Rooney, The Forever Scapegoat

There is an easy scapegoat at United if you try and forget the odd-ball “tactics” implemented by David Moyes last season. And he goes by the name of Wayne Rooney. A character that was paved as a quick hero at United, a hard man with a big temperament, a game-changer, a frustrated and angry player who has been moved around in positional play, relied on, busted on, loved and hated. For more than a decade, he’s been at the centre of many of United’s fairytales, and many of their blindsided horror stories. There are things that stick to mind: that overhead kick in the Manchester derby, his upside-down love-hate-love relationship with Ferguson, the supposed, alleged transfer request and helplessness felt in a squad that was not good enough and finally wearing the skipper’s armband at the biggest club in the world. No one could write it better. With the lack of experience at United at the moment, it’s no wonder that Rooney, who is full of experience for club, country and in the Premier League, is a natural target for fans and critics.


In United’s embarrassing defeat to Leicester on the weekend, Rooney was again targeted by United fans in a role where is set as a roaming, deep No. 10 to supply and move the ball so the likes of Van Persie and Falcoa can provide some goal-scoring opportunity. It’s not a Wayne Rooney in complete form no, but there is definitely an exaggerated attack on him from inside the club. Rooney, however wayward a first touch he has, moved the ball quite well and went down as a workhorse throughout the ninety – something that we can’t quite say of the defensive line who failed to track back and watched Leicester attack at will. I think he’s also found a little bit of a click with Di Maria who likes to run at opponents and delivers ideal crosses for our attackers to pounce on. It was Rooney, too, who found Di Maria before United’s second goal. It was perhaps his only real highlight but there was nothing to really boast about in that performance anyway (Okay, besides United’s goals).

But our exposed backline gave Leicester so much room to work from. There were times when I saw Rooney track back and help clear the ball because it seemed the only way to deter a spirited opponent. And while many fans on social media disliked the fiery captain when he was shouting at his defenders, wouldn’t you have done the same? They needed a bollocking and I can only think of Rooney in this squad who can provide the same temperament that Roy Keane would have. The defence, as we know, lacks leadership with Vidic, Evra and Ferdinand no longer at the club. With United not investing enough at the back, there has to be a great deal more emphasis on building from the back. What a majestic unit that would be with the club’s already impressive attacking combos.


With Van Gaal possibly ruling out Rooney’s role as a striker, it’s possibly the ideal time for Rooney to possess a role that could be his crown. He’s not as quick and doesn’t have that killer instinct in front of goal that he did a few years back. Ideally, Falcoa or a fit Van Persie should provide those poacher qualities. Rooney is a more versatile, clever player than he was and while it rules out a bucket load of goals, it could be something that could turn him into a Scholes-like player in the next few seasons. Okay, a little stretched of an idea but go with me here. Even Rooney admits that he is not the player he was. But he can bring a certain intelligence and vision to the squad. He may be lacking a little confidence, too, but I think it could be a role he will be drilled into achieving – as player and captain. I wouldn’t say Rooney is undroppable but in a new role, he could be.

Maybe it’s a bit of nostalgia and bias from my side. I do love Rooney and always have. Hope he can put a few things right in the next few months. His magic has won over many United fans in the past.


United’s time for a shift

I hate to raise my hopes up. It’s saying something of United’s recent form and instability in the beginning of the season. It’s saying something of United post-Ferguson, really. But with a rather successful stab at the transfer season, Van Gaal has got rid of dead weight and made way for marquee signings that could (possibly, hopefully) turn United’s season around.

But, it’s a sad reality for United fans, too. The loss of homegrown and bred Danny Welbeck to rivals Arsenal, Hernandez parting ways to spend more time on Madrid’s bench with Shinji Kagawa back in Germany to be used in a role where he can display the talent that was never utilized in Manchester.


And the old hats are nowhere to be found – leaders in Ferdinand, Evra and Vidic who used to command the backline. The only real promise in the beginning stages of the season are performances from Jones and De Gea – United’s last-ditch defensive hopes. Evans is out of touch while Blackett is solid but inconsistent.

