Showing posts with label George Best. Show all posts
Showing posts with label George Best. Show all posts

Sir Bobby Charlton: Inspiration for Manchester United post Munich and England's greatest ever

I became a fan of Manchester United thanks to Sir Bobby Charlton. While recovering from typhoid and para-typhoid in the summer of 1990, being able to watch episodes on World Cup history and then matches itself beamed on Doordarshan was a welcome relief. Charlton became my favourite. His natural instinct to shoot from 20 yards those thunder shots from either feet and exude a sense of quiet determination set him apart. Another fact that he played for a club based in a city renowned for textiles, the same industry that my father worked sealed this relationship for my lifetime.

Wave after wave of success that came United's way during the time of Sir Alex Ferguson, who like Sir Matt Busby reposed faith in graduates from youth academy in 1996 the likes of Giggs, Butt, Beckham, Neville, Scholes et al and that incredible treble during which time would frequently get to see Charlton in the director's box. The most striking aspect of those years was the reflection by Ferguson in 'Managing my Life' about not only the support that Charlton extended to him during the difficult period in 1989-90 season but also played a pivotal role in joining the club in 1986 "if ever I decided to move to England, I should let him know." during the World Cup in Mexico where Charlton was a commentator.

During his school days Charlton heard the 1948 FA Cup final on radio where the commentator described the match as the greatest FA Cup final of all time. He made up his mind if ever he were to join a club it will be Manchester United. Chief scout Joe Armstrong ensured United were the first club to approach and the fact that club had the best coaching setup further convinced Charlton. While in Manchester as a school boy Charlton declined to continue in Grammar school as he was required to play for them on Saturdays and not allowed to miss school on weekdays, so instead he decided to train as an apprentice engineer. Charlton made his way from playing in 5th tier of youth team through to winning the FA Youth Cups and two Youth Championships in Zurich to the first team between 1953 to 1956.

"Jimmy made me a Professional." was the dedication by Sir Bobby to the man who helped him the most to get the basics right and at the same time retain his special talents, Jimmy Murphy. Fierce competition for places meant Charlton had to bide his time to get into first team. Even after his debut and winning a league championship his place was not secure and he only got to play if either Tommy Taylor or Dennis Viollet got injured. That all changed on 21st December, 1957 when Sir Matt Busby made major changes to drop Ray Wood, Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, David Pegg and pick Harry Gregg, Ken Morgans, Bobby Charlton, Albert Scanlon for a game vs Leicester City, United went on a 7-match winning streak! Then Munich happened.

"This is what lies at the heart of my story, first I had to go back to Munich.Without doing that, I know I couldn't begin to define my life" Charlton recalls in the Prologue of his autobiography "My Manchester United Years". His brother Jack said "He stopped smiling, a trait which continues to this day." Charlton was particularly upset about losing Duncan Edwards a fortnight after the crash when he was still recovering at his family home 113, Beatrice Street in Ashington near Newcastle. Charlton returned to play for United on 1st March in an FA Cup tie against West Brom. In three seasons immediately after Munich between 1958 to 1960, he scored 29, 18 and 21 goals which is quite easily his best goal scoring period for United in his entire career. Incredibly United finished as runners-up in 1959 league championship which no one could predict after losing 10 first players including 8 who died and 2 who could never play again.

"When things looked their bleakest after the Munich accident and there were times when I felt great despair, I was enormously cheered to think that Bobby Charlton was there. His presence was a great source of inspiration to keep working for the restoration of Manchester United." Sir Matt Busby 

Despite the personal differences formed a enthralling trinity with Denis Law and George Best from January, 1964 to October, 1971 that became the most anticipated team news attracting crowds wherever they played thus creating a legion of fans outside Manchester and worldwide that uniquely made Manchester United to be the best supported club in the world. Lifted the FA Cup in 1963, won two further league championships in '65 and '67, and ultimately the European Cup in '68 by scoring an unusual goal from a header in the final. Charlton collapsed on the pitch after the match and thinking of his lost pals stayed locked up in his room not joining rest of his team mates in celebration. 

