21 years to the Treble and that promise to myself

League and FA Cup double having won in 1993-94 and 1995-96 the European quest remained elusive after having lost to unfancied Monaco on away goals rule and Borussia Dortmund in the previous two seasons in quarter and semi-final stage. Failure to add a continental striker once again raised doubts about Manchester United's chances and the toughest of draws made it near impossible. Gabriel Batistuta, Marcelo Salas, Patrick Kluivert were the coveted players who turned down Ferguson's plea, and instead late into August United had to pay a hefty #12 million to Aston Villa for Dwight Yorke that sounded like an emergency.

Jaap Stam reinstated the leadership in defense that was missing after retirement of Steve Bruce following the 1996 FA Cup win in which he was surprisingly dropped from match day squad. Gary Pallister, David May, Ronnie Johnsen, Henning Berg all tried but did not succeed consistently. Stam later published the details of his record transfer from PSV and how he was tapped up by Sir Alex Ferguson who furiously let go of his top defender after only three seasons in which United won the league three times in a row. United's greatest ever goal keeper Peter Schmeichel had announced he would leave United for Sporting Lisbon at the end of the season. United lost the curtain raiser Charity Shield 0-3 to Arsenal and started the campaign with two draws while had to qualify for Champions' League by beating LKS Lodz.

Season began after the 1998 World Cup where England had lost to Argentina on penalties in round of 16 after David Beckham was sent-off in the 47th minute for reacting to Diego Simeone's challenge that resulted in him and United to a certain extent facing a backlash from England fans. Ferguson used the fallout positively to create a siege mentality to unite his team by refusing to talk to media after West Ham fans who booed every touch of Beckham in a 0-0 draw at Upton Park. United beat former manager Ron Atkinson's Nottingham Forest 1-8 where Solskjaer came from the bench to score four goals to create that super-sub aura. United winning the league on the final game of the season by beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 was the first televised match in India on ESPN with John Dykes as presenter. Eleven days before United drew with Liverpool in Ferguson's 500th game in charge to hand the initiative to Arsenal who next lost to Leeds that tilted the balance back in our favour. From 1990 I was following the English League from BBC on short wave radio frequency of 15.31 MHz with Jimmy Armfield and Mark Pougatch, and later 5 Live from 1994. Markings of that frequency on my radio are still visible.
My National Panasonic Radio with markings on frequencies of BBC.



My notes of final league table and results of MUFC matches.


Ryan Giggs scored the goal of the season in the FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal at Villa Park in extra time by intercepting a wayward pass from Patrick Viera and running past several defenders before shooting from left into the roof of the net beating David Seamen. Before this breadth-taking goal United had to suffer a second yellow to Roy Keane from uncompromising referee David Elleray who had sent him off four times in total and Peter Schmeichel saved a penalty in normal time from Dennis Bergkamp. United had beaten Liverpool in 4th round and Chelsea in 6th round. Newcastle United and Alan Shearer were in their second successive final and lost both.


Having emerged from the group of death at the expense of Barcelona (Rivaldo, Luis Figo, Kluivert, Guardiola, Luis Enrique, de Boer et al), United beat Inter Milan (Ronaldo, Zamorano, Pirlo, Baggio, Simeone, Zanetti et al) and Juventus (Zidane, Del Piero, Inzaghi, Davids, Conte, Deschamps et al) in quarter and semi-finals. For the Sunday Times newspaper its two veterans Hugh McIlvanney and Brian Glanville provided two opposite viewpoints for and against United which was a scintillating read justified with logic. In the second leg of semi-final at Turin, United needed a win or get a 2-2 draw to progress on away goals rule but a Inzaghi double left them reeling 0-2 inside 11 minutes then Roy Keane became a colossus to not only score a goal back, rally the team and in doing so picked up a second yellow to miss the final. Yorke and Cole scored to win the match outright 3-2, duo scored 53 goals that season. Ryan Giggs was injured & Paul Scholes rested to avoid a second yellow but was brought on in second half and got booked for a two-footed lunge to miss the final. The Sportstar from Hindu group was every fans favourite magazine in India who had syndicated Telegraph's articles that still make me read that paper everyday especially Henry Winter who now works for the Times.

