I’ve always voiced my negative feeling on journalist Oliver Holt, who has repeatedly and unfairly ripped our club, manager and players apart. He once incredibly claimed that it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s fault that Wayne Rooney missed the World Cup, as Rooney was clearly riled at Stamford Bridge and should have been substituted. The fact that he then went on to break a bone in his foot and miss the best part of the World Cup was all down to Sir. Of course, why didn’t I think of that??
In the summer before United won the title in 2007, Holt was incredibly dismissive of our manager, even claiming that essentially, Ferguson had lost the plot.
If United want to muster more of a challenge to Chelsea next season, the last person – after Wayne Rooney – that they should be selling is van Nistelrooy. Selling him would be a huge step backwards and a massive blow to the club. Does Ferguson seriously expect anyone else to believe that the injury-prone Louis Saha is a better bet next season than a goal machine like van Nistelrooy. If he does, then his judgement is waning faster than everybody thought.
Ferguson thinks there is no need to buy a new forward when he rids himself of Ruud van Nistelrooy. The theory is that he will be OK with Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Alan Smith and Giuseppe Rossi. Which is fine, apart from the fact that Rooney’s got a dodgy temperament, Saha’s injury prone, Solskjaer’s played seven league games in the past three years, Smith has never been a natural goalscorer and Rossi’s not ready.
A year before, Holt was even more damning of Ferguson, claiming that nothing he went on to achieve would ever make up for the fact he was on borrowed time and should have retired.
Next Monday, Sir Alex Ferguson will celebrate 20 years in charge of Manchester United. In some ways, I’d like to join in the accompanying orgy of back-slapping and misty-eyed remembrance. But I can’t.
He has consistently produced teams that have played breathtaking attacking football and which have been superb ambassadors for our game. He has moulded players and men to admire in his two decades at the helm and built United back up into one of England’s leading clubs. But like celebrating his pal Tony Blair’s 10 years as prime minister next May, Fergie’s anniversary amounts to nothing more than a lazy and meaningless ballyhoo for a man who has stayed on too long.
Whatever United go on to achieve this season or in seasons to come, nothing changes the fact that Ferguson should have quit in 2002 when he said he was going to quit. The European dynasty Ferguson vowed to found never materialised. The win in the Nou Camp in 1999 was a one-hit wonder. So lavish praise on Sir Alex Ferguson. But don’t get too misty-eyed when next Monday rolls around.
Then amazingly, after United go on to win another two League titles, as well as the European Cup, Holt is in full praise of Fergie, claiming that there were little doubts he would be able to achieve such a feat!
If there’s one thing Ferguson doesn’t need to worry about any more, it’s the applause. It’ll never die out. Not for him. Not now. Because on Thursday, he erased the last quibble about his greatness as a manager by winning the Champions League for a second time. There weren’t many doubts anyway. He has led Manchester United to 10 Premier League titles and established himself as the leading British manager of his generation.
Now it appears as though he’s well and truly converted, with his write up in this morning’s Mirror ripping TNSSO to shreds, whilst lavishing praise on United. Dipper? Bitter? No, it appears as though Holt might be a closet red after all!
So Jose Mourinho guessed correctly about the Manchester United team Sir Alex Ferguson would pick. Not that it did him a blind bit of good. The Special One predicted Fergie would leave out a couple of his star forwards and it was the last thing he got right all night. Fergie just stuck to his plan and picked the team he wanted to pick anyway. If, at first, that seemed like a small victory for Mourinho, it soon started to feel like an empty one, too. Because if Mourinho knew how United were going to line up, if he knew how to prepare for them, how come he had to stand by his dugout and watch United play Inter off the park in their own stadium?
For all Mourinho’s bluster about this Inter team being a match for the English champions, it was clear United were in a different league. If Inter conjure a victory out of this tie after the way they were picked apart last night, then it will feel like if not the death of football, then at least a heavy blow to its solar plexus.
United were beautiful to watch as they passed their way through and around Inter. Their midfield outplayed Inter’s as comprehensively as Spain outplayed England in Seville a fortnight ago. There is an argument that if Wayne Rooney had been in the side, then perhaps United would have killed Inter off in the first half and not allowed them to be still in the tie as they head to Old Trafford in a fortnight. But United had plenty of chances and most fell to their most clinical finisher, Cristiano Ronaldo, who was denied by the woodwork, fine goalkeeping and his own profligacy. And even if there will now be doubts in United’s minds as they go into the second leg, there should be a whole lot more in Inter’s after the gulf between the two sides was made apparent.
And as for Mourinho’s boast that Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have been voted the best player in the world ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, that seemed like a bad joke. It’s only because Mourinho has talked him up so much that Ibrahimovic has gatecrashed that debate. There are precious few who believe he belongs in the company of Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Kaka. In fact, you have to work hard to find anyone who’s ever seen him have a good game. Last night was no different. The contrast between the two men was startling.
Ronaldo was a constant threat, raiding down the flanks and testing Julio Cesar with a series of stinging free kicks, one of which the keeper pushed on to the post. He nearly scored twice with two powerful headers, he pulled the Inter defence to pieces and taunted them with his tricks. Ibrahimovic? He was nowhere. He was nothing. His didn’t musteran attempt on goal until the 17th minute and the Inter crowd must have wished he hadn’t bothered. His shot flew out of play for a throw. Most of the night he was marked out of the game by Jonny Evans. That’s the Jonny Evans who’s not even a first choice at Old Trafford and who was carrying an ankle injury.
No wonder there was a giant Inter sign at one end of the ground that said ‘Never Relegated’. It seemed a curious boast for a team on top of Serie A and has pretensions of winning the Champions League but after the way they played last night perhaps avoiding the drop should be the limit of their ambitions.
Made in Manchester is available for just £5. It includes 30 articles from the country's best football writers about graduates from the Manchester United academy. Everyone who buys a copy enters a competition to win the new home shirt. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.