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

Rooney will break records but can he follow Giggs?

Originally published for Can They Score? on February 19 2013.

Wayne Rooney is closing-in on goal scoring records for Manchester United and England and, at 27 years of age, needs just another 56 goals to overtake Sir Bobby Charlton to top the Old Trafford all-time striking charts. Judging by his scoring rate over the past few seasons, it’s a target he should be able to hit, but what does the future hold for Rooney beyond these milestones?

As his first touch becomes evermore precarious and unreliable when off-form, we’re told he’s not a young man anymore, and received wisdom tells us that football is a young man’s game.

It’s as though on the stroke of a player’s 30th birthday, everything changes, like a werewolf caught out under a full moon. Decline snaps into action, talk of  retirement soon follows and suddenly, all reports and chatter are coloured by the filter of thirty-something footballer. A biological killswitch has been pulled, ushering in nature’s inescapable laws of decay, forced on by the intensity and pace of the modern game. Continue reading

Is Berbatov the answer to United’s midfield question?

Is Berbatov the answer to United’s creative gap in midfield?

For the past few seasons, Manchester United’s midfield has become a figure of ridicule, on par with Arsenal’s goalkeeper crisis and the perennial lack of width in Liverpool’s squad. As always, the fans disagree on the solution to Sir Alex’s dilemma, with factions clashing over rival cures: a proven Premiership playmaker like Luka Modric, a hard man in mould of Roy Keane, new signing Shinji Kagawa or a talent trawl for the next Ronaldo.

With his graceful power and embarrassment of elegant technique Dimitar Berbatov is, on paper, the quintessential creative target man for the modern game, yet he has at times struggled to shine on a consistent basis for United. However, the Bulgarian’s ability to read the game, thread a pass and keep possession have lead some admirers to suggest him as a left-field solution to a midfield that often seems to lack inspiration. Continue reading

Moralising the football: down with this sort of thing

Surely football itself is more important than the man-boy antics of its overpaid and at times idiotic players?

The 2011/12 season (or The Best Football Season EverTM as it will be known until May next year) ended with possibly the most dramatic closing day in English top flight history, a Champions League win for Chelsea that King Leonidas would have been proud of and an excellent Euro 2012 tournament won by Spain in Poland and Ukraine.

Off the pitch however, it’s also been a bumper year for controversy too.

Racism, sexism, greed and barbarism all combined for a near-perfect storm of disgrace that football’s critics were quick to exploit.

John Terry’s trial for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand feels like the final episode in a toxic series that even the producers of Dream Team may have thought better of. Continue reading

How Soon is Now? 8 points on how the Premier League’s perennial slow starters have become its early pacesetters.

Call it the ‘business end’, ‘the run-in’ or, god forbid, ‘squeaky bum time’, but Manchester United are usually the last team standing when at the climax of a football season, not the first team sprinting off from the blocks in August. With a 100% record so far maintained into September, and an impressive haul of 18 goals in four games, Sir Alex Ferguson looks to be taking the initiative early this year with a new-look side playing ‘fantasy’ football.

Anderson and his increasingly deadly eye for goal.

I’ll be looking at some of the factors, features, players and performances that could yet make this the red’s best start to the season in twenty years. Follow on after the jump! Continue reading