Sir Alex Ferguson’s buoyant Manchester United side travel to London for what the Scot has billed is the biggest game of the season so far. Fresh from the euphoric defeat of Manchester City on Wednesday night, Ferguson’s team is in confident mood despite the loss of suspended central defender Rio Ferdinand.
United has a mixed record at the Emirates, having lost twice in the league at Arsenal’s new north London base. But a famous victory in the Champions League semi-final last season and a scrappy win at Old Trafford earlier this season bodes well for Ferguson’s men.
Arsenal, second in the Premier League table after a an excellent run since defeat to Chelsea in November, pose a serious threat to United’s title ambitions in a three-way race for Premier League silverware come May.
“The game on Sunday, looking at the way the league is shaping up now, is the biggest game of the season. Arsenal are on a really consistent run,” said Ferguson, who believes that consistency lies at the core on United’s assault on the summit following nine defeats in all competitions this season.
“The most consistent team will win the league now. That’s what Arsenal has done and we’re really looking forward to it.”
With 21-goal talisman Wayne Rooney in the form of his life, Ferguson will again deploy the former-Evertonian as a lone front-man in a tactical system that will closely match that of the home side. But the key battle could lie in midfield, where Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas will meet the man who has consistently won the personal duel between them, Darren Fletcher.
Fletcher, whom Arsenal’s embittered manager Arsène Wenger accused of playing “anti football” in United’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford this season, has dominated his Spanish opponent in recent seasons.
“I don’t think Darren is destructive, he is competitive,” Ferguson said of the Dalkeith-born Scotsman who is likely to play alongside Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes in a three-man central midfield.
“There are not many players who run off the ball as well as him in the game.
“His movement, energy and commitment are fantastic. It is a wonderful to see a player achieving the level of endurance Darren can put into a match.”
In an unlikely comparison, Ferguson says United’s number 24 is similar to former Old Trafford player, turned academy director, Brian McClair. The striker, whom Ferguson signed from Celtic in 1988, converted to a all-action midfielder in the latter part of his career.
“He was exactly the same. When the ball moved he moved,” said Ferguson of McClair.
“He was a fantastic player for us in that way and Darren is in the same mould because he must run more than anyone. His energy and awareness of space are excellent. There are not many big games Darren has not played in over the years
“We have been saying how good he is for a while. Maybe it has taken longer for the fans to appreciate the qualities the boy has.
“There is nothing you can do about that. He is not a stylish player by any manner of means. He is ungainly and gangly. But he is a fantastic player.”
With Ferdinand missing Ferguson will choose the returning Nemanja Vidic alongside Jonny Evans in central defence, with Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra at full-back. Despite Ferdinand’s loss, United’s back-four is beginning to show some selection consistency with the return of Evans and Rafael.
And another man returning from the wilderness, Nani, could hold the key to United’s performance with the Portuguese midfielder superb in his last three outings. He’ll need to do the same again today in support of Rooney.
John Terry may wish to look away after a high court today lifted a so-called super-injunction that banned publication of lurid sex secrets. England Captain Terry, alleges a popular Sunday tabloid, had an affair with former Chelsea left-back Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend. The Chelsea skipper had sought to stop details becoming public.
The News of the World, is it reported in today’s Guardian, is due to print an exposé that alleges Terry, 29, had an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the French actress and model who dated the 29-year-old Manchester City defender until late last year.
Perroncel, who gave birth to a son Jaydon Jean Claude Bridge in November 2006, split with Bridge before Christmas 2009. She reportedly remained in Surrey following the defender’s £12 million transfer to City in January 2008.
But lifting the banning order, Mr Justice Tugenhadt said that it is no longer in the public interest to keep the relationship secret.
“I do not consider that an interim injunction is necessary or proportionate having regard to the level of gravity of the interference with the private life of the applicant that would occur in the event that there is a publication of the fact of the relationship, or that the applicant can rely in this case on the interference with the private life of anyone else,” said the judge today.
Terry claimed in January 2008 that he was sad to see Bridge go.
