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Manchester United
Posted by Mark Payne on 02/19/2012

The Ajax of Homer’s Iliad is described as being of colossal frame and the strongest of all. The Ajax of Dutch football fit a similar description when compared to other clubs in the Low Countries. However, in terms of European football they are not what they used to be. Even so, after a couple of months that have a left a bitter taste in the mouth, this fixture was certainly one to savour.

Although the Old Trafford accountants are unlikely to agree with me, I am rather glad we are not in the Champions’ League right now; and for several reasons. Firstly, the last few seasons have proven to us that we are not as good as Barcelona and frankly, watching us lose to them in two finals has been rather morale-sapping. At the present stage, I suspect we are not the equals of Madrid either.

That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t welcome a grand Champions’ League match against either of those clubs, I would, but waiting another year isn’t such a bad thing.

Also, people of my age fell in love with a United that didn’t play in the group stages of the revamped European Cup every year. Many of us remember the sumptuous Cup Winner’s Cup tie against Diego Maradona’s Barca and how Bryan Robson bossed the Old Trafford leg. Personally, I have a special fondness for our Cup Winner’s Cup run in 1991. Mark Hughes and Clayton Blackmore remain two of my favourite ever United players.

So, if we have to play in the lesser competition then so what? We get to compete against one of the great European teams in one of the great European stadiums. I fail to see how this is selling ourselves short. And, let’s face it, it’s always great fun when you win.

Our victory on Thursday evening, and indeed in the last few games, can be ascribed to one thing. Sir Alex Ferguson’s half-time team talk. Not for the first time in recent weeks United have put in a turgid first half performance but flown out after the break and scored. The Scotsman is earning his money at the moment.

The UEFA Cup, or Europa league, also happens to be the only trophy he hasn’t won in his career. My old man remains sure that Fergie will retire at the end of the season and it could be a fitting send off. It would be nice, of course, if we could win it and have him back in the dugout next season too. I hope that is to be the case.

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Posted by Mo on 02/19/2012

Mark I enjoy reading your blog, but sincerely hope your old man is as wrong as possible.

Couldn't agree more about us not being in the Champions League this season though. Can't say I wouldn't like us being there but since we're not I feel it should give us a chance to focus more on the EPL and also even give some of our younger stars some valuable European experience.

Posted by ife ogunduyile on 02/19/2012

Hi Mark,I don't quite agree with your line of argument.
Its quite obvious that this United side can't stand d might of Barcelona & Madrid. However that doesn't mean that d Europa league is much more easier to win, infact it is lots more strenous. Engaging some faraway east European side on thursday nights while having to fly back to battle for d premier league on sat or sunday takes a heavy toll on d players. This would likely cause a need a rotation that would result in presenting a weaker team which would then be kicked out at some stage by an unexpected side.
Besides, from past history the favorites almost never win d competition.
Its quite a big distraction for the team.

Posted by Raizzen on 02/19/2012

Frankly I am too. CL demands are just too high a price - and its pretty damn sure you're NOT gonna win it. At least not for a another season (pardon the negativity).

With this calamity, maybe we could focus more on the PL charge, which pardon me for being honest again, is more important than ever. The unprecedented will shut up loads of neighbours.

But still, Europa League. To think how us United fans used to make fun of people competing in it. Serve us right.

Posted by Rishi Dayal on 02/19/2012

I hope, for our sake, that your old man is wrong. I would hate to get a new manager and turn into the Chelsea of this season.

Posted by Red Devil in NZ on 02/20/2012

If your old man is correct about SAF (and I hope he isnt!) do you think that exit may coincide with one certain Mr J Mourinho leaving Real?

While the day was always going to come SAF moved on, I personally think Mourinho would be a good replacement as he is one of the few whose own self confidence is so enormous, he wouldnt be overawed by following in SAF's footsteps. To be fair he has a fair amount of capability too - unlike say Benitez, whose self belief isnt mirroed by his ability!!

Posted by Aegean1985 on 02/20/2012

SAF has unfinished business: He wants another UCL title. I'm very sure of that. A person of his ego will never be able to accept that he has won only 2 UCL titles in his 25 years with Man Utd.

A third would definitely be a calling for him to call it a day.

And I hope for his sake, that after he has retired, he does not come out of retirement like what King Kenny is doing and be called King Fergie.

Posted by Sean on 02/20/2012

I'm on the fence about the CL exit. But I hope it at least serves a chastening reminder to the team and Manager that they are not destined to stay up no matter how dismal they play. The group stages were so awful to watch and I can't help but think it was due to a feeling of superiority. I suppose the only positive argument for our place in the Europa league is that our league position may not be the same otherwise, but this is not a given.

