Tag Archives: Real Madrid

Euro Goners Real Madrid Admit They Didn’t Live Up to Famous Leeds All White Strip – by Rob Atkinson

Real Madrid – making a mockery of Leeds United’s iconic all-white strip

Real Madrid were left ruefully reflecting upon their shock Champions League exit tonight, and were forced to admit: their performance fell way short of the standards expected of any team seeking to emulate football legends Leeds United.

It’s well-known in football circles that the Madrid kit is modelled on the famous and dazzling all-white of Don Revie’s all-conquering Leeds United side who dominated the world game in the sixties and seventies. Leeds followed up on establishing themselves as the finest club side some fine judges had ever seen, by becoming the last ever Football League Champions in 1992. Their 27 year unbroken record as English champions is unlikely ever to be equalled, never mind broken.

Naturally, the Leeds record has attracted envious attention abroad as well as at home, with the result that plucky little Real Madrid adopted the legendary LUFC all-White in an attempt to emerge from the shadow of Catalan masters Barcelona. The move appeared to have paid off to some extent, with Real managing to win several trophies down the years, prompting some over-enthusiastic pundits to mention them in the same breath as Revie’s or even Howard Wilkinson’s immortal Whites. Madrid even adopted a similar nickname – los Blancos translates as “the Whites” in Spanish, and some have interpreted this as a cheeky assertion by Madrid that they are somehow comparable to the Elland Road virtuosos.

However, all of that bravado came crashing down tonight, with Madrid falling at home to Dutch outfit Ajax of Amsterdam. Real had actually led 2-1 after the first leg in Holland, but a 4-1 reverse tonight at the Bernabeu put paid to this season’s hopes of matching Mighty Leeds. A Madrid spokesman said afterwards, “It’s bad enough losing so heavily at home, and the late red card too. But losing while wearing the all-white which is the symbol of Leeds has just made us look silly. We may possibly wear pink in future, it’s something we have to think about”.

Meanwhile, in Leeds, former Real keeper Kiko Casilla admitted that his old club had scored a PR own-goal. “Yes, it was embarrassing”, said the ex-Madrid man. “It did look as if Real were playing with ideas above their station, it was all a bit presumptuous. It’s made me glad that I seized my chance when the opportunity arose to better myself by moving to Elland Road”.

The triumph of Ajax is being hailed in Holland as a sign that they themselves might one day emulate Leeds. “Ajax were superb”, crowed one fan. “We played with vim and vigour. Who says we can’t be a second Leeds? But we wouldn’t turn out in the famous LUFC all-white. That’s just bloody rude”.

Leeds Hand Out Karmic Retribution to Notts Forest’s Former Real Madrid Man Karanka – by Rob Atkinson

Smith and Karanka 2001

Alan Smith of Leeds United disputes possession with Aitor Karanka of Real Madrid

Regarding the drama arising out of last weekend’s Leeds United versus Notts Forest encounter, it continues to become more intriguing as the days have passed; the plot thickens and the web grows ever more tangled. The Case of Kemar Roofe’s Nefarious Handball Equaliser waxes curiouser and curiouser, with one common thread reaching back to the beginning of the century, through various historical events of uncanny similarity. 

On Tuesday of this week, I wrote a mildly defensive piece here, trying to justify what really seemed barely justifiable, as I explained that Roofe’s transgression was actually a long overdue rub of the green for a Leeds United side more sinned against than sinning. I wasn’t all that convinced I was right – but you have to stick up for your team. 

On Wednesday, having found that the holier-than-thou Notts Forest had themselves benefited from a comparably dodgy equaliser a few years back, I went more on the offensive, accusing the City Ground faithful, the Nottingham Post and particularly Messrs. Kenny Burns and Garry Birtles of faux outrage if not actual hypocrisy. I now had an unarguable point, I felt, particularly as the current Forest manager Aitor Karanka had been the Boro manager diddled by a Nottingham handball in that earlier incident. You couldn’t call it karma – not quite yet – but it was a neat little coincidence. 

And then I discovered to my delight that Roofe’s errant hand had indeed brought long overdue karmic retribution to Mr. Karanka – and that this was the classic dish of revenge best served cold.

Cast your minds back, if you will, to 2001 and Leeds United’s Champions League visit to Real Madrid. Both sides had already qualified for the knockout stages, with massive clubs such as Barcelona having already gone out. And man u had gone out too. So, although the meeting in Madrid was technically a dead rubber, the pride of two great clubs was at stake. 

