Feb 132013
 

Ahead of tonight’s Champions League round of 16 game between Real Madrid and Manchester United, Phil Kitromilides, presenter and commentator at Real Madrid TV, squares up to  Scott from The Republik of Mancunia.

What’s your form like ahead of the big game?
Phil: Madrid’s form is relative. Overall it has not been great, but we are still unbeaten at home in any competition, for over a year, the longest unbeaten home run in any major European league. So while this hasn’t been the best season overall in terms of form, the Bernabeu has remained an absolute fortress.

Scott: Whilst the Everton game wasn’t one of our best performances, it was one of the few occasions this season when the team seemed to play with real purpose and control. The City result at Southampton appeared to spur them on and I’m hoping we’ll see the same determination against Real Madrid.

We’ve won 7 of our last 8 in the league, drawing the other, and you have to go back to the first week of December for the last time we lost a game, and that was in a meaningless Champions League group stage game after we’d already qualified top of the group.

And how do you rate the opposition at the moment?

P: The thing that gives Madrid real hope is United’s tendency to concede goals. If West Ham, Stoke, Southampton, Villa, Reading, and Newcastle can all score two goals or more against United then Real Madrid should have no problem in putting a few past David de Gea, a keeper who conceded three times on his last trip to Bernabeu.

S: They seem pretty hit and miss at the moment. They lose to a team close to the relegation zone in the midst of scoring 13 goals in 3 games in the league.

Consistency and knowing what to expect were always trademarks of Mourinho teams but Real Madrid seem all over the place. Still, they just held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw so it’d be ridiculous to underestimate them.

What do you think of the opposition manager?
P: I think he needs a new watch.

S: I don’t like him at all. Gouging Tito Vilanova’s eye, claiming he saw Rikjaard entering a referee’s office (leading to death threats from Chelsea fans) only to later admit he didn’t, having a pop at Ronaldo when he was just a lad at United for being poor and from a working class background, and so on, lead me to believe the guy is a prat.

That said, he is a great manager who has done brilliantly well with every team he’s managed. We shouldn’t forget that in his last full season at Chelsea he was well beaten by United though, and his Inter side were an easy match for us in the Champions League a few years back, but he’s a quality manager and will be keen to do well against us. You imagine he will see this game as part of his job interview for replacing Ferguson this summer or next.

What’s your all-time favourite game between the two teams?

P: April 2000, Manchester 2-3 Real Madrid – Fernando Redondo with the best assist in the history of football for the third. A sublime team.

S: It has to be the 4-3 at Old Trafford in 2003. We went out of the Champions League that night but it was one of the best games I’ve ever seen, with Ronaldo (the Brazilian one, obviously) scoring a hattrick and receiving a standing ovation from our fans.

When Beckham came off the bench to score two in quick succession I was sure we were going to pull it off and knock them out. We were gutted at full-time but it was a thoroughly entertaining game of football.

Have you got any special chants lined up for the game?

P: When I am commentating a match I tend to try and keep chanting to a minimum!

S: “Viva Ronaldo, viva Ronaldo, get him on a plane, bring him back from Spain, viva Ronaldo.”

———-
Read this discussion in full at The Mirror.

Dec 132012
 

In the league table of human wickedness, the Poznan mockery by Sunderland supporters – after Manchester United lost the title in extraordinary fashion despite beating us on the final day – is some way lower than Inquisition, the Holocaust and 9/11. It’s not even as bad as singing ‘you’re s**** and you know you are’. But there are those from Manchester and many, many more from hotbeds of United suport in SE Asia, the USA and Woking who took it as a glaring example of man’s inhumanity to man. Scott the Red, a good friend to Salut! Sunderland, was so upset he wants us to go down. Since he also believes we make too much fuss about diving, we may conclude judgement has deserted him. Scott, the brains behind both the Republik of Mancunia site, expects revenge on Saturday (as if United needed a trivial grievance to be favourites)…

Salut! Sunderland: The first Manchester derby of the season brought you last-gasp victory. What is your assessment of the way it went?

 

Obviously the result was what we wanted and to win it in injury time was brilliant, but I was really pleased with our performance and the way we approached the game. Ferguson bottled it last season at the Etihad by looking for the draw. The team selection and formation showed we meant business and we were rewarded for that. If not for the linesman disallowing Young’s goal at 3-0 and not spotting Toure’s foul on Evra on the box, we could have had a real thrashing on our hands.

 

What is it like to have such intense rivalry again without having to look outside Manchester towards Liverpool or London?

 

I thought it would be a lot worse than it has been to be honest, particularly when they won the league. I don’t know many City fans though so maybe that’s why I’ve escaped it. It’ll never be like the rivalry we have with Liverpool, pure hatred, because at least they’re Mancs too.

And how were the bragging rights manifested after that 6-1 drubbing last season (obviously adapt to take in any serious thumping, either way, on Sunday)?

City fans celebrated the anniversary of that game on Twitter and in a banner they have at their ground celebrating being champions they incorporate the 1-6. It’s pretty small time for fans of the champions. It was a bad day for us though, there’s no escaping that. It’s forgotten we were only 1-0 down before we went down to 10 men in the first minute of the second half and in the 89th minute it was a fairly respectable 3-1. Instead of shutting up shop, as any sensible team would have done, we kept pouring forward to try and get another goal instead of acknowledging that the game had gone.

We must be approaching an anniversary – third, fifth, tenth? –  of the first time someone asked whether it was time for Sir Alex Ferguson to retire or stand aside. How much longer will he continue to dismiss such thoughts?

Who knows? If he’s still doing the job well enough, why would he retire? He won’t want to leave the job without a strong team in place but equally, why would he want to leave a strong team for some other manager to win trophies with when he could do it himself?

