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Saturday, August 19, 2017

WAZZA'S FULL CIRCLE: Everton Prodigy - United Legend - Back in Blue

"OH! OH! WHAT CAN HE DO ... REMEMBER THIS NAME... WAYNE ROONEY... A NEW STAR IS BORN ON THE MERSEYSIDE!" screamed the commentator as Wayne Rooney scored a spectacular 90th minute winner against Arsenal on 19th October 2002. The defending champions were coming into this game on a 30-match unbeaten streak in the league and I was into my 2nd season following this new sensation in my country, then called the Barclaycard Premier League. After having watched my 1st season as a neutral, my heart was won over by Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, and I was now a Red Devil! As the match moved closer to the final whistle, and at 1-1, I was more than happy to see the Gunners settle for a draw and drop 2 points. But then, young Wazza, 5 days shy of his 17th birthday, had other ideas. That was the first of the countless thrilling moments I would get to experience. Needless to say, it was love at first sight.

Rooney would go on to score 8 goals in 37 appearances, including a handful of assists during the 2002-03 season, helping The Toffees finish a respectable 7th in the table. He would also go on to win BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year 2002. Thanks to exorbitant internet prices and almost negligible coverage of overseas football in the Indian media, I would only come to know about this accolade much later. He consolidated his reputation as an up and coming teenage prodigy during the 2003-04 season with 9 goals from 40 appearances. With Euro '04, the stage was set for the rest of the world to recognize this raw talent, and boy did he live up to the expectations!

Euro '04: The Making of the Red Devil

Although his first two seasons as a senior team player had garnered enough attention for other clubs and scouts to take notice, Euro '04 was really the tournament that tilted the scales. With brilliant performances in the group stages against France, Switzerland, and Croatia that saw him score 4 goals and a place in the Team of the Tournament, he was all set to move to a big club upon his return to England. Arsenal were playing some brilliant football that attracted some of the finest talents, Chelsea, with a Russian oligarch as the owner with tons of cash to spend, were in a position to sign any player they wanted. Rooney had become the most sought after teenager in English football.

Personally, Euro '04 was a major shift for me as a fan of the beautiful game. Since childhood, I followed all the world cups starting from Italia '90. If you had started watching football then, there was only one name and one country you would choose - Maradona and Argentina. Up until Japan-South Korea '02, I continued to support Argentina with Batistuta being my favourite player. I was jumping with joy when Beckham was sent off following that incident with Simone. All that had changed ever since I started following the Premier League. I was now a true-blue Three Lions supporter. For me it was more than just coincidence when Beckham scored that wonder goal against Greece to help England qualify for Euro '04. I still look back at that England team with the likes of Scholes, Lampard, Gerrard, and Nevile among others and wonder what went wrong. It was my first international tournament supporting England and that ended in bitter disappointment. As I overcame my team's exit, one question haunted me - Which club would Rooney play for come the 2004-05 season?

Wazza Becomes a Red Devil!

So you have tremendous admiration for a player from another club, he's just had a dream International tournament, and at 17 years he's certainly a long-term prospect. What's the best news you can hear? You guessed it - your club f***in signs him!!

Sir Alex persuaded the board to sanction a multi million pound transfer kitty, and with David Gill's negotiation skills, United were ready to face off any challenges from other big clubs. On 31st August 2004, with about 4 hours of transfer window remaining, Rooney finally signed on the dotted line. Certainly, one of the happiest days of my life.

Fairytale Debut 

The date: 28th September 2004
The venue: Old Trafford - The Theatre of Dreams
The Competition: UEFA Champions League

Fairytale debuts don't come with a better script. The biggest club football tournament played on one of the biggest footballing arenas with over 75,000 supporters in attendance, and millions of others glued to their telly. 

It seemed as if destiny had chosen the right moment. Since limping out of the ground with an injury during the Euro, he had not kicked a ball in a competitive game. The long wait had finally come to an end and Wazza was making his United debut. After some spectacular counter-attacking football and some neat passes, Rooney had scored his first two goals for United. Then came the magical moment. A brilliant free kick that curled past the Turkish goalie. First United player, and the only one so far, to score a hat trick on debut. What a way to announce your arrival!

An Illustrious Career Beyond Description:

Club World Cup: ✔
UEFA Champions League: ✔
The FA Cup: ✔
English Premier League: ✔
Europa League: ✔
League Cup: ✔
Community Shield: ✔

From a promising teenager to a legend of one the greatest football clubs in the world, Rooney's career is nothing short of a fantasy come true. Having won everything there is to win at the club level, and numerous personal accolades and records, words aren't simply enough to describe his 13-year tenure with United. I will simply let you walk down the memory lane and cherish those glorious moments as I present you with my top 3 goal scoring moments.

