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Man United’s French Connection.


If Manchester United go ahead with the purchase of Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton he will be joining a French Legion of players that have graced Old Trafford.

It all began with ‘Le Roi’ Eric Cantona, who was a chance purchase by Alex Ferguson in 1992. While overhearing a telephone conversation between then United chairman Martin Edwards and his Leeds United counterpart who was making enquiries about United full-back Denis Irwin, Ferguson declined their advances for the Irish defender but told Edwards to ask about the availability of their troubled French star Cantona.

Within days the deal was done and a beaming Ferguson paraded his new signing to the world media telling them that Old Trafford was the stage on which Cantona was made to play on, and how right he would be proved to be.

The talisman of the team from his debut in 1992 right up until his retirement in 1997. A Premier League champion in all his seasons at United except the one in which he had to serve an eight-month ban and a double winner twice.

Fans to this day still honour his achievements for the club by singing his name at matches both home and away even though it has been almost twenty years since he left. A true testament to a legend and the love goes both ways as Cantona has often said that his heart is still at Manchester United.
‘1966 was a great year for English football Cantona was born’

The next Frenchman to join United was full back Mikaël Silvestre who joined the club in September 1999 and immediately gained the respect of the Old Trafford faithful when it was clear that he had rejected an offer from Liverpool for his services. Ironically, he made his debut against Liverpool.

Silvestre was a classy defender who could play at left-back or in the middle of the defence and would make almost 250 appearances for the Red Devils over nine years. In that time, he won five league titles, an FA Cup,  a League Cup and a Champions League winners medal in 2008 although he was an unused substitute.

Never one to give up Silvestre had to battle through long absences due to injuries and along with the challenges for his position from Heinze and fellow countryman Evra but he persevered and that commitment endeared him to the fans.

Following the retirement of treble winning goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel the hunt was on to find his replacement a task that would prove extremely hard to fulfill. One man who tried was Fabien Barthez who joined the team in 2000 and quickly realised that he had a huge task on his hands to literally try and fill the big gloves vacated by Schmeichel.

Barthez had enjoyed success with France at the World Cup and The Euros, but was well known as an eccentric keeper which he showed many times between the sticks for United especially when he would let United defender and best friend Laurent Blanc kiss his bald head before the start of matches. Having said that he did end up as a champion in his debut season, pulling off some fabulous saves which ensured United won many matches.

The following season wasn’t so good for Barthez as he was blamed for making too many unforced errors in matches one game, in particular, was against Arsenal when he had a nightmare and allowed his countryman Henry to score two goals that were basically gift wrapped for him.

At the end of his final season, 2002/03, he and United finished as champions, but Ferguson had had enough of Barthez and the mistakes he was making, this was highlighted in the match against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final second leg when Brazilian Ronaldo scored a hat trick. This was a match in which the keeper received criticism from all quarters and, in fact, that would be his last game for United.

Barthez was joined at United by his friend Laurent Blanc who joined in 2001 after Jaap Stam had been sold to Lazio by Ferguson after a bust-up over the Dutchman’s comments in his autobiography.

A central defender who oozed class and valuable experience, Blanc had the United fans raising their eyebrows due to his advanced years, he was 35 when he signed for United.

After helping United to the title in 2003 his legs finally gave up and he retired from playing to focus on management and I wouldn’t be surprised if he will be in the running for the hot seat at Old Trafford sometime in the future.

Louis Saha’s United career was blighted by injuries, but when he was fit he certainly knew how to score goals. Saha was transferred to United for a fee of £12.4 million in January 2004 having scored 15 goals so far that season for Fulham. His United career got off to a similar start by scoring seven goals in just ten starts.

The following season was the start of his injury woes, especially to his knee then his hamstring. When fit he started a partnership with Ruud van Nistelrooy and then the teenage Wayne Rooney.

In 2006, a fully fit Saha was among the goals again and was on a roll. However, the injury jinx returned.

When he returned for the last time Ferguson had a built a forward line around Rooney, Tevez and a certain Ronaldo so Saha played mainly from the bench, but when called upon he did his job. His United career ended when he was sold to Everton in 2008.

A quality striker and his love for United was plain to see, it was only the injuries that held him back. During his time at United, he won two Premier League medals and a League Cup.

Possibly the second most popular French signing behind Monsieur Cantona was Patrice Evra who was brought to Man United from AS Monaco for a fee of £5.5 million in January 2006. Evra took his time to settle at the club making his debut in a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City. So poor was his performance in that match Fergie took him off at half-time.

Fast forward eight years and the Frenchman left United having won almost everything in the game. The only trophy to elude him was the FA Cup. Probably his greatest achievement was winning the double of the Premier League and Champions League in 2008.

