Where Are They Now? Federico Macheda started positively but it went downhill

Manchester United signed 16-year-old Federico Macheda back in 2007 with the club then being allowed to sign players of that age and his family relocated to the Manchester area. The player played for the U18s side at the time, making his first team debut during the 2008/09 season, scoring twice in five appearances. The player left United in the summer of 2014 for Cardiff City, then managed by current United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. During his time at United, Macheda was loaned to Sampdoria, Queens Park Rangers, VfB Stuttgart, Doncaster Rovers and Birmingham City.

He played 36 times for United, scoring five goals and six assists, having a cult following. After leaving United, the player never quite made it in the game, seemingly struggling, despite an early start at the Old Trafford club, which had him quickly labelled as the next best thing. However, now playing for Greek side Panathinaikos, Macheda seems to heave rediscovered his form and it getting noticed once again.

Back in the 2008/09 season at United, Macheda came off the bench and scored a world against Aston Villa, a 3-2 scoreline with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a brace, winning the game for his club. The against Sunderland, he came off the bench and found the back of the net again, all at the age of 17. It must have been great for him at the time, not so much now. It was suggested that the player had a glittering career ahead of him at United, however, that never really happened.

There was a weight of expectation at the club, especially after Ronaldo left the club in the summer of 2009 for Real Madrid, which seems to be a time where lots of things went wrong for the Old Trafford club. At Cardiff, where he played under Solskjaer for a period of time, Macheda played 33 times, scoring eight goals and one assist. However, it never really worked for him there either and he spent time on loan at Nottingham Forest, playing just three times. His contract at Cardiff was cancelled and he signed for Novara in Serie B, playing 50 times, scoring 11 goals and two assists.

His contract at Novara expired at the end of the 2017/18 season, and the player then moved to Greece, playing for Panathinaikos, where he is now, originally signing a three-year contract. Macheda has played a total of 91 times for the club, scoring 36 goals and nine assists, a turn up in form for the player. Last season, Macheda made a total of 37 appearances for his club, playing in the Greek Super League 1, the Kypello Elladas and the Super League play-off, scoring 15 goals and four assists, scoring ten goals and one assist in 26 appearances this season.

His scintillating form in the country has led to interest from other clubs, possible facilitating another move. After interest from Spanish clubs in the summer, Macheda signed a new contract which expires in the summer of 2023. I am happy that he seems to have, at last, found his feet in the game. Many will have had high hopes for him when he scored that goal against Aston Villa, but it just was not to be for him at United. I wish him all the best for his future career.

Written by John Walker

Idols: Eric Cantona – arrogance personified but class backed it up

Manchester United have had some great players over the years with children idolising players throughout the club’s history. From the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, George Best to the likes of David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo, children and adults alike will have idolised a particular player. For me, it was the prolific Frenchman Eric Cantona that I idolised. The guy just had something about him from the day he signed for United, to the day he retired from football. Even now just seeing him makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. The guy is a legend in his own right. The iconic Frenchman will have been the idol of many young boys and girls in the mid to late 1990s.

Cast your mind back to the 26 November 1992, the day which Eric Cantona’s move to Manchester United commenced. Leeds United ended up losing a magnificent player, something they will have learned to get over, perhaps. Leeds chairman Bill Fotherby telephoned United chairman Martin Edwards in order to find out the availability of left-back Denis Irwin, who was not for sale – for obvious reasons. Sir Alex Ferguson was in a meeting with Edwards at the time and cheekily asked about Cantona, with United needing a striker at the time – unsuccessful in their attempts to sign David Hirst, Matt Le Tissier, and Brian Deane. Fotherby had to speak to then Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson, days later the deal was done – not protracted like today’s ‘soap opera’ transfers transpire.

United paid £1.6 million for Cantona – a bargain you say! The Frenchman made his debut for United in a friendly match against Benfica in Portugal, a match marking Eusebio’s 50th birthday with Cantona wearing the number ten shirt. His first competitive match came against Manchester City on the 6 December 1992 – he arrived at the Old Trafford club too late to play against Arsenal on the 28 November 1992 – Cantona wore the number twelve against City. United’s season had been disappointing up until Cantona’s arrival with the club falling behind big spenders Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers, also the inaugural season of the Premier League. Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers were also challenger’s that season – if you can imagine that.

During his first season, Cantona, playing only 23 matches, scored nine goals, which helped United to lift the first ever Premier League trophy, something they would get used to doing lots of times throughout the 1990s and the 2000s – albeit that being without Cantona. With his appearances for Leeds too, Cantona played 43 matches that season, scoring 20 goals, which just showed what the Frenchman was capable of. The following season, the first full one playing for United, Cantona would start to show himself, and show just why he became an idol. Cantona played 49 matches in the 1993/94 season, scoring 25 goals in all competitions – which was a great season for the Frenchman. He again lifted the Premier League title, the second time in two seasons.

The following season, Manchester United were looking to lift the Premier League title for the third year in a row, continuing their newfound domination but for Cantona, it would be a mixed season. In total, Cantona played 25 times that season, scoring 14 goals. On the 25 January 1995, the infamous Kung-Fu Kick happened with Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons seemingly abusing the Frenchman, who launched his kick shocking the world, also showing the passion that made Cantona the man he became. United knew a lengthy ban was unavoidable with calls to kick Cantona out of the country, which was a bit harsh, especially when you figure that Luis Suarez did not suffer that for racially abusing Patrice Evra, or even biting Giorgio Chiellini! After the event, in a press conference, Cantona responding to what he did, said;

“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”

Eric Cantona was banned for eight months, fined £30,000 in total and did not play again for the rest of the season. Cantona returned to Manchester United the following season, playing in the North West derby against Liverpool on the 1 October 1996 – a match in which he set up a goal for Nicky Butt just two minutes into the match, also scoring a penalty, the final score ending in a 2-2 draw. Cantona was back, but the boo-boys would be there to try and provoke him again. Cantona played 38 matches that season, scoring 19 goals with United lifting the Premier League title for the third time, after missing out to Blackburn Rovers the previous season. Cantona helped beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final at Wembley also, scoring the only goal in the 1-0 victory. Collar up and digging deep for his team, doing the stuff on the pitch, not in the stands.

The 1996/97 season would be Cantona’s last at United and playing football as a whole. 50 appearances and 15 goals saw the Frenchman’s final tally being set at 185 appearances, 82 goals – which may not have been the best ratio, but for a player like Cantona to grace the stage at Old Trafford, which was much more special. Cantona was that special number seven the club needed post-Bryan Robson, leading to the free-kick specialist David Beckham, which in turn led to Cristiano Ronaldo, then the not so prolific Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia, who moved from the number 25 and back, before the number was handed to Angel Di Maria, who left after one season, then sat vacant before it was given to Memphis Depay and sitting vacant until January 2018 when Alexis Sanchez took the number, another relative failure in that shirt number.

The guy who wore the number seven throughout much of my childhood will be the best player to don that shirt, after Robson – in my lifetime at least, before it was handed to another idol of mine, David Beckham. Cantona, his ability, his ego, his swagger and everything else about him will remain an idol of mine for the rest of my life. Not that I want to be like him, or even be him – I won’t – but the guy deserves so much respect for what he did during his career, especially for Manchester United. Eric Cantona literally attempted to kick racism out of football. Whilst the Frenchman will be lauded for what he did, he did admit in 2011 that the Kung-Fu Kick on the Palace fan was “a great feeling”, also that he was happy for the fans to treasure it but “… it was a mistake.”