 

He doesn’t seem ever to get bored managing a team that pretty much expects to win everything in sight. Could you stomach supporting a useless or just ordinary club?

 

United has been in my family for generations. My dad was going to Old Trafford when we became the first English club to win the European Cup and a few years later he was watching us in Division 2. Since winning his first trophy with us 1990, Ferguson hasn’t gone longer than one season at a time without winning something. I know I’m totally spoilt by that and the expectation I have at the start of every season is to win the league. But essentially, your team is your team. I’m just fortunate that my local team is one of the best in the world!

 

I have never hated Manchester United, as you know from our many exchanges, but many do. Has the despicable side of Chelsea or the limitless money of Citeh deflected such hatred to any extent you have noticed?

 

To a certain extent, yes. Whilst nobody likes the team at the top, I have had conversations with rival fans who at least seem to appreciate the way United have been successful, even if that doesn’t necessarily make them like us more. City and Chelsea don’t bring through players and they do little for developing English talent. Five players in our squad on Sunday came from our youth team (six if you count Rafael da Silva who signed for us when he was 16) and 10 were English. City didn’t have any former academy players in their squad and just three were English.

 

Who are the greatest players you have seen, or wished you’d been around to see, in United colours and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?

Eric Cantona is the most special United player I’ve seen. He made things happen and inspired our team to greatness. Who knows what would have happened to those kids that Hansen said wouldn’t win anything if in their first season they failed? Cantona saw to it that we won the Double in their first season in the first team squad and that impact is immeasurable. Ryan Giggs was an incredibly exciting players. It’s easy to forget how skilful and fast he was. Cristiano Ronaldo was something else, particularly during that 07-08 season. If he didn’t score two goals in a game you’d think he’d had an off day. Roy Keane was immense. Ferguson once said that Keano wasn’t the fastest player but if you put the ball down in training he was the fastest to it. That sums him up. He was a brilliant captain. The best footballer is Paul Scholes though. Without question. Sir Bobby Charlton, who got to play alongside the likes of Best and Law, said Duncan Edwards was the only player who ever made him feel inferior. He was only 21 when he died. You can only imagine what kind of player he would have become.

Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Phil Bardsley, Fraizer Campbell – and, of course, Keano, Bruce, Welbeck, Evans, Louis Saha, briefly Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, er Bellion in the past. Rap my knuckles now if I’ve overlooked others but what do you make of the United-SAFC connections?

I used to have a bit of a soft spot for Sunderland, being honest. It wasn’t just that so many of our ex players went to Sunderland, but so many players we had a strong connection with. You’ve had loads of our former youth team players, you’ve had two of our captains as your manager, and our Treble winning strikeforce. But after your fans celebrated City’s title win last season, I don’t have much time for Sunderland. In all honesty, I hope you get relegated… and that Wes and O’Shea go to the other United graveyard, Everton.

And how lucky were we to avoid Darron Gibson?

He seems to have done alright for Everton. He was never going to be good enough for United but he’s got the right mentality. He really wanted to make it at United though so stayed longer than he should have. He’s only two years younger than Rooney but in terms of his development, he’s at least 10 years behind. He’s only played 69 league games which is nothing for a player of his age.

See also: Goldy’s Logic: injecting a hint of proportion into the Poznan debate.

Will United bounce back/now go on to win the title again this season? Champions League? And what about those petty little doemstic cups?

I think we’ll win the league every season. The odds are against City because it’s so rare for a team that isn’t United to retain the title. As for Europe, I wouldn’t say our squad was anywhere near good enough. But watching Chelsea get battered game after game and still win it should give faith to every club still in the competition.

So, the top four in order, and who’s going down and – unless just mentioned! – where SAFC will finish?

 1 United 2 City 3 Chelsea 4 Spurs

16 Sunderland

18 Southampton 19 Reading 20 QPR

Diving: Rooney is often accused, even SAF found it hard to defend Young, Suarez is almost a pantomime act and every club has ‘em: Ridgewell (WBA), Osman (Everton), Torres (Chelsea), Bale (Spurs) and name your own Sunderland culprits (I recall a certain suspicion about Bardo from the season before last). Should we just stop caring?

Yes. I can understand the anger when a player dives against your team and it costs you, but it’s time for people to get over the rage. Players cheat and when your team benefits, it would be rare for fans to get worked up about it. Retrospective punishments would help sort it but those at the top don’t seem to care too much about it… unless it’s Eduardo, for some reason. What’s the point in getting worked up about something that clearly is not going to go away?

What single development would make football seem more in touch with ordinary supporters?

 

It’s probably gone past that point now, hasn’t it? Making tickets cheaper. They cope just fine with it in Germany. Would love to see standing sections back too.

 

Will you be at our game? What will be the score?

 

I will be, yes. 3-1 United.

Sep 132012
 

Whether the past 10 days represent, for you, the tedium of an international break or thrills on the road to Rio 2014, the return to Premier football is welcome enough to justify bringing forward this week’s ‘Who are You?’. Sunderland play Liverpool on Saturday evening and we asked David Wooding, a Liverpool-supporting journalist and broadcaster who runs political coverage at the News of the World’s successor, The Sun on Sunday, to talk about his club. Whatever we feel about The Sun’s role after the Hillsborough disaster, this item from David’s own website indicates that he shares the broad view of supporters everywhere, using the term ‘slur’ to describe the disgraceful suggestion that drunken Liverpool fans arriving late for the FA Cup semi-final were to blame (from the damning independent report: ‘The evidence shows conclusively that Liverpool fans neither caused nor contributed to the deaths of 96 men, women and children’).

He was born in Liverpool and was taken to Anfield by his father as soon as he was big enough to sit on his shoulders. His dad was a Class One referee and when he wasn’t officiating, took David to Anfield, usually at floodlight mid-week games. He was lucky enough to be an ever-present fan through the long, glory years and was at the greatest games, including all seven European Cup finals. David gave up his season ticket when he moved to London in the 1980s – but has since regained it and travels up to as many home fixtures as he can, and also goes to games when they are playing in the capital.

