Showing posts with label Bryan Robson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bryan Robson. Show all posts

Diego Maradona RIP

Italia '90 World Cup was the start of my life-long passion for football, and Argentina came into the tournament as defending champions and favourites. They dramatically lost the first game against Cameroon 0-1 and discovered their mojo in Naples, a city where Diego Maradona had taken its team Napoli to the summit of Italian Serie A single-handedly by winning the scudetto twice and a UEFA trophy. There they beat USSR with Maradona saving a goal-bound shot with his hands and got away with it, again! They became the favourites when they beat Brazil with Maradona taking them head-on and played hosts Italy in Naples of all cities in the semi-finals. Result was pre-destined especially if it was to be decided on penalties. Finals against Germany was a bit of an anti-climax as injuries and suspensions had robbed Argentina of Claudio Cannigia amongst others, lost by a penalty to Germany led by Lothar Matthaus who by 1990 had become perhaps the finest sweeper transitioning from box-to-box player being compatible with his age.


Visit to Napoli in 2013 made them my favourite team from Serie A. Most striking feature of the visit was the mural near a church that depicted Maradona more than two decades after he left them. While still on loan at Boca Juniors he was tempted by the prospect of playing in England where his senior teammate and 1978 World Cup winner Ossie Ardiles played at Tottenham Hotspur. Maradona was being linked with Arsenal and he claimed to have watched the 1979 FA Cup final which Arsenal won 3-2 over Manchester United. Those links never materialized and instead he headed to Barcelona where he was joined by his former Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti.

Manchester United made it to the quarter-finals of 1984 Cup Winners Cup their first in a European competition after a 15 year gap and faced Barcelona for the first time in a competitive fixture. Ron Atkinson's team always played attacking football in the United way that delighted the fans and this fixture wasn't going to change that. 19 year old Graeme Hogg made his European debut in the first game at Nou Camp and scored an own goal. Captain Bryan Robson was clear on goal yet uncharacteristically didn't score and missed another chance. Big Ron asked everyone to not dwell on mistakes. Maradona was not very effective and had to be substituted. Late on they scored a goal to lead 2-0. Bryan Robson wrote an apology to fans and everyone trained hard, winning two league games before the second leg to go top of the league which gave them and fans lot of hope.

Bryan Robson played the match of his life to make amends for the 1st leg by scoring two goals while dictating play box-to-box aided by his partners in midfield Ray Wilkins, Arnold Muhren and Remi Moses. Graeme Hogg marked Diego Maradona effectively to nullify any threat. Frank Stapleton scored the winner and for last 35 minutes United were able to soak any late threat to hold on to the lead and win 3-2 overall. Fans played a big part in the match, amplifying every United attack. Official figures are of 58,547 to have attended the match but actually felt like over 70,000 who crowded the pitch in joy after the final whistle, lifting their skipper Bryan Robson in adulation. Robson was also the England captain under his name-sake manager the great Sir Bobby Robson. Injuries and suspensions to Robson, Wilkins and Muhren meant United lost to Michel Platini led Juventus 3-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals amid talks between Robson and Italian giants which never progressed due to 3 million asking price.



England got off to a poor start in the 1986 World Cup losing their opening game to Portugal and then drew 0-0 with Morocco where Bryan Robson dislocated his shoulder when opposing player pulled him in the penalty box. So concerned were the England players that they tended to their skipper and not at the referee to award the penalty! Bobby Robson asked him to be around the England team and not fly back to be operated upon. This later impacted the start of United season which unfortunately led to the sacking of Ron Atkinson. He missed the next two matches which England won by 3 goal margin including a hat-trick for Gary Lineker and faced Argentina with confidence in quarter-finals. Outcome might have been different with Bryan Robson in the side. Though 'hand of God' goal gets more attention but its the other goal that Maradona scored against England taking on players from the right of midfield through to the defense to score past Peter Shilton from his brilliant left-foot the greatest World Cup goal of all time dubbed 'Goal of the Century'. Purists point to the team goal that Brazil scored against Italy in 1970 that encapsulates the dependency amongst every member of the team to be the rightful owner of that moniker.