Alan Smith had given Leeds an early lead, to the delight of their travelling fan army, of which I was one. But then came our familiar companion injustice to kick us in the jacksy yet again, as Madrid star Raúl equalised with – yes, you’ve guessed it – a blatant handball. In fact this was an outrageously obvious punch into the United net, but it stood, and Leeds were on their way to what was to be an honourable 2-3 defeat.

And the link with the two handball incidents previously mentioned? None other than our old friend Aitor Karanka, then a defender in the Madrid team, and one of those Real players happily celebrating a Raúl goal that should never have been allowed.

So please understand if I’m short of sympathy for Mr. Karanka, Forest manager when Leeds got a handball equaliser, and coach of Middlesbrough when Forest did it to them. He’s suffered twice, yet it really is cumulative payback for that night in the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu – so for me, he can just grin and bear it. There’s this slithery progression of hypocrisy backwards in time, in that the Forest fans were outraged with Leeds United last Saturday over something they’d celebrated against Middlesbrough four years back – and, in turn, Mr Karanka was outraged with what is now his current club, four years back, about something he’d celebrated in the colours of Real Madrid against Leeds in 2001. It’s gone full circle, which is all very symmetrical, fitting and ultimately satisfactory, I hope you’ll agree.

It’s taken over 17 years and a convoluted path to see some sort of football justice, but it was well worth the wait for me. Every time I see a replay of Kemar Roofe’s handball goal from now on, it will be with keen pleasure, and no guilt at all. And that qualifies as what, for Leeds United, is a rare and delicious happy ending.

Leeds United’s Gain Will Be Real Madrid’s Loss as Bielsa Heads to Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson


El Loco

It’s a topsy-turvy football world these days. Huddersfield Town occupy a higher league position than any other Yorkshire club, Manchester City are streets ahead of their Salford neighbours on the wrong side of the Pennines, Spurs are ahead of Arsenal – and Leeds United are set to appoint a coach seriously coveted for their own club by fans of European Champions Real Madrid.

Incredible as it might seem, the odds are ever more, as each hour passes, on Argentinian legend Marcelo Bielsa becoming the latest occupant of the Elland Road hot seat – with some well-placed sources claiming the deal is already done, all bar the work permit. To say that this would be a coup for United is to edge dangerously close to vast understatement. Anybody who can be suggested as the next coach of Real Madrid, as a feasible successor, mark you, to Zenedine Zidane himself – and yet not have that suggestion laughed out of court – must be hot property indeed. And then there’s the small matter of the opinion of Bielsa voiced by none other than Pep Guardiola – lest we forget, former Barcelona coach and current boss at runaway English champions Manchester City. According to Pep, Bielsa is “the best coach in the world”. Who are we to argue with Pep? Indeed, who is anybody to argue with Pep?

So these are heady days around Elland Road. Should the story be true, they’re liable to get even headier. And if the rumours are anywhere near the bullseye that such a coaching appointment also signals a stratospheric soaring of the United transfer ambitions, then the headiness will know no bounds. It’s safe to say that, in these circumstances, we’d be heading into next season on a high.

For the moment at least, it’s enough of a pleasing novelty to be linked with the likes of Bielsa, and of course Claudio Ranieri too. Things appear to be moving fast, though, and Don alone knows where all of our heads will be at in a couple of weeks or so. We could be celebrating, or we could be reflecting that we perhaps aimed too high. But I have a sneaky feeling that it’ll be the former state of affairs.

Roll on next season then, although – what with the World Cup as well as all of this juicy Leeds United speculation – the summer should be a lot more entertaining than usual for those of us with LUFC carved upon our hearts. One way or another, it’s going to be a very interesting next few months. 

Madrid Prospect Kanes Arsenal as Spurs Record Rare Derby Win – by Rob Atkinson

Plucky Spuds Kick Arse

Plucky Spuds Kick Arse

Young Harry Kane, the latest product to roll off the Real Madrid talent production line in London N17, is certainly making a case for being able to join Gareth Bale at Tottenham’s mother club sooner, rather than later.