Gone, too, is a set-up in which United are familiar. With this weekend possibly fielding Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcoa, one wonders how United will line up with Mata, Rooney and Van Persie waiting in the wings. There are so many attacking options that Van Gaal can pick and some may think that while the signings are definitely a mark of intent, United’s defensive capabilities (or lack thereof) may have been an area where the club needed to invest more. Everyone is crying out for a centre-back. While Blind can double at the back and in the middle of the park, Van Gaal needs someone who can command the backline – much like a Vincent Kompany who is also a step above against opposition set-pieces.


It’s a new United. It’s an exciting United. It’s a fairly unpredictable United. What Van Gaal really needs to steady is the squad’s unpredictable nature. In the past, Old Trafford was donned a fortress. Now, it’s become a dwindling cardboard box that teams can easily push aside. The fear factor, as many mention, is shattered but with the signings that the club have made, there is an intention from Van Gaal and the Board to put a plaster over the deep cracks.

Maybe in time, United will hold its head up high again and join Europe’s elites. They have the pedigree to be great again and many know it. The only thing that might be standing in the way is a solid chemistry and ‘click’ Van Gaal wants to adapt quickly. On Sunday, United come up against QPR and it seems the ideal opportunity to reinforce that old-school United mentality: Attack and pressure! Something alien to the red side of town.

World Cup Final 2014: Ze German Destiny?

Sunday’s final carries a great history between Germany and Argentina. In 1986, the South Americans grappled to win 3-2 with West Germany conquerors in 1990 with a 1-0 advantage. Fast-forward to 2014 and the likes of Messi, Aguero and Di Maria will have to show their best form against a formidable, relentless and in-form German side – a side that are firm favourites, demand possession and are clinical in front of goal. I might be a little biased here as I’ve been behind the Germans from the beginning of the tournament, but the completeness they hold in this Cup will have to see them through come 9pm on Sunday.

Back in ’86, Maradona’s otherworldiness made him king. Likewise, all eyes will be on Messi on Sunday to see if he can stand in the same light as Maradona. Right now, there is still a bold, unyielding question mark on Messi who has had a great tournament but was completely shut out by Holland in the semi-final. Perhaps, too, there will be added pressure on him to emulate and create.
But the Germans will have it planned, won’t they? Going forward with the likes of Muller, Klose and the controlling spark in Toni Kroos, there is a great chance Argentina will be left exposed. With Neuer also a force at the back, coming out as sweeper, too, there is little room for the Germans to go wayward. Philip Lahm, too, remains one defender who carries the squad and has an intelligent way of creating the space the Germans always seem to have. While sometimes an understated player, playing him at right-back has been a set positive for Low’s side.



In their quarter-final encounter in South Africa four years ago, the Germans put 4 goals away with no reply from the Argentinians. In that encounter, Klose in front of goal was unstoppable – even against the likes of Messi, Carlos Tevez and Higuain who failed to creat the spark to engineer a comeback.

If anything, Germany have a close-knit, smart squad who know how to play together. Four years ago, they may have lacked the seamless chemistry they’ve had through this current tournament. And with Kroos’ understated control and Hummels an enforcer in the box (defensively and when the Europeans grab a set piece), they only hold their own fate come Sunday.
With an anything-goes World Cup (see: Suarez’s bite, Costa Rica and Colombia quieting the critics and Spain’s downfall), there is no dead-set result. In a tournament as unpredictable as 2014’s, there is still a matter of destiny at play. But with this German side, there is an immense liking to their logical, tactical and intimidating play. Can’t wait for it!

