Archive for August, 2008

Berba to have the Veron effect? I hope not….

Posted on August 31, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   11 Comments »
Berba to have the Veron effect? I hope not....

Dimitar Berbatov was again left out of the Spurs side that traveled to Stamford Bridge today – fueling the speculation even more that the grumpy Bulgarian is on his way out of the North London club. Along with the circus style transfer saga of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid with the jester, Ramon Calderon, providing extensive comedy material throughout the summer, the Berbatov transfer has driven both set of fans mad. It’s obvious that Berbatov wants a move to Manchester United, it’s obvious that Manchester United want the player (having bid over 20 Million pounds is usually a good sign) and it is obviously clear that Tottenham want to get as much money for their star man as possible – and why not!? We ridiculed Real Madrid for their approaches towards Ronaldo since the Champions League final, especially after Calderon had stated that United should be ‘honoured to be involved in such a historic transfer’ whilst also trying to comically set the transfer fee of the player that he is after – so Tottenham are correct in their stance on the valuation of Berbatov.

The thing is, with players getting more and more power nowadays (and with the head of FIFA not helping with crazy inaccurate comments) it is harder to take a harsh stance and banish the player to the reserves. The introduction of the Webster ruling has also helped those players wanting to make a move away from a club or negotiate a new contract with the club. Reports have suggested that Berbatov could even leave the Premier League for good and sign for Barcelona, something that Spurs would surely favour.

Andy Webster’s transfer wrangle could have an even bigger impact than the Bosmon Ruling.

This blog isn’t about investigating whether or not players should be able to take advantage of a ruling that gives clubs even less power over their players – it’s about whether or not the proposed Dimitar Berbatov deal will actually aid Manchester United’s attacking options this season. So far we have scored two goals in two Premier League matches – hardly scintillating form – however one must remember the amount of goals we’d scored at the same point last season – one! We were in an even worse position in the league having drawn with both Reading and Portsmouth – so I don’t really see the need for panic stations just yet.

Anyone watching United last season would know that the attacking play was based upon extremely good movement from the front four that was backed up by sublime creativity of the centre two. Rooney and Tevez have the capability of dropping deep which as a defender is a nightmare. You do not know whether you must push up or hold your position, which allows the player more space to turn and create havoc. Wayne Rooney has had a torrid time in the press lately, which I would argue is quite harsh. His work rate and movement enabled Cristiano Ronaldo to utilise the space and score a number of those 42 goals. Now not many teams play with a pass and move style similar to United’s in the Premier League – the reason is you need good technical players that can combine intelligence/awareness with exceptional athletic ability.

In Rooney, Tevez, Ronaldo, Giggs, Nani and sometimes Park – United have that, although in order to play this high level pass and move game it needs time to develop and it is no surprise that some of the games so far have been flat at times. Ronaldo didn’t score his first Premier League goal till the end of September, which although came through a mistake by the full back rather than the movement i’m talking about, shows that it can take time to click and I don’t agree with the ‘United need a target man‘ comments I read in most newspapers. Berbatov has much more to his game that simply being someone who can hold the ball up and allow the midfield to push up, but how will his inclusion in the side affect the style of play that we now adopt that was so pivotal in the success of the club last season?

“Fergie i’ve found the perfect target man for you…”

In 2003 Carlos Alberto Parreira left the coaching conference stunned with his prediction that 4-6-0 would become the next big tactical innovation. Five year ago I would have been equally as stunned by the comments of the World Cup Winner who ironically was in charge of a side that is renowned for its creative flair, self expression and extreme hard work. 4-6-0 sounds an extremely negative line up – which you would expect teams visiting Old Trafford to adopt not United. If Parreira is right and 4-6-0 becomes common in our domestic game but more likely in the European game then why do we need to have a target man?