Munich had giants in Effenberg, Scholl, Matthaus, Babbel, and Kahn. They missed their pivot in Elber and even though they scored early through a Mario Basler free-kick were unable to convert their dominance into goals while Schmeichel was massive that made two shots hit the post and rebound. United lineup was patchy with Butt and Beckham in midfield where he had played well in the FA Cup final four days before, Giggs playing on the right not his preferred wing and Blomqvist on the left. Sheringham despite his impressive display in FA Cup final was on the bench. As the match wore on United through tireless running of Beckham and intelligence of Giggs, later Sheringham gained confidence. Time was running out I switched on my lucky radio from 70th minute and heard the goal scored first just after 90th minute and later in television - a Beckham corner with Schmeichel coming up leaving United goal empty, a shot gently placed by Sheringham past Kahn. Voice from the radio again celebrated, anxiously watched on as a another corner by Beckham headed from near to far post by Sheringham where another substitute Solskjaer's lunge hit the top of the netting to script an incredible comeback. It was also Sir Matt Busby's birthday and Peter Schmeichel in his last game lifted the trophy.



That incredible joy of winning all major honours might never be possible again I thought and promised to support my club in its tough times. Due to work pressure had stopped making notes of every match in my diary from 2006 and got back to it in 2012. Post Ferguson follow and support them evermore till they win back the league again. Even now feel grateful for the most amazing moments and memories of that season where as a team United overcame every obstacle to win it all inspired by one and only Sir Alex Ferguson.

Time running out for Gomes

Story of Angel Gomes is like a dream. Coming through the youth ranks and finally making his debut in May, 2017 to become the youngest player to play for the first team in 64 years since Duncan Edwards the greatest. Part of England squad that won the U17 FIFA World Cup held in India where team played all their games except one at the country's football capital Kolkata. Gomes started in only 2 games scoring a goal apiece against Chile and Iraq. He was brought on as a sub late in the final after a stunning comeback from 0-2 down was confirmed to finally beat Spain 5-2. Since then much has been heard about his colleagues from that group Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Rhian Brewster, Callum Hudson-Odoi not Angel Gomes. Is this tweet from MUFC another attempt to urge Gomes to sign a new contract before his present one expires on 30, June?
Of all positions to emerge from and settle successfully in the first team midfield is the most challenging where the player is most dependent on others. This season forward Mason Greenwood, left-back Brandon Williams have broken through to first team and done admirably while being younger than Gomes. Competition in midfield is hotting up from James Garner and Dylan Levitt. Levitt was not part of the summer tour last season but his consistent good performances have earned a call from Wales senior squad managed by former United legend Ryan Giggs. Height should not be an issue though Gomes is even smaller than either Nobby Stiles or Paul Scholes who as per Sir Alex Ferguson's autobiography had no chance of making it being dubbed "Too small."

In march Tahith Chong signed a new contract ending speculation about his future after his potential suitors Inter Milan suggested to loan him out next season. He has played in Cup matches since and registered two assists but did miss an easy opportunity to score against Astana in Europa league. In contrast Gomes has also played in Europa league but other appearances have dried up owing to stand-off over his contract while he was being touted all over Europe by his father who is also his agent.

Solskjaer denied Gomes an opportunity to be loaned last January after he took over as United were short of numbers in midfield but was involved in only two games. This year too in January he was denied the chance rightly as his contract negotiation had not concluded. Loan without contract could have only benefited Gomes not the club. Lack of progress under Mourinho after he gave Gomes the dream debut was a greater cause for slump in his progress.

Rebuild under Solskjaer is progressing well but was late to offer Ander Herrera a chance to stay. Same isn't the case for Gomes who has an offer from United for quite some time. In the first part of this season where United struggled with different players in midfield all options were evaluated starting from seniors to juniors in the squad owing to the pressure of gaining points in ultra competitive Premier League. Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira were ahead of Gomes that probably upset some fans but the proportion could have been varied to give Gomes slightly more game time. Consistent run of games given to Fred has resurrected his career and hope Gomes sees this positive influence of Solskjaer that has also turned around Luke Shaw and Nemanja Matic whose United future was in doubt. Arrival of Bruno Fernandes and return of Paul Pogba will mean he needs to deliver at any given opportunity which can only happen if hard work in training and right attitude is never compromised. Eventually when Pogba leaves United can have a home made replacement in Gomes.

Stats do not tell the complete picture though in the 6 senior appearances Gomes could not score nor produce an assist. He took the free-kick against Astana which was superbly saved by their keeper. With the reserve team he has 4 goals and 2 assists having missed many games this season as he was with the first team as standby but not part of match day squad limiting his appearances significantly. He has represented England at every level from U16 to U20. Overall for United youth teams in 66 games he has 29 goals and 17 assists which is very impressive and continuing this into the senior setup needs a bit of patience and planning else frustration creeps in.