Charlton scored on his debut for England against Scotland in 1958 and also in his 2nd game against Portugal but was made a scapegoat for the heavy loss against Yugoslavia and missed out on playing in the World Cup in Sweden when the team was still being picked by a committee. These matches being played immediately after Munich, at Belgrade both teams paid thier respects with a minute's silence with Charlton the only player who had survived the ordeal while his United team mates played AC Milan in the 2nd leg of European Cup semi-final. His record appearances and goals scoring feat both for Manchester United and England stood for more than 40 years! In the 2nd match of 1966 World Cup campaign against Mexico, it was Charlton's burst from inside his own half to carry the ball through and unleash a beauty from 25 yards that instilled confidence in England team after a dull 0-0 draw in the opening game. In the final, Charlton's selfless running slowed down Beckenbauer considerably in the 2nd half giving England a decisive edge against Germany. Charlton and Nobby Stiles are the only two Englishman to have won the World Cup and European Cup. Four years later despite leading 2-0 against Germany in quarter-finals, Alf Ramsey took Charlton off that instantly released Beckenbauer who scored and later they won the match in extra-time. 106th cap for England ended in anti-climax. Charlton is the lone Englishman to feature in Johan Cryuff's all-time favourite XI. 

Sir Bobby Charlton coined the phrase to describe Old Trafford as "theatre of dreams" and it will be the fitting host to honour his monumental legacy for both club and country. Words aren't enough to thank him for being always there and inspiring generations of players and fans alike. 

Return of Cristiano Ronaldo

Manchester United were nudged by Jorge Mendes, the expert agent of Cristiano Ronaldo when he opened direct talks with local rivals City about the next move after his most famous client decided to leave Juventus this summer. Sir Alex Ferguson praised Mendes in his autobiography as "the best agent I dealt with, without a doubt. He was responsible, looked after his players to an incredible extent and was very fair with clubs". Credit to the team at United who acted swiftly to secure the services of Ronaldo once again, undoubtedly the intervention of Ferguson perhaps a first since his retirement brought about this transfer coup considering the final fee in five installments of €3million a year!

Ever since Ronaldo scored 42 goals to help United to their European double of Champions' League and English Premier League in 2007-08 his stats has been explosive and consistent. At Real he averaged 50 goals per season and at Juventus 33. Ronaldo broke the men's record of most international goals by scoring his 111th goal for Portugal who defeated Ireland 2-1. In the recently concluded Euro 2020 delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic he was the lead scorer despite Portugal losing in the knock-out phase itself. For the first goal he scored against Germany, Ronaldo ran 90 meters in less than 14 seconds dispelling any doubts about his fitness even at the age of 36. Despite being two years older than Messi he rose to the challenge brilliantly almost matching his 472 goals with 450 of his own during the same time in La Liga. Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku will have stiff competition for sure.

Does Ronaldo make Manchester United title challengers? Despite lacking a central defensive midfielder of repute to control games, United will solve another major problem of not having a player to score 30 goals a season. This itself will catapult United to challenge for the title but it will not make them favourites like Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea. Ronaldo is not an affliction with United's past glory as critiqued by a few notable journalists. Considering the history of Sir Denis Law, United protected their interests now unlike in the 70's earning the unpopular Glazers an important point over the Edwards ownership for sure. Sir Alex Ferguson augmented his coaching staff by recalling legends under Sir Matt Busby in Nobby Stiles to help nurture academy graduates, and promoting Brian Kidd to be his assistant. That worked brilliantly for Fergie. Another incredulous critique was to draw parallels with the disastrous purchase of Alexis Sanchez that completely disrupted the dressing room under Jose Mourinho; here the player in question is an ex-legend and super fit with a coach eager to get the best out of him. Yes, the United wage bill has hit the roof with this one transfer but the benefits far outweigh any negatives.

Cristiano Ronaldo will himself be aiming for glory to give his glittering career a fitting end. He would want to aim for record of Francesco Gento with most UEFA Champions' League wins and put a daylight behind his present records. His Premier League tally is 84 goals now with 34 assists, his overall tally of 112 needs 43 more to enter top 10 scorer's of all time and 67 to match George Best's tally of 179, he missed Denis Viollet's tally of 32 league goals the most by a United player by just one goal in 2007-08 and in the same season his tally was 4 shy of Denis Law's all-time record of 46 goals in 1963-64 that won the Scotsman a Ballon d'Or a first ever for a United player. George Best scored 6 goals in a match against Northampton Town where as Ronaldo has scored five goals in a league match on two occasions. Wayne Rooney rightly argued that Ronaldo has the physique to play into his 40's like Ryan Giggs.

