Real Madrid’s Pursuit of David De Gea and Co Should Be Resisted

David de Gea’s proposed move to Real Madrid in 2015 fell through at the last minute but the Spanish club still have their eyes on the Manchester United keeper. Photograph: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

It isn’t difficult to understand why there are times when Real Madrid, with all their haughty self‑importance and the inescapable sense that they always seem to get their way, leave some of the other clubs at the higher end of the sport filled with moments of insecurity.

There are plenty of other great clubs who regard European domination as a legitimate ambition. Yet none, perhaps – not even Barcelona – have the same kind of magnetic attraction for the game’s superstars. None of the other superpowers seem so sure of themselves, bordering on a superiority complex, when it comes to luring their targets. No other club take more pleasure from flexing their muscles and reminding everyone about the order of merit that exists among the elite.

“Madrid paid £80m in cash, and do you know why,” Sir Alex Ferguson writes of Cristiano Ronaldo in his last autobiography. “It was a way for Florentino Pérez, their president, to say to the world: ‘We are Real Madrid, we are the biggest of the lot.’ It was a clever move.”

Ferguson, you might recall, was so incensed by Madrid’s pursuit of Ronaldo throughout the preceding year that he brought up the fascist dictatorship of General Franco to argue his point that one of the great sporting institutions was, in fact, morally bankrupt. Ferguson’s press conferences around that time presented the image of a man who refused to be cowed, leaning forward in his chair and promising he would “not sell a virus” to “that mob”. Ferguson, perhaps the greatest actor football has ever produced, struck a pose that day that Al Pacino would have been proud of. But it was all for show. Secretly, there was a gentleman’s agreement with Ronaldo, he just didn’t admit it until a few years later. “I knew full well that if they produced the £80m he would have to go. We could not block his fervent wish to return to Iberia and wear the famous white shirt of Di Stéfano or Zidane.” And Madrid, once again, got their man.

This is the problem for United now the relevant people at the Bernabéu have realigned their sights on David de Gea, even if it is also true the goalkeeper spent his early football years at the Vicente Calderón, home of Atlético Madrid, where the tribuna lateral held up thousands of red and white cards before their latest encounter with Real to make its point in a huge, defiant mosaic: Orgulloso De No Ser Como Vosotros. Translation: Proud of not being like you.

It was a nice put-down and that kaleidoscope of color, with the Almudena cathedral on the skyline, was a wonderful reminder why the old place will be missed when Atlético upgrade this summer to their new stadium out by the airport.

The bottom line, however, is that it was Zinedine Zidane’s players who finished the night doing knee-slides on the rain-soaked pitch. The club where Jorge Valdano once said you could never have too many stars even have a galáctico managing them now. They have won the European Cup 11 times, four more than Milan and six ahead of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Liverpool on the next rung down, and los blancos could add another when they meet Juventus in Cardiff on 3 June. If so, it will be the third time in four years that Madrid’s ribbons have adorned that 17lb hulk of silver. Of course De Gea must be intrigued. Of course there are temptations. How, possibly, could anyone think there are not?

That must be an alarming prospect for United if the club are serious about re-establishing themselves among the elite and Chelsea are probably entitled to a few concerns of their own when Madrid have also been fluttering their eyelashes in Eden Hazard’s direction.

Madrid might be a chaotic place sometimes – six managers and more crises than they will probably care to remember during David Beckham’s four years at the Bernabéu – but this is still the nearest football has to the Harlem Globetrotters. Or as the headline in USA Today once put it: the Yankees of Soccer. It isn’t easy for any player to say no.

There is, however, no rule in place that dictates other clubs must dance to their tune and it would be a pity if United and Chelsea do not have the will to stand up to Madrid at a time when the Premier League needs this kind of players and Match of the Day, a show with natural urges to make the sport feel exciting, had a debate recently about whether England’s top division had lost its stardust.

