Between the Lines

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

Archive for September, 2009

Review: Cantona – The Rebel Who Would Be King

Posted by hakanrylander on September 30, 2009

Cantona the rebel who“I have never and will never find difference between the pass from Pelé to Carlos Alberto in the final of the World Cup in 1970, and the poetry of the young Rimbaud.”

Let’s face it, there’s no way you would attribute this quote to John Terry, Steven Gerrard or even Gary Neville. Or for that matter any player in the history of the Premier League, other than Eric Cantona. Cantona stands out during the last 20 years of English football not only for his skills but also for his attempts to lift football to the level of the fine arts (where it belongs, of course) while other, darker parts of his personality made hot-headed attacks on coaches, opponents or spectators.

The French journalist Philippe Auclair manages to shed light on several aspects of this complex personality, and the book therefore rises head and shoulders above the average football biography. The research is very thorough, including about 200 interviews, but the subject himself has not been interviewed or in any other way contributed.

Until he arrived at Old Trafford Cantona regularly fell out with coaches and chairmen and didn’t stay for long at any club. One of Auclair’s theses is that throughout his career Cantona was looking for a father figure that he could trust and who trusted him, and that Alex Ferguson managed to strike just the right balance by giving the player a bit of latitude.

A must read.

But first, please try to spot the difference: PeléRimbaud.

Philippe Auclair: Cantona – The Rebel Who Would Be King (Pan Macmillan)


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Carling Cup: Step forward Danny and Kiko

Posted by hakanrylander on September 23, 2009

A Carling Cup tie against Wolves is unlikely to provide anything near the excitement of last Sunday. It’s not a trophy that too many fans care a lot about, but what makes it interesting is of course that it’s the main opportunity to see some up and coming stars in action.

Sir Alex might have a bit of a selection headache. He should pick some youngsters on the fringe of the first team and also some newcomers who are unlikely to start a single game in the PL this season. But he should also consider that some more established stars need games to keep sharp (Owen), find their form after an indifferent spell (Foster, Carrick, Nani, Tosic) or regain full fitness (Brown). Among these players the case for inclusion is strongest for Brown and Owen. Owen needs to play a bit more than just the last 20 minutes of big games while Brown is probably still our best right-back but need playing-time to get back to full fitness. Perhaps Tosic also deserves another chance to prove himself after being left out of the CL-squad.

Among the young fringe players Macheda, Welbeck, Fabio and Gibson virtually pick themselves, which leaves room for three more outfield players. My choice would be Corrie Evans in central defence, Magnus Eikrem in midfield and Ritchie de Laet (who improved beyond recognition towards the end of last season) at left back.

Ferguson has made some disturbing comments about Macheda and Welbeck lacking focus and forgetting “where their real place is” due to international commitments. Hopefully it’s just his way of stirring them into action tonight. Time to step forward for these two exceptionally promising youngsters.

My line-up: Kuszczak; Fabio, Brown, Corrie Evans, de Laet; Welbeck, Gibson, Eikrem, Tosic; Owen, Macheda.

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Do we get more added time when we need it?

Posted by hakanrylander on September 22, 2009

Following the controversy surrounding the amount of time added in the derby, the Guardian today publishes an interesting study that they claim shows that United benefit from an imbalance in the amount of stoppage time added to their matches.

The Guardian has looked at all of United’s league matches at Old Trafford since the start of the 2006-07 season and discovered that, on average, there has been over a minute extra added by referees when United do not have the lead after 90 minutes, compared to when they are in front. In 48 games when United were ahead, the average amount of stoppage time was 191.35 seconds. In 12 matches when United were drawing or losing there was an average of 257.17sec.

In 2006-07 United were winning 15 times on entering stoppage time and referees added an average 194.53sec. In the four games when United were not winning there was an average of 217.25sec. The following year the disparity was greater, Opta’s figures showing an average 178.29sec added when United were winning and 254.5sec when they were not. Last season it was 187.71sec compared to 258.6sec.

At first glance I’m unable to find any fundamental mistakes that the Guardian has made in this study. Could any of the, undoubtedly numerous, statistical experts among our readers help me prove that the newspaper’s findings are crap? Or do we actually get some preferential treatment at home?

