Posts Tagged With: Man Utd

Cristiano Ronaldo Returns

 

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By Mike Njoroge

 

I, for one, will be applauding.

Applauding because he once was a good servant of the club. A servant to the point of becoming a master. On Tuesday, the 5th Day of March, 2013, if everything goes right; injuries permitting ; Icelandic volcanoes and Mayan apocalyptic prophecies ignored, Cristiano Ronaldo will return to Old Trafford.

It will be, his third game against Manchester United. His second competitive game against them. His first at Old Trafford since leaving Manchuria to join the Madrilenos. Stopped being a Red Devil and became a merengue. Preferred paella to fish and chips. Euros, to Sterling Pounds.

And when he comes back, when he returns, I will be applauding.

Applauding just as I did on that day in early August, 2003. Fresh from a pre season tour in the United States, Man United stopped over in Portugal. Their purpose, ridiculous it seemed to me at the time, was to play the inaugural match at Sporting Clube de Portugal of Lisbon’s newly built José Alvalade  stadium, which would in a years time host five matches for the European Championships.

United had already felt the satisfaction of a pre season tour. In the States, they had already defeated, convincingly so, both AC Milan and FC Barcelona. The 3-1 win over the Catalans had been most satisfactory. Barcelona had in their line up their latest coup,  Ronaldinho Gaucho. The Brazilian was wearing the Blaugrana colours out of choice after refusing to join United. That same summer, he had chosen tradition over novelty. With the chance of becoming Manchester United’s first ever Brazilian superstar, he instead chose to follow the footsteps of fellow Brazilians Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo in establishing a name at the Camp Nou.  It was his first game against the club he had just snubbed.

So, as United defeated Barca 3-1, though just a pre season friendly, the feeling was that dominance would come ; there was no need of Ronaldinho. The trip to Portugal was therefore but just a casual one. To enjoy the festivities of the opening of a new stadium.

The Portuguese were in festive mood. The scoreline after 90 minutes read 3-1 to Sporting Lisbon.

That was not the important factor though. The performance of an 18 year old completely left all who witnessed that match feel as if they were in dreamland. Donning the number 28 jersey, Cristiano Ronaldo had dazzled and bamboozled the United defence with his dribbling. Nobody could contain him. He was an evident thorn in the side.

The new stadium applauded.

Apparently, on the way back to Manchester, United players pestered their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, urging him to buy that player. They would have their wish. Before the transfer window was over, Ronaldo would be unveiled as a United player. 12 Million Pounds had been the price. At the time, it was the largest sum anyone had ever paid for a teenager, but a meagre amount to the 30 million that had been set aside for Ronaldinho.

It would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Legend has it that at his unveiling, Ronaldo requested the number 28 jersey that he had worn in Portugal. Sir Alex had refused, and instead gave him the number 7. The stuff of legends. Ronaldo was told that he would become a legend.

From then on, the rest is history. Requesting for the number 28 would prove to be Ronaldo’s last act of modesty. Arrogance would eventually encapsulate him as he set out on the road to becoming a legend. By the time of his departure, he had contributed a lot to the United cause. He had been central to a hat-trick of Premiership titles between 2007 and 2009. He would also be instrumental to the Champions League winning side of 2008. His goals in that season, 42 in all competitions, would be phenomenal, falling just short of Denis Law’s record of 46. He had though surpassed other legends such as George Best.

The road had not been rosy. The start had been doubtful. His endless dribbling was, although flashy, at times needless. Charged with delivering corners and free kicks, his delivery was poor. It seemed as if United had gotten another headless running winger into their ranks. All the while, Arsene Wenger was leading his team to an unprecedented unbeaten run. Then, Jose Mourinho would join the millions that Roman Abramovich had brought to West London to clinch the Premier League in two successive years. Success in Europe was also not forthcoming. In fact, neither was the FA Cup. It led to a period when the only realistic challenge United had was the one for the League Cup.

So bad was it that Sir Alex said some of his senior players requested to leave. One in particular, unnamed to everyone, had even told Sir Alex that he recognised that Ronaldo (as well as another young recruit in Wayne Rooney) had potential, but that he was not willing to stick around to wait for that potential to materialise.

