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.

United face Derby before the Manchester derby!

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...

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