Posted in Academic | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Riverdancing around the living-room: United 4 City 3

Posted by hakanrylander on September 20, 2009

This was electrifying! A wonderful game of football completed by a calm Michael Owen finish after 96 minutes. For me the turning point came during the break when someone in the United dressing-room came up with the brilliant idea to use the wings. In the first half I hardly noticed Ryan Giggs, in the second he was the best player on the pitch. And this was not because Giggs suddenly improved, but because the team started feeding the ball to him. The attacking threath down the wings was intensified further with the introduction of Valencia.

Apart from Giggs, the obvious MotM was Darren Fletcher who continues his remarkable transformation from squad-player to world-class midfielder.

Even though I’m riverdancing as I write this, I feel obliged to point out a couple of negatives. The most important is the difference in the way the two teams reacted to the other scoring. When United scored (except obviously for Owen’s strike) City raised their game and went in search of an equaliser, but when City scored their first goal United lost their rythm completely and were second best for the remainder of the first half. Secondly, and unfortunately, I was again unconvinced by the performance of Ben Foster. He gifted City their first goal and could have done better for their third.

And finally. Yes, I agree with all the City-fans who find it hard to understand how the ref could add more than 6 minutes.

Posted in Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Turkish delight: Besiktas 0 United 1

Posted by hakanrylander on September 16, 2009

turkish_delight2Not an outstanding performance, but it’s of course very satisfying to bring three points back from Istanbul. United lined up in the 4-5-1 formation that is now traditional for away games in Europe. It’s hard to argue with this approach since it’s been very successful. United haven’t lost an away-tie in the CL since 2007 in Milan.

Even so I long for a little bit more adventure, at least against sides like Besiktas. I felt that this game could have been settled by half-time if Rooney had been given a bit more support by one or two central midfielders ghosting into the area when Valencia delivered his crosses. Paul Scholes was a master at this ten years ago. Maybe it’s easier for midfielders to break forward when they are supported by Fletcher or Hargreaves on sentry duty in front of the back four. With Hargreaves injured I would like Fletcher to play every game, but the schedule of course makes this impossible.

In the first half Rooney looked great in a difficult and isolated position. He tired a bit in the second but I was still surprised that he was substituted. Maybe when he grows up he will be able to walk off without a show of petulance. Valencia did great on his CL-debut. His style is more direct and effective compared to Nani’s.

Posted in Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Riverdancing around the office

Posted by hakanrylander on September 3, 2009

Today I find I have absolutely nothing to add to this “analysis” from the peerless Fiver, the mother of all tea-time footy newsletters.

“When the Fiver read on Big Paper Website that Chelsea had been banned from signing any new players in the next two transfer windows, our first course of action was to find a more reputable source to confirm the story. Upon establishing from the Sky Sports News Yellow Ticker Of Fact that it was indeed true, we quickly sped through a kind of reverse Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Ecstasy: amusement, pointing at pictures of Peter Kenyon and laughing like Nelson Muntz, raucous jubilation, teary rejoicing and Riverdancing around the office swigging from a salmanazar of Champagne.”

Read the full story here.

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Five conclusions from United vs Arsenal

Posted by hakanrylander on September 1, 2009

1. On the whole Arsenal can derive more positives (but no points) from this game. I’ve rarely seen United so lacking in attacking ideas at Old Trafford as in the first half when the wingers were contained by close marking, Giggs unable to get involved and Rooney totally isolated.

2. I must admit that I never thought Darren Fletcher would progress beyond being a useful squad player, but if he keeps improving at this rate he will soon rival Wayne Rooney as our most important player. Also I don’t, unlike Wenger, think that he used excessive force, apart from when he bulldozed Arshavin in the penalty area.

3. We have a long-term goalkeeper problem. Ben Foster is a good keeper but again he failed to convince me that he should be United’s first-choice for many years to come. He made a world-class stop from Van Persie but should have saved Arshavin’s strike. He also flapped badly at a cross, the kind of behaviour that feeds insecurity among the defenders.

4. Abou Diaby gifted us the game with an own-goal that was very much an unforced error, but apart from that I was very impressed by him. Wenger has found a real gem.

5. Uefa president Michel Platini needs to get his priorities right and launch an urgent investigation concerning the hairstyle of Manuel Almunia.

Posted in Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »