Friday, 28 February 2014

Heads Will Roll: United Careers Coming To An End

"If we go out in Munich, heads will roll" - These were the infamous words uttered by one Roy Keane on the eve of Manchester United's Champions League quarter-final second-leg against Bayern Munich. The team that had won the title less than two years ago had put up a meek defence the following year and failed to set the world alight again the following year.

Heads did roll. Within twelve months the likes of Jaap Stam, Dennis Irwin, Ronny Johnson Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, all parts of the treble winning side had all moved on. The new era began with the likes of Juan Veron, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Rio Ferdinand arriving, charged with bringing further European success.

Munich 2001 was a watershed moment for the club. The official end of the era of the treble winning side, the best in the club's history. Tuesday's defeat to Olympiakos and the possible embarrassing elimination that may follow in three weeks time may not carry the same sentiment, but is still a reminder that the club is once again in need of rebuilding, this time on a grander stage than before.

Heads will no doubt roll again this summer, but whose heads?

Tom Cleverley

His standing has sunk so low that the recent #AskCarrick fan interaction program run by United allowing fans to put questions to their former favourite scapegoat Michael Carrick was actually hijacked with abuse for Tom 'TopCat' Cleverley.

What does he do? Seriously what does Tom Cleverley contribute. Carrick has his amazing passing and even he's frustrating at times. Fletcher has his tenacity and work-rate, Fellaini, despite not really showing it yet, does have his physicality and is a decent footballer. Tom Cleverley does nothing particularly well and you simply can't get away with that at this level.

Found out, possibly for the last time. The end of TopCat

He admitted it himself in a recent interview, saying he doesn't understand why fans don't appreciate his negligible contribution to the team. "I watch Spanish football a lot and when the players play a short pass sideways the fans applaud because they appreciate the players keeping possession".

Fantastic Tom. Let me know how you get on in Spain. I'm sure Iniesta, Cesc and the likes are quaking in their boots at the prospect of Cleverley's radical style of football hitting their shores in 2014.

Chris Smalling

Smalling has enjoyed some fine performances as a United player since his arrival four years ago, but these bright moments have been outnumbered by several of mediocrity.

Smalling has failed to justify his high transfer fee

He looks awkward and clumsy as a centre half and offers absolutely nothing going forward as a right-back. Players like John O'Shea and Phil Neville never really held down a starting spot at United because they didn't specialise in one position. They had long careers as squad players and that is a role Smalling may have to accept if he wants to prolong his Old Trafford career. He's not good enough to be first choice in any position.

Smalling cost over £10m after playing only a handful of professional games for Fulham, a transfer that looks stranger and stranger as time goes by. Like Cleverley, he's another English talent that has failed to live up to the hype. But he wasn't the worst on Tuesday night. Another member of the back four scooped that very un-illustrious honour.

Rio Ferdinand

It was Rio. Rio was the worst of a very bad bunch on Tuesday night in Athens.

New Years Day 2011. United came from behind to beat West Brom 2-1 at the Hawthorns in a game this is remembered for being Gary Neville's final professional football match. Neville was awful that day, exposed multiple times as a complete and utter liability. Wednesday night should be Ferdinand's 'West Brom moment'. He was awful. Off the pace. Too slow and too sloppy to play at this level anymore.

RIo's great and storied career effectively ended on Tuesday

The writing has been on the wall for some time and Tuesday night was the death-nail in the coffin for Rio Ferdinand's Manchester United career. He's gone at the end of the season anyway. Either to retirement, or to a lucrative pay-day in the middle east or the MLS for a season. Rio has had a wonderful career but it's over now.

Ashley Young

One of a host of Aston Villa midfielders towards the end of the 2000s, all of whom signed for bigger clubs but none of whom rediscovered the form they had in the Midlands. Milner and Barry went to City, Downing to Liverpool. Ashley Young went to United and now finds his reputation in tatters.

It's not just been his lacklustre performances that have provoked the ire of many fans but his attitude. He walks with a swagger, a very undeserved swagger as if he, as a Manchester United player, has made it now and doesn't have to work hard anymore, he's untouchable. A superstar. He's not.

Young's United career will be remembered for all the wrong reasons

As if his petulance and under-performance haven't been enough, there's also his diving. When you hear the name Ashley Young I guarantee that 'dive' is among the first words that come into your head. Too often has he brought the club and the sport into disrepute with his theatrical falls to the ground whenever a defender brushes against him. He will not be missed.


