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The FOOTBALL Thread (2009-2010)

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Here's a sensible bit in the times


Hugh McIlvanney writing in the Times


If, as is confidently predicted, Manchester City clinch the acquisition of Carlos Tevez from Manchester United this week, relief and satisfaction won’t be confined to Eastlands. Some of us will hope that a weight of tedium is being lifted off our spirits. Ever since he made it plain that his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson had been fractured beyond repair, Tevez has revealed an eagerness to provide periodic elaborations on the circumstances of his departure from Old Trafford.


Through the first couple of instalments, the subjective commentaries were interesting enough, and certainly nobody could object to the Argentina forward’s desire to have his say (Sir Alex, after all, is both skilled and practised at putting across his version of events). But as Tevez has continued to hark back to what he considers his ill-treatment at United, his communiqués have become tiresomely repetitive. His talent, apparently, was grossly disrespected, he was unjustly obliged to spend too much time on the bench, Ferguson’s signing of Dimitar Berbatov represented some kind of betrayal.


The impression created by all that is of a player whose sense of how much he could demand of his club, of how influential his complaints might be, may have been distorted by a keen awareness of his extreme popularity among United supporters. Undoubtedly the fans were captivated by his fierce competitive zeal and his ability on occasion to turn a match through the forcefulness of his presence. But it’s always a mistake for a footballer to exaggerate the relevance of the fans’ assessment of his worth.


Manchester City are poised to acquire a valuable player and we should all wish both the club and Tevez a successful alliance. My extra reason for doing so concerns a time when an American heavyweight fighter reckoned to be more dangerous on the street than in the ring was causing a noisy, alarming scene. At the height of his tirade, a friend of mine called out: “Put the gloves on him — that usually quietens him down.†Put the boots on, Carlos.

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Typical quality headlines in the sun today


ManYoo: £80million in the bank but nobody to spend it on


next headline


ManYoo: MANCHESTER UNITED last night completed the 17million transfer of Antonio Valencia.

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Very possibly bollocks


Manchester United were said to be moving closer last night to signing Karim Benzema, the France striker, from Lyons.


On the day that United announced the £15.25 million signing of Antonio Valencia, the Ecuador winger, on a four-year contract from Wigan Athletic, Miralem Pjanic, Benzema's team-mate at Lyons, claimed that the player was on the verge of a British-record move to Old Trafford.


He looks like a great player. No-one else going to "swoop" and spoil it for Man Yoo?

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From the offer they made, Fergie must have wanted Tevez to sign. They may get someone better in, but that doesn't means they didn't want Tevez.

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Olympiakos have come out and flat denied the Owen story. Their manager is a former Toon player, the mad Georgian Temuri Ketsbaia. Owen to Hull is still on!

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Disregarding the constant moaning that Tevez seems to be doing at any and all availabie opportunities, I am glad that he is leaving. I'd love to know what really happened there. We can't have wanted him THAT MUCH, otherwise we would have made an offer earlier. Perhaps it was a lazy option, though I would hope not.


Come on Benzema.

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I'm afraid not giggsy.

Looks like he might be in one of the 3 teams that Real Madrid field this season!?! The report is from Marca though, so it is no doubt bollocks.




Spanish newspaper Marca has reported that Real Madrid have completed a deal with Lyons to sign Karim Benzema.


Just hours after it was claimed that Benzema was on the verge of joining Manchester United, the Spanish newspaper, considered to be the mouthpiece of the Bernabeu club, have claimed that the youngster is heading to Madrid instead.


According to Marca, a fee of 35million euros has been agreed and an official announcement will be forthcoming over the next 24 hours.

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Real are going nuts. Can we still only field 11 players in a game?


Interesting read on Ronnie, reprinted with permission (from my mum)


* Now the official place of residence for the three best players in the world, Spain is where it's at.


From that recognition comes the question of whether the Premier League - which has seen its claim to be regarded as the world's best suffer a torrid dismantling at the hands at La Liga over the last six weeks - will ever be able to comprehensively trump Spain while Brazil and Argentina continue to produce the bulk of the planet's greatest footballers.


Although the Prem is the league of choice in the Far East, America and Africa, all eyes remain on Spain in South America. It's a sobering thought that Ronaldo is unique as the only player of world-beater repute who has played in the Prem since the league's foundation almost twenty years ago. Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and the other Ronaldo all spurned England for Spain, and neither Kaka nor Lionel Messi have shown any inclination to buck the tradition.