The Anything-Goes World Cup

(I’ve had a little bit of a hiatus on the blog – I have a plethora of excuses like time, lack of oomph etc., but I figured the World Cup may awaken me from my giant sleep. And so I continue…)

The great thing about this World Cup is that it’s anybody’s game. As a football fan, you can make your guesses and predictions but when it comes down to it, this kind of high-pressured, chaotic, atmospheric tournament can only warrant mighty upsets and surprises. See: Spain’s complacent, mundane tika-taka getting comprehensively duelled by pace. The Dutch outclassed the former champions with quick counter-attacks grabbing a hefty five goals against the 2010 champs while Chile’s definite passing, dribbling and fast-paced attack also outwitted a lacklustre, tiring Spanish outfit. It was fairly predictable how Spain would see out their game – a slow, paced passing back and forth with little movement or chance taken up front. Zero penetration. Zero spirit.


I think it was Santi Carzorla’s curving shot on goal in the 83rd minute that just went wide that seemed the only real prospect of the game. Credit to Chile’s uniformed defence, though – there were usually three guys stamping out any attack. If Spain could call it an attack at all. Their knock-out was one of the massive upsets of this tournament so far – especially when they were always up there with the favourites to lift it in a few weeks time.

On the other side of the coin, while sides like Germany and the Dutch are performing to their potential (even though Australia showed great spirit in yesterday’s match-up), the tournament underdogs are creating a sense that this World Cup could swing either way. Brazil look like they’re hanging on their home crowd advantage while looking a little desperate in defence. The real star of the side will have to be Neymar with his sleek runs whenever there is space in the middle for him. It’s quite something to watch.



Costa Rica, too, came out of the shadows to gain a massive 3-1 win to upset one of Group D’s favourites in Uruguay. With England facing a 2-1 loss to Italy, tonight’s game vs. Uruguay has everything riding on it and with Suarez a possible start (a necessity for Uruguay) there could be a lot more attention on who comes out on the other side. And with a lot more glare on Rooney performing for the side (the usual glare he seems to be dealt with – both in a United and England shirt), there will be a lot more eyes on the big players to step up. Uruguay’s initial lapse could be Hodgson’s gain.


Just a side note on Hodgson: he’s altered the idea of the English side – with no Terry and Lampard at the hem, the squad is a little more fresh-faced and pacey. Wouldn’t count them out on a few goals this evening.

So far, there’s been a lot high-tempo, ping-pong games with any side in it to win it or lose their heads. Spain’s 6-year world dominance and considerable, embarrassing fall is but one of 2014’s immense moments. And for the neutral (or the South African who can’t rely on Bafana), a new champion means there are higher stakes and room for new names to shine, youth to impress and crowds to be glaringly disappointed and broken and elated.

And can we just digress and stand in awe of how quick Arjen Robben is? He clocked 37km/h in the build-up to the second goal in the 5-1 Spanish slaughter (it also officially makes him the world’s fastest footballer, slightly edging Arsenal’s Walcott’s 35km/h PB).


With all the drama, twists, penalties, referee decision-making and the rest, this is already a World Cup to beat.

Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That – Moyes Sacked

In the modern game of football, Ferguson’s longevity and mark for tradition was unsuited to Chelsea and City’s desperate change of managers and buying the top players at a top price. When Ferguson retired and David Moyes stepped in, United’s prerequisite for managerial durability was definitely a hope that the Board wanted to follow-through on. And Moyes definitely fit the bill – a man who could’ve set United into a new era – one that was hopeful again on a budding youth and securing top-flight European football. Moyes, too, seemed up for the challenge but in the end his character didn’t fit into United’s need for an absolute commander – someone who could hold authority just like Ferguson did at the helm.


What a story it would’ve been if Moyes clicked. What better fairytale than Ferguson’s ‘Chosen One’ leading on from the era that saw United step into absolute supremacy? With many fans suggesting Moyes needed time to fit into the role (I was one of these), the Board’s targets for his first season seemed to lie too far away from the United everyone expects. And what a sour 2013/2014 season for United fans – one where we have to see Liverpool, City and Chelsea fight for silverware.

No clue United

United’s chaotic, disastrous season has seen Moyes shifting his squad, ‘playing around’ with his starting 11 and giving wishy-washy feedback in his post-match interviews. He once relied on his squad but then made remarks on building next season and bringing in talent. There was never a Plan B for the current situation. Only a look to the transfer season after this year’s World Cup. His tactics seemed amazingly one-dimensional.

