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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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Man United’s January buys.


The January transfer window is open and already Manchester Unied have made one new addition with the not so surprising news that Victor Valdes has agreed an 18 month contract to be David de Gea’s understudy!

I sincerely hope that is not the only business done by Mr.van Gaal this month as United have a desperate need for new defenders along with at least one quality midfielder.

With all the gossip flying around it got me thinking. Which players have United signed in this window in the past? Who turned out to be a shrewd bit of business? Who didn’t fulfill their potential?

Let’s take a look.

Lou Macari: 1973-1984 app: 400 goals: 97

The diminutive Scot arrived at Old Trafford in 1973 from Celtic for a fee of £200,000. Bought by manager and fellow Scot Tommy Docherty he became an instant hit, which continued throughout the seventies and into the eighties. He scored in his first game for United against West Ham United in a 2–2 draw.

Nearly signed for Bill Shankly’s Liverpool but fortunately his head was turned United’s way with a little help from Paddy Crerand.

Originally bought as a striker, Macari eventually found his niche in midfield. In a team that included Coppell, Pearson, Hill and Buchan, they soon brought United back into prominence after suffering relegation in 1974.

Doc’s Army was a team famous for it’s attacking play and kept the tradition of playing attractive football that the fans had been fed on from the Busby days.

He continued in an attacking midfield position under Dave Sexton and reached the FA Cup final in 1979 only to lose in the last minute to Arsenal. When Ron Atkinson took over from Sexton, Macari spent so long on the bench he gained the nickname of ‘The Judge’. In 1984 Lou left United to enter the world of management.

Probably most famous for the shot that rebounded of Jimmy Greenhoff’s chest before entering the Liverpool net to win the FA Cup for United in 1977. Still a fans favourite with his honest no nonsense views on everything United.

Joe Jordan 1978-1981 app: 126  goals: 41

Nicknamed ‘Jaws’ due to his toothless grin, this hard man center forward terrorised defences up and down the country with his fearless style of play, never afraid to fight for the cause by sticking his head into places it had no right to be. This never say die attitude cemented him as a terrace favourite. With his big team mate from Leeds, defender Gordon McQueen, they gave United a fearsome look.

Bought by then manager Dave Sexton from Leeds United for a fee of £350,000 which at the time was a new record for a deal between two British clubs.

Although trophyless during his time at United it wasn’t for the lack of trying. He was in the side that lost to Arsenal in the 1979 FA Cup final. Not really at the club long enough to warrant a legend tag, but those who remember him playing will do so fondly.

Diego Forlan 2002-2004 app: 98 (61 sub) goals: 17

Bought to United at a cost of £6.9 million on 22 January 2002 he is probably the unluckiest striker to have worn the red of United as he took an absolute age to get off the mark. Made a total of 13 Premier League and five UEFA Champions League appearances in the 2001–02 season but did not score. His first United goal, a penalty, came against Maccabi Haifa on the 18th of Sept 2002.

In every match the fans were willing him to score or for him to take every penalty. The Stretford End would have sucked his shots into the net if they could have.

Forlan earned immediate legendary status with a double in a victory at Anfield in December 2002. This was the match that the adoring Old Trafford faithful gave him his own terrace chant to do with the fact he comes from Uruguay and Scousers emotions. In the same season he finished third in the goalscorers charts behind van Nistelrooy and Solskjaer.

Ironically when he left United to join Villarreal he smashed records with his goals, Sod’s law really.

Andy Cole 1995-2001 app: 275 goals: 121

Signed by Fergie from Newcastle United, where he had a goal conversion rate of 81%, in a deal of £7 million which included Keith Gillespie, valued £1 million, going the other way.

This proved to be excellent business for United as ‘Cole the Goal’ went on to head the fearsome attack alongside Dwight Yorke which culminated in the Treble of 1999.

Cole played up front in three partnerships of note Cantona, Sheringham and Yorke. Rumoured to not get on quite so well with Cantona and definitely not on speaking terms with Sheringham, it is his partnership with Yorke that produced Cole’s best results. In the treble season they amassed a total of 53 goals between them in all competitions.

The partnership with Yorke proved particularly potent in the UEFA Champions League. Who can forget how their goals dismantled Juventus in the semi final 2nd leg in ’99 on the way to the glorious final.

Now working as an ambassador of United.

Les Sealey 1990-1991/1993-1994 app: 56

Cheeky Cockney Les Sealey was given his big chance at United when Ferguson dropped No.1 keeper Jim Leighton from the 1990 FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace.

His heroics in goal that evening against an overly aggressive Palace team turned him into a cult hero with all United fans. After the final, ever the true gentleman, Sealey offered his winners medal to Leighton but thankfully the FA intervened and awarded both players medals.

His cult status was to get even higher a year later when he kept goal in the 1991 European Cup Winners Cup final against Barcelona. United ran out 2-1 winners and it was his save from Koeman’s free-kick that kept United ahead in the match.

Signed on loan from Luton Town he left United then returned in 1993 as back up for Peter Schmeichel but only making a couple of appearances.

Les sadly passed away in 2001 of a heart attack at the young age of 43. A great character and underrated for his talent as a keeper.

Louis Saha 2004-2008 app: 124 goals: 42

Unfortunately 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 2004 having scored 15 goals so far that season for Fulham.

Got off to a great career at Old Trafford scoring seven goals in ten starts. The next season was the start of his injury woes especially to his knee then hamstring. He began partnering  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 the last time United had a forward line including Rooney, Tevez and a certain Ronaldo. He played mainly from the bench and when called upon 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.

Patrice Evra 2006-2014 app: 329 goals: 10

Brought to Man United from AS Monaco for a fee of £5.5 million. 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 allude him was the FA Cup.

Probably his greatest achievement was winning the double of Premier League and Champions League in 2008.

At left back Evra became an important cog in United’s defence forming an 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 being missed.

Nemanja Vidic 2006-2014 app: 300 goals: 21

Captured by United from Spartak Moscow for a bargain fee of £7 million at  the same time as Patrice Evra.

Vidic would go on to form a solid partnership with Rio Ferdinand in the middle of defence that was comparable to the double act of Bruce and Pallister over a decade before.

Vidic was famous for his no nonsense tough man approach to defending and was the perfect foil to Ferdinand’s more stylish play. Along with Evra at full back United enjoyed having a defense that they could build another great side upon. Fergie did just that by winning the double in 2008.

In his later years at the club he was awarded the captaincy, which was a popular choice with the fans. Again, like Evra he was released to early and could surely have helped the club through the transition period of the last year and kept some much needed stability.

Henrik Larsson 2007 Jan-March (loan) app: 13 goals: 3

Ferguson managed to bring the world class striker from Helsingborg on loan during their league’s off season. What an impact he had. Not so much for his goals but his persona.

He gave Old Trafford a buzz and would have been a perfect fit at United as a permanent signing, but he had already given his word that he would return to Sweden after the loan spell.

A couple of months after he left United the team went onto win the league and even though he hadn’t played enough games he was awarded a winners medal. His time as a Red Devil was short but sweet.

Chris Smalling 2010-Present app: 136 goals: 6

The jury is still out on Smalling who joined United from Fulham in 2010 for an undisclosed fee. Fergie obviously saw something in a player who was playing non-league football for Maidstone United in 2008.

Maybe due to the change in management and systems over the last two seasons his performances have not been to the standard expected of himself or a Manchester United player. His place will come under threat should Louis van Gaal purchase a new central defender this month.

I’m sure he tries his best and I can’t fault him for that; however, for me his best is not what we have been brought to expect at Old Trafford.

Juan Mata 2014-Present app: 34 goals: 11

Mata arrived in a helicopter last January from Chelsea for a fee which was then a club record of £37.1 million.

With the expectation of being the saviour of Man United and David Moyes the season firmly rested on his shoulders. Sadly, it wasn’t to be as United continued to struggle until the end of the campaign.

Under new manager Louis van Gaal, Mata has had ample opportunity to show why he was the fan’s player of the season two years running at Chelsea. He has produced man of the match performances and goals this season and I firmly believe Mata has a valuable part to play in the team.

Part of the new wave of Galacticos at Old Trafford alongside Di Maria, Herrera, Falcao, and Rojo. Together I’m sure they will eventually bring the flair back to the Theatre of Dreams.

There are the January buys from Manchester United’s past. I hope you enjoyed looking back and let’s see if the next purchases in this or future transfer windows go towards improving the team and become legends.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Manchester United 2014 Review Part 1.


Manchester United’s last twelve months will be remembered as unremarkable for a club that had enjoyed unparalleled success, year after year, under Sir Alex Ferguson.

A turbulent year that saw United have three managers, players coming in and players going out, The ‘transition’ period of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal’s ‘revolution’, Ryan Giggs’s promotion, retirement, and promotion, one manager calling the dreaded enemy Liverpool the favourites, another beating them. Fans who have had to endure the worst year in the club’s illustrious recent history, who also had to put up with the ridicule that came with that, but followers who never stopped cheering on the team, home and away, through the good but mostly bad times.

Twelve months in which United were unable to finish the season in the top four of the Premier League, therefore failing to qualify for a place at the top table of the Champions League for the first time in some fan’s living memory. A period in which detractors of United enjoyed twisting the knife into a wounded club, and enjoyed all the pain it caused to the real fans.

In part 1 of my review of the year, I will share my thoughts on the period from January up until the end of the 2013-14 season.

The New Year started ominously for Manchester United and the manager David Moyes.

Sitting in a lowly position in the league they lost three matches with the same scoreline 1-2 within the first seven days. Starting with a loss away to Spurs, a home defeat to Swansea, which meant they were out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round, and lastly losing to Sunderland in the 1st leg of the league cup semi-final, eventually exiting the competition in a penalty shoot out.

The mood was lifted by the record signing of Juan Mata from Chelsea. The Spaniard, Chelsea fan’s player of the season for the previous two years, arrived at Carrington training ground by helicopter. The fee of £37.1 million, seemed a little excessive for a player that had been left on the bench by Chelsea coach Mourinho for most of the season. Having said that, here was a quality play maker, and a signing that gave under pressure Moyes some respite. The downside of Mata joining was that he was cup tied for the upcoming Champions League knock out stage matches.

Over the course of the next two months United would lose to Chelsea and Stoke City, draw with Fulham and Arsenal, but even worse was that both Liverpool and Man City came to Old Trafford and both won with the same scoreline, 3-0.

In between that terrible run were the matches against Olympiakos in the last 16 of the Champions League. Falling to a 2-0 defeat in the first leg in Greece, United faced an uphill struggle in the return leg at Old Trafford. Needing to overturn the deficit by scoring at least three goals. The team put on a performance reminiscent of the European glory nights of the past under the floodlights of the ‘Theatre of Dreams’. Robin van Persie was the hero of the match by completing a brilliant hat-trick as the reds won 3-0 to seal their place in the next round.

However, elation was soon reduced to deflation, as news came of an injury to the team’s star striker. Van Persie, who picked up an injury in the match, would be facing a lengthy time on the sidelines. A huge blow to United and especially Moyes, who had the added problem of trying to beat Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the Champions League.

Something clearly was not right at United. The fans started to voice their feelings, even going as far to hire a plane to fly over Old Trafford during the home match against Aston Villa, which displayed the message “Wrong One – Moyes Out”

But United ran out 4-1 winners that day, and Moyes told the press afterwards that he still had the support of the fans. Which clearly he hadn’t.