The blogger, Jonathan Wilson, has written a superb book on the evolution of tactics throughout the history of football. It highlights the forward thinking of the Eastern Europeans, which actually relates to this movement section, with the withdrawn forward which brought England to its knees in the 6-3 humiliation at Wembley in 1953. As you may be aware, the English aren’t the most liked nation throughout the world and this opinion doesn’t change when analysing the footballing philosophy. The Peter Crouch and Jermaine Defoe partnership is the latest strikeforce that would have the old fashioned critics drooling at the mouth. ‘Find the big man up front and the little lad will feed off the scraps’ is common amongst the discussions of our local publics houses up and down the country – a view I do not subscribe to.

Football, well good football, is about movement and intelligent players who are able to find space and receive the ball, with the confidence that they keep the ball even when under pressure. A high pressing tempo game is useless when playing against a side that can keep the ball under pressure – a factor that has been found out by the England national team over the years. The movement of the ‘front four’ last year was sublime at times – this wouldn’t have been possible had United adopted a more rigid system that was evident in the season prior to the transfer of Ruud VanNistelrooy to Real Madrid. United looked a much better outfit at the end of the 2005/06 season with Louis Saha partnering Wayne Rooney in attack. The comparison to what followed the next season was immense with United playing a much more fluid and quick brand of football that was non existent in the latter years of VanNistelrooy’s career at United. Don’t get me wrong – I hold fond memories of VanNistelrooy but the evolution of football over the past five years combined with his injuries meant that United could no longer incorporate the Dutch striker in the starting lineup.

The 4-6-0 system means players like VanNistelrooy can’t be incorporated

So where does Seba Veron fit into this? Veron, unfairly, is usually amongst the worst transfer of all time due to the enormous price tag that accompanied his move to Old Trafford. Veron was a world class player who was capable of pure genius, especially in the Champions League but mainly failed to adapt to the high tempo games in the Premier League – most noticeable his lethargic performance against Chelsea when United went down 3-0 at home. Was Veron right for United? Looking back no, of course he wasn’t.

United won the 2003 title, however did so without Veron in the 2-2 draw at Highbury against Arsenal and the 4-0 victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford in the title run in. He did make an anonymous appearance in the 4-3 thriller against Madrid at home – which saw David Beckham putting in a superb performance having coming on to replace Veron in what would be his last Champions League game for United. Depending on what you read Veron was the second choice transfer target for Fergie in the summer of 2001 with United reportedly wanting to controversially recruit the then Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira. For one reason or another the deal didn’t come off and United turned attentions to the Argentinian midfielder who was a key member of the Lazio squad. The signing of Veron was exciting at the time – considering United had also signing Ruud VanNistelrooy for 19Million – and a new five man midfield with Paul Scholes adopting a role just behind the striker. Anyone that saw the early part of the 2001/02 season would remember how the five man midfield, with Scholes looking uncomfortable out of position, didn’t work and Fergie tried to find a balance whereby his existing midfield of Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs and sometimes Butt and Neville could accompany the vision and creativity of Veron. Of course the transfer of Stam to Lazio didn’t help matters, considering United had been linked to Thuram that summer also, with the aging legs of Laurent Blanc coming into replace the Dutchman – but United had more than enough quality to win a fourth successive Premier League title, however were beaten by an unfancied Arsenal side – who were brilliant at times that season.

So will the signing of Berbatov, regardless of the unique gifts the Bulgarian has, jeopardise United’s chances of securing another double? What will happen if Berbatov, Tevez and Rooney are fit to play? Will Fergie try and play all three in the same way Veron was played in an already established midfield? There is no doubt that he is a class act and I do like watching him play but is he really what is needed at Old Trafford? Too many English journalists believe United are ‘crying out’ for a target man in the mold of Berbatov to finish off all of the chances United are creating. I don’t agree with this and generally believe that, like last season, United will start to get their flow back and start to destroy teams with good movement, intelligence and overall effective passing that will leave defenders not knowing who to pick up. We had the same criticism last season – lets hope we finish the same way too.

Veron, top player, wrong time
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Sick Note Saha off to Goodison…..has Fergie got it right?

Posted on August 29, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   4 Comments »
Sick Note Saha off to Goodison.....has Fergie got it right?