Two opportunist second-half strikes were enough to sink a below-par Arsenal, the Kings of London never quite managing to get into their usual regal stride. Kane’s first goal was an object lesson in instinctive movement and being in the right place at the right time, as the ball zipped across Arsenal’s goal line. Kane found himself in space beyond the far post and finished adroitly. The winner was simply wonderful, a back-pedalling Kane somehow managing to rise to a steepling cross and punch the ball squarely with his forehead to drop into the Gunners’ net.

In the first half, Özil had given the Arse an early lead somewhat against the run of play. Arsenal had other chances, but lacked bite and cohesion. The result, in the end, was a fair one and Spurs now stand a point ahead of their hated rivals – something to look fondly back on at the end of the season when they have been eclipsed yet again by the Emirates men.

Spurs’ umpteenth failure to qualify for the Champions League may not – quite yet – cost them the services of Harry Kane. But the writing is already on the wall; Tottenham are simply not big enough for such a talent and Kane’s imminent international preferment will only make that more blindingly obvious.

For Arsenal, this was just a bad day at the office. They can and will recover; a glance at their remaining fixtures as compared to those of Spurs will make it clear that the Gunners are destined to finish as North London top dogs yet again. But that alone will not heal the wounds inflicted at the Lane today.

The Arse will be able to comfort themselves by winning the war despite losing this battle – and by the fact that they will not have to face local derby opposition that includes Harry Kane, the latest potential Wunderkind headed inevitably for the Bernebeu and the higher-class environment of la Liga.

Simeone’s Tantrum Must Have Been Real-ly Sweet for Beckham – by Rob Atkinson

Mr. Angry "Cholo" Simeone

Mr. Angry “Cholo” Simeone

Atlético Madrid 1, Real Madrid 4 (aet) – Champions League Final 2014

David Beckham must have permitted himself the slightest of malicious smiles in the wake of his former club Real Madrid’s Champions League triumph over city rivals Atlético, who were coached by Beckham’s World Cup ’98 nemesis Diego Simeone. Those of a certain age will readily remember how the wily Argentinian fouled Beckham, who petulantly kicked out at his antagonist instead of getting up and getting on with it.

Beckham was foolish, but Simeone had exploited the situation to his best advantage, admitting later that he feigned injury from the kick in order to get the England player sent off.  That’s exactly what happened, and the gallant ten men of England ended up going out on penalties in a familiar hard luck story. The unfortunate if misguided Beckham was vilified at home for his immature reaction to Simeone’s deliberate provocation, something he took years to live down.  Surely he must have harboured some resentment ever since?

If he has, then that resentment might just have had the edge taken off it at the end of the Champions League Final in Lisbon at the weekend.  Leading 1-0 deep into stoppage time, Simeone’s Atlético team were cruelly pegged back by an equaliser in the 93rd minute.  In extra time, Real’s class told as they ran out 4-1 winners – all of which proved a touch too much for the temperamental Simeone, who completely lost it on the touchline and appeared to be trying to get at the referee or others on the pitch who had offended his sensibilities.

For Beckham, it must have felt like the ultimate pay-off.  He’d had quite a bit of his own back for the disaster of ’98 by scoring a penalty against Argentina to defeat them 1-0 in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup, which would prove to be Simeone’s last appearance on that exalted stage. But to see one of his former clubs in Real inflict such a hammer-blow on his old enemy must have been a moment of great satisfaction – human nature being what it is.

Simeone, who has had great success this season as his team won la Liga, consigning Real to the ignominy of third spot, felt this reverse as a bitter blow to which he clearly reacted bitterly.  It’s almost certain that he will face UEFA sanctions for his unseemly display as Atlético’s defeat was confirmed – and the way in which the baser end of his nature was revealed will long be remembered by those who were queuing up to praise him in advance of the Lisbon final.

It had even been suggested in that run-up to the game that a film should be made of the rise of the Madrid underdogs, with Burt Lancaster playing the part of coach “Cholo” Simeone.  Quite apart from the fact that Lancaster would find this a difficult role to play, on account of having been dead these past 20 years, it may now be felt that he wasn’t in any case an appropriate actor to portray Cholo’s complex mixture of passion, slyness and thuggery.

Vinnie & Eric

United old boys Vinnie & Eric

As to who possibly could play this demanding role – a cross between former Leeds United stars turned film actors Vinnie Jones and Eric Cantona might just be ideal, if impossible to find outside of this blog’s imagination.  It’s just a thought, after all – but apart from the errant Argie portraying himself, I just can’t think of a better candidate.

Turks Stuffed Good and Proper as Real Madrid Cruise in Istanbul – by Rob Atkinson

Galascum - Thoroughly Stuffed

Galascum – Thoroughly Stuffed

It’s a rare night indeed when a Leeds United fan can summon up even a passing regard for the pouting, strutting enigma that is Cristiano Ronaldo, late of the Scum, currently vying for top-dollar merchant with Gareth Bale at the Bernebeu, Madrid.  If ever there was such a night though, this is it.  Ronaldo ambled through the first hour of this match and then simply seized the home team by the scruff of the neck and tore them to pieces, scoring three times. With a brace from Benzema to add to Isco’s opener, it was the Winker’s hat-trick that inflicted the most agony on the hapless Turks, thereby giving any watching Leeds fan a rare treat.

Oddly, the various TV companies that cover the Champions League seem to have a fairly benevolent attitude towards the Istanbul club, despite the notorious nature of their fans in general and of course the tragic loss suffered by Leeds United – the club and the fans – back in the spring of the year 2000.  Since then, there have been other instances of crowd behaviour that would disgrace a bunch of neolithic savages, and there are of course the perpetual occurrences of throat-slitting gestures, “Welcome to Hell” banners and so on and so forth.  In short, this is a club that glories in its own tastelessness and lack of civilised behaviour – and yet we’re always hearing the commentators going on about the incredible atmosphere, the amazing fans, ad nauseam.  It’s enough to make your ears ache if you’re a Leeds fan, or indeed any decent-minded football fan – but there you go.

We’ll never know what the media attitude to them would have been if it had been a different United suffering on that awful night 13 years ago – but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it would have been somewhat different.  As it is, the tragedy of Istanbul 2000 seems to have been conveniently swept under the carpet, and the media appear to take delight in the progress of a club that deserve nothing but ill.  Still – we’re used to these double standards, and we take our comfort where we can.

Speaking of which, tonight was a delightful exhibition of Galascum getting well and truly thrashed by an awesome Madrid team.  The incredible, unprecedented feeling of actually enjoying a Ronaldo hat-trick – one particularly special strike in there, too – was a novelty that will possibly not be repeated.  Not unless Madrid dish this sort of treatment out again in the reverse fixture, anyway.

So for once I come not to bury Ronaldo, but to praise him; truly is it said that “mine enemy’s enemy is my friend”.  I still can’t stand the sight of Mr. Ronaldo, to be strictly honest.  He still has the kind of face you want to smack, still looks the sort of player that belongs with those other self-adoring prima donnas at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  But he did Leeds United, Madrid and – whatever the mealy-mouthed hypocrites in the media might think – the whole of football a service tonight.  All those goals.  All that humiliation for a hopelessly-outclassed Galascum.  Even the late and meaningless home consolation scored to a nearly-empty stadium before Ronaldo administered the coup de grâce with the sixth.  All those glum fans who had started out so cocky and full of hope. Have it.

It was just one of those nights tonight.  For the past decade and more, I’ve winced every time I’ve seen that awful club with those disgusting fans getting anywhere, doing anything positive like winning a game, and hearing the British media fawning over them.  Tonight it was different.  Tonight, they copped for it, big time.  Tonight it was a case of “Hala Madrid” – or even “Hala Ronaldo” – just for tonight.  6-1 – SIX bloody one.  Well done, Real – and thank you, from a Leeds United fan.

New Life in Madrid for Bale as Spurs Face Old Realities Nearer Home

Bale Bails Out

Bale Bails Out

The least surprising transfer of the summer has finally been completed as Gareth Bale secured his longed-for move to the Bernebeu to become Real Madrid’s latest galáctico and thus deprive Spurs of roughly 50% of last year’s total team effectiveness.  The price varies according to which source you read, but it’s an eye-watering figure which Spurs have already spent on half a dozen or so players in the hope that quantity may in some measure replace quality.  It remains to be seen how Bale will fare at a big club, but his is a spectacular talent which arguably deserves a much bigger stage.

Spurs meanwhile, having resigned themselves some time ago to the loss of their talisman, turned out at The Emirates yesterday with their friends in the media explaining to anyone who would listen that – despite their Bale-less attacking threat – they were now much better placed than opponents Arsenal to achieve success this season.  The new definition of success in these commercialised Murdoch days is, of course, a top four finish: gone are the days when fans might argue about who will win what trophy.  Now it’s all about whether your favourite club can qualify for the Champions League, and how many millions that will net.  That those millions will for the most part disappear into the bank accounts of their overpaid heroes is a point that apparently does not faze today’s Premier League fan.

The media as an entity appears to have a problem with Arsenal, and they seem disposed to address this by making more of a fuss of Tottenham than such a pallid power really merit.  The BBC in particular sound almost plaintive when they reflect on the fact that Arsenal’s recent Champions League qualifications have been at the expense of Spurs and their assertions that things might now be different – with a new-look Tottenham transcending tired old Arsenal – tend to be accompanied by a collective stamp of the foot and sullen pout. But all the media posturing in the world will not change a thing on the field, and it was on the immaculate turf of the magnificent home of Arsenal that Spurs yesterday received a lesson in how little things have changed where the balance of power in North London is concerned.

After an adrenalin-fueled bright opening, Spurs were never really at the races in this latest derby.  Once Arsenal had ridden out that initial flurry their own game took effortless control – helped by the fact that they had taken the lead while the tide was still slightly against them.  A gorgeous move from centre midfield across to the right found Tomas Rosicky in acres of space and he used it to full effect with a penetrating low cross into the box.  And there was Olivier Giroud darting towards the near post to beat Hugo Lloris with a sweet finish from the outside of his left foot, finding the tiniest gap between the hapless ‘keeper and the upright to give Arsenal the lead.

For the rest of the first half, Arsenal threatened to increase their advantage against a Spurs side knocked out of their early, optimistic stride.  After the interval, the away side began to make their presence more effectively felt, pressing Arsenal back in search of a point at least.  But although there were alarms, and despite quite intense late pressure as the the home team defended in depth, the breakthrough failed to appear.

Tottenham could have no real complaints about the result, and may reflect by way of consolation that at least they didn’t ship five this time, as on the last two visits to The Emirates.  Arsenal have an altogether more positive world view today; three derby points in the bag, ahead of Spurs in the table as they finished last season, and today they appear to have made a transfer statement as well, with the pending capture of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid – a transfer that may, ironically, have been made possible by Tottenham’s failure to hang on to Bale.

Players come and players go as millions upon millions change hands in the transfer market.  But a happy Arsene Wenger may well reflect today that some things are less susceptible to change, Arsenal’s dominance of North London being one among them.  Ozil will add considerably to the Gunners’ ammunition and firing power, just as the loss of Bale will inevitably weaken Spurs.  It’s been a good weekend after all for the Gooners.

Beckham To Retire At Last

Beckham: Hanging Up Boots

Beckham: Hanging Up Boots

So, the day has arrived at last.  An icon is to depart the game.  England’s “Goldenballs”, the man with the most famous metatarsal the world has ever seen, he of the sculpted facial furniture with chiseled jaw and cheekbones to die for, David Robert Joseph Beckham OBE is finally to quit the game he has – more or less – adorned since 1995.  Everybody is sitting up and taking notice at what is the end of an era.  Leyton Orient have felt it necessary to remind the world in a timely tweet that the Coiffed One is to make his last appearance against French side Lorient – NOT the English League One denizens L.Orient.  Thanks for clearing that up, lads.

 My first memory of David Beckham is necessarily hazy – I was quite intoxicated, and stood high up in the away end at The Theatre of Hollow Myths as Leeds United’s all-conquering youth side trampled the budding superstars of Man U into the turf on their way to an eventual 4-1 aggregate FA Youth Cup win.  That was in 1993, and it was some small measure of compensation for the transition from our status of Last Real Champions to that of Man U as first holders of the Premier League Plastic Trophy.  As the new era dawned, an epic career was off to an inglorious start, but it was destined to contrast starkly with the doomed efforts of that night’s winners.

Since then, even so jaundiced an observer as I must admit that Beckham has scaled Olympian Heights, and on one foot, too.  No less a footballing authority than the late, grating George Best described him in less than glowing terms: “He cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle and he doesn’t score many goals. Apart from that he’s all right.”  Not that he was bitter or anything – but maybe the fact that Beckham’s earnings in any given calendar month eclipsed the entire career earnings of the self-styled “Greatest Ever” had touched a raw nerve or two.  Whatever Bestie might have thought of the shortcomings of Becks talent-wise, the London boy could surely have taught him a thing or two about application, dedication and – crucially – not being caught with his pants down before important semi-final matches.