To compare the greats is a thankless yet unavoidable task. To have managed to unite his national side and win the World Cup apart from club success will keep him above Lionel Messi, which the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson dispute. While Ronaldo will perhaps eclipse George Best by winning not only at club level but with Portugal, similarly Zinedine Zidane edges his compatriot Michel Platini. Johan Cruyff and Pele still seem unmatched head and shoulders above the rest. As South American teams have suffered a decline in the last 15 years many argue is international football still relevant? It certainly adds a different dimension in the ability to bond with another set of players to win the quadrennial event amidst nationalist sentiments and tremendous pressure that it naturally entails, unlike the often serene and contained surroundings of the club football.

De Gea is undoubtedly United's player of the decade

David de Gea will eclipse Manchester United's greatest ever goal keeper Peter Schmeichel's record of 398 appearances when the Red Devils take on Aston Villa at Villa Park today. He will become the second most capped goal keeper behind Alex Stepney whose tally is 539. de Gea having shined brilliantly by winning the player of the year awards four of five seasons between 2013-17 that has enabled United to retain their top 6 status to play in Europe despite having a very poor team in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era has made him a torchbearer much like Bryan Robson in the 1980's.

That game away at Arsenal with 14 saves was the zenith of this middle period where literally he saved the club from losing or drawing vital games and thereby always ensured United stay in the hunt for European places while making them punch above their weight consistently.



Manuel Neuer was the bookies favourite to don the gloves at Old Trafford especially after playing well against United in the Champions' League semi-final loss in 2011 when he was with Schalke. Ferguson did not want a repeat of mistakes following the retirement of Peter Schmeichel when he promoted or brought a string of under-achievers starting with Raimond van der Gouw, Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, Roy Carroll and Tim Howard; others like Massimo Taibi, Any Goram (on loan) and Ricardo were brought to challenge them. In short the goal keeping position was a mess at United for five seasons considering Ferguson is the greatest manager of all time!

de Gea replaced the retiring Edwin van de Sar who had six trophy laden years that was a tough act to follow. He came to United aged only 20 after having won the UEFA Cup with Atletico Madrid. Sir Alex Ferguson persisted with signing the Spaniard after pulling out to sign Petr Cech at a similar age. At United, de Gea struggled with the physicality of the league initially as he himself at 20 years of age was still developing. United devised a programme to help him add muscle mass.

The first match of 2011-12 season was his league debut vs West Brom when let slip a soft goal after a barrage in the penalty box that Ferguson described as his 'welcome to England' in his autobiography, thankfully United won 2-1 to his rescue. He was even challenged by Anders Lindegaard to be the No.1. Weathering out those early hiccups he has emerged as the best shot stopper in the world over the last decade. He has won the league title under Ferguson, FA Cup under Louis van Gaal, UEFA Cup and League Cup under Jose Mourinho. Champions' League medal is the main prize missing from his trophy cabinet.

Sir Alex Ferguson on challenges facing a young keeper: "David couldn't speak the language and he had to learn to drive, another illustration of how young he was. It could never be easy for a goalkeeper coming to England from Continental Europe at 20 years of age." Gigi Buffon was 23 when he joined Juventus from Parma in 2001 and Petr Cech was 22 on joining Chelsea from Rennes in 2004.

He was in the running to be named Club Captain but his frank answer perhaps to questions about United's style of play cost him. This season Ashley Young started as the Captain and de Gea was in the reckoning until his reaction to a shock 1-0 loss to Newcastle on 6th October "The most difficult time since I’ve been here. I don’t know why, what is happening. Sorry to the fans.", made Solskjaer pick Harry Maguire instead. Not since Jack Mew immediately after first world war has United not had a goal keeper as Club Captain. It shows an utter lack of recognition to this vitally important position especially since United have had legends like Stepney, Schmeichel, van der Sar all having won the European Cup or Champions' League with the club.