Paul Pogba left Manchester United at the end of his contract influenced by his agent as outlined by Sir Alex Ferguson and later became clubs record transfer from Juventus a foreign club. Gomes likely destination is United's direct rivals in Chelsea who have been dominating the Youth Cups but under Lampard and Morris aim to promote youth where United's record of blooding a youth player is unbroken for more than 4,000 games stretching back to 1937. This stat alone should sway the decision of Gomes who has been at United since the age of six and if not Solskjaer's teammate who is also his godfather Nani ring to nudge him to continue his development at United. To have made United to wait till the very last moment would have also given them a clear message. Ravel Morrison's career shows talent alone is not enough and there is a long road ahead for Gomes.

Quest for 'new normal' in football

'Project Restart' is in full swing to bring a conclusion to the 2019-20 premier league season for which the remaining 92 games need to be completed. That is dependent on a lot of factors the major one being by early June the curve of infected people with the corona virus would have been flattened in the UK to free the NHS staff to conduct tests twice a week on all football players, limited staff and media for six weeks totaling some 30,000 tests. Olympic village style of facility where all players of different teams stay but individually in separate rooms and travel only to and from the ground to play is being mooted. Location is still being worked out with the bottom six teams mainly located in the south except Villa which might sway the decision as a crowded city like London is likely to be avoided.

Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish made a well balanced case for 'Project Restart' that "sporting integrity" alone demanded the season must be completed and supported UK governments cause to raise morale through football "It has the power to lighten lives; why not see if we can use that power again?" He ended by quoting Spanish La Liga head Javier Tebas "If important economic sectors cannot restart, in a safe and controlled manner, they could end up disappearing. That could happen to professional football." Few clubs like Tottenham, Arsenal, West Ham, Brighton have allowed players to return to training although individually this has started the process of restarting and others including United might follow soon.

Will be interesting to see how following scenarios would be negotiated given that football is a contact sport unlike tennis:
  • What if one of the players test positive during this restart? Will a second XI or reserves team play instead or next match be forfeited or points shared.
  • Will players that have come in contact with the infected player on the pitch be quarantined for 14 days?
  • Will spitting due to constant running or exhaustion invite a yellow or red card offense?
  • Goal celebrations might be muted to limit contact, but can't control the crowded goalmouth while taking a corner.
  • Teams battling relegation will miss their fans vocal home support that acts like the 12th man in crucial matches.
  • Without match-day revenues the top six clubs will be most impacted as they will not be able to fill their large stadiums and perhaps this limited setup might even the monetary imbalance temporarily.
  • Liverpool are so far ahead that they might field their B team and still win the league easily.
  • Few players from each team might decide not play putting the competition in jeopardy.
  • Will be difficult to rule out fans congregating outside the empty stadiums especially for crucial fixtures like Everton-Liverpool derby and other relegation six pointers.
All eyes on German Bundesliga which might return this month. Germany has the best corona virus testing mechanism in the world that resulted in lowest mortality rate that's a testament to the leadership of chancellor Angela Merkel. Luckily DFB is also lead by Christian Seifert since 2005 who has overseen impressive growth in revenues for Bundesliga welcomed the government decision to restart "It is associated with a great responsibility for the clubs and their employees to implement the medical and organizational requirements in a disciplined manner. Games without stadium spectators are not an ideal solution for anyone. In a crisis threatening the very existence of some clubs, however, it is the only way to ensure the continued existence of the leagues in their current form." Authorities have reported 10 positive cases across top two divisions. Borussia Monchengladbach has developed a new means to earn revenue by asking fans to donate cut-outs to fill the stadium. Bundesliga games will be played as usual with home and away format without the need for a neutral venue but without fans.

Ed Woodward was pragmatic about the future as well as cognizant about the present situation when he said that big money transfers are ignoring the realities that face the sport. This raised questions about Jadon Sancho being lured with iconic number 7 jersey to Manchester United. Sancho was the first player across the big five leagues to have double digit goals and assists this season. New reality might dry up potential suitors for Paul Pogba who has yet to discuss his future which may include a new deal to extend his stay at Old Trafford or use the proceeds from his sale to complete the squad re-build. David de Gea is a year away from completing 10 years and said "I hope I can be here for many more years." which will auger well with fans.

United hierarchy would be busy pre-planning the work usually done at the end of season like deciding on new jersey, refurbishing Old Trafford facilities and relaying the pitch, possible postponement of summer tour which was to Asia this time, tweaking pre-season training and fitness regime, prospective new shirt sponsors as deal with Chevrolet comes to an end in 2021, finalizing new player recruits. Trafford Council gave approval to barrier seating idea mooted by Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) and Fans Forum for initial 1,500 seats while the atmosphere section at Stretford End is being extended to south-west corner.

