Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

While browsing the depths of Twitter today, I stumbled upon this gem supposedly from Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia:

A little further prying led to the realization that this was a fake account, saving Almunia from the ridicule of football fans everywhere when they pointed out that Almunia has no business giving goaltending tips to anyone given that he can’t even hold down Arsenal’s starting goalkeeper job.

This post by some Arsenal fanboy (who clearly has come to terms with his team’s declining fortunes rather poorly), plus my membership on Manchester United’s fan forums where David de Gea is being ripped a new arsehole by supposed Manchester United supporters, has lead me to write this post in defense of de Gea.

Before you declare me a hypocrite, I will admit that I am disappointed by the goals de Gea has let in against Manchester City and West Brom.  But I’m not angry.  I’m not calling him a failure or questioning his ability to fit in at United.  I’m disappointed.  That means I expected more, but have been unpleasantly surprised by the way things have actually panned out.  I’m not about to tear de Gea apart just because of a couple bad goals.

David de Gea while playing for Atletico Madrid in La Liga.

Let’s look at some facts here.  David de Gea is 20 years old and far from the finished product as a goaltender.  He just moved from Spain not even six weeks ago and is still learning how to speak English on a team where very few, if any, players speak the same dialect of Spanish as de Gea.

Some more facts.  Manchester United have been blessed with a string of great goalkeepers over their history, most recently Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar.  Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs on the planet (if not the biggest) and their fans have very high expectations of the club and the players.  It is safe to say that anything short of a 20th Premier League title this season will be considered a failure.

So, where in this maelstrom of contrasting expectations is it reasonable to expect de Gea to be absolutely perfect?  When was it decided that one bad goal or one bad game is enough to turn supporters who should, by any stretch of logic, be cheering for you and supporting you against you as virulently as some have been turning on de Gea?  It might just be a symptom of the 21st century world of sports where fans want to see immediate results from big-money purchases (remember that de Gea cost United 18-million Pounds to sign), but it is wrong nonetheless.

De Gea, while young, comes backed with all the promise in the world and comparisons to many great goalkeepers.  But like any promise shown by any player, it is called promise for a reason.  It is called promise because it needs time to blossom into skill.  Promise does not equal skill, as some people seem to believe.  It does take time, or the right environment, to move a player from the promising youngster category – which de Gea now occupies – to the established starter category – where de Gea will someday be.

Sir Alex Ferguson: The mastermind behind United's past 12 Premier League Championships.

Now, I’m not usually one to question Sir Alex Ferguson’s methods.  In fact, much of my thinking about the Man United squad that can be found in this post has been reflected in Sir Alex’s actions and statements.  However, given the facts that I related about de Gea above, I might have taken a different tack with regards to his deployment early in the season.  After all, United do have Anders Lindegaard who was signed last January waiting in the wings.  Lindegaard has had plenty of time to adapt to life in England and the rigours of playing for Manchester United, not to mention he has looked very assured in the few appearances that he has made for the club.  Allowing de Gea more time to settle in a bit better and familiarizing himself to the coaching of Eric Steele (by many accounts one of the top goalkeeping coaches in the world) while getting a few games here and there could have been very beneficial to his progress.  Instead, the ripping he is taking from the fans could be enough to shatter his confidence.

But I digress.  The point here isn’t to question the players or the manager – after all United did win the game despite losing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic to injury – but to promote patience, understanding, and support.  When United bought a 20 year old keeper, they and the fans knew that there would be a learning curve.  Although de Gea has played over 100 times for Atletico Madrid and received a number of age-grade caps for Spain, neither is Manchester United.

Everybody involved with de Gea’s transfer in any way – whether as the player, the manager, the club, or the fans – knew this.  Therefore, it should not come as a surprise when there are growing pains and there is no cause to verbally abuse the player in the way some people have been doing.

As one poster on the Manchester United forums stated, when a player plays for your club you support them, whether they play good or bad, for as long as they play for the club.  You don’t have to like them, but you do have to support them.

Yesterday, Manchester United produced a 4-0 victory away against Wigan.

After Wednesday’s dismal nil-nil draw with Marseille in the Champion’s League, the Reds were lambasted by many of their supporters about the stuttering, toothless display that was put on by United.  Chris Smalling was the only player to come out of the game with his reputation unscathed, surprising given that he was the youngest member of the Reds’ starting eleven.

With yesterday’s victory, which included two goals from Javier Hernandez and one from Wayne Rooney, one might think that the fans would have forgotten – or at least forgave – the midweek speed bump.

However, that was not the case as mere hours after the game topics such as “Which players would you sign and why?” and “Nuri Sahin is a must…” appearing on the United forums, indicating a general dis-satisfaction with the way the team is heading.

One of the major themes of this type of topic is that Manchester United need to go out and sign almost ten top-quality players in the summer to avoid falling from the top of the Premiership perch next season.

I think that this is complete BS, and I’ll tell you why: Manchester United’s youth system is stocked so full of talent that they have to loan out players who are too good to play reserves football, but are not good enough to make the Reds’ squad.  Some of these players will be ready to join the squad next season and they should be given the chance before Sir Alex Ferguson goes out and spends like he’s Roberto Mancini.

To really get a good picture of what I’m talking about, let’s go through the Reds’ roster and look at what might happen next season.

Looking at the goaltenders, I want to take you back a couple years to when Edwin van der Sar was first establishing himself at United.  Tim Howard was the incumbent keeper and Ben Foster was signed as a depth option.  By the start of the next season, Howard was gone and Tomasz Kuszczak was brought in to be Edwin’s backup, slotting in directly in front of Foster.  As Foster was denied game time by Edwin and Tomasz, he became frustrated and eventually left the club.  Kuszczak has been stuck behind van der Sar ever since as well, which will likely result in his departure from Old Trafford this summer coming.