That would eventually be his loss, whoever he was. As he left, Ronaldo was busy learning. The potential would eventually materialise. Ronaldo and Rooney would together become an unstoppable, immovable force. They led United in a period of dominance just as grand as the one that had won the treble in 1999.

It was all because of that August night in Lisbon when a young boy had lived up to that legendary name of his.

Now, he returns. Returns having further made his name and raised the bar for all of football. At times, superhuman, his battle with genius Lionel Messi means that he is undoubtedly one of the best footballers in the world, – if not ever.

He returns after having already played against United, and scoring against them at the Bernabeu. On a night filled with stars, he had risen as high as the stars to head in the equaliser that ensures that the tie is now precariously placed at 1-1.

The last time a man named Ronaldo played for Real Madrid against United at Old Trafford in the Champions League, he scored a hat-trick. If Cristiano is to emulate his namesake, then he will undoubtedly etch his name forever into the pantheon of greatness.

Whatever transpires does not matter for me. All that matters is that once Cristiano Ronaldo steps onto that Old Trafford turf, it will seem like a dream. Ronaldo back at the theatre of dreams. I will raise my hands and move palm to palm in a motion to produce complimentary sound. I, for one, will be applauding.

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ACID TESTS AWAIT MAN UNITED

By Mike Njoroge

The mixing and matching is evident. Like a Chemistry lab professor mixing his elements, it still looks as if Sir Alex Ferguson is trying to figure what his favourite combination for a starting XI is. Tinkering and tampering has occurred. Changing and switching. All the while, it has led to Manchester United having indifferent games. Dominating then dominated. Conceding, then scoring. It has been difficult to determine just what Manchester United will produce, or how they will produce it.

For one, it seems as if Sir Alex this season has started by building his team from the front. Ordinarily, teams are built from the back. You start filling in the defensive positions first before moving on to midfield and then ultimately the attack. Where Manchester United is concerned this season, the inverse seems to have been happening.

This is the only reason that can explain how three strikers can start, with an attacking midfielder, and a winger. Most team sheets this season have featured; both Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney; either Javier Hernandez or Danny Welbeck; Shinji Kagawa has also been on the pitch, then out wide either Luis Nani or Antonio Valencia. This means that in essence, there are 5 attacking players. That leaves room for 5 other players. Considering that a back four is a certainty, that leaves room for only one central midfielder.

It really looks like the Maradona confusion that Argentina played with at the FIFA World Cup in 2010. A wonderful array of attacking players, with as little midfield cover as possible for the defence. That little midfield cover has led to the defence being exposed in more situations than is necessary. And it is no wonder Manchester United has been leaking goals.

However, some common sense has been restored in recent games. A midfield diamond has been deployed, meaning that width has been abandoned. The midfield diamond still looked shaky when introduced against CFR Cluj in the Champions League. But against Newcastle United, it glistered. In the first 22 minutes, Man Utd were averaging 70% possession. In that period, the pressure on Newcastle’s goal had produced two goals. To avert further disaster, Newcastle had to change tact and fill the midfield. It worked as it reduced United’s momentum. But what it did was to also reduce Newcastle’s strengths. Now, they did not have two strikers up top to aim at with crosses. Furthermore though, it meant that Newcastle, the home side, were now playing on United’s terms. That is what control is all about.

But that control has been lacking. In subsequent games, United have fallen behind. Luckily, they have had the firepower to always bounce back. And against Braga in midweek, the stakes were raised a bit higher. They stretched and dug deep to come back from 2-0 down to win 3-2. Then however, their most dominating period did not include the diamond, but rather Kagawa’s injury had necessitated the introduction of Nani. Width in place of the diamond, and still the victory was acquired. It doesn’t look that much confused now as Maradona’s model was. Sir Alex’s model can morph into the circumstances it finds itself in. A case of Plan A and Plan B working in tandem. There is no set standard, and that is why it looks all confused, while all the same fulfilling its eventual purpose of winning.

Major questions still linger though. What happens when, as Maradona found out against Germany, this model meets up against a well organised team. Can Man Utd continue to come back against the better organised teams of this world. Can they afford to continue conceding? Can they still score more than their opponents can? Those are questions that will probably be answered in the coming weeks. A run of fixtures that sees United face Chelsea twice, then Arsenal, and then a trip to Braga in the Champions League. This is bound to set things into perspective. United faces major tests here. The diamond and the width will now have the chance to prove their worthiness.