That ability to dedicate himself and make it big, on the back of a less-than-completely full box of tricks, certainly redounds to Beckham’s credit.  His habit of creating the most spectacular results with one swing of that cultured right foot did him no harm either.  On loan at Preston as a youngster, he created a stir by scoring direct from a corner, and not too long afterwards, establishing himself in the Man U first team, he looked up from just inside his own half at Selhurst Park, and lobbed the ball mightily over the back-pedaling ‘keeper Neil Sullivan to score an outrageously long-range goal against long-ball merchants Wimbledon.  The most famous exponent of this type of effort up to that time had been a chap called Pele, who tried it in the World Cup; but Pele had missed.

The path to World Superstardom was not, however, always strewn with rose petals.  Attitude problems surfaced, petulance would be a problem throughout most of his career (not an uncommon problem among graduates of the Man U finishing school), there were run-ins with his irascible mentor Ferguson, and he could be impulsive too.  He saw a young lass on a pop video, and he decided on the spot to marry her.  His judgement on that occasion at least was reasonably sound, or so it seems; the marriage is still going strong and from tacky beginnings with a wedding that would have figured large in any style guru’s nightmares, the couple have built a family with their weirdly-named brood and two large fortunes securing a stable future for all concerned.

So how will Beckham best be remembered?  Some will say as the archetypal Man U fan – he was born and raised in London after all, which is a headline qualification for that status.  Others will remember his flirtation with the extreme edges of fashion – his famous experiment with girly clothing as he sported a sarong, for instance.  But whatever he did, whatever style he either aped or created, there were millions queuing up to follow his every footstep.  He had the knack of capturing the hearts of a whole generation with the totality of the Beckham package – the talent, the looks, the style, the pop-star wife.  Some of it was grossly kitsch, Beckingham Palace was the venue for many sins against the Manual of Good Taste.  Some of it took your breath away with the sheer, daring nerve of it – the revelation that his son Brooklyn was named after the site of his conception had people offering up prayers of thanks that the tender moment hadn’t taken place in Peckham.  Subsequent male children were named Romeo and Cruz and then a girl arrived to be lumbered with the curiously android-like Harper Seven.  There is, after all, no accounting for taste.

Some will remember the iconic free-kicks for England, the most famous of which secured his country’s automatic World Cup 2002 qualification.  What people forget is that, had we been doomed to the play-offs, we might have taken Germany’s easier route to the Final – but who ever knows what fate might hold?  In the end, England and Beckham, together with his famously bust metatarsal, appeared in the global tournament, but for once Beckham wasn’t really up to it, and it was his half-hearted, half-baked, half-fit attempt at a tackle which let Brazil in for the equaliser at the quarter-final stage, the Samba Stars going on to eliminate England 2-1.

But whatever you might think of Beckham, my fondest memories of him will be in that England shirt – not for his flashes of temper, leading to notorious dismissals, but for the massively evident pride with which he wore the Three Lions over his heart, the utter commitment and dedication with which he put himself about the pitch in the England cause, be it merely as a star player, or eventually as captain of his country.  Nobody set a better example of leadership than David Beckham when he had that international shirt on, and nobody could ever doubt on those occasions that everything else – the endorsements, the mansions, the publicity stunts, the lurid tales of his off-field life – all of that was secondary to his intense, burning patriotism.  If that alone had been enough, England may well have had three winners’ stars to embroider above the Three Lions on the Shirt, instead of that solitary one.

So it’s farewell, Goldenballs.  He was a player of his times, a man who would be a superstar  among superstars, someone who would attract fan fervour and inspire adulation and hero-worship out of all proportion to his essentially modest character – and some would say disproportionately to his talent too.  Be that as it may, it’s unlikely we will see such a phenomenon again, unless the ingredients are coming together even as we speak, and yet another cockney Man U fan is bubbling under up Salford way.  You just never know.

Man United – Why Always Them?

Former Manchester City maverick Mario Balotelli will be remembered in the English game for many things, but prominent among those various goals, skills and misdemeanours will be his famous celebration after scoring against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season in City’s 6-1 eclipsing of their local rivals.  Balotelli slotted the ball home calmly at the Stretford End, turned away with no sign of emotion on his face, and lifted his City shirt to reveal a t-shirt on which was printed the heartfelt plea “Why Always Me?”.  The message, after a series of incidents culminating in a row with the emergency services when he set off a firework in his bathroom at home, clearly indicated a feeling that he was being scapegoated to a certain extent.  To add insult to his perceived injury, he was booked for the t-shirt display.

