Showing posts with label Hugh McIlvanney. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hugh McIlvanney. Show all posts

Trust Solskjaer to take a call on De Gea

FA Cup semi-final 1-3 loss to Chelsea at Wembley was this season's worst performance - resting Pogba, changing a winning formation, tired players who didn't turn up and David de Gea's two howlers. Solskjaer needs to immediately get back to winning ways to secure the lucrative Champions' League spot. Last season United lost tamely to Wolves in FA Cup quarter-finals after a run of good results that effectively derailed the season winning just two of last nine games and missed top four finish.

Solskjaer set the stall of the press conference as soon question on David de Gea was raised "This is not going to become a David De Gea press conference, We're just going to stick together." Will David de Gea be dropped after a steady decline over last two years that culminated in the shambolic display last Sunday in London? Sir Alex Ferguson had a similar conundrum when his then main keeper Jim Leighton had a bad day in the 1990 FA Cup final drawing 3-3 with Crystal Palace when in fact the loss of form was glaring from 0-4 loss at Nottingham Forest earlier and two unconvincing displays against Oldham Athletic in semi-final that also needed a replay. To make the call for the final replay Ferguson watched Leighton's response to the loss which was "In the dressing-room afterwards I noticed Jim Leighton with his head in his hands, completely shattered. I went over and gave him a pat but received no response. He looked to me like a beaten man." recalled Ferguson in his finest autobiography 'Managing My Life' co-written with perhaps the best football writer ever Hugh McIlvanney.

Alternative the Argentine Sergio Romero only plays in secondary matches of Cups in League, FA Cup and Europa League even with about 59 games in 5 seasons does not warrant a start in an extremely important league match. Again going back Les Sealey who deputized brilliantly in place of Jim Leighton in the FA Cup final replay which United won 1-0, Ferguson recalls "Les was cocky and at times downright arrogant, so I did not foresee a failure of his nerve at Wembley. Was he a better goalkeeper than Jim? No." Appearances can be deceiving and language another barrier for foreign players but is Sergio Romero who has been capped 96 times for Argentina confident going into today's game against West Ham United having not played a single English Premier League match this season and importantly was poor against Norwich in FA Cup quarter-finals which made Solskjaer to drop him for Chelsea? Think not.

Barring Luke Shaw's injury Solskjaer might choose the same lineup which played in five consecutive games from Sheffield United to Southampton scoring 16 goals, conceding 4, getting 13 points out of maximum 15: de Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Lindelof, Maguire, Matic, Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford. Timothy Fosu-Mensah might play if Shaw is unfit ahead of rookie Brandon Williams. Maguire and de Gea are on course to play in all 38 matches this season, today's game will be number 37. United lost another Busby babe in Alex Dawson the former centre-forward who played a prominent role immediately after Munich air-crash that fast-forwarded his inclusion in the first team ahead of time as the club did not have sufficient senior players having forever lost eight of them plus two more to injury that is almost their first starting XI.

West Ham managed for the second time by former United manager David Moyes comes to Old Trafford in good form by beating Norwich and Watford to escape relegation. Micheal Antonio and Tomas Soucek have contributed immensely and will dominate aerially where MUFC are weak. Declan Rice and Issa Diop being previously linked with MUFC will want to give a solid display to increase their prospects for the future. Moyes does not have a good record vs MUFC at Old Trafford with both Everton and Sunderland. Last time an ex-United manager won at Old Trafford was Dave Sexton with Coventry City in Mar, 1982 who did the double eventually with Les Sealey in goal for the sky blues and if Moyes succeeds in today's game West Ham also will complete the double. MUFC lost 0-2 at the London Stadium when Manuel Pellegrini was in charge at West Ham in September.

Moyes was wrong to say that the only difference between him and Solskjaer was "Ole has been given time." Question was not about time because although he inherited an aging side with most of the players coming towards the end of their careers, he also dismantled the backroom staff of Sir Alex Ferguson who had developed and accumulated so much knowledge of the game over the years; and secondly Moyes had a very bad transfer window with only Fellaini in summer and Mata in January coming in. Solskjaer spotted this glaring error and was quick to bring back Ferguson's assistant Mike Phelan as his number two. Moyes in short blew his chance as Rio Ferdinand also recounted when he tried to do everything at perhaps the biggest club in the world in Manchester United instead of delegating to his trusted staff to take decisions.

The crunch match that United fans recollect was the final game of 1994-95 season when leaders Blackburn Rovers lost to Liverpool and United needing to beat West Ham at Upton Park could only draw failing to take advantage and not win the league. Hammers celebrated as if they had won the title! Today's match is at Old Trafford where United are unbeaten in 12 matches with Anthony Martial scoring in the last five. West Ham have had more time to prepare and so will Leicester City who get a week before facing Manchester United this Sunday. United players will no doubt be geared up to finish the season on a high to represent in Europe's best competition next season and to remove the 25% wage cut if they do not qualify for the Champion's League again. Matches with West Ham at this stage of the season will always be interesting to say the least.

21 years to the Treble and that promise to myself

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

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

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



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


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


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

Munich had giants in Effenberg, Scholl, Matthaus, Babbel, and Kahn. They missed their pivot in Elber and even though they scored early through a Mario Basler free-kick were unable to convert their dominance into goals while Schmeichel was massive that made two shots hit the post and rebound. United lineup was patchy with Butt and Beckham in midfield where he had played well in the FA Cup final four days before, Giggs playing on the right not his preferred wing and Blomqvist on the left. Sheringham despite his impressive display in FA Cup final was on the bench. At half-time Ferguson reminded the team of the opportunity that might never come their way if they lost "You will be six feet away from the European Cup but you won't be able to touch it." As the match wore on United through tireless running of Beckham and intelligence of Giggs, later Sheringham gained confidence. Time was running out I switched on my lucky radio from 70th minute and heard the goal scored first just after 90th minute and later in television - a Beckham corner with Schmeichel coming up leaving United goal empty, a shot gently placed by Sheringham past Kahn. Voice from the radio again celebrated, anxiously watched on as a another corner by Beckham headed from near to far post by Sheringham where another substitute Solskjaer's lunge hit the top of the netting to script an incredible comeback. It was also Sir Matt Busby's birthday and Peter Schmeichel in his last game lifted the trophy.



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

In defense of Solskjaer

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