And while I was hoping Moyes would at least see United through to a top-4 spot this season, we’ve seen last season’s champions crawl down to 7th spot. It’s a United far-removed from the passionate bunch that came out tops last season (by quite a distance). It was never the United I was used to. It didn’t seem like the players had a clue.


Moyes’ Everton, now under Martinez’ guidance, look a more formidable squad than United and play a more attacking game – a little spark of what United used to be. And with catastrophic results against Liverpool (3-0) and City (4-1), United’s gusto against their top rivals seemed deflated. Something that fans thought the players would be riled up for.

Losing the Fear Factor

I think the most crushing realization this season was Old Trafford falling from its usual character as one of world football’s colossal fortresses. Again, this season has seen opponents taking on United at home. In the past, the ‘smaller’ clubs tended to approach United with a little more respect and caution – what was more terrifying than a United counter-attack in the past?

Moyes’ sacking, however surprising in the bubble that is United, may have come at a time where the club is beginning to realise that it needs to stick to the modern game’s inevitable need to compete at the top and to seek the best results. Ferguson was afforded time but that was three decades ago – a time when the league was not as conflicted and corrupted with commercial structures and a competitiveness that makes it one of the greatest leagues in the world. City’s recent success, unfortunately and sadly, has come from investment and think-quick strides to success. For United, bringing in a new manager (a more experienced man) who can work well with the transfer window can bring United that quick-fix to the great Ferguson hangover. I think too, United’s tradition will help that quick-fix become a lasting character in the next few years.



Biff Bows Out

Adored yet ridiculed. Loved yet criticised. That’s what Graeme Smith’s captaincy endured. Throughout his career, everyone has been waiting for him to fall. During family lunches or get-togethers with friends, some would chirp ‘Cut down on those pies, Graeme!’ or ‘Jis, I thought the Proteas did some running at least?’

England v South Africa: 3rd Investec Test - Day Five

But, he’s become the most successful Proteas captain and has earned his place as one of South Africa’s greatest batsman. No one will forget his mastery at the crease, his intimidating stance as a left-hander and the way he’d play some shots like it was the easiest thing in the world. All of that with his passion for his side.

While the current Test series against Australia is little to be admired from his personal performances, Smith’s fight has never left fans wondering. His retirement may be unexpected but perhaps it was the right time to hang up the gloves. I wasn’t entirely prepared for it – and many fans are scratching their heads, too – but we’ll have to picture a future without Captain Courageous. On form, unbeatable. Back against the wall and he’d retaliate. He holds the world record of captaining in most test matches as well as the highest number of wins in test matches as a captain.


But, there’s this thing with Smith. Some people either adore him or loathe him (a thing I’ve never understood). Do we forget his valuable innings? Meh hundreds despite not finding his usual touch? Perhaps it’s Smith’s confident “Australian-ness” out in the middle that didn’t appeal to a percentage of the South African public? A spiral off form and the South African public would crucify you – more when you’re essentially the face of the sport.

After holding the skipper’s armband for over a decade and with the fresh-faced dressing room and ‘in-with-the-new’ mindset over the last few months, Smith can bow out knowing that he took this Test side to the top. Alongside controversies, too.

There’s definitely a swing of change. Kallis’ retirement was another indication. Even seeing Mark Boucher commentate for SuperSport feels odd. It makes me feel a little old, too.


The next question on everyone’s minds will be: who takes the captaincy? And it’s a hard one because Smith’s character was an easy go-to – even at a young age. There’s no immediate answer because Smith encapsulated leadership. AB is getting there but isn’t quite there yet. The eye away from AB and his batting performances immediately improve, too. And while the more senior players are always options, form doesn’t dictate leadership and having AB hold two separate squads wouldn’t seem like the best answer right now.

