Match Report: Everton 0-0 Manchester United (4-2 on pens)

Posted on April 20, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Everton, FA Cup, Man United, Match Reports   2 Comments »

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Everton Celebrate
Sir Slex Ferguson made 8 changes from the side that beat Porto and paid the ultimate price as his dire Manchester United team lost on penalties to Everton, therefore being eliminated from the FA Cup and the chance to become “quintuple” winners.

Using his examination of the previous days semi final and the impact the occasion and pitch had on the players of fellow Champions League semi finalists Arsenal and Chelsea, Ferguson took a huge risk by throwing in youngsters Rafael, Fabio, Gibson, Welbeck and Macheda while starting with Ben Foster in goal.

It would perhaps be too harsh to be so insulting to the youngsters who made a good fist of the performance and in fairness were the stand out performers in pushing a seasoned, professional, experienced and very talented Everton side all the way to penalties, and even having arguably the better of the play in normal and extra time.

The game itself presented few chances – among the best were ex-Red Devil Saha’s chance after a Foster mistake which the keeper just managed to recover, Welbeck’s deflected effort that grazed a post, Cahill testing Foster from distance, and Gibson doing the same to Howard.

But the major talking point came when Phil Jagielka clearly took out Danny Welbeck as the youngster seemed to create an opening to shoot, and referee Mike Riley, who David Moyes had accused of being a Manchester United fan in midweek, waved the claims away. Fergie was furious and his anger will no doubt have been two-fold considering the incredible number of clear set piece opportunities that have been denied his side over the last 18 months due to manipulation of the officials.

Such a result would have been harsh on Everton on the balance of play as only Anderson and, as ever, the two United central defenders Ferdinand and Vidic left the field with any credit for the favourites.

The biggest disappointment of the day was the introduction of record signing Dimitar Berbatov who contributed so little after his substitution that Fergie must have wished he had left wonderkid Macheda on – this feeling probably was exacerbated when Berbatov hit a woeful penalty in the shoot out straight at Howard.

A kick in such a situation would not normally be considered a great crime but Everton had missed their first spotkick and the Bulgarian had a great opportunity to establish some momentum for United, however his effort mirrored his awful attitude and body language. It was no surprise that the Toffees were bouyed by the miss and went on to convert all of their remaining kicks (Ferdinand missing the second kick) and in doing so progressed to the FA Cup final for the first time since they beat United there 14 years ago.

For United the quintuple dream is over but they must find some resolve as the next 6 days – two home games against Portsmouth and Tottenham – could prove crucial in their defence of the Premier League.

Source: (Yolkie)

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Match Report: FC Porto 0-1 Manchester United (2-3)

Posted on April 15, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Champions League, Match Reports   No Comments »

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Cristiano Ronaldo scores Cristiano Ronaldo scored a 40 yard wonder goal to propel European Champions Manchester United into their third successive semi final in the competition, with his goal being the first winner for an English club at the great home of the Portuguese champions. With echoes of David Beckham’s free kick from similar range against the same opponents that hit the crossbar 11 years ago, Ronaldo went one better to score one of the greatest goals in the grand history of the European Cup to give a telling nod to his detractors this season (not Sir Alex Ferguson, as the Sky broadcasting team persistently and rather pathetically tried to insist).

Ronaldo’s goal was the highlight of a vibrant attacking display but the pivotal players in this second leg were Rooney, Giggs and Anderson, whose work rate and skill in possession made the game far more comfortable than it seemed at kick off. And if they were the ones who dictated the run of the game, the sight of a more familiar backline with Ferdinand and Vidic was the controlling element that ensured no seriously nervy moments.

Ronaldo’s goal aside, a glaring chance for Vidic and a fantastic United move in the dying moments of the first half could have extended the advantage – and several counter attacks could have sealed the game in the second. Porto did have their moments but nothing that ever really troubled van der Sar, and United head into a semi final against their famed rivals over the last decade or so – with Ronaldo looking like he is hitting form again, Berbatov in inspired mood, Giggs still appearing evergreen, the energetic Anderson back, and Ferdinand making his return, the Champions of all trophies bar the FA Cup look in good shape moving into the semi final in this competition.

Source: (Yolkie)

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A view from Portugal – how do the Portuguese think we’ll get on?

Posted on April 14, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Champions League, Man United, Press   No Comments »

Nemanja Vidic takes on the Hulk
Working in the industry that I do you are lucky enough to meet a number of interesting people along the way.  I was contacted a couple of months back by Andre Torres for ESPN regarding United’s 1964 European Cup Winners Cup defeat to Sporting Lisbon.  I contacted him over the weekend to get his thoughts on the up and coming quarter final between United and FC Porto.  Thank you Andre for contributing to the Stretty Rant.