Extended time off during this lock down would have turned United's attention to the next stars like Ferran Torres for Jadon Sancho, Matheus Pereira for Jack Grealish, Sandro Tonali for James Maddison, Kalvin Phillips for Wilfred Ndidi, Kai Havertz for Danny van de Beek, Odsonne Edourad for Moussa Dembele, Dayot Upamecano for Kalidou Koulibaly while experience criterion might force Luis Alberto for Saul Niguez and Mauro Icardi for Timo Werner. United remain in contention to sign Jude Bellingham from Birmingham and trying their best to retain Angel Gomes who holds record for being the youngest debutant breaking Duncan Edwards record that stood for 64 years in May, 2017.

To show solidarity with the NHS the clubs name in front of Old Trafford was only lit with letters in capitals "maNcHeSter united" demonstrating original thinking supporting the noble cause. Among the many initiatives during this pandemic that earned genuine praise from fans the best one is from former players calling out old and devoted season ticket holders to enquire about their health.

Threat of litigation from bottom clubs who might be relegated is forcing the Premier League to play the remaining matches to determine the final league table. For such an unprecedented event like this pandemic the ideal response would have been to freeze the table as is with no relegation but promotion from Championship, and in the next three years get back to normal 20 teams from 23. This would mean playing 44 games in a league season not 38 putting more pressure on already crowded calendar and necessitate the removal of League Cup introduced by Alan Hardaker the secretary of Football League in 1960 - a competition which lost its relevance long time ago. The inaugural Premier League season in 1992 had 22 teams which was brought down to 20 in 1995. Euro's postponing to next year will make national team games important in the run up to the competition and the governing body UEFA might not like distraction of an overcrowded schedule before the event.

Second wave of the last Pandemic the Spanish flu in 1918 caused the maximum fatalities compared to the first and third wave. Science back then wasn't as advanced as it is now to enable different simultaneous approach's being tried all around the world for a vaccine. Co-ordination on a global scale remains a challenge thus expect a few start, stop and restart's. This remains the most challenging situation facing the world since the second world war, though football in front of human lives fades in comparison its role to restore public morale during and after the last great war amid strict rations in UK and Europe can never be ruled out.

United efforts to help during this outbreak cheers fans

Manchester United players led by captain Harry Maguire have taken a 30% pay cut on their one month salary to donate #3.5 million to NHS, while rest of the English Premier League (EPL) and Professional Footballer's Association (PFA) are yet to agree on a similar proposal. Last month the club decided to continue to pay the match day staff numbering 900, perhaps the largest in the EPL during the suspension of all matches while few other EPL clubs had put their staff on furlough. United joined hands with rivals City to donate #100,000 to local food banks. These series of measures by the club have made the supporters proud.

However the Club did release a video of how two of its players having a difficult season are coping with the shutdown in Paul Pogba & Jesse Lingard. Perhaps aimed at building bridges with the fans! Futures of both at United remain uncertain. Lack of live football has been partially compensated by re-run of classic matches including that famous away win in Turin vs Juventus with unselfish captain Roy Keane ensuring passage to the Champions' League final while he himself being suspended wasn't available for a momentous night at Nou Camp, 1999.

Too soon to call the PR appointment of Neil Ashton a success but the above steps certainly bode well. Challenges on clearing the deadwood from the playing squad remain as United contemplate the return of its highest earner Alexis Sanchez having flopped at Inter on loan. Will he move to a Chinese club on a high wage or loaned out again remains to be seen. Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Chris Smalling, Andreas Pereira being the others. Benefits of removing Fellaini, Herrera, Valencia, Darmian, Lukaku, Young has been the emergence of Scott McTominay, James Garner, Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe, Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood from the academy.

UEFA having postponed the Euro's to next year a move that has reiterated their commitment to complete this season's competition's including the Champions' League, Europa League and local leagues to ensure the clubs do not lose the lucrative revenue from TV sponsorship. Various scenario's have been discussed including hosting all pending European or league games behind closed doors in a single city with multiple stadiums like in China or Birmingham. Postponement is possible as far as September with a curtailed season next term but anything later might lead to freezing the league table as is like in Belgium or voiding the season.

Summer transfer window and players contracts that run through to 30, June might be impacted. Bayern Munich chief rightly predicted the huge transfer prices of players might fall by about 10-25% or more in a few cases. This presents a unique opportunity for clubs like Manchester United who might have more cash to burn than most clubs to use it wisely for a bargain to get a superstar but not make a mistake like Alexis Sanchez again. A storm blew the top of Victoria Ground home of Stoke City in 1976 which was uninsured and led them to sell Jimmy Greenhoff to United who was instrumental in denying Liverpool the treble in '77 by scoring the winner in the FA Cup final that year. Scenario now is far more serious as clubs across Europe will be fighting to survive with absolutely no earnings for unknown length of time. Clubs like Barcelona, Athletico Madrid might need to sell presenting United with an chance to pursue Antoine Greizmann or Saul Niguez. If Paul Pogba is moved out then Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Donny van de Beek or Saul Niguez, Thomas Meunier would represent an excellent transfer window. Dean Henderson must spend a year as understudy to David de Gea before taking over as number one choice else United might look at another loan move next season.

Solskjaer revealed how Carrick and McKenna are working on a plan for a two or three week pre-season if the league resumes. Seems like the new coach Martyn Pert whom United hired in December, 2019 is becoming another of Solskjaer's great hires and Fred is an example of how Martyn has worked on individuals to get the best out of them. Meanwhile Marcus Rashford has become the best symbol of how players can play their part during these tough times by contributing to the society.

#StayHome #StaySafe

Famous number 7 jersey that has become a conundrum in the last decade

Ever since an Liverpool legend graced the famous number 7 jersey of Manchester United its become a poisoned chalice. Micheal Owen did score that famous derby goal from a Ryan Giggs pass to win a decisive game in the sixth minute of stoppage time and in the following season managed to win his only league winners medal. He had replaced Cristiano Ronaldo who after winning the Champions' League and Ballon D'Or left for Real Madrid as did David Beckham in 2003 his predecessor.

Antonio Valencia provider of pin-point crosses and passes to Wayne Rooney wore the jersey succeeding Owen but within a year the weight of expectations took its toll and he reverted back to No 25.

Angel Di Maria signed for record transfer fee by Louis van Gaal was bestowed the jersey and started off by winning the Player of the Month and Goal of the Month awards with 2 goals and 2 assists in his first four matches, but his performances with the rest of the team dropped off sharply amid difference of opinion with the manager that he failed to board the plane for preseason tour of the US and was subsequently sold to PSG recouping three-fourths of the transfer fee.
Memphis Depay eagerly wanted that famous jersey from di Maria and started equally well. Louis van Gaal and Ryan Giggs cognizant of this fact, urged him to change his lifestyle after Depay admitted he found it difficult to cope with heavy schedule of games and was dropped from the squad midway through the season. Depay was the Man of the Match against FC Midtjylland in a 5-1 win where Marcus Rashford made his dream debut scoring two goals after Anthony Martial got an injury during the warm up. Depay did not even make the FA Cup final squad either. Jose Mourinho in his first season had even less patience and allowed the Dutchman to leave in January to Lyon becoming the first failed import from PSV after the success of Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Park Ji-Sung.

A year after Depay left United signed Alexis Sanchez playing a piano in a sensational ad aimed for the social media. He unfortunately achieved only that and not much on the field. Fans were upset that he kept in-form Anthony Martial out of the squad and in return offered nothing. His most important contribution was to score the winner against Newcastle in a game that was rumoured to be Mourinho's last but the Chilean helped keep the Special One a while longer at Old Trafford.

Keeping with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's push for academy players and raising concerns about the attitude of players purchased previously it makes sense to hand the number 7 jersey to Marcus Rashford. He has played on despite team's struggles, many times with injury and even faced the media bravely after a heavy defeat. He shown remarkable maturity as seen in his interview with Gary Linekar earlier this season and took up many causes that shows his deep commitment to social issues impacting his locality, Wythenshawe a suburb of Manchester. A leader to compliment Maguire.
Rashford has had his best season for United with 14 league goals and 4 assists curtailed with a double stress fracture after putting in positive performances to dispel doubts over his ability to lead the line and learning along the way the nuances of striker's runs, touches, positional play to lift United. He became the fourth youngest player to play 200 times for Manchester United behind Norman Whiteside, George Best and Ryan Giggs. He is happy with the number 10 jersey and not hinted any desire for a change. Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and James Maddison are being eyed by the club for the summer with an irresistible temptation of the number 7 jersey however given the failure in the last decade it might be worthwhile to reconsider the approach. Champions' League qualification might be a decisive factor to determine who eventually comes to Old Trafford. Antonio Valencia a full back and to be given the number 7 jersey was always going to be a long shot, not so in the case of Marcus Rashford adept at playing at the apex or left of the attacking triad. The contrarian view would be to not load the 23 year old Mancunian who has just made his best contribution to his boyhood club. What do you think?