That goal vs City

That volley vs Newcastle

Rooney Breaks Sir Bobby's Record

Ever since Rooney overtook Jack Rowley to become the third highest goal scorer for United, the wait had begun to see him at the top of list. Given that Sir Bobby's record had stood for close to 45 years, it would be a monumental feat for the player and a historic moment for the club.

However, the wait was a little longer than expected. By now, Rooney was playing his 15th season in the physically demanding premier league, quite an achievement by itself for an attacking player. He would often be played out of position by both Notes and van Gaal, which he accepted without any fuss to protect the team's interests.

I had decided to get a tattoo to commemorate the event and had 2-3 of his autographs on mind. But for now, that was the last thing on my mind. So when he equalled Sir Bobby's record on 7th Jan, I knew sooner rather than later I'd be inked. So with the help of my friend, I zeroed in on the design and had a word with my tattoo artist.

The day finally arrived. On a cold winter evening at the Bet365 stadium, United were trailing by a goal, and into the 4th minute of the injury time when United were awarded a free kick just outside of the box. Rooney took the kick and lobbed the ball spectacularly over the defence and into the goal. Wazza was now the highest ever goal scorer for United! My friend called me and said "Dude, you can go and get your tattoo now!" That moment will forever be etched in my memory just like the tattoo on my right forearm.

Back to Where It All Began

As the 2016-17 inched towards the end and with Rooney's transfer imminent, speculations were rife about his move to the rather glamorous MLS or the big money Chinese League. In hindsight, we now know that he had already made up his mind and probably laughing at the media and all those who indulged in the rumours.

In today's world of big money moves, Rooney chose to go back to his boyhood club and halved his wages. That is an epitome of his character that will be remembered for years to come. As poet John Donne put it

... thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

Thanks for all the memories Wazza. Shine on you crazy diamond.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Winter of Discontent

With our serious ambitions in Europe over for another season, I don't think LvG will take the Europa League seriously, even though I think we should try to win it, given it'll help us keep the players in form during the spring, give the club enough games to give the younger players a forum to impress; I think it's time for the club to make some tough decisions in regards to regeneration. With 6 players now over the age of 29, I think it's time to actively reduce the average age of the squad, trust in the leadership of Smalling, Jones, Blind, Mata and Schneiderlin.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Manchester United vs Newcastle United

With the news that Pedro signed for Chelsea and that we aren't looking for a new striker this transfer window, many fans are on edge in regards to our trophy winning prospects this season.

Rooney's poor form has been acknowledged by both the player and manager, and his self awareness is said to be crucial to recovering his good form.  

Having won 3 from 3 this season and having kept 2 clean sheets in the league already, we should be pretty confident taking on Newcastle at Old Trafford.

 ESPNFC produced this nice infographic summarizing the issues

They also reported on the fact that Schweini might start and DeGea isn't

The predicted line-ups from the Guardian's match preview

I'm predicting a 3-0 win. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Saving England from the Scribes

Fleet Street's impact on the Three Lions 

After what was deemed to be a "poor performance" against Norway, ( Ironically, they did win 1-0 with a bunch of kids, in what was an otherwise meaningless friendly) has got the British broadsheets and tabloids bemoaning the recent performances of the players, the results at the world cup, the talent of the manager and the relatively low percentage of English players playing in the Premier League. Fans are apathetic, even those that prepaid for tickets didn't turn up. Any hope that the national side will end what will be 50 years of trophy-less tournament participation in France in 2016 is very low if not non-existent and with performances not entertaining; fans, pundits and journos alike are impatient for improvement and are eager to see change.

Consider this speech from one Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix and apply it to football.  

"The Ministry of Magic (Football Association) has always considered the education of young witches and wizards (Footballers) to be of vital importance.The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the wizarding (football) community  must be passed down the generations lest we lose them for ever. The treasure trove of magical (football) knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded, replenished and polished by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching.Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts (coaches, managers & administrators at the FA/St George's Park) has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school (organization), and that is as it should be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation because some changes will be for the better, while others will come, in the fullness of time, to be recognized as errors of judgement. Meanwhile, some old habits will be retained, and rightly so, whereas others, outmoded and outworn, must be abandoned. Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited." 