Other than, ‘Welcome to Old Trafford Mr Djemba Djemba – i’m sure you’ll enjoy your football here’, there is rarely anything else that I disagree with Fergie with. This transfer is no exception either. In Saha we are losing a strong, quick striker with a good left foot – when he is fit. Today Saha decided to leave his injury nightmare behind him and join Everton and see if he can stay fit for more than 2 and a half games. You think i’m joking – have a look at the amount of Premier League games he has started compare to Rooney who signed eight months later. Saha started, in four and a half seasons, 52 games, compared to Rooney who has made 118. Ok you may argue that Rooney is a better player than Saha and obviously deserves a starting berth over the Frenchman – but Fergie splashed out £12.8Million back in 2004, and i’m sure he expected a greater return alongside Ruud VanNistelrooy.

Saha’s best run in the side probably came in the first half of the 2006/07 (and I suppose towards the end of the 2005/06 season with the decline of Ruud) season where he was a first team regular for the first time since his move from Fulham. He scored on the opening day against Fulham and then bagged two goals against Celtic at Old Trafford. He failed to convert a penalty at Celtic Park, which left United needing a win against Benfica – which was achieved…eventually. He also played a part in the 2-0 victory over Chelsea, last season, at home, winning and scoring a penalty in the final minutes. It’s such a shame that he couldn’t have kept himself fit for longer and played more of a part in the teams fortunes. After all, no one is questioning his ability – it’s just whether he can stay fit for long enough. He was never the best of finishers and would sometimes be very erratic in front of goal, but I always felt he tried and wasn’t lucky with injuries. You may suggest he suffered from the same bout of footballphobia that Arjen Robben did but then remember Bryan Robson’s injuries that he suffered throughout his career – I guess some people are just unlucky??

So with Saha out the door are we going to settle for a strike force of Tevez, Rooney and Campbell, with Manucho in the wings when he returns from injury or with the transfer of Pavlyuchenko to Tottenham does this free up a move for Berbatov? Also, how will you remember Saha? A good player that helped us to the 2007 Premier League title? Or as a injury plagued sick note player who wasn’t actually quite good enough for Manchester United?

‘Careful..CAREFUL!!!..bollocks…another two weeks on the sidelines now’
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Evolution of Football – Supply and Demand

Posted on August 27, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Premier League   No Comments »
Evolution of Football - Supply and Demand

As you sit back in silence in your comfy chair watching the half time performance, whilst you wait for your side to emerge from the newly enforced thirty minutes half time due to the pull television has over football nowadays and you’d realise how far football has fallen. Add in Jam Cam and we might aswell give up now, however unfortunately this is the path we’re heading down. Everything changes in time, especially when something can be considered even more important than religion, and it is hard for the true football fans to truly accept the shallow changes that are enforced upon us nowadays.

He can usually be found sitting in the Old Trafford dugout.

Now let me explain my stance on everything. I’m a 26 year old male and have grown up with the Sky era of football that makes it easier for ‘fans’ to sit at home and watch the game. I never experienced a game in the 60’s or 70’s and therefore cannot really comment on how football has changed. However, I do listen a lot to older supporters (of all clubs) and understand the concerns and frustrations when faced with day trippers, Mexican waves and empty seats. Firstly, its evident that the gap between players and fans has increased enormously. We’ll never know exactly how much the players get paid – and will always rely on media speculation and random e-mails that place Darrent Bent as the 17th highest paid player in Europe – but we know it is a vast amount, something you and I could never even dream of earning. You may argue that being a footballer is short career and these players bring us so much joy that they deserve to earn as much money as they can. However, the inflated wages is a direct result of demand for football and how certain people can exploit the game for personal gain and capitalize on the popularity of the greatest sport on earth. Players wages have increased immensely over the past fifteen years; however if your valued at a certain figure – why oppose it?