“He’ll be missed and I’m still in shock a little bit because it’s a shame to see one of the lads go who you have grown up with and been with a long time,” said Terry of the Bridge transfer to City in January 2008.
“I’m disappointed, but for him it was the right decision.”
Terry may now have reason to regret the decision he made to sleep with a teammate’s girlfriend far more.
Hackers have broken into hapless Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook’s Wikipedia page, making it far more accurate than ever before. Branding Cook an “experience liar” who lives in a “f*cking dreamworld,” hackers lampoon the former-Nike executive who is universally disrespected in the football and media communities.
The page goes on to claim that time-traveler Cook, who regularly plays golf with Bananaman, personally spearheaded a bid for Pélé, before inventing the colour yellow.
Cook recently claimed that City will become the “biggest and the best” football club on the planet, before predicting that it was a matter of when, not if, his side would beat Manchester United in this season’s Carling Cup semi-final.
Selected highlights of Cook’s wiki page include:
Cook worked at sports were giants Nike for 12 years, working his way up to head of the Nike project “Brand Opportunism”, before leaving Nike in June 2008 to take over as CEO of Manchester City. Although he’d been a resident of the USA since 1985, and spent four years in Amsterdam, Garry currently lives in a f*****g dreamworld. He’s an experienced liar, with experience at covering up child slavery at Nike, making him ideal for a deluded Manchester City.
Cook says he moved to the U.S in 1996 and started working for Nike eleven years earlier in 1985, presumably using a DeLorean DMC-12 travelling at 88 miles per hour. He would spend 12 years at Nike where he would become president of the very successful Brand Jordan, Cook says that he worked very closely with basketball superstar Michael Jordan while working at Nike. But then, he also told everyone that his dad is Thor, Norse god of thunder.
One of Cook’s first tasks with his new club was to find a new manager after Sven Goran-Eriksson had been dismissed; he targeted Herbert Chapman of 1930’s Arsenal. After finding out that he’d been dead for 74 years, he reluctantly settled on Mark Hughes of Blackburn Rovers.
Cook’s new task was player recruitment, and he did deals for Tal Ben-Haim, Jo, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Shaun Wright-Phillips but failed in a bid for Roy Race, who doesn’t actually exist.
After the 2009 January transfer window opened Cook sealed deals for Wayne Bridge, Craig Bellamy, Shay Given and Nigel de Jong. However, he failed in a world record bid to bring Pele to the club, blaming the breakdown in negotiations on Santos, stating, “If you want my personal opinion they bottled it, He clearly was for sale but we never got to meet with the player, the behaviour of Santos got in the way.” Santos replied by pointing out that Pele retired from football more than thirty years ago.
Cook also did much work away from transfers introducing the “I’m From Manchester, Honest” campaign where supporters of the club write in their opinions of why Stockport is actually in Manchester & that they shouldn’t go to watch County instead, these have then been placed around the interior of the stadium. Many fans have contributed to this including the likes of Ricky Hatton.
Along with Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Cook has seen the complete overhaul of the club’s training base Carrington and scheduled a 2009 summer tour of the Moon where the squad met Marvin the Martian and played the Arctic Monkeys in the Vodacom Challenge.
He made a gaffe by welcoming Uwe Rosler to the Manchester United Hall of Fame instead of the Manchester City Hall of Fame and was booed by Manchester City fans, although that didn’t actually happen because City fans are the most loyal in the world and never boo. He wrote apology letters to 70,000,000,000,000 Manchester City supporters clubs.
Cook is married to Girls Aloud and is a keen player of Golf amongst where he regularly competes against Adolf Hitler, Bananaman and Richard Blackwood. Garry invented the colour yellow.
Manchester City’s cocky nouveau riche attitude fell a peg or two last night as Manchester United deservedly reached the Carling Cup final. It was City’s biggest night in years and the Abu Dhabi-owned Bitters badly choked at the final hurdle. With City in the FA Cup it is premature to raise the “35 years” Stretford End banner, but surely that’s only a factor of time.