Recent events, on top of a long history of prominent stories figuring the controversy and fuss that attend one football club above all others, might lead us to ask a somewhat wider version of the same question.

Why is it always Manchester United?

The furore surrounding their Champions League exit on the 5th March is fairly typical of the controversy the Champions-elect seem to attract, like flies to a bad piece of meat, on such a regular basis that you tend to wonder whether it’s just coincidence or a Machiavellian form of press-management.  So “enraged” was manager Alex Ferguson after their defeat, which turned on the dismissal of Nani for what might charitably be termed a high tackle; that he refused to appear before the assembled press after the game.  He was “too distraught” apparently, to fulfil his mandatory duties in that regard.  To the media of course, a story about a no-show from Ferguson is a much bigger scoop than anything most managers might say in adhering to their agreed obligations.  But Manchester United and controversy have gone together like port and nuts for a long, long time now.

ImageCloser examination of the incident in focus this time reveals a worrying lack of consistency in Ferguson’s emotional reactions over remarkably comparable incidents.  Nani’s liver-high tackle was described dogmatically as “definitely not a red card”, paving the way for Man Utd claims of ill-treatment and bias.  A virtually identical tackle some time before, by Arsenal’s Eboue on Ferguson’s own player Evra, was also punished by a red card, but that one drew praise from the choleric Scot, who stated that the decision was “100% correct”.  This apparent self-contradiction is nothing new in the world of Alex Ferguson, or indeed in the wider manifestations of the club who like to brand themselves “The Greatest in the World”.

At the end of the Real Madrid match, enraged home defender Rio Ferdinand saw fit to get up close and personal with the referee who had dared dismiss Nani, sarcastically applauding him at point-blank range.   This is a widely-recognised form of dissent, and would normally merit a yellow card.  The referee did nothing, and UEFA have since confirmed that no action will be taken against Ferdinand.  It would be tempting to ask what sort of message this sends out to aspiring young players, if the answer were not so glaringly obvious.  That message is, as ever:  Man Utd can basically do just as they like, the game’s ruling authorities being so much in thrall to the club’s global profile – and the markets dependent upon its prosperity – that they will often turn a Nelsonian blind eye to such flouting of the rules, in the fond hope that nobody will notice when other clubs are dealt with more severely for like offences.

It has been said, with some justification, that one of the more hackneyed clichés in today’s game is the regular statement from the Football Association along the lines of “We have looked into (insert name of misdemeanour perpetrated by the Man Utd club or employee here), and can confirm that no further action will be taken.”

This sort of thing has been going on for many years, and while most clubs might shy away from such regular media attention of a not entirely positive nature, Man Utd as an entity appear to subscribe to the old maxim that there’s simply no such thing as bad publicity.  They have displayed a talent for remaining newsworthy, certainly on the back pages and not infrequently on the front as well, more or less continually, and dating back to well before their current era of success.  The incidents are many, and mostly quite unsavoury – Rooney elbowing a Wigan player and getting off scot-free, dodgy penalties too many to number, the legendary difficulty of seeing a penalty awarded against them and so on and so forth – and yet the default press position remains that the club are pre-eminent in the game for reasons of skill, charisma and courage, an apparent myth lapped up eagerly by the global fan-base, most of whom have never seen the team play in the flesh.

We hear far too much also of Ferguson’s so-called “mind-games”, a phenomenon particularly beloved of the media in this country, but one which appears to consist largely of an elderly gentleman having great difficulty sticking to the path of veracity at those press-conferences he deigns to attend.  Madrid manager Jose Mourinho is one who prospers in these psychological duels – in Ferguson’s petulant absence after the game last Tuesday, he stated that “the better team lost”, and walked off, content at having fanned the flames of the Man Utd manager’s fury.

It seems though that UEFA are after all to look into Ferguson’s failure to turn up for the press after this latest controversial occasion.  Presumably they will investigate fully, and a technical charge of “Sulking” might just possibly ensue.  But it would be unwise to place too much money on such an outcome; it may well be that we’ll yet again hear those old, familiar words “no further action will be taken”.