Written by John Walker

Idols: Wayne Rooney Captain, Leader, Legend

On the 31 August 2004, Manchester United signed 18-year-old Wayne Rooney from Everton in a deal worth £27 million. Throughout the month, Everton received an offer of £20 million from Newcastle United after Rooney rejected a new contract worth £50,000 per week. He also handed in a transfer request two leave Goodison Park. United had paid the highest transfer fee at the time for a player under the age of 20. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson knew the type of player Rooney could become after his exploits with Everton. Since emerging as a 16-year-old, scoring 17 goals in 77 appearances before leaving for United.

Rooney had become now of the most sought-after players in Europe following his two seasons at Everton. Also having a starring role for England at Euro 2004, in which he scored four goals, matching new United teammate Ruud van Nistelrooy’s efforts for the Netherlands. Perhaps Ferguson knew what Rooney could achieve at United? If he continued to work hard and develop. The legend would spend 13 seasons at United and win all the major honours at the club, helping United to reach the pinnacle of European football once again under the reign of Ferguson, who did so for the second time in his career.

Rooney made a total of 559 appearances for United, scoring 253 goals and 146 assists. This meant that he offered a goal every 2.21 matches and a goal contribution every 1.40 matches. Rooney had a hand in 399 goals for United, which is a great figure for a player that really played in quite a few roles at the club. He played the main striking position. Also as a second striker, attacking midfielder, a winger. He even played as a defensive midfield at the end of his career. Rooney offered everything he has for much of his United career, keeping United ticking and earning the plaudits. Rooney also played 12 matches for England, scoring 53 goals.

Coming to United as a player with lots of talent.

In his first season at United, Rooney showed what he could become. On his debut for the club, against Fenerbahce in the UEFA Champions League, Rooney scored his first hat-trick for the club as United beat the Turkish club 6-2, scoring 17 goals and six assists in 43 appearances. Rooney averaged 19.46 goals for the club each season and regularly hit around the 20 goal mark each season. During two seasons (2009/10 and 2011/12) he scored 34 goals for the club. In his final season at the club (2016/17) he scored just eight goals for the club. In total, he scored eight hat-tricks for United, scoring four goals in one match, which showed his ability.

His hat-trick against Fenerbahce will be special as it was his first at United, on his debut and playing in the Champions League. He also scored hat-tricks against Bolton Wanderers (twice), and Portsmouth in the Premier League. Two other special ones will be prevalent though; the one against West Ham United on the 2 April 2011 and the one against Arsenal on the 28 August 2011 as United beat the North London club 8-2. Rooney was known for driving the mentality of the club forward, always wanting to win and win trophies. In the summer of 2010, a certain transfer request from Rooney could have chanced everything.

Rooney was being linked to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City. He said it was never an option to sign for City and he would have chose Barcelona over Real Madrid. But the Madrid club were the likely destination. Of course, he never left United, signed a new number contract at the club and continued his career. As Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012/13 season, he confirmed that Rooney had handed in a transfer request once again. David Moyes, Rooney’s former manager at Everton would need to solve that problem. Rooney was sold to Everton in the summer of 2017 just after Jose Mourinho’s first season at the club.

Chasing the clubs goalscoring record and moving on.

At United, Rooney was chasing the goalscoring record set by the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton. He scored 249 goals for United in 758 appearances. Rooney broke that record by scoring his 250th goal in January 2017, scoring three more goals for the club before leaving United. Rooney also broke Charlton’s record for England too, having scored 49 goals in 106 appearances with Rooney scored 53 goals in 120 appearances. He broke the record in 2015. Rooney was a player that craved success and guided United to many trophies with his teammates. His goals were something that helped United massively along the way plus his desire to win.

Rooney won five Premier League titles at United. He also won one FA Cup, three League Cups, and four FA Community Shields. The UEFA Champions League (playing in three finals), one UEFA Europa League and one FIFA Club World Cup were the cream of the crop. Rooney captained United taking over from Nemanja Vidic in 2014, handing the captaincy over to Michael Carrick in 2017. Since his departure, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young (who have both left) and Harry Maguire have captained the club. Rooney may be a distant memory for United now, a player that has played a part in the clubs history but he will always be remembered.

After United, Rooney went back to boyhood club Everton, staying at the club for one season before heading to the MLS in the United States of America. He played for DC United and scored 25 goals and 14 assists in 52 appearances. Rooney then returned to England signing for Championship club Derby County in 2019. He was eligible to play for the club from the 2019/20 season. He is currently the manager of the club. In the future the name Rooney might be heard against at United again as the club signed 11-year-old Kai Rooney last month, for the clubs academy. He will be sure to keep the family name alive at the club, providing he makes it there.

Written by John Walker

Ranked: Every post-Sir Alex Ferguson season ranked from worst to best

On the 8 May 2013, the world of football was sent into a state of shock. Journalist rooms were sent into a state of frenzy and Manchester United fans sent into a saddened mood. Sir Alex Ferguson had announced his retirement. 

Fresh on the back of winning United’s twentieth English league title, his thirteenth, Sir Alex Ferguson would leave United needing a new manager for the first time in 27 years. After keeping his promise of knocking Liverpool off their perch, it would now fall to other managers to lead United into a new period of glory. 

Nearly eight years down the line and Old Trafford has seen four different managers (not including Ryan Giggs as interim manager) and success has been hard to find. Not many of the seasons that have followed that final Sir Alex Ferguson league title can truly be called successful. 

For the first time in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era, United can currently consider themselves in the title race. If they can keep at that current form, then it might go down as the best season since. Let me review each season since David Moyes became the first new United manager since 1986.

7. 2013/14 Season

Ah, poor David Moyes. It just wasn’t meant to be. Much has been made of whether United should have gone in for Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho, in order to continue the success that Sir Alex Ferguson brought to the club. In the end the honour fell to fellow Scot, Moyes. Moyes had served a long apprenticeship at Preston and then Everton, the latter leading to many plaudits coming his way. He would leave Everton on the back of finishing in the top eight, eight seasons in a row. In the 2004/05 season, they would finish fourth in the league, however, Liverpool’s win in the Champions League, prevented a well-deserved European campaign. However, failure to win a trophy in that time, runner-up in the FA Cup would be as close as he got, was a slight worry as he made the short journey from Merseyside to Manchester. 

His United tenure started well. A win in the Community Shield and an opening day 4-1 win over Swansea gave United fans optimism that it would be business as usual despite the change. You could argue, however, that would be as good as it got. A home draw against Chelsea followed and then his first Liverpool game would end in defeat. A crushing defeat to City (4-1), would leave him 0-2 in Derby games. A home defeat against West Brom, a West Brom who hadn’t won against United since 1984, left United with their worst start after six games in 24 years. 

Many more of those records would be broken as the season went on and despite a seven-game unbeaten run after that West Brom defeat, inconsistency would plague the rest of the season. Four wins in a row just before the turn of year led to hopes they had turned the corner, but the rest of the season would be a tough watch. A penalty shootout defeat to Sunderland denied United a League Cup final and 3-0 home defeats to both Liverpool and Manchester City left Moyes on the brink. Hope of a shock win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League was quickly extinguished and despite back to back wins scoring four goals in both games, defeat away, cruelly ironically, to his former club Everton meant David Moyes would fail to see at his first season at the club. Ryan Giggs took the final four games and would blood in a few youngsters, a bright spark being James Wilson scoring twice on his debut. 