The Prem's best hope of restoring its superiority is if the world's next superstar is born in downtown Shanghai or Seoul.



* For all his brilliance, distrust will be Ronaldo's ultimate legacy to the English game.


As The Sunday Times complained of him, 'He is a cheat who has brought to the British game a new and eclectic level of cheating, a cheat who thinks that cheating has its own beauty'. And after hearing Ronaldo describe his move to Madrid as "a dream", which is presumably the very same "dream" that he declared "dead" in May, those wise souls who previously promised never to believe a word anyone utters about football ever again will be justified in renewing their vow.


The world's most expensive football transfer has made talk the cheapest commodity of all.



* 'Has the world gone mad?' asked the frontpage of The Times the day after Ronaldo's world-record transfer fee was announced. The good news is that Ronaldo's transfer is undisputable proof that it has not, or at least that half of the planet has retained sanity. It's almost reassuring to learn that even Manchester United don't turn down ï½£80m.


The sale of the world's best footballer is the ultimate proof that every footballer still has his price and none is bigger than any club. Player power still has limits.



* The ï½£17m Antonio Valencia isn't a quarter of the player that the ï½£80m Ronaldo is. He's more like eight or nine-tenths of the player he will replace. The discrepancy in their transfer fees is a product of football being a game of fine margins and low scoring. The difference provided by difference-makers is the most valuable commodity and comes available only for the most expensive premiums.



* Not since David Beckham's own move to Real Madrid has a football transfer taken over the news bulletins the way that Ronaldo's did. Another boundary is knocked down: a Portuguese import returning to the Iberian Peninsula is England's biggest talking point. Our game has become their game.



* The risk that Madrid have taken, and something that may have been a factor in United's decision to sell, is that not one of the three Rs - the aforementioned Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho - were able to maintain their supremacy for more than a couple of years. Perhaps it's a symptom of the quickening speed, intensity and physicality of modern-day football that the period of peak the world's best enjoys seems shorter than ever before. It stands to reason: we're often told that the modern-day footballer is an athlete and how many athletes prolong their peak beyond the span of two Olympic Games?


At 24, Ronaldo is young enough to have his best days ahead of him. But it's just as possible that his best days are already behind him: he wasn't as good last season as he was in the previous campaign and all those kicks are gonna take a toll one day - as might his straight-legged free-kick technique.



* With Liverpool struggling to persuade their two first-choice central midfielders not to leave for Real Madrid or Barcelona and Manchester United suddenly shorn of talent worth in excess of ï½£100m, standing still is the new improving.


Their predicament also speaks of a larger pattern: the Prem losing out to Spain and the two biggest clubs in those two countries hogging the limelight. 2009/10 will surely be a tale of Manchester United v Liverpool over here and Barcelona v Real Madrid over there. And say it quietly, but it's high time that those two combinations met in the Champions League too.



* The fixture list has brought relief and time for United. Their first three games are against Burnley, Birmingham and Wigan; it couldn't be more inviting. It means that they should be able to give themselves some breathing space at the start of the season and have plenty points in the bag at the close of the transfer window.



* The reason that Manchester United remain favourites to win the Prem for a fourth consecutive season is that no top-flight side has conceded fewer goals than the three-times champions since 2006. In that sphere of influence, Ronaldo mattered not a jot; his relationship to defending is akin to Batman's with the twelve dwarves.



* Yet Manchester United fans should not lean on that statistic for support with much vigour because it is precarious: In total since the start of 2006-07, United conceded 73 goals, Chelsea 74 and Liverpool 82.


Instead, the larger, title-winning divide is to be found in the Goals For tally with United on 231, Chelsea on 197 and 201 for Liverpool. And as the scorer of 66 goals since August 2006, no player contributed more to that overwhelming and critical level of superiority than Ronaldo. Both home and abroad, where he scored in every round of the Champions League, Ronaldo was United's difference-maker.



* Yet the most illuminating statistic when trying to fathom the significance of United's loss is that the comparison between United's form in the games in which Ronaldo played and those he did not: 2.38 with him and 2.0 without.


That might not sound substantial, but over the course of a season it is the difference between a title-winning 90 and a tally of 76 that would have seen United finish third last season.


