Showing posts with label Sir Matt Busby. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sir Matt Busby. 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. 

David de Gea next in line for ruthless Erik ten Hag after seeing off Ronaldo and Maguire

When Sir Alex Ferguson wanted fans favourite Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath out of Manchester United squad, none at the club were pleased. Injury had almost curtailed Whiteside's career by then while McGrath was reinvigorated after leaving United for Villa culminating in fantastic World Cup performances with Ireland in Italy and USA. Erik ten Hag has already gotten rid of Cristiano Ronaldo and rarely uses club captain Harry Maguire, next in line is legendary keeper with most number of games, clean sheets for Manchester United and last player to have won Premier League in 2013, David de Gea.

David de Gea has won Sir Matt Busby player of the year award 4 times and helped United to finish in top six with incredible saves despite being in a poor side. He has never been in headlines for wrong reasons and worked with all coaches from Ferguson to ten Hag. His performances in most of last 12 years can be compared with 'Captain Marvel' Bryan Robson's 12 year tenure as they both carried a floundering club single handedly. Robson won the Premier League twice, Cup Winners Cup, 3 FA Cup's and League Cup while de Gea has won the Premier League once, Europa League, 1 FA Cup, 2 League Cup's.

From last season unfortunately a montage can also be made of blunders of David de Gea. Most recently in the FA Cup final against City for both goals from Gundogan, first and third goal against Sevilla in Europa League quater-finals 2nd leg, messed up a speculative shot from Benrahma at West Ham to lose 0-1, got beaten at near post for 1st goal scored by Barcelona at Camp Nou, let the ball slip between his legs for Everton's only goal as United won 3-1 in FA Cup 3rd round, 1st goal in the 0-4 loss at Brentford where he let the ball pass through his hands while diving. Roy Keane had this to say after the FA Cup final loss "That’s the thing with top goalkeepers, they get you over the line in certain games and could have been the difference today. You expect your keeper to save that and he didn't and that’s why we’re seeing these celebrations. For Man United, they need a world class goalkeeper and he isn't". 

These crucial mistakes apart from inherent deficiency in his game of not commanding his penalty area aerially, poor clearance from pressure situations during back pass, zero understanding between him and Maguire, not able to play out from the back a pre-requisite for the modern game make his future as United No 1 keeper vulnerable. The Athletic published a damning report of how Manchester United backed out of contract negotiations by not signing the deal after agreeing lower terms with David de Gea. If true it's a very bad way to treat a club legend who has bailed the club in its worst times. Club have not responded to this report as yet but released a short statement "De Gea's contract is due to run out but discussions remain open with the long-serving keeper".

Officially David de Gea is a free agent as of 1st July, 2023 and Dean Henderson their No 1 keeper who seems bent on joining Nottingham Forest who in return are yet to make an offer for him. With the club up for sale and ownsership status not yet decided the funds available for summer transfer are limited. With a centre-forward and midfielder already a priority adding a keeper to the list squeezes the funds even further. Options for United include buying a new No 1 keeper like Andre Onana from Inter who is valued at 50 million, make Dean Henderson the new No 1 keeper and buy a new backup keeper, give David de Gea a new contract and buy a new backup keeper to maintain pressure to perform. 

Backup keeper option seems to be over after United did not pursue its interest in Bart Verbruggen who has since joined Brighton. It's a dead heat between signing Onana and retaining out-of-contract David de Gea. As per Fabrizio Romano the respected transfer specialist United wish to speak with de Gea after his marriage and ascertain his future plans if he has any offers on hand and then take a call. Press reports claim of offer from Saudi club Al-Nassr FC for whom Cristano Ronaldo also plays. To bolster funds for transfers United have put Fred and Elanga on the list. Futures of Harry Maguire, Anthony Martial, Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Donny van de Beek that's 7 confirmed players for exit and an area where club is not good at namely getting a good value for its players and getting the deal done quickly. Despite the imminent arrival of Mason Mount, most problematic position has been that of No 6 when Casemiro is injured and United must get a backup without fail.

Two years back had done this tribute to David de Gea, a bona fide Manchester United club legend and one of its greatest ever keepers. Club under Richard Arnold and John Murtough has backed Erik ten Hag over an icon like Ronaldo which is a welcome departure from Ed Woodward's social media preference to retain stars as in case of Pogba over Mourinho. Erik ten Hag needs to be backed to get his players in order to realise the style of play desired on the pitch for Manchester United to progress. In his first year he has clearly achieved his targets especially by ending the trophy drought and finishing in top three. Here is hoping he succeeds like how Ferguson did.

FA Cup final finally gets a Manchester derby

There has been a London derby and a Liverpool derby but never a Manchester derby in the final of the most prestigious cup competition in the world, the FA Cup. That changes on Saturday, 3rd June when United face City at Wembley. City have beaten tough opponents like Chelsea and Arsenal to reach the finals whereas United have played all matches at home and beat Brighton and Hove Albion on penalties in semi-finals. United won the League Cup in February and finished 3rd in the League whereas City won the Premier League for 3rd straight year, their 5th in last 6 years and are due to play Inter Milan in UEFA Champions' League finals. United will play with extra motivation to stop City matching their unique feat of winning the Treble in 1999. United had played City in FA Cup semi-finals twice in 1926 and 2011, losing on both occasions. First ever Manchester derby was played in 1st round qualifier of FA Cup on 3rd October, 1891 when Newton Heath beat Ardwick 5-1 at home on North Road. On 7th February 1931 Sir Matt Busby represented City in his only derby appearance to beat United 3-1!

Manchester United has never won the domestic cup double. Lost in the League Cup finals while winning the FA Cup in 1983 and 1994. Only 4 clubs have won the domestic cup double 5 times Arsenal, Liverpool(2), Chelsea, Man City. United chase a record of their own. If United lose it will be their 9th loss in 21 finals, the most by any club in competition's history. While United remain the only club to have stopped Liverpool and Everton winning their treble in 1977 and 1985. Can United do it again? They are clearly the underdogs and missing their key defender Lisandro Martinez through injury. Erik ten Hag has beaten City 2-1 at Old Trafford by having Fred man-mark Kevin de Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes produced a moment of magic to beat the offside trap. 

Manchester United will also miss Anthony Martial who suffered a late injury and casts a huge about his future. Anthony dos Santos is a doubt after picking up an injury in 4-1 win against Chelsea. Pep Guardiola had this to say about the progress United have made under Erik ten Hag "Manchester United are a different team to what we faced at the start of the season. They have improved and so has their quality." United starting XI is likely to be: de Gea(GK), Wan Bissaka, Varane, Lindelof, Shaw, Casemiro, Fred, Fernandes, Eriksen, Sancho, Rashford. City will continue with keeper Ortega who has played in all five FA Cup matches and not conceded a single goal! Guardiola had rested de Bruyne and Grealish in the last match of the season against Brentford which they lost 0-1.

Erling Haaland has already scored a hat-trick against United in his first derby match when City won 6-3. While Marcus Rashford scored 30 goals in all competitions - a first for a United player since Robin van Persie in 2013 but for Erling Haaland to score 52 goals this season is just staggering accomplishment by any standards and worth appreciating. This also highlights the major area that United need to improve in this summer - get a proper No 9. Bruno Fernandes has produced more chances than Kevin de Bruyne this season but with very low conversion rate due to absence of an elite striker. United covet the likes of Victor Osimhen, Harry Kane, Rasmus Hojlund, Goncalo Ramos, Randal-Kolo Muani, Benjamin Sesko. Anthony Martial oft injured scored 9 goals and Wout Weghorst 2 in all competions paints a clear picture of deficiency in forward unit. United need two strikers not just one as Wout Weghorst has struggled to score despite putting in great effort to press. Club also need to clear the legal situation around Mason Greenwood.