My name is André Torres, no relation to a certain Liverpool striker, except from the fact that I’m equally skilful, but an injury in the left knee, you know how it is…

In fact I’m not even Spanish, I’m Portuguese born in Lisbon 27 years ago and I’m a Sporting Lisbon Supporter, you know, that Portuguese team that this year for the first time in its history passed the Champions League Group stage only to lose on aggregate to Bayern München by 12-1 which, yes, is the biggest aggregate defeat in Europe in case you’re wondering…

Sporting is also the club where Figo, Simão, Quaresma, Nani and… Cristiano Ronaldo came from, in fact it was when Manchester went to inaugurate the Alvalade XXI in 2004, (Sporting brand new Stadium) that apparently after the match, some Man United players of the defensive sector begged Alex Ferguson to buy Ronaldo, they didn’t want to play against him ever again…

Tomorrow is another Portuguese team that Man Utd will have to face, FC Porto.

Porto have dominated the Portuguese football for the past three decades. Since 1987, the year Porto won “everything” (The Portuguese Championship, the European Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the World Clubs’ Cup)  they then went to win another Champions League, a UEFA Cup and a massive 14 Portuguese championships out of 21.

Today in the Portuguese Press, Ronaldo is supposed to have said “Porto is the best Portuguese team, but Manchester is better than Porto.” I believe he’s right but only if Porto plays badly. Porto’s talent isn’t based in Portuguese flair but in South American genius or even worse, Argentinean teamwork.

Lucho González and Lisandro Lopez have the fighting spirit of the best center midfielders when actually they’re an upfront duo recently upgraded with the arrival of the incredible brazilian Hulk.

Lisandro Lopez as scored only 5 goals in 19 Portuguese league games, but an extra 6 goals in 7 Champion League ties.

In another South American might also be the weaker spot of the team,  Helton, as been far from secure between the posts this year, famously allowing one of the easiest goals so far to the prolific… if in Spanish territory,  Diego Forlan.

They are, like Man Utd used to winning and perhaps that’s the key to beating them, they are not used to suffering the first goal. In fact if Manchester wins at the Dragão Stadium that would be a feat no other English team was capable to do, ever.

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Why did Diego Forlan not work out?

Posted on April 11, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Man United, Players, Transfer Targets   11 Comments »

Diego Forlan

Diego Forlan will always be remembered by United fans for his double against Liverpool after Dudek had comically blundered a pass back from Jamie Carragher – however his £7Million move from Independiente to Old Trafford didn’t quite work out the way Fergie had hoped it would.  That period of Ferguson’s Old Trafford career was probably the most eyebrow raising in terms of talent that he brought to the club – with Bellion, Kleberson and a skinny little kid called ‘Ronaldo’.  Diego Forlan should have been a hit but sadly wasn’t…

Forlan played 98 times for United scoring a measly 17 goals.  That works out at (quite obviously) at a strike rate of 0.17 goals per game.  When you compare that stat to the likes of Gary Birtles (0.18) and Alan Brazil (0.29) – you realise how much of a failure the Uruguay International was.  The fact that the lad had to wait eight months for his first goal from the penalty spot against Maccabi Haifa – combined with a Roy Keane rant, indicating he wanted someone else to take it – should have been more than enough proof that the Premier League wasn’t for him.

However, he always seemed a likable character, always eager to work hard and prove doubters wrong – regardless of how ineffective he was in football matches.  Other than the two goals against Liverpool and the wonder strike against Rangers in the 3-0 victory – many United fans weren’t too bothered to see the back of him in 2004 – a mere two years after his big money move to  Europe.

Fast forward five years – Diego Forlan has proved that he is a top striker and can mix it with the best of them in Spain.  To date – he has scored 90 goals in 166 matches for Villerreal and Atletico Madrid giving him a strike rate of 0.54 – much better if you compare it to Andy Cole’s 0.44, Eric Cantona’s 0.44 and Ruud VanNistelrooy’s 0.68 (Wow!) goals per game ratio.

Of course you need to adapt to the culture of your new home and fit in with your surroundings rather than just rely on your ability – however I could never see Forlan becoming a success at the top level – simply because I didn’t think he was good enough.  He proved me and many other fans wrong with his sublime strike rate in one of Europe’s top leagues.

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Is O’Shea really that bad?

Posted on April 11, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Man United, Players, Statistics   8 Comments »

John O'Shea

John O’shea had a superb season in 2002/03, slotting in at left back and displacing Phil Neville and Mikael Silvestre in what would be a superb Championship run-in – pipping Arsenal to the title, which in the February looked unreachable. Since then John O’Shea has become known as the utility man – the man who plays when there is something wrong with everyone else – but does O’Shea get too much criticism for this role at Old Trafford now?