Moyes ripped up the backroom staff that had sent many years under Sir Alex Ferguson and knew the ins and outs of the club. In hindsight, it was a bad move, but you can’t blame him too much to want to stamp his on authority at a club where one manager had led for so long. Many would point to the squad not being the best it could have been when Sir Alex Ferguson left and that United failed to get in the player’s he wanted to boost the squad. Of course, it was also a first season for new executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward. Criticism over transfer dealings continue to this day but bringing in only Marouane Fellaini did not help the cause. Juan Mata signed in the new year, but it wasn’t enough to save Moyes from the chop and give United their worst season since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club. The emergence of Adnan Januzaj could not even paper over this shocking season. 

6. 2018/19 Season

What an odd season. Finishing second the season before, hopes of Jose Mourinho being able to bridge the 19-point gap between United and winners City, were high. That would be the only thing that would be high. Performance levels were low. League positions were low. Confidence was extremely low. A 3-1 defeat to Liverpool left United sixth with just seven wins in 17 games. Dressing room discontent, a toxic environment and a manager who felt he wasn’t backed was not tenable and Mourinho would leave before Christmas. 

Enter Ole Gunner Solskjaer. United legend. Scorer of the 1999 European Cup winner in THAT game against Bayern Munich. Everything he touched turned to gold. 10 wins in 12 games league games (the other two draws) including FA Cup wins over Arsenal and Chelsea, moved United into fourth place as they travelled to Paris for the second leg of the last 16 Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain. United had lost the first leg 2-0, the only defeat in the interim period. Incredibly a last-minute Marcus Rashford penalty sent United into the quarter-final despite being injury ravaged, missing 10 first team players, with Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood finishing the game on the pitch as United chased a winner. 

The clamour for Solskjaer to be handed the job permanently became too much for the United top brass to ignore and the confirmation was announced soon after. In almost a complete reverse of his first 17 games, the next 12 games would yield just two wins. Numerous opportunities to secure fourth place came and went, and even victories over already relegated Huddersfield and Cardiff in the final two games of the season, would have led to Champions League football again. As we all know, two shocking performances would follow. United would finish sixth, incidentally the same position United were in when Mourinho was sacked. Worries were starting to circulate that Solskjaer was the wrong man for the job and the club were too hasty in his appointment. Solskjaer believed that the tough training that he had to put his players through, due to the low level of fitness that he found when he joined, meant the players ran out of the steam at the end of the season. Whatever the reasons, the season was plain bad. 

5. 2014/15 Season

As a sign of how quickly expectations had fallen since the horror show of David Moyes’ failed season at the club, United were keen to bring in an experienced winner who could get them back into the top four. Many fans wanted to see Giggs get his chance after his interim period but just before the 2014 World Cup, Louis van Gaal, then manager of the Netherlands, was announced as manager. United fans sat back to watch how the Netherlands would play in Brazil. To everyone’s delight, it was very good. In fact, it was better then very good. They made it to the semi-finals, playing some excellent football and Van Gaal seemed to know exactly how to get the best out of Robin van Persie, who wasn’t at his very best during the season before. One of the highlights that lived long in the memory of Van Persie’s diving header and his run to celebrate with his manager. The dream team that United hoped would fire them back to glory was on. 

Then Van Gaal would oversee six wins from six in pre-season, including wins over Inter, Real Madrid and Liverpool. Instead of praying for the top four, United fans were dreaming a lot bigger. The signings needed to bolster a weak looking squad came thick and fast. Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria, Marcus Rojo and Daley Blind all came in and yet the bubble quickly burst. Swansea would again be the opening day fixture, however, this time it was at home and it ended in defeat. United fans were understandably aghast. ‘Even Moyes beat Swansea’ was probably heard in every home of every United fan. Drab draws against Sunderland and then Burnley didn’t do much to allay early fears and when they lost to Leicester City, they had one win in five and were sitting twelfth. Throw in the League Cup humiliation, losing 4-0 to League One MK Dons, and United fans were wondering what had happened to their side in such a short period of time. 

There were bright moments in the season. A league double over Liverpool is always celebrated as is putting four goals past Manchester City. They would only lose two league games between the 8 November and the 18 April. By then they were comfortably in the Champions League spots, but one win in the last six left a sour taste in the mouths and dampened spirits a little going into the summer break. However, being back in the Champions League will have been the minimum target when appointing the Dutchmen and it couldn’t be any worse than the debacle the season before. 

4. 2015/16 Season

It is interesting to hear what is considered a successful season. Fans will likely deliberate this for the rest of time. It could probably be called the Arsenal conundrum. Arsene Wenger’s last few seasons at Arsenal would see them quality for the Champions League and that would be a success. If they could win a cup, then that would be the added bonus. However, many fans believe that the league is more important than the cup. That aiming for fourth place is not good enough. Your write has always tended to agree with that; however, I will probably contradict myself in this remaining article and that starts here. This season would see United lift their first piece of silverware in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era. (sorry Mourinho, the Community Shield doesn’t count). If there was ever a season that constituted as ‘one step forward, two steps back’ it was this one. More signings were made. Memphis Depay was exciting. Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin and serial winner Bastian Schweinsteiger bolstered the squad and the arrival of unheralded 18-year old Anthony Martial caught everyone off guard. 

In the league United would not win more than three games in a row but would complete another league double over Liverpool. The home win would see the arrival Martial, with that stunning solo goal and his form would continue to be the brightest of sparks throughout the season, finishing United’s top goal scorer. However, Liverpool would knock them out of the Europa League as United exited their return to the Champions League at the Group Stage. A group stage that should have been easy to advance from. 

Whilst the signing of Martial paid off, the Depay arrival hadn’t gone as well, and Van Gaal remained under pressure throughout the season. Losing to West Ham in their final game at Upton Park, handed the initiative to rivals City in the race for fourth place and with the goal difference being so far in City’s advantage, there win on the final game of the season consigned United to another spell in the Europa League. Heading into the FA Cup final, the impression was that if United won, Van Gaal would get another year. They did win. An extra-time win over Crystal Palace, however, Van Gaal didn’t get another year. Even worse, he was sacked immediately after the cup win. It is something that Van Gaal hasn’t let go to this day, however the football that season was poor. At points the fans were booing when United passed back to David De Gea in goal. Just 49 goals were scorer in the league, and it was clear that Van Gaal was no longer the right fit. The FA Cup though did make it a slightly better season then his first, by virtue of it being United’s first silverware for three years. 

3. 2019/20 Season

The last three seasons is where my contradiction kicks in. Last season was another strange season for United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was entering the season on the back of those shocking performances against Cardiff and Huddersfield. The defence that had been so poor the season before, was bolstered by the signings of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The season started so well. A 4-0 win over Chelsea with Maguire winning Man of the Match signalling hope that United were finally on the right track. As has been so often, it was a false dawn. United would only win one of their next eight games leaving them down in 14th place. After draws to newly promoted sides, Sheffield United and Aston Villa, Solskjaer was seemingly on the brink. Back to back wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City gave eased the pressure once more, pressure that would be back just a month after. Four defeats in the next eight games, culminating in defeat to Burnley at Old Trafford, looked the end for Solskjaer. Enter Bruno Fernandes. 

One signing transformed the side. Despite drawing with Wolves in his first game, a result that left them in seventh place, United would go undefeated for the rest of the season, either side of the break for the pandemic. They would end up finishing third, hugely important after failing the season in their quest for Champions League football. The 14 games unbeaten should have given reason for optimism heading into the new season, but failings in the semi-finals of all cups they were involved in left a sour taste in some fan’s mouths. The last being the Europa League, played over one leg because of the aforementioned pandemic, that they were expected to win. However, they looked tired as the season ended and the defeat to Sevilla meant the wait for Solskjaer first trophy would head into the next season. 

