Category Archives: Man U

Man U will have had a better season than Arsenal? Okay…

It was only a few days ago that Man U “legend” Rio Ferdinand predicted that Man U will have had a better season than Arsenal by virtue of having won the Carabao Cup and finishing third (below, it must be mentioned, the Arsenal). At the time, Man U were, it must be admitted, pursuing a long-shot treble, hoping to add the Europa League and FA Cup to their tally for the season. Hm.

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Vermaelen to Vanchester continues to vex Wenger…

As we prepare to face Benfica in the Emirates Cup, there’s a lot of talk of who we will and won’t see. We won’t see Mertesacker, Podolski, or Özil, who are resting; nor will we see Walcott, Ospina, or Sanogo, who are injured. We may or may not see Alexis, Debuchy, or Chambers. Another Gunner is listed as injured, but this might be a gambit of sorts related to a potential transfer. We won’t see Thomas Vermaelen, our nominal captain, because he apparently has picked up an injury. He’s not in any pictures of the squad training, for what that’s worth. Has the time come for Tom to be gone?

All signs point to yes. He’s not been a good enough defender for us for some time now, playing at centre-back only when injuries or suspensions to others allow it. We arguably got better centre-back play from Sagna in the few instances he slotted over than when Vermaelen was playing his preferred position. Deployed at left-back and right-back at times, the man has been reduced to an afterthought for both club and country. At his age (28), he surely wants first-team action. It’s unlikely he’ll get it at Arsenal. Per and Kos partner too well together, and the arrival of Chambers suggests that Arsène is looking beyond Vermaelen for our centre-backs going forward. 
He’d be the ideal signing for Man U. For one, they’ve lost a great of experience and skill from last season’s defense, with Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic, and Buttner gone. Smalling, Jones, and Evans are sure to step up, but Van Gaal needs to re-load, and fast. Under Van Gaal, Vermaelen would likely thrive. He’s the kind of forward-thinking defender that would fit in well with Van Gaal’s system.  With Vermaelen’s market-value sliding ever-downward, it’s probably in our best interests to unload him, even if this means we have to find a replacement. We’ve been lucky that neither Per nor Kos has succumbed to serious injury woes, but luck always run out at some point. Much as I might like to blithely say that Chambers can simply slide over or that Djourou is ready for a triumphant return, we really should have a third high-quality centre-back, perhaps even a fourth.

I know that the idea of reading another round of headlines bleating “Arsenal lose ANOTHER captain to Man U” could be painful, but this is hardly the same ball of wax. It’s been clear for some time that Vermaelen can’t crack our starting line-up, not as a centre-back, not as a right- or left-back, and not, as is so often suggested, as a defensive-midfielder. So he might as well be on his way to a club that needs his services but perhaps has lower amibitions. Man U appears to fit that bill quite nicely. However, if we are to sell to a league-rival, we should extract as much out of them as we can. Vermaelen’s market-value hovers somewhere in the £12m range. If Man U want him, they can have him—for £25m. If they stick to £12m, we insist on getting Kagawa as make-weight.

After all, Man U’s need for an experienced, familiar-with-the-Prem centre-back, coupled with Van Gaal’s system, make Vermaelen the perfect centre-back for their needs. All the more reason to sell the man on—to Barcelona or Napoli. I don’t mind losing Vermaelen. He had his moments, both good and bad, but we’re not content to finish fourth (not that we ever were). We have serious designs on winning the Prem, and I can’t quite convince myself that he’s the captain or the centre-back we need to get us there. He’s taking his lumps about as well as anyone can, and out of respect to his loyalty, if not his quality, we should send him somewhere where he can actually play. All the best to you, Tommy.

Just what have Everton, Spurs, and Man U been up to?

In part two of our ongoing, two-part series, we again play the part of nosy neighbors in order to learn just what it is our friends elsewhere have been up to. It’s a bit of keeping up with the Joneses, except we want to do much more than keep up with the Joneses. We want to pummel them and leave no doubt in their minds as to where things stand, pecking-order-wise, and to put them back in their rightful places, leaving things crystal-clear, nice and tidy so that there are no unpleasant misunderstandings. Yesterday, we looked at the three clubs that managed to finish above us (in large part, it had to do with out-spending us). Today we’ll look at three other clubs with designs on leap-frogging us: Everton, Spurs, and Man U.