The reason I bring this up is that I was fascinated, and i’m sure you’ll be amazed too, that O’Shea has accumulated (jointly) the most appearances for the club this season with 44. He’s played at right back, center half, holding midfielder and left back so far this season – whilst last term he was used as a makeshift striker and before that he went in goal at Tottenham. But he still gets loads of abuse for his performances – despite the fact that he has represented the club the most this season.

I personally wouldn’t have John O’Shea in the first Xi, and I would put both Neville and Rafael ahead of him if both fit. But thats the point – both aren’t fully match fit (I know Neville has just played two games back to back but he didn’t look too sharp last weekend) and Sir Alex is lucky enough to be able to call on a player that obviously wants to play but understands his role at the club. So what do you reckon of O’Shea? Do you see him as this bumbling lummox hobbling up and down the flank or do you remember him as the young lad who made the left back slot his own in 2003 – nutmegging Luis Figo along the way!

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Why Macheda should be given a chance against Porto…

Posted on April 11, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Champions League, Man United, Players, Tactics   3 Comments »

Federico Macheda scores against Aston Villa

Other than Eric Cantona announcing that he will pull on a Red shirt one last time for the confrontation with FC Porto on Wednesday – there isn’t anything much more romantic other than Federico Macheda continuing his amazing scoring feat – having scored two winners in the previous two games against Aston Villa and Sunderland.

What is great about Macheda’s two goals are the difference in quality but both equal in importance. Turning away from his marked with a neat Cryuff turn – he proceeded to smash the ball into the top corner and saved the day for the Reds. He then repeated the feat although this time with a sneaky little side footed shot after Michael Carrick had struck a shot goal wards. Mark Hughes used to score goals like the one against Villa, whilst Gary Lineker used to score goals like the one against Sunderland. Combing both Lineker’s goal feat with Hughes ability to score amazing goals – would make some striker, however he has demonstrated that at a young age he has the confidence to play at the top level whilst scoring goal at important times.

So the big ‘Roy of the Rovers’ question – should Fergie stick with the youngster for the game against FC Porto on Wednesday OR should he stick with the experience of Berbatov – if he is fit. Now, I don’t criticise Berbatov like some Reds do for his apparent lack of work rate and ‘laziness’ around the park. I think he is a sublime player with good movement and creative guile – however his transfer fee will always play a part in his fortunes at Old Trafford.

One of our earlier blogs - from January 2008 – commented on the fee being branded around for the Bulgarian. It turns out he went for £5Million more than the shocked price we used that was being reported. Many fans will feel that thirteen goals (all competitions) combined with nine assists in thirty-four appearances – might not be considered value for money. There is a certain element of that which is true – however there can be no doubting what a quality footballer he is, although it can be questioned whether we needed him or not.

Back to Macheda – one thing I always heard when I played football (by the way I was never a striker – far too slow for that!) from teammates and coaches is that once you score a goal you want to keep it going as long as possible – so if Macheda has that mentality and we are anticipating a potential high scoring game, why not give the young lad a chance?  He has scored two goals for the first team now, combined with his ten goals for the reserves – even if Berbatov is fit – shouldn’t Fergie opt for the fearless on form striker?

You get many fans jumping on the bandwagon when a player performs well for a couple of games (cue William ‘He played great against QPR’ Prunier) – however the boy has saved us twice now, he is strong and skillful plus he obviously he doesn’t hide when called upon.   It would be an almighty risk by Fergie – and I highly doubt this will even be flirted with – but wouldn’t it be great to shut up all those doubters!?  The media already think we’re on our way out whilst Arsenal fans seem to be planning how they can out fox Porto in the semi’s – why not get the goalscoring machine that is Macheda to set us up for that semi final against Arsenal or Villerreal?

In Porto’s last three games they have scored nine goals and lined up 4-3-3 in all three fixtures – this will not change on Wednesday.  Everyone feels United need to win rather than obtain a 3-3 draw (w0uld love it if that happened!) – so obviously we can’t be overly cautious but I feel the key to ruffling the Portuguese league leaders is to unsettle the defensive midfielder Fernando, who I thought played superb last week at Old Trafford.  He scored against an under strength Arsenal  in their 2-0 win – whilst playing in the middle of a three man midfield.  I think we’ll lineup the same as them, but I hope Rooney is given license to roam, thus dragging the young midfielder out of position – which could be the space needed for Carrick or Giggs to operate in.  What ever happens – I hope we make a game of it – and I hope that he don’t go out on away goals.