David talks to Salut! Sunderland’s Colin Randall.

Salut! Sunderland: What do you make of Liverpool’s worst start to a season in half a century?

David Wooding: I’m not as disappointed as I thought I’d be, because I realise we are at the start of a complete rebuilding exercise. My biggest worry is our lack of strike power. It is surprising we offloaded Andy Carroll just before the transfer deadline without having a replacement lined up.

John Henry seems to blame past owners and/or managers and says the ethos is to win … “we will invest to succeed. But we will not mortgage the future with risky spending”. Wise words or the prelude to a lengthy spell of mediocrity?

They are wise words indeed, but if that’s how they feel, why did they blow £131 million on, for the most part, a bunch of mediocre players last season? It is clear that poor Brendan Rodgers is paying the price for Kenny Dalglish’s disastrous spending spree. Sadly, in today’s Premier League you have to splash the cash if you want to keep pace with the nouveau riche at Chelsea and Manchester City, whose owners demand instant gratification.

What were your feelings about the replacement of Kenny with Brendan Rodgers?

King Kenny is, and will always remain, a legend at Anfield. He is the finest player I ever saw in a red shirt and brought so many happy memories both on the field and in his first spell as manager. However, I was against his return as manager after Roy Hodgson’s departure. I never believe in turning the clock back and did not think he was the right man to take us forward. We’re an emotional bunch on The Kop and my pals genuinely believed he would turn things round. Clearly his return raised morale and paid dividends, giving us three trips to Wembley and some long overdue silverware. Kenny probably deserved another season, but then if he isn’t the person to take us forward, why waste any more time? Perhaps he should have stood down in May to avoid what was inevitable – it all ending in tears.
Is there any player in the current Sunderland squad you’d be delighted to see in Liverpool colours and do you think Jordan Henderson will ever become an Anfield favourite?

Adam Johnson is exciting to watch when he’s on form and our defence will have to keep a close eye on him. Sad to say, Jordan Henderson was probably the biggest disappointment of all our signings last season, failing to make any impact at most of the games I attended. He would probably have benefited from a season or two in the reserves but these days, young signings are thrown straight into first team action. Still, he is young, and who would have ever guessed that one of our most unpopular young midfielders, Lucas Leiva, is now a firm favourite.

 How embarrassing was it to be a Liverpool supporter during the Suarez saga and do you think the club’s reputation suffered lasting damage as a result of its approach to it?

The whole affair was handled badly from start to finish and I hear the PR unit has been overhauled since then. It was an embarrassing chapter, poorly dealt with, but it doesn’t leave any lasting stain on the club or its fans. There were several things that should have been done differently but when Suarez was found guilty (even though it was one man’s word against another) [editor nb. - The FA report clearly states the opposite is true, with Suarez's legal representation agreeing. Report: “215. It was accepted by both Mr Greaney and Mr McCormick in closing submissions that this is not simply a case of one person’s word against another.”] , the club should have accepted the eight-match ban as a sign of how determined it is to stamp out racism of any kind. That would have sent out a strong message, put the club on the moral high ground and handed it a PR coup. Liverpool could have said they expect this to be the FA’s minimum punishment for future incidents.

Tell me this season’s top four in order and the bottom three

Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United. Bottom: Southampton, Reading, Norwich.

And where will our clubs finish if not in either of those groups?

Liverpool 5th, Sunderland 8th.

Name the greatest players you’ve ever seen for Liverpool and who should have been allowed nowhere near the club?

Kenny Dalglish stands out as the greatest ever and had a key role in so many historic games. Steven Gerrard is a close second, but the King’s medal haul gives him the edge. Others I was proud to have seen often were 1966 World Cup legend “Sir” Roger Hunt, and other local-born strikers such as Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush. Steve Heighway on the wing was a joy to watch as was the Keegan and Toshack partnership. A word also for Ian Callaghan, who in a magnificent 18-year career, was a young player in the team which won promotion to the top flight, he was in the first Reds team to win the FA Cup, collected five league titles, was in the side which won the European Cup for the first time in Rome in 1977 and the 1966 England World Cup squad. He played 865 games for Liverpool and was booked only once.

Perhaps the worst player to don a red shirt was Jimmy Carter. He is living proof that even the King makes mistakes. Kenny Dalglish signed him from Millwall for £500,000, handed him his old number 7 shirt and then quit soon afterwards. Carter lasted eight months before new manager Graeme Souness flogged him to Arsenal, where he sank without trace.

Did the success of the Olympics make you blasé about the resumption of football or couldn’t you wait?

I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the athletics finals and watched a lot of the Games on TV.

What struck me most was not only the sheer commitment of the competitors but their generous sporting spirit. I will find it much harder this season to tolerate highly-paid footballers who aren’t prepared to put in 100 per cent for their supporters – or those who hurl abuse at opponents and officials.

Which leads on to the cheating question: who do you consider the worst culprits and what would you do to stamp it out?

Every team has them. We seem to idolise those who play for the club we support – and loathe them if they are the opposition. It ranges from shirt-tugging, to diving, time-wasting and gamesmanship. I’m afraid it’s all down to the referees. If they were strictly to apply the rules of ungentlemanly conduct then it would be stamped out in a seaon.

Is it club before country for you. Either way, explain why.

We’re not English, we are Scouse. So goes one of the Kop cries. It’s probably because it’s the team we support week in, week out and it’s important to have the bragging rights over the Toffees when Monday morning comes. But there’s something magical about a World Cup when, for just a few weeks, we’re all on the same side and even cheer on the likes of Wayne Rooney!

How will you follow our game and what will be the score?

