yarders in the East Stand goal against Boro and Barca respectively, while Ronaldo’s jaw-droppingly excellent free kick against Pompey was joined by Hargreaves technically magnificent dead ball delivery against Arsenal.

Game of the Season

The only award to have a clear winner, and unsurprisingly the European Cup final takes the prize. United’s 3rd European Cup win in the Battle of Britain just edged out the another monumental classic “game of two halves” in which United triumped over Arsenal in the league.

There you have it! Hopefully next years “awards” will be a little more fleshy.

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Cantona interview: What would you ask him?

Posted on July 09, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   6 Comments »

FourFourTwo magazine are interviewing Le King himself in one of their forthcoming issues and are asking United fans what would they ask the man who helped Manchester United to first Championship title in 26 years? So, it’s been 11 years since his last game against West Ham United at Old Trafford, which was the final game of the 1996/97 season, a 2-0 victory that resulted in United winning another back to back title. Much has been made about his final season not being the finest, which resulted in his departure from United at the relatively young age of 30 (or 31 I can’t remember the actual day but I know his birthday is the 24th May). I was devastated at the time as the man was my idol and hero and everything he did on the football pitch inspired me. Looking back on it now, I believe it was the right thing for Eric to do, not simply because his performances were faltering but because that was the way the man is. I’ve never seen a player have that much influence on fans that Eric had. Sure he wasn’t the quickest but he had superb vision, was strong and his flair and creativity was sensational. He also had the knack of helping everyone else raise their game; a quality not many people have.

One question I would ask him would be ‘did the Barcelona trip over the winter of 96 have an influence on your decision to retire?’. Fergie mentions this in his book that ‘Eric was never the same after Barcelona’. I’m sure he’ll get the old favourite ‘What was your best goal?’ and ‘Who was the best player you played with?’, but what questions would you ask him if you did have the opportunity for a one on one interview with our former captain? Would you speak about the Crystal Palace incident? Would you ask him about the rumours surrounding his Leeds exit (like he’d admit to that!)? Or would you simply focus on that memorable 95/96 season when he went on a one man crusade in the second half of the season to overhaul the twelve point lead Newcastle United had established?

Eric Cantona will always remain in Manchester United fans hearts and thoughts. His goals against Wimbledon in the FA Cup, Sunderland in the Premier League and Liverpool in the FA Cup final will live long in the memory. He has recently vented his frustration at the attitude of Cristiano Ronaldo (probably overlooking the fact that he sued the club for exploiting his name and for taking a fee out of the Munich memorial fund) and suggested that he could be a worthy successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. Eric Cantona, a superb footballer that did a lot for football in England and most importantly for Manchester United.

What questions would you ask him? I will compile a list of the best questions and submit it to FourFourTwo on behalf of Stretford-end.com.

‘Look at me!  Look at me!’
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Why does everyone hate Fletcher?

Posted on July 08, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   12 Comments »

Ok, so not everyone, but when Darren Fletcher’s name is read out at Old Trafford I have heard on a number of occasion some very loud groans ring around the ground. I’ve always liked the lad although I would agree that he is no where near the technical level of Scholes or will have have the influence of Keane in the center of the Park, but to be honest – you’d have to be a pretty special player to have any of the attribute that those two players have/had. Fletcher is a good professional who played in 24 games this season for the Reds and chipping in with two goals – both coming against Arsenal in the FA Cup. I ask this question in response from today’s speculation that Everton are interested in signing the player.
Who could forget Fletcher’s mammoth performance against Roma in the 7-1 thrashing last season. This Roma side were no mugs, as shown in the 2-1 victory over United in the first leg. Fletcher played his heart out, giving Di Rossi and Pizarro no space in which to operate in. Then there was the last game at Highbury at the start of 2006. Even though the sides were involved in a surprisingly dire 0-0 draw, Fletcher was MOTM, out playing the maturing Fabregas in the process. His positional play and drive helped prolong the career of Roy Keane, who in the autumn of his career from 2003 onwards appreciated the three in midfield United played. You may argue that this formation was forced upon due to an injury to Ruud VanNistelrooy for a major part of the 2004/05 season and also the influence of Carlos Queiroz, but I generally felt that Fergie was really impressed with the young Scot.

