The Treble – A Decade On

It’s been ten and a half seasons since the glorious treble of 1998-99 and so far the season hasn’t quite gone according to plan. On the face of it, the season so far doesn’t look too bad; Only 2 points behind Chelsea in the Premier League with half the season to go; Into the knockout stages of the Champions League (albeit, a daunting meeting with AC Milan lies in wait); The semi finals of the FA Cup (against Manchester City and with the blues hungry for any silverware that they can lay their hands on, and Sir Alex insisting on playing a youthful squad,  it does not look too rosy) and of course, the defeat at the battle of the Roses (listless display; no excuses there whatsoever). So what then has been the difference between that all conquering team and this team of “superstars”? My findings:

Leading from the front

The front three this season have scored 28 goals between them (Rooney 15, Berbatov 6 and Owen 7) so far, while in the treble season, Yorke had 29, Cole had 24 and Ole had 18 at the end of the season. Add to this Sheringham’s 5 and that’s a total of a whopping 76 goals between the front four. SAF had three top strikers, any two of whom he could start with in any match and an impact sub in Sheringham. In comparison, his team today has 2 top strikers and Owen, the supposed impact sub as the third striker. Agreed that United’s style of play has changed and that there is a different system employed but whatever the system is, goals are goals; and goals must be scored.

Down the flanks

In David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Jesper Blomquist, Manchester United had three fantastic exponents of wing play. All three were excellent on the flanks and all the three of them could cross the ball. Set pieces too were more than taken care of. In comparison, today’s squad has one ONE genuine winger in Antonio Valencia, with Nani flattering to deceive, Tosic deemed not good enough , Gabriel Obertan, who is one for the future but is certainly by no means the finished product and Park Ji Sung, who is not an out and out winger. Clearly, this has had a bearing on the team. Even if the crosses do come in, the natural poacher is not quite there in the box.

The false Nine

With the arrival of Dimitar Berbatov, it was well and truly established that Sir Alex had also converted to the philosophy of the ‘false nine’. Until then, there was at least one out and out Number 9 but since the departure of Louis Saha, there has been no real pivotal figure up front, who could be called on to play route one when required. And with Berbatov not quite having the desired impact, and with the departure of Ronaldo, there appears to be no alternate route this season. In the treble season, there were both Yorke and Cole alternating as the front man with the other dropping off.

The waning of eighteen

If anyone watches the highlights of the treble winning season, one thing will scream out; Paul Scholes. If his long rangers were absolute belters, his toe pokes from knock downs inside the box were equally important. He was always in the periphery of the box and joined in the attack with aplomb. With the passing of the years, his dynamism has also been impacted and although his range of passing remains as good as ever, there is no doubting the fact that he is no longer at the height of his powers and that he can no longer produce stellar performances week-in week-out, as he has admitted himself at times.

Oh! Sweet Sixteen

If there was one man the United faithful would love to see at the heart of the midfield even today, it has to be the skipper. Chants of ‘there is only one Keano’ still echo inside the theatre of dreams. Such is the impact of the man. When he was driving United, it was rest assured no one could afford to slack off, even for a minute. That was the stature of the man and the respect that he commanded. More than anything else, it was the winning mentality that was instilled in the team that made him the legend he is today. While United today do have a box to box midfielder in the rejuvenated Darren Fletcher, its Keano’s drive and ambition that they lack. The only one in the current team that comes close to that is a certain Wazza but there can be no comparison really on the influence wielded.

The reinvention of Eleven

Ryan Giggs is a legend. A living legend. A playing legend. When years ago, he burst into the scene with mazy runs and blistering pace, he was hailed as a phenomenon but people seriously doubted what his contribution to the team would be once he had lost his pace. The past two seasons has been as much about the reinvention of the Welsh wizard as it has been about Ronaldo. Giggs has made the transition from an out and out winger to a playmaker capable of more than ably filling into the left midfield or up front (or even at left back on one occasion). His most sensational displays have come from the center of midfield where he has used his dribbling skills to fantastic effect. He has well and truly shown that what he has lost in pace, he has made up for in guile. Looking at him playing today, you wouldn’t guess that he is all of 36 years of age. Yet, for all his brilliance and guile, his passing into a playmaker has left a huge void on the left flank.

The riddle at the back

With a multitude of injuries and the compulsion to play midfielders at the center of defence has severely hampered Sir Alex’s tactics this season and have made United look very vulnerable. Had everyone been fit, it might have been a lot different but one can only speculate. The treble winning team had Jaap Stam and Ronny Johnsen at the back with a young and brilliant Gary Neville, and the ever dependable Dennis Irwin on the sides. Only one defender has been ever present this term and he has been truly outstanding. The small Frenchman has been the stand out performer on many an occasion this season and has been a constant menace to the opposition going forwards on the left flank.

All things considered though, this season still has the possibility of turning into yet another “treble” year but the possibility is quite remote. Yet, with half a season gone and United yet to peak, you do begin to wonder if they will indeed peak. One thing is for certain though; there are exciting times ahead at Old Trafford and the reaction of Sir Alex to this season’s stuttering and struggling will be intriguing to watch indeed.


Carlito’s way

He came under a cloud. Gave an all action performance. Endeared himself to the fans. Scored a fair amount of goals. Worked his socks off …. and two years later, went Blue. That’s Carlos Tevez for you.