Saturday is a working day for me (I only get to the Sunday games) so I will be watching on TV at my desk. Hoping for a lull in activity at about 5.30pm!

 

Aug 302012
 

Ross Hannah had a large slice of bad luck during his first full season in professional football, after joining Bradford City from NPL Premier Division’s Matlock Town. He scored 52 goals in his last season at Matlock before being brought to League Two on a free transfer in May 2011.

This season he is back fitter than ever and looked sharp in the friendlies. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me recently.

Hannah was initially signed by Peter Jackson in the summer 2011. A number of clubs were reported to be chasing him, so I asked him why he chose Bradford City. “No one person made me choose City, it was the club itself with everything; the fans, the ground and the club’s structure.”

Having played at a non-professional level for clubs like Stocksbridge Park Steels and Belper Town, scoring 170 league goals in 275 games, Hannah was 24-years-old when he was rewarded with his first professional contract. Some players struggle to make the transition and Hannah acknowledges it took him some time to make the required jump to be good enough.

“The transition was very hard looking back you don’t realise until you do it,” he said. “You have to take all sorts of things into account and it takes a certain individual to do it. I’d say it was only this pre season where I felt I was up to speed and my body was right. There wasn’t just one specific aspect that I had to work on it was both mental and physical things that needed improving.”

Hannah’s first goal for Bradford City came in a 1-1 draw against Oxford City, scoring three minutes after being subbed on for former Manchester United midfielder, Ritchie Jones.

“The best moment was scoring my first league goal at Oxford, amazing feeling,” he said.

Hannah had seemed to have got to grips with things at Valley Parade, stringing a number of appearances together in November, before an unfortunate injury during the warm-up just a week after his first goal at Valley Parade in the FA Cup 2nd round victory over Wimbledon.

“It did knock me back a bit as I was just starting to find my feet and playing well,” he said. “But in football anything can happen; good or bad, you just have to keep strong and bounce back stronger.”

Since then he has struggled to nail down a starting place for Phil Parkinson’s side, despite the manager renewing his contract in March.

“In an ideal world every player would want it to be easy and be guaranteed to get into the team,” he said. “Football isn’t like that. You have to earn your place in the team. Sometimes things go against you but that’s just part of the game. It is very frustrating watching on, but at the same time you never know when you may be needed so you have to be focused and ready when needed.”

Having enjoyed a successful career of sorts before coming to Bradford, Hannah would obviously like to recreate that kind of form and start scoring regularly again.

“Personally, I always set myself targets and this season is no different,” he said. “I’d like to make sure I play on a more consistent basis and anything beyond 10 goals I’ll be happy with. The team is in very good shape and the squad is stronger this year. Our league isn’t predictable as the teams always expected to be successful aren’t always the teams that do well, but if you can put a consistent run of games together then we can be certainly in the mix.”

You might think that Hannah might not have had many opportunities to play with any football stars in his career to date. However, the striker who started his career at the youth teams of Sheffield Wednesday and United, got to join up with Wednesday legend when he was just a teenager playing at Worksop.

“The best player I’ve played with has to be Chris Waddle. I was lucky enough to play in the same team as him at Worksop Town and at 40 was still amazing to watch.”

Aug 252012
 

BFTGT: What would have to happen this season for you to class it as a successful one for your club?

Aidran Roberts: In terms of England, it’s all about ensuring a healthy balance of young and old in the Senior setup. Beyond that, you simply hope that Roy moves away from some of the tactics seen throughout Euro 2012. Given his limited time with the squad, you can give him a free pass there, but as we shift into qualification matches, let’s hope for a fundamental change.

BFTGT: How do you feel about England prospects thanks to movement in the transfer window?

AR: Hodgson recently lamented that there are times he will be calling up players who might not be featuring in the first team. In terms of business – upward mobility from the Football League of English players, as well as the hope for solid loans for the likes of McEachran et al.

BFTGT: Who do you think will be England’s most important player this season?

AR: I’ll spin this back to the manager. Roy will be incredibly important in his first full season in charge. A true litmus test.

BFTGT: How do you rate your manager’s ability to take your club forward?

AR: Highly. I think with the launch of St. George’s Park, a man like Hodgson will start to lay a solid foundation for England youth teams and we can hopefully progress from there.

BFTGT: Who do you think will win the league this season?

AR: Arsenal and Chelsea will offer City a fresh challenge, but going off English players alone, it has to be Manchester United for me.

Aug 192012
 

BFTGT: What would have to happen this season for you to class this as a successful one?

Danny Pugsley: This has been the most asked question of me for the various previews this summer. Having done what City have the past couple of seasons there is a platform for continued success. By that, of course we mean lifting trophies so to go without a trophy would be classed as a disappointment. The hope will be for a better showing in the Champions League but the big prize will be to try and retain the title. Success breeds success, but it also breeds expectation so this will be an added pressure for the squad to cope with.

Doron Salomon: I guess wining back the league although and it’s harder to measure against, I’d be pretty happy to see us play good football with some of the younger players firmly integrated into the first team. I’d like to see United win the FA Cup, it’s a competition we really underperform in; whilst in Europe, things can’t go worse than last year!

BFTGT: How do you feel about your club’s business in the transfer window this summer?

DS: So far I’m happy. Kagawa already looks like smart business and Nick Powell, although a bit of an unknown, has settled in well and looks confident when he’s played. I wanted to see another player brought in, ideally a central midfielder, but RVP will suffice!

DP: Lack of you mean? Far too much has been placed on the lack of activity I think. Mancini’s comments make for good headlines but the market is not huge and City are no longer in the position to have to throw money around to quickly catch up. They also have the added problem of being burdened with some of the contracts from the early days which are hampering them due to FFP. Rodwell is an interesting signing. There doesn’t feel an obvious ‘fit’ at the moment but the fee is not huge and he will have a couple of seasons to emerge. If he then goes on to be a dominant player for a decade then it will be a great signing. I suspect it will be 3-5 years before we can really assess the signing.