1999 Man Utd vs 2023 Man City
It is very difficult to compare teams from two different era's. Latest one's will seem more evolved due to progress in overall development of the game of football globally. Nonetheless the figures of Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Irwin, Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs will tower above anyone else from the Premier League. Tactical changes of Pep Guardiola will make John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Erling Haaland stand out. While Guardiola has managed great clubs across Europe and won silverware with big budgets and help from sporting directors, Sir Alex Ferguson awakened a giant in United to break monopoly not just in England but also in Scotland with Aberdeen and at the same rekindled the youth setup of Sir Matt Busby to win trophies with kids. Thus Ferguson is clearly way ahead of Spaniard in managerial stakes. By the way both United and City are yet to firm up as clubs to organise an annual Magnall Cup as initially mooted in January, 2020 and Magnall remains the only person to manage both sides of Manchester yet guiding them to success with trophies!

All in all it promises to be a great encounter irrespective of the result. History will definitely be made on the hallow turf of Wembley by sides from Manchester taking the centre-stage in 142nd edition of FA Cup. Manchester United are the only English club to have won the ultimate European Treble while Manchester City are the only English club to have won the domestic treble. After winning their first double in '94 United released a song "Come on you, Reds" with Status Quo and it went on to reach #1 in the official charts. Enjoy! If United can avoid being hit for a six and score momentous goal likes of Wayne Rooney overhead kick, Bruno Fernandes beating offside trap, Micheal Owen winning in injury time, Paul Scholes fantastic header, Roy Keane's diving header, Chris Smalling completing a 2-3 comeback win... in for a treat.

United heading in the right direction

15 Manchester United players were involved in the FIFA World Cup that just concluded in Qatar with an exceptional final which was decided on penalties with Argentina edging France. United with 15 of its players were just behind neighbours City who had 16 and German giants Bayern Munich with 17. Most heartening statistic was that two of United's best centre-backs Raphael Varane (521") and Lisandro Martinez (301") featured prominently while Facundo Pellistri still not capped by Erik ten Hag got 182" game time in the tournament. Harry Maguire (430") will be the biggest positive having had a great tournament while Marcus Rashford (137") despite being top-scorer for England was underutilized by Gareth Southgate. Most destabilizing facet remains the state of mind of Jadon Sancho who could not make it to the squad and hasn't yet recovered from the psychological shock and is training by himself in Amstredam. Erik ten Hag said he is not sure about a date by when Sancho will be back. 5 of 15 players were signed by Erik ten Hag in the summer: Malacia, Eriksen, Martinez, Casemiro, Anthony!

United failed to top their group in UEFA League which means playing two extra fixtures against mighty Barcelona in February. Erik ten Hag got team selection wrong at Anoeta Stadium and later was desparate with route #1 football for the all elusive second goal. They lost to Aston Villa in the league for the first time since 1996 when Sir Alex Ferguson fielded his fledglings which made Alan Hansen to say 'you can't win anything with kids'. Influential on-field captain Bruno Fernandes missed the match due to suspension and Erik ten Hag gave World Cup hopefuls like Donny van de Beek a decent run in the first team. United won the next immediate fixture most convincingly against Villa in the Carabao Cup 4-2 and won against Fulham in the league with an injury time goal by Alejandro Garnacho. 'A star is born'. Garnacho clearly overshadowed a once great but sulking Portguese superstar who was forced to leave the club which further enhanced the rising pedigree of Erik ten Hag.


Owners of Manchester United, the Galzer family released a statement on 23rd November "the Board will consider all strategic alternatives, including new investment into the club, a sale, or other transactions" specifically targetting the elephant in the room "to strengthen the club, including stadium and infrastructure redevelopment". Redevelopment of clubs home Old Trafford either by constructing a completely new facility or modifying existing structure needs huge funds and detailed planning. Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired the club has not majorly invested in either Old Trafford nor its training ground at Carrington. Glazers who put the club in debt in order to buy it and that debt has soared rather than being pared-down. This profligacy and present economic outlook has finally forced the Glazers to consider selling the club. It's a welcome move but if new owners are from consortium of Amercian NFL teams the situation might become from bad to worse. Glazers wanting a big profit from their sale will rule out many genuine buyers like Sir Jim Ratcliffe who rightly wants to treat the club as a community asset and not a financial one. Tread with caution. United's share price rallied to a four year high of $22.84.

Cody Gapko is bookmakers favourite to arrive in January as a forward signing to replace the departed Portuguese. Gapko had a great World Cup for Netherlands scoring 3 goals which might make him even more expensive acquisition unlike City's shrewd signing of Julian Alvarez. Behind him is the Portuguese Goncalo Ramos who scored a hat-trick in a single match. Former United player Memphis Depay presents a cheaper option in transfer fee while Dusan Vlahovic is at club in turmoil whose entire board resigned enmasse. United played two games in Spain as practise when the World Cup was going on with remaining players and gave a host of youngsters a chance. As yet unused players Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams started both matches where Teden Mengi partnered Victor Lindelof in defense. Zidane Iqbal got the nod in midfield in both games. Club also announced triggering an extra year in contracts of four players: Marcus Rashford, Diogo Dalot, Luke Shaw and Fred. This will give club time till end of season to agree new deals with these players while they try to negotiate with David de Gea who can agree terms to join another European club in January.

Best news was indeed the date of unveiling of statue to the late Jimmy Murphy. The Welshman kept the flag flying in the darkest days of clubs history after the Munich tragedy and remarkably led the depleted team to the FA Cup finals. Apart from being the perfect foil for Sir Matt Busby as his assistant, he helped nurture the Busby Babes including Duncan Edwards, Sir Bobby Charlton and George Best. He even led Wales to quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup as their manager and rejected offers from Brazil, Arsenal to remain loyal to both club and Busby. If not for Murphy the club would have folded. Sir Bobby Charlton credited Murphy entirely for his development "He was a brilliant teacher. The greatest influence on my career." Kudos to Patrick Burns of Manchester Munich Memorial Fund to form a consortium of Manchester United fan groups and approach the club to finally give Jimmy Murphy the importance he deserves. Statue will come up near Stretford End where he used train the Busby Babes.

Erik ten Hag has put in place a modern possession based football which was expected from Ralf Rangnick and coaches under him earlier. More importantly he has worked with most of first team players and improved them. Rejuvenation of Marcus Rashford is the main highlight; in just 15 matches he has overtaken the goals and assists tally of entire last season when he looked lost while battling injury. Main exception was the Portuguese superstar who despite preferrential treatment ultimately lashed at the very club who made him a star. Luckily the new United board under Richard Arnold and advisories like Sir Alex Ferguson, David Gill stood by the manager thankfully, and did not repeat the mistake of backing the player against Jose Mourinho. This is a football club again! Other exceptions to player progress are mainly due to injuries to Anthony Martial, Donny van de Beek, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams. Hopeful to see Facundo Pellistri in the 2nd half of season if he is not loaned out. A new star emerges to replace an icon, more control to Erik ten Hag, under-fire owners evaluating all options including a sale, sizeable world cup participation, finally a long overdue recognition to Jimmy Murphy - right direction indeed.