Nani is 28 later this year. We've been waiting seven years now for him to live up to his billing as the next Cristiano Ronaldo but he's yet to achieve anything in the same stratosphere as his Portuguese team-mate. Similar to Ashley Young, for defensive effort coupled with a lack of talent to back it up has made him an increasingly unpopular figure at Old Trafford.

Nani being replaced by Januzaj, his season summed up in one photo

He was United's player of the year in the title-winning season of 2010/11 during which he either scored or assisted a total of 23 goals. Despite this he lost his place in the team for the end of the season and for the Champions League final with Barcelona. Nani hasn't looked the same since and despite being handed a five-year contract just six months ago, he looks to be on his way out.

Antonio Valencia

Perhaps a little harsh. He doesn't carry the same attitude about his as Young and Nani, who believe defensive work is beneath players of their quality, Valencia just simply isn't good enough.

The weight of the famous 7 jersey proved too much for 'Tony V'

Signed from Wigan in 2009 for a slightly inflated fee of £16m, Valencia enjoyed a good first season at Old Trafford, proving effective but nowhere near a big enough player or personality to fill the chasm left by Cristiano Ronaldo on the right wing. He broke his leg in September 2010 and hasn't quite recaptured his best form since. Although he was excellent in the 2011/12 season, he's been frustratingly inconsistent for the most part since.

Also he's probably the most one-footed right-footer you'll ever see.

Javier Hernandez

He's got away with being a sub-standard footballer for long enough. Under Ferguson he was most effective as a substitute, coming on as an impact player he was often able to pinpoint a weakness in the defence by virtue of his watching the game as a spectator.

Chicharito has not stepped up when needed this season

In the absence of van Persie and Rooney, Chicharito was the man to lead the line over the Christmas and New Year period. It was a task he failed at miserably and left him horribly exposed as a pretty poor technical footballer. As a lone striker you have to be complete, or as close to possible as the complete forward. Javier Hernandez couldn't be further from this. He's a poacher. He offers very little in terms of link up play, or anything outside the six yard box really.

He's been one of the more mutinous characters in the dressing room this season. Retweeting a story from Sky about his potential departure and recently posting a cryptic message that 'soon the whole truth will be known'. I'd be shocked if he's still a United player next season.

And the rest...

He's not quite dead wood, he's actually been United's best player over the last three games but Nemanja Vidic is most definitely leaving the club this summer. The Serbian captain has elected to leave of his own accord in order to seek a new challenge abroad. This may be a good thing for United as it may produce a settled back four. Vidic has been unable to play more than once a week since his season-ending knee injury in 2011.

Patrice Evra is likely to follow him. He doesn't really look happy anymore. Ryan Giggs has seen his playing time drastically decreased under Moyes and is likely to retire at the end of the year. The talents of Shinji Kagawa have been pitifully wasted since he arrived from Dortmund in 2012. He's the kind of player who'd look like a star in a quality team with some smart, quick attacking players. He does not fit into the crossing machine United seem determined to remain.

Robin van Persie gave a particularly revealing interview to Dutch TV on Tuesday which would strongly suggest he has no future at the club. Hearing him speak so rebelliously against the club, it's hard to believe it's just nineteen months since he signed from Arsenal and less than a year since he volleyed United to their 20th league title. His fall from happiness has alarming this season. It's accepted that the principal reason he came to United was to work under Sir Alex Ferguson so finding him gone less than a year later seems to have left Robin feeling a little cheated and longing for an escape.

And of course there's David Moyes who surely at this stage cannot expect to remain as Manchester United manager next season. He's taken a side that won the title by eleven points, added almost £70m worth of talent and a Belgian wonderkid, and turned them into one that may not finish in the top 6, and is on the verge being knocked out of the Champions League by a Greek side.

Manchester United cannot justify giving Moyes a second season

The players don't show the same desire to play for Moyes as they did for Ferguson. A manager that can't inspire passion and drive in his players will simply never manage a successful side. Moyes's shortcomings as a manger have been horribly exposed time and time again this season and I really don't need to donate any more inches to call for his head. The question of 'Should David Moyes be sacked?' now belongs in the same sarcastic category as 'Is The Pope Catholic?' or 'Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?'

PS: It's worth checking out this video which highlights:

  1. How completely oblivious other players are to the presence of Shinji Kagawa.
  2. Ashley Young does not look when crossing the ball, relying on the trusty hit and hope method.
  3. Long balls out wide are still this team's main entre.

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