Would I pick Fletcher over Anderson, Carrick or Hargreaves? No, I wouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean that Fletcher cannot play a part in next season as a squad rotation player – without getting the criticism that he does at times. My first choice midfield would be (from right to left) Ronaldo, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs. Now looking at that midfield – Ronaldo’s future is uncertain and will miss the start of the season due to his recovery from ankle surgery. Scholes will not play every game and on evidence of his recent injury record it wouldn’t surprise me if he did miss a number of games due to this. Carrick, although I believe is a top class footballer, does suffer from bouts of confidence loss – which can get the crowd on his back. He is maturing into a brilliant midfielder who, with a little bit more self belief, can really start to dominate football matches with his passing and composure. However, Carrick’s sublime passing will be enhanced by the terrier like running and shutting down Fletcher does, which was so evident in the 5-1 demolishing of Newcastle last season. Lastly, the most decorated player in the club’s history – Giggsy. Who at the age of 34 (35 in November) is approaching the winter of his career and as the gaffer showed this season, will use Giggs sparingly – or when it rains, as he quoted, last term like the Welsh man was a race horse. Combine this with Anderson on international duty at the Olympics and Ji-Sung Park still maybe lacking that match sharpness from injury (although I think he’s been brilliant since back). This leaves Owen Hargreaves, Nani and John O’shea – so you can see how Fletcher is needed in the side as a squad player. As mentioned many times since 1999 – a big squad of quality is essential to succeed both domestically and in Europe. Darren Fletcher is a good footballer and is a valuable part of United’s team. Although not a first team starter for me, he is a valuable substitute and confident performer when called upon to play in any game, including the big guns.

So do you think United should sell Darren Fletcher? If so why do you not think he is good to be part of the United squad? Am I too defensive over a mediocre player? Lastly, if he did leave how well do you think he would do for Everton and what type of transfer fee would he command? Looking forward to your comments.

Don’t forget to vote in our online poll regarding Fletcher.

Fletcher lifts the Premier League Trophy

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Rivals Watch – what can we expect next season?

Posted on July 06, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   3 Comments »

The following blog is quite long and I had to stagger delivery due to the fact that I do actually have a job and don’t ramble on a blog all day long. If you spot any facts that are incorrect or have seen any mistakes – don’t forget to highlight them in the comments or you may wish to comment in the rivals watch thread on the forum.

Winning the first Premier League title back in 1993 was hard enough, but retaining it was some feat in 1994 – along with the clubs first ever double. Fast forward 15 years and United are the proud winners of back to back titles and another European Cup to add to the two previously won in 1968 and 1999. Obviously this red wants to win it all; the Community shield, league cup, FA Cup, Super Cup, Club World Cup and retain the Premier League and Champions League trophies. The 2007/08 team achieved the perfect formula for success; scoring lots of goals whilst conceding very few. United built this formula using four very intricate versatile footballers in attack (Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez and Park/Nani/Giggs) whilst finding the perfect center back pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand. Previous blog entries have looked at who United might bring in for the new season – this entry will take a look at our rivals and mark out their main strengths and weaknesses. Any comments from Reds or from other fans of those clubs in question will be most welcomed as we welcome the new season:

Arsenal - Expect the Gunners to be stronger than last year but to retain their pass and move fluency that impressed at Old Trafford last term. Losing Adebayor would be a big loss due to the impressive form of the Togo front man and being the leading goal scorer at Arsenal. However, most Arsenal fans would welcome a £32 Million bid for a player that cost 10% of that fee. If Arsenal can strengthen their right side of midfield (either with an impressive season from Walcott or from potential signing Nasri) and get some center back cover (Senderos cost them at important times last season) then expect a big challenge from them. Although Wenger and Sir Alex tend not to participate in many mind games nowadays the rivalry is still very strong and will want to out do one another by playing an attacking, fluent brand of football.

