Press Red: 25 years, the midfield and racism in football…

Press Red: 25 years, the midfield and racism in football…

After a short break, Press Red returns with regular pundit Simon Monaghan of Manchester band Daystar and Guardian journalist (and author of the recently re-released “This Is The One”) Daniel Taylor to discuss Sir Alex’s landmark celebration, racism in football and much more…

Si, it’s been an eventful couple of weeks for yourselves – played a great gig at Moho, and we are delighted to announce that Daystar are now providing the official soundtrack to the 7Cantonas Podcast. But onto football… Your bandmate Ste must have been giving you stick after the derby? On your website’s official blog he was quite playful and even said nice things about us, but he must have had a few enjoyable days!!

Si : Well we were doing a gig in Sheffield the evening after the gig so I had to share a Minibus with him for an hour.  To be fair he didn’t give me too much stick but I pre-empted it with comments like “We were sh*t”, “You were the better side in every department” & “Why the f*** does Fergie persist with playing Jonny Evans!” which kinda took the sting out of it.  He did have a grin on his face all the way there though.  Like I said though “Every dog has it’s day” and I didn’t see any league title being given out that day.  Newcastle and Kevin ‘I’d love it’ Keegan found that out to their detriment after their 5-0 victory over us in 1996 and we still won the league.  Good luck to em though.

Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated 25 years in charge of the club against Sunderland and was given the honour of having the North stand named after him. He was in the dark about it; how fitting a tribute to him is it? And how daunting will it be for his successor to sit every game in the dugout seeing that name across the stadium? Dan, were the press in the dark too?

DT: I rang the club in the days leading up that match and they told me – and all the press – there would be nothing much going on, maybe a bottle of wine or something. It would have been a great story to get – but equally, can you imagine the swam of locusts that would been sent the way of the journalist who ruined the surprise?

It was a great tribute, obviously, but the best part was clearly that he didn’t have a clue about it. It sounds like a proper operation to do it on the quiet – only eight people in the know, confidentiality agreements for the workmen, and the lettering going up under the cover of darkness etc.

I’m not sure it will make any great difference for whoever replaces him, simply because it’s going to be a ridiculously hard job anyway. That’s going to be a very strange time, for everyone involved. Everything the new manager does will be compared to the bloke he has just replaced. Every trophy, every achievement. The best job really is the one second in line.

Si : It’s probably just as daunting as Sir Alex having to see a whole street named after Sir Matt Busby and then a statue erected haha.  Look how well Sir Alex did? Mourinho won’t be fazed at all, haha!  I think naming something after him is a very fitting tribute to him and it will serve as a reminder to any players, managers and staff just what Manchester United stand for and the high standards that he set.  I think in ten years people will fully appreciate what Sir Alex did for the club and how he was a complete one off.  We will never see anyone like him again.  

Those 25 years have been exceptional, and many have taken to naming their best ever eleven under Fergie at United – what would yours be?

Si : Goalkeeper – Peter Schmeichel (Obviously), right back Gary Neville (A Loyal servant) – Left Back- Patrice Evra (He is better than Denis Irwin but if it’s value for money then its Irwin at £625k) Centre Back- Jaap Stam (Wouldn’t have won the 99 treble without him.  A rock) Centre Back – Nemanja Vidic (I prefer a bruiser of a defender that’s why I’ve not picked Ferdinand) Right Wing- Cristiano Ronaldo (We will never have a winger better than him I don’t expect) Left Wing- Ryan Giggs (Nearly 900 appearances! He typifies Manchester United along with Scholes) Centre Mid- Roy Keane (Driving force.  Still never replaced him) Centre Mid-  Paul Scholes (Underrated.  The English Xavi) Forward- Eric Cantona (Obviously.  Best player to put on a united shirt in my humble opinion) Forward – Wayne Rooney (Class.  Potentially the best player in the world).

DT: This is hard. If you asked me the same question next week, I’d probably have a completely different XI. I mean, how do you choose between, say, Ferdinand and Stam? Or Rooney and Cantona?

But I’d probably go:

Schmeichel; Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Irwin; Keane, Robson; Ronaldo, Rooney, Giggs; Van Nistelrooy.

That’s a team without Scholes, Stam, Hughes and – Christ, apologies – Cantona as well as many others. But even so, what a team.

United’s form has been rather sketchy of late; the disastrous City defeat has been followed by clean sheets and fairly unconvincing wins before the draw with Benfica. Rio Ferdinand was singled out for criticism for some poor performances and Fergie’s comments about him losing a yard of pace seemed to spell the end – however, he’s since made a public stand with Rio, so much so that he re-modeled the defence to put Rio on the left hand side of centre to accommodate Phil Jones, and to ensure that exposure is minimal. Do you think that a) that’s the strongest back line for United at present and b) whether that will be the one that Fergie uses most for the rest of the campaign?

DT: That’s the strongest back four, though Smalling was looking great before his injury, wasn’t he? But you have to consider Rio Ferdinand’s fitness as well and, really, it’s difficult to see it becoming the kind of week-in week-out back four we have seen in previous years. Ferdinand’s played only 40 per cent of games over the last couple of years, and I don’t really detect any feeling at United that it’s going to get better. I still think he would be Ferguson’s first choice, when fully fit, for a big European game. But this could easily be his last year at United and, let’s be honest, he looked like a boxer who had had one too many fights in the 6-1.

Jones is great, obviously, though still young and learning and he tends to be forgiven very quickly for his mistakes. Vidic is the best at what he does in the league. Evra’s form must be a worry because it is getting to the point where a “dip” is turning into the start of a “slump” but I still think he’s a good, attacking left-back. Rafael and Fabio might well be the future but, first, they have to stop being so injury-prone.