I, for one, hope SAF does not retire this season. I can't think of many managers that I would rather take his place, but I am not really all that excited about having Mou in the hot seat either. When things don't go his way, he leaves. Plain and simple. Look at the teams he has left behind since he's come into infamy...

Posted by Luke on 02/20/2012

Don't we only have one King in OT? Even the term "Legend" doesn't quite fit into SAF eh? A more befitting title is required.

UCL 11/12 is passe, let us march on our PL and hopefully Europa as well!

Posted by Urmstonian on 02/20/2012

I think you once said, Mark, that your dad actually saw the Babes play, so he's seen one or two managerial hiccups in his time. I think he may be right on this one. Fergie will know when it's time to go. No-one can go on forever and he won't want to be scoffed at or pitied, which is what is happening to Wenger at the moment (and Wenger doesn't deserve it). A lot of people have said that Mourinho's style is too negative but just look at where Real are at the moment, and how many goals they've scored. Their managers never seem to last more than two years so he may well be on his way this summer. Personally I'd be happy to see him at OT and if he can bring his star player with him then so much the better.

Posted by The Grimace on 02/20/2012

Who apart from Mourinho could take on the job? Various names have been floated over the years but none would now measure up. Robbo, Brucie, Hughzay, none of them could do it. Martin O'Neill is too old and Ole is too young. The person who takes it on needs to understand English football, European football, and also the spirit of Manchester United. I can think of only one other possibility - the manager of France Monsieur Larry White.

Posted by Red Devil in NZ on 02/21/2012

Grimace, I wish this had a "like" function - good comment.

If Utd brought Keano in as Mourinho's assistant, it would make for some outstanding post-match media conferences!

I also agree with Aegean that SAF would love another CL title, but really we are 2-4 players (midfield maestro maybe x2, wide man with an accurate cross, Rio must be on his last legs and last season a bit of momentum gathered around rumours Vidic wanted out) short of that, IMHO.
He would need to convince the owners to part with some serious moolah to get the final pieces of the squad he needs to do that.

Posted by David Smith on 02/21/2012

Ah, the memories of that 1984 ECWC match against Barcelona. Down 0-2 from the first leg in Spain, Captain Marvel brought United all the way back in the return leg, 3-0. The Stretford Enders blew the roof off the place and then carried Robbo off the pitch at the end. Great stuff. As for Fergie, well, he's not going anywhere, except on holiday and then pre-season training in July. 70 is a nice, round number but it doesn't necessarily mean retirement. Fergie himself just stated he's staying for another 2 or 3 years, health permitting. I don't want any of the former players managing the club either. They're simply not good enough to lead MUFC. Laurent Blanc is a very interesting thought, however. Without Champions' League and F.A. Cup football and no League Cup Final to beat Cardiff in, I don't mind being in the second-rate Europa League at the moment. Ajax and Atletico Madrid are big European clubs and will generate more excitement at Old Trafford than Wigan and Stoke City ever could.

Posted by Mark on 02/21/2012

dunno about you guys but I don't see anything in particular to be pessimistic about. Yes SAF will retire one day, but he will ensure that a suitable candidate takes his place (be it mou or whoever). He certainly doesn't want to see the empire he built crumble in his face does he? After all, he has stated that he will be staying in some capacity. Remember how we started the season with our youngsters? Cleverley, Jones, Smalling, Da Silva brothers, Rooney, Chicarito and MAYBE ando will form the backbone of the new team. In particular Cleverley. This guy plays the pass and move game, always releasing with his first touch so it's hard to get the ball off him. I'd say the new Utd outfit in next season will be exciting. Reinforcements would be nice too so the squad won't go through an injury crisis like this season.

Posted by torontored on 02/22/2012

Ok first off, good win over Ajax. Cleverley played well in his return as did Young though losing Valencia could be significant.

Now onto more important things. Mark have you lost you freaking mind, and what about the rest of you pansies?!?! What is this an Arsenal blog where we see 4th place as a trophy. what the hell is happening here?!?!? Waaaaa I'm glad we're not in the Champs League this year, it's too hard, boohoo, big scary Barca (the same barca that currently sit 10 pts behind Real) are too good, we cant beat them so let's all quit and pretend it's ok that we're in the Europa league. boy it would sure be nice if fergie gets this trophy. Man the hell up, this is United. We don't need to focus on one trophy, We win doubles and trebles for the love of god. We don't settle. let the dippers gloat over the freaking Carling Cup while sitting 7th and 21 pts off the title in February. We are Manchester United the greatest club in the world. We don't settle, we win everything!!!