Some will argue that this season isn’t much different to this season and Van Gaal’s fourth place season. Both secured Champions League football, but when you factor in the three semi-finals and second half of season form, then it warrants it’s place high on the list. 

2. 2016/17 Season

The final two seasons are where the contradictions can get tricky. Jose Mourinho was a problem that the United board didn’t know how to solve. The born winner in Mourinho came out this season. In his first season he was backed. Paul Pogba returned to the club. A centre back, Eric Bailly, was signed. He was needed. Henrikh Mkhitaryan signed from Dortmund and of course Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined on a free transfer. Big statement signings. Big statement signings that saw three wins in a row to start the season. Excitement started building. Whilst Mourinho had been sacked from Chelsea, he was still seen a winner who would bring success to any club he took over. As seems to be the trend when the excitement levels build, United would win just one of their next six games, losing three. United wouldn’t lose again in the league until May. So United were surely in the title hunt? No defeat in six months? They must have been. Unfortunately, not. United could not win games. They would draw 15 times. Many against teams they should have beaten, including Stoke (twice), Burnley, Hull, West Brom and Swansea. United would finish sixth. Worse than both seasons under Van Gaal. They were in the hunt for the Champions League, but just one win in their final six games laid rest to that. 

Mourinho didn’t care though. He had the back up of the Europa League. United had already won the League Cup, three wins in a row now at Wembley, including the Community Shield (sorry Mourinho, still not a trophy). However, the Europa League was a big trophy now that it was his only route into the Champions League. Of course, his United side would win. Mourinho would run onto the pitch waving three fingers, in reference to his three trophies (yes, he included the Community Shield). 

This season, in league terms, wasn’t great. However, it was a return to the Champions League and a return to multiple trophy wins, and many believed that with this success, United could go on to bigger and better things, after all, Mourinho always wins the league after two seasons in charge.

1. 2017/18 Season

Alas, he wouldn’t win the title. He wouldn’t even win a trophy. So how does this rank as the best season you may ask? 

Well Mourinho himself called finishing second, with the squad he had, his best achievement. Things started to sour a little. Ibrahimovic was still out injured with the serious knee injury he had sustained in the season prior, so Romelu Lukaku was brought in for £74 million. Lindelof was also brought in, in hope that he would form a title winning partnership with Eric Bailly, who had been so impressive in his debut season. Many saw Nemanja Matic as the final piece of Mourinho’s puzzle, when Chelsea let him go. In reality, despite finishing second, United never really got close to Manchester City. The signing of Alexis Sanchez at Christmas, designed to put United in position to challenge the season after, will live long in the memory of all United fans. And not for positive reasons. He was a disaster for the rest of the season and for the rest of his United career. Losing in the final of the FA Cup, led some to think that Mourinho should go the same way as Van Gaal. The football wasn’t much better, and Van Gaal only had one trophy less than Mourinho when you match up their seasons. Of course, you’re not going to sack a manager after a second-place finish.  

The league should always be a priority. This is the season that United finished closest to top spot. For United fans it is a sad reality, however, it is the best season that United have had. The current United side have a chance to leapfrog all of these seasons and for United fans, the thought of title number 21 lingers on their mind almost every day. 

Written by Huw Rawlings

Manchester United Idols: Andy Cole – a true bargain of the Premier League era; 275 appearances, 121 goals, 44 assists

On Tuesday 10 January 1995, Manchester United signed Andy Cole from Newcastle United in a deal worth £7 million which included Keith Gillespie, worth £1 million heading in the other direction. For £6 million cash, Cole was going to be an absolute belter for United. He made his debut 12 days after signing for the club in a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford over Blackburn Rovers – the eventual winners of the Premier League that season by one point – with Eric Cantona scoring an 80th minute winner. Cole’s first goal for United came in a 1-0 victory over Aston Vila at Old Trafford on the 4 February 1996, scoring the only goal of the match in the 17th minute.

In his first season for United, despite coming half way through the season, Cole made 18 appearances, not playing in any other competition that season as he was cup-tied in the FA Cup, United were already out of the League Cup and the UEFA Champions League – finishing third in their group. In those few appearances, Cole managed to score 12 goals, scoring single goals against Aston Villa, Manchester City, and Southampton, braces against Leicester City and Coventry City, also scoring five against Ipswich Town in a 9-0 hammering of the club that season which also saw a brace from Mark Hughes and goals from Roy Keane and Paul Ince too.

Cole played for United in eight different seasons, coming half way through the first and leaving halfway through the last, completing six seasons at the club. In his second season (1995/96), United were tasked to win the Premier League once again after Blackburn won the title the previous season, stopping United from winning the league three seasons in a row. United achieved that with Cole making 43 appearances and scoring 13 goals, 11 of those were in the Premier League alone which saw United finish four points clear of Newcastle United also finishing the season with the FA Cup after beating Liverpool 1-0 with Cantona scoring the only goal of the match.

In the summer of 1996, Cole saw both Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrive at the Old Trafford club. During the 1996/97 season, Cole made just 28 appearances, scoring seven goals in all competitions, which was not his best season at the club by a long shot but it was a season that United retained the Premier League title, also winning the FA Charity Shield at the start of the season, but falling short in the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Champions League once more. United were seeking to sign Alan Shearer from Blackburn that summer, ending up spending 10% of his fee on Solskjaer, which turned out quite well for United – that is another story.

The 1997/98 season was Cole’s best season at the club where he made a total of 45 appearances, scoring 25 goals – the most he had ever scored in one season for the club. It was the first of three good seasons for the player and the club where he would score a total of 71 goals in 140 appearances for the club. United ended the season second in the Premier League, losing to Arsenal by a single point, similar to that season against Blackburn. United won the FA Community Shield, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, the third round of the League Cup also reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League – but little did anyone know what was coming.

The 1998/99 season is the pinnacle season for United as they won the treble, a feat that has never been achieved by another English club, at least not a proper treble. Cole made 50 appearances for his club that season, scoring 24 goals in all competitions. Cole scored some important goals that season, helping United qualify for the Champions League, scoring against LKS Lodz in the qualification round, scoring twice against Brondby in the group stages and once against Barcelona with new strike partner, Dwight Yorke – who arrived that summer for £12.6 million from Aston Villa, bagging a brace. Cole also scored against Juventus in the semi-final second leg.

United won the Premier League on the final day of the 1998/99 season, beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 with Les Ferdinand opening the scoring (24′), David Beckham equalising (42′) and Cole scoring a 47th winner for United, seeing his side lift the title at Old Trafford. United then won the FA Cup six days later beating Newcastle United 2-0 at Wembley with Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes scoring the goals. Four days later would be the biggest match of the season and some of these player’s careers just four days later. United versus Bayern Munich in the Champions League final at the Nou Camp in Barcelona.

Cole started that match in Barcelona but a sixth minute after Mario Basler scoring a free-kick, beating Peter Schmeichel. Bayern were unlucky not to score more goals in the match, hitting the woodwork more than once throughout the match. Sheringham replaced Jesper Blomqvist in the 67th minute to support United’s attack with Cole being replaced by Solskjaer in the 81st minute, which would change the match for United. In the first minute of added time, United won a corner, taken by Beckham with Sheringham scoring. Two minutes later, another free-kick – Beckham into Sheringham and Solskjaer has won it.