What surprises me is that Jonny Evans seems to be first-choice replacement at centre-half because, for me, he always has a mistake in him. He tends to get lumped in as one of ‘the young ones’ but, equally, he’s 24 in January. After the start he made to his career I would have thought he would be a much better centre-half than the one we have seen over the last couple of years.

Si : To be honest I think the strongest back line is Smalling – Jones – Vidic – Evra 

Ferdinand needs to adapt to the fact he has lost that yard of pace and if he can then possible Jones out to right back and Ferdinand back in the centre.  If not then its squad rotation for Ferdinand.  I think Fergie will go with my suggestion to be honest.  We need to keep Smalling and Jones in the team.

Further up the pitch, the familiar concerns about midfield have been aired. Tom Cleverley and Anderson started the season so well people wondered if they would be the future; Cleverley got injured, Anderson’s form dropped and though Fletcher and Carrick have done ok, neither have set the world alight. After the City game I heard it said that Anderson shouldn’t play for the club again and that Pogba should be given a chance in the squad. Regardless of what’s within the club, has enough time passed to suggest that we made a mistake not signing a midfielder in the summer?

DT: It has always felt like a mistake, even when the team were scoring so many goals at the start of the season. In fact, I’d say United actually needed to get two midfielders in the summer – the schemer that everyone wants, but also someone who can play the holding role (one of the reasons for why United, at one point, had been on the opposite end of more shots at goal than any other club).

In terms of attacking midfielders, City have Silva, Nasri, Yaya Toure . . United just don’t have that kind of player, someone to play the killer pass from central positions. Not regularly, anyway. Or regularly enough. Anderson is a disappointment for me. He has a few good games, started the season really well, and you think; ‘finally, it’s clicked’ and then just as quickly he goes off the boil again. Carrick is a strange one. He’s such an elegant player, his awareness of space and the way he can move the ball – and yet he’s in a position whereby half the supporters don’t really want him in the team.

There’s way too much expectation on Cleverley and it’s not fair on him at all. Yes, he’s played well, really well sometimes, but it’s all a bit ludicrous the way some supporters have tried to make a case that having him back from Wigan can make up for the failure to get Sneijder/Nasri. Pogba looks really promising but the one I’m really excited about is Ravel Morrison. What a player he should become if – and, sadly, I’m tempted to put the ‘if’ in italics – he can get his head straight.

Si : I dont think that Anderson is finished but I do think that without Cleverley he doesn’t look as strong.  Also he just doesn’t score enough goals and when you compare him to the likes of Fabregas (When at Arsenal), Lampard, Van der Vaart and even Yaya Toure.  All the top clubs have had a midfielder who can bang in goals and we don’t. 

I think we made a mistake not signing a Modric or Schneider in the summer to be honest.  It all looked like the right decision earlier on but a few injuries and/or loss of form and we are exposed.  We have too many jack of all trade midfielders who are not fully attacking or fully defensive.  We should have signed a proper defensive midfielder and a proper attacking star as well. 

Pogba should be playing more but he isn’t the answer yet. Same with Ravel Morrison. Saying that though if we did sign a top class defensive or attacking would it then ruin the progress that Cleverly, Anderson, Pogba and Morrison could make?  Its a tough one.

One story that simply won’t go away is the Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra race row. The latest chapter seen Luis Suarez and Liverpool suggest there has been a misunderstanding due to cultural differences. By doing so, they’ve opened a can of worms by more or less admitting that the striker said something that could be considered racially offensive. Is putting it down to a cultural misunderstanding a plausible explanation, or is it too unbelievable to consider that Suarez was so naive he didn’t realise the impact of what he was saying?

Si : Well the FA charged Suarez with it – I didn’t think Evra would make that up as it really isn’t fair on the people who do get called that stuff for real like Anton Ferdinand for instance (I hate John Terry to be honest so had to get that in).

We are trying to stamp out racism so a mixed race player lying about being racially abused would just be letting other mixed race players down. I’m really pleased Suarez has been charged as racism should be stamped out. For god’s sake it’s 2011.  

DT: As it stands, we don’t know for certain what Suarez said. He has admitted saying something that, in his mind, wasn’t racially motivated, and then it will be up to the FA to decide whether it was and, if necessary, whether the defence that ‘it’s ok to say that in Uruguay’ is ok in England. The fact they have charged him strongly suggests they think it’s no form of mitigation. But the word that keeps being used at the FA is ‘complex’. All the stuff about the culture and semantics is very difficult to understand unless you have first-hand experience of it (I’ll be honest, I haven’t), and the FA have got an impossible job really. Just look at the Twitter reaction – the myth-making about Evra’s “previous” and the way it has become a Liverpool-United thing to so many people, when it should be bigger and more important than that.

There are Liverpool fans who will refuse to believe Suarez is guilty, even if proven, simply because he plays for Liverpool. And there are United fans who believe he must be guilty because, well, he plays for Liverpool. This is why the FA wanted all the relevant people to say nothing – because they were acutely aware about the sensitivities/politics/bullshit that goes with Liverpool-United. I think all we can say for certain is that there will be QCs, barristers, the full works, involved. United turned up with Maurice Watkins for the Evra/Chelsea/groundsman case and quickly realised they had under-estimated the kind of legal team that could be put together with Abramovich’s £££.

–Thanks to Daniel and Simon for their time.

Daniel’s book “This Is The One” is available on Amazon in both book form and Kindle and is currently on offer with free delivery. Click here to buy your copy.

Daystar provide the music for the 7Cantonas podcast. They have just recorded the video for their song “Don’t Need This” (see it on their YouTube channel), visit their website and follow them on Twitter.


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