Manchester United have stopped needing to try

March 2, 2009

carlingcup2008_945758I’ve been writing this blog now since January. And since the New Year, Manchester United have amassed 13 victories, scored 30 goals and kept 11 clean sheets. They are the reigning Premiership champions, the reigning European champions, the reigning Club World Cup champions and – now – the reigning Carling Cup champions. And I haven’t written about them once.

Why? Because Manchester United are boring. Not boring like an Arsenal side who have gone four Premiership games (three at the Emirates) without scoring a goal. After all, this is a team oozing with quality. They’ve got Cristiano RonaldoCarlos Tévez, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov up front without even accounting for players like Ryan Giggs, Anderson or Paul Scholes – and by the end of that roll call of attacking talent you’re half way through their team sheet.

Rather, Manchester United are boring like Roger Federer used to be boring. Predictable, relentless victory is the mark of the truly great in sport. But it isn’t half as fun as scraping a last minute victory against Wigan. For goodness sake, even Chelsea are more entertaining to watch these days, if for no other reason than at any point they might throw away the lead, sack their manager or decide to decamp to Moscow. Manchester United, by contrast, can field their youth team in an English cup final and still be so good that the opposition manager would back them over his own side: “I have to be honest,” says Tottenham manager Harry Rednapp, “we were not that confident with our penalty-takers really and you looked over there and they had very confident penalty-takers.”

Of course I am jealous of Manchester United. It’s not so long ago, supporting José Mourinho‘s Chelsea, that I was more or less in the same boat. But I also remember all too well that look on the faces of United’s fans this morning. No joy. No linking arms and merrily dancing a jig. Barely even a half-hearted gloat throw the way of their Tottenham counterparts. Just a hunger for more. Ask Federer, or Chelsea fans, for that matter – winning trophy after trophy just makes the first one you lose harder to bear.

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Hugo Rodallega: the next big thing?

January 29, 2009

notw1OK. Cards on the table. I’m not a big fan of Steve Bruce. I have never quite been able to forgive the way he walked out on Wigan Athletic after just eight games during his stint at the club back in 2001, before repeating his Harry Houdini impression at Crystal Palace shortly afterwards. That said, in recent seasons he has developed an extraordinary knack for finding little gems from South America’s less fashionable nations and polishing them in to refined Premiership players. Tottenham‘s new Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios netted former club Wigan an estimated £11 million profit, while Real Madrid have been sniffing around Ecuadorian star Antonio Valencia. And despite myself, as a huge fan of South American football I can’t help but feel a tingle of excitement about Bruce’s latest find.

Hugo Rodallega is a powerful Columbian striker with pedigree.  At 5 ft 11 inches, he is unlikely to make up for the loss of Emile Heskey‘s big physical presence up front for Wigan. But he does have something that Heskey never did – a superb scoring record. At club level Rodallega has an average of more than a goal every other game, including 31 goals in 32 matches for his first football club in Columbia, Deportes Quindío. However, it is his performances at international level that truly give a glimmer of the 23-year-olds promise. Rodallega burst onto the international scene by breaking the record for goals scored in South American qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. For the record, so to speak, he did so with 11 in just nine qualifying matches. Since 2005, he has made 21 appearances for the senior side and scored six goals – starring in a recent friendly demolishen job of continental rivals Venezuela with a goal and three assists.

So, the big question is why Wigan, and why for just £4.5 million? My feeling is that his strike partner from the 2005 Fifa World Youth Partnership, River Plate‘s Radamel Falcao, would cost considerably more despite an inferior goal scoring record at both club and senior international level. One possible answer is that Wigan is Rodallega’s sixth club in five years – a record that even new team mate Mido would be proud of. Another is that there is a question mark about how well the Columbian will adapt to life in a new continent.

He arrives in the Premiership after three years in Mexico with three different clubs – with spells at Monterrey and then on loan at Atlas both proving unsuccessful and relatively barren for a natural born goal scorer. He did eventually find his feet at Necaxa, but can Wigan really afford to wait two years for a return on their investment? If the accelerated progress of Palacios and Valencia are anything to go buy, they may not have to. And if Bruce can bring the best out of Rodagella, he could be Wigan‘s best South American import yet.

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