Ronaldo's home-coming promises to eclipse the return of George Best twice, first after retirement under Frank O'Farrell he scored 4 in 19 games and second time after suspension under Tommy Docherty he scored 2 in 12 games before finally quitting United. Ronaldo's age might be a handicap in terms of longevity when comparing to Mark Hughes' spectacular seven years second spell. Paul Scholes made an impactful return from retirement by winning the Premier League. Other returnees have mainly been youth players from Mark Bosnich, Les Sealey to Paul Pogba and Tom Heaton. How hard it is get one's wish to return, just ask Gordon Hill when Ron Atkinson wanted him back at United after excelling in mid-70's but fate conspired against it.

With Ronaldo, United can play two upfront and not just 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Edinson Cavani scored 17 goals in all competition last season and would be an ideal strike partner. Rashford or Martial from the left, Fernandes or Pogba through the middle, and Sancho or Greenwood from the right offer plethora of opportunities to create goals for the Portuguese superstar. Pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will increase manifold to keep United in the hunt for the league till the very end and win the club its first trophy in five long years. There is no place to hide anymore!

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.

Point to prove and avoid the double by Cherries

United this season have never won the game when their direct top four rivals in Chelsea have slipped up first. Drawn with Wolves and lost to Burnley, Liverpool, Arsenal when Chelsea had dropped points recently. Now the Blues have lost to their local rivals West Ham and United response is awaited with the visit of Bournemouth to Old Trafford today who are aiming to do the first double over the Red Devils having won the reverse fixture 1-0 in November which was one of the most dismal away performances by Solskjaer's side amid rain and injury to Scott McTominay.

The Norwegian was pragmatic when asked about the seemingly easy run-in against teams from the bottom half of the table whom United have not beaten this season: "I've seen lots of quotes that we have an easy run in. But then the next five games they are against Bournemouth, we lost to them in the previous game. Aston Villa, we drew to them at home at Old Trafford. We have Southampton, which we drew to, we lost to Palace, we lost to West Ham, so there's teams that we've got a point to prove against." If the attitude to prove the doubters wrong is maintained it can be an advantage.

Solskjaer deserves to eclipse the 17 game unbeaten record of Mourinho from Nov, 2016 to Jan, 2017 and is approaching game number 16 today. Finally he has a starting XI that picks itself up and, will they start for third game in a row after astounding 3-0 wins over Sheffield United and Brighton & Hove Albion? Young Mason Greenwood could be rested and instead Daniel James might start. Bruno Fernandes took a knock but might still start and come off in the second half. Fred had a run of more than 20 consecutive games that really transformed him this season and could be back if Matic is to be rested. Eric Bailly has not been convincing to dislodge either Maguire or Lindelof based on that FA Cup win away to Norwich. Andreas looks much better than Lingard to deserve to be in the match day squad. Giving the newly promoted right back Ethan Laird a cameo would be superb.

Fine form has seen Solskjaer nominated for Manager of the Month award for June while Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial have been nominated for Player of the Month awards. Reports emerged from Germany informing of Borussia Dotmund completing a deal for Jude Bellingham. After Erling Haaland this is the second high profile teenager that has chosen BVB instead of United which confirms that although Red Devils have done a course correction under Solskjaer by appointing Nicky Butt as head of first team development at the start of this season, it is a recent appointment and sufficient time hasn't passed yet to see the desired results. Angel Gomes did not sign a new contract with United. Positive news on Jadon Sancho that he has agreed personal terms with United and now both clubs need to agree on a transfer price.

Home of AFC Bournemouth is Dean Court known commercially as Vitality Stadium is the only arena in the English Premier league with less than 20,000 capacity, to be precise its just 11,329 that is lowest in the league by a big margin. Five years in Premier League by Eddie Howe is fantastic. Bogged down by injuries to majority of the squad earlier in the season they haven't regained their form of last four years. Tough for them to get back into the top flight immediately if relegated. “If you’d have said to me 12, 15 years ago that Bournemouth would be playing in the Premier League one day, I’d have thought you were off your head. What’s happened here has just been beyond belief." Harry Redknapp who did a giant killing by managing the Cherries to win against defending champions MUFC in FA Cup 3rd round 1983-84. Following that 0-2 loss the first shouts of 'Atkinson Out' were chanted by United fans. United atoned that defeat by thrashing them 3-0 in next years FA Cup 3rd round!