The team’s Champions League journey, where Moyes had enjoyed his best run of results, came to an end with defeat by Bayern Munich over the two legs, 2-4 on aggregate. Pep Guardiola’s team had given United a lesson in organisation and teamwork. They had too much quality over the two matches. Without the goal threat of van Persie, United didn’t really stand a chance.

The remote possibility of bringing silverware to Old Trafford had gone, which prompted calls by the fans, and the media alike, for Moyes, and more importantly United, to be put out of their misery.
The final straw for Moyes came with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of his former side Everton at Goodison Park, two days later the club announced that the ‘Chosen One’ had been sacked.

When it was revealed that Moyes had been chosen by Ferguson as his ideal replacement back in 2013, a lot of head scratching followed, but everybody to a man, and woman, stood behind his appointment. I believe that it was a step too far up the management ladder for Moyes, who had been at Everton for 10 years but won nothing. He lacked the experience for such a huge task at arguably the biggest club in the world. I do have a little sympathy for his situation, but not too much, as his pockets bulged with a sizeable £5 million in compensation. Not bad for ten months of suffering, not by him but by the fans.

After the departure of David Moyes, it was left to the popular choice of Ryan Giggs to step up and lead United through the remainder of the season, and to try and end it on a positive note. Once in place Giggs immediately called up the help of his friends from the class of ’92, all except David Beckham and Gary Neville. What a sight it must have been at Carrington to see Giggs, Butt, P.Neville and Scholes leading the training sessions.

The boost in the teams morale showed in the first match against Norwich City, in which a rampant United team ran out 4-0 winners. Poor Norwich didn’t stand a chance in a pumped up Old Trafford. The atmosphere was electric, as Giggs strolled down the touchline soaking up the rapturous applause from the home fans. He also looked the part in his club suit, and had an air of authority about him. Not only did the suit fit, but also the position of interim manager suited him perfectly.

The team played with a new found confidence that day, as they seemed to be released from the shackles that had held them back under Moyes. They went on the attack with a free flowing style that even Giggs would have been proud to be a part of, had he not dropped himself!

Another away defeat to Sunderland brought everybody back down to earth with a bump as that wasn’t in the script. The final home match of the season was against Hull City. A match in which Giggs showed that he wasn’t afraid to put faith in the youngsters by giving debuts to James Wilson and Tom Lawrence.

Wilson responded to his inclusion by netting a brace, and proved that United had another future star in the making. United ran out 3-1 winners on a day which would see Ryan Giggs play his final match in the shirt of his beloved Red Devils. His retirement as a player being announced in his after match speech to the Old Trafford faithful.

The last match of the season was a dour 1-1 draw away at Southampton. A match which also saw the end of three stalwarts of United’s defence over the previous decade. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra all ending their playing days with United.

United finished a hugely disappointing season empty handed and an embarrassing seventh in the league. There was a feeling of thank god that was over so the rebuilding could begin. The situation the club found themselves in could only improve.

On the 28th of May it was announced that Malcolm Glazer, the patriarch of the Glazer family that owns the club, had died. His sons would continue to run the club.

After the euphoria of Giggs being appointed interim manager, it was still obvious to all that the squad would need an overhaul in the Summer. The biggest question was whether Giggs would be given the ultimate responsibility, or would the club go for a new team manager with the experience in management needed to take on such a big challenge.

Fans were calling for Giggs to be given a crack of the whip, as he clearly had the players support behind him. Realistically though, they knew if the good times were to return to the club quickly, then the appointment of a manager with the personality and knowledge to turn the club’s fortunes around was needed. The hard work had to start again, a new chapter in this great club’s history was about to begin.

The speculation of who it would be was ended on the 19th of May with the announcement that the Dutch national manager, Louis van Gaal, had been offered, and had accepted the illustrious position of Manchester United manager.

The revolution had begun.

To be continued…

Thanks for taking the time to read part 1 of my Man Utd year review.

Part 2 will be available soon.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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