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Match Report: Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United

Posted on April 11, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Man United, Match Reports, Sunderland   No Comments »

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Macheda scores against Sunderland

Federico Macheda gave the travelling fans a thrilling sequel to his Old Trafford heroics by scoring a crucial winner to rescue Manchester United – going one better and scoring with his first touch after coming on for club record signing Dimitar Berbatov.

United put their followers through the wringer yet again but this moment from the young Italian was confirmation of his ability and perhaps more importantly, given the path of the season so far, his momentum.

The first half saw a compelling contrast between the two sides when in possession – the Red Devils showing a composed, cultured and comfortable approach and the Black Cats’ whipping their support with frenzied attacks. Sir Alex Ferguson had made another team selection that prompted many scratched heads – with O’Shea and Neville in both full back positions, Park and Scholes still in the side, and Wayne Rooney operating from the left while Cristiano Ronaldo warmed the bench.

Unsurprisingly, as these things go, Wayne Rooney defied expectation by being the main creative outlet for United – first almost scoring with 15 seconds on the clock and then with around 16 minutes gone, turning provider by knocking the perfect ball into the box. Paul Scholes was there to meet it with a lovely header reminiscent of those he scored during a spell for England and United in the autumn of 1997, to give fans worried about his recent form (including this writer and website!) a timely reminder that he could provide a classy contribution.

Indeed, Scholes and Carrick’s ability to keep and move the ball was a feature of the Champions’ play – but the hosts were not about to lie down and helped to provide a pulsating first half with a shoot on sight policy that saw them come close on a number of occasions, hitting the post – while United had an attempt of their own cleared off the line.

Sunderland started the second half just as ferociously and after surving a scare caused by a stunning Rooney bending effort, they deservedly drew level after Park was easily skinned and Foster flapped at a cross, Kenywne Jones stretching to stab home.

In response, Scholes shot narrowly wide, and Tevez couldn’t convert a move that had intricately weaved on the edge of the Mackem’s box. With a quarter of the game remaining Ferguson finally brought Cristiano Ronaldo on in response for the not only ineffectual but also increasing liability Park.

And with 15 minutes left Fergie took what surely was a championship gamble – replacing £30m record signing with 17 year old kid Macheda. It was quite a statement to make even if it was later apparent that Berbatov was suffering badly enough to require treatment.

Would the substitution prove to be inspired or a desperate last throw of the dice, almost an admission of surrendering the title? There was hardly time to form your own opinion – within the same minute we had our answer, as Macheda swung a hopeful, opportunistic, but meaningful, and ultimately fateful boot in the direction of a wayward Michael Carrick shot – the ball unbelievably nestled in the corner of the net to restore the advantage for United, and ultimately prove to be the winner.

Sunderland played their part in the nervous closing stages but United – who brought on the returning Anderson to shore up things – were rarely seriously threatened from that point.

Cynics will say United got out of jail again following a bad initial selection from Sir Alex and they may have a point, but this latest fateful interjection from Macheda may just make the gaffer realise that the youngster has the confidence, ability – and, crucially, as mentioned before, the momentum, to play a more prominent part in the Champions’ run in.

And with Porto next in a seemingly impossible task, it could be such a player who continues to write such a stunning story in a potentially record breaking season.

Source: (Yolkie)

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Cantona – Le Roi

Posted on April 10, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Man United, Players   No Comments »

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Eric Cantona

Eric Cantona may have spent only just under 5 years at Old Trafford but his influence on Manchester United can still be seen today – whether it is in the crowd, who still remember him fondly in almost every game, or in the team, with the thrills of exhibitionist football.

Cantona’s impact spread nationwide and there is a strong argument that he had the biggest individual influence on the evolution of the English game from somewhat of a kick and rush, long ball reputation to the fantastically glossy product seen on Saturday’s in this era.

Eric Daniel Pierre Cantona was born in Marseille in May 1966 and had a stormy start to his career in France. Starting at Auxerre before moving to the club of his birth town, with loan spells out at Martigues, Bordeaux and Montpellier, Cantona’s on pitch brilliance was tempered with controversy – even at the age of 21, when he punched a team mate at Auxerre!

Further issues of controversy included red cards, kicking the ball at the crowd and abusing the French national coach on television, leading to a one year international ban (well, he did call him a “bag of (naughty, naughty)”!!). His switch to his boyhood club Marseille (for a then French record fee) did not go to plan as Eric typically struggled to fit in, and his subsequent loan spell at Montpellier was the scene of another team mate altercation – this time, half a dozen players protested that Cantona should be sacked.

