Posts Tagged ‘manchester united’

1403111_10151838476497746_558923266_o
Manchester United are struggling. Manchester United can’t win the title. Manchester United won’t make it to the Champions League next season.

Whatever the story is you’re reading about Manchester United’s fortunes, one of the three statements above will likely be made within the story, often all three. So, now that I’ve got the obligatory knocks on the team out of the way lets begin.

Manchester United are in a transitional period. People don’t like to hear it, but they are and it’s been going on longer than David Moyes has been with the club, it’s just become apparent now because Moyes is trying to address things and actually allow the transition to happen.

The transition I’m talking about is reshaping the Manchester United defense.

1470018_10151852522882746_795584542_n

Sir Alex Ferguson left Moyes with a championship winning team, minus Paul Scholes. It was widely assumed that there may be a blip or two in that transition, but that a team capable of winning the Premier League by 11 points the previous season should be able to at least maintain their status as a top four team.

The criticism being leveled at Moyes in the wake of up and down form by United is inevitable. After all, he followed a man who had been able to achieve and maintain success over three decades, a man who hand picked him for the role. The level of criticism he is facing, however, is unfair but the only way he can get out of it is to hit the formula he’s seeking. The other approach he could take is an absolute non-starter for Moyes and would be career suicide. So, since the United manager can’t say it I will.

1458529_10151839427912746_1997793729_n

The shambolic defense Ferguson left Moyes with is the reason for the up and down form.

There, I said it. It isn’t Moyes’ fault, or Manchester United’s fault. Instead, the blame lay at the feed of the greatest manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Ferguson was incapable of creating a solid defensive foundation to his teams. After all, the man brought us Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister (not to mention Dennis Irwin and Paul Parker). Ferguson was generally blessed with stability at the back early with the aforementioned Bruce, Pallister, Irwin and Parker. Parker moved on to pave the way for Gary Neville, who took the right back position almost all the way up to today. Some defenders, like Jaap Stam, came and went. Some, like Laurent Blanc, were brought in as stop gaps while younger defenders continued to develop. Then partnerships like Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic blossomed. With the long career of Neville, the emergence and longevity of Evra, and several solid years from Edwin van der Sar between the sticks, the United back line was as formidable at times as its front line.

Times change, however, and people age. Ferguson saw this and drafted in Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to hopefully usher in the new era alongside Jonny Evans. That transition depends upon a couple of factors, most important being the continued health and form of the veterans of the defensive lineup. This is where the shambolic mess Moyes was left with comes into play.

 

Ferguson saw the need to work on the next generation of the Manchester United defense and sought out the players who fit his mold. Defenders who are comfortable both on the ball and in the tackle. Defenders who are versatile enough to fill in when required in other positions. Defenders who could learn from Ferdinand and Vidic. What he failed to do was see that the writing was already on the wall with regard to Ferdinand and Vidic. Ferguson overlooked the fact that their days were done in terms of being world class defenders who would ease the youngsters into both life at the top and comfort in the Manchester United lineup.

1393689_10151852130127746_836936896_n

When Ferguson should have been seeking out a truly world class defender to play alongside the younger defenders as they continued their development he instead fixated himself with his offensive line. Like any true striker, Ferguson wanted to fill his squad with the type of attacking quality to strike fear into his opponents. It worked. With Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez, Ferguson had three world class strikers. Add into that mixture the versatile Danny Welbeck, Shinju Kagawa (fresh from being a revelation in Germany), the crossing ability of Antonio Valencia and the ever present Ryan Giggs and Ferguson had an attacking force to rival anyone.

The manner in which his front line pulled the team out of trouble and into winning positions time and time again papered over the fact that Manchester United were screaming for some established quality in defense. The younger defenders are still working on holes in their games and the veteran defenders are too far past their best to compete against the best of the best. Manchester United had no middle ground for defensive reliability, but Ferguson chose to do nothing. Whether this was because the team was such an offensive powerhouse that he didn’t notice the defensive frailties I sincerely doubt. I believe it was more a mixture of the loyalty he felt to the likes of Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra not to replace them coupled with his belief that Smalling, Jones, Evans and Rafael were the players to take the team forward and that they would develop quicker than they have.

What is still a factor is that these younger defenders have no world class leader to keep pulling them in. It’s all well and good for them to hear about what great defenders Ferdinand and Vidic were and how they can learn a lot from them, but when they see week in and week out that these defenders are being caught out by any top class players they face it negates that talk. They have needed at least one world class defender in his prime to enter the picture and show these youngsters the kind of stability, consistency and dedication to keep improving they need and that didn’t happen.

547826_10151869711222746_886268637_n

Moyes is still the man to move Manchester United forward. The work he did with Everton’s defense is allowing his replacement, Roberto Martinez, to reap the benefits and plaudits of his attacking flair and free flowing football. However, what is often overlooked in the praise heaped upon the “revolution” at Everton is the fact that without Moyes none of the current plaudits for Martinez would be possible. Martinez is a good manager and is constantly improving, but his footballing philosophy is about attacking football, ball retention, passing and opening up opportunities through that mentality. At Everton it is working and at Wigan that same style had them in a relegation dogfight every year, culminating with relegation. It’s not a vast difference in the quality of the team he has that has made the change, but the fact that Moyes organized and schooled the Everton defenders to a degree that they arguably the most complete defense in the league. Martinez finally has the one thing missing from his teams – a defense. He wasn’t able to organize, build and school that defense and now has one ready made. He is an astute man who will allow his defenders to teach him rather than thinking it is all his doing, and when it is time to replace retiring defenders he will be versed enough to be able to continue the legacy Moyes left him with.