United reached the promised land that season with one of the best teams that Sir Alex Ferguson had ever put together. Cole made another 45 appearances in the 1999/2000 season, scoring 22 goals for United. United won the Premier League again, the third round in the League Cup, did not participate in the FA Cup because of FIFA Club World Cup, which they finished in the group stages of, also winning the Intercontinental Cup. The 2000/01 season was Cole’s last full season at the club, making 31 appearances and scoring 13 goals for the club. United ended with the Premier League again, winning it three times in a row for the first time.

During the 2001/02 season, Cole made 15 appearances for United, scoring five goals. His last goal came in a 3-1 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. his last appearance for United came in a 1-0 defeat to West Ham United on the 8 December 2001 in which Jermain Defoe scored the only goal of the game. United signed Ruud van Nistelrooy in the summer of 2001, delayed from the year before because of fitness concerns which turned into a ruptured ACL. His arrival limited Cole’s performances for United that season so he was sold to Blackburn Rovers for £8 million, with United making a profit based on the fee paid for him.

Cole won the League Cup with Blackburn only a few months after being sold to the club, which was his twelfth and final trophy of his career. He made 100 appearances, scoring 37 goals for Blackburn then leaving for Fulham (39 appearances, 13 goals), Manchester City (23 appearances, 10 goals), Portsmouth (22 appearances, four goals), Birmingham City on loan (five appearances, one goals), Sunderland (eight appearances, no goals), Burnley on loan (13 appearances, six goals) and finally ending his career at Nottingham Forest (11 appearances, no goals). Cole made a total of 646 appearances during his career, scoring 289 goals.

For United, Cole made 275 appearances, scoring 121 goals and 44 assists and helped the club win five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, one FA Charity Shield and one UEFA Champions League. Since retiring, Cole has coached with Huddersfield Town, achieved his coaching badges working at United’s Carrington training ground and worked with Sol Campbell at Southend United. He has suffered ill-health with kidney failure in 2014 and had a transplant in 2017. He is also an ambassador for United, the club that he spent much of his glittering career at. He turned 49 on the Thursday 15 October 2020 and it was fitting to remember this Manchester United icon.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United Idols: Denis Irwin – as left-backs go, Irwin was one of the best

Denis Irwin signed for Manchester United on the 8 June 1990, nearly 30 years ago, signing for a fee of just £625,000 from Oldham Athletic. Just 24 at the time he was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson, Irwin has played for Leeds United from 1983-86, signing for Oldham afterwards. Irwin played 82 times for Leeds, scoring one goal, also playing 204 times for Oldham, scoring seven goals in all competitions played. Irwin turned into a remarkable left-back under Ferguson at United, becoming one of the cogs needed to keep the team on the right track – the road to success.

That is exactly where Ferguson took United, Irwin one of the players who help that success come to the Theatre of Dreams. The summer Irwin arrived at the club, United had just won their first major trophy under Ferguson, who has managed the club since the 6 November 1986, lifting the FA Cup in 1990 after beating Crystal Palace 1-0 in the replay, a 3-3 draw some days before. Lee Martin scored the goal which is suggested saved Ferguson’s career at the club, which was the right decision as the glory days were close to arriving.

Irwin made his United debut on Saturday 18 August 1990 in the FA Charity Shield against 18-time league winners Liverpool, incidentally, this is still the number of league titles they have today, some 30 years later, which will probably change if the season is completed. It was a 1-1 draw with Clayton Blackmore opening the scoring in the 44th minute, but John Barnes equalised six minutes into the second half with the trophy being shared. During the 1990/91 season, Irwin made 52 appearances (50 starts), not yet scoring his debut goal.

United did end that season by beating Barcelona 2-1 in Rotterdam, lifting the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup, Ferguson’s first European trophy at United, which gave the club the hunger for winning titles. In the 1991/92 season, Irwin scored his first goal for the club, the third in a 3-0 victory over Norwich City in the Football League Division One, the final season of the top-flight in its current form with the Premier League starting the following season. United beat Red Star Belgrade in November 1991 to win the UEFA Super Cup, the only time United have lifted the cup, despite having two more chances to date, a fourth coming this August.

Irwin had scored four goals for United by the end of 1991, scoring his second goal in a 3-1 victory over Chelsea, his third and fourth in a 6-3 victory over former club Oldham Athletic on Boxing Day that year. Irwin had become one of the players Ferguson needed to return the club to winning ways, the titles were coming. Irwin had scored four goals for United by the end of 1991, scoring his second goal in a 3-1 victory over Chelsea, his third and fourth in a 6-3 victory over former club Oldham Athletic on Boxing Day that year.

Irwin had become one of the players Ferguson needed to return the club to winning ways, the titles were coming. United lifted the League Cup towards the end of the 1991/92 season, beating Nottingham Forest 1-0 at Wembley with Brian McClair scoring the only goal of the match in the 14th minute. That was four trophies for Ferguson at the start of his United career, three with Irwin as part of the team, which was not bad for a team who last won a trophy in 1977 after beating Liverpool 2-1 to lift the FA Cup.

United’s last league title came in 1975, winning the Football League Division Two title, their last top-flight league title came in 1967, United seventh league title. At the start of the 1992/93 Premiership season, Irwin had already made 103 appearances for United, scoring four goals. It was about to get much better for Irwin, who made another 48 appearances that season, increasing on the four goals he had scored the previous season, scoring five in the opening season of the Premier League. United lifted the Premier League trophy that season, their eighth league title, putting them 10 behind Liverpool.

Irwin went only two seasons without scoring a single goal, his first (1990/91) and his last (2001/02). During the 1993/94 season, Irwin made 62 appearances, scoring four goals and lifting three trophies for United, the FA Charity Shield at the start of the season and the Premier League and FA Cup double at the end of the season, United ninth league title. During the next four seasons, 1994/95 – 1997/98, Irwin made a total of 173 appearances, scoring 12 goals and helping United lift six more trophies; The FA Charity Shield three times, the Premier League twice, United’s tenth and eleventh league titles, and the FA Cup, beating Liverpool 1-0 with an Eric Cantona goal at Wembley in 1996.

Irwin was the player Ferguson wanted him to become, a player that helped guide United from failing to achieve to the team which dominated throughout the 1990’s. The following season, United would do what no other English club have ever achieved. Irwin made 48 appearances in the treble-winning season, scoring three goals. United won the Premier League after a victory over Tottenham Hotspur, beat Newcastle United to lift the FA Cup, then four days later, did the unimaginable, beating Bayern Munich from 1-0 down at the Nou Camp, scoring twice, both from corners in injury time putting their name on the trophy.

United won their twelfth league title and their second European Cup. Liverpool still had 18 league titles, and still do, winning the European Cup four times back then – six times now. The next two seasons saw Irwin make 72 appearances for United, scoring five goals, his last five goals for the club. It did result in United winning the Premier League title a further two times, three in a row, meaning they now had fourteen league titles, just four behind Liverpool. United also lifted the Intercontinental Cup in Japan, which was later replaced by the FIFA Club World Cup.

Irwin made 23 appearances, scoring no goals in his final season at the club, 2001/02 joining Wolverhampton Wanderers on a free transfer where he made a total of 85 appearances, scoring two goals. Irwin placed for United for twelve seasons, making 529 appearances and scoring a total of 33 goals – also lifting twenty trophies; seven Premier League titles, three FA Cup trophies, one League Cup, five FA Charity Shields, one UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, one UEFA Champions League and one Intercontinental Cup. Not a bad career for the Irishman.

Of course, Irwin could be a great role model to the younger players in today’s game, not just at Manchester United, but for every club. Irwin was a mainstay at United during his time at the club, earning his name on the team sheet every time. To score 33 goals from a left back position is not all that bad either, but it was his marauding runs up the flank and his precise set-pieces that made him much more of an option. Luke Shaw especially could learn something from Irwin, who now hold an ambassadorial role at the club.