George Best played his last 5 league games of his career for Bournemouth in Third Division in 1982-83 season whose aspiring owner wanted to double the gate receipts and that desired aim was achieved easily. In January when United were desperate for a back-up striker they had approached the former academy graduate Josh King now playing for the Cherries. If that would have clicked it would have been 3rd player to have been transferred directly between the two clubs and remarkably all three were strikers; other two being Jack Rowley 'the Gunner' scored 211 goals in 424 games for United despite the interruption of second world war, and Ted MacDougal a bona fide Cherries legend but flopped at United due to managerial changes. Thankfully Odion Ighalo has not disappointed. United must seize the chance given Leicester City are stuttering and Chelsea blowing hot-n-cold while Wolves are on United's heels.

United's best defensive left back Tony Dunne passes away

Irishman Tony Dune watched the Busby Babes play against Shamrock Rovers in European Cup in 1957 and later was spotted by United's great scout Billy Behan who signed him from Shelbourne United for just #5,000 in 1960. Initially brought as a cover for Noel Cantwell and Shay Brennan he ended up playing a big part it all the major honours won in the 1960's heyday including an FA Cup, two League titles, two Charity Shield's and an European Cup in 1968.
Tony Dunne made his debut on 15th October, 1960 in a 3-5 away loss to Burnley at Turf Moor in which Dennis Viollet scored a hat-trick. Injury to Cantwell meant Dunne notched up 28 league appearances in his second season itself at left-back while in his 3rd season he played at right-back 8 of 25 times as cover for injured Shay Brennan including the FA Cup final to become the first choice full-back ahead of the two, missing just 8 matches in next 5 seasons. He scored his first goal in a 3-3 draw away at West Brom on 4th May, 1966 and his last in a 2-2 draw away at Newcastle on 9th Dec, 1967.

In one of the rare quotes of Tony Dunne he said the following of the 1967 Championship win: "We realised that teams without as much ability as us were giving more effort. Our great players in particular realised this and came through at just the right time."

Tony Dunne had great pace to recover the ball but rarely used it for attacking purposes and one of the reasons for not venturing forward might be the plethora of options United had in forward positions. Matt Busby chose to use Dunne as his last man when going forward so as to stop the counter-attack from the opposing team utilizing the pace of Manchester United's most capped Irishman. Sir Bobby Charlton recalls how he trained with Dunne especially dividing duties on the left wing if any of opposing players tried to run with the ball and trying to overlap the opposition to create an avenue of attack. This also helped improve the duo's positioning when not in possession of the ball. By the time of winning the European Cup, Tony Dunne was hailed as the best left back in Europe of the 60's and played in all European games that season. In the 5-1 scintillating win over Benfica in Lisbon in 1966 European Cup quarter-finals Dunne provided the cross from foul on Charlton for George Best to head home the first goal.

United veteran Bill Foulkes led the defense for much of the 60's with Nobby Stiles made this assessment of his two full-backs Dunne and Brennan: "What a contrast this make to the old-time defenders who were invariably big brawny fellows whose aim was to stop the wingers at any cost. They fit into the modern concept which calls for defenders to have the skill of forwards with an eye for going up in attack whenever the situation calls for it.  Both of them rely on skill for getting the ball rather than brute strength, and they can speed along, especially Tony who must be one of the fastest backs in the business."

His last game for United was in a 1-4 away loss to Ipswich on 17th Feb, 1973. He left United at the same time as Denis Law after Tommy Docherty took over and began purging the old side. Since the acrimony over his testimonial he had limited his visits to Old Trafford even declining to attend the Champions' League finals in '99 as guest. He joined Bolton Wonderers at the age of 32 and notched up 170 games helping them to lift the second division title in 1978. He ended his career with North American Soccer League in United States with Detroit Express.
Slight similarity with Ferguson claiming Denis Irwin was his best buy who was also a left back and an Irishman. Also in the reckoning to be greatest left back of Manchester United will be former captain Roger Byrne as well as Arthur Albiston and Patrice Evra. Both Dunne and Irwin were not the stars of their teams but quiet, consistent performers and versatile to play on either flanks never giving their boss any trouble. While picking the all time greatest United XI the former player and legend of Leeds United Johnny Giles includes both Irishman at two full back positions perhaps at the expense of another Irishman Johnny Carey who has the first talent scouted for United by Billy Behan.