BFTGT: Who do you think will be your most important player this season?

DS: Vidic. Impossible to put into words just how much we missed him last year. Not only is he a fabulous player but he’s a leader on the pitch. United need some balls, for some reason they got too soft last year and his return should certainly add some much needed toughness.

DP: City have a spine of Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva and Aguero which I think are unmatched. Silva is the obvious choice (and one I long went for) but Yaya Toure continues to impress more and more and was such a key figure over the final games in 2011/12. I wouldn’t rule out Tevez having as successful a season as 2010/11 however. If Mancini does field a 3-5-2 (or loose variant of) this will fit him perfectly.

BFTGT: How do you rate your manager’s ability to take your club forward?

DP: It’s easy to dismiss what Mancini has achieved given the prayers and money at his disposal but last season proved quite how tough the league is to win. To maintain form when United were so relentless and to then bring the team earned him plenty of credit. He can be quite an emotional character at times (witness the incidents with Tevez and Balotelli) but he has fostered a strong spirit and identity with the squad, despite the common outside view of them being a disparate bunch of mercenaries. I’ve always thought though that he may ultimately be judged by his ability to win a Chanpions League. His record at Inter was underwhelming and he needs to improve on last season. The title win will have bought him some time however.

DS: Who am I to question Fergie as a manager? I’m certainly vocal when I think he’s made errors but I’d want no one else in charge of the club. His record speaks for itself, simply put, no one else can repeatedly rebuild squads like he can.

BFTGT: Who do you think will win the league this season?

DP: City have been installed as slight favourites and I think that is about right. Chelsea and Arsenal will improve but let’s not forget how big a distance they were behind last season. Tottenham I’d expect to post a similar season while Liverpool will improve; even a slight improvement in them converting chances will increase their points total. United will be challenging again as there is plenty of talent still within the squad plus there will be the motivation of how last season ended. Don’t forget that historically United price very adept at winning titles back once they have lost them.

DS: Hmm, I think City will still be favourites. They’re the champions now and the team to beat. I presume their business for the summer won’t end with Rodwell so I expect them to further strengthen. I get the feeling a few fans will underestimate United and I hope we can do it but I fancy City to do it and be pushed all the way again.

———
Doron Salomon is a Manchester United fan who writes for Stretford-End.com. Follow @DoronSalomon on Twitter. Danny Pugsley is a Manchester City fan who owns Bitter and Blue. Follow @DannyPugsley on Twitter.

Aug 182012
 

BFTGT: What would have to happen this season for you to class this as a successful one?

Andrew Weber: I think with the excellent summer we have had, bringing in three quality attackers to freshen things up and avoiding the transfer mishaps of the previous seasons, we have reason to be optimistic. It might be ambitious to say ‘winning the Premiership’ but that is exactly what Arsenal fans will be hoping for and I have to count myself among them.

BFTGT: How do you feel about your club’s business in the transfer window this summer?

AW: Extremely good. This stuff is alien to Arsenal fans in recent seasons. Cazorla looks a brilliant signing while Podolski and Giroud offer us options that we simply haven’t had: a direct snap-shooter with experience and a powerful centre-forward. The Robin van Persie situation has been a pity — more in the manner it has been handled than the actual event — however the club has been proactive with their dealings and that suggests lessons have been learned.

BFTGT: Who do you think will be your most important player this season?

AW: Mikel Arteta. He gives us something that nobody in the midfield possesses to the same level: a sense of calmness and tactical nous. He allowed Alex Song to flourish as a more attacking player last season and will likely accelerate Santi Cazorla’s integration into the team.

BFTGT: How do you rate your manager’s ability to take your club forward?

AW: I personally have no questions about Arsene Wenger’s ability to continue moving this club forward. There is so much mystery around what he has to spend in recent seasons but this season suggests the Frenchman may have put his foot down. In an era of mad spending he has played to his strengths and the fact that we finished third after a shocking start last season and can even harbour outside hopes of a title victory this season speaks volumes.

BFTGT: Who do you think will win the league this season?

AW: City are the best bet and no amount of loyalty or bias will change that.

Aug 172012
 

BFTGT: What would have to happen this season for you to class this as a successful one?

Rob Marrs: A top five finish, a Cup, playing some decent football and being on the back pages rather than the front. I’d say top four but we’ve fallen back over the last couple of years and all our competitors have strengthened (Arsenal with Cazorla, Chelsea with Hazard, Spurs with their new manager).

BFTGT: How do you feel about your club’s business in the transfer window this summer?

RM: Mixed. I’m happy with Borini and, to a lesser extent, Allen. Allen’s decent but the amount of money is a lot. I’m less happy that Aquilani has gone without ever getting an extended run and equally unhappy Maxi has left. If we keep Agger and Skrtel I’ll be very happy.

BFTGT: Who do you think will be your most important player this season?

RM: Lucas Leiva. We missed him so much after he was injured last year – the midfield lost solidity and the centre-backs were less well protected. If he comes back fully fit, we’ll be a lot better off.

BFTGT: How do you rate your manager’s ability to take your club forward?

RM: I like his philosophy and I like his manner. I just want him to be given time to mould an ethos, philosophy and style. Even if he has a bad season next year we need to stick with someone – I hate the fact that we’ve become one of those clubs that sack a manager every season.

BFTGT: Who do you think will win the league this season?

RM: Last year I said Manchester United had the manager but not the players and Manchester City had the players but not the manager and put my money on the red side of Manchester. This year I think City might edge it – the first title is always the hardest after all. If Manchester United manage to prize Robin van Persie away from Arsenal I reserve the right to change my mind!