Shaw did not have the best start to his United career with some poor performances, his fitness record and lastly that double leg break suffered in 2016 but this season, he seems to have kicked on performance wise and has been playing a better standard of football. Brandon Williams, who came through the clubs academy has made many appearances in the left-back role this season has been a factor in Shaw improving with the pair vying for the position at the club. Irwin could teach both of them something, which could enhance their careers.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United Idols: Paul Scholes – a precise kicker of the ball and a vital cog in the team

Manchester United has an outstanding midfielder in Paul Scholes, who came though the famous Class of 92 alongside the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and brothers Phil and Gary Neville. Scholes began training with United at the age of 14, joining the club in 1991 when he left school. Scholes is asthmatic, which did not seem to hamper his footballing career and also suffered from Osgood–Schlatter disease, something which affects younger athletes.

Trained by the late Eric Harrison, Scholes and his teammates shone brightly at a young age, which is something that set him and many others up for their entire careers. In 1992 and 1993, United won the FA Youth Cup at a time where the Class of 92 started to graduate from youth football, setting sights towards reaching the first team, at the time managed by Sir Alex Ferguson. Scholes and his teammates had the talent to succeed, some of them for a number of years.

Scholes was not part of the team that lifted the trophy in 1992 against Crystal Palace after a 6-3 aggregate victory but the following year, beating Leeds United 4-1 on aggregate, he played in both legs of the final. This saw him rise into the first team, although in the 1993/94 season he did not made a single appearance with United winning back-to-back Premier League titles before he kicked a ball in the team. He did win 11 league titles during his career though, so missing out on two will not faze him.

At the start of the 1994/95 season, with United seeking to win the Premier League for the third season in a row, Scholes made his debut at first team level, starting against Port Vale in the League Cup second round first leg at Vale Park with the ginger ninja scoring a brace in the 2-1 victory. He scored seven goals in 25 appearances throughout all competitions that season with a new, youthful United team pushing themselves forward. However, that season, Blackburn Rovers pipped United to their third Premier League crown.

By the 1995/96 season, all six members of the Class of 92 were regular starters in the first team with Ferguson’s grip on the club showing signs of success, which would continue to run for almost the entirety of the manager’s career at the club. Scholes was becoming a magnificent player for the club and that would drive him to play for the club for the remainder of his career, and then some.

Scholes was great with a football. He could pick out a teammate or even the manager from the other side of the training ground, hitting them exactly where he wanted to. This led to him being nicknamed ‘Sat-Nav’ by his teammates. Scholes won his first Premier League title in the 1995/96 season, doubling the clubs glory with the FA Cup that season also – the club second double in three seasons. Trophies and medals were something players of Scholes’ ability were always going to win. It is just a shame that he could not have won something when playing for England.

Scholes was capped by England from 1997 until 2004 when he retired from international football. He played 66 times, scoring 14 goals, which included a hat-trick against Poland at Wembley and a brace against Scotland at Hampden Park the same year, both matches were UEFA Euro 2000 qualifiers. Scholes also played in the FIFA World Cup in 1998, UEFA Euro 2000 and 2004 with England not getting any bragging rights despite more than 30 years of hurt. No fault of his own – they tried but it was not meant to be.

Scholes hung up his boots for England in 2004. Perhaps it was too early but the player had a young family and he was missing a lot so decided to stick to club football. He also did not think that his form in his last 20-30 matches was good enough and Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were the main starters in the team, at least centrally. It was a choice that he regrets making so soon. Earlier this month, Scholes said:

“I had a young family at the time and going away for England for ten days at a time, sometimes six weeks in the summer, it just wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t enjoying it.

“I know a lot was made of Sven-Goran Eriksson playing me on the left-hand side of midfield but that was never the problem.

“My form in the last 20 or 30 caps wasn’t quite good enough and Steven and Frank were two top-class players who he went with centrally.

“I went on the left but I played there many times for United and was quite successful there, scored a few goals so it was never really why I left England.

“It was just a personal choice.

“I do regret leaving England so soon. I went back to United and my football changed.

“I had been a player who was expected to score goals all the time for England, which I was judged on.”

Before the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Fabio Capello wanted Scholes to come out of international retirement, six years after making what may have been a premature decision. At the time, he was playing in a much deeper midfield role, a position he had only played in for United. England had a few injuries and he was given a few days to decide. He remained in international retirement, clearly feeling that he had made the right decision six years earlier. Scholes said:

“I was tempted to come back, you’d hear whispers all the time but there was only the one time really officially.

“It was before the World Cup in South Africa, I’d played well that season and they were struggling with a few injuries.

“Fabio Capello wanted me to come back, I got a phone call from Stuart Pearce who was on the staff.

“I had a few days to think about it and I felt I was playing well enough, I just decided that it was wrong.

“I hadn’t been involved in qualifying and there were other players who had been in the squad for two years, being away from their families.

“Sir Alex Ferguson saw that he wanted me to play well into my 30s and I needed a different position.

“I moved back and controlled games from midfield, sitting deep, and I was never that player for England.

“I ended up playing there for five or six years and looking back playing there from 30-35 was probably the most enjoyable part of my career.

“I really enjoyed that position, I wasn’t scoring goals but to sit back and control games, I really enjoyed it. I finished with England too early to progress in that position.”

Scholes impressed many a player at United, one that thought he was phenomenal was Nani, who signed for United from Sporting CP, just like Cristiano Ronaldo. Nani was a good player but consistency was something he lacked a lot of the time, but saying that, he was responsible for some great goals which led to achievements for United. The Portuguese winger was taken aback by Scholes, confirming that he was phenomenal, saying:

“One player who really surprised me and impressed me a lot in the beginning was Paul Scholes – he was phenomenal.

My favourite was still Cristiano Ronaldo – the best. Best player ever? I have seen so many… even from the past like Maradona, Pele… but I would pick my companion of many battles, someone I have won so much with, someone I really respect.

“Numbers don’t lie and they also show he is the best – Cristiano Ronaldo.”

Scholes could have been considered as the or if not one of the best midfielders in world football during his career. He seemed to be a one club player and never really cause much trouble, seemingly happy to continue to play for United and do what he could on the pitch, the majority of the time at least. Speaking to the BBC recently, Scholes confirmed that he was never really made aware of other clubs wanting to sign him, other than one conversation he had with a football agent. He said:

“I was never ever made aware of any team coming in for me. I did have one phone call off an agent, Bryan Robson’s old agent, he rang me while we were away at Euro 2000 to ask me if I would be interested in going to Inter Milan but that’s the only phone call I ever had.

I never heard anything after that and the manager never said anything to me. I was playing at my boyhood club, I was a Manchester lad, we were winning trophies all the time.

“If the manager said to me that he didn’t want me I would definitely have gone if there was a big club abroad who wanted me but there was never any need to ever think about Barcelona, Real Madrid or AC Milan because I was at the biggest club in the world anyway.

“We didn’t win as many Champions Leagues as we should have but we were every inch as good as those teams, if not better.”

Scholes will be remembered from one of the coolest Manchester United goals of all time which came against Barcelona in the clubs run to reaching and winning the UEFA Champions League in 2008. After a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp, United were at home to Barça needing something special. It was Scholes’ goal that did just that, putting United into the final in Moscow in which they would face Chelsea. What seemed like greatness personified was confirmed as slicing the ball. Scholes said:

“I miskicked it, personally. I sliced it off my foot.”