Famous players to don No 7 shirt: Johnny Berry, George Best, Steve Coppell, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo. Robson and Cantona weren't wingers and succeeded. Johnny Giles wore it in the 1963 FA Cup final before being released to join rivals Leeds United, a decision regretted later by Sir Matt Busby. Solskjaer having steadied the club with sound recruitment and setup the number 7 might not face the unpredictable line-up or tactics under previous managers coming to grips with the huge task to follow unprecedented success of Sir Alex Ferguson era thus increasing the chances of getting it right in the new decade.

Suspension of all football matches due to Coronavirus pandemic

Club released a statement on Friday, 13th March confirming the suspension of football matches with immediate affect. The matches slated to be played till the end of this month have been impacted. This follows behind closed door game against LASK Linz which United won emphatically 5-0 with Tahith Chong fresh from signing a new contract created two assists. There has been instances in the past where the season has been suspended due to unusual winter weather or hooliganism that has disrupted the season but were able to resume and finish nonetheless. Example the 1962-63 season had to be extended by a month due to the Big Freeze to complete the backlog which seems challenging due to this summer's Euro 2020.

After the boxing day match in December 1962 the next one that United played was on 23 February. Without the outlet of playing that few used to vent their frustrations things came to a head regarding the tactics and training when few seniors like skipper Noel Cantwell, Maurice Setters, Harry Greg questioned the methods. Post Munich it was the ever reliable ex-keeper Jack Crompton who conducted the training sessions on Sir Matt's behest. Players targeted Jack but actually wanted to know the reaction of 'the Boss' if he was receptive to the ideas that were flooding the game at Ipswich, Tottenham, Leeds, Liverpool, Celtic et al. During clear the air meeting 'the Boss' was all ears and Jack did speak out on being targeted especially by Cantwell. The Boss knew about these murmurs more than everyone thought and it merely confirmed to him the team's receptiveness. Like Bruno Fernandes now, it was Pat Crerand then who had joined the club recently and the fortunes of the club started turning positively.

Despite finishing 19th just avoiding relegation United won their first trophy after Munich the 1963 FA Cup where 4th placed Leicester City were the favourites who had one of the best defenses in the league with keeper Gordon Banks, captain Colin Appleton, Ian King and Frank McLintok dubbed the 'Ice Kings'. Crerand flourished in the wide expanse of Wembley after struggling to settle at Old Trafford initially, created the crucial passes for Law to score that was captured by Alan Hoby of Sunday Express as "a deadly duet danced by those two tartan magicians, Crerand and Law." United played Leicester twice in two days on 15th and 16th April over Easter drawing the first match 2-2 at home and losing a scintillating encounter 3-4 away where Denis Law scored a hat-trick that was cancelled by hat-trick of Ken Keyworth that took Leicester to the top of the league.

Freeze meant United played 3rd to 6th round of FA Cup matches in March starting with a 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town where Denis Law scored a hat-trick then beat Aston Villa, Chelsea, Coventry City and Southampton in semi-final in April all without needing a replay. Albert Quixall scored in the first four FA Cup matches and converted a crucial penalty after Denis Law was fouled to draw 1-1 at Maine Road the result that kept red half of Manchester in the league while relegating the blue half. Youth Cup winners of 64 in George Best, David Sadler, Bobby Noble, John Aston Jr, John Fitzpatrick, Jimmy Rimmer then combined to provide the exuberance with Shay Brennan, Tony Dunne, David Gaskell, Nobby Stiles, Johnny Giles that jelled with the experience of the seniors Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Bill Foulkes, David Herd, Paddy Crerand needed to lift the team to glory.

Euro 2020 is being held in 12 different countries this time to commemorate the 60th year of the tournament with finals to be staged in Wembley. If the outbreak is not curtailed by end of this month UEFA and FA will have a tough decision to make; either allow the league to finish provided Euro's are postponed to next year in which the new expanded Club World Cup format is to be rolled out by FIFA or end the league season as is to let the Euro's be staged. Last time a season was involuntarily interrupted completely was in 1939-40 which only managed to have three games played before the second world war halted all major football till 1946-47. United had started the '39 season with a win and a draw then traveled to London to play Charlton Athletic to whom they lost 0-2. Next day war was declared and within two days the entire league season was cancelled.