“This football club will be without doubt the biggest and best in the world,” the hapless City CEO Gary Cook said in a New York bar last week.
“People don’t like to hear it but I’ll make no excuses for saying it, and I will never stop saying it because I truly believe it with the resources and capabilities that we have – and when, not if, we’re at Wembley having beaten Man United yet again!”
Cook later backtracked and claimed to believe the meeting was “private” despite the presence of a TV camera crew. The CEO is widely mocked in football circles after City’s incompetent failed bid for former-AC Milan midfielder Kaká last year, where he accused the Italian outfit of “bottling it.” Classy. Not.
Then the Brummie lied to the national press, claiming not to have opened talks with manager Roberto Mancini before incumbant Mark Hughes found a P45 waiting in his Eastlands office.
Not that Mancini’s predictions have born any more fruit.
“When we go to Old Trafford, we will take that banner down,” said the former Italy international striker who no doubt believes City have the Premier League’s widest pitch, tallest floodlights and bluest shirts.
“This is the last year because we will win.”
Perhaps about time City stopped staring into that blue-tinted the crystal ball, eh?
Old Trafford rocked as Manchester United reinforced local bragging rights after a dramatic win last night. City, fresh from taking a first leg lead amid claims of being the “world’s best,” slumped on the biggest night for the blues in decades. Heartbreaking for the men from Eastlands but magnificent for the majority at Old Trafford.
Inevitably it was the peerless Wayne Rooney who stole all the headlines with a wonderful performance and a match winning injury-time goal.
So long Carlos Tevez, who had scored twice at Eastlands and once again last night to bring City back into the tie. In between veteran Paul Scholes drove United ahead and Michael Carrick sidefooted home before the Reds’ claimed victory in a dramatic night of Carling Cup football.
United had made the late call to keep Rio Ferdinand within the side by appealing the Football Association’s violent conduct charge against the England defender. It proved the right choice, with the former-Leeds United defender adding calm authority amid the storm of an electric Old Trafford atmosphere.
In midfield, Ferguson chose to deploy Scholes, Carrick and Darren Fletcher. While some fans are rightly wary of leaving Rooney alone up front, the like-for-like formation against City proved the Scot right once again. Fletcher, in particular, was instrumental in supporting Rooney from midfield.
But it was Ferdinand who brought the first moment of controversy, challenging former-United striker Tevez in the area, for the Argentinian to fall under the challenge. Referee Howard Webb felt that the defender’s challenge was fair as Tevez only half-heatedly appealed.
The the striker, who had insulted United’s Captain Gary Neville in midweek, brought a good save from Edwin van der Sar as City stood toe-to-toe with United during a first period that failed to meet the heights of entertainment to come.
If the emphasis was on Rooney to spark United into life then the former-Evertonian rarely lets anybody down. Indeed, it was Rooney’s magnificent driven cross-field pass that set up the opening United goal. Ryan Giggs, forced wide by Shay Given in the City net when through on goal, found first Nani and then Carrick in support. But it was Scholes, playing further forward than is the norm these days, who needed no second attempt to drive the ball home when squeezed out to him on the edge of the area.
The goal deflated City and United, now well on top, drove home the advantage with 25 minutes to go. Carrick coolly placed the ball past Given after Fletcher’s attempt was blocked.
But for all United’s dominance, the home side was only ever a goal ahead on aggregate and within minutes Tevez had stooped in ahead of Ferdinand to flick home to bring the tie level. The defender, perhaps ring-rusty after three months on the sidelines, failed to attack the ball and United paid the price.
Then the dénouement in stoppage time, with Rooney heading home Giggs right-wing cross and celebrating wildly as the roof came off Old Trafford.
Rightly, Ferguson withheld his deepest post-match praise for the Scouser who in Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence has taken his game to the very highest level. But the Scot also praised supporters in a week when he offered no quarter to the fans’ anti-Glazer campaign.
“It was much better than Saturday,” Ferguson said of Rooney who once again ploughed a lone furrow up-front.