In 2011 the club bought all the medals and memorabilia when Dunne had put them for auction. He is not related to another Dunne of the same era the goal keeper Pat. In total Anthony Peter Dunne played in about 535 matches scoring 2 goals and like many of the stars of the 60's had settled near Manchester. Here is the club's tribute video.

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.

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!

Sir Matt Busby 'Mr Manchester United'

On this day: 20th January 1994 Sir Matt Busby passed away as MUFC under Sir Alex Ferguson successfully went on to win the first League and Cup double which had eluded Busby. Earlier in May, 1993 MUFC had ended their 26 year wait to become English League Champions once again. Few poignant quotes from Sir Matt Busby...

Recollections on becoming the manager of MUFC: "It was not an easy assignment. The ground had been blitzed, they had an overdraft at the bank, what is more I had no experience as a manager, and I felt they were taking a great risk in appointing me."

Wearing a track suit whilst holding a training session: "Playing a wee bit o' football with the lads."

His first act after becoming MUFC manager was to ask Jimmy Murphy to be his assistant: "It could be that what either Jimmy Murphy or I lacked the other had. He would always give a straight-forward opinion. He was no yes-man."

To Stan Pearson facing big spenders Derby County in FA Cup semi-finals 1948 who duly scored a hat-trick in that match: "The greatest thrill in soccer is playing at Wembley on Cup Final day."

Keen on entering the new European competition against Football League's wishes: "Prestige alone demanded that the Continental challenge should be met, not avoided."

Introducing youth players from the academy be it Roger Bryne and Jackie Blanchflower vs Liverpool in Nov, '51 and many others since "If you’re good enough, you’re old enough."

His philosophy after winning the League in 1955 with Busby Babes: "From the very start I had envisaged making my own players, having a kind of nursery so that they could be trained in the kind of pattern I was trying to create for Manchester United."

Whispering to Jimmy Murphy as Busby lay in hospital bed after the crash: "Keep the flag flying"

Returning to Manchester for the first time: "Resting in Interlaken, Germany was one thing and facing Old Trafford another. When I approached the ground and moved over the bridge along which our supporters had squeezed fifty abreast in there tens of thousands to shout for us I could scarcely bear to look. I knew the ghosts of the babes would still be there, and there they are still, and they will always be there as long as those who saw them still cross the bridge, young, gay, red ghosts on the green grass of Old Trafford."

Trauma of being a survivor of a tragedy: "To be honest, I suppose I wasn't sane. I was raving and creating hell with everyone. Why us? Was it some human error or had this been decreed from above? If so, why hadn't I died with them?"

Fighting back: "There were many difficulties to overcome, but the hardest thing of all was coming round to flying again. For a few matches after Munich we went abroad by sea and train, but obviously that couldn't go on for too long. We all had to deal with it in our different ways."

Inspiration to carry on after Munich: "Frankly, ever since my wife, Jean, had told me in the Munich hospital that she felt sure the lads who had died would have wanted me to carry on, I had become increasingly obsessed about United winning the European Cup. It was almost as if this glittering trophy were the Holy Grail."

On Bobby Charlton scoring 68 goals in three seasons immediately after Munich "When things looked their blackest after the Munich accident, and there were times when I felt great despair, I was enormously cheered to think that Bobby Charlton was there. His presence was a great source of inspiration to keep working for the restoration of Manchester United."

On George Best who between 1964 to 1971 for 8 seasons hardly missed any games against hard tackling players like Ron Harris, Norman Hunter, Tommy Smith, Frank McLintock, Mike Doyle, Danny Blanchflower in an era when referees could not do anything to protect creative players: "George Best had more ways of beating a player than anyone I've ever seen. He was unique in his gifts." Incidentally George Best received the second ever Red Card in English game when it was belatedly introduced in 1976 when he used foul language against referee playing for Fulham in the second division.

Surprisingly lost to Partizan Belgrade in the semi-finals of European Cup 1966 when the United squad was at its peak: "We'll never win the European Cup now."

Decisive game of 1966-67 season beating West Ham 6-1 at Upton Park (who had three World Cup winners Sir Bobby Moore, Sir Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and had reached the finals of Cup Winners Cup) with the finest display of football seen in England post the second world war: "This was my greatest hour." All three of the Trinity - Charlton(1), Law(2) and Best(1) scored in that game. That same XI except Denis Law who was injured and replaced by Brian Kidd played in the victorious European Cup final a year later.

To his players before the start of crucial extra time in the European Cup final 1968: "I told them they were throwing the game away with careless passing instead of continuing with their confident football. I told them they must start to hold the ball and play again."

His decision to retire on 14th January, 1969: "Manchester United have become rather more than a football club. They are now an institution. I am finding less and less time to attend to the thing I consider paramount, which is the playing side."

Being conferred Manchester's first Freeman: "Football's great occasions are, for me at any rate, unequaled in the world of sport. I feel a sense of romance, wonder and mystery, a sense of beauty and poetry. The game becomes larger than life. It has something of the timeless, magical quality of legend."

United should honour Docherty now as they realize the task Solskjaer has

Tommy Docherty was sacked as Manchester United manager after winning the 1977 FA Cup as reports of his affair with club physio's wife was made public. More details emerged about the way he conducted deals out of advertisements, tour games, tickets for FA Cup matches, belittling the senior players etc during the libel he threw at Willie Morgan who called him "about the worst manager there had ever been." The impulsive Docherty retorted "Any manager who says he has not cheated or lied is not being honest." Based on Sir Matt Busby's high standards he should have sent Docherty off much before winning the first major trophy for MUFC after he won the European Cup in 1968.

Docherty was managing Scotland with Jimmy Johnstone, Kenny Dalglish, Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer, Denis Law, Lou Macari, Martin Buchan calling them "the most talented squad the national team has ever been able to call upon" who were well on their way to qualify for 1974 World Cup. Sir Matt Busby poached him after consulting seniors in the team from Scotland. With the retirement of Sir Bobby Charlton at the end of the season MUFC board had a huge outlay for transfers and Doc brought four Scottish players in Alex Forsyth, George Graham, Lou Macari and Jim Holton to being dubbed the first million dollar team. Drew 1-1 with Leeds United in his first match and once played eight Scottish players in a league match against West Ham. Incidentally MUFC lost to Arsenal in the first match of '73 and went out of the FA Cup to Wolves 0-1. MUFC avoided relegation by finishing 18th but the next season they succumbed.

Docherty' reign preceded with the sacking of George Best simultaneously with that of previous manager Frank O'Farrell and the Ulsterman was persuaded to re-join briefly between Oct '73 to Jan '74 [Won 2, Drew 4, Lost 7, scored twice]. Charlton ended his career in his first season and then Doc transfer listed Denis Law who joined local rivals City to send MUFC infamously into the second division with his back heel. End of the United Trinity of Ballon d'Or winners with 287 most amazing matches between them starting with 4-1 win over West Brom when all three scored on 18, Jan 1964 to 28, Oct 1972 in a 1-4 loss to Tottenham!

To call the rebuild task as monumental might also be an understatement: Tommy Cavanagh as his assistant to instill discipline in the squad, appointed Brentford manager Frank Blunstone as youth coach: Arthur Albiston, Gerry Daly, Brian Greenhoff, David McCreery, Jimmy Nicholl came to the fore; moved Sammy McIlroy to midfield, gave MUFC their identity back in Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill on the wings, shrewd purchase of Stan Pearson and Jimmy Greenhoff who reserved his special for Liverpool, won promotion immediately finishing 3rd in the league and reached the FA Cup final in '76, Stopped LFC from winning the treble with that '77 FA Cup win. MUFC became the 1st English team to win the European treble under Ferguson in 1999. Led MUFC back in Europe for the first time since Busby with UEFA Cup beating Ajax but lost to Juventus in the next round despite winning the 1st leg 1-0 with a Gordon Hill masterclass while the absence of skipper Marin Buchan cost the 2nd leg.

Doc was last at Old Trafford in 2014 the experience apparently that left him sore "I won’t be back at United after them charging me for my tickets about three years ago. I got an invoice for £88 for two seats so that was it for me. If I fancy a game locally I’ll phone up Mike Summerbee at City and they always look after me. But I’m done with United." Dave Sexton who did the double over MUFC with modest Coventry might have been at Old Trafford assisting numerous England coaches. While Ron Atkinson upset MUFC with Sheffield Wednesday in League Cup final and appears on MUTV quite regularly. Doc never managed to be at a club for more than 2 seasons after his MUFC tenure and later confessed to be regretful about leaving Scotland for MUFC.