In other, non-statistical words, his loss of influence isn't quite immeasurable but it comes close. Ronaldo was the difference between United merely being good and almost legendary. For the 2009/10 Premier League campaign, they are still favourites but only just - and even that status is dependent on a degree of faith in Ferguson finding an adequate solution to a massive problem.



* Manchester United have, of course, faced summer difficulties before but never when their manager has been past the statuary age of retirement. Does Fergie still have the energy - he'll always have the will until the day he dies - to mould another team?


The old boy will put a brave face on matters but privately he must be aghast. The European champions of 2008 should have been his last team, young enough to span and dominate half a decade. Instead, at the age of 67, he has to rearrange his attack with the impossible task of replacing the world's best player.



* Ferguson's step will surely be to internally promote Wayne Rooney as a centre-forward after sacrificing him as a winger last year in order to provide Ronaldo with centre stage. In which case, 2009/10 must be the defining season in Rooney's career - and he knows it. "For me personally, next season could be the season that transforms me from someone who could be a great player into someone who is a great player," the soon-to-be-centre-forward declared in interview last week.


If he is given penalty-taking duties, he's definitely worth a punt on being next year's top scorer.



* Some three weeks after the transfer was formally announced by Manchester United the question remains unanswered as to when the deal was agreed. The evidence collected so far is contradictory.


Normal business practice, including football transfers, tends to involves haggling and negotiation. But according to reports, Madrid's bid of ï½£80m was their first (and final) offer. That would seemingly indicate that the fee was sorted in advance.


But if it is the case that the deal was agreed in advance - some reports claim the deal was done as long ago as last summer - then two puzzles emerge. First: how did Ronaldo, the supposed 'supreme egoist', manage to resist the temptation of nudge-nudge revelations? For a player whose arrogance is his least edifying characteristic, it was remarkably resilient of Ronaldo to stay silent. Perhaps he realised that his departure wouldn't spark the sort of adulation and protest from the stands that flattered Carlos Tevez. However, there can't be anything as flattering to the ego as being asked, "Do you think Manchester United can cope without you next season, Cristiano?" Only the absolute elite are ever offered such an opportunity for smugness.


And the second curiosity has to be Sir Alex's decision to centralise Ronaldo at the season's end, making him the first among equals and in the process demoting Dimi Berbatov and Carlos Tevez as well as marginalising Wayne Rooney. Although there were valid footballing reasons for the deployment of Ronaldo as a central striker, there were, in hindsight, compelling political reasons against the switch, not least the effect it had on Tevez and must have had on Berbatov. Moreover, by making Ronaldo United's main man, their loss becomes all the greater.


How to explain it? Our guess is that, because Real Madrid don't do normal business practice, they launched an ï½£80m bid without prior notification and, mindful of the player's wish to go, United and Ferguson then made the calculation that it was an offer too good to refuse. That scenario would at least explain Ronaldo's modesty, the peculiarity of Ferguson's centralisation and United's belated urgency in wooing Carlos Tevez with the offer of a ï½£110,000-a-week salary on a five-year deal smacked of desperation and urgency born of Ronaldo's unexpected exit.



* There's an optimistic school of thought tutoring that Manchester United may ultimately be stronger for cashing in. Replace Ronaldo with ï½£80m of prudently-spent money on two or three players and, hey presto ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves an improvement. The problem with that theory is twofold:


1) There is no guarantee that the money United spend will provide value, as some of United's most very recent signings - specifically Owen Hargreaves, Nani, Anderson and Dimi Berbatov - have unfortunately demonstrated.


2) The weighting of squad power may but the best team in the league still trumps the best squad in the league. Why? Because any one team can only field eleven players at any one time and, no matter who United sign, Ronaldo's replacement will be inferior to the Real thing.



* That said, United can break even and even improve if the Ronaldo money is spent on improving different parts of the team - up front and in the centre of their midfield. Yet even then it is hard to see how they will keep pace with the attacking dimensions presented by continental elite. Consider it: Madrid will, most probably, start the season with Kaka, Ronaldo and possibly David Villa in attack. Barcelona should have Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o or Franck Ribery.


Even if, as expected, United sign Karim Benzema, few outside Old Trafford will regard his partnership with Wayne Rooney as the equal of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres at Liverpool, let alone worthy of comparison with the best of Spain.


Pete Gill

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BUT hold your horses


"Real deal? Lyon deny that Real Madrid have beaten Manchester United to £30m Karim Benzema"


In fact, the French club say they have received a bid far superior to the figure widely quoted by Spanish media.

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