Aug 162012
 

BFTGT: What would have to happen this season for you to class it as a successful one for your club?

Mike Delap: Promotion. End of story. The signals that have come out of the club since relegation and over the course of the summer is that we want to go back up at the first attempt. The signings and the money being thrown about by Venky’s this summer suggests as much and of course, his royal motor mouth Steve Kean has been crowing to that effect as well. We seem to be risking an awful lot to hit the Premier League again at the first time of asking so with what’s at stake anything less than one of the 3 coveted promotion spots would be considered a failure.

BFTGT: How do you feel about your club’s business in the transfer window this summer?

MD: Surprisingly good. They’ve made some smart signings in terms of quality even if at times they’ve overspent on wages to bring said players in. Can’t argue with the likes of Dickson Etuhu, Danny Murphy, Nuno Gomes, Colin Kazim Richards and Leon Best joining a Championship team. The influx of Portuguese players is both encouraging and worrying in equal measures, time will tell on those ones.

On the outgoings the exits of Yakubu and Hoilett are damaging but entirely expected. In fact by this point I was under the assumption we’d have lost a lot more. So on the whole, quietly confident.

BFTGT: Who do you think will be your most important player this season?

MD: Danny Murphy. If we can get him in control of games and using his full passing range then we are in business, if he picks up knocks and can’t adapt to the pace and regularity of games in the second tier then we will lose and edge. He is the player the whole side is built around for this upcoming season.

BFTGT: How do you rate your manager’s ability to take your club forward?

MD: Is this a serious question? I don’t think we’ve ever had a worse manager and he is the main component holding us back from actually mounting a serious challenge for promotion. Yes he’s received a fair bit of stick, some justified, some not, but for his sneaky conduct, his constant bullshit and his seriously inept tactics he should not be in his job. It’s really that simple. I’ll suffer him at best but he’ll never win back the crowd.

BFTGT: Who do you think will win the league this season?

MD: I’m hoping it will be ourselves but the division is shaping up to be mighty competitive. I’m going to take my tinted specs off and look elsewhere. Leicester, Forest, Leeds, Wolves and Brighton should all be strong. But for sheer squad quality I’ll go with the least desirable option as a Rovers fan, barring the Clarets, Bolton.

Aug 152012
 

BFTGT: What would have to happen this season for you to class it as a successful one for your club?

Spooky: Quantify success because it tends to get confused with progression. A successful season would be winning silverware because historically that equates to something tangible. However, with football being the beast it is, we tend to embrace the aforementioned progression as something to celebrate. I’m hoping our ambitions are stronger and more focused than they were under Redknapp. Top four would be great, the return to Champions League, wonderful. But a cup would live on in memory forever.

BFTGT: How do you feel about your club’s business in the transfer window this summer?

S: I’m a Spurs fan. Are we ever truly happy with transfer windows? We’ve done great in completing two deals very early on but the Modric saga continues to bore the life out of me and we still need two forwards to be signed. It’s imperative the excuse of ‘lack of rotation due to lack of depth’ does not find itself dancing an ironic jig of disappointment at us by Christmas. I’m going to commit to something here and state: We’ll sign everyone we need to sign. Why? Simply because if we don’t, we’ve got an up hill struggle to compete with the very top tier sides.

BFTGT: Who do you think will be your most important player this season?

S: With King retired, I’d say Jan Vertonghen has responsibility at the back but it’s unfair to look at a brand new signing as the key man. Parker is recovering from an op and with Modric in limbo I’ll have to opt for Mr Gareth ‘will he stay on the left or roam with discipline’ Bale. Potent weapon, beastly with rampant pace, has to be used effectively. I’m hoping the shrewdness of Villas-Boas caters for unleashing Bale on opposition defences with more impact than last season. But then it’s dependent on the player upfront to put away the crosses. Can’t help but think its going to be a collective responsibility rather than an individual one.

BFTGT: How do you rate your manager’s ability to take your club forward?

S: We all know what he achieved at Porto. We all know the naivety and politics he experienced at Chelsea. If he stays true to his word and doesn’t attempt to overhaul and simply tweak and improve the areas that need fixing – then the logic is, we’ll get better. He’s already got us working on set pieces. Where Redknapp lacked tactical astuteness and deceive changing, we have to hope VB doesn’t. It’s still important that Levy comes up trumps with signings. Not enough bullets in the gun means we might not hit the target enough.

BFTGT: Who do you think will win the league this season?

S: Lesser of two/three evils. Man United. Because we’re all comfortable with them winning it. Chelsea, City, Arsenal…that is hardly a comforting thought. I’d love to say Spurs, but then I’ve got to work my way through a bottle of rum first. Ask me again in an hours time.

Aug 142012
 

BFTGT: What would have to happen this season for you to class it as a successful one for your club?

Played off the Park: A top 10 finish and to generally be in and around the Play-Off area for the majority of the season. I feel this is a bit of a ‘transition season’, with new arrivals, including a new manager and some key players leaving.

BFTGT: How do you feel about your club’s business in the transfer window this summer?

POTP: I’m relatively pleased. We’ve sold two good players in Kightly and Guedioura, which I’m unhappy about, especially Kightly, who I think has shown disloyalty to the club and fans. Then, I feel Guedioura was a good player, in attack and defence, so I’m sad to see him go. Then, I don’t like the way Fletcher’s has gone about it, but him and Matt Jarvis have both handed in transfer requests, which I think we all saw coming. We’re asking for a lot, to show our ambition and if they do go, we’ll definitely have money for replacements, as teams have already made bids of around a combined £20M, which you can wreak havoc with in the Championship. I will be sad to see them leave but it’s what happens with relegation. Christophe Berra also asked to leave, which I’m pleased about, as I won’t have to get nervous every time he decides to get someone in a head lock while ‘defending’ a set-piece. However, I’m also a little sad to see Hammill going, he’s a good little winger, but I feel, like Guedioura, he hasn’t had a fair crack of the whip at Wolves.