Chelsea, to give them their due, have already made their intentions clear. Hazard might have finished behind N’Golo Kanté when it comes to the season’s individual honors but the Belgian would have been a worthy recipient of the footballer-of-the-year awards. He would be an ideal wearer of Madrid’s colors and it makes perfect sense that Chelsea, with high ambitions of their own, have already initiated talks about replacing his existing contract, which runs until 2020, with a longer one that would reinforce his position as the club’s highest‑paid player.

United’s position with De Gea is not quite so clear but surely this is a time when they have to shut the door on Madrid if they have serious thoughts about returning to a position where their idea of success is something far more elegant than huffing and puffing through the Thursday-night-Sunday-afternoon churn of the Europa League.

De Gea has won his club’s player-of-the-season award for each of the three previous years. He is 26, which is still relatively young in goalkeeping terms, and approaching what should be the best years of his career. Most important, he has a contract until 2019 and there is an option his club surely should take to extend that by another year. United had to wait a long time before they found someone who did not make them pine for Peter Schmeichel; now they have that man it makes little sense that they would contemplate losing him.

Putting up those barriers will clearly not be straightforward if De Gea makes it clear that he wants to go and, unfortunately for United, he could be forgiven for wondering what adventures might have been possible had his proposed move to the Bernabéu in 2015 not fallen through at the last minute.

Hazard might have grown up with Zidane as his football hero and he might have made it clear that one day he would like to play in Spain, but his current club have just won the league and could turn that into a Double when they meet Arsenal in the FA Cup final a week next Saturday. He is the player, more than anyone, who opponents worry about the most. Chelsea have the Champions League in their thoughts again and even, hypothetically, if he asked to leave, the Premier League’s newly crowned champions should do everything they can to stop it happening.

The encouraging part for Chelsea is that there has been nothing to indicate that is in Hazard’s mind. United, however, are on the next rung down and, though the attractions of playing for England’s biggest club are obvious, De Gea is part of a team that have finished, in order, seventh, fourth and fifth over the previous three seasons and now look like coming in sixth.

The process of recovery, post‑Ferguson, has been slow and Roy Keane has described United’s league position, 22 points from the top, as an embarrassment for his old club. United are trailing one of the worst Arsenal sides of the past 20 years and are about to finish behind Manchester City for the fourth consecutive season, the first time that has happened since the early 1970s. Keane may have an old grievance against José Mourinho – and United as a whole – but that doesn’t make what he says wrong.

The one thing United have never lost, however, is their desire to get back to the top. This is a time when they, and Chelsea, need to dig in their heels because the alternative would not only undermine their chances of future success, it would also look like a white flag. This is what enraged Ferguson so much during the Ronaldo standoff: that Madrid were making them look weak. That one was a world record transfer fee. In another sense, it was one of the worst pieces of business United have ever pulled off.

Wolves look at risk of misdirection

Arsène Wenger sounded peculiarly out of touch with the modern sport when he said there was no place for a director of football at Arsenal and declared he did not even know what the position was supposed to entail. “Is it somebody who stands in the road and directs play right and left?” Wenger asked. “I don’t understand and I never did understand what it means.”

It’s quite straightforward, really – as Wenger probably knows – and it can actually be a useful role when managers at a lot of top clubs are simply too busy working with their teams to be flying around the world on scouting missions, negotiating transfer business, dealing with agents and a multitude of other tasks.

Wenger seemed to think it would mean signing players he didn’t necessarily want but the secret, generally, is to find someone who works alongside the manager, rather than against him, and when it happens that way there is plenty of evidence that it is something clubs should embrace rather than be afraid of.

Unfortunately it is easier to understand Wenger’s misgivings when there are so many clubs that cannot get the balance right and managers are marginalized when it comes to identifying the players that might just keep them in a job.

The latest is Wolves, where Paul Lambert has apparently been informed that Jorge Mendes – a football agent, last time I checked – will take control of the club’s transfer activity this summer.

