Welcome to the first edition of “Press Red”, our brand new fortnightly feature bringing you opinion on the latest Manchester United news and topics in the football world from a panel made of United supporting celebrities, journalists covering the club and a member of the 7Cantonas team.
TV and radio personality Terry Christian will be our regular chair but this week it was the job of Toploader guitarist Dan Hipgrave – Yolkie asked him and ManUtd.com journalist Adam Marshall, BBC Manchester radio journalist Steven Wyeth and 7Cantonas’ own Preben Walle about the pre-season, their feelings about our current squad, the controversial topic of players on Twitter and more…
Dan, you recently released a new album with Toploader after a long hiatus. It’s a great listen and great to have you back on the scene. How has it been back and playing festivals?
Dan : It’s great to be back thanks. We love playing live so getting back out there after such a long break has been revitalising for us, it has reminded us of why we started doing it in the first place.
You kept yourself busy in the “between years” as a travel expert for the BBC and set up a music based travel company. As a celebrity you must be able to draw comparisons with moving away from where you’re well known to one where you’re not so much, like the United lads who went to America this past summer. Do you tend to enjoy the freedom that brings, or in your line of work is it more about ensuring that it doesn’t stay the case that you can move “under the radar” so to speak?
Dan : Interesting question, there’s nothing better in life than a new challenge. When we were at the top of our game back in the early noughties we probably took it all for granted a bit. We were headlining large festivals, jetting all over the world and selling hundreds of thousands of records yet it didn’t feel all that special until it ended and we had time to reflect. I guess it’s the same for the lads, they win the league but lose the Champions League Final, jet off on their holidays and reflect. I bet it doesn’t take more than a few days until they are itching to get back and face a new challenge, and the biggest one in world football at the moment is to beat Barcelona.
That’s how we feel now a bit – it’s a new season for us, the music industry has changed loads and we need to adapt, and we will.
Steven, to get onto United matters, it was a fantastic start to the season to defeat City in the Community Shield, and in the fashion we did. How was it covering the game, and how much does it mean now we won?
Steven : Too many games at the new Wembley have been a bit of an anti-climax, and United have been involved in some real stinkers so it was great to cover one that bucked the trend. It was the manner of United’s victory that was particularly impressive, they really took the game to City and on the balance of play there’s still a significant gulf between the sides going into the new season, despite City’s continuing investment.
How do you feel about United’s summer? Are you optimistic with the new signings, or do you think we haven’t replaced the likes of Paul Scholes, Wes Brown, and John O’Shea properly?
Preben : I’m happy with the business we have done so far, I think all the signings are calculated and fairly safe. The pre-season tour in America has proven that all three major signings (De Gea, Jones and Young) look exceptional already, and especially Ashley Young has been promising. What I think we need is a backup right back. At this moment in time, Rafael is the only natural right back in the setup. However, as Fergie did in the US, Phil Jones can step into that role with ease, and that might be one of the reasons for signing Jones at this time, namely his diversity.
Paul Scholes is a different chapter altogether, he cannot be replaced like for like. There just is not a player capable of stepping into his shoes. What we can buy, however, is a creative midfielder of some sort. There has, of course, been a lot of speculation over Sneijder. Personally, I think he would be a terrific signing, and I also think he will eventually end up at Old Trafford.
Dan : I’m very optimistic. 3/4 years ago I read article after article about how the Utd empire was coming to an end. Then without anyone really noticing Fergie has reduced the average squad age dramatically, and with quality! Now we look like a revitalised team, with buckets of energy, and more importantly skill and loyalty to the club.
City on the other hand look like a gang of pirates, their players display such petulant behaviour and are not working together as a team. I know what I prefer. I feel we need some creativity in the centre of the park. Sneijder is obviously a class act with bags of experience but at 27 there would be no season to settle in, he would have to slot in immediately and that is not always guaranteed. I wonder if we may stick with the kids like Cleverley and Anderson.
Steven : If a deal can be made for Wesley Sneijder, and it looks to be getting closer, then it would be a very productive summer for United. Then you’d have a marquee player that could go some way to replacing Scholes, although a like-for-like replacement simply doesn’t exist. Otherwise, Ashley Young and Phil Jones look like sound business and David de Gea’s reputation suggests he deserves a chance to succeed Edwin van der Sar. I hope United hold on Berbatov, then the squad for this season looks very strong.