This is the second break of the season after the FA introduced a winter break in February for the first time. After freeze United needed to play 18 league matches and 6 FA Cup matches which meant playing 7 league games in month of April and May each which was a huge ask. Now United just need to play 9 times in league, 3 times in FA Cup and 6 times in Europe if they go all the way to the finals. In 60's cup was probably given higher importance by finishing it first except for semi and finals but now the league might be given the first priority then European competitions and lastly the FA Cup that has all Premier League clubs in quarter-finals that compounds the situation. Euro 2020 starts from 13th June but with major leagues having their national teams based in their own countries the traveling logistics at the start of the tournament are minimized. United have already played 9 games each in December and January, and similar number of games are required to be played in April and May to complete the season which is definitely possible. Hoping the efforts of everyone to limit the spread of virus comes good. God speed!

United are on a 11 game unbeaten run since the shock loss to Burnley. Unlike the issues that cropped up for Busby despite just one loss in nine league games prior to suspension, Solskjaer is in a much healthier terrain having taken tough structural decisions early about the deadwood, getting the recruitment right, reorganized the setup at youth level, getting the best out of Fred, easing Williams and Greenwood, naming Maguire as captain, winning over Matic and all this despite injuries to Martial, Shaw, McTominay, Rashford and Pogba. Busby did hold his flock together while inducting the youth to reap the rewards.

Double over City proof of Solskjaer getting it right at United

The first league double over local rivals City since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson has cleared all doubts about United's rebuild under Solskjaer. The squad had all of his signings three from the summer and two in January and importantly without Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Phil Jones while Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba are out with long term injuries. Solskjaer made the most of his squad while sustaining 70% City possession that could not breach the solid defensive unit of United. Kevin de Bruyne not even in the squad and Pep Guardiola bringing off Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva after 60 minutes hinted City's priorities were elsewhere even though they had enough talent to win in Sterling, Foden, Fernandinho while Jesus, Mahrez and Mendy came on to improve them further.

Brilliance of Bruno Fernandes chip from a free kick caught City back line by surprise as Anthony Martial latched on to score past Ederson who could have done better. This shot from Martial atoned a previous lapse of judgement when he could have passed to Fernandes to score. Fred was unlucky to not get a penalty when he was judged to have dived while the replays clearly showed a City player clipping his run although it was a bit soft but a yellow card was unjust. Sergio Aguero goal was ruled offside by his front leaning shoulder was a close call for the VAR whose introduction this season has caused more harm than good to the English game. Anthony Martial persisted until he was substituted even though he hurt his leg after colliding with the post as he attempted a chance off error prone Ederson. Late in the second half substitute Scott McTominay intercepted the throw from Ederson as they chased the game to slot home from long range to an empty net.
Rookie Brandon Williams was ran over by experienced Riyad Mahrez in the second half and rightly substituted by Eric Bailly which meant Luke Shaw moved to left-back role from left centre-back where he had another great game a position he first played against Liverpool in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October. Recoveries by Nemanja Matic was excellent through out the game and talks about his contract extension does again demonstrate how Solskjaer has won over the experienced Serbian leading him to regain his form at a crucial juncture for United who are chasing the fourth Champions' League spot. Aaron Wan-Bissaka again pocketed Raheem Sterling that deserves an England call-up while playing as left wing-back is now enabling him to grow his attacking and crossing skills.

There might be a section of fans thinking why Paul Pogba should be reinstated to the squad when for most of this season he has been absent given that he might be sold in the summer with just two months left to play. Firstly the club will suffer financially next season if it does not make it to the Champions' League as Sponsors will give less money as per penalty in the contract for non-qualification for two straight seasons to Europe's premier competition and hence Solskjaer must use all resources available to him. Secondly he might not be an automatic choice given the form of Fred and Fernandes now but with United playing Thursday's & Sunday's till the end of the season the squad does require a good backup option.

During the most recent conference call on United's financial results Cliff Batty did respond to a direct question on the funds available to spend in the summer transfer window which is 190 million. Pursuit of English duo Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho might take up the complete allocation. As yet there is no indication of United wanting to offer Paul Pogba a contract extension but to use the proceeds from his sale thought to be in the region of ~80 million with only one year left for the summer transfers.