Terry Hurlock was unavailable for the shoot

Sky has played a revolutionary part in the development of the modern day fan experience from their American style blockbuster Super Sunday to the tactical side of the last word and then to the extent highlights show on Saturday night. They’ve even expanded the service to view different angles of the pitch and follow specific players (although I believe this has been dropped now) to fans view – where you get commentary from fans of the two clubs involved. A good service, but lets get one thing straight – Television coverage of a football match will never ever beat being at the game and soaking up the atmosphere. However, the monopoly Sky has (although somewhat diluted since the introduction of Setanta) is big business and in August 2003 the Premier League award all four packages to Sky in a 1.024Billion pound deal – a staggering amount considering the average turnover by a Premier League club. Although Sky does have its advantages, being able to watch a massive selection of Spanish and European games throughout the course of the season, its inclusion within our football culture has shifted the game to a more ‘Americanized’ way of life.

St James’ Park has changed over the years.

Having all seater stadiums has also effected the atmosphere at our football grounds and being constantly reminded to ‘sit down’ doesn’t help either. I’m always getting asked by stewards and some fans to ‘sit down’ – not that i’m as big as the bloke above and i’m ruining the experience for everyone else – but it’s a natural reaction to stand and anticipate what is about to happen. We all know why all seater stadiums were introduced in England and of course it is important for fans of all ages to be safe. However – I don’t understand why some clubs do not offer a ‘standing only section’ that allows the supporter to make a decision on whether or not they wish to stand or sit for a football match. Again, we’d have to be careful that this doesn’t turn into a gimmick as so many other things inside our football grounds have turned into.

‘Sit down mate..for fuck sake..’

Now here is where the debate places you in the blue corner or the red corner (preferably the red corner). Some older football fans do argue that football was more enjoyable back in the 60’s and 70’s – maybe so having explored the reasons in this blog – however I would strongly disagree that the standard of football is better then than it is now. Now as i’ve said i’m 26 so I didn’t experience a football match in those days, however i’ve seen a vast amount of footage (as all football fans have) of the likes of Best, Pele, Di Stefano, Garrincha, Puskas, Cruyff and Sindelar. All geniuses who could play in todays game – but they’d be even better players with the facilities and strict diet regimes that are enforced upon the players today. Imagine Cruyff gliding across some of the pitches nowadays? In the days of Di Stefano and Puskas there was a wage restriction, in England, for how much each club could pay a player – that speaks volume for the fact that Duncan Edwards was being touted by Wolves as a teenager (not far from his home) but opted for Manchester United. Back in those days players played for who they wanted regardless of money. We’re not to say that these players wouldn’t want a financial reward if they played in today’s climate – after all shouldn’t you be paid more for excelling at something? However, it was a more honest time when players and fans were closer – now they are a million miles away due to our celebrity hungry culture and the evolution of football.

As a school boy, Edwards choose United over Wolves

I had a good friend, who I would consider the most dedicated Manchester United supporter I’ve ever come across. Born and raised a Mancunian he has been a season ticket holder for many, many seasons and his knowledge about United is impeccable. It’s supporters like this that I do not want to see taken advantage of with inflated ticket prices and ticket schemes that make you spend a fortune. Everything changes in life – especially if it gets into the wrong hands and some parts of football have. The decline of the League and FA Cup are a direct result of more money being pumped into the Premier League than ever before. Staying in the Premier League is far more important than advancing in the cup – just ask Bolton Wanderers after last night’s performance. Although – for the record – I would just like to add that I’m not an avid supporter of the League Cup (and yes I realise that it helped spring board our current side in 2006 to actually realise they could win things) due to the how it came about (The FA secretary was so angry that United ventured into the European Cup in the 50’s that he thought of this amazing plan to rival the competition with a domestic cup – masterstroke). True football fans deserve to watch the game unfold, sing their hearts out and enjoy banter with their mates over the game. If football continues to be seen as a business instead of a way of life, true fans will be priced out of the market, the gap between the players and fans will be even greater and every club will sell their soul for advertising rights and sponsorships. Football has changed a lot in the last twenty odd years – lets hope the next twenty retains some of that honesty and integrity that we know still exists in todays game.

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Open letter to England fans – Re: Rooney

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

On behalf of every Manchester United fan;

Dear England supporters,

Please continue to identify Wayne Rooney as the reason the national team are rubbish. Please continue to classify him as “crap”, and please continue to demonstrate your lack of football knowledge in the process.

We all remember what happened the last time you made a United player the scapegoat, ridiculing his “supposed technical superiority”. You wanted Frank Lampard at the expense of Paul Scholes, you got him with Scholesy on the left wing. Scholes had enough and you spent the last 4 years begging for the Ginger Prince back and the last 1 booing FFL. In the time since, Scholes had barely misplaced a pass for United while Lampard has rarely completed one in the national team. Scholes can still outplay any midfielder in the league, and has just won a European Cup.

I’m sure Wayne himself will be dismayed by the misdirected criticsm, clearly being one of the very few players who actually plays with the heart you want in a 3 lions shirt – almost twenty goals and just as many assists in an injury ravaged season, despite playing out of position for most of the campaign, and despite not taking any goal-scoring set-piece opportunities, may seem to some as a pretty decent return, but not to all-knowing England fans. We Manchester United fans recognised him as perhaps the most vital component of our successful Premier League and European Cup campaign, and as such, we’d like it if he wasn’t taken to World Cups with broken feet then portrayed as costing England the trophy. I’m sure in time young Wayne himself would come to terms with it. And in time, the ones who lose out are the morons who pathetically singled out the most naturally talented domestic footballer since Scholes simply because he plays for United.

In closing, please be satisfied with Joe “most technically gifted Englishman” Cole, please be satisfied with Stevie “hero” G (who’s going to set up all his shots when the hopelessly un-creative Rooney is forced to retire?), we’ll make do with Wayne Rooney scoring those everyday 30 yard chips against David James. Just like every English player can. Oh… wait..


By Yolkie

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Can an Arsenal legend become a Manchester United player?

Posted on August 11, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Arsenal, Man United, Transfer Targets   19 Comments »
Can an Arsenal legend become a Manchester United player?

Ok, so the forums and blogs are rife with talk that former Arsenal footballer and club legend is on his way to Old Trafford via Barcelona, but how true is this rumour and would both sets of fans accept such a deal, considering the rivalry over the past ten seasons. Firstly, let me say that Thierry Henry is a fine footballer and the Premier League is a worse off place without the Frenchman. He combined excellent technical skill with sublime pace to brush aside opponents and score wonders goals season after season and rightfully so is considered alongside Liam Brady and Dennis Bergkamp as one of the best players to ever wear an Arsenal shirt. However, that legendary status could all change if this, quite amazing, move materialises and he makes the move to Old Trafford that would indeed anger the majority of the Arsenal faithful.

Henry has had a disappointing season at Camp Nou this term just gone. Played out of position on the left hand side of the front three and overshadowed by rookie Bojan, who by contrast had a great first season. Many fans always believe that the only way is down once you leave the club – however I do feel, considering the barriers that have been placed in front of Henry this season, that is unfair. As mentioned, Henry is a superb player who obviously adored playing alongside Dennis Bergkamp and become Arsenal’s top scorer of all time. Could he fit into Manchester United? Would he be a first team starter at the club? Remember how impressive Rooney and Tevez were last season – even though natural comedian Don Goodman objected to the partnership. Approaching 31 could he still hack it in the Premier League and would he benefit the side more so than Berbatov? Or is this transfer issue a publicity stunt in order to try and bring down the asking price of Berbatov, who may start to make noises if he believes his Old Trafford opportunity may have passed him by?

Manchester United totally dominated proceedings against Portsmouth yesterday; but failed to find the back of the net. I could feel the press box pencil’s being sharpened with the furious writing of the journo’s of the world stating ‘United in striker crisis’. But to be totally honest, was yesterday any different from the performances of last season in the early stages? Not until September 23rd 2007 did United find the net on two occasions in the same game. Chelsea were the victims that day in Avram Grants first game (which ironically consisted of the exact same opposition that featured in his last game). Many fans, pundits and ‘football experts’ were banging on about the fact that United needed an ‘out and out striker’ or a ‘target man’ failing to realise that Wayne Rooney had injured his foot, Ronaldo was suspended for head butting an opponent, Carlos Tevez and Owen Hargreaves were trying to get match fit after their moves from West Ham and Bayern Munich respectively and it was no surprise that United kept seven clean sheets from the 1-0 defeat to Citeh up to the 4-1 victory over Aston Villa – then the scoring started.

