A new season, a new Press Red. Former United player Alex Notman is joined by the Chief Football Correspondent for the times, Oliver Kay, to discuss the manic events of last season’s last day, Sir Alex Ferguson and the Glazers, as well as a proposed move for Robin van Persie…
That was some incredible season with a last minute to match; the league will have to go some to be better than last year, do you think it can live up to it?
AN : I certainly hope so but not sure I could take another finish like that! It was certainly the most entertaining season I have witnessed but I really don’t think we will get a finish to a season like that again. I don’t think United played anywhere near there best for large parts of the season and should have had it wrapped up with a couple of games to go, but that’s football and I expect United to take the title back this season.
OK : Last season was pretty extreme in terms of the drama and the sheer anarchy of a lot of the biggest matches – 8-2, 1-6, 3-5, 4-4 etc. It would be asking a lot to expect more of the same, but I hope it’s as entertaining as last season because it seems that, with the Olympics being such a success, a few people need reminding about how brilliant football is.
United’s own summer has been relatively understated so far; what do you think of the signings of Nick Powell and Shinji Kagawa?
OK : I’ve liked Nick Powell from the first time I watched him a couple of years ago. I’m not quite sure what type of player he’ll end up as, but he’s definitely got talent, intelligence and temperament. You don’t see many of that type of signing from the lower divisions any more, but if he gets the opportunities, he could develop into a really good player at United. Kagawa likewise. He has definitely got the talent and it’s just a case of whether he can adapt to English football. He might need to bulk up a bit. Both have talent, but neither is a dead-cert. They’re the kind of signings you would expect Arsenal to make, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
AN : To be honest I have not seen much of either of them play. I saw Nick Oowell play in the Play Off Final and you could see he was a class above that level. He is still very young so I am sure he will be one for the future. Kagawa was a key player in Dortmund’s success last year where he scored a lot of goals so if he can produce that kind of form in the premiership I am sure he will be a quality addition.
Recently Sir Alex has taken the unusual step of publicly talking about potential deals for Lucas Moura and Robin van Persie; firstly, would they be good signings, secondly, is the interest genuine, or just an attempt to make it look like United are in the market to sign a marquee player with positive publicity required ahead of the Glazers plans to float the club in New York?
AN : Yeah they would certainly be good signings, both world class players who I would love to see at United. You would hope that the interest is genuine but there are probably a lot of clubs showing an interest as they are both class players. Out of the two, I would love to see van Persie come. Him and Rooney up front would be the best partnership in the league.
The prospectus for the flotation got United supporters up in arms by the thought of Sir Alex possibly being one of the named employees to benefit… he has since confirmed he won’t, but that hasn’t stopped some from being critical of him…
OK : He has said he won’t benefit financially, so unless anyone can prove otherwise, they should accept that. But there has been something disconcerting about Ferguson’s deference to the Glazers from the very start. No one expects him to go down the Benitez route of going against them, but you wouldn’t expect a man like Ferguson, whose used to castigate Edwards and Kenyon publicly for not supporting him enough in the transfer market, to be at the other end of the spectrum. By rights, he should hate them. Yes United have kept winning trophies, but that’s down to him and in spite of the Glazers, not because of them.
With the signings we’ve made already and those rumoured to be coming in, United look likely to shift to a more flexible formation that might resemble 4-2-3-1. Does the squad have enough in it to win the title back from City?
AN : Yes I think so, as I said earlier, I don’t think United played well for large parts of last season and still we only lost the title on goal difference. I think if Vidic had not been injured then United would have won the league. So if he can get back to his best and with a couple more additions, I really believe United can win the title back.
OK : Possibly, yes. If it’s possible to say such a thing, I thought they overachieved in finishing with 90 points last season. But United are very good at winning runs of matches in the Premier League. With the depth and variety of their creative/attacking/goalscoring options, they’ll win a lot of matches again. We can all spot weaknesses in the squad, but they’ll mount another strong challenge. I expect Chelsea to be much better, at least in the league. City have by far the strongest squad, but defending a title and keeping all those players content won’t be easy. I’d say City probably favourites for now, but only slightly – and I reserve the right to change my mind between now and August 18, as well as every weekend thereafter.
Fergie has been talking about Europe, saying we won’t take any risks in the group stages – how far do you see United going in this season’s Champions League?
OK : Quarter-finals or, at a push, semi-finals. I think the last two seasons have been slightly freakish – they weren’t a great team when they reached the 2011 final and they weren’t a terrible team when they went out in the group stage last year. As long as they’re not complacent, they’ll get through the group. After that, they might be reliant on the luck of the draw (which helped them in 2011). I don’t see them winning it. Real Madrid and Barcelona start as favourites.
AN : I don’t think we will see any slip ups this year. I expect United to get out of the group stages no problem. It’s a difficult one to predict as there are so many good teams in there, but I fully expect United to get to the later stages.
While we’re doing predictions, let’s do a player one; at right back, United have just tied Rafael to a new contract, while we also have Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in that position.. who do you think will end the season as United’s first choice player in that position?
AN : I think it will be between Rafael and Smalling for the right back position. Rafael is better going forward than Smalling in my opinion and I expect him to start the season there.
OK: I’d say it’s more a question of whether Jones and/or Smalling manages to nail down a place in central defence ahead of Ferdinand/Vidic/Evans. If neither of them does, then they’ll be competing at right-back. I suspect we won’t get an answer to who is the first-choice right-back. It will be rotated like mad, as it has been for the past few seasons.
Finally, Fergie also set a few fingers furiously typing when he suggested that “real fans” appreciated what the Glazer family were doing for the club; an odd (and almost pointless) thing to say. That and the IPO has prompted a renewed public noise from supporters group MUST. Do you feel supporters should probably accept that after seven years the Glazers are going nowhere or do you agree with the renewed optimism among some that the flotation means the Glazers might be prepared to sell up?
OK : I thought it was a provocative and totally needless comment – but yet again it’s “media trying to create a rift” between him and the fans etc. No one expects him to say “They’re a disgrace”, “They’re bleeding the club dry”, “They’re taking you for mugs”, but if ever there is a time for Fergie’s beloved “I’m no getting intae that”, it’s when he’s asked about the Glazers. As for the fans, they shouldn’t just grudgingly “accept” the Glazers. I’m surprised and slightly disappointed how the majority seemed to abandon the resistance movement after the initial momentum of the Green and Gold campaign. It must be bad for your health to become so obsessed with the Glazers that it stops you enjoying a club like United in the same way, but for me – and I’m not a United fan – the “Love United, Hate Glazer” message is a compelling one.