Five Elanga's

Anthony Elanga is perhaps the lone bright spark in a dismal season thus far for Manchester United. To cap his fantastic run he scored against Athletico Madrid in the knock out phase of the Champions' League to keep the tie level at 1-1 after a tepid first half. This problem of slow start which was the bane of Solskjaer regime has reared its head again. Crucially for the interim boss Ralf Rangick his substitutions have been generally well timed with the right personnel enabling him to save face. Loss to championship side Middlesbrough in fourth round of the FA Cup ended all hopes of winning any trophy this season, and another season became a write-off.

Ralf Rangnick was the last appointment of Ed Woodward who is now gone, and it increasingly sounds like the new CEO Richard Arnold wants to stamp his authority by getting the summer appointment of Manchester United's permanent manager correct. This will mean United might not get the maximum out of the German guru and further depriving the morale of coaching staff and players wrt targets for this on-going season. This is especially hard on the players and Fred who has improved under Rangnick lamented "I think it's a little bit bad for us not to have one(permanent manager), at the moment it's all about the short-term goals. We don't know how it's going to be after the end of this season." 

United have tried big name managers in Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho who to their credit won trophies justifying the decision but the success was not lasting. Big spending on players not only continued surprisingly under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but increased drastically - Maguire, wan-Bissaka, James, Fernandes, van de Beek, Amad, Cavani, Sancho, Varane. Without pre-season training to embed the ideas of the football guru Ralf Rangnick, the players are markedly struggling to implement the tactics during matches. Rangnick shelved 4-2-2-2 to quasi Solskjaer 4-1-2-3 formation which is slightly different than 4-2-3-1. This highlights the importance of recruitment which has to be consistent in line with United's identity. Moyes should have been backed by 3 to 4 young and hungry players to add energy into that old team which won the last Premier League title under Sir Alex Ferguson. Take heed.

In the interim capacity Ralf Rangnick has stopped the leakage of goals from the previous regime and exponentially increased the shots on target to be the best in English Premier League since his tenure started yet the conversion rate with Ronaldo, Rashford, Cavani, Sancho is very poor. Mason Greenwood who is suspended and still has the 3rd best goal stats just behind Ronaldo and Fernandes. Suspension coming near the end of the January transfer window and the club chose not to replace the striker perhaps not sure about the gravity of the case. Rangnick has since explicitly said that United need new striker in the summer as "obvious". Without Greenwood, United drew at Burnley, Southampton and Watford which might well deny United the top four finish with tougher matches against Man City, Tottenham and Liverpool lined back to back. Anthony Elanga who needs to be managed to not be burnt-out started one and came on as a sub in two of these drawn games.

This player hesitency to grasp newer ideas and Elanga's application has clearly demonstrated the way forward for Manchester United yet again. Promote youth from within or buy young players to give the next manager the best chance of being a success. Roy Keane rightly said the players will throw the manager under the bus after Mourinho was sacked and the loss to Middlesbrough highlighted the fact when United missed not just chances but even a penalty from perhaps the greatest player of all time! As a fan I wanted to stop watching football for rest of the season. The answer is for United to have five Elanga's in the same starting XI. Jadon Sancho is finally thriving proving this point further and also James Garner excelling at Nottingham Forest will help the club to trim the requirement down to 2 or 3. Fans would have loved to see Axel Tuanzebe or Teden Mengi get the attention from Rangnick and be ahead of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones. Elanga, Sancho and Garner all set who could be other two and which part of the pitch specifically for next season?

Central defensive midfield and centre-forward. Dylan Levitt already with 10 caps for Wales and Ethan Galbraith the former teammates of Garner will get a shot. While Garner has done well at Forest, Galbraith has got good playing time at Doncaster who are fighting to avoid relegation and Levitt has been hampered with injury at Dundee United which suggests the duo might need another season of regular football elsewhere before being in a position to succeed at United. Below them in the pecking order are this season's debutants Zidane Iqbal, the first British South Asian to represent United and Charlie Savage, the son of ex-United player Robbie Savage while Hannibal Mejbri has been fast tracked to the first team after his debut in the last game of last season. Clearly these are not immediate solutions for next season. With developments at Chelsea where the Roman Abramovich era is coming to an end, United could find themselves in pole position to sign Declan Rice, 23 given the huge transfer fee or be wise to opt for Aurélien Tchouaméni, 22 and for above mentioned profile of players should be in the hunt for forwards Darwin Nunez, 22 or Victor Osimhen, 23 or Alexander Isak, 22.

Meanwhile Alejandro Garnacho, 17 year old who has been the main goal threat in FA Youth Cup where the club has reached the semi-final stage for the first time since 2012 semi-final loss to Chelsea. Garnacho has been included in the provisional 44-man squad for World Cup qualifiers by Argentinian National team who have already qualified. United and Wolves competed for the first two FA Youth Cup finals in '53 and '54. If United progress they are likely to meet Chelsea or Forest in the finals. United have invested heavily since the summer of 2020 on U18 players like Willy Kambwala, Charlie McNeil, Joe Hugill, Logan Pye, Marc Jurado, Alvaro Fernandes, Radek Vitek, Isak Hansen-Aaroen, Alejandro Garnacho, Manni Norkett and Ethan Ennis. Strategically this could be United most important competition for the rest of this season. Garnacho is guaranteed a first team debut if he stays injury free.

"If you’re good enough, you’re old enough." Busby's clarion call to introduce the Babes in 1950's and four decades later Fergie's Fledglings.

PS: RIP Frank O'Farrell and Xmas of 71 being top of the league with George Best banging in the goals after Sir Matt Busby had retired! Injuries and lack of signings into the 1968 European Cup winning team turned the tide. Tommy Docherty took the lessons from his predecessor, and United must listen to Jose Mourinho warning to end this vicious repeatitive cycle plaguing the present team.

Reality check for Rangnick

Ralf Rangnick's famed gegenpressing lasted just 30 minutes against Crystal Palace and was not seen again! The imbalance in the massive squad was very quickly laid bare. But the more serious issue was the lack of effort on display by the players. Soon the dressing room unrest became the media frenzy. Spotlight was on the new coaching setup who were settling in after the exodus of coaches under Solskjaer, and the outbreak of Covid-19 that forced the closure of Carrington for few days did not help either. The appalling game against Newcastle (13 shots apiece for both clubs) and defeat at home to Wolves (only 9 shots compared to 19 from visitors) brought the reality check. That loss to Wolves a first at Old Trafford since 19, August 1980 also the first loss of Rangnick's reign after just six games (3Wins, 2Draws, 1Loss).

As Sir Matt Busby used to point out its about the method and the progress, Ralf set out as 4-2-2-2 as a template for his method but disowned it after being out played by Wolves and move to three at the back. And still lost. This is where the new coach is not sticking to the method but disbanding it to be accommodative. That is an immediate betrayal which can be pardoned only if he goes back to it after getting the profile of players needed to play in a very specific way. If not the rot will be masked to rear its head again. In stark contract Wolves players were following instructions to the tee from the coach Bruno Lage who clearly explained how his team used the spaces to outdo United in post match interview. Phil Jones made a solid comeback with a good performance against Wolves, his first competitive match in nearly two years!