Many players move to other clubs and lose their legend status overnight. Paul Ince being the first name that springs to mind – ok he was never an Old Trafford legend but in the early 90’s he was a very good midfield player who’s hard play was a favourite alongside Robson and later Keane in the United midfield. He went to Liverpool and then celebrated like he’d won the treble when Liverpool salvaged a draw in spring 1999 – which would ensure his United hate status forever more. Denis Law moved to City (although to me is always going to be a legend), although just to correct anyone who believes that he sent us down – United had already been relegated and would be playing Division two football; with or without that goal. Arsenal fans may wish to comment on Sol Campbell’s move to them in the summer of 2001. Campbell proved to be a great servant to Arsenal, winning two league Championships and reaching (and scoring) the European Cup final. Were you happy to have Tottenham’s captain who was born and bred a Spurs man marshaling your back four? Of course the frustrated Spurs fans would have brought a smile to the face, but really can you ever really take to a rival player?

I for one would welcome the signing of Thierry Henry dependent on price. Guardiola has stated that he believes Henry is in his plans, but will Barcelona adopt a 4-4-2 formation that would favour the Frenchmen ahead of the 4-3-3 that has been instilled in the club since the playing days and eventual management of the football club by Johan Cruyff? Samuel Etoo’s future is also uncertain with a number of clubs not willing to ‘gamble’ on the Cameroon international, even though he is only just 27. Henry could still have a good career at Barcelona, but with Manchester United calling on the door could he really pass off the opportunity of playing with the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Scholes and help mature the talents of Anderson, Nani and Campbell? I remember another certain Frenchman had quite an influence over the younger players.

So is this going to materialise or is it all rubbish? Would you accept the deal (both United and Arsenal)?

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Can Manchester United really retain the European Cup?

Posted on August 09, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Champions League, Man United   6 Comments »
Can Manchester United really retain the European Cup?

As the Moscow hangovers finally come to a close and we look firmly ahead to the new season, many reds are interested in one thing – can we be as good as last season? The 2007/08 season will go down as one of the greatest in the clubs history due to the magnificent talent on show, the dominance of certain games and the historical importance of how the double was won. Many reds can pinpoint important era’s and matches that supporters can always hold close to their heart – like the 1985 FA Cup final or the 1991 Cup Winners Cup final. United have progressed immensely in the past twenty five years but have never managed to retain the European Cup after wins in 1968 and 1999; could this be the year that is achieved?

Super Sparky scores twice

Brian Clough was quoted as saying the following “For all his horses, knighthoods and championships, he hasn’t got two of what I’ve got. And I don’t mean balls”, when talking about Sir Alex Ferguson. Although Clough has since passed away (obviously as he couldn’t have said it afterwards) and Fergie’s United were victorious in Moscow, which now puts them on an equal standing in terms on European Cup wins, the former Nottingham Forest manager was referring to winning the European Cup back to back – his only two achievements occurring in the 1978/79 and 1979/80 seasons. I’ve discussed previously the competitiveness of the European Cup as a cup format (for instance that same season, Ajax beat HJK Helsinki 16-2 on aggregate), however what Clough did with Nottingham Forest was quite remarkable considering the predicament he found himself in when he took over. So, in today’s modern game, how hard is it compared to Clough’s day to win back to back titles?

‘Seriously Brian this is really embarrassing.’

The last side to win back to back European Cups was Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan who beat Benfica 1-0 in Vienna back in 1990. That will be nineteen years ago this May. The previous double before that was indeed Clough’s Nottingham Forest, which was preceded by a double for Liverpool. The three years before that Bayern Munich dominated the European Cup winning it in 1974, 1975 and 1976. Ajax did the exact same thing for the previous three seasons prior with the emergence of ‘Total Football’ and a rebellious Johan Cruyff. So as you can clearly see the ‘retaining’ of the trophy was a lot more prominent in the old school cup format.