“I know he scored four goals but here his control leading the line and his link up play was fantastic. Overall it was a wonderful performance. World class.
“It’s a derby game and you like to win your derby games. The atmosphere tonight, and the fact it was a semi-final tie, added a lot of spice to the match. And the fact we scored so late in the game brought a special type of celebration.
“Nothing really happened in the first half. They sat very deep. What we said at half-time was to keep playing our football and keep spreading our play.
“I’m proud of the team. I also must pay tribute to our support. They were unbelievable.”
Indeed the supporters were, who traveled home jubilant after once putting local upstarts in their place. City’s time will come of course – unrestrained spending is highly attractive to mercenary players like Tevez. But for now it is the Red side of Manchester that will travel to Wembley in a month’s time.
Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand will face a Football Association hearing on Thursday in the knowledge that he will serve at least a three match ban. The player, who has appeared just once for United since 25 October, risks an extended suspension if the FA disciplinary committee decides his appeal his ‘frivolous’.
Ferdinand’s decision, made with manager Sir Alex Ferguson, means that the England international is free to play against Manchester City tonight, before starting his suspension ahead of the Arsenal game on Sunday, with Portsmouth and Aston Villa to come. The FA, which will dismiss any appeal, can add an up to a further two games to the suspension. In that case Ferdinand would miss the Carling Cup final.
Video evidence, which shows Ferdinand striking Hull City’s Craig Fagan with an arm, means that the former-West Ham United player must plead either precedent or accident at the hearing. Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano faced no sanction after clearly striking a Leeds United player in the Carling Cup earlier this season.
Rio Ferdinand versus Hull City
Javier Mascherano versus Leeds United (47 seconds)
Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United start the return leg of a tinderbox Carling Cup semi-final with the knowledge that nothing but a win will do. The Scot, who brushed off suggestions that his side lacks discipline, will call on Rio Ferdinand, the England defender who is contesting a three-match FA ban and faces a hearing Thursday.
The furor surrounding Carlos Tevez’ comments this week, where he called United Captain a “moron” and a “sock-sucker,” has added to the sense tension around the occasion. Trouble before, during and after last week’s feisty encounter with Manchester City means that an inevitable ring-of-steel will surround a sold-out Old Trafford tonight.
Sir Alex will hope that an inevitable electric atmosphere, supported by a continuing and growing anti-Glazer Green & Gold campaign, drives United towards a second successive Carling Cup final. If so Ferguson will be able to call on Ferdinand who will contest an FA charge of violent conduct following his clash with Hull City’s Craig Fagan at the weekend.
Better defensive news also surrounds that of Nemanja Vidic, who took part in full training yesterday with the first team squad. Whether the Serbian is fit enough to start is moot, although Vidic’s summer departure to Real Madrid now seems fixed with Chris Smalling’s capture from Fulham.
In midfield Ferguson will do without Anderson, the Brazilian youngster caught trying to arrange a loan move back to his homeland this week while missing training. The former-Porto midfield will land a huge fine and can expect a Nani-style freeze out of the first team picture.
Instead, Ferguson will choose between Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher for the central-midfield positions, although the final make-up will depend on whether the Scot deploys two strikers or not.
Despite the £10 million Smalling deal this week, which comes out of United’s new revolving £75 million bank credit facility, Ferguson insists tonight’s match is not a factor of money.
“It will be a different type of semi-final. We have had semi-finals in this competition in recent years against Blackburn and Chelsea. I can’t even remember if they were full houses – but tomorrow it will be full and it will be a fantastic atmosphere,” United manager Ferguson said.
“It’s got nothing to do with [money]. It’s a local derby. No money – or lots of money – comes into it. It doesn’t matter. This is a route to the final. We showed last week that we want to be in the final.
“This game is at Old Trafford and I can think of many times when we have gone into this situation in a semi-final over the years. You hope that experience serves us.”
