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 Red11 REDitorial

Published: 3 FEB 2006

by John Ryan

I've defended Fergie time & again and I still think he's doing a decent job. But his interview on Wednesday night alarmed me.

We had just lost 4-3 to a decent Premiership outfit after some kamikaze defending and at time a passion-less performance. Fergie's comments mocked Mark Hughes Blackburn saying they constantly had the ball out of play and their approach was over physical. It smacked of an Arsene Wenger like series of excuses for defeat. Worse still it was unfair given that Fergie's double side of 1994, a side we loved, were never found wanting when teams tried to rough them up. Then, when asked about the defending for Blackburn's second goal, Fergie glossed over it and smiled that it was the sort of roller coaster ride you would expect from United. The truth, the bitter truth is that Ferdinand & Van Der Saar made a monumental cock up and then stood like girls politely questioning each other. Imagine the Great Dane and messrs Bruce & Pallister in that scenario. Blows would probably have been exchanged.

I love Manchester United and the teams produced since I supported over the last 25 years have made our lives far more interesting and at times almost like a religion. Think of a football hero and what does the mind conjure? For me some images spring to mind: Robson being carried shoulder high off the field after the Barcelona game in 84, Sparky's goal V Oldham that saved the double in 94 and better still seeing him carried off the field in Newcastle in Jan 95 after suffering a huge gash in his knee after putting us a goal up. There's Eric with more golden moments than the number of unemployed scousers and then there's Roy Keane in Turin in 99. No need to elaborate on any of these images, each one speaks for itself. The four players mentioned were not just Manchester United players, they were the link between us in the stands/in our armchairs and the action on the field.

Looking at the current side, how many players can you say is your 'hero'? There's Giggs who has been doing the business for going on 15 years. There's Gary Neville who I would place behind the quartet of Robson/Hughes/Cantona/Keane (I apologise here to older reds as I never saw Law/Charlton/Best). Gary knows how much it means to us, but unlike the four previously mentioned, Gary is never going to win us a game single handedly and one mistake from him can cost us games. There's Wayne Rooney whose impact has been such that we depend on him for creativity and without him we look limited. There's Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who is a brilliant finisher but who at the end if this season will have one title medal from his five seasons with us. Ruud was bought to make us more potent in Europe. Since his arrival, a semi final spot in the Champions League is the best we're achieved. So out of the current crop, no potential heroes are for me in the same class as those from the 90's. And I began thinking, just why is that?

It was mentioned on one of our mailing lists the other day that Jaap Stam will move from Milan to Ajax in the summer. In my mind he and Ruud are two players that guard the gates of past glories and the current side. After conquering Europe in 99, we all expected to go on and win it again & again if possible. Ruud's arrival in 2001 sparked a change in formation, one that would make us harder to beat in Europe. Then Jaap was sensationally sold. Then in 2003 David Beckham was sold. Then in 2005 Roy Keane was 'released'. There shouldn't be a problem with this, after all Liverpool FC were masters at bringing in the apprentice that signaled the end of a legends career. But the key difference is how each decision was made. Contrast the departure of the aforementioned three to that of Robson, Ince & Bruce. When Robbo departed, Keane & Ince filled the position he vacated. When Ince left, Keane had grown into a world star ready to take on the midfield warrior's role single handedly and when Bruce left, Johnsen, May & Pallister filled the void. Pallister himself found his time was up with the purchase of Jaap Stam. Smooth transitions all round, brilliant management and hunger for success.

All that suddenly changed with Jaap's departure. He was sold and without pulling punches, he upset Fergie and was packed off to Lazio. But there was no replacement. Shortly afterwards Blanc was signed. Blanc had been a tremendous player elsewhere but he and Japp were cut from different cloth. Japp, strong, quick, physical and relishing a battle. Blanc, slow, pensive and wearing the silver slippers that could produce a bit of magic. Then David Beckham was sold to Madrid. Clearly he too had upset Fergie and rightly or wrongly he departed. As a boy he had loved United. Did he want to leave? It's a hard call, but the only thing we do know is there was no replacement for him either. Cristiano Ronaldo was bought, but how many times have we heard his name in a sentence with 'potential'? He promises so much but in comparison to Beckham delivers so little. Beckham, while not the fastest, could put the ball on a sixpence for Van Nistelrooy. Now, Van Nistelrooy has to wait for Ronaldo to beat two or three players before the chance to score is decided by the lottery of a Ronaldo cross. Often his crosses end up in the East Stand or the Stretford end. As for Roy? Replacing him would be tough no matter when it happened. But he too upset Fergie and after twelve plus years smashing his body to bits for United, was left to forage for a footballing future.

The fact these three players were sold without a replacement of their calibre being lined up also crosses paths with our tactics moving from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1. With Ruud up front we had the ideal midfield to play that system, with Beckham putting the ball in front of Ruud no matter if he had beaten a defender or not. With Keane's age retreating into a deeper role suited him and allowed his other team mates in the centre more of a licence to get forward. And with Giggs on the left we knew he would create chances and score goals. But then we lost Beckham. Without him, I don't think we would have been champions in 2003 as he created a lot of chances and scored a few too. I don't think it was too surprising to see our position fall from first to third in the post Beckham era. And now without Roy, suddenly a midfield that was a match for anyone in the world has gone.

On a wider note, the players we've left go have not been as good as those brought in over the last five years. Was Forlan as good as Andy Cole? Is Rio better than Stam? Is John O'Shea better than Denis Irwin? I'd argue no in all three cases. Yet Fergie continues in his role, seemingly growing more distant from the fans who adored his snarling battling antics for so long. It is a miracle we are in second and I think we will do well to finish in the top three this year. How many of our players genuinely have the stomach for the fight that Mark Hughes Blackburn team did on Wednesday night? I'm anything but a fan of Robbie Savage but how is it Mark Hughes can make him look a decent footballer at Club & International level? How is it Hughes can deal with a player as unsettling as Craig Bellamy? How is it that when Fergie complained about Hughes Blackburn team, that Hughes chooses not to say anything controversial just that Fergie will probably change his mind on reflection.

We are crying out for someone to put that passion back into United. Yes, if he stays in the job, Fergie will return us towards the summit and will bring in good players. But will they be Manchester United players? I can't help thinking Sparky is now the man to take over at Old Trafford. He's a hero to our club who has taken & dished out pain for the cause (just ask that Sheffield United player whose testicles he almost removed in Jan 94) and I think he could re-energise and re-vitalise United. While Fergie praises the Glazers for handing him millions of borrowed money to buy players who may not know everything our club stands for, Sparky is building a Blackburn team on a limited budget into a decent Premiership outfit. At times I thought Keano might be our next boss, then O'Neill and maybe Hiddink. But given the current climate of the club a hero is needed for all our sakes. We won't fully realise how good a manager Fergie has been for us until maybe 4-5 years after he retires, but right now a shake up is needed. Sparky, step forward.

Thanks, John Ryan

Copyright © 2006 Red11. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission of the author.

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