United play Arsenal on: 8th November 2008 (a), 16th May 2009 (h)

Star man: Cesc Fabregas

Aston Villa – Not won at Old Trafford in years (since 1983) and last beat United at Villa Park in 1995 (the famous ‘You’ll never win it with kids game’) and I don’t expect that to change this season. The inevitable sale of Gareth Barry to Liverpool will be a massive loss although if O’Neill manages to secure the £18Million he is after then expect a number of decent players coming in over the summer. Will most likely play a 4-5-1 against us with Young and Agbonlahor providing pace down the flanks with Carew the lone front man. Potential signings for Villa are Steve Sidwell and Paul Robinson.

United play Aston Villa on: 22nd November 2009 (a), 4th April 2009 (h)

Star man: Ashley Young

Blackburn Rovers - Paul Ince can expect a ‘warm’ reception back at Old Trafford for the first time as a manager after impressing at MK Dons this season. Ince has inherited a good squad from Mark Hughes and will want to keep hold of Roque Santa Cruz, who was an instant hit at Ewood Park last season. David Bently has expressed a desire to leave and play in the Champions League – with Liverpool being the only real destination for the talented young Englishman. Ince will again want to keep Bently, who although has impressed in the past two seasons, is a way off yet being the player that the press often make him out to be (mainly due to the fact that they want him to replace Beckham in the England setup). United got four points off Blackburn last season and expect an equally tricky time next season at Ewood park – that is if Friedel is in goal.

United play Blackburn on: 4th October 2008 (a), 21st February 2009 (h)

Star man: Roque Santa Cruz

Bolton Wanderers - Gary Megson’s side beat the drop last season after a victory over Roy Keane’s Sunderland and the manager will be pleased that he proved a number of doubters wrong. Bolton turned over a weakened United side at the Reebok after a Nickolas Anelka strike, which was a result of a missed header from Pique. Ronaldo scored twice at home to secure the three points. Bolton have spent earlier in the summer bringing in the battling midfielder Fabrice Muamba and the once teenage prodigy Johan Elmander. Both are physical players that will aid their victory for survival. Both games next season will be a battle for United however six points is expected.

United play Bolton on: 27th September 2008 (h), 17th January 2009 (h)

Star man: Kevin Nolan

Chelsea - The beaten finalists in the Champions league and runners up in the Premier League race, Chelsea will come back stronger than ever next season. Having purchased both Bosingwa and Deco either side of the appointment of ‘big Phil’ Scolari, Chelsea will mean business this season and be a major threat to United’s challenge to retain both trophies. Scolari has also been touting after Brazilian forward Robinho, who was linked to a move a number of years ago prior to his Real Madrid move. Chelsea’s formation will be unknown until Drogba and Lampard’s future has been decided. Expect a 4-2-3-1 if both stay, which will accomidate both the impressive Ballack and Lampard. Essien must play in the center of the park, which will cause a selection problem with Makelele.

United play Chelsea on: 20th September 2008 (a), 10th January 2009 (h)

Star man: Didier Drogba

Everton- United beat Everton on both occasions last season with a 1-0 victory at Goodison through a Vidic header and a Ronaldo brace back at Old Trafford. Everton have come on leaps and bounds under David Moyes and do play some nice football at times. Yakabu needs to find some more consistency with Andrew Johnson and get Tim Cahill back to full fitness who scores some vital goals from midfield. Expect both Liverpool sides to be challenging for fourth place. Everton are the most likely side to break into the ‘top four’. Lescott can also add to the goals and had a superb season last term and broke into the England setup. Expect a 4-5-1 against United with Pinenaar, Arteta and Cahill breaking from midfield.