The Scot also mocked City CEO Gary Cook’s assertion that the Eastland’s club will become “the biggest in the world.” The hapless Cook is widely derided despite presiding over a hundred million pound spending spree since the arrival of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family 18 months ago.
Meanwhile Ryan Giggs, likely to captain tonight’s side, says that United must eschew the battle of a local derby and focus on the prize – a February Wembley trip to face Aston Villa in the final.
“Of course, it’s a derby but it’s also a cup semi-final with a place at Wembley at stake and a trophy at the end of it. We’re the holders and we want to defend our trophy,” said the veteran, appearing in his 33rd Manchester derby, who also says that United’s supporters hold the key to victory.
“They are going to play a massive part. It was a great atmosphere at Eastlands and we need them to get behind us again because it really does make a difference.
“It’s not often you play City in a night game – it’ll be like a European match in some respects which is obviously something we’re used to and something which we usually thrive on.”
Indeed, while a vocal anti-Glazer demonstration is likely at Old Trafford tonight with deep-seated supporter anger at the state of United’s finances, the football will take over for 90 minutes at least.
Manchester United’s bond issue is falling apart almost as quickly as it began, with institutional investors ditching the notes and forcing prices to fall. The bond issued by the club, which raised £504 million last week, fell to a low of 93.4 pence in the pound at one stage today as investors sold on fears of United’s financial standing.
The United bond has a coupon rate of around nine per cent, significantly above current inter-bank LIBOR but fears expressed by key City insiders have sent prices tumbling, with one prominent United-supporting investor calling the club “over leveraged.”
That Jim O’Neil, of Goldman Sachs, works for one of the principal under-writers is highly embarrassing for the Glazer regime.
“I value my long-term support for Manchester United better than anything else,” O’Neil told The Daily Telegraph, before criticising the level of debt at the club.
United is now leveraged 200 per cent over turnover and 500 per cent over underlying profits with the bond issue alone – a rate normally associated with “junk” bonds. Factor in the £200 million in Payment-In-Kind loans being paid down from United’s cash reserves and there is little room for maneuver in the business model, argues O’Neil.
So desperate is the situation that another United-supporting hedge fund trader, Paul Marshall of Marshall Wace, urged fans to combine forces and return the club to the Manchester United community and out of the Glazers’ grip. Marshall co-founded Marshall Wace LLP, one of Europe’s largest hedge fund groups, in 1997 and is widely regarded as one of the leading equity strategists.
“Debt has acted like a leech on the club, sucking money out of the football budget to feed the Glazers and their bankers,” Marshall wrote in The Daily Telegraph today.
“It has been estimated that between 2005-9 Red Football Joint Venture Limited has spent at least £260m servicing its debt. Manchester United Plc has debt service costs of over £40m per annum – money that could otherwise be available for players.”
This much the fans are now painfully aware. Marshall, though, is deeply worried for the long-term future of the club with, he says, 45 people now employed to manage the club’s finances alone. £35 million has been lost in derivative positions in the past year, notes Marshall, and an estimated £140 million more will be sucked out of the club in the next.
“Leaving aside the apparent incompetence behind these losses, such hedging is only necessary because of the scale of the debt,” he says.
“Manchester United’s future is deeply worrying. United will never realistically be able to pay off the debt. And with the imminent retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, we are close to a tipping point where declining fortunes on the field could lead to a loss of revenue which could cause the debt burden to spiral out of control.”
The solution, says Marshall, is a fan-led takeover, leveraging – in the best possible way – more than 300 million supporters worldwide to build a sustainable community project. He cites the fan-owned principles of Europe’s largest and most successful clubs as a model for the future.
“Football clubs are communities. Manchester United’s community famously extends well beyond Manchester, although Manchester is at its heart and core,” he concludes.
“The best form of ownership for a football club, as Barcelona has proven, is its community, not a single tycoon. It is time Manchester United’s global community came together to create a structure of common debt-free ownership.”
Meanwhile, in the City investors already have cold feet over the bond issue, which “was bought by investors who aren’t specialists in valuing high-yield bond investments,” according to one leading analyst today.