Now, on to incomings! We seem to be strengthening the front line, with the free signing of ex-Chelsea and West Ham ‘hot prospect’ Frank Nouble. I’ve only heard bad things about him but he’s young and on a free, so should be able to make some kind of impact for the team, he has so far in pre-season at least. Then we’ve also signed the promising Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson from Norwegian club Lillestrom for around £2.5m, who has been called the best player in the Norwegian league and one of the hottest prospects of Icelandic football, so hopefully he can do well for us, this season and the years to come. Then, we signed two players on loan; Midfielder, Tongo Doumbia from French club Rennes, who made an immediate impression, with a goal and an assist in the friendly against Shrewsbury and also Polish international midfielder Slavomir Peszko from FC Cologne, who’s thought to be the replacement for Michael Kightly. Finally, we signed 18-year-old Jamie Tank from Walsall, for around £20,000, who is obviously one for the future.

BFTGT: Who do you think will be your most important player this season?

POTP: Hmm, this is a tough one. I’m going to say Roger Johnson. He didn’t have an outstanding début season at Molineux, but it seems he’s staying and the fans are finally accepting him, which is all good news, as he’s a good defender, and you need a good defence in the Championship.

BFTGT: How do you rate your manager’s ability to take your club forward?

POTP: Before he took over at Wolves, I didn’t know a lot about Stale Solbakken, but I do feel optimistic with him at the helm now. He did well in Denmark with Copenhagen, even beating Barcelona in the Champions League! He didn’t have the best of time in Germany, but there was a lot of trouble off the pitch as well. I’ve read he likes patient passing, which apparently Wolves played vs Aldershot, and that he’s young, strong and ambitious, which is exactly the type of manager I want. I really believe Solbakken is the man to take back into the Premier League, and even further on.

BFTGT: Who do you think will win the league this season?

POTP: Again, another tough one! I think it’ll be between Bolton and Burnley. Bolton have kept quite a few players and have a good side, as well as a decent manager in Coyle, then I think his old club Burnley will be up there as well. They have a talented young manager in Eddie Howe, who should only get better. They have two good Championship forwards in Vokes and Austin, and they’ve also strengthened their defence well by signing Jason Shackell from Derby, so I think they can be dark horses for promotion this year.

Aug 132012
 

BFTGT: What would have to happen this season for you to class this as a successful one?

Mowing Meadows: Whatever happens this season it is unlikely to top the elation all Chelsea fans felt after that night in Munich but the poor league form leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. For me to consider this a successful season there will need to be a serious title challenge. The last two seasons in the league have left us way off the leaders and it isn’t a feeling I want to grow accustomed to. Considering the money Roman Abramovich has invested this season I think a title challenge is the minimum repayment. A solid cup run and European campaign wouldn’t go amiss.

BFTGT: How do you feel about your club’s business in the transfer window this summer?

MM: I’ve always thought in recent years, transfers have lacked a real structure. Yes, talented players were brought (Torres being the main example) with little thought going into how that player’s style of play would be implemented within the team. Last season showed signs of a move to a more fluid passing game with the additions of Romeu and Mata and I’m very excited to see that has continued during this transfer window with the signings of Marin, Oscar and of course Eden Hazard. One issue that has arisen through the summer is the lack of options up front, with Drogba and Kalou released and Lukaku sent out on loan, the burden lies squarely on the shoulders of Fernando Torres and the not so loved (by a fair few) Daniel Sturridge.

BFTGT: Who do you think will be your most important player this season?

MM: There are so many that could be chosen for this title but you have to look at what will be the difference from this season compared to last. The answer has to be the £34million man, Eden Hazard. The main question will be if he is able to handle the pressure at such a young age? Only time will tell. However if his performances in Ligue 1 are anything to go by, Chelsea have a real world class talent on their hands. It will be interesting to see where he lines up on the pitch and whether he starts in the No.10 role as he stated he wanted to play when he joined Chelsea or out wide on the left, where he played predominantly for Lille. The less likely option will be to see him as a false 9 as he did against England during the friendly for Belgium.

BFTGT: How do you rate your manager’s ability to take your club forward?

MM: Here we reach the fork in the road. The talent of the squad and its potential are undeniable, the squad looks at its strongest for some time. Di Matteo done a wonderful job in the Champions League last year by creating a team difficult to break down and clinical on the counter. That won’t work this season with the players brought in. The team will look to outplay the opposition and dominate the possession battle. It remains to be seen if Di Matteo can lead this new look Chelsea to success in the league. He did a brilliant job in motivating the veterans last year but with Drogba gone, Terry looking at an inevitable ban and Lampard’s playing time likely to be reduced, it will be a different challenge to last year’s Champions League run. I doubt Di Matteo is the right man to lead the club forward, his form in the league wasn’t any better than AVB last season, but let’s hope I’m wrong.

BFTGT: Who do you think will win the league this season?

MM: There can be only one answer right? Chelsea. Although I don’t think Di Matteo is the right man for the job, the talent at his disposal should not be underestimated. It is in my opinion likely to be the strongest if not one of the strongest starting XI in the league and there is good depth in all positions except up front. The blend of youth and experience will need to gel quickly but I believe it will. I’ll even go one better in my prediction Chelsea to win the title by 3 points ahead of a strengthened Manchester United. Sorry City fans, I don’t see where the improvement is going to come from in your team. Oh and this may be Arsenal’s season… Next year.

Aug 122012
 

BFTGT: What would have to happen this season for you to class it as a successful one for your club?

Beautifully Red: Win the League. It has to be the main priority, and whilst winning the Champions League would be amazing, responding to City’s title win is a must. Away from winning trophies, if United could come out of this season with 2-3 of the club’s promising youngsters fully established as key first team members, that would be would be a nice achievement moving forward.