At left-back, Evra became an important cog in United’s defence, forming an uncanny understanding at the back with Ferdinand and Vidic. This was the rock that Fergie built his last great teams on. Evra had the honour of captaining United on many occasions and did so with a great gusto.

It was a sad day when he departed for Juventus as I’m sure he still had plenty of playing time in him and judging by our current defence his leadership and defensive awareness are certainly being missed.

Paul Pogba would have been included had he only stayed at United longer, but as great a talent as he is now he only had a fleeting moment at the club, but you never know what the future will hold.

Last but not least the trio of ‘Les Miserables’ William Prunier, Gabriel Obertan and David Bellion…….only kidding.

So there you have it the French stars that have lit up our great club and if Morgan Schneiderlin does join their ranks, he has some work cut out holding up the honour of his countrymen.

Thanks for reading and au revoir.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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The Red Devils go marching on.


The Red Devils go marching on.

Southampton 1  Manchester United 2

Travelling all the way from Manchester to the South coast to play Southampton for a weekend match is a geographical nightmare, but to do it on a Monday night just to accommodate the TV schedule is even worse. So all credit to the thousands of United fans who made the long journey to cheer on the team so vocally, even though the team didn’t play particularly well, they saw their heroes win again to move into the top three of the Premier League.

The United team had a familiar look to it apart from the inclusion of Paddy McNair who was given the chance to shine again in defence, which meant that there was no starting place for Ander Herrera who had performed well in the last two home games. Once again Falcao was left on the bench as van Gaal confirmed this week that he is still not fit enough to play 90 mins.

The first half started with the United fans in fine voice. The team however, took their time to find their own rhythm. Until the 12th minute when Robin van Persie ran onto a horrendous back pass from the Saint’s Jose Fonte to open the scoring with a well taken strike under the keeper’s body.

On the quarter hour yet another blow for United with Smalling landing awkwardly and having to be replaced by Jonny Evans, himself making his return from an ankle problem. The injury jinx this season will just not go away. Maybe instead of a rehabilitation coach we need a witch doctor!

On the half hour mark Southampton drew level through Pelle. The build up to the equaliser came from a terrible square pass from Fellaini, who when possession was lost, didn’t put in any effort to chase back. At least this time he didn’t go to ground feigning a neck injury. Sorry to say it, but this was a Fellaini performance of old, not of recent matches.

Louis van Gaal made a tactical change on 39 minutes. McNair departed having been run ragged in the first half, with Herrera coming on. Carrick dropped into the back three to add experience and a steady head. At least United ended the first half on the attack with a cracking shot from van Persie into the side netting.

As the second half progressed United took more control but still managed to give the ball away too easily through bad passing, probably still feeling the effects of their Christmas party. Even captain Rooney managed to deliver a corner more suited to rugby union.

On 71 minutes United were awarded a free kick which was taken by Rooney to be met by Robin van Persie, who made a great run to the back post to guide a sublime left footed shot past keeper Forster. Another fine goal from van Persie that showed he still has quality in abundance when finishing.

The match ended angrily with a flurry a bad challenges and yellow cards. But United hung on to pick up another important three points. A large away end full of thousands of United fans, who never stopped singing throughout the match, greeted their man of the match hero Robin van Persie.

Not for the first time, and I’m sure not the last this season, I’m singing the praises of David De Gea, who made crucial saves to keep United in the match. It seems that not a game goes by in which he proves his importance to the team. While his defence are at sixes and sevens he is calm personified in goal.

With this fifth win on the bounce, United move up into third place in the league and within touching distance of City and Chelsea. Looking at the matches coming over the Christmas period there is no reason why van Gaal’s men can’t keep the winning streak going until the end of the year.

Then we enter the January transfer window, when I expect a top class central defender to be added to the squad, which has looked decidedly shaky at the back since the start of the season. I would also like to see a midfielder brought in, but one with the ability to break up opponents attacks, Kevin Strootman for example.  Unfortunately players will also have to be released to lighten the wage load, those players are the likes of Anderson, who has become surplus to requirements under van Gaal.

Now United and the fans turn their attention to the big one. United vs Liverpool this coming Sunday at Old Trafford. After their highs of last season it’s good to see normal service has returned to Anfield, and it’s a perfect time to be playing them. Having sold Suarez to Barcelona, and a long term injury to Sturridge, they lack threat up front as Balotelli isn’t exactly pulling his weight. This is the biggest match for both sides of any season and I’m anticipating another fiery encounter, with United to come out on top of course.

Thanks again for reading my thoughts.

Miles Dunton.

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De Gea saves United again!


Manchester United 2 Stoke City 1

                                                    

 

There is no rest for the wicked as Manchester United welcomed Stoke City to Old Trafford on Tuesday evening three days after the convincing 3-0 win over Hull City.  Read the full story

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