Everton, of course, enjoyed a very brief but dangerous spell above us in the waning weeks of the campaign, bouncing back from being bounced from the FA Cup to defeat us and hold onto to fourth, only to fade under the pressures of qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since, well, ever. Despite failing to prove manager Roberto Martinez’s bold prediction of doing just that, Everton will play in the Europa League, having finish fifth, seven points behind us. In what ways have they tried to bolster their squad to this point in the transfer-window (set to close 31 August)? Keep in mind, we’re focusing here on major or likely-to-be major contributors…

Players in:

  • Romelu Lukaku, centre-forward, Chelsea: £31.2m
  • Muhamded Besic, defensive midfield, Fercencvaros (Hungarian League): £4.2m
  • Gareth Barry, defensive midfield, Man City: free transfer.
Players out:
  • Gerard Deulofeu, winger, Barcelona: end of loan.
It’s been an eerily quiet summer thus far for the Toffees, with Lukaku as their only major signing to this point. We know full-well how potentially dangerous he can be. The question that arises is this: will Lukaku thrive or struggle under the price Everton have paid? For the last two seasons, he’s played with the relative freedom of being loaned-out. Now, however, he has to earn his keep. He’s still just 21, and it will be interesting to see how well he lives up to the expectations of being his club’s #1 centre-forward rather than being that chap whose club loaned him out. At a lower level, the arrival of Gareth Barry may lend a more-stabilizing, wizened sense of things, as the no-nonsense 33-year old knows the pressures of playing top-flight football and may lend a steadying hand to a squad otherwise short on battle-tested mettle. On top of that, Martinez will have a season under his belt and that his squad, largely unchanged from last season, will be more-familiar and more-competent with his system and expectations. That’s a threat not to be underestimated, even if the new stress of Europa League blunts their Prem ambitions.
On to Spurs. By contrast with last summer, they’ve been very, very quiet. Once bitten, twice shy, as they saying goes. After bringing in some seven new players and a new manager, it’s likely that Spurs have drawn the conclusion that a bit of stability might be a good thing. Indeed, their only significant additions to this point have come from within the Prem, be they players or manager:
Players in:
  • Ben Davies, left-back, Swansea: £11.1m.
  • Michael Vorm, keeperk Swansea: £5.1m.
Players out:
  • Gylfi Sigurdsson, midfield, to Swansea: £8.9m.
  • Jake Livermore, midfield, to Hull: £8.9m.
It’s easy to sneer at Spurs. You probably did it each time you saw the word. Spurs. There. Did it again, didn’t you? However, their most significant addition won’t appear on the pitch: Mauricio Pochettino. The additions of Davies and Vorm look to be back-ups, at best, but Pochettino might be the manager who finally makes good on Spurs’ perennial promise to finish above us. He was good enough to guide Southampton to its highest finish since 1990 when they finished 7th in the First Division. Between the departure of Bale, the arrivals of Lamela, Soldado, Paulinho, Eriksen, Capoue,  Chiriches, Chadli, and a few others, and the switch from Villas-Boas to Sherwood, there’s been a great of turnover at White Hart Lane, and a lost season of sorts is to be expected. However, like Everton, they may yet benefit from a more-stable approach to things. We’ll be counting in Carl Jenkinson, who will face them as a loanee to West Ham, to put an early season dent in their ambitions.
Last, but certainly not least, is Man U. It’s a bit odd to ponder just how far they’ve fallen (their lowest-ever in the Prem) and to heap scorn on the fact that they failed to qualify for European competition in any form for the first time since 1989. They’ve ben deprived of even Europa League competition thanks to Hull City’s qualification via the Tigers’ appearance in the FA Cup final. Still, that absence of a European distraction may just their biggest asset as, like Everton and Southampton, they’e been strangely quiet to this point…
Players in:
  • Luke Shaw, left-back, Southampton: £33m.
  • Ander Herrera, attacking midfield, Atletic Bilbao: £31.7m
Players out: 
  • Alex Buttner, left-back, to Dinamo Moscow: £4.9m.
  • Patrice Evra, left-back, to Juventus: £1.3m
  • Rio Ferdinand, centre-back, to QPR: free transfer.
  • Nemanja Vidic, centre-back, to Inter: free transfer.
Truth be told, the list of players exiting Old Trafford would include about 10 other players too young too make meaningful contributions. This, to me, highlights the problem at Old Trafford: too many long in the tooth, too many not yet shaving daily. Yes, Evra, Ferdinand, and Vidic are gone, but those are three Prem-tested warriors you can’t simply replace. In their place, Man U have managed to add Luke Shaw, an intriguing player but not one who can single-handedly replace the experience of Evra, Ferdinand, and Vidic. Yes, there is a stable of young, ambitious starlets chomping at the bit to replace them, but few if any are ready to deliver the consistency and tenacity of the departed. As with the 2013-14 season, I’d love to see another season of depressed expectations, led by the increasingly petulant and petty bleatings of the Dutch Skunk, among others (Rooney, I’m looking at you…). I wish we could write off Man U at that and be done with it. 
However, as with Everton and Tottenham, the real story with Man U may lie with the manager. Louis van Gaal is no ingenue. He doesn’t strike me as being in over his head as Moyes so often did. Whereas Moyes seemed to play it safe too often, a hold-over from his days with a cash-strapped Everton, van Gaal weds a Dutch, “total football” strategy with Man U’s all-too-familiar financial largesse. Suffice it to say that, for as much as we hope to hunt down Man City, Liverpool, or Chelsea, we’ll have to keep an eye on those behind us. Man U, perhaps more than Everton or Spurs, will challenge: no European competitions to distract. A legacy to uphold. A manager with a track-record. Financial reserves to exploit.
In any Prem campaign, success or failure sometimes comes down to just a few matches. We’ll face these hungry, ambitious squads six times, all told, and our ability to open up a can of whup-ass on them each time might just make the difference between winning the Prem and failing to qualify for spoils as sorry as the Europa League.
Amen.