Adam : David De Gea will be a top keeper but we all need to be patient with him, as Wembley showed. Ashley Young must improve on his Villa performances, in my view, but is at the best place to do that and gives us plenty of options. His international form has been excellent and he should fit in pretty seamlessly. We have to remember Phil Jones is still a teenager – if he develops as quickly as Chris Smalling has, then we’ll have some player on our hands. I’m sad to see all the departing players leave and was surprised John O’Shea was offloaded. The manager has admitted we’re short of bodies in midfield and that’s the only area where we possibly need to strengthen.
What do you predict for United this season, what can they achieve?
Adam : Sir Alex seems to be able to manage teams in transition but still maintain the success levels and we’re justifiably favourites for the title. Obviously, we need to improve on our away form as it’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to be as invincible at Old Trafford but there’s no reason to fear any of our championship rivals just yet. As a bit of a romantic, I’d love to see us win the FA Cup again, it’s a bit overdue, but the Champions League is going to be more difficult than ever now Barcelona have signed Alexis Sanchez and, potentially, Cesc Fabregas. I think City will provide the biggest threat for domestic honours.
Steven : Anything less than Premier League title number 20 would be a major disappointment. United won the title by nine points last season, and I don’t see how the gap has been sufficiently closed by any of their rivals. An FA Cup win is long overdue, although if United are to win the Champions League then they’ll need someone else to see off Barcelona for them, I fear.
Preben : The main target should always be to win the Premier League. And, with more and more clubs being capable of beating United, that task will need more focus than ever. Therefore, I think we might, and I say might, struggle in the other competitions. I will go for league champions, but nothing more, and I would be happy with that.
Dan : I think we will win the League again but come up just short again in the Champions League, maybe semi finals. We may do the double with an FA cup final win over City or Chelsea.
A bit of a soft topic to start this season off with; who’s your favourite United player of all time, and who would you say is the most “legendary” we’ve had at the club – and why, for both?
Dan : My favorite player is probably Cantona, he was Utd through and through. Legend is probably George Best, for his incredible story! I was lucky enough to meet him a few times. I went to his house once for a cup of tea and he showed me his trophy cabinet. He was so lovely and so humble about his last success.
Adam : It’s hard to pinpoint one but, if pushed, I’d go for Bryan Robson. He carried the team when I was a kid and was the complete all-round player. Eric Cantona was unique and Ryan Giggs is simply a phenomenon. In terms of the biggest legend, I’d plump for Giggs – I dread to think how upset I’ll be when he finally calls it a day, seeing Scholesy off was bad enough!
Preben : My favourite player is David Beckham, hands down. What he did to raise the profile of United in the 90s was fantastic, and, alongside that, he was a terrific footballer. The ultimate professional, with a fantastic right-foot. What’s not to like?
In terms of the other questions, there’s no way around Sir Bobby Charlton. He was a fantastic player, there was never any trouble with him off the pitch, and he has been a magnificent ambassador for the club after his playing-career came to an end.
Steven : Favourite United player of all-time – Paul Scholes. For the combination of his attitude and talent. I wish there were more who approached being a professional footballer as he does. He’s the antidote to Mario Balotelli!
Legend – Got to be Eric Cantona. By United standards his stay was brief, but his legacy is enduring. Great player and the definition of ‘mercurial’.
Adam, the reserves have had a pretty good pre-season and you’ve been covering it as you were back in the UK while United went to America. Larnell Cole has looked impressive and Paul Pogba looks as if he’s noticeably bulked up and has impressed even when played out of position – what are your opinions on how they’ve done, and has anyone else impressed you?
Adam : Larnell Cole and Jesse Lingard have had outstanding pre-seasons and it’s particularly rewarding to see these two do well. They were so tiny (still are in comparison to Pogba!) and yet the coaching staff persevered and all the hard work is paying off. Pogba’s got the physique of a Premier League player already and shows great touches allied to a cannonball shot. He’s a real prospect but I’m just as excited about Ravel Morrison, even though we’ve only seen one half of him in the Reserves this summer. Danny Drinkwater deserves a mention because he’s returned from a less-than-successful loan spell but looks a step ahead of many of the others in terms of development. He’s a neat midfielder who could captain the Reserves if he stays here as he looks to have the right attitude.
One of the big talking points over the last couple of weeks of pre-season has been players on Twitter with Joey Barton essentially talking his way out of the door at Newcastle. Do you think it’s a good thing that players use Twitter?
Preben : I think players like Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen has shown that if you use it properly, and to your own advantage , it is a fantastic tool to get in touch with the fans. But, then you have players like Darren Bent and Joey Barton who have got themselves in trouble through Twitter. I think players need guidelines and education on how to use Twitter and other social mediums.
Steven : Absolutely. I just wish we could get such candid interviews out of footballers on a more regular basis. They’re so protected by the club, agents and sponsors, there’s rarely a chance to get under their skin. They certainly seem more cautious about what they say in interviews than they post on twitter. Joey Barton might want to rein in the philosophy though – it’s like he’s reading a copy of ‘1001 Famous Quotations’ on the toilet.
Dan : I think people who use Twitter too often need to get a proper hobby, like golf, playing an instrument, or even walking old ladies across the road, all of which offer more to the world.
Saying that I do like the idea of freedom of speech, so yeah whatever. If I was paying someone 50k a week, though, I wouldn’t want them slagging me off in any capacity and I’d see them on their way if they did. That’s just life isn’t it, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you!
Adam : It’s a nightmare for clubs to deal with in terms of keeping the lid on things but most supporters would view this as a positive. It’s fascinating to see what they’re up to but dangerous at times, as Barton has proved. Journalists love it because it’s easy content for them and fans must enjoy it too judging by the number of followers the players have. But people need to stop getting carried away and should give everybody some breathing space to express themselves freely. For instance, Kiko Tweeting that he hoped Sneijder would sign was taken as being an insider scoop that the deal was done – which was grossly unfair to the youngster and is the sort of thing that would lead the club to question whether it’s worth the hassle. The whole Darron Gibson episode was rather unsavoury as well and not a good advert for social media interaction.
Finally, talk of Wesley Sneijder has dominated the latter part of pre-season after Luka Modric and Samir Nasri were heavily linked the early part; who would be your pick of the three if any, and indeed, do you think we need another in there?
Preben : I don’t think there’s any doubt that a new player in the same mold as those mentioned above is required. Who we buy, if we indeed buy anyone (Cleverley is already there, remember), is of less significance to me.
Dan : Yes I’d like one of these players as United for sure, who wouldn’t. Sneijder is probably the best all round player of the 3, Modric is proven in the perm and is a few years younger but looks like he want to stay in London. Nasri had an amazing season but one season doesn’t make great player, think he’s off to earn some money at City anyway. Ideally I’d like to see one of our youth come though and be the new Scholes.
Adam : The Community Shield proved that Tom Cleverley and Anderson are ready to have huge impacts next term but David Gill is on record about the hunt for a “world-class” signing before the deadline. Wesley Sneijder is one of a small band of players who irrefutably come into that bracket and would surely shine in the Premier League. Whether he’s exactly what United need is another debate but he has the quality of a Scholes. Luka Modric is a fantastic talent but I’m actually quite pleased Spurs won’t sell him. The league needs competition and it’s no use if the fifth or sixth-best teams flog their star men to the few sides above them, particularly when they’re tied down to large contracts. If he had a year left it would be another matter, and that’s where Nasri comes in. The feeling is he’d prefer the greater riches on offer at City and, although a class act, there is the worry that he went missing in the second half of the season when Arsenal imploded.
One man can’t do it alone, of course, but character is a key part of being a United player. Out of the three, if there were no other factors involved, I’d take Modric. In the real world, I’d opt for Sneijder but nothing would give me greater pleasure than seeing Cleverley, Morrison and Pogba promoted to the squad on a regular basis. Whether there’s enough patience amongst the fans to do that is another matter – there often seems to great clamour for the youngsters until they hit the first-team and then they get criticised because they’re not Wesley Sneijder. I should clarify that by fans, I mean the wider public rather than those actually attending the matches.
Steven : The signing of an established, world-class player would send out a strong message to their challengers. Sneijder not only fits the bill but appears to be the only one that’s likely to happen.
Thanks to the guys for their time this week.
Steven hosts BBC Red Wednesday, a weekly show dedicated to all things United at 6pm on Wednesdays.
Toploader’ – The brand new album ‘Only Human’ is out now on Underdogs Music www.toploaderofficial.com.
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*May be updated*