United play Everton on: 25th October 2008 (a), 31st January 2009 (h)

Star man: Tim Cahill

Fulham - Lost both games against United last season with Ronaldo scoring (another) brace and 3-0 at Craven Cottage with Park and Scholes impressing. Roy Hodgson did an unbelievable job last season in keeping the cottagers up, but will expect much of the same this season unless they spend big. Expect a 4-5-1 in both matches next season against United with Danny Murphy and Jimmy Bullard attempting to pull the strings from midfield. Again, United should win both matches.
United play Fulham on: 30th August 2008 (h), 21st March 2009 (a)

Star man: Jimmy Bullard

Hull City - Hull’s first appearances in the Premier League will be a touch one and are favourites to be relegated. Phil Brown has done a superb job and is already looking to strengthen his squad with Stelios from Bolton. Nick Barmby has already reiterated that Hull will be ‘no push over’ but United will be bitterly disappointed not to get six points from both meetings next term. United have never played a top flight match against Hull City. The last league meeting came in the February of 1975 when United beat Hull 2-0 at Old Trafford in the old Division 2. The last meeting between the teams came in 1987 with a 6-0 League cup win over the tigers.

United play Hull on: 1st November 2008 (h), 24th May 2009 (a)

Star man: Frazer Campbell

Liverpool - Forever the bridesmaids (or more accurate a friend of the bride), Liverpool have now gone 18 years without the league title and have found keeping up with United to be a real challenge as Manchester United thrived on the harder domestic campaign. Rafa Benitez has rode his luck since ‘winning’ the Champions League three years ago in what can only be described as a freak match. Liverpool may expect a better return from Fernando Torres against the top four teams domestically next season. The impressive Spaniard only managed to find the net once (against Chelsea) last season in six games against the top sides (although i’m sure i’ll be reminded he was half fit against Arsenal at Anfield and came on as a late sub in the return fixture). Compare this to Ronaldo who scored three in six. Benitez has brought in a number of players who really just do not have the quality to match that of Manchester United. The workhorse Kuyt, the overrated Pennant and Benayoun do have their qualities but more is needed in order to compete both in Europe and domestically. Expect Liverpool to take up a 4-2-3-1 formation against United – with Mascherano patrolling the space in front of the back four. United have played Liverpool 32 times in the Premier League, winning 18, losing 7 and drawing he remaining 7. United are expected to beat Liverpool at home but will be pleased with a point away. Although after the success of the past two seasons – a win at Anfield should not be ruled out.

United play Liverpool on: 13th September 2008 (a), 14th March 2009 (h)

Star man: Steven Gerrard

Manchester City - City did the double over United for the first time since since 1969/70 in two complete opposite games. At Eastlands City held on to a 1-0 victory after being bombarded by United’s attack. However the return fixture at Old Trafford, they ran out deservingly 2-1 winners. Every red will want to beat City this season and as usual they will want to spoil the party. Last season was a bit of a fantasy football season for City, but without any trophies. A whole host of players were brought into the setup including Benjani and Elano – who impressed at times but could not save Sven Goran Ericksson his job. Expect Mark Hughes to get them to play a high tempo counter attack game. City’s last game in the league was an 8-1 drumming at Middlesbrough – something that they will want to put right next season; although the Ronaldinho link is a tad far fetched.

United play Manchester City on: 29th November 2008 (a), 9th May 2009 (h)

Star man: Micah Richards

Middlesbrough - Gareth Southgate and co will be pleased to see the back of Ronaldo if he does move to Real Madrid; although i’m not sure as to what his post match interview will be about. Southgate has proceeded to moan about Ronaldo ever since he took over from England failure Steve McLaren two seasons ago. Whether it be showboating or diving – Southgate will be talking about it. Middlesbrough finished 13th last season, a place behind fellow north east rivals Newcastle. The introduction of Alfonso Alves was a great lift to the team – and he scored two good goals against United last term. They are a physical side that can offer good width in Downing and Tuncay. They also have a very impressive center half in David Wheater, who will want to follow up on last season’s England call up.