Robin recruits Cesc to reunite at Old Trafford

     The warm, soft Catalan sun was shining down on Cesc’s shoulders as he strolled along the water’s edge, waves lapping gently at his toes, and all felt right with the world. Despite a troubling season that had seen Barça, finish without silverware for the first time in what felt like ages, Cesc felt confident that the upcoming World Cup would give he and his teammates time to bond and unite around—a loud buzz interrupted the reverie. Fumbling with his mojito, Cesc managed to get out his mobile in time to see the check the caller i.d.
     “Clothes for Charity? How did they get my number?” Cesc muttered to himself. “Ah well, it sounds like a decent cause. Hello?”
     “CESCY!!!”

     Wincing at the caller’s shout, Cesc pulled the phone from his ear and gawked. That doesn’t sound like a charity calling me, he thought. He brought the phone back to his ear and asked, “who is this?”
     “Cesc, c’mon. Don’t play like you don’t remember the sound of your ol’ pal’s voice.”
     “I—er, actually, um—who is this?”
     “Cessssssc. Cescy. You can do better. Not better than that, though. ‘Cescy?’ Eh? Eh? Pretty clever, innit? It’s like ‘sexy’ but also like Cesc so it sounds like I’m saying you’re sexy. No homo. Anyway, listen, I—”
     “I’m sorry to interrupt, but who am I talking to?”
     “wanted to—Cesc. Seriously? After all we played together, you don’t recognize me?”
     “So this is not a charity that is calling me?
     “No, that was just a scam. I tried calling you from my own phone but I kept getting a message about being blocked. Weird. It’s me. Robin. Van the Man. R to the V to the double-o P!”
     “Double-o P? I’m not sure that’s really how one says—”
     “Sure, sure. Listen. Shut up for a sec. So I was thinking, we each had kind of sub-par seasons, right? What with you all finishing sixth like us—”
     “Second, actually.”
     “What? Right. Anyway, I was thinking, with neither us playing Champions League next season, I was thinking, see, that—”
     “We’re in the Champions League, Rob. First pot. Like always.”
     “Oh. Of course. Anyway, like I was saying, wouldn’t it be ace if we were to get back together? It would be like old times, right? You passing it to me, me scoring? Vanchester would be rockin‘!”
     Ace? Cesc wondered to himself. Did he say ‘ace’? How old is this man? “I don’t know, Robin. I don’t think people would like it much if I came back to England like that.”
     “What are you talking about? I did it, no problem. Everyone loves me here.”
     “No, I mean over at Arsenal. I’m not sure I’d want to—”
     “Will you stop worrying? Sure, they were butt-hurt at first, but they got over it once they saw my greatness on full display. I, like, won us the Prem all by myself.”
     “Last year.”
     “Hm? Oh, well, yeah, things under this guy Moyes are a little different. I can’t quite hear the little boy within, what with other players occupying spaces I want to play in, but I wonder if he wants me to leave. you know, go somewhere where I can just get trophies without having to, you know, work for them?”
     “Uh, I’m not sure that’s really the attitude that will win you many—”
     “Trophies? I know, that’s why I was thinking of leaving.”
     “I was going to say ‘friends’. Weren’t you just inviting me to come to play with you at Man U?”
     “I meant more like for me but whatever. It doesn’t have to be at Man U. Rooney’s always asking me to pass to him, which gets old fast, let me tell you. You and me, we could team up anywhere. Contracts don’t mean a thing. We could probably get Pep to sign us both over there, and we could tear that Bundesliga up.”
     “Robin, I never said anything about leaving. I’m happy here. I’m home. If I’m going anywhere, it’ll have to be for the right reasons, to the right place. No disrespect to Bayern or Pep, but I’m not interested. As far as I’m concerned, I’m staying here.”
     The other end of the line was silent. For a moment, Cesc thought that Robin had hung up. Then, he heard a long, drawn-out sigh.
     “Fine. Do you have Alex’s number? He must have needed to change providers or something because the number I have doesn’t seem to work. It just rings and rings.”
     “I’ll, um, tell him you called.”
     “No, wait, just give me his number. All I need is five minutes to talk to him to convince—”
     Click. Cesc looked at his phone, chuckled, and shook his head. Sliding the phone back into his pocket, he turned his gaze out over the ocean. The waves rolling up on the beach were just loud enough to obscure the faint sound coming from his pocket. “Wanker,” Cesc said, to no one in particular, and walked on. “I wonder what Arsène is doing…” He pulled his phone back out to scroll through his contacts…