Dean Henderson doing well between the sticks at Sheffield United has given another option for United to raise funds for the rebuild provided clubs like Juventus, Real Madrid or PSG can match the salary of David de Gea that is highest in the world for a goal keeper. The only counter to this argument is that with de Gea, United can aim to win the Champions' League as he is of the same stature as legends Alex Stepney, Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Saar. Henderson who joined United as a teenager and has come up through the ranks might know the club well but as Schmeichel used to say being a United goal keeper is a really tough ask both physically and mentally. Right approach would be for Henderson to be an understudy to de Gea for a year and then take up the No 1 spot. Alex Stepney is the youngest keeper at United to win the European Cup at 25 years 8 months 11 days while Dean Henderson turns 23 this week. Iker Casillas though won it at just 19 with Real Madrid. Its the only honour to elude David de Gea, 29 who has won everything else.

Solskjaer with this win has achieved what neither of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal nor Jose Mourinho could. Add the double win over Chelsea too and examine the blueprint of academy players progressing through (new contracts to Tahith Chong and Ethan Laird), successful recruitment of senior players, excellent man-management skills and a positivism that is proving to be contagious confirms he is the right one to bring back the swagger of the old United in long run. For now Solskjaer was found a way to win to continue the unbeaten run and last 8 league fixtures against the bottom half provides him an opportunity to fix another lacuna while claiming the fourth spot at the same time. Trophies are the only missing item which might yet be won at the end of this season given the favorable draw in both Cup competitions and defensive wherewithal.

Bruno Fernandes a dream come true for United

The long courted Portuguese maestro has an unbeaten month since making his debut in a 0-0 draw against Wolves followed by two wins and a draw in league, and draw and a win in Europa League. He has been rightly voted as the player of the month for February at Manchester United. He has shown purpose in every second while being on or off the field and combined effectively with Brazilian Fred to make the famed United midfield ticking again. This coupled with an improved defense with 9 clean sheets in last 15 games since the new year has set a solid foundation for future success though playing with five at the back. Only component lacking now at United is the pace on the wings where Martial and Rashford were deployed on the left, and James on the right when none of them are 'natural wingers' at a club known for Billy Meredith, Johnny Berry, George Best, Steve Coppell, Gordon Hill, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Bruno Fernandes who left his native to learn his trade in Italian league and came back much wiser technically to become the mainstay at Sporting who suffered a player exodus after mismanagement that resulted in him being endeared further with the demanding fans at one of Portugal's most famous clubs. That acumen of an all round midfielder adept in switching his role between a 6 and an 8 as per demands of the game is now being reaped at Old Trafford. He has been handed the role of penalty taker in the absence of Marcus Rashford and scored his first goal for Manchester United against Watford. Two goals and four assists while lifting the spirits to give the club a boost for a top four finish. Solskjaer admitted "That little spark he’s given us, he’s come in and the feeling around the place is better."

Solskjaer needs to ensure that United have a plan to cope with teams that mark Bruno Fernandes and limit his involvement else after a season he will find it tough just like Anthony Martial and Daniel James. The difference between those two and Fernandes is that he has more experience and has captained Sporting shouldering more responsibility. United have suffered from lack of leaders since the end of Ferguson era when most of the seniors parted ways within a year and this crucial facet of team dynamics has now been taken up by Solskjaer to remedy by first signing Harry Maguire and making him the captain. United prefer Jack Grealish over James Maddison now because he is leading Villans this season in their fight to avoid relegation.

United are unbeaten in eight games since their shock loss to Burnley in late January and wonder how the results in that month could have turned out if Fernandes was signed as soon as January transfer window opened or at the start of the season. Now they must make the most of a good FA Cup draw to reach the later stages as they face Derby County tonight where United's all time leading goal scorer Wayne Rooney is currently playing. Frank Lampard made his mark as a manger when he took the Rams past United in the 2018 League Cup in a penalty shootout when he had many talented players on loan from Chelsea and Liverpool. Rams are now managed by the distinguished former Dutch midfielder Philip Cocu who has won Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven thrice and promoted Memphis Depay whom Louis van Gaal signed for United. Jason Knight and Tom Lawrence are the ones to watch out for led by former United captain Rooney. Paulo Wanchope's solo goal in 1997 in an upset win over United was rated by their supporters as the greatest goal in the clubs history.

The draw away at Everton where Solskjaer last year suffered his biggest defeat ended United's chance once again of winning three consecutive games this season. Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Nemanja Matic were impressive in that match. With mid-week games due to Europa League or FA Cup, Solskjaer must rotate his players and return of Paul Pogba will only boost the team's attacking threat. No point in not utilizing one of world's best player to push for top four. Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in the midfield will worry any side whilst splitting the opposition marking and alternating the thrust to create goal scoring chances that can catapult United back into challenging for trophies.

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