United play Middlesbrough on: 28th December 2008 (h), 2nd May 2009 (a)

Star man: Stuart Downing

Newcastle United - Newcastle fans endured a circus of a season last term, which resulted in the sacking of Sam Allardyce and the hiring of Toon army favourite, Kevin Keegan. United absolutely hammered Newcastle on both occasions with Ronaldo scoring a hatrick at Old Trafford along with a memorable strike by Rio Ferdinand and a 5-1 victory at St James Park. Newcastle United fans are renowned for demanding success and open attacking football – one of the reasons that Allardyce was dismissed, although for me rather too hastily. Newcastle United should be competing for a UEFA cup spot – nothing higher at the moment. Michael Owen needs to retain full fitness and the club needs to concentrate on the pitch rather than allow the Joey Barton show to take over. Expect two tougher games against Newcastle next season, but to be honest – they can’t be much easier.

United play Newcastle on: 16th August 2008 (h), 4th March 2009 (a)

Star man: Obafemi Martins

Portsmouth – FA Cup winners Portsmouth put up a good fight against United last season – getting a point from the 1-1 draw at Fratton Park and also knocking out United in the FA Cup on the way to their victory. The 2-0 victory at home included that freekick from Ronaldo – which was simply stunning. Portsmouth have recently announced the signing of young Chelsea forward Sahar on loan for the season and the contract extension of Nigerian forward Kanu. Redknapp has done wonders on the South coast and in Lassana Diarra, they have a real gem of a midfielder. Strong, quick, reads the game well and is a very good passer. The backline is also very impressive with, although in the autumn of his career, Sol Campbell leading the backline. Glenn Johnson has also been impressive this terms with attacking runs from right full back. Will be interesting to see if Pompey are successful in their bid for Peter Crouch.

United play Portsmouth on: 23rd August 2008 (a), 28th February 2009 (a)

Star man: Lasanna Diarra

Stoke City - Newly promoted Stoke City last played United in the league cup back in 1993, when United won 3-2 on aggregate (after having lost the first leg, 2-1, at the Victoria Ground) – in the league you have to go further back to the 1984/85 season when United hammered Stoke 5-0 at Old Trafford (Hughes twice, Olsen twice and Whiteside the scores on the day). Stoke have been criticised for their direct play approach, however it is unlikely Tony Pulis will change. Dave Bassett has defended Pulis stating that the criticism only comes from managers who can’t defend against that style. Well, to be honest, they’re not going to find all the space they found in the Championship between the backline and the goalkeeper, so they will need to defend deep and hit on the counter as much as they can due to the lack of quality they have in the side. Along with Hull, Stoke City are favourites to go straight back down and United should expect six points next term.

United play Stoke City on: 15th November 2009 (h), 26th December 2008 (a)

Star man: Liam Lawrence

Sunderland - United favourite Keane has done a good job at Sunderland last season, although a number of fans will point at the amount of money he has spent on player to take to the north east. Craig Godon for £9Million, Richardson for £5.5Million and Kenwyne Jones for £6Million (who actually looks value for money now). Sunderland did what they had to do last season and avoid the drop, however a thrashing at Everton around questions has morale very low. Sunderland put up a good fight against United at Old Trafford with Saha scoring the only goal of the game, although the return fixture was a little more one sided with United running out 4-0 winners.

United play Sunderland on: 6th December 2009 (h), 11th April 2009 (a)