His on pitch form, however, was such that Marseille were persuaded to recall him, but after a couple of managerial changes, found himself under the stewardship of Ray Goethals. Despite being instrumental in Marseille’s league triumph Cantona found himself on the move again, to his final club in France, Nimes.

It was here Cantona had his infamous referee spat, throwing the ball at him after being angered by a decision – Cantona was banned for a month, and at the hearing, Eric called each committee member an idiot, leading to a two month increase. So incensed, Cantona “retired” from football in December 1991.

Legend has it that Sheffield Wednesday turned down the chance to sign Cantona because they wanted “to see him play on grass”, Cantona didn’t want to wait around, and Leeds offered him the chance to sign in January 1992.

The Frenchman had some contribution as Leeds won the league title, and in the season that followed, showed a real flash of his ability with two hat-tricks – one against Liverpool in the Charity Shield, and one against Spurs. But his stay at Leeds was again relatively short – as his career moved onto its final destination, Old Trafford.

The transfer itself came about peculiarly – Howard Wilkinson, Leeds manager, phoned Martin Edwards to ask about the availability of Denis Irwin. Edwards and Alex Ferguson were in a meeting and were able to tell him “no”, but Ferguson thought to ask on the off chance about the availability of Cantona. Edwards and Wilkinson set to work and Alex Ferguson had a lunch with Peter Reid, then Manchester City boss.

During the lunch Ferguson was called by Edwards to confirm the signing, which was met with a mixture of bewilderment and humour by Reid. Indeed, such was the divide of opinion that Liverpool legend Emlyn Hughes wrote a two page spread in the Mirror declaring it a “panic buy”, to “not look to him as a match winner”, and best of all, that Ferguson was “clutching at straws”. (The entire article can be read in all its glory in our forum!).

Ferguson was taking a risk but at £1.2m it was one worth taking on a player with considerable talent. Manchester United were clearly in need of an individual who could provide the glue and a little extra sparkle for a team that were promising but threatening to become nearly men.

Cantona’s debut was as substitute against City at Old Trafford, but after that he never started another game on the bench. His first goal was against Chelsea but the first real flash of the difference Cantona could provide was against Spurs in January 93, when a sensational stabbed ball over the defence provided a goal for Irwin. And he was inspirational again as in a crucial match at Carrow Road against Norwich, he was among the scorers as United swept to a victory that started a title winning sequence of 7 wins to finish the campaign. The Red Devils had won their first league title for 26 years, and Cantona had been a big player. More was to come the following season.

United had been transformed into a truly dominating force, equally capable at pressing their opponents or destroying them on the counter attack using the pace of Giggs and Kanchelskis, with Cantona more often than not pulling all the strings in either mode of attack.

Goals came in their droves, and not just tap-ins, truly stunning efforts that seemed beyond the technical capabilities of other players. Orchestrating a comeback from 2-0 down at Maine Road with two goals and then a last minute amazing juggle to start the move for the third, hitting the bar from almost the halfway line against Chelsea, a full pitch break and goal against Sheffield United, and a flick up and volley in the top corner at Wimbledon in the FA Cup were all memorable moments.

As ever, though, Cantona was embroiled in on the pitch problems, and in the spring he was sent off in consecutive games against Swindon (for stamping) and Arsenal (for nothing), leading to a five match ban. United suffered two league defeats in this time and stumbled to a semi final win over Oldham as their season threatened to self destruct.

The return of Cantona coincided with a 4 game title winning streak, the first of which was a triumphant first half double against Manchester City. And the season was rounded off in style as Le Roi scored two penalties in the FA Cup final to secure the double. Despite his on pitch misdemeanors Cantona was named PFA Players’ Player of the Year.

Things were going swimmingly for Cantona with his national side as well – named as captain by coach Aimé Jacquet as the team prepared for Euro 96. Prior to the 1994 World Cup, however, Eric had a public falling out with David Ginola following a mistake by the latter leading to a crucial Bulgaria goal in the final qualifier, which ultimately meant France didn’t qualify.

If 1993-94 was Cantona’s most successful in terms of goals and assists, the 94-95 season was certainly his most notorious – and illustrated just how vital he was to United when he wasn’t on the pitch.

The events of Selhurst Park in January 1995 need no introduction, but prior to that Cantona had been in sizzling form as United looked to make it a hat-trick of titles. The season (of course) began with its controversy, as the number 7 saw red in a friendly against Glasgow Rangers, rendering him suspended for the first 3 games. Typically, he scored a penalty on his return at home to Wimbledon. Scoring crucial goals in the home and away fixtures against Blackburn Rovers summed up Cantona’s contribution but reminiscents now cast their opinion over what they suggest were Cantona’s weak points – Selhurst, and his apparent inability to perform in Europe.