Mendes does not have an official title at Molineux but that clearly does not matter when the man who represents Cristiano Ronaldo, among others, has an “in” with the club’s Chinese owners. How that qualifies him to pick the right players for a season in the Championship is anyone’s guess but that appears to be the plan and Lambert has duly found out that his own targets will probably be scrubbed because Mendes has an entirely different wishlist.

This includes a number of foreign players Lambert has never heard of and, not surprisingly, he is now considering whether this is a club where he wants to be employed. Keep an eye on Wolves next season: amid some stiff competition they seem utterly determined to be thought of among the Championship’s more harebrained operations.

(The Guardian)

Man United hires Van Gaal as manager

Netherlands' coach Louis van Gaal gestures during a training session in Hoenderloo in this May 7, 2014 file photo. (NETHERLANDS - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)
Netherlands’ coach Louis van Gaal gestures during a training session in Hoenderloo in this May 7, 2014 file photo. (NETHERLANDS – Tags: SPORT SOCCER)
Manchester, AP—Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal was hired as Manchester United manager on Monday, tasked with repairing the damage from David Moyes’ disappointing 10 months in charge and reviving the fortunes of one of the world’s biggest clubs.

The 62-year-old Dutchman has signed a three-year contract and will take over at Old Trafford after the World Cup in Brazil, becoming the first United manager from outside Britain and Ireland. United great Ryan Giggs will be his assistant.

“To work as a manager for Manchester United, the biggest club in the world, makes me very proud,” Van Gaal said in a United statement. “This club has big ambitions; I too have big ambitions. Together I’m sure we will make history.”

Van Gaal has experience of coaching—and winning league titles—at some of the world’s top teams, but even spells at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich may not prepare him for the rebuilding job required at United.

The club has been in a state of flux since the retirement of Alex Ferguson last May after nearly 27 years in charge. Moyes, Ferguson’s successor, was dismissed last month before the team went on to finish seventh—its lowest placing since the Premier League’s inception in 1992.

United also failed to qualify for European football for the first time in 24 years.

Van Gaal is likely to be handed considerable funds to strengthen the squad to get United back in the Champions League, something the club’s American owners — the Glazer family—weren’t prepared to give Moyes. A return to Europe’s top competition will likely be the priority, followed by a desire to play the kind of attacking, dynamic brand of football expected at United but unable to be delivered by Moyes.

United has broken the mold by appointing Van Gaal.

In the club’s 136-year history, no previous manager has come from outside Britain or Ireland, a common occurrence at England’s other big clubs in recent years.

The notion of United hiring coaches in a bid to create a dynasty—something Ferguson uniquely achieved—also appears to have ended.

After spending six years at Ajax, where Van Gaal guided a talented young team to the pinnacle of European football by winning the Champions League in 1995, he joined Barcelona in 1997 for the first of two spells—the first lasting three seasons and the second barely half a year. He has since coached AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch league and Bayern between 2009-11.

So he may not be the long-term manager many at United crave—Giggs, United’s interim manager for last season’s final four games and one of the club’s greatest players, is thought to be being groomed for the seat in the future—but the fact that Van Gaal has won league titles with every team he has worked makes him one of Europe’s most-respected coaches.

He has been coach of the Netherlands since 2012, his second spell with the national team following a stint from 2000-02.

“Everyone is very excited about this new phase in the club’s history,” United vice-chairman Ed Woodward said. “His track record of success in winning leagues and cups across Europe throughout his career makes him the perfect choice for us.

“People know him as a larger-than-life character but I have also been extremely impressed by his intelligence, thoughtful approach to the role and his diligence.”

He can be spiky and provocative with journalists and hardly lacks in self-belief, a trait which can often spill over to make him appear arrogant. But after the failed tenure of Moyes, United needed a manager who commanded respect and had a strong track record.