Moyes, on the other hand, has moved to a club with three decades worth of success who are reigning champions, but who defensively are two or three steps behind the level he had achieved with Everton. Not necessarily in terms of talent, but in terms of organization, positional and tactical knowhow, intuitive understanding and belief in themselves. Ferguson was right that Smalling, Evans and Jones can take United forward for another decade of success, but he wasn’t ready to let go of his “old guard” to allow a successful apprenticeship for these up and coming stars.

The secret for immediate improvement in the fortunes of Manchester United lie in the defensive organization of their new manager. Moyes is one of the better defensive tacticians in the management seats around the Premier League. He needs to not be afraid to ruffle a few feathers by pointing out to the veterans that their times have come to an end. A high caliber central defender and a quality left back will allow Moyes to be able to bring in his defensive philosophies to players whose bodies are still capable of making the adaption in style. This way he can bring the future stars forward in their development while correcting a porous defense.

One final note on the subject comes from an article I read on UK Yahoo Eurosport, actually more a headline for an article. Moyes pleaded for the media to blame him and not the players for the clubs current poor form. I would like him to have worded that differently in order to take an indirect shot at the fact that he was left with a defense that had past and future but no present. I would like to have seen Moyes say “Blame the Manager”. While many would still read into that headline blame Moyes, the few who are looking at a broader scope could read into in the fact that he was left without a ready to go defense in spite of reputation and title credentials.

Fair1

Football is a fickle sport, and it could become even more so.

The brains behind the scenes within the European Football setting have devised the Financial Fair Play standard that goes into full effect next season. This standard is aimed at targeting out of control spending that has caused teams like Leeds and Portsmouth to go into free fall in recent years. It’s aimed at ensuring clubs like Rangers learn to live within their means. It’s also aimed at levelling the playing field somewhat given the influx of billionaire owners coming into the game and buying titles – yes, I’m looking at you Chelsea and Manchester City.

In theory this seems like a sensible set of rules. After all, if everyone in society has to learn how to balance a budget and live within their means why should a football club not have to do the same?

However, as many of us know well, theory and practice are often two different things. Having glanced over the Financial Fair Play Regulations, understanding very little within my take on it is as follows.

Teams must balance their books (really? How odd). Teams need to prove that they are bringing in as much, or more, than they are spending. Spending on things like player transfer fees, player salaries, staff salaries, club supplies, etc, etc. These expenditures are to be balanced by income from ticket revenue, merchandising, sponsorship deals, player sales, and so on and so forth. Like I said earlier, in theory it makes perfect sense. Here’s where I see a problem, however.

The majority of money coming into clubs is going to come from sponsorship deals. Sure, a nice full stadium is bringing in a good chunk of money, but the more bums in seats, the more security staff need paying, the more catering need to supply for, the more cleanup is needed between games. Need I go on? Butts in seats is to create an atmosphere, not generate the money needed to run a team.

So, back to sponsorship. Which teams are going to attract the best sponsors? Anyone? I see a hand in the back…no, it’s a hat! The answer is simple, the big teams with the largest global reach. As I’ve noted English Premier League teams so far, lets continue on that trend.

In England you have two clubs with a rich history that has led to a large global reach. Those teams are Manchester United and Liverpool. For those of you who are new to supporting the sport, Liverpool were the Manchester United of the day before Manchester United were Manchester United. Get it? Good. No, really – before Fergie turned Manchester United into the force they have been for the last 20 years it was Liverpool who were feared across the lands. They had the best players and were the team to beat each year.

As a result of past and current successes, these two clubs are well-known around the world and can get sponsorship deals many clubs would only dream about.

Next you have the current “darling buds” of Chelsea and Manchester City. Teams who have a less endearing history to the aforementioned two, but who have achieved great recent results on the back of huge a huge influx of finances from new owners. Their recent success has made waves and they too can attract big sponsors.

Finally you have Arsenal and Tottenham. Many people love a Cinderella story, and these two offer that. Neither team has close to the financial backing of a Chelsea or a Manchester City. While both teams have had their success, it is nothing compared to the past and present successes of a Liverpool or Manchester United. In spite of this these two teams are consistently on the fringes of success, even threatening right to the run in on occasion. This almost, but not quite from these guys will bring in money, but not as much as the four listed above.

To put it simply, everyone outside these six will struggle to bring in the type of revenue needed to break into the big time. Save an absolutely unexpected run of successful results, the other 14 teams in the top flight might as well give up and fight for survival.

ss

With Fair Play restrictions the lower ranked teams will have less money to invest in a player with potential and will suffer as a result. With fewer avenues to explore for sponsorship deals and fewer peripheral company funds to fall back on (such as Chelsea and their hotel), the lower teams will have a tougher time being able to bring in new players due to the ever-growing transfer fees, and will be less able to offer competitive wages as they have to be more structured with their pay scales to stay within the rules.

My fear for football is that we will slide back into the zone we have finally begun to dig ourselves out of – that of the six teams listed above being able to simply open up new sponsorship deals every time they want to get lavish while the rest struggle to keep pace.

After a season that, other than runaway leaders Man U, has seen teams on the fringes be closer than ever we are about to see the divide grow once more. After a miserable start to the campaign this time around, Liverpool can still mathematically make the Champions League. A few years ago that wouldn’t have been the case with a runaway top 4 every year.

Give Financial Fair Play 12 months and we’ll have a runaway top six in England followed by 14 teams embroiled in a relegation battle.

Financial Fair Play? Don’t make me laugh.