Scholes ended his career at United at the end of the 2010/11 season, winning 10 Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups, five FA Community Shields, two UEFA Champions League trophies, one Intercontinental Cup and one FIFA Club World Cup. He played in his testimonial on the 5 August 2011 against the New York Cosmos, reunited with Eric Cantona who was the director of football for the club. United won 6-0 with Scholes scoring the opening goal with a trademark free-kick from 25 yards. He was a big miss for United, who struggled in midfield thereafter.

His retirement lasted around six months or so with the player resigning for United in January 2012 and coming on as a substitute against Manchester City, a 3-2 victory in the FA Cup that season. That season was to be his last, along with Ferguson, who announced his plans to return towards the end of the season. United, Ferguson, and Scholes ended this in style though, wrestling the Premier League title from City, making it number twenty, a two-title lead over Liverpool. Scholes’ career was a great one for United, playing 718 times and scoring 155 goals. He only made 499 league appearances for United, one more might have been fitting. Paul Scholes, Sat-Nav, the Ginger Ninja, whatever you called him can only be replaced with the word; legend.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United Idols: Roy Keane – leadership, anger, belief and sheer determination; one of the best

Manchester United miss having a midfielder like Roy Keane at the club, something that has pained me over the years. I have thought about what could have happened if the Irishman remained at the club, what United could have added to their achievements, but more importantly, it was probably the best time for it to happen in order for United to start something new again; the squad to be rebuilt for another generation.

Keane signed for United from Nottingham Forest for £3.75 million, a British transfer record at the time. Blackburn Rovers manager Kenny Dalglish has a verbal agreement with Keane at the time Sir Alex Ferguson swooped in and stole the player from under Dalglish’s nose. A massive coup for Ferguson. Keane was young and talented, having all the right things to succeed at United, the aggression being the main thing he was known for.

“My regret was that I should have gone abroad earlier in my career. I could have signed for Juventus or Bayern Munich. I had much better financial offers from them, but at the time I wanted to stay at Manchester United. I felt at home at Old Trafford.”

– Roy Keane on his regret to not go abroad earlier in his career.

Keane was an idol of mine, a player who gave as good as he got, if not more, standing his ground and not letting anyone get one over him. Alf-Inge Håland knows that only too well. Keane played for United for the best part of thirteen seasons, a great period of time with the player filling the void which would later be left by Bryan Robson, wearing the captain’s armband and being the voice, the aggression, the thunder and the lightening of Ferguson’s United team. Keane did not take much stick but gave a lot.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s with Arsenal on the rise and challenging United for Premier League glory, Keane and Patrick Vieira, amongst others clashed a lot of the time. There was one match, in particular, played in the early 2000s with Keane and Vieira clashing in the tunnel, which was seen live on Sky Sports and around the world in which you heard Keane angrily say; “I’ll see you out there”.

Those were the days. Keane was the captain, leader and legend and as I was growing up, my idol. I always wanted to be a midfielder like Keane, but with two left feet, it was never going to happen for me. Keane, at that time, was the be all and end all of United for me, and perhaps he will always have a place in my heart, a time where things were great.

“The only reason I ended up leaving Manchester United was I appealed a £5,000 fine. If I hadn’t appealed the fine I wouldn’t have left Manchester United – don’t be brainwashed by the propaganda and lies.

“It is peanuts, you get fined that for being late for training at United. I appealed because I felt I shouldn’t have been fined for speaking about a match on the club station.”

– Roy Keane on the only reason he left Manchester United.

The end of the player’s career at United in 2005 was a bad one, criticism of his own teammates on MUTV seemed to do enough for Ferguson to decide that he was done at the club, signing for Celtic as soon as the transfer window was open, still getting his testimonial at the club, something he did deserve for the amount of blood, sweat and other player’s tears he put into his game.

Keane, at least as a player will always be a legend for me. A player, who at his prime, will always be the type of player any team would want. Blackburn missed out on a player who would have strengthened their side and may have seen them win more than one Premier League title, maybe not even be resigned to the depths of the Football League today. Who knows. To see Keane in his United playing days will always get my attention.

The fact he was a winner, demanded his side win, lifting seven Premier League titles, four FA Community Shields, four FA Cup trophies, one UEFA Champions League trophy, although he did not play in that match due to suspension, along with Paul Scholes and one Intercontinental Cup – playing 480 times for United, scoring 51 goals – 1992 to 2005 will always be a great era for United, the foundations were built to knock Liverpool off their perch, which Sir Alex Ferguson completed before he retired, and Keane was part of that too.

“Have I stepped out of line? Damn right I have. Manchester United fined me about £500,000 over my career but that is because I was sent off and I always held my hands up.

“Ironically when I appealed a £5,000 fine that’s when I left the club. I wished they played this video, it is propaganda, ‘we had to destroy it’. How do you even destroy a video?

“I left with my head held up high, I was fine with my actions, I always felt my intentions were to do the best for Manchester United.”

– Roy Keane on stepping out of line during his career.

Management may not have been right for him, not at the time anyway but coaching and punditry seem to work, despite his criticism of United, which was partly right, saw him slated by United fans. Keane will always be a legend to me for what he did on that pitch, his thoughts will not ruin that for me. Looking at what he has been saying recently, Keane certainly knows his stuff and sees United as that team he still shares his heart with.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United Idols: Edwin van der Sar – the true heir to Schmeichel just six years later

When you ask any Manchester United supporter who their idol is, you will get a different response from each; George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Sir Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes – the names will keep coming. The name Edwin van der Sar may not be one of the most obvious but he was an important player in his time at the club.

A player who replaced the unreplacable, so to speak. Back in 2005 when the Dutch goalkeeper signed for the Old Trafford club from Fulham, he effectively ended a period of regret for United having failed to find a goalkeeper of the same standard as Peter Schmeichel. The Dane was a great goalkeeper for United, earning the plaudits with his great saves, leadership, that goal he scored and for helping his country win the European Championships, which will be a big feat for him.

“Edwin [van der Sar] is the best goalkeeper we have had since Peter Schmeichel. He is a winner.

“He has brought with him a strength of character; he really looks after himself and he trains very well. 

“There are many players who, having achieved what he has done, want to take it easy. But he has a desire to carry on.

“Edwin’s professionalism and dedication to his job and the way he looks after himself has given him longevity in the game.

– Sir Alex Ferguson on Edwin van der Sar whilst playing for Manchester United.

Van der Sar was a successful player before signing for United, where more success would come along. The Dutch goalkeeper won the Eredivisie four times, the KNVB Cup three times, the Johan Cruyff Shield three times, the UEFA Champions League once, one UEFA Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, and one Intercontinental Cup – all whilst playing for Ajax. For Juventus, Van der Sar won the UEFA Intertoto Cup, winning it again with Fulham.

It was at United where his past glories would come back, seemingly ending his career at the top. United were heading into a very exciting period when the Dutchman arrived at the club, Schmeichel had left six years earlier and United failed to find that goalkeeper to full the void left by the Dane. Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard, Roy Carroll – all had been tested. Even Massimo Taibi got a chance – and failed.

Edwin van der Sar was the guy to instil that confidence in – and he showed us all why. During his six-year stay at United, the Dutchman won four Premier League titles – matching the four title he won in the Netherlands – two League Cups, three FA Community Shields, one UEFA Champions League trophy, the second of his career – 11 years apart and a FIFA Club World Cup.

Eleven trophies in six years, maybe not the same heights he achieved with Ajax, but it was a good haul for United, especially Sir Alex Ferguson’s second Champions League trophy, the club’s third. Winning the FIFA Club World Cup was a great achievement too. There will be many memories of Van der Sar – the most memorable would have to be the UEFA Champions League final in Moscow in 2008 against Chelsea.