Now, Smith is ready to bow out at Newlands – the ground he made his debut at back in 2002 when he was just 21 years old. With just under 10 000 Test runs and always a colossal fielder in the slips, Smith will see greener pastures as a new father whilst playing country cricket  in England. There’s no doubt South Africa will miss the man leading from the front and imposing himself on the field. There used to be a time when Smith opening the batting was the paramount time the Proteas could get on the front foot (I remember Gibbs and Smith coming out to the middle and having all the confidence in world to expect a good opening partnership).

We’ll miss you Biff.

Lost that Lovin’ Feeling


The Righteous Brothers’ 1964 classic “Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” is probably the most appropriate song to sum up the mood of Manchester United at the moment – especially after last night’s despicable display against Olympiakos in the Champions League where Moyes’ side lost 2-0 with little opportunity to get that crucial away goal. But, it was more to the defeat that’s making United fans lose patience with Moyes. United’s heart, never-give-up attitude and will to win was absent and the squad was left to look like a hapless u/12 side while Olympiakos were painted as European giants.

You’ve lost that loving feeling, oh that loving feeling
Bring back that loving feeling, now it’s gone, gone, gone
And I can’t go on, no oh oh


After a run of form in Europe, United were back to their half-hearted attempts at getting forward in last night’s fixture. It’s becoming a inevitable trend. Dominate possession, pass back to continue with stunted, immobile possession (see Tom Cleverley) and get caught on the counter while our defence puts in flailing attempts to put a foot in. I’ll have to point a million fingers to Ferdinand’s sloppy display and Olympiakos’ second goal from on-loan Arsenal forward Joel Campbell’s well-crafted, curving shot. You have to feel for De Gea who remains the only constant performer in the last few weeks after failing to keep out Olympiakos’ opener after Alejandro Dominguez deflected a shot on goal. But it’s a little too easy to blame bad luck at the moment. United were anxious on the ball – and even more depressingly – anxious to take on defences of late. With Van Persie and Rooney in the starting line-up, many fans would’ve felt confident to grab some advantage before kick-off (even though Juan Mata was not an option on the day). But Van Persie’s dip in form saw United’s best chance in front of goal go wayward. It was a sitter for Van Persie of the 2012/2013 season. An absolute gift.

Before the fixture, Moyes’ confidence was high. United were looking for Champions League glory this season despite sitting at 6th place in the league (11 points off the pace) and with Rooney’s recent contract extension, there was definitely an immediate lift for the club. My, was it short-lived.


For me, there’s no shot at the top-4 with Liverpool seemingly the frontrunners at the moment with Spurs and Everton rivalling far better performances than United’s on-off, let-me-pass-to-the-opponent performances. It’s too inconsistent for top-4. There is no urgency on the ball and our attack has lost it’s usual pace and swagger. United have always caught defences on the counter. We’ve had purpose going forward under Ferguson. Right now, it’s about stringing passes along with no penetration at all. Credit to Olympiakos for pressing United, too. Possession was far too passive and Greece’s giants took advantage.

More than Olympiakos playing well last night, United were at failure for the result. Mistake after mistake and wayward passes in the final third.

Frighteningly, too, there was no impact in second half either. United of the past would have corrected their mistakes, looking for the equaliser, looking for the winner. Last night, the players looked content to stay in 2nd gear riding all hope on the second tie at Old Trafford. It’s seems like they’ve forgotten that Old Trafford is hardly the fortress anymore.

There are so many questions when it comes to United this season. We always knew it would be a rusty few months post-Fergie. But to this extent? We’re currently the ‘Champions of England’ but with little respect or pride to defend the badge. You have to wonder if the players have the same respect and regard for Moyes and the coaching staff. Is it a matter of bringing in the right players? Or is it a matter of schoolboy tactics by Moyes?

I’m not calling for Moyes’ head just yet. The club will have to spend in the summer to compete again. Next season is the test and where Moyes won’t have the issue of blaming players. Overhaul, please.

Whatever it is, United have definitely lost that lovin’ feeling.
Here’s hoping that they can fall in love with the game again.