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Luke Shaw, Diego Costa, and…Eyenga-Lokilo?

It’s been long-suspected and not yet confirmed, but to all outward appearances, Diego Costa is set to sign with Chelsea in a deal reported to be close to £32 million. Costa’s agent Jorge Mendes also represents Jose Mourinho, so there’s little to be shocked at there unless you dislike the smell of collusion. Elsewhere, Man U are said to be chasing Southampton’s Luke Shaw, with a £27 million bid in the works. For as promising as he is at 18 years old, that’s a princely sum that reflects potential almost than performance. However, I’m not here to suss out the relative wisdom or worth in these bids; I’m more concerned with how they reflect so poorly on us. We’ve long-known that Arsène is prudent to the point of madness, but if a fourth place finish is to mean anything, we should be spending money. Failing to do so would make a mockery of the fourth place finish.

Um, no offense, but do you shave yet?

On one hand, I understand part of the strategy. In a buyer’s market, you can wait and wait, forcing the seller’s price down and getting a bargain. For all we know, this is what happened with Özil. Perhaps Real Madrid, having splurged close to £100m for Bale, were nervous to sell anyone, be it Özil, Higuain, or Di Maria, for less than £50m. To have then gotten one of the world’s best and most creative midfielders for £42m might be a steal (let this be the last time I refer to a seven-figure price-tag as a “steal”). However,on the other hand, the news out of Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford suggest that there’s no need to wait. If Diego Costa, one of the most in-demand strikers on the market, can be had for £32m (even if there’s some chicanery there), then surely we can conduct a bit of business early on in the window as well?

If there’s any silver lining to the Costa bid, it’s that it likely removes Chelsea as a competitor for other targets. They’ve started to show uncharacteristic signs of restraint. Whether that arises from concerns around FFP or Abramovich’s portfolio (which has taken a beating if Forbes is to be believed) is anyone’s guess. Still, the parallel between us and them is all the more salient: like Chelsea, we’ve qualified for the Champions League. Even if we have to get through a playoff to get to the group-stage, it’s a virtual certainty that we’ll advance—and signing a Cavani or a Pogba early solidifies that certainty (and removes the issue of being cup-tied as well). If Chelsea can sew up an early deal, four weeks before the summer-window even opens, then surely we can too.

At the other end of the spectrum is Man U. I don’t know what to make of their reported bid for Luke Shaw. He’s a fine young player, it’s true, but left-back just doesn’t strike me as high enough on their list of needs to warrant the bid, not with Vidic and Ferdinand all but gone. The larger point, though, is that Man U, shorn of any international competitions whatsoever, are throwing £27m at a young defender anyway. If nothing else, this gives the lie to the idea that a club needs Champions League football as an enticement to lure talented players. No, Shaw is not a squad-saving player, but he’s apparently better than Gibbs if World Cup selections are any barometer.

Meanwhile, the closest we’ve come to showing any ambition is to offer a trial to a young Belgian attacker. Suffice it to say that your correspondent ceased salivating when he learned that the young Belgian in question was not Romelu Lukaku but Jason Eyenga-Lokilo. He may outstrip Lukaku in the cool-sounding name department, but that’s about all. Still, if Chelsea’s move for Costa makes Lukaku available, and us having a larger Belgian contingent makes us more attractive to Lukaku, then I’m all in for this Eyenga-Lokilo. As for the idea that Chelsea wouldn’t sell to a direct rival, remember that they did sell Mata to Man U and were apparently close to selling Ba to us before the Özil deal. In other words, it’s not as far-fetched as it may sound.

Still, in the end, all we’re left with is a familiar feeling. We’ve come through a grueling campaign, sipping from but spilling the Prem trophy, only to finish fourth yet again on the promise that such a finish is vital to the club’s dealings in the transfer-window. It’s an all-too-familiar script. I don’t think we should have to wait until August to see the climax.

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