Clearly the reasons are not football related but the rebuild that has lasted till Ferguson's appointment does not justify the impertinence shown towards Tommy Docherty now in his 90's. He should have been invited for the opening game of this season which was against Doc's Chelsea for whom he played, managed and changed their colours from White to Blue. Wolves the last major club he managed whom MUFC face in the FA Cup 3rd round replay at Old Trafford this Wednesday offers the club another chance.

On this day: 14-Jan-1969 Sir Matt Busby announced his decision to retire at the end of the season and become general manager at MUFC.

Solskjaer got the reaction after Watford loss as United have three away games next

Manchester United scored four goals for the first time in a league match vs Newcastle since the opening day match against Chelsea. After the Watford loss Solskjaer fielded a full strength squad with in form Mason Greenwood starting ahead of Daniel James. It was the Magpies that played well initially to take a lead through Matty Longstaff who had scored the winner in the reverse fixture. It put Newcastle above Manchester United in the points table having started the day on equal points tally. That perhaps invigorated the Red Devils into gear as they took advantage of three mistakes from opposing players i.e., their goal keeper, defender and Sean Longstaff for Anthony Martial to score a brace(1st and 4th goals) and Mason Greenwood to hit a powerful shot for the second goal. Aaron Wan-Bissaka's cross was met by leaping Marcus Rashford to score the 3rd goal.

Martial had a great game stretching the opponent defenders to create space and had a shot that hit the post else could have had a hat-trick. MUFC have not had a hat-trick scored in almost 6 years since Robin van Persie against Aston Villa in 2013! Scott McTominay got booked inside 30 seconds of kick-off and later was substituted at half-time due to suspected knee ligament injury being replaced by Paul Pogba. Having a three goal cushion Solskjaer wisely took Rashford and Martial off keeping in mind the hectic schedule. For the 14th consecutive league fixture since the 1-0 win over Leicester City in mid-September have MUFC not kept a clean sheet an ignominious feat that last occurred in 1971 almost half a century ago! This once again highlights the need of protection in front of the new defensive unit by a central defensive midfielder and is not a dig at the huge cost of #130 million spent on Maguire and Wan-Bissaka.

This win continues a remarkable winning streak of MUFC on boxing day at Old Trafford. In the last 19 games they have won 16 and drawn 3 while one has to go all the way back to 1978 some 41 years ago when they were beaten by LFC 0-3 at Old Trafford! It was the first in a hat-trick of boxing day fixtures between two biggest clubs in the English league. MUFC lost again 0-2 in '79 at Anfield and drew 0-0 in '80 at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson in his first year as manager beat the scousers famously 1-0 at Anfield on boxing day with a goal from Norman Whiteside. The last away defeat on boxing day came at the Britannia in a 0-2 loss to Stoke City in 2015 under Louis van Gaal. The most remarkable set of matches however was in 1963 when Sir Matt Busby's MUFC lost 1-6 to Burnley on boxing day and two days later debuted two wingers George Best and Willie Anderson to win 5-1 against the same opponents at Old Trafford.

WLDLWL is the form guide of the last six away matches across all competitions which suggests MUFC might avoid defeat away to Burnley who had a taxing boxing day match in which they lost to a late goal to Everton. Paul Pogba might start his first league match since the 1-1 draw with Arsenal in September replacing the injured McTominay and might not play as number 10; Daniel James might start ahead of Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams ahead of Luke Shaw. If Ashley Barnes plays for Burnley they will have a greater goal threat. MUFC hope that their ex-academy player Dwight McNeil does not raise his game against them like Josh King did at Bournemouth that cost them all three points. MUFC assistant manager Mike Phelan came through the youth academy of Burnley. In the 1960's Sir Matt Busby signed two wingers from Burnley in John Connelly who was part of the 1966 World Cup winning squad and Willie Morgan who replaced Connelly at both Burnley and United.

Next MUFC face Arsenal away in the league followed by Wolves away in FA Cup 3rd round match and Man City at home in the league cup semi-final - three games in six days and this match at Turf Moor will be crucial to not slack off, maintain the intensity while personnel are changed to manage a tough schedule. Burnley having lost their last three home matches to Crystal Palace, Man City and Newcastle will be eager to halt the slide against MUFC. The Clarets who usually play 4-4-2 under Sean Dyche might not prompt any change in formation from United but might rely on the pace of James, Williams & company to cope with stern challenge from the home team.

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