His job won’t be easy. While United has regressed since landing its record-extending 20th English championship last year, rival Liverpool has improved greatly under Brendan Rodgers and finished second in the Premier League this season. Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal are established members of the top group and showing no signs of being on the slide.

The appointment of Giggs as Van Gaal’s No. 2 will satisfy those eager for some continuity at the club following the trophy-filled era of Ferguson.

It wasn’t clear from United’s statement whether the 40-year-old Giggs, British football’s most decorated player, would be continuing his playing career.

“I know I will learn a lot about coaching from being able to observe and contribute at such close quarters,” Giggs said. “Manchester United has been a huge part of my life and I’m delighted to be able to continue that relationship in such a key role.”

Football legend Ferguson back in the limelight after book launch

Sir Alex Ferguson at the press conference for the launch of his new autobiography.
Sir Alex Ferguson at the press conference for the launch of his new autobiography.

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson released his latest autobiography at a press conference in front of 500 sports journalists at the Industry of Directors in London on October 22, 2013.As Ferguson’s successor, David Moyes, was preparing to send his inherited squad into battle with Real Sociedad in a Champions League qualifier, attention was deflected to the highly decorated retiree, a welcome relief for Moyes given United’s current form. Simply entitled My Autobiography, Ferguson used his new book as a chance to settle some scores and expose the secrets of his past, and in the process ruffled some feathers in the footballing world.

During his 26-year reign as manager of Manchester United, Ferguson won 13 league titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League trophies—among many other honors—making him the most successful manager of all time. The key to his success, as he revealed at the press conference, was to make sure that he was the key figure at the football club, saying: “The manager is the most important person at Manchester United.”

His strong grip and dominance at the club is what led to the breakdown of his close relationship with former United captain Roy Keane and several feuds with other stars, including David Beckham and, most recently, Wayne Rooney. Ferguson talked about how he had to let Keane go after the Irishman blasted his teammates in an interview on MUTV, and how David Beckham “changed” after he met Posh Spice, known now as Victoria Beckham. Ferguson also remarks on Rooney’s several requests to leave United and the England star’s fitness, saying how his stocky figure needs “working hard.”

The repercussions of Ferguson’s revelations in his book also attracted attention from the likes of former Manchester United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, who reacted to scathing comments against him by telling Ferguson to “say it to my face.” Ferguson wrote that Bosnich was a “terrible professional” and ate excessively, leading to the ex-United goalkeeper requesting a face-to-face meeting with his former boss.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were also some digs dealt out to Ferguson’s old enemies, Arsene Wenger, Rafael Benitez and Liverpool Football Club. The famous “Pizzagate” saga with Wenger gets a mention, of course, and Ferguson also takes the opportunity to say how he “felt sorry” for Arsenal manager Wenger when his team was the wrong side of an 8–2 hammering at Old Trafford in 2011. There was, however, some warmth shown towards Jose Mourinho in the book, although Ferguson mentions how terrible the wine was at Stamford Bridge—even mentioning it to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who sent Ferguson a case of Tignanello.

Former Liverpool manager Benitez can’t have expected a kind mention in My Autobiography, which is just as well, since Ferguson speaks in celebratory fashion of how he won the series of mind games with his bitter rival. The autobiography has even forced comments out of current Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. The Northern Irishman reacted to Ferguson’s comments by speaking highly of his captain, Steven Gerrard—who was a victim of Fergie-fueled acrimony—and accused Ferguson of trying to bring Liverpool down because he felt aggrieved chasing them for many years.

Rodgers also questioned why a manager would leak confidential conversations with his players from the dressing room. After leaving such a famous legacy at Manchester United, Ferguson has risked tarnishing his sterling reputation by revealing his innermost thoughts on numerous subjects.

As it stands in the Premier League, United—the current champions—sit eight points adrift of league leaders Arsenal, with David Moyes having a colossal job on his hands. When Moyes finds a quiet moment in among his busy schedule of trying to maintain Fergie’s legacy, he might find himself scanning through the book in desperate search of tips on how to keep the ship afloat at Old Trafford.