Rob Pollard: City would have to retain the Premier League and improve in the Champions League for this season to be considered a success. I also want to see the continuation of our attacking football which, at times last season, was absolutely brilliant to watch.

BFTGT: How do you feel about your club’s business in the transfer window this summer?

RP: Dreadful. Not sold well. Not bought well. I was desperate to see us make Javi Martinez our principal target but we seem to have dragged our heels on that one, much like we have with other players. Martinez is exactly what City need.

BR: I love the signings of Kagawa and Powell, both exciting to watch players who will light up Old Trafford for years to come. Robin Van Persie looks a real possibility and would instantly improve out strike force. Would I be happy with that as my lot? No. Would love to see a central midfielder come in that would add some steel and guts to the passing and guile we already possess.

BFTGT: Who do you think will be your most important player this season?

BR: Nemanja Vidic. If he doesn’t get injured last season I think we win the league. He is that important to our team. Leader.

RP: Vincent Kompany. On the field he is an absolute star but he has become so much more than that. He is a brilliant interviewee who consistently says things that delight fans. I get more messages form rival fans saying how much they respect Kompany than I do any other player. He represents City perfectly.

BFTGT: How do you rate your manager’s ability to take your club forward?

BR: His previous track record makes it impossible to believe United will not react to last season’s disappointments.

RP: I think Mancini is superb. We have improved constantly since he arrived and we love him. He also happens to have fabulous hair.

BFTGT: Finally, who do you think will win the league this season?

RP: I’ll say us but I do worry that our transfer inactivity will allow United to steal a march. Alex Ferguson is the greatest manager this game has ever seen and for that reason I am always wary of United. City needed to kick on after last season and we haven’t.

BR: Manchester…

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Beautifully Red showcases GIFs of Manchester United’s best moments on a weekly basis. Follow @BeautifullyRed on Twitter. Rob Pollard is a Manchester City fan who shares his thoughts on sport, music and politics on his blog, Passions Just Like Mine. Follow @PJLMblog on Twitter.

Jul 122012
 

Since Manchester City became the richest club in the world, Manchester has become a focal point for football in this country, with both clubs finding themselves 19 points clear of the nearest team, Arsenal, last season. It will be some time before we can refer to Manchester as Milan, given their inability to progress in the Champions League last season, but it’s hard to look past these two clubs occupying the same positions in the Premier League against next season.

Mark Ogden, The Telegraph‘s Northern Football Correspondent, talks about whether his colleagues in London are jealous that he gets to cover football in the North West.

“You need to ask them!” he said. “Still, West Ham are back, so they will keep everyone busy in usual fashion. If West Ham were from Birmingham, you would never see them in the paper, but they don’t go short on coverage for a club with little to shout about for the last 50 years.”

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Jul 092012
 

The day after England crashed out of Euro 2012, Daniel Taylor, chief football writer at The Guardian, wrote about England’s inability to keep possession and how this would cost them in the long term. It wasn’t the first time this problem was mentioned though, with an article making exactly the same point following England’s draw with France.

“I don’t regard statistics, especially possession statistics, as being particularly important,” Hodgson said after the game, which was fairly alarming. Whilst too much emphasis can be put on statistics at times, particularly when they are manipulated to prove a particular point, surely it has to be regarded as important to look at how often a player on your team can find another member of his team when picking out a pass.

Still, England are never going to be Spain, so can reaching the quarter finals, after losing to eventual finalist Italy on penalties, be considered an achievement? Taylor shares his thoughts on the matter.

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Jul 062012
 

Another international tournament passes us by and we’re met with another failure from England to even reach the semis. However, unlike previous years, expectations were at an all time low so the players have returned without getting much stick. England reached the quarter-finals, standard, and Roy Hodgson managed to get them playing like a team.

Ollie Holt, Chief Sportswriter at The Mirror, has shared his thoughts on England’s campaign, Euro 2012’s best players and where the title will be this time next year.

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Jul 042012
 

Jordi Alba joined Barcelona when he was just 9-years-old and stayed there for seven years before he was released. He signed for neighbouring UE Cornellà when he was 16-years-old and was soon called up to the Spain U-19 squad. Valencia paid €6,000 for the teenager where he went from strength to strength. He got his first call up to the national team last September and then made his début in October.

At Euro 2012, Alba made 226 successful passes in the opposition half, which was 48 more than any other defender, according to Opta. He assisted Alonso’s goal against France in the quarter-finals and scored a goal for himself in the final, rounding off a brilliant tournament. An agreement between Barcelona and Valencia was reached whilst he was on International duty which will see him return to his former club for €14 million. Barcelona struck such a bargain because the talented full back was in the last year of his contract but it certainly puts in to perspective some of the prices being quoted in England for less talented players!

James Ducker, a Football Correspondent at The Times, reckons Alba was the most impressive player at Euro 2012.

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Jul 022012
 

England went to the Euros with little to no expectations of them achieving anything, which seemingly had a positive impact on the results. Two wins and a draw in the group stage set up England nicely for the quarter-finals, although probably too much was made of them scraping past Sweden and Ukraine.

Ahead of England’s game against Italy, Alan Hansen claimed Roy Hodgson was “on the verge of greatness”, complying with the typically substandard punditry that came with the Euros. After two hours of football, where England somehow managed to keep the Italians out, they predictably lost on penalties. All the talk of how well practised they were and all the fuss surrounding Joe Hart’s iPad preparation came to nothing.

However, when Italy went on to convincingly beat former favourites Germany in the semi-finals, suddenly England’s result against them looked pretty good!

Henry Winter, football correspondent for The Telegraph, has given his thoughts on England’s performance at Euro 2012 exclusively for BFTGT.

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