Posted by David Smith on 02/22/2012

"A good win over Ajax" in a competition you proceed to bash? Do explain the contradiction, torontored. No such requirement, however, for the rest of your daft contribution.

Posted by TorontoRed on 02/23/2012

No contradiction. They played well. My issue isn't that the Europa League is clearly not the tournament we all hoped we'd be winning this year but rather it is the rationalization that we're not good enough to beat the best teams in the world. That we're happy to be playing in a cup competition which up until this season we mocked other clubs for taking part in. it is the sentiment that it is okay that we won't make the champions league final this year because we'll probably lose anyway so let's be happy about it.

I want to win the league AND the Europa League and i want to beat City to win them both. I will watch tomorrow as we beat Ajax because I want United to win every match. But I won't pretend that I am happy to be out of the Champions League because we might have lost. I won't and either should you frankly. Call me daft i don't care. But I think being happy with losing for any reason is little daft. I can cheer for my club and be honest all at the same time. No contradiction

Posted by David Smith on 02/23/2012

Torontored, I have a feeling you've been raised on United during this golden age of Fergie, silverware, high profile signings, and world branding. If that's the case, then you're a very lucky boy, but I'm here to tell you it wasn't always this way. Not even close. My first United match was December 22, 1979 and we beat the European Champions, Forest, 3-0. For the next decade, United was merely a cup-side since a drinking culture prevailed rather than a desire to knock Liverpool off their perch. It took winning the 1990 F.A. Cup replay to probably save Fergie's job and set the wheels in motion for the next 20 years of domestic domination. Point is, it's alright that we're not the top dog at the moment. We've had a great couple of decades and these things do run in cycles. We're not far from returning to the top; nothing a bit of tweaking here and there won't fix. We certainly are the greatest club in the world, but we deserve to be out of the Champions' League and in the Europa one.

Posted by TorontoRed on 02/23/2012

While I have certainly been "raised" in an era of great success at United sadly my 35 years have voided my ability to be called a "boy". Even since my first match in '99 away to Marseille in the Champions Leauge there have been times where the club "struggled" and new challengers rose to take our place. As my other sports loyalties to such sad sacks as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Houston Astros and the defunct Hartford Whalers will show this is not merely a bandwagon jumping exercise. I get that teams ebb and flow and while I might not be happy about it I understand that it happens. I think my posts over the year have shown I too don't think this club is good enough to win everything but that doesn't mean I'm going to pretend I'm happy. For years I have watched leaf fans make excuse after excuse for their team only for management to not care so long as the money flows. Sounds familiar. It's not the result its the acceptance and the happiness that we are playing in a lesser tournament.

Posted by torontored on 02/24/2012

David, i may not have been at the dance as long as you but i have been around for over 15 years and while most of them have been great we have had our "struggles" by UTD standards. Even then though, I was never happy to see UTD out of the big tournaments even when they were knocked out of Europe AND didn't qualify for the Euro Cup. I get the ebb and flow, the good times and the bad. While I am not happy we aren't currently as good as Barca or others that is part of the game, I can deal with that. What i keep refering to is that I am upset that people would actually say they are happy we are not in the UCL. that is what i find unacceptable. that we are actually out of the UCL is frustrating but it happens. Look i live in toronto, our beloved Maple Leafs are a joke but ownership doesn'care because the money rolls in as the fans accept it and make excuses. the thought of that happeing here scares the hell out of me. this club has a swagger, lose it and it is very hard to get back.

Posted by Vibhas on 02/25/2012

For the next few years well be behind the spanish duo but that doesnt mean we cant challenge for the CL. If basel can beat us and blackburn can beat us at home , we can surely triumph over 2 legs at nou camp and rm. we may not be favourites in those matches but if we play well... The chances are atleast 35%

Posted by David Smith on 02/25/2012

I have but one question: How many bloody "torontoreds" are there on here?

Posted by Torontored on 02/27/2012

My bad. The first comment didn't get posted for 36 hours so i wrote another. They were then posted together. Don't worry david there's only one of me.

Posted by David Smith on 02/28/2012

Dear Paul Pogba,

If you're taking this long to decide on Sir Alex and Manchester United then kindly....FUCK OFF. QUICK.

Not quite sure who you and your agent think you are, but I'll gladly get the door for both of you, ya little snot-nosed prat.



Posted by Revlino on 03/15/2012

noone is unbeatable tis jus that barca are still at the top of the game but if we tweak our team we will knock barca and all the pretenders of their f.....g perch oooh including shutting up these little noisy neighbours

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