While somewhat true – United never hit the lofty heights in Europe as they did in the Premier League – it is equally true that perhaps Manchester United were severely handicapped by the foreigner rule. And, what is more true, is that Cantona was actually suspended for the first 5 group games following his altercation in Galatasaray the previous year. His return, against the same opponents, was in a team that was not at all familiar to the one he would line up with on a Saturday. The subsequent opinions that Eric was a failure in Europe are in my mind grossly unfair – the one real season where we were able to play as a unit was 1996/97, which will be documented later.

Of course no review of Cantona’s career could be complete without mentioning the Selhurst Park incident, where he “kung fu kicked” Crystal Palace Matthew Simmons. It was an incredible scene, coming after Cantona had harsly seen red and was walking off. Simmons claimed he had been targetted and was innocent, Cantona claimed Simmons had hurled vitriolic racist abuse at him – no-one can be 100% sure of what happened other than that was shown. What cannot be disputed was Simmons’ prior conviction for a violent racist attack, which would lend itself to Eric’s account, who would of course have had no prior knowledge of the mere existence of the numskull in the crowd.

The kick cannot be condoned and Sir Alex Ferguson was in agreement with club directors that they should suspend Cantona for the rest of the season. In discussions with the FA, Manchester United were led to believe that this was a satisfactory conclusion (in addition to whatever criminal charges he was due to face), though as always the FA sought to make an example out of a Manchester United player and imposed a further 4 months suspension.

Such a decision in isolation cannot be declared unjustified but when taking into account the fact that, for example, Jamie Carragher’s coin throw at Arsenal in 2002 went relatively unpunished and the fact that several players have committed far worse offenses than Cantona and have had far less severe – if any at all – suspensions, then the chagrin of Sir Alex is slightly more understandable.

What was clear, was that Cantona’s suspension was probably the defining moment in the title race, as his absence saw three goalless home draws against Spurs, Leeds and Chelsea. Blackburn won the title by a single point and Everton won the FA Cup – if there were any doubts lingering regarding Cantona’s influence, the following season would dispel all of that.

Eric Cantona’s suspension was up on the 30th September 1995, and television scheduling (along with a cute fixture list) meant that his return would be at home to Liverpool. The expected media whirlwind that tagged along asked all sorts of questions – would he be fit? Would he be the same player? Even ridiculous theories like, will he attack the crowd? As it turned out, Eric was back in the crowd, but for totally different reasons.

The conversion of a penalty after McAteer had rugby tackled Giggs in the box, to rescue a draw was the fitting conclusion to a game which had started in spectacular fashion, as the Frenchman provided the assist for Nicky Butt to score in the first minute. It was the introduction to a season (which, in inducing heartbreak of a few thousand Scousers, would have a similar climax) that was possibly one of the only seasons in British football that was completely dictated by the form of one man.

The United side he rejoined had a far different complexion than the one he had been suspended from. Gone were stalwarts Ince and Hughes, gone was the lightning speed of Kanchelskis, in their place were not expensive thoroughbred replacements but wet behind the ear kids in the shape of Butt, Beckham and Scholes. Cantona’s role in the team had been transformed from puppet master to nurturer and leader and he had not even been there for the event. In truth, the side took some time to adjust, with a 5 game winless streak in the winter threatening to undermine the title challenge.

When the slide was halted with a 2-0 win over title rivals Newcastle, it looked as if a faint glimmer of hope remained, but a 4-1 defeat at Tottenham on New Year’s Day seemingly ruled United out of the race. They were 12 points behind and had lost a host of experienced players to call upon.

The White Hart Lane mauling was the making of the character of the kids as United went on a twelve game unbeaten streak which included a return to Selhurst Park (in which Cantona scored a penalty and jumped in the crowd, again in celebratory fashion), and a sensational return fixture at Newcastle where Cantona volleyed in a winner completely against the run of play. The St. James Park game was the beginning of a four game run where Eric scored United’s only goal, with a last minute equaliser at QPR, a magnificent 30 yard half volley to earn all three points at home to Arsenal, and a stunning solo effort to win against Spurs a run of games that would be pivotal to the season.

The King scored goals in the win at Manchester City and against Coventry as the Red Devils really got a grip on the race – and the FA Cup was the number 7’s playground, too, with goals in every round aside from the semi where his goalbound effort was tapped in on the line by Andy Cole. His contribution to the side was not restricted to goals, however, and in the semi against Chelsea Cantona’s goalline clearance was crucial to the side’s progression to the final.

