Between the Lines

"Of all unimportant subjects, football is the most important" – Pope John Paul II

Archive for May, 2009

Match Report: United 0 Barcelona 2

Posted by hakanrylander on May 28, 2009

It’s no disgrace to lose to a side like Barcelona. But what really disappointed me last night was that Barcelona won comfortably without having to be at their best. Instead we witnessed what can only be described as a mental collapse of a kind I never thought I’d see from a team managed by Sir Alex Ferguson.

It started well enough. The first nine minutes looked exactly the way I wanted them to, with United pressing high, beginning to create chances and both Rooney and Ronaldo starting in a confident mood. Park even came close to scoring from a rebound. Then in the tenth minute the game was turned on its head when the United midfield did what they must have been under orders not to allow under any circumstances; they gave Iniesta time and space to run at the defence.

The goal seemed to drain all confidence from every United player. Within  minutes Vidic, Carrick and Anderson had all made school-boy mistakes, and this set the pattern for the rest of the game. From now on United more or less stood around admiring Barca, while feeling inferior.

Guus Hiddink was widely criticized for negative and physical tactics against Barcelona in the semi-final, but last night I soon found myself longing for some physical tactics. If only to prove that we cared about this game. When at last we got physical it was in a reckless way when Scholes came on and lunged into a tackle that deserved a red card (but only got him a yellow). I never thought I’d miss Darren Fletcher as much as I did last night.

Finally, even though I’m disappointed with United I have to give full credit to Barcelona. They were the better team by a mile. And if you love football you have to admire the passing of Xavi and Iniesta as well as the wonderfully executed header by Messi.

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Preview: United-Barcelona

Posted by hakanrylander on May 27, 2009

A very important, perhaps crucial, factor in tonight’s game is the fact that Barcelona are missing three of their first-choice defenders (Alves and Abidal are suspended and Marquez injured). Not only does it weaken Barcelona, but it might also influence the tactics of both teams. It will be interesting to see whether the percieved weakness at the back will cause Barcelona to be a little less adventurous going forward.

United have two alternative battle-plans. Plan A (“Nou Camp”) is to sit back, contain Xavi and Iniesta, leave as little room as possible for Messi, Henry and Eto’o and punish Barcelona on the break. This will be a little easier to achieve than it normally would because Barca will lack the attacking thrust that the fullbacks, Alves in particular, usually provides.

Plan B (“Old Trafford”) is to be all over Barcelona from the off, pressing the back-four and forcing Barcelona to defend. I hope Ferguson goes for Plan B and then reverts to Plan A after 20 minutes when we’re 2-0 up. 🙂

Whatever tactics we choose our main avenues of attack will be Ronaldo down the middle and Rooney and Evra on the left. This might just leave the occasional opening at the other end of the penalty area. My gut feeling is that tonight’s hero will be Park Ji-Sung.

2-0 United.

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Myth of the Week

Posted by hakanrylander on May 26, 2009

Dimitar Berbatov is supposed to be lazy. Carlos Tevez is supposed to work his socks off in every game. The Times today demolishes this myth by revealing that in the knockout stages of the CL Berbatov has covered 112 metres per minute, while Tevez has covered 110 metres per minute. Case closed.

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The Tevez-Glazer Connection

Posted by hakanrylander on May 26, 2009

It seems likely that Carlos Tevez will leave United at the end of the season. I believe that this to a large extent is a sign that the Glazer family is tightening the purse strings.

There are a number of good reasons why Tevez should stay. He’s a class player who has greatly contributed to our success in his two seasons at United. He’s also worshipped by the fans for his attitude on the pitch. And the fee under consideration is believed to be “just” £22m.

But the combination of a huge and rising debt and a global recession probably makes it very tempting for the board to increase profits by limiting spending on transfers. This explains why David Gill is apparently haggling with Kia Joorabchian over the fee, even though it was agreed on in the deal made in 2007.

On the other hand one wonders whether any real negotiations are taking place. It doesn’t make much sense for Joorabchian to consider lowering the price to United if he believes he could sell Tevez for £22m or more to another club. Which he probably does and could. Indeed, if Real, Liverpool and City are lining up to sign Tevez it would be in Joorabchians interest NOT to close a deal with United. This is also exactly the reason why Joorabchian might want to spread rumours about lots of other clubs being interested, or encourage Tevez to tell the media that he’s “unhappy” at the way he’s treated. Sometimes it’s difficult to try to read between the lines.

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Apology to Ritchie de Laet

Posted by hakanrylander on May 25, 2009

In the past Between the Lines has occasionally poked fun at the signing of Ritchie de Laet, and even questioned his very existence, mainly because his record seemed close to non-existent or at least not anywhere near United-quality. De Laet arrived in January from Stoke City where he spent a year and a half without even once playing for the first team, and since then the reports from the reserves didn’t indicate that he had made much progress.

I was therefore very surprised, and delaeted, by his MotM performance against Hull. He was adventurous going forward and solid at the back, and was voted our best and second-best player by the readers of Daily Telegraph and Manchester Evening News respectively. Full marks and an unreserved apology to Ritchie for doubting his ability.

De Laet was signed on a short-term contract until the end of the season. His performance yesterday should earn him an extension.

Edit: De Laet has signed a new one-year contract. Great news!

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How to solve a debt crisis in four easy(?) steps

Posted by hakanrylander on May 20, 2009

As I’ve pointed out in a previous post, the huge and rising debt they took on to finance the takeover mean that the Glazers need United to continue to generate a strong cash flow, while the total value of the club must also increase significantly. To achieve this they’ve designed a strategy consisting of four “key elements”:

  1. Maintaining playing success
  2. Treating fans as customers
  3. Leveraging the global brand
  4. Developing club media rights

Let’s have a closer look at each of these four points, the chances of success and the risks involved.

1. United have now enjoyed more or less continous sporting success for the last 16 or so years. To simplify it, the basis of this success has been the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson in combination with a willingness from the board to provide money to enable him to sign and retain the best players. On both these counts the coming few years involve big risks.

To replace Ferguson is the biggest decision facing the present board. The best they can hope for is that results don’t deteriorate under the new manager.  In reality it’s likely that the successor will not be able to match Freguson’s achievements (who could?) regardless of whether the board choose to play safe but short-term (Hiddink or Capello), go for a younger version of Fergie (Moyes) or, as I hope, pick the controversial but very humble Mourinho.

Until recently I’ve not been worried as to the board’s willingness to continue to finance big-money signings, such as Rooney, Ferdinand and Berbatov. It simply seemed good business sense for the Glazers to continue this policy. But then I read an article about their American football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where they have released a number of key players and been outbid for the signatures of several new ones. The Buccaneers now have more of the salary cap unspent than any other club in the league. A recipe for sporting success? The Tampa Bay fans are unimpressed. In 2007 there was a 145 000(!) waiting list for season tickets, now the list has disappeared and anyone who wants a season ticket can buy one.

2. Treating fans as customers is probably a euphemism for trying to squeeze as much money out of us as possible. This makes sense from a short-term business perspective.  Demand for tickets at Old Trafford is much higher than supply, meaning that ticket prices could be raised (as indeed they have been for next season) without attendances dropping. Longer-term I’m not so sure. You tend to get an awful lot more loyalty from “fans” than from “customers”.

3. The United brand is very strong globally, and much of the potential to make money from this is probably as yet untapped.  But four years after the takeover I don’t really see any signs that the club is progressing along this route any faster than under the previous owners. This could be just ignorance on my part. Maybe these activities are much more visible in China and elsewhere.

4. To increase revenue from media rights could happen in two ways. Either by an increase in total demand for English and/or European football, or by United taking a larger part of total revenues. After many years of strong growth in interest from television networks, I find it a bit hard to expect continued strong growth.

The Glazers are probably mainly looking to points 3 and 4 to generate significant increases in revenue. But they hadn’t reckoned with the present severe global recession that will, at the very least, slow down any progress. I believe that Malcolm Glazer and his sons are quite worried at the moment. It remains to be seen in what way this might affect the area of most importance to the “customers”; the playing success. A first indication might be found in United’s activity, or lack of, in the transfer market this summer.

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Beauty or the Beast?

Posted by hakanrylander on May 6, 2009

Tonight Chelsea and Barcelona battle for the honour of taking on United in the CL Final in Rome. I belive that United’s chances of winning the trophy will be better if Chelsea reach the final, but I still hope for a Barcelona win for two main reasons:

-United vs Barcelona could be a classic game involving two attacking sides that are widely acknowledged as the best teams in the world.

-If, Eric forbid, we should loose the final I would find it easier to stomach that Barcelona rather than Chelsea beat us, because of their entertaining football.

It’s a difficult game to call. Chelsea were accused of negative tactics in the first leg, but I can’t see how they could have chosen any other strategy at Nou Camp. I don’t think Hiddink will play it much differently tonight. He’ll probably be quite happy to contain Barcelona and hope that a single goal will be enough, and Drogba may well provide it against Barcelona’s makeshift central defence with both Marquez and Puyol sidelined.

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