The most pressing shortage is in the central defensive midfield role or the engine room that connects the defensive with attack or in short controls the game. Its shocking to think that United would be lacking dominating midfielders which has been its staple through the decades. If the chance to get a stop-gap emerges it should be exercised as Fred and Scott McTominay have no backup and neither are of the profile employed by clubs who play gegenpressing. Primary targets like Declan Rice, Aurelien Tchouameni or Reuben Neves might not be available but secondary ones like Amadou Haidara, Dennis Zakaria or Boubacar Kamara might be feasible if any departures come about like Martial, Lingard or Bailly. 

One of the surprising things to come out is that the non-selection of Donny van de Beek under Rangnick, with reports that suggest that the Dutchman can at best play in number 10 now occupied by Bruno Fernandes where Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard can also play, but struggles to cover the ground elsewhere in midfield. While the most visible change is in the full-back position where Rangnick has used Telles and Dalot instead of Shaw and Wan-Bissaka. Martial wants out which if materialized will free-up one position in the bloated squad. Eight is a high number of experienced players who are are on the fringes of the squad Henderson, Bailly, Jones, Mata, Lingard, van de Beek, Martial and Paul Pogba's(played <50% of games due to injury) contract due to expire in June. Rangnick's reply to a question whether he should persuade a player to stay at Manchester United was on-the-spot "Players have to want to play for a big club like Manchester United. If a player does not want to play Manchester United in the medium or long term, I don’t think it makes sense to convince him to change his mind."

Three wins and a draw has taken Wayne Rooney's Derby County within 3 points of second from bottom team in the table considering the massive 21-points deduction for financial breaches at the start of this season. If Derby avoid relegation to League One, Rooney will certainly be a bona fide legend as a manager. An intriguing fixture was in the FA Cup where Derby lost to another former ex-United player managed team Coventry City, Mark Robins. As expected Richard Arnold has been confirmed as new CEO from Ed Woodward thus bringing the curtains down to perhaps the most torrid period of United history since mid-70's.

United face their lucky charm Aston Villa in the third round of FA Cup though its not at Villa Park. The corresponding fixture in 1948 when United beat Villa 6-4 at Villa Park was described by Geoffrey Green as one of the best matches in the history of the Cup. Villa led 1-0 within a minute then United annhilated the hosts with five goals and in second half Villa hit back with three goals to setup a humdinger of a finale before Stan Pearson struck to soothe the nerves. "For dramatic content and depth of plot that Villa-United tie lives with the best... as a match of high drama, swaying one way then another and hightened by the storm of rain, it takes some beating." Busby's United went on to win their first trophy. Only two losses came in third round of 19-20 and in final of 56-57 when United were chasing the first double of last century of league and FA Cup. United though beat Villa en-route to winning the FA Cup in 62-63, 76-77 and 03-04 campaigns. During the treble winning season Ryan Giggs's solo goal at Villa Park waltzing his way through the Arsenal midfield and defense is certainly the greatest FA Cup goal. Rangnick would hope world's most famous and oldest cup competition provides the perfect opportunity for United to get their season back on track.

Manchester United make the right call

Ralf Rangnick the godfather of modern football credited with developing Gegenpressing has been appointed by the club to be interim manager and help adapt the club to modernize its coaching setup as a consultant later. Instead of trying to move from one extreme of coaching method to another the club have moved to set themselves a structure in tune with prevailing standards at top clubs. John Murtough the Director of Football is said to have driven this big decision and perhaps demonstrates the separation from financial management represented by most people at the board. Football finally triumphs at the premier English institution where Glazers have thrown money without knowledge of the game since retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

United have been tracking Rangnick for over two years since the first meeting with Ed Woodward to become the first Director of Football. He clearly outlined two big deficiencies - recruitment and coaching in interview with The Times. Later hinted he turned United's offer down over how much 'control' he would get on those two crucial aspects. This issue must now have been firmly resolved for Rangnick to take charge. In recruitment he has helped unearth talents like Marcel Sabitzer, Erling Haaland, Joshua Kimmich, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Timo Werner, Naby Keita etc. In coaching he has inspired Thomas Tuchel, Jurgen Klopp, Julian Nagelsmann, Ralf Hasenhuttl etc. For now United players need to concentrate on winning the ball back in 8 seconds and scoring inside 10! Fate of the beleaguered coaching staff is not known but it could be a boon for the likes of Michael Carrick to learn under the German master.

If United go on a good run like they did under their last interim manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, will they succumb to temptations and appoint Rangnick full-time? If this process is as per statement put out by the club "Michael Carrick will now take charge of the team for forthcoming games, while the club looks to appoint an interim manager to the end of the season." they should not. Nagelsmann who worked under Rangnick might be in the shortlist to succeed with Erik ten Hag and alas no walkover for Pochettino struggling with ego's of big players at PSG! Rangnick has to identify his successor and help him achieve the target to win United its first trophy since May, 2017 potentially in May, 2023.

That will be six long years without a trophy which will be longest drought in clubs post war history since 1951 when they won the league championship after 40 year wait. In 6th year Busby won his first league title in '51, first trophy the FA Cup in 1963 after league win in 1957 the gap was due to devastating tragedy suffered at Munich. In 6th year United won second division in 1974 after European Cup triumph in 1968. United won the FA Cup four times between the league success of 1966-67 and 1992-93. Such is the gravity of task at hand on United's board to get this right. If they fail history is most likely to pinpoint the clubs decision to back an enigma of a player in Paul Pogba over Jose Mourinho who had won the League Cup and Europa Cup in successive years.

Last professor United had was Dave Sexton who handicapped by United's floatation in stock market combined with selling its best player in Gordon Hill endured a tepid trophy-less tenure that ended with eight straight wins without a convincing style and promptly got the sack. Rangnick has not managed at established elite clubs nor won major trophies like Bundesliga or Champions' League but help create and organize clubs like Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig. This appointment might not end the trophy drought but create platform to get the club to be competitive. Another professor Marcelo Bielsa is struggling at Leeds United this season.

United have an underachieving squad rather than inept. United need to bolster their midfield and correct the issues in defense to mount a challenge to Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Players have not hit a higher gear, big squad underutilized as same players were chosen, no new academy players included yet, upcoming winter transfer window to help push for top four with Declan Rice and Aurelien Tchouameni linked and perhaps Rangnick can help clinch the deal to land Erling Haaland next summer when Edinson Cavani leaves!

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 Berry missing. I pursued it with Patrick Burns of Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation (MMMF) and Mike Thomas of Munich58 both are independent fan-led organization that organize the memorial events at ManchesterPlatz, Munich and at The Munich Plaque, Old Trafford every year in association with Manchester United Football Club. Happy to say that my humble request was accepted after four months of deliberations which makes me feel extremely satisfied to have contributed in an infinitesimally small way back to the club I love.

Bit about the legendary wing wizard. It was in India where Johnny Berry while playing for British Army team captured the attention of Birmingham City captain Fred Harris who recommended him despite his short stature. Birmingham City originated as Small Heath similar to Manchester United who used to be known as Newton Heath. Starting out as an amateur in 1944 at the age of 18 and signing professional in the year when the team won the Second Division in 1947-48 and got promoted. Blues lost 0-3 to MUFC at Maine Road on 20th Nov, 1948 when Berry was not in the squad and won the home fixture on 19th March, 1949 1-0 with Berry in the squad as Len Boyd scored the winner in 49th minute. Blues finished 17th in the league. MUFC title challenge capitulated next season when they faced the blues twice during 9 game winless run. Johnny Berry tormented MUFC and scored the 2nd goal on 70th minute in a 2-0 win at Old Trafford on 7th April, 1950 that is hailed as one of the finest post war goals ever scored at Old Trafford as Reds keeper Ignasius Feehan's made his final appearance. Three days later both teams drew 0-0 at St. Andrews. MUFC finished 4th three points behind champions Portsmouth while blues were relegated finishing bottom of the league. 

While in the second division Johnny Berry played in all 42 league games of the season for the blues who finished 4th failing to win back promotion. Still managed to beat MUFC in 6th round of the FA Cup when Higgins scored just 44 seconds after kick-off. Blues lost to Blackpool in the semi-finals of FA Cup. In all 114 appearances for the blues Johnny Berry scored 6 goals. Sir Matt Busby pursued Johnny Berry for 18 months to replace Jimmy Delaney and finally got his man for a club record transfer of £25,000 on 01-Aug, 1951 which stood for 14 years as a record outgoing transfer for the blues just shy of 17 year all-time record of England's first million dollar transfer of Trevor Francis! Johnny Berry was part of Blues team that faced MUFC on four occasions, won three and drew one i.e., unbeaten!

In Ivan Ponting's definitive book the 'Manchester United: The Red Army' Busby's pursuit of Berry is described as "When Johnny Berry was Birmingham City player, Matt Busby was sick of the sight of him. Every time the tiny, but tough, right winger faced United he tortured the Red's defense. In the end the Old Trafford boss decided the only way to put an end to the torment was to sign the tormentor."

In his first season Berry played 36 of 42 league matches scoring 6 times as MUFC finally won their first Championship in 1951-52 after 41 year wait. His signing in 1951 was perhaps as significant as Alex Stepney's for 1967 title. His debut for United against Bolton ended in a 0-1 loss on 1st September, 1951. He and captain Roger Byrne are the only two players to have been part of all three championship winning teams of the 50's including in 1955-56 and 1956-57. He scored his first United goal in the Manchester derby on 15th September in a 2-1 win and many of his goals came at critical moments for the team. His most famous goal is against Athletic Bilbao in the quarter finals of European Cup in the 84th minute that clinched the tie 6-5 on aggregate the match played under floodlights in Maine Road on 6th February, 1957 exactly to a year before the tragedy at Munich. On returning from the first leg at Bilbao under heavy snow United players were asked to sweep the snow off the wings of the aircraft before take-off as his son Neil Berry told Manchester Evening News in March, 2012. Neil Berry who watched that unforgettable match in 1957 at Maine Road published a book about his dad aptly titled 'Johnny The Forgotten Babe' which I would love to read to get to know more about this legend who wore the famous number 7 shirt for most of the 50's for Manchester United.

During the 1955-56 league winning campaign MUFC faced their direct rivals Blackpool at home in April which could settle the title with two further games to spare. Captain Roger Byrne had another nightmare dream of missing a penalty before the game and when United got one after being 0-1 down he ordered Johnny Berry to take it. 1-1. As final whistle was approaching Berry provided an inspired cross for Tommy Taylor to score through his outstretched leg after the opposing keeper had slipped. United won by a margin of 11 points as Blackpool with the great Stanley Matthews lost their last four matches to finish second which is still their best ever finish in Blackpool's history. Berry made his England debut with Tommy Taylor on the South American tour match against Argentina which was cancelled due to water-logging after 36 minutes. All four caps of Berry were outside England, three in South America in 1953 and one in Sweden in 1956 (Duncan Edwards also played alongside Byrne, Berry and Taylor). He competed with the greats Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney limiting his chances considerably.

On 6th October, 1956 when Bobby Charlton made his debut vs Charlton Athletic and scored two goals, Johnny Berry captained the side in the absence of club captain Roger Byrne who was away on England duty. In the FA Cup that season United beat Bournemouth the giant killers who had beaten Wolves and Spurs already but trailed 0-1 at half-time with a man down as Mark Jones was forced out injured. Johnny Berry scored two goals in the second half to help United reach  the semi-finals where they met his old cub Birmingham City. It was Bobby Charlton's FA Cup debut "Against Birmingham, we got into our stride very quickly, and when Johnny Berry wriggled through to open the scoring in the 12th minute it meant that our opponents had to open up the game, which immediately made them vulnerable to our great attacking resources." Charlton scored the second goal from David Pegg's cross to win 2-0 at Hillsborough to ensure United progressed through to finale at Wembley for the first time since 1948.


A dip in form in late November 1957 forced Matt Busby to make four changes for the match against Leicester City when he dropped Johnny Berry for an 18 year old Kenny Morgans from FA Youth Cup winning team and a debut for Harry Gregg in goal. In the last match of Busby Babes in England "the greatest league match ever played" ended Arsenal 4 Manchester United 5 at Highbury where United led 3-0 at half-time, Berry who did not make the starting XI rightly reminded the team that game was not over yet. Morgans again started in Belgrade that ended in a 3-3 draw but Munich devastated him psychologically despite surviving the crash without major physical injury.

Johnny Berry missed his passport at the Belgrade airport and plane was delayed from taking off which meant they landed in Munich hours later and under much heavy snow. Was this the reason Berry's name was excluded from the 'Flowers of Manchester'? Definitely not as clarified by Harry Gregg in his biography 'Wild About Football' published in 1961 "There was a mix-up over visas - and I was the one who unwittingly caused it. We had been told to get our passports so that they could be sent ahead to the airport. There was no mention of visas, so when I was going to my room to get my passport, I offered to get Johnny Berry's, as well. It was in his suitcase; so was his visa. I collected both our passports, dropped Johnny's visa back into the case - and promptly forgot about the whole business. But when we reached the airport, it was discovered that Johnny's visa was missing... which was with rest of our luggage on the plane! There was about an hour's delay before the matter was sorted out."

In fact the condition of Johnny Berry was more serious than Duncan Edwards. Professor Maurer took Jimmy Murphy, Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes round the wards to tell about their chances of survival.
 Boss: 50-50,
Blanchflower: OK,
Edwards: 50-50,
Berry: "No, no, I am not God."

Berry was the last United player to be discharged from Munich hospital two months after the crash as he suffered skull fracture, broken jaw, broken limbs which meant he would never play football again. He was the last person to know about the scale of the tragedy as he kept complaining to Sir Matt Busby that his good friend Tommy Taylor had not come to see him. This incident was the most painful of Busby's life. In a Manchester hospital upon his return he read the team news in the newspaper and forced the doctor to reveal the truth about his former team-mates.  

Physically his condition might not have seemed as bad as that of Jackie Blanchflower which led few to falsely believe he might play again. Berry was betrayed by the club when they forced him to leave his allotted house to accommodate the new signing Maurice Setters in 1960. Johnny Berry and Kenny Morgans were in Wembley when United finally won the European Cup in 1968. Berry was the first of the Munich survivor's to die in 1994 at just 68. Johnny Berry, Tommy Taylor and Harry Gregg were the three specialists who were brought by Sir Matt Busby to plug the gaps and help the Babes with experience. It's among those three that Berry deserves the recognition that has eluded him thus far. Perhaps the remembrance events and responsibilities especially for the lyrics were not as organized until Munich58 came about in 2001 and MMMF later. Apart from Munich58 and MMF, I would also like to thank Paul from the 'UtdBeforFergie' twitter group and its amazing followers to have sustained my keen interest in United's history.

From being not sure to tweak the lyrics which many fans treat as an anthem to checking the change log which revealed one pending instance that of word 'brain' to 'frame' in reference to Duncan Edwards, needing a figurehead to champion the cause and consultations with song writer, finally had the confirmation on 14th October, 2020 from Mike Thomas "Well done on a successful campaign :-)".  United face Everton at Old Trafford on 6th February. Covid-19 restrictions will mean a limited ceremony this year, perhaps a bittersweet one for the Berry family who might have felted 'forgotten' for the last 63 years!

Old lyrics:
Big Duncan he went too with an injury to his brain
And Ireland's brave Jack Blanchflower will never play again

New lyrics:
Big Duncan he went too with an injury to his frame
Johnny Berry and Jack Blanchflower will never play again

Ode to the lost Babes

The dreadful year that was 2020 also took away eight of the best Busby babes. RIP

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

16 February: Harry Gregg
The courage and determination of Harry Gregg to get back into the burning plane in Munich and get many of his colleagues out of the wreckage, led the fightback of Manchester United from being completely destroyed. With Bill Foulkes played in the first match at Old Trafford after Munich against Sheffield Wednesday on 19th February. Brought from Doncaster Rovers for a record fee to be the final jigsaw of Matt Busby's great side that aimed to win the coveted European Cup. Against the odds United finished runners-up in 1958-59 season in which Gregg played a huge part to protect inexperienced defensive unit without skipper Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, Geoff Bent and Jackie Blanchflower. He missed the 1963 FA Cup final triumph with a shoulder injury and couldn't make enough appearances to win 1965 League winners medal, the only medal he won with United was the 1958 FA Cup runners-up medal. He returned to United as a goal-keeping coach under Dave Sexton in 1978. In 2012 Sir Alex Ferguson's side played in his testimonial match held in Belfast. Years of campaigning from fans of this humble giant for a knighthood yielded an MBE and later an OBE in 2019.

08 June: Tony Dune
Wrote a detailed piece of United's best defensive left back earlier in June.

17 July: Alex Dawson
Saw United beat his home town club Aberdeen in a friendly in 1950. Signed up as an amateur schoolboy and won two FA Youth Cups before breaking through to the first team where he scored in each of his first three games when first choice Tommy Taylor was injured. Mark Pearson or Alex Dawson were supposed to fly to play against Red Star Belgrade but an injury to captain Roger Byrne meant that fullback Geoff Bent went instead. Made to play first team football regularly much ahead for his age meant carrying load of expectations and responsibility that many times stifles the natural growth. Alex took it in his stride scoring a hat-trick against Fulham in the semi-final of the FA Cup replay at Highbury to send United through to the final, where United lost to Bolton 2-0. Got his form back after a brief lull to score hat-tricks against Chelsea and Manchester City in the derby, which was the first by a United player since Joe Spence in 1921 and later Andrei Kanchelsks did it in 1995. Despite scoring 15 goals in 1959-60 season and 16 goals in the next, Dawson was sold to Preston Northend by Sir Matt Busby who had acquired David Herd. 54 goals from 93 games return made many fans to believe he was unlucky to be sold and his United career cut short.

09 September: Reg Hunter
Welsh player Reg was in the third team when he was fast-tracked into the first team following the Munich air crash alongside Bobby Harrop and Reg Holland but didn't actually end up playing. Yet the courage showed was exemplary. Won FA Youth Cup with United and made one senior appearance vs Aston Villa in Dec 1958 before leaving United in 1960 after four seasons.

30 October: Nobby Stiles
Local lad from Collyhurst part of Manchester he won the World Cup with England and European Cup with Manchester United playing alongside Sir Bobby Charlton. Watched the 1948 FA Cup final on the shoulders of his dad which United famously won at Wembley. Adored Eddie Colman as a kid and came through the youth ranks despite his small stature. His excellent vision and tackling marked Eusebio out against Portugal and Benfica to win laurels for both club and country. Picked by Alf Ramsey to add steel to the England side with Bobby Moore, Alan Ball and Roger Hunt and stood by him despite public pressure after a rough game against France. Knee operation ended his career prematurely at only 27. Never had an official testimonial despite his heroics on the field. Played with veteran Bill Foulkes in the heart of defense to also win two league championships. Later was youth coach at United between 1989 and 1993 when Fergie Fledglings came through. Club statement read "An integral part of our first-ever European Cup-winning side, Nobby was a titan of the club’s history, cherished for his heart and personality on and off the pitch."

12 November: Albert Quixall
Matt Busby uncharacteristically spent big after Munich on players like Albert Quixall and Maurice Setters to ensure Manchester United did not go into oblivion like Torino who had also lost their entire team to a plane crash. Tasked with leading the charge of United to compete for trophies, Quixall suffered a nervous breakdown mainly due to his record fee and lost his England place too. He led the Sheffield Wednesday side when United played their first match after Munich and with his 5 England caps was regraded as the blond star on everyone's radar. Provided perfect passes for Sir Bobby Charlton to score and ended up scoring 56 crucial goals himself including a hattrick versus newly crowned champions Ipswich Town in 1961. Won the 1963 FA Cup by being United's leading goal scorer but was dropped alongside David Herd and Johnny Giles in the first league match of the next season after a heavy 0-4 defeat in the charity shield confirming the end of his United career.

22 November: Maurice Setters
Two of Manchester United's worst defeats tell the tale of start and end of Maurice Setters. 7-3 loss to Newcastle United in January 1960 made Matt Busby to stiffen the midfield and fill the void of Wilf McGuiness whose career ended due to injury, by signing Maurice Setters from West Bromwich Albion for a huge fee. Busby for a time felt the likes of Setters and Noble with tough tackling could help win matches against mid-table opposition. His hard tackles helped team to regain possession and win the 1963 FA Cup. The 0-5 loss to Sporting Lisbon in the second leg of European Cup Winners Cup in March, 1964 is the worst defeat suffered by United in Europe especially since they won the first leg comfortably 4-1. The three legged FA Cup tie against Sunderland and loss to West Ham in semi-finals was the main reason the squad appeared exhausted in Lisbon. Its the only result in the long stint of Matt Bubsy at United in which the Scot lost his cool and slammed his players. Setters' subsequent injury when he slipped on the marble floor of the Lisbon hotel made Busby pick Nobby Stiles instead and was soon transferred to Stoke after 159 appearances for United.

21 December: John Fitzpatrick
Shaggy-haired Scottish lad won the 1964 FA Youth Cup with the likes of David Sadler, George Best, John Aston Jr, Jimmy Rimmer and Bobby Noble. Became United's first ever substitute when he replaced fellow Aberdonian Denis Law in a match against Tottenham Hotspur in October 1965. Stood-in for Nobby Stiles initially and his versatility made him indispensable in the late 60's and early 70's. His best was against Polish champions Gornik Zabrze to keep the score 0-1 and progress 2-1 on aggregate to the semi-final of 1968 European Cup. One of only four players to avoid the cull of Tommy Docherty with Alex Stepney, Jimmy Rimmer and Bobby Charlton, spate of injuries made him retire at the age of 27 and dealt a huge blow to United's efforts to avoid relegation.

FA Cup provides valuable experience for a young side

Fernandes-Pobga era started with Manchester United beating Sheffield United 3-0 on 24th June, 2020. A date to remember like the debut of another combination Charlton-Crerand on 23rd Feb, 1963 in 1-1 draw at home to Blackpool with David Herd scoring the only goal. Crerand went on to play in all the 19 remaining league games of the season after making his debut. United survived relegation finishing in 19th but won their first trophy after Munich the 1963 FA Cup thanks to home draws in initial stages and goal scoring prowess of Denis Law at his best.

United under Solskjaer broke another unwanted record still lingering from the Ferguson days that of the last hat-trick in the Premier League by a United player in Robin van Persie against Aston Villa in 22nd April 2013. Anthony Martial scored 3 goals which included two assists by Marcus Rashford and one by Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The best goal was the 3rd which included a long pass down the middle by Pogba to Fernandes back flick to Rashford to Martial for a sublime goal. 19 goals apiece for Rashford, Martial and 12 for Greenwood makes it 50 for the forward trio. Nemanja Matic had a great game and United did 5 substitutions in the second half at one-go. David de Gea under spotlight barely had a save to make.

Later United reversed its decision to let go of academy players by retaining all U18's totaling about 202 in number till the summer or help them find their next club. Its a great move to recognize the mistake done and undo the damage especially to the youngest of the lot. Unfortunately that means letting go of 9 senior graduates who could not make it especially Largie Ramazani.

Ahead of the FA Cup quarter finals against Norwich Solskjaer spoke of importance of the cup and how it can be a catalyst to a young side to achieve great things in the future. "For our team, it’s a new team and to win our first trophy or title could be fantastic and, hopefully, a catalyst for things to come. We are very focused on doing our best and getting through to the next round, and then hopefully, to the final." Sounds just like what the 1963 FA Cup did for Sir Matt Busby who had a senior squad that was later infused with youth from 1964 FA Youth Cup winners in George Best and David Sadler.

City's loss to Chelsea conferred the 2019-20 Premier League title to Liverpool who won their first league title after a gap of 30 years, four more years than it took United to reach the summit from Sir Matt Busby in 1967 to Sir Alex Ferguson in 1993. This perhaps shows how hard it is to get back to the top and the long road ahead for Solskjaer's Specials. Chelsea have over the years acted swiftly to sack coaches and get players quickly focused solely on winning the league while City and Liverpool have perhaps the two best coach's in the world right now. To challenge the this top three United would need 2-3 exciting signings like Jadon Sancho(20), Jack Grealish(24), Milan Skriniar(25), Wilfred Ndidi(23), Harry Kane(26). Meanwhile Wolves will give United a tough chase for the top 4 finish as well as in the Europa League.

The Norwich game will be the last chance for United to see Angel Gomes play. If he isn't in the squad perhaps it ends his career with Manchester United where be broke the greatest Duncan Edwards record for being the youngest ever debutant. Wishing him all the best!
Manchester United met Norwich for the 1st time in the FA Cup in 1906 in second round winning 3-0. Later on Norwich won all encounters in 59, 67, 91. Same predicament followed in League Cup in 75 and 79. Only in 1994 United managed to win 2-0 with goals from Roy Keane and Eric Cantona, who later fouled Jeremy Goss described by commentator Jimmy Hill as 'despicable and villainous'. Beat Norwich in 4th round League Cup by 4-0 but lost in semi-finals to unfancied Sunderland to eventually seal David Moyes' fate. Sunderland had three ex-United players in John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Phil Bardsley and escaped relegation under Gus Poyet being bottom of the table at Christmas. Manchester United they moved the very next day to sign Juan Mata from Chelsea to limit the damage instead of getting the deal done as soon as transfer window opened that January. This lethargy in doing transfers still afflicts the club to this day.

In the run up to United's first league title under Ferguson, Aston Villa and Norwich were the main rivals. The Canaries were led by ex-Red striker Mark Robins with 14 goals who previously had scored in 1990 FA Cup 3rd round match from Mark Hughes perfect lob that split their defense to win 1-0 against Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest to save Ferguson's job. Beating direct challengers Norwich 3-1 away set United on a seven match unbeaten run to clinch the league title in 1993. Losing 1-0 to Norwich in March, 1988 Sir Alex Ferguson summoned his team to a Sunday meeting to discuss what went wrong and result was a 10 match unbeaten run enabling United to finish creditable second in his first full season in charge. Winning this historically significant tie will be crucial in advancing Solskjaer's narrative to shape a new team with traditional United ethos.

No room for error as United play their first match at home without fans

Return of Premier League football showed which coach was fired up the most - no surprise its Pep Guardiola with two wins including one against Arsenal away where United had lost in the first match of this year. In fairness United did have the most shots vs Tottenham but De Gea once again made a great save from Son header so draw was a right result away. Chelsea who are 5 points ahead need to play Man City, Liverpool and Wolves while Leicester City being 9 points ahead will play Chelsea, Everton, Arsenal, Tottenham and United on the last game of the season. Manchester United have a great chance to sneak into the top 4 provided they win their remaining 8 matches.

Bergwijn's goal ruthlessly exposed the lack of pace in the heart of United defense led by captain Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof. This calls of return of Eric Bailly who had a fantastic start to his United career since 2016 which included nearly 47% of all his appearances in the first season itself while the rest have been dogged with injuries. He has pace and recovery to supplement the leadership, calmness and aerial superiority of Maguire to form a better partnership than steady one of Maguire-Lindelof. Shaw was rusty to not avert the danger by heading the ball better or putting it out of play. Wan-Bissaka meanwhile completed 100 tackles at right back in his first season!

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played Marcus Rashford who was also returning from injury like Paul Pogba who came on for the last 30 minutes and earned United a valuable point. Instead Solskjaer missed an opportunity to have started Odion Ighalo at centre-forward with Anthony Martial playing wide on the left followed by double substitution of Rashford and Pogba. Daniel James did not have space to run into and had a difficult game. He has kept United afloat in the first half of the season by his industry and runs surprising opponents much like Martial had in his first season under Louis van Gaal.

Solskjaer responded brilliantly to criticism of David de Gea by saying "David is the best goalkeeper in the world. He makes great saves and wins games for us and I still think he’s the best goalkeeper in the world." This is a welcome departure from Mourinho who would name call his player's if they erred. The positive news of Scott McTominay agreeing a new contract till 2025 might shield from the announcement of Jude Bellingham opting for Borussia Dotmund and Angel Gomes not having signed on the offer still open from MUFC. There will be a one-minute silence before the match in honour of United's best defensive left back Tony Dunne whose funeral procession went passed Sir Matt Busby way on Tuesday and a banner 'The Quiet Man - Tony Dune' will hang from Stretford End for today's match.
Old Trafford is all decked up with fans involvement at stands with banners, words of Sir Matt Busby "Football is nothing without fans." and fan mosaic submitted by 40,000 participants online. Solskjaer is on a 12 match unbeaten run thanks in main part due to impact of Bruno Fernandes transfer who tops all attacking charts of goals, assists, shots and passes in penalty area.
Blades will be without suspended John Egan and unavailable Dean Henderson but Chris Wilder will try to push influential duo Jack O'Connell and John Fleck following a draw at Aston Villa and their worst defeat this season against Newcastle. The corresponding fixture United were 0-2 down and a loss might have sealed Solskjaer's fate due to woeful display until about 70th minute but for United's comeback of the season to draw the match 3-3 made all the difference. Thankfully United will not be forced to pick Phil Jones today. This might be the first match where Fernandes and Pogba start.

Last home defeat in league to Sheffield United was on 26 December, 1973 when United lost 1-2 and were eventually relegated under Tommy Docherty. The same year in August the last cricket match 'Roses Rivalry' between Yorkshire vs Lancashire was played at Bramall Lane a favourite ground of lifelong Manchester United fan Geoffrey Boycott. United line-up that day: Stepney (GK), Buchan, Holton, Young, Griffiths, B Greenhoff, McIlroy, Morgan, Graham, Macari(1), Best.

United return after 103 days hiatus to push for top four

Manchester United return today to play the remaining fixtures of 2019-20 premier league season after a gap of 103 days since their last match a 2-0 derby win on 8th March. This beats the 77 day gap in 1962-63 season which was interrupted due to severe snow. During this time both Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba have regained their fitness giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a huge boost in clubs bid to secure a Champions' League qualification with 5 teams within 7 points gap of 4th spot. Major change will be the absence of fans as matches will be played in empty stadiums. Many lifelong United fans will miss their proud record of attending matches for many decades, memories of travel with their buddies, collection of official United Review and match memorabilia, de-stress from work and support the club they have love 'in person'. Latest bulletin from Premier League confirmed one positive for COVID-19 from 1,200 tests conducted on 11th,12th June a stark reminder of lurking danger for players and their families.

During this forced absence from the pitch in the last quarter of the season United have done admirably to support the community, NHS and its match-day staff to fight the covid coronavirus pandemic. Marcus Rashford lead a crusade for free school meal vouchers and made the government do a U-turn. This movement attracted people from all walks of life across club and party lines to ensure kids are not left without free meals during summer. Rashford has made everyone especially those associated with football and Manchester United feel immensely proud. While Sir Bobby Charlton's Foundation is aiding children all across the globe, Rashford has made the start at home in the right direction at such a young age. He has already captained United, and is its fourth youngest player to play 200 games for the club. Charlton got an 8-year contract after winning the World Cup the lengthiest one ever at United and Rashford deserves to get one too. Certainly hope he wins greater laurels with both England and United, this one certainly on a human level eclipses everything.
Bruno Fernandes dream start to his United career being named premier league's player of the month for February and the return from long-term injury to Paul Pogba have made fans excited as to what their combination could mean to regain that old midfield domination infused with ideas against opponents of any type. Pogba's wider range to see a pass deep in midfield and Fernandes' venturing a little ahead gives room for both to play in midfield if backed by a solid central defensive midfielder where McTominay, Fred and Matic can vie for the sole spot. However this is unlikely to manifest in the very first game. Biggest change in the squad has been the transformation of Fred under Solskjaer compared to Mourinho's time in charge and he would relish sending a message to his ex-manager with a strong performance. One more reason to get a good right winger is to reduce the heavy emphasis on the left side favoured by Martial, Rashford, Pogba and Fernandes. Consistent brilliance of Aaron Wan-Bissaka makes him the leading contender for player of the season while Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have had a superb breakthrough year.

Dean Henderson on loan at Sheffield United will try his best to beat the 14 clean sheets record in Premier League held by Michel Vorm even though he will miss the match against Manchester United. Odion Ighalo has had his contract extended till Jan, 2021 while Angel Gomes still has an offer from the club to sign before his present contract expires on 30, June. Solskjaer said "We've offered him a deal, hopefully he'll take it. If not, I wish him all the best. Hopefully, from what I understand it's not too far away, so if not we wish him all the best." during the managers press conference conducted via VC online. Chelsea meanwhile have signed Timo Werner thought to be a target of Liverpool all along. United await the decision of Birmingham City academy player Jude Bellingham who turns 17 on 29th June eligible to sign a professional contract. United's director of football role still remains non-existent as Manchester born Paul Mitchell joins AS Monaco as Sporting Director from Red Bull where Ed Woodward had interviewed him and Jose Mourinho is trying to get Luis Campos at Tottenham but needs to get the support of chairman Daniel Levy.

MUFC won this reverse fixture 2-1 at Old Trafford with Marcus Rashford scoring both goals. Can Solskjaer do the double over Spurs? They will also be rejuvenated with return of captain Harry Kane, Sissoko and South Korean Son Heung-min but will miss Dele Alli due to suspension diminishing their attacking threat. United haven't played yet at their new stadium opened on 03-April 2019 that is slightly bigger than their north London rivals the Emirates of Arsenal. Last year's Champions' League finalists will be probably out of reckoning for top 4 if they lose this game being 7 points off. Master tactician in Jose Mourinho will have taken this extended time to tidy up their leaky defense and missing full-backs. United can knock one rival off the competition for top 4 with a win.

Only ever league game MUFC have played in June was in 1940 when during the war FA organised across 10 regions War Leagues and in West region United played Everton in the last match and their line-up had one and only Stanley Matthews, and two City players Alec Herd and Peter Doherty. United lost 0-3. Sir Matt Busby was supposed to play at right back but could not due to army commitments and was mentioned in the match-day program as A.N.Other, filled in eventually by David Jones from Bury. Alec Herd was close to Busby and his son David Herd joined United in 1961 to propel them back into the big stage.

Since 2016 United have not won the FA Cup and Europa League Cup offers another avenue to claim Champions' League spot but the competition has many top clubs in contention. Solskjaer will hope to continue the good form before the suspension and ride the goodwill created by Marcus Rashford and impact of Bruno Fernandes to finish the season stronger. One thing is certain United will not capitulate like last season due to good squad harmony created by Solskjaer and six of nine league fixtures against bottom half of the table.

Looking at the fixtures below extending into end of August and delayed start of next season in September which has to finish sooner in early May 2021 in order to accommodate the postponed Euro 2021, players might not get to rest any time soon especially if they play for their national teams apart from normal club duties. Football has returned as per wishes of the government to cheer the public in its hour of grief and the same government must not forget about the game when it comes to awarding its top players, managers and administrators for their service and instead chose other sports as it usually does. Marcus Rashford's appeal should see to that this time at least!

Hope nobody does a comeback, quite like United! Superb rendition from Solskjaer.


Remaining fixtures:
Premier League
Sat 20 June: Spurs v Man Utd
Wed 24 June: Man Utd v Sheffield Utd
Wed 01 July: Brighton v Man Utd
Sat 04 July: Man Utd v Bournemouth
Fri 10 July: Aston Villa v Man Utd
Tue 14 July: Man Utd v Southampton
Thu 16 July: Crystal Palace v Man Utd
Sat 18 July: Man Utd v West Ham
Sun 26 July: Leicester v Man Utd

Sat 27 Jun: Norwich v Man Utd
Sat 18-19 Jul: semi-final (tentative)
Sat 01 Aug: final (tentative)

Europa League Cup (single-leg knockout format)
5–6 August: Round of 16 (venues to be confirmed)
10–11 August: Quarter-finals (Cologne, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Gelsenkirchen)
16–17 August: Semi-finals (venues to be confirmed)
21 August: Final (Cologne)

Summer transfer window for England:
01 Aug: Start date unconfirmed
05 Oct: End date

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