The League title was sown up at Middlesbrough and so came Wembley and Liverpool in the FA Cup final. Cantona was named captain as Steve Bruce was dropped, and the game seemed to be drawn towards extra time, when a corner was punched out to the edge of the box by David James. In true Eric style, he volleyed the ball back through the crowd with expert accuracy and consummate ease to reclaim the double for United.

For Cantona it was complete confirmation that he had made the right choice by toughing it out and staying at United when most players would have jumped ship – for the club itself and it’s manager, complete justification in retaining faith in the unpredictable genius that had now manifested itself in the presence of the armband. In the space of 12 months Cantona had gone from fallen idol to king of his domain.

Few could have predicted, even with the Frenchman’s penchant for the unexpected, that 12 months down the line he would go from king of his domain to another member of the clubs illustrious history book.

The year in between is seen by most as a failure – Cantona had begun to fall out of love with the game, citing his performance against Liverpool as so bad that “he had forgotten he could play so badly”. The truth was Cantona’s standard was set impossibly high, his performances on the pitch were of course not the shambles they are now implied to be – perhaps he had one or two imperfect moments, but the truth of the matter is he was still the best player in the British game capable of moments of genius that no other player, including the likes of Zola and Bergkamp who had joined Chelsea and Arsenal respectively, could achieve.

In his final season Cantona scored 15 times, with the standout moment the goal against Sunderland where he wriggled past challenge after challenge, played a one two and scored a chip of supreme quality. It was hardly the disaster it is painted to be, particularly with a league title in the bag, meaning that for every season he had completed in English football he’d ended with at least a domestic championship winners medal. The truth of the matter isn’t that Cantona had become less effective, but that his influence had been so great that the likes of Beckham and Giggs had become capable of moments of genius like that of their leader. In that respect, Cantona had been so successful that he was demanding some kind of self perfection to improve even further, believing there was something greater than the pinnacle he was already at.

Seemingly frustrated by his gaping miss against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League semi final, Cantona informed Sir Alex of his intention to retire less than 24 hours after the game. When he did so publicly, in late May of 1997, the news came as a bombshell to United fans. Cantona had been an iconic figure during the rebirth of the club as the major force in English football, the personification of the team during that period, and had provided the on pitch influence to the youngsters coming through that Ferguson had craved – helping them to play the game as an art form, and not a tactical battle. And in all truth, it’s an influence that still stands today and a philosophy and style Ferguson clearly still adopts.

Eric Cantona’s comments since retirement seem to illustrate the point – when asked about his ideas for coaching, he has spoken about creating a style of play never before seen, a concept he is dreaming of.

There is a real double shame in the timing of Cantona’s retirement as it would seem it coincided with Sir Alex’s tactical approach to Europe – the abandonment of this to trust in his side to play their natural game paid dividends in 1999, with a style of play that Cantona would no doubt have revelled in.

Talk of the King returning to Old Trafford has never ceased since day one of his departure ( and he has indeed graced the pitch since then for testimonial matches ) whether it be talk of returning to playing, which seemed to last until he was 40, coaching, or even taking over the managers role when Sir Alex finally vacates it. Certainly in recent years he has expressed an interest and has frequently indicated that United is the only place he could return to football for, such is his love affair with the club – and, in the same vein, most United fans dream of Cantona as manager regardless of his lack of experience or any managerial reputation!

After retirement Eric still found time to be at odds with the French national set up and now actively supports England at international events as his adopted homeland.

Away from football, Cantona explored his passion for acting and has won acclaim in many roles, while also becoming somewhat of a legend in the sport of beach soccer.

Still typically outspoken, the King makes clear his everlasting affinity for the United fans who still sing his name, at almost every opportunity he has in interviews. His time at United was shorter than the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy or even David May but his impact was as significant as, if not more than, any other player in the clubs’ history. Cantona’s arrival and influence was the vital ingredient in the clubs’ victorious rebirth, an era which is still in existence more than 15 years on.

His relationship with the club and its supporters is something that the fans look for in every player – such was the bond between Cantona and the fans in the sense that United are the only club, that supporters cannot accept anything less than anyone who wears the red shirt.

It is perhaps this factor that has led so many fans to be reluctant to adore the current number seven, Cristiano Ronaldo, in the same way, though at the time of writing there is of course time for that to change.

So there you have it, a biographic review (that was intended to be in a nutshell) of our King Eric and no mention of trawlers or fishermen. D’oh..

Source: (Yolkie)

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Match Report: Manchester United 2-2 FC Porto

Posted on April 07, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Champions League, Man United, Match Reports   1 Comment »

Porto score at Old Trafford

European Champions Manchester United all but relinquished their hold on the trophy with a slapstick display against outsiders Porto.