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Schadenfreude

Cry baby JT is gonna retire without the Champions league. Aaaah....bliss.

One of the most intriguing aspects of being a football fan is the joy you get from seeing a rival going through a rough patch. The kind of sadistic joy that Germans coined a word for; schadenfreude. Such emotions are usually triggered by the fear, real or imagined, that said rival will deny success to your team in a winner takes all sport. That, plus the repulsive persona of the poster boys of these teams serves as fuel for the burning hatred.

Over the last fifteen years of supporting Manchester United, it has become second nature to hate whatever team challenges us for top honors. And Liverpool. Apart from a few occasions, it has largely been a period filled with much joy out of seeing the enemy fail.

With two of my most hated rivals in the doldrums, now would be as good a time as any to indulge in some schadenfreuede.

Steven Gerrard is a player I hate with as much passion as Liverpool fans adore him. He is a physical embodiment of Liverpool FC, a dinosaur trying to stay relevant by virtue of success in a long gone era. You see Gerrard is no spring chicken, cruising towards his 32nd birthday with a big monkey on his back pointing and laughing at a big failing of his.

In a recent interview, Gerrard confirmed what he and Liverpool fans fears most as he approaches the end of his football career; the lack of a Premier League winners medal for a club legend. Said Gerrard in a November interview: “It’s something I think about almost every day. I always think about the dream of winning it – or the disappointment if I was never to win it.”

“To have played at Liverpool for 14 or 15 years by the time I finish and not win it would be hugely disappointing. It would be an awful shame.”

And therein lies the source of so much joy for Reds around the world. As I write this, Liverpool are struggling in the league as they are 14 points off the top of the table past the halfway stage of the season. The return of Dalglish was supposed to mark the return to the days of glory but has been typified by their consistent mediocrity. With United a force to reckon with at all times and City looking stronger with every passing season, the likelihood of Steven George Gerrard lifting  the league trophy is looking slimmer with him being in the winter stages of his career. Somehow that thought creates a warm fuzzy feeling for me and countless reds worldwide as the bastard slips into oblivion.

Speaking of slipping, the father of all cry babies offers another avenue to indulge in some sadistic bliss. Step forward John Terry aka The British bulldog. I don’t need to go into details as to why I hate this repulsive thug of a player. The hatred I feel for the guy can only be matched by the joy I get whenever I remember his Russian escapades in May 2008.

Fed by the obsession of the club owner to win the Champions league, Chelsea have tried all tricks in the book to achieve this end. They came so close to finally achieving this dream only for their dear leader, captain, legend to bottle it. The delight United fans got from that day was immortalized when a terrace chant at Old Trafford was quickly put up, mocking the Chelsea captain for his fuck up at the most crucial of times.

Viva JohnTerry, Viva John Terry…could have won the cup, but he fucked it up..Viva John Terry’ sing the United fans, forever reminding him of his failure.

Gerrard’s inability to lead his team to the title was never in doubt given how poor the team has been in the last two decades. For Terry however, it seemed a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ he is going to lead his team to European glory given the strength of the team under his leadership and the several near-misses. But as Jonathan Wilson puts it in Inverting the Pyramid, success is a nebulous quarry. Luck retains its place in football, and success can never be guaranteed, particularly over a thirteen game continental tournament. With an ageing squad and a manager trying to find his feet in a new league, Chelsea are as far from winning the European cup now as they have ever been at any time during Roman’s ownership of the club. Again, JT as they call him is no young turk in football terms. Like his team, he has become slow and ineffective and hopefully soon enough, irrelevant.

Steven Gerrard and John Terry; one club men, club captains and legends. Bar a miraculous upturn in fortunes, its looking almost certain that both will  bow out of the game with much regret having missed out on what they wanted most. In another part of Northern England, one Ryan Giggs is challenging for what would be his 13th league medal with two European gongs and numerous other medals.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer mentioned Schadenfreude as the most evil sin of human feeling, saying famously “To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish.” At the end of the day, I guess we are all devils. Red devils.

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