Johan Cruyff, football genius and gift from god (Halo included).

So to the big question, can Manchester United lift back to back European Cups in 2009? Statistics are against us due to the fact that the last back to back winners came nearly two decades ago and whom played a very different brand of football to United. However, football isn’t all about statistics (although we will go into that in a minute) and most Reds will agree that last season’s team was one of the best Old Trafford had ever seen. Why can’t the swashbuckling heroics of Tevez, Rooney, Ronaldo, Scholes and Giggs take on the might (again) of Chelsea’s Lampard, Drogba and Terry? Or for that matter anyone in Europe? Of course nothing is stopping United marching to another European crown in Rome come May, however what statistics prove is that this is a extremely difficult tournament to win, let alone retain it. The Real Madrid side of the 50’s had some marvellous players that really were head and shoulders above everyone else. I doubt any club will ever win five back to back European Cups ever again. The Italians didn’t really challenge until the introduction of catenaccio (legendary Inter manager Helenio Herrera would take credit for this defensive masterstroke) and the birth of the libero, which would eventually become undone by Celtic in 1967. We all know that Manchester United were the first English club to win the trophy at Wembley in 1968, which was then followed by an AC Milan victory in 1969.

Herrera – Internazionale manager who could be a right bastard to players

So to the present day and the past eighteen winners. The table below highlights the winner of the trophy in the season and where they finished the following season:

Season Winner Pos of last winner
1991 Red Star Belgrade AC Milan – 1/4 final
1992 Barcelona Red Star Belgrade – 2nd in Group stage
1993 Olympique Marseille Barcelona – 2nd round
1994 AC Milan Olympique Marseille – banned
1995 Ajax AC Milan – Final
1996 Juventus Ajax – Final
1997 Borussia Dortmund Juventus- Final
1998 Real Madrid Borussia Dortmund – 1/2 finals
1999 Manchester United Real Madrid – 1/4 finals
2000 Real Madrid Manchester United – 1/4 finals
2001 Bayern Munich Real Madrid – 1/2 finals
2002 Real Madrid Bayern Munich – 1/4 finals
2003 AC Milan Real Madrid – 1/2 finals
2004 FC Porto AC Milan – 1/4 finals
2005 Liverpool FC Porto – Last 16
2006 FC Barcelona Liverpool – Last 16
2007 AC Milan Barcelona – Last 16
2008 Manchester United AC Milan – Last 16

So the 2003 winners, AC Milan, were the last team to reach the quater finals back in 2004 when they were eliminated by Deportivo (in a remarkable game). It appears that the winners of the trophy do indeed struggle the season after – whether it be too high expectations or specific problems in the club. To be honest, I don’t subscribe to this. Manchester United’s first xi would, I feel, beat any of those Champions League winning sides since 2000 so I really do not see why we can’t go on and win it again. One should also note that Valencia, got to the final in 2000 and 2001, losing both to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively. So it’s not impossible to get to the Champions League final twice, would a better side with a tad more luck have done better than Valencia? Then there is not forgetting Juventus, a side that has been in the final a number of times but only won the trophy twice – 1985 and 1996. Juventus beat Ajax in 1996 and then got to the final twice in 1997 and 1998. So it is clear to see that although extremely difficult, it is not impossible for a side to win back to back trophies. This blog hasn’t even looked at the expansion of the Champions League format, which does include teams that can let their domestic form dip in order to progress in the Champions League – in the knowledge that they will finish fourth and thus qualify for the tournament (and the TV earnings) next season, naming no names there.

So can United do it in Rome? I don’t see why not. The statistics ‘post four team entry’ aren’t good, but with Fergie fighting off Real Madrid for Ronaldo, Anderson and Nani progressing well and youngsters such as Rafael, Fabio and Campbell knocking on the door – the squad looks to be in good shape and ambitious. Last season was memorable for so many reasons and it shall never be forgotten, but i’m confident that we can be the first side in the Champions League format to win back to back trophies.

May 21st 2008 will never be forgotten but can this group of players go one better than 1999 and retain the title? I’m looking forward in finding out.
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