After the last gasp resurgence against Aston Villa on Sunday Sir Alex Ferguson would have wanted an emphatic display to be sent out, but instead, his troops performed in anonymous fashion for most of this crucial tie. Less than a handful of players can hold their heads up high after this quarter final, and United now have to become the first English team to win at Porto to progress.

Porto took the lead with less than 5 minutes on the clock when Cristian Rodrigues picked up on a poor defensive header by Evans, cut inside and finished with ease past van der Sar.

The home side were never going to score through any creative cutting edge and so were reliant on a howler from defender Alves, whose backpass was intercepted by Rooney with the inevitable finish taken with a touch of class.

It was Rooney who provided what little spark United had until Fergie made changes after the break – the decision to swap Park for Giggs almost past instant dividends as the Welshman created two gilt edged opportunities for Vidic, who was unfortunate on both occasions. With just 5 minutes remaining Rooney turned provider, latching onto one substitutes throw to create a goal for another – Neville’s set piece was exquisitely flicked on by the forward to Tevez, who converted to send the Stretford End wild.

The celebrations lasted for less than 5 minutes as opposition sub Mariano was the last to benefit from some poor defending, finishing comfortably to give United a near impossible task in the second leg.

Source: (Yolkie)

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Match Report: Manchester United 3-2 Aston Villa

Posted on April 05, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Aston Villa, Match Reports   2 Comments »

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Federico Macheda
Seventeen year old prodigy Federico Macheda scored a stunning injury time winner to send Manchester United back to the top of the Premier League – though that sentence alone gives no indication to the roller coaster ride the Champions sent their manager and supporters on to get there.

A sensational game of football was capped off in storybook (and almost, some would say, inevitable) fashion with the most impressive debut for a United player since current world player of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo in 2003.

But stripping past all of the drama was a game that the home side were very fortunate to win – a resurgent Aston Villa played their part in the tussle, and perhaps it was only their half desire to waste time after scoring their second which ultimately cost them.

With United missing more than half a dozen players who would have probably walked into the first team, Villa were always likely to fancy their chances to restore some pride after their Anfield mauling, and began brightly, before falling behind – James Milner and Brad Friedel were both careless with a backpass which led to an indirect free kick. Ryan Giggs rolled it to Ronaldo who showed tremendous ability to zip the ball into the top corner.

Despite his lack of options Sir Alex Ferguson will probably concede to making a tactical error by deploying Gary Neville in the centre of defence against John Carew – it was simply an accident waiting to happen, and when the big Norweigan easily headed in from Barry’s cross, United’s makeshift side suddenly looked bereft of options. It was no surprise when Gabriel Abgonlahor put the visitors in front just before the hour, and it was this goal that prompted Ferguson to think with his heart and not his head by taking the abysmal Nani off for the young Macheda, who had scored a hat-trick in the reserve outing at Newcastle last Monday.

The youngster immediately began to put himself about and gave United the much needed up and at them attitude that was required in the place of the lack of creativity, and a game of end to end began where first Macheda was denied a penalty after being manhandled in the box, and then Curtis Davies almost extended Villa’s lead.

Out of nowhere, Ronaldo popped up at the edge of the box and coolly stroked home with his left foot – the ball seemed to take an eternity to roll in, but it did, and with 10 minutes to go, the Champions knew that the remainder of the game was likely to play a major part in their title push.

When first Fletcher and then substitute Welbeck were denied by Friedel – who had seen his blatant red card against Liverpool rescinded, which surely must have made Sir Alex think he should have appealed against Vidic’s recent sending off – it seemed that the writing was on the wall, but then came Macheda’s moment of history.

Up there with Bruce against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993, Cantona against Tottenham and QPR in 96, and O’Shea against Liverpool in 2007, Macheda latched onto a Giggs through ball, skinned his marker with a Cruyff turn on the edge of the area, and, almost losing his balance, curled in a stunning winner past the helpless Friedel in the third minute of injury time to signal wild celebrations at the Stretford End. It was harsh on Villa, who had clearly done enough on the balance of play to deserve a draw, but there was nothing untoward in the manner United got their victory.

Make no mistake – Macheda, in his brief spell on the pitch, was a clear man of the match even before his winning goal with his aggressive attitude and his composure on the ball, and the esteem the striker is held in was summed up by club captain Neville after the match when he said, “If there was anyone in the team you wanted that chance to fall to, it was him”.

Such an introduction may lead to expectations that are unrealistic, but the talented forward has certainly done enough in one historic game at Old Trafford to show that he is ready to be called upon – and in such testing times, you wouldn’t count against Fergie doing just that before the end of the season.

Source: (Yolkie)

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