A 1-1 draw after extra time, goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo and an equaliser from Frank Lampard at the end of the first half – then nothing, at least until penalties. Chances were created, saves were made but it was the penalty shootout that Van der Sar would be remembered for. Carlos Tevez took United’s first spot kick, finding the back of the net, Michael Ballack scoring too.

Michael Carrick putting United 2-1 up, Juliano Belletti sending the score to 2-2. Cristiano Ronaldo missing his – advantage Chelsea after Lampard put them 3-2 up. Owen Hargreaves made it 3-3, advantage still with Chelsea. Ashley Cole 4-3 to Chelsea and destined to lift the cup. Luis Nani 4-4 and all down to Chelsea’s final spot kick. John Terry. He ran, he slipped and missed his kick, still 4-4. United were still in it. Sudden death.

Anderson, bang 5-4. Saloman Kalou 5-5. Ryan Giggs 6-5. Then, up comes the ‘sulker’ Nicolas Anelka. Van der Sar saved it. Manchester United had won the Champions League again. It was a great night in club football, although not for Chelsea’s captain, leader, legend who would have been feeling sorry for himself, at least until 2012 when he saw his side inn the Champions League, suspended from the final, but picking up the trophy in full kit, which was a bit weird.

“Besides my family, my wife and kids and everything, I have two loves in my life.

“That’s Ajax, who gave me the opportunity to develop, they scouted me, they gave me the chance to shine in the world of football.

“And the last club of my career, also gave me a lot of attention, recognition and everything, developed even at a later stage.

“So of course I’d be interested, I’m interested in a position.

“But I need to learn a little more here [at Ajax], develop myself further and of course eventually let’s see what the future brings.

“Manchester United is a fantastic club, there’s a great following all over the world. Everybody wants to play for them and eventually, work for them.”

– Edwin van der Sar on working for Manchester United in the future.

The Dutchman retired from the game after leaving United at the end of the 2010/11 season with David De Gea replacing the legendary goalkeeper. Van der Sar played once for VV Noordwijk at amateur level before he headed back to Ajax where he took the role of managing director in 2012, working his way to chief executive officer in 2016. He was named the Best Goalkeeper in Europe in both 1995 and 2009, and UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year in 2009 and he will be remembered fondly in Manchester.

If a player ever gets to be mentioned in the same sentence as this prolific Dutch goalkeeper, he will have done well during his career. Van der Sar played 266 times for United in six seasons, 820 throughout his professional career, playing during 21 seasons professionally and scoring one single goal, for Ajax during the 1997/98 season. For the Netherlands, Van der Sar played 130 times in 14 years. When you think of world class goalkeepers, Edwin van der Sar just has to be one of them.

Written by John Walker

Iconic Reds: David Beckham – a cracking kicker of the ball, especially from a free-kick

David Beckham is one of the players that many supporters in their 40s, 30s and younger rate as a player, being that he was one of the players who was nurtured into one of the best in the country during the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson. Beckham was one of the six players from the famous Class of 1992, which included Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Gary and Phil Neville, all of whom are still working in the game today with Butt the head of the Academy at United, the others working in coaching, analysis or punditry roles.

Beckham himself is currently getting his MLS franchise in Miami up and running, passing his expertise in the game onto those in the United States of America, where football, or soccer as they call it is still a sport which is seen as something only the privileged can partake in, especially in the youth ranks, which is something that may need to change, with Beckham wanting to get involved in that. David Beckham, love him or hate him was one of the best players to come through the Academy in the 1990s. Many did hate him, if only for the ‘Brand Beckham’ part of his life, but that was at the time football was changing, which has seemingly become normal in this modern-day football.

Beckham scored 85 goals in 394 appearances at the Old Trafford club, playing in some of the best matches in Sir Alex Ferguson’s career, winning the treble in the 1998/99 season. Beckham helped United win six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, two FA Community Shields, a UEFA Champions League and an Intercontinental Cup. During his time in the Academy, Beckham also contributed in the FA Youth Cup winning season back in 1992.

Beckham famously scored from the halfway line against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park back in August 1997, a great goal which showed the guys confidence and ability. Beckham, much like George Best in terms of practising his ability, would spend hours as a child kicking balls, much like one of the greatest ever players to grace the Old Trafford pitch. Back in 2003, Beckham left the club, after a turbulent time with manager Sir Alex Ferguson, leaving for Real Madrid, with a new guy called Cristiano Ronaldo coming in to effectively replace Beckham, who was a much-loved figure at the Theatre of Dreams at the time, a player that many misses, even to this day.

His replacement did not do all that bad either. Beckham did not achieve the great heights he was expected to at Real Madrid, winning one La Liga and a Supercopa de España during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu, scoring 20 goals in 155 appearances. In 2007, at the expiry of his contract, just weeks after winning his first La Liga title, Beckham left the Spanish capital for Los Angeles to play for LA Galaxy in the MLS, despite still being able to offer something in the game, at the highest level. Beckham played for LA Galaxy for five years, winning the MLS Western Conference three times, the MLS Supporters Shield twice and the MLS Cup twice.

During his spell in the MLS, during the off-season in the USA, Beckham made two loan spells with Milan in the Serie A, playing 33 matches in total over the two spells, scoring twice. He did return to Old Trafford with Milan, which was good to see, even donning a green and gold scarf during the protests of the club owners, the Glazers. For LA Galaxy, Beckham scored a total of 20 goals in 118 appearances, upping the profile of football (soccer) in the United States, which was something he was brought in to do. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have too left the Premier League for the MLS, not with the same effect as Beckham though. Which again shows just how underrated the man was in the game.

After leaving the USA, Beckham signed for Paris Saint-Germain, playing for one season before hanging up his boots for the final time, of his career anyway. Beckham and football would always be something that goes together. Becks has returned to the field for charity, playing for Unicef in a game at Old Trafford, which also saw him reunited with former manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and sharing the pitch with his son, Brooklyn, not for the first time. Beckham played well in that match, really turning back the years. Before retirement, Beckham would add another trophy to his impressive haul, willing the Ligue 1 title with PSG, playing 14 matches in the 2012/13 season, saying an emotional farewell at the end of the season, which was a sad affair.

Beckham loves football and football loves Beckham. That is not something that will change either. I was gutted to see Beckham leave Manchester United back in the summer of 2003, even more so after the way he left the club. Still that is all water under the bridge now and both Beckham and Ferguson have buried the hatchet, with Beckham still calling Sir Alex boss, which just goes to show the immense amount of respect the player still holds for the most successful manager in the Premier League, which is something the manager still shows for Beckham, one of the best players he has managed.

Those that do not rate Beckham, I do wonder why. They probably hold his off-field antics against him, but based purely on football, Beckham was one of the best to grace the Premier League. There are many players ahead of him, but rightly so, he still deserves some plaudits for what he did. His ability to cross and score free-kicks is something that has seldom been replicated at the Theatre of Dreams, something United could do with today! Beckham has been honoured by LA Galaxy with a statue outside the clubs stadium in Carson, California. He has also started an MLS franchise, named Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, or Inter Miami for short.

This is something Beckham has been trying to set up since 2013 with the club playing their first MLS fixture in the 2020 season. The new MLS franchise will be playing their matches at the Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at least for their first two seasons. A new stadium will be built for the club near to Miami international airport, which will be called the Miami Freedom Park. It is clear that Beckham still breathes football and will do for the rest of his days.

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW