Posts Tagged ‘Manchester United’
In England’s final pre-tournament friendly, an unconvincing 1-0 win over Portugal on June 2, Rooney led the line as a central striker in a 4-3-3 formation. Two weeks later, he is being picked in midfield ahead of specialists such as Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson and James Milner. Rooney’s repositioning has exposed a hitherto underappreciated side of his game, with his strafing passes helping to set England’s tempo against both Russia and Wales. He completed 66 passes against Wales, more than any other player, and his tireless promptings established a foundation for the late push that culminated in Daniel Sturridge’s injury-time winner.
Wayne Rooney’s redeployment in England’s midfield appears to represent the dawn of a new phase in his career. I’ve written about it for AFP here.
Louis van Gaal, Mourinho’s sacked predecessor, ultimately paid the price for failing to secure Champions League qualification, but it was the pedestrian nature of the team’s football that provided a lightning rod for criticism during his two-year tenure. The European game’s arch pragmatist, Mourinho is not renowned for dashing football and his poor record of promoting young players — one area where Van Gaal enjoyed some success — has been held against him throughout his career. United’s two greatest managers, Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson, built their success on youth and the club’s fans are unlikely to react kindly if players like 18-year-old striking sensation Marcus Rashford or teenage full-backs Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson abruptly disappear from view.
Having influenced both José Mourinho, the man due to succeed him, and Pep Guardiola, who is set to alight at cross-town rivals Manchester City, Van Gaal, a former PE teacher, was seen as one of the fathers of modern coaching. But his much-trumpeted “philosophy” was revealed to be an anachronism, his insistence on robotic ball circulation light years behind Guardiola’s turbo-charged attacking or the high-octane pressing game employed by Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp or Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino. Under Alex Ferguson, the United fans’ chant of “Attack! Attack! Attack!” was the rallying cry for a team that never seemed to give up. Under Van Gaal, it became an exasperated lament for a team that never seemed to wake up.
His exit was unedifying and clumsily handled, but Louis van Gaal’s two-year tenure at Manchester United exposed him as a spent force. My piece on his Old Trafford reign can be found here.
While the feats of Jamie Vardy (£1 million), Riyad Mahrez (£400,000) and N’Golo Kanté (£5.6 million) demonstrated a new way of spending, Leicester’s football revealed a different way of winning. In an age when many teams continue to worship at the altar of tiki-taka, Claudio Ranieri’s well-drilled, hard-running side averaged 44.8 percent of possession — the third-lowest in the league — and had a pass completion rate of 70.5 percent — the league’s second-lowest. With Tottenham Hotspur, another high-intensity team, challenging for the title under the inspirational Mauricio Pochettino, Football Association chairman Greg Dyke was moved to exclaim: “The old order has broken.” The Professional Footballers’ Association Team of the Year told its own story, with Leicester and Tottenham contributing four players each. Excepting Harry Kane, the division’s 25-goal top scorer, who came through Tottenham’s youth system, all were signed for fees dwarfed by the £49 million that City spent on Raheem Sterling.
In my review of the Premier League season, I wrote about how Leicester City’s fairytale title triumph has moved the goalposts in English football. You can read it here.
Handed United’s fabled number seven shirt after a club-record £59.7 million ($84.3 million, 74 million euros) transfer from Real Madrid, Di María could scarcely have arrived at Old Trafford amid greater fanfare. But despite a promising start, including a delicious lob at Leicester City, Manchester would not prove a happy home for the man nicknamed ‘Fideo’ (Noodle) on account of his skinny frame. Van Gaal continually changed his role, even fielding him as a lone striker at one stage, and a succession of injuries prevented him from finding any rhythm. The nadir arrived in late January last year when a group of burglars armed with scaffolding poles attempted to smash their way into Di María’s luxurious home while he, his wife and one-year-old daughter cowered inside.
I’ve written something on Ángel di María’s trip to the Etihad Stadium with Paris Saint-Germain, which gives him an opportunity to add a footnote to the chapter marked ‘Manchester’. You can read it here.
Untold riches will rain down upon the English Premier League in 2016, but for all their resources, the country’s leading clubs currently seem incapable of staking claims to the title. The record £5.14 billion ($7.72 billion, 7.06 billion euros) television rights deal due to kick in next year will reinforce the English top flight’s status as European football’s financial behemoth. But champions Chelsea have imploded, Arsenal and Manchester City remain hit-and-miss and while Liverpool find their feet under Jürgen Klopp, Manchester United appear to be stagnating under Louis van Gaal. It has fallen to Leicester City to make the early running in what former United captain Gary Neville has described as “the most bizarre league that I have seen in a long time”.
My review of the year 2015 in English football can be read here.
Related link: New money rises in England as old powers slip
A recent BBC documentary about Rooney has helped to soften attitudes towards him in Britain. Renowned for his aggressive on-pitch demeanour, all angry scowls and expletive-strewn outbursts, the Rooney in the film came across as a shy and softly spoken family man. Viewers saw him chatting with former neighbours on the housing estate in the tough Croxteth district of Liverpool where he grew up and were treated to the surprising admission that the young footballer wooed his future wife Coleen with poetry. According to former England striker Gary Lineker, whose production company made the film, the public reaction on social media was “overwhelmingly positive”.
Another day, another Wayne Rooney profile… This one’s to mark his impending 30th birthday. You can find it here.
Obliged to lead the line alone in manager Louis van Gaal’s single-striker system, he has looked isolated and off the pace, his touch betraying him, his famous explosiveness diminished. It has brought to mind the words uttered last year by Paul Scholes, Rooney’s former United team-mate, who said that Rooney’s premature emergence as a teenager means he may have reached his peak some years ago. Rooney himself has dismissed suggestions that he is past his best and has pointed with justification to a historical record that shows his fallow periods are frequently followed by flurries of goals. And yet there is no escaping the fact that he is no longer the game-changing force of nature, the rampaging bull, that burst onto the scene with Everton at the age of 16, earning him the nickname ‘the White Pelé’.
A piece on Wayne Rooney, and the gulf between the player he threatened to become and the player he actually is.
Thierry Henry, with whom Martial is often compared, was similarly raw when he left Monaco for Juventus in 1999, but he was two years older, had twice as many games behind him and had already won a World Cup. Henry himself has described the deal as a “massive gamble”. Like Henry, Martial is a striker who started his senior career as a winger and he is similarly drawn to the left flank, from where he can cut inside onto his right foot and shoot at goal. The fact he has been handed the number nine shirt, coupled with Rooney’s early-season struggles as United’s lone striker, suggests he will be given a chance to play through the middle.
I’ve written a piece on the challenges facing Anthony Martial at Manchester United and you can read it here.
Related link: English clubs impose Martial law in Europe