Now, because of van der Sar’s impending retirement, United is left in a dangerous position.  They potentially have three keepers on their books in newly-signed Anders Lindegaard, Kuszczak, and reserve keeper Ben Amos.  With Kuszczak’s predicted departure, the Reds could do one of three things: (a) bring in a proven international keeper to replace van der Sar outright, (b) sign another keeper to push Lindegaard for the number 1 job, or (c) continue with Lindegaard and Amos as their two keepers.  I would choose option (c).  For one, Lindegaard has shown to be a very capable keeper in the few games he has played with the club and actually reminds me a lot of van der Sar himself.  The second reason I have is that options (a) and (b) risk alienating either Lindegaard or Amos by not giving them the game time they need to succeed and become better players.  By alienating them United could have another Kuszczak or Foster on their hands, neither of which is beneficial to the club.

Moving on to the defence, there isn’t really much to do here in the summer.  Any concerns about replacing Rio Ferdinand seem to have been alleviated by the emergence of Chris Smalling and Rafael da Silva has shown signs of becoming Gary Neville’s long-term successor at right back.  Therefore, any changes to the back line is just tinkering under the hood.  The only possible change that I could see happening is that Sir Alex gives some game time to youngsters Ritchie de Laet or Marnick Vermijl at the expense of either John O’Shea or Wes Brown.  Both de Laet and Vermijl have come up through the United ranks, signifying another change from within for the Reds.

The midfield is where things get complicated and to make things easier I’m going to break the midfield down into two sections, the central midfield and the wings.

First, let’s tackle the wings.  Despite being forced to deploy Wayne Rooney on the left wing against Marseille, the Reds aren’t in a bad position in terms of wingers.  Nani is steadily improving and Ryan Giggs is just steady (even at 63…).  What will make a difference for the Reds in this department next season is the impending returns to action for Antonio Valencia and Ji-Sung Park.  These two players have missed most of the season so far (Park did put in a few outstanding games in the first half of the season) and their absence has really been putting a lot of pressure on Nani and Giggs to stay fit and consistently perform to the best of their abilities.  When Valencia and Park return, United will have options on both wings.  Also in the system are Gabriel Obertan, Bebe, and youngster Ravel Morrison.  Obertan and Bebe should probably go out on loan, but Morrison could find himself playing some first-team football if one of Nani, Giggs, Valencia, or Park miss an extended period of time next season.

The center of midfield is where most of the frustration has been leveled after the Marseille game.  The trio of Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, and Darron Gibson were mostly ineffective in the game and it wasn’t until aging veteran Paul Scholes replaced Gibson that United started to move forward with any kind of purpose.  Perhaps the criticism that the aforementioned trio has received has been a bit harsh, but it is not wholly undeserved.  The main problem lies in that all three are basically the same player, and none of them an adequate replacement for the likely-departing Owen Hargreaves.  United really only need one of them and I can offer no real evidence for one over the others.  Combine this conundrum to Scholes’ impending retirement, and the center of midfield is quite a mess.

So, how do I propose on tackling the problem?  Like a broken record that keeps spinning over the same worn patch, the answer lies in United’s youth.  If we take it as a given (although it likely won’t work out this way) that two of Gibson, Carrick, and Fletcher will be following Hargeaves out the door, then it follows that there are three places open in United’s midfield.  The first should go to Tom Cleverley, who is currently out on loan.  Cleverley has been playing well for Wigan (although he didn’t suit up against United yesterday due to a clause in the loan agreement) and surely deserves a chance to make a mark with the Reds.  Another of the places should go to one of Paul Pogba, Ryan Tunnicliffe, or Daniel Drinkwater, with Pogba and Tunnicliffe being the frontrunners.  All three are talented youngsters who can play almost anywhere in the midfield.  All three are products of the United youth system.

That leaves one space open in the center of midfield.  This is the one purchase I believe United need to make.  They need to find an experienced midfield general who can both patrol in front of the back four and win the ball and press forward to join the attack; in short, they need an all-rounder.  I use the word experienced here because United doesn’t need to sign someone that they plan on developing into a superstar.  They need someone who can step in now and steady the ship while the prospects they already have grow into experienced players in their own right.

You’ll notice that I’ve said nothing about replacing Scholes in this section.  That is because I feel that United are well on the way to replacing Scholes with Brazilian midfielder Anderson.  Anderson showed glimpses of what he could do in a smattering of games before he came off injured against Crawley in the FA Cup.  With hopefully another year of learning from the master, Anderson should be primed and ready to step into Scholes’ shoes when the legend eventually calls it a day.

Finally, we get to the forwards.  This picture is pretty clear.  Dimitar Berbatov and Rooney sit atop the pecking order with Javier Hernandez just a notch below.  The status of Michael Owen is unclear for next season, but if he does leave Old Trafford, then the logical choices to replace him come from within in the shapes of Kiko Macheda, Danny Welbeck, or Joshua King.

I guess the message here is not to panic.  Despite some discouraging results, Manchester United is in a very good position going forward with the amount of talented youth that is pouring through the system.  As the last stragglers of the old guard say their farewells (Neville, van der Sar, Scholes, and eventually Giggs), now is a perfect time to bring along some of that talent and put it to use alongside established stars such as Berbatov, Rooney, Nani, Vidic, and Evra.

Apart from the one midfield purchase, Manchester United can fill all of their other needs from within, which bodes extremely well for a side still in the reckoning for a second Treble of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign.

P.S. The Manchester United forums can be found here: http://community.manutd.com/forums/