Alex Ferguson bows out

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson walks before their Champions League soccer match aganist Besiktas at the Inonu Stadium in Istanbul in this September 15, 2009 file photo. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal/Files)
Manchester United’s manager Alex Ferguson walks before their Champions League soccer match aganist Besiktas at the Inonu Stadium in Istanbul in this September 15, 2009 file photo. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal/Files)
London, Asharq Al-Awsat—When Alex Ferguson was appointed in 1986, Manchester United and English football in general was unrecognizable from what it is today. United—the embodiment of a new, commercialized and globalized English Premier League—was at the time struggling to move out of the shadow of their vastly more successful rivals, Liverpool. Old Trafford was undeveloped, the club had not won the First Division title in two decades, and European success was a distant memory. But United were not alone in their troubles: English football in general was going through a period of malaise. Many of the English Premier League’s new generation of global fans simply are not aware of just how deep a crisis English football went through in the late 1980s, when the standard of league football was lagging behind Spain, Germany and Italy, attendances were in terminal decline and crowd violence marred the game on a near-weekly basis. Alex Ferguson’s subsequent successful tenure at Manchester United mirrored the emergence of English football from one of its darkest periods into a modern global sporting empire.

In 1992, a more commercialized, consumer friendly and broadcast-led Premier League was formed. Crucially, it was backed by a revolutionary marketing campaign from the satellite broadcaster Sky Television that brought glamor back to the game. In the first Premier League season, the champions were Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United; they went on to win a staggering 13 Premier League titles under his leadership. The stability and success he brought on the pitch also allowed United to fully exploit the new platform for growth the Premier League was giving its members. Old Trafford was gradually redeveloped into an all-seater stadium, the club quickly realized its brand appeal beyond Manchester and used TV exposure to increase its fan-base around the UK and the world. All of this led to growing revenue streams, allowing it to buy big name players—Frenchman Eric Cantona being the most notable.

Many English Premier League clubs have followed this business model, but United under Alex Ferguson perfected it.

United are also unique in another sense. The new hyper-commercialized Premier League has spawned teams such as Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and now Manchester City, who have used their Premier League status to leverage huge investment to achieve rapid success. But no team has yet found their Alex Ferguson, a man who, time after time, has proven his adaptability in the modern game and created success and stability in equal measure. He has reinvented the playing squad at United at least three times, most famously in 1995 when he allowed Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis to leave, replacing them with a young, inexperienced crop of youth players including David Beckham and Paul Scholes. It was a decision much mocked at the time—but an unmitigated success. The renewal was seamless; the team won the league that very same season.

He did get a few things wrong. United have had dips, and some of his signings—as one United season ticket holder told me—have been “truly awful.” Arguably, he could also have overseen more success in European competition, but overall, no manager in the modern game has stayed ahead of the competition so consistently. As Ferguson continued to evolve his team, his rivals fell by the wayside, and none more so than Arsene Wenger, the once-revolutionary Arsenal manager who now seems incapable of emulating Ferguson’s knack for reinvention; Arsenal have not won a trophy for eight agonizing years.

Alex Ferguson’s departure is not earth-shattering news. Indeed, some commentators in Britain have questioned why his resignation has led the news headlines on the day of the crucial Queen’s Speech, which outlines the British government’s legislative plans for the next year. Yet the end of Ferguson’s reign at United is big news, and not just for United fans. Premier League football is an omnipresent part of global consciousness. It has an annual global audience of almost 5 billion, more than any other sport. And if you think of the Premier League, you think of Manchester United. Think of Manchester United, and you think of Alex Ferguson. It is now time for a new Ferguson to emerge as a focal point, not just for United but for the Premier League, too, but it is far from clear whether even a Mourinho or a Moyes could fill the shoes vacated at Old Trafford this week.