Stretford-End.com reviews the Sun newspaper’s account of Manchester United’s European performances this season. Having taken the time to log all of the paper’s match ratings, it seems appropriate having now finished the season that we have a look back and see how well our progress was deemed by the tabloid media.
There are a couple of influencing factors that admittedly cause fault to the fundamental structure and consistency of these ratings; one, because we can’t be sure that the same journalist did the score for every game, secondly, because it’s the Sun, come on.
To be fair and time effective; if you want to view the complete list of individual players, you can visit our forum thread, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll concentrate on those players who featured in 6 or more of the ten games United eventually played.
Edwin van der Sar : 6 appearances, 6.67
Gary Neville : 6 appearances, 5.83
Rio Ferdinand : 6 appearances, 6.33
Nemanja Vidic :6 appearances, 6.33
Patrice Evra : 8 appearances, 6.25
Antonio Valencia : 9 appearances, 6.56 (2 MOM awards)
Darren Fletcher : 7 appearances, 6.28
Michael Carrick : 7 appearances, 5.85 (1 MOM award)
Paul Scholes : 7 appearances, 6.42 (1 MOM award)
Nani : 7 appearances, 6.42 (1 MOM award)
Ji-Sung Park : 6 appearances, 5.67
Wayne Rooney : 7 appearances, 7.14 (2 MOM awards)
When you consider 6 being an average; and United’s top outfield performers being Rooney and Valencia, you can’t really argue. Our European campaign was average, two standout results against Milan and a good win in Germany against Wolfsburg aside. Notable by their absence are John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Rafael, all three of whom would expect to start in front of Gary Neville, and all of whom made only fleeting appearances; though Rafael’s contribution in the knock out stage was very impressive, one red card aside, as he dealt admirably with the considerable thrust of Ronaldinho and Ribery.
Ryan Giggs made just 3 appearances in this seasons competition, a crucial intervention with a goal and an assist in the game against Wolfsburg at Old Trafford and two substitute appearances against Bayern. Dimitar Berbatov’s involvement just missed our ratings cut with 5 games, and he too only started one game – even Danny Welbeck started more!
Perhaps Neville’s average rating seems a little harsh, but one only realises the true opinion or inclination of a media outlet in comparison. You can check the accuracy for yourself, but the results are quite astounding. I chose Arsenal as the team to compare against; in the knowledge that they are looked upon rather favourably by the media in general.
Arsenal coasted through a group that included Standard Liege, AZ Alkmaar, and Olympiakos. All European competition in my mind is tough; so I’m not discounting the difficulty of their group, particuarly their trip to Greece, which incidentally they lost. I won’t put all the figures here but I have saved them if challenged in the comments. It goes without saying that Cesc Fabregas was considered the equal of Rooney. The young Spaniard has really impressed against the lesser lights this season but has failed miserably against top quality opposition – his final and most significant contribution was cheating to win a penalty and get an opponent sent off (sound familiar?) so perhaps our Wayne would understandably a little aggrieved that his 4 goal demolition of Milan over two legs, his goal in Germany and inspirational appearance on one leg that saw him set up one goal and play a crucial part in another didn’t elevate him above the highly rated Arsenal captain.
Fabregas’ status in the media means that such a comparison is to be expected; but it’s when you scratch the surface that it gets really ridiculous. Alex Song and Andrei Arshavin are a mere second decimal place away from being judged as better than Rooney this year. Think about it. In Fabregas, Song and Arshavin, Arsenal had three players that the Sun thought did just as well as Rooney in Europe this season. Song has come on leaps and bounds but Arshavin can firmly be placed alongside Berbatov when discussing expensive Eastern European misfits.
William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen were both rated considerably better than Rio and Vidic, Gael “catastrophe” Clichy was rated better than Evra – and, for all three, it would have been a landslide if not for the Barcelona tie.
Antonio Valencia’s first season at United can definitely be described as a success. His European performances in particular have caught the eye – in the group stages he played a vital role, and he came on to change the game against Milan. Against Bayern at home, the Germans found it difficult to handle the Ecuadorian. He will have to go some next year to impress the media, though. Not only did they consider Fabregas, Song, and Arshavin to be better in Europe but also the defensive pair of Gallas and Vermaelen.
I blogged after Darren Fletcher’s stunning performance in the San Siro earned him a lofty 6 out of 10, describing that I was a little confused asto what Aaron Ramsey did that was so much more spectacular that he could get a rating of 9 in a defeat to a Greek team. Ramsey’s handful of substitute appearances to add to his amazing game in Greece gave him an average that comfortably beat Fletchers.
All of these are even including the Barcelona tie, so it gives you some indication of how it would look if you took that out. Even if you do take that out; the Sun consider that every game played by Denilson, Song, Arshavin, Fabregas, Vermaelen, Gallas and Clichy this season was to the equivalent or better standard than Fletcher’s display in the San Siro. No United player put in a shift that even compared to Ramsey’s game in Greece. In the interests of time, I just picked Arsenals most prominent players – I dread to think how Nasri, Walcott and Bendtner outperformed their United peers.
This “exercise” was carried out to really demonstrate the difference in the way the media is suspiciously favourable to the team in red from North London and less favourable to United. You would be hard pushed to find even an Arsenal fan, though, who would tell you with a straight face he thought Clichy had performed better than Evra in any competition this season.
United were deserted by luck in this years competition; take out the last minute in Munich and our fortunes in two competitions would probably look far rosier, if van Bommel had been punished for the foul that saw Rafael gain his first booking in the second leg, and if Arjen Robben didn’t score the goal of his life.. but, the very fact that we’re lamenting luck when a cold hard look at it suggests we should have made the final this year shows that United have shortcomings that do need to be addressed. That much is clear to the most ardent red.
The media meanwhile have shown that it’s ok to be utterly humiliated on the biggest stage; because depending on your postcode, they will still make you out to be better than you are. There’s a theory about the British media mentality that they “build you up to knock you down”. I think we can add to that, “and if that fails, we’ll just pretend”.