Why All The Love for Ronaldo?

Originally published by Pick Our Team on February 27 2013.

Like the nostalgic laments of ex-lovers still pining for their former comforts, Viva Ronaldo continues to be sung from the match day stands. For those who cherished the Portuguese winger without giving themselves away to the cult that surrounds him, hearing his name sung while others still at the club play and graft for the shirt can be a sorry and unfortunate situation.

While the backing of a former player isn’t something to discredit, it’s difficult to understand the continued power of the love-in. Ronaldo never sacrificed himself for the cause; never propagated a familiarity with the ordinary fan; was hardly a leader or progressive figure on-the-pich like Cantona or Keane: he was however a very good player to watch who won matches with great goals. But shouldn’t there be more to all of this than jilted hunger for a one-man glory factory?

It’s easy to forget the baggage Ronaldo brings to a club. For him to prosper the team’s system must become more specialised, with other players forced to pick up the defensive duties and workload his talent elevates him above. In the final days of his first stint at Old Trafford, this specialism saw United’s game plan reduced to little more than ‘give the ball to Ronaldo’, a plan which, when faced with poor form, or a side willing and able to muzzle him, saw the team’s approach became extremely one-dimensional and predictable. Continue reading

Real Madrid preview: Ronaldo isn’t the only threat for United

Originally published online for Can They Score? on February 13 2013.

In the build-up to their first leg encounter with Madrid, much has been made of Phil Jones as United’s key tactical agent in the battle to muzzle Cristiano Ronaldo. Secondary concerns have also been raised around Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil, with suggested solutions ranging from a dropping Wayne Rooney  in deep to unsettle the Spaniard and unleashing Danny Welbeck or Ashely Young on the left to harry the German playmaker.

Negating Alonso’s influence is key – cutting off Real’s supply line will isolate and wither their starving forwards who can often rely on the midfielder’s quick, sharp distribution from deep – but with his fitness in doubt, it’s possible that Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley may instead find themselves facing Luka Modric, Madrid’s almost forgotten man.

With Sami Khedira paired alongside him in a midfield pivot, Modric’s will be a different proposition to the slow-moving, long-pass artillery piece that usually feeds the attack. An effective dribbler and lithe space creator, the Croatian has the ability to beat a man or two in order to unshackle himself of his markers – cutting out opposition players and giving himself room to pick a more penetrative passing option. Continue reading

The Mou with a thorn in his side: why its ok to hate Lionel Messi

A guest blog from Dave Hillier.

Chairman Mou: Jose is a charismatic and highly likeable footballing despot. I write this under no duress.

Say what you like about Jose Mourinho; nobody can deny that he is a masterful practitioner in the dark arts of football’s pseudo-psychology. Whilst the mind games may not always work entirely in his favour, Mourinho is a man skilfully adept at getting into the heads of both journalists and fellow professionals, be it players or managers. Who else could provoke the normally sanguine Pep Guardiola into swearing on national TV before last season’s Champions League Semi-Final? For all the talk of Mourinho being “the enemy of football,” or of his “destroying Spanish Football,” as Pique would have it, the reality isn’t so black and white. It is as grey as Mourinho’s hair. Continue reading