It's not that the English journalists want to see the side or the manager fail, it's just that, for me, they don't ask the right questions of the FA or the manager. Instead of "can we win the world cup in (insert tournament year) " they should be asking, "how can we set up the football system to win the world cup in ..." It's how you can get the FA to get rid of the MBA/CA/Lawyers out of the upper echelons of the football side of the organization. the Media should also be pressuring ex-football players, both men and women to get into football admin like in other countries. People like Sol Campbell, David Seaman, Tony Adams, Paul Ince, Paul Scholes, Gary Linekar, Butcher, Paul Parker, Ray Wilkins, should be involved in the planning and football side of the national administrative body, and should be the ones coming up with football development plans.

On the short term front, after a game for instance,  instead of asking what did you think of the game tonight Roy, it should be, "what were you trying to achieve and did you achieve it Roy?" 

it's all well and good hounding the manager/players about the lack of attractive football and blowing supposedly poor sides away with pass and move, flowing football and scoring 4 goals a game to make decent headlines, but if they really care about progress, they should be asking what exactly the manager is trying to do and whether or not the players carried out those instructions/plans; that's what really matters.

With  upcoming games against minnows that England should be winning  comfortably, the expectation game is almost unwinnable, with a solid 2 or 3 nil victory the minimum acceptable outcome, and if they do go to score 5 or more unanswered goals, the level of the opposition will be used to discount their achievements. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Manchester United Shirt Sponsorship

It was not that long ago, relatively recently in the greater history of football, that Soccer Clubs started getting money from apparel manufacturers for the privilege of using their club's crest on replica match shirts, shorts, socks, caps, scarves, beanies and a whole host of other items. It's hardly believable that there was a time when Clubs would have to pay a company to print them a few shirts, to put their own crest on a simple shirt or socks. We've come a long way in a very short period of time.
Danny Welbeck in the last
of Nike's United Shirts

In the Premier League era, Manchester United shirts have been sponsored by Adidas( who had sponsored us throughout the 1980s), then Umbro (now owned by Nike) most noted for the 1998/9 treble shirt, and most recently Nike who've sponsored United for the last 12 years, with one final season of shirt sponsorship concluding next June. For that privilege, Nike paid a mammoth $519 million USD. Given Nike make $28 billion USD in the last financial year, up from $9.89 billion USD in 2002, one can argue that its been a great investment.  With news that Adidas are lining up to pay $128mil a year for 10 years to sell United branded shirts to the world,  I believe that United are making the easy, safe choice by accepting a deal with Adidas, who have deals with Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, AC Milan and a whole host of other clubs. I'd rather United take a bolder move and create a unique deal with a relative small player in football apparel, Under Armour.  
 With the club crest and
a better Chevrolet badge,
this could become a classic shirt

I know that Under Armour is a much smaller company when compared to Adidas, but strategically,  UnderArmour would grow massively if they agreed to sponsor us, back end the deal and increase payment amounts over the length of the contract, start off with $70m a year and growing by 10mil a year for 12 years (totaling about $1.5bil). I think it would give UA a massive boost in their market share and worldwide reach, really "putting them on the map" in Asia and in the football world, as their first global club, we could demand much more than Spurs and would allow United to differential themselves from the other major clubs who are either Nike or Adidas clubs. With a relatively large market share in the US retail and sports industries and a growing global reputation for quality goods, as well as a savvy product placement team that has seen Under Armour featured in movies & multiple TV shows (prominent on Friday Night Lights and seen in multiple scenes of Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D, as well as Batman:The Dark Knight Rises, Multiple Marvel Movies, Lone Survivor, Fast & Furious 6 etc.)  

Just think it would be a great move for both parties, United can really show themselves to be above the Nike v Adidas petty rivalry and be in a class of their own. Additionally, a deal with a relative outsider to the football world can help United secure image rights related commercial deals for their players when they get them to do ads for club sponsors which don't put individual player sponsors' noses out of whack. So Rooney(whose contract specifically includes a clause related to earnings from commercial promotional actities run by the club), RvP, Kagawa, Mata, Shaw and Herrera and who-ever else has image rights deals, can get decent money from a deal which reduces MUFC's wage bill growth while keeping them competitive in the transfer marketplace and  remain an attractive employer while keeping their wage bill to turnover ratio below 50%.  

An interesting idea that the club might be contemplating in regards to the United merchandising business from the  telegraph.
Interesting piece on football kit culture by John Devlin here

Thanks to the Pride of Manchester for having an awesome website with so much information.