Star man: Kenwyne Jones

Tottenham Hotspurs - Tottenham had a quite remarkable season last year that started out with optimism that they could overcome their North London rivals and finish higher in the table for the first time since 1994/95 – however what they witnessed was quite extraordinary with a very weak defense – Martin Jol finally got the sack and Ramos replaced him. Ramos is a manager that I like and the changes he brought in was evident in the victory over Tottenham in the FA Cup last season. Although United ran out 3-1 winners, before Dawson was sent off United struggled to break down Tottenham with a short passing game in the final third, with Spurs defending excellently. Carlos Tevez rescued a point at White Hart Lane for United and Nani scored the winner in the narrow 1-0 victory over Spurs at home. They have signed the excellent Luka Modric who i’m sure will be a star next season – I like the way this lad plays and can operate as a deep playmaker who can break forward or can operate at the top of a midfield diamond. Spurs have also added Giovani Dos Santos to their squad – a player that the jury is still out on. Scored an excellent hat trick towards the end of last season but was eclipsed by the excellent Bojan in a troubled Catalan season. He does have ability although I don’t believe Barca would have sold him for such a small amount (considering the hype that surrounded him when he first broke into the side) if they felt he could develop further – although United did sell Rossi for a cut rate price. Will be also interesting to see if Berbatov does come to Old Trafford (which I doubt) and if Keane joins Liverpool – which have both been reported in recent weeks.

United play Tottenham on: 13th December 2009 (a), 25th April 2009 (h)

Star man: Robbie Keane

West Bromwich Albion - WBA, the Champions from the Championship, will be expected to fare better than the other promoted teams due to the quality of the side and from past Premier League experience. Kevin Phillips, the FourFourTwo player of the season, was in good form last season and help the Baggies reach the FA Cup semi final. Tony Mowbray has vowed that he won’t panic and be forced into bringing in new players as he is satisfied with his current squad. Expect a relegation dog fight but with WBA the most likely to survive out the new boys.

United play WBA on: 18th October 2008 (a), 27th January 2009 (h)

Star man: Kevin Phillips

West Ham United - United beat West Ham 4-1 on the second last day of the season to get one hand on the title – a very sweet victory, especially after the last couple of games against the Hammers. In the past twenty years, United have failed at West Ham when needing victory in the fight for the Championship. United lost 1-0 in the 1991/92 season and drew 1-1 in the 1994/95 season, when a victory was needed. Ludek Mikloško played out of his skin in both games and the title went to Leeds in 92 and Blackburn in 95. Some people have picked West Ham as a bit of a bogey team for United in the Premier League – something that is actually surprising. In the 26 games United have played West Ham, they have beaten us 4 times with United winning 15 of them. The victories for West Ham came in the season just gone at Upton Park, the double over us the season before and a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford from a goal by Jermaine Defoe (2001/02 season). West Ham have been very unlucky with injuries this season and will expect to do better with a fully fit squad next season. They do play some nice football at times and have produced some fine player over the years – we’ll see if Fred Sears adds to this list over the next season.

United play West Ham United on: 28th October 2008 (h), 7th February 2009 (a)

Star man: Dean Ashton

Wigan Athletic - The scene of United’s glorious title victory in the rain will live long in the memories of United fans for a long time. Fergie’s jumping jig like an excited uncle at a wedding never gets tiresome and United will hope some of the same against the Latics this season. United beat Wigan twice last season with a 4-0 victory at Old Trafford and as mentioned in the opening of this piece, a 2-0 victory at the JJB Stadium in May. Steve Bruce did a wonderful job in keeping Wigan up and he has two fabulous players in Antonio Valencia and Wilson Palacios, both of whom were linked with a move to Old Trafford. Combined with the attacking flair of Jason Koumas and the confident displays in defence from Paul Scharner, Wigan fans should expect to avoid the drop next term.

United play Wigan on: 20th December 2008 (h)*, 18th April 2009 (a)

Star man: Paul Scharner

* Subject to change due to the FIFA Club World Cup tie.

And there you have it, Stretford-end.com’s domestic rival guide. Expect a European rival watch over the next few weeks when transfers emerge from our rivals from across the waters. So back to this blog, what are your thoughts on the current season in terms of rivals? Will Chelsea be even stronger with Scolari in charge and the purchase of Deco? Does this mean Lampard will go to Internazionale? Can Arsenal improve of last season impressive display? Or will the probable departure of Adebayor hinder Arsenal as they yet again search for a front man? And lastly, will Liverpool ever get close to winning a league title?? Or will it be another year to forget adding to the 18 past domestically already?

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