Oft talked about criticism is that he does not come out to attack the ball floated out from a corner kick to command his penalty box. Since the retirement of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic he hasn't had a steady centre-back pairs patrolling the defense. This could now change with tall and steady Harry Maguire in front of him. He has a poor record of saving penalty kicks given that early on he saved a penalty from Robin van Persie in that 8-2 win over Arsenal. Taking cue from Sir Matt Busby helping Frank Swift during his playing career with City, Solskjaer being a former striker can help de Gea.
What next? This is his third phase where he is getting used to making fewer yet critical saves and perceptible change in levels of concentration required compared to the second phase of his United career where he was bombarded relentlessly by the opposition in a poor team. Can he break Alex Stepney's record? Certainly. There is more in common between the two: they both came to United at a young age and won trophies in last years of United's two greatest managers Busby and Ferguson while having to see barren, struggling years later on. Early thirties is considered golden period for goal keepers and de Gea only turns 30 this November. Stepney also had a great goal keeper as his understudy in Jimmy Rimmer who won European Cup twice first with United in 1968 and later with Aston Villa in 1982. Dean Henderson's rise at Sheffield United and dip in form of de Gea has let to lots of speculation.

The flattening of transfer market due to pandemic and lack of open positions at other leading European clubs like Madrid or PSG or Juventus coupled with David de Gea being highest earning player at United (discounting Alexis Sanchez who is loaned out) has ensured there is no clear cut answer. Schmeichel drawing on his immense knowledge made this assessment “David is our no.1 - he’s still a young lad, by the way. He could play on for another 10 years. Let’s back him. We should support what we have because we know what we have is really good.” Schmeichel tops with 180 clean sheets with one of the best defenses compared to 140 by de Gea in 398 games for United, while Edwin van de Sar has 135, Gary Bailey has 161 and Alex Stepney is at 175 at the end of their careers.

de Gea is the only United player to have won Sir Matt Busby player of the year award four times! "It's amazing to play for the club, the history, the fans, everything. It was hard in the beginning, but I believed in myself, I worked hard and I am proud of myself as well. I want to say thanks to everyone. I didn't expect to win this one. I have four, it's amazing for me and thanks again to everyone.”

Over the nine years David de Gea has become fans favourite and endears them further by active social media presence and interaction with fans especially the younger ones. Like the talisman Bryan Robson lifted the league title and retired, most fans believe it will be far easier for United to win back the English Premier League and perhaps Champions' League with David de Gea in goal. #DaveSaves need to considered in the same manner of superlatives as goals of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo through the last decade irrespective of United not challenging for Champions' League honours. David de Gea can become United's undisputed greatest keeper in this decade under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. For world football in general he has perhaps blazed a trail for young goal keepers to become mainstay of the first team.

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.

On England's 1000th game the best MUFC XI

The squad:
Alex Stepney (GK)
Gary Neville
Gary Pallister
Rio Ferdinand
Roger Byrne
Duncan Edwards
Bryan Robson (C)
David Beckham
Wayne Rooney
Tommy Taylor
Sir Bobby Charlton

Subs: Ray Wood, Phil Neville, Nobby Stiles, Ray Wilkins, Steve Coppell, Teddy Sheringham

England's first, youngest and longest serving team manager was Walter Winterbottom who had a brief spell as a player at MUFC in 1930's. Between 1946 and 1962 he oversaw England participation in all four World Cups wherein the quarter-final defeat to eventual champions Brazil in 1962 was his best result. In 1958 World Cup in Sweden his squad was depleted due to the Munich Air Disaster which robbed him of three first team regulars in Roger Byrne, Duncan Edwards and Tommy Taylor and prior to the event were beaten only once in 17 consecutive games. He did pick a young Bobby Charlton but did not play him even for a single match while Pele debuted spectacularly for Brazil being 3 years younger.  During his tenure a selection committee usually picked the squad and his influence was limited mainly as a trainer which he professionally taught and wrote about. Hungary famously beat England at home 6-3 in 1953 and 7-1 away in 1954.

Jack Mew and Alex Stepney won just one cap, Gary Bailey two and Ray Wood and Ben Foster three is the tale of MUFC goal keepers who have represented England. Alex Stepney has easily been the most successful at club level. Steve Bruce is perhaps the most famous MUFC player for never having represented England (Jimmy Greenhoff and Alan Gowling were also denied) being the first double winning captain of MUFC while his partner at centre-half Gary Pallister earned first of 22 caps while still playing for Middlesbrough in the second division. Rio Ferdinand became the youngest player to debut as a centre-half at 19 years 8 days while still playing for West Ham and ended up with 81 caps. Gary Neville holds the record for most caps by a right back at 85 and played with his brother Phil in the same team 31 times; Phil has 59 caps. Bill Foulkes sole cap came against Northern Ireland in 1954 as a right back. Roger Byrne held the record for most consecutive appearances for England with 33 at left back and being the Captain of the famous Busby Babes.

Duncan Edwards became the youngest post-war player to play for England in 1955 at 18 years 183 days against Scotland, in total played 18 times scoring 5 goals including that 'boom-boom' shot against World Champions West Germany. His England captain Billy Wright had this to say "There have been few individual performances to match what he produced in Germany. He tackled like a lion, attacked at every opportunity and topped it all off with cracking goal."

'Captain Marvel' Bryan Robson leads the team as he carried the side on numerous occasion on his own in the 80's, once scoring a goal in just 27 seconds against France in 1982 World Cup. David Beckham peaked as England captain under Sven-Goran Eriksson scoring that crucial free-kick at Old Trafford against Greece to secure the qualification and was rumoured to want away from MUFC when Sir Alex Ferguson reversed his decision to retire as the Swede Eriksson was lined up to succeed. Paul Scholes had lesser impact than either Nobby Stiles or Ray Wilkins. Steve Coppell's impressive career on the wing with 42 caps 7 goals came to an abrupt end at just 28 years when he sustained a knee-injury while playing against Hungary to qualify for 1982 World Cup.

Tommy Taylor had an incredible goal ratio for both MUFC and England, scoring 131 goals in 191 games for club and 16 goals including two hat-tricks in just 19 appearances for country. Alfredo di Stefano called him 'Magnifico' and was seen as a long term replacement for aging Nat Lofthouse. Wayne Rooney beat the all time scoring record long held by Sir Bobby Charlton at 49 goals for more than 45 years but could only score one of his 53 goals in World Cup competition against Uruguay in 2014 and four at the Euro's across three tournaments! George Wall the left winger who was a key player to during the reds first victorious phase in late 1900's decade comes close to cementing that spot but in terms of best MUFC players to represent England have Sir Bobby Charlton at left wing. Charlton's best came against Portugal in the semi-final of the 1966 World Cup and the great 'Der Kaiser' Franz Beckenbauer summed that glorious World Cup as "England beat us in 1966 because Bobby Charlton was just a bit better than me." Teddy Sheringham's best came in two spells on either side of his MUFC tenure, firstly partnering with Alan Shearer to reach the semi-finals of the Euro '96 and then being used as a tactical sub for his intelligent play especially in the 2002 World Cup in Japan; overall scored 11 goals in 51 games.

Viv Anderson was Sir Alex Ferguson's first signing in 1987 and became the first black player to represent England while playing for Nottingham Forest in 1978. Owen Hargreaves who got most of his caps while playing for Bayern Munich before his move to MUFC to help win the 2008 Champions League was in fact born in Canada. Most notable player born outside England was James Princep who was born in India and held twin records of being the youngest player to represent England in 1879 at 17 years 252 days and to play in FA Cup final at 17 years 245 days. He held both records for around 125 years!


At long last recognition for 'Forgotten Babe' Johnny Berry

About a year ago published my article about ' Flowers of Manchester ' in which I found the name of then United vice-captain Johnny B...

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