His arrival in England was nothing sort of sensational. Both he and his fellow countryman, Mascherano were signed up by West Ham in what can only be called a sensational coup. In truth, it was one of the most complicated deals in the history of the game in which both players were bizarrely, not owned by a club but by a company, or in particular, one Mr. Kia Joorabchian. After a slow start to life in the Premier League, he quite came alive in the second half of the season and helped West Ham beat the drop with some sensational performances, and a particularly stunning goal against who would turn out to be his future employers. After helping West Ham to beat the drop, he did what any player in his position would have. He answered the door when Manchester United came calling.

A two year loan deal, with an option to make the deal permanent, was signed and soon Carlos Tevez was the new number 32. His first goal for United was a super one. A diving header at the near post against Chelsea. More goals followed and he, along with Wayne Rooney and a certain number 7 were the fulcrum of the United team that went on to retain their Premier league crown and also won the Champions League (in which he scored a penalty in the shoot out in the final). All was well.

Then came what could possibly be called the beginning of the end. Berbatov was signed and was put straight into the first team. At first, it wasn’t much of an impact as Ronaldo was injured and so Rooney, Tevez and Berbatov were accommodated. But soon, Ron was back and Carlos was, more often than not, relegated to the bench. His frustration was for all to see and this was compounded by the fact that Berbatov did not seem to adapt to the United playing style well either. Soon, cracks began to emerge with Carlos stating that he wasn’t too happy with the situation and who could blame him!

As the season progressed, it became evident that he would, more likely than not, be plying his trade away from the theater of Dreams very soon. His last appearance for Manchester United was the Champions league final, in which he was introduced as a second half substitute. In his last few games, he performed to the hilt, as ever, and scored a few.

Then came the announcement in the summer that Carlos Tevez had declined the offer of 25 million pounds that United were offering for his services and would be moving out. Duly, he was signed by Manchester City for around the same amount and will indeed wear the number 32 jersey.

All the noise he was making was that he had not been treated with respect, and that he was not getting enough game time, hence feeling unwanted. Fair enough, until you consider his decision to join City. Apart from Tevez, they have 6 other strikers on the payroll. Now if Mark Hughes decides to rotate his squad from time to time, it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

At the end of the day, Red became blue. Tevez became a cityzen. All the best mate. Lets just hope for your and everyone else’s sake that you win at least as many, if not more trophies in your ENTIRE spell at City than your two glorious years at Man United…

That boy Ronaldo !!!

6 seasons. 292 appearances. 118 goals. 49 assists. Now he’s gone, and United are richer by 80 million pounds. Thats Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United career at Old Trafford. He came in as a “phenomenal talent” and left as a “superstar”, probably the biggest of ’em all. A stepover here, a nudge there. A dive here and a fantastic strike there. This was pretty much what he was about.

When he was bought for 12 million pounds six years ago, quite a few eyebrows werre raised as he was quite an unknown identity. No sooner than he had made his sparkling debut, than people realised that the unknown ‘X’ was quite simply the ‘X-Factor’. His first couple of seasons, or the first three even, were quite inconsistent peppered with flashes of brilliance. He was still growing.

Then came the first of three brilliant seasons in which he so famously won the wager with Sir Alex when he scored more than 20 that season. The season started off on a sour note with the Rooney red card incident at the world cup. He was getting stick wherever he played( Well, except OT of course !!). But then he won over the fans with a series of stunning displays. He was developing his game and with it learning to deal with superstardom too. He was still growing.

Then came the season to end all seasons. 42 goals in 49 appearances to go with a Premiership medal and a champs league medal. He simply decimated all and was crowned both the European and World Footballer of the year. He was quite simply on another planet and well, vini vidi vici. Inevitably Real Madrid came calling and quite frankly, United were lucky to hold on to him for another season. But the signs were ominous and it was only a question of when rather than if he would leave. He had grown.

Then was his last season at OT. His supposed “not so good” season. Yeah, it produced only 26 goals. Not so good indeed. Well, the season started off badly as he had a surgeory on his ankle and was out of the game for the start of the season and when he got back, he did look more than a little jaded. Worst of all, he looked as if his heart was quite simply not in it. His attitude did improve as the season progressed and so did his form. Another premier league medal and a Champs league runners up medal. Towards the end of the season, the signs were ominous. The pure petulence on being substituted was well, inexcusible. But then the second half against Tottenham showed us the boy’s class and well, it was one last swansong.

Then came the inevitable. Manchester United had accepted a world record 80 million dollar bid from Real Madrid for the the services of a certain Cristaino Ronaldo, and just like that, he was off. The worst part of it was the reaction of all the United fans all over the world. A “we dont need him” attitude. I’m sorry guys, have a li’l respect for the guy and for all that he gave us.

He was brilliant. He was infuriating. He was arrogant. He was pure genius. He was quite simply the guy you would just love to hate. He may well be a whigner. He may well be a spoilt rich brat. He may not have defended or worked hard enough for the team. He may have thrown tantrums and dived on the slightest contact but you know what?? All we can do is look back and say…”That boy!Ronaldo !!”

Adios amigo. Its been a good six years. Thank you for the memories and… Godspeed