Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Manchester United: 2009-10 fixture list

The fixture list for 2009-10 season has been announced. United play the newly promoted clubs up front and entertain the Gunners in August itself. The entire fixture list is as below:

Sat Aug 15 Birmingham City H
Tue Aug 18 Burnley A
Sat Aug 22 Wigan Athletic A
Sat Aug 29 Arsenal H

Sat Sep 12 Tottenham Hotspur A
Sat Sep 19 Manchester City H
Sat Sep 26 Stoke City A

Sat Oct 3 Sunderland H
Sat Oct 17 Bolton Wanderers H
Sat Oct 24 Liverpool A
Sat Oct 31 Blackburn Rovers H

Sat Nov 7 Chelsea A
Sat Nov 21 Everton H
Sat Nov 28 Portsmouth A

Sat Dec 5 West Ham A
Sat Dec 12 Aston Villa H
Tue Dec 15 Wolverhampton Wanderers H
Sat Dec 19 Fulham A
Sat Dec 26 Hull City A
Mon Dec 28 Wigan Athletic H

Sat Jan 9 Birmingham City A
Sat Jan 16 Burnley H
Tue Jan 26 Hull City H
Sat Jan 30 Arsenal A

Sat Feb 6 Portsmouth H
Wed Feb 10 Aston Villa A
Sat Feb 20 Everton A
Sat Feb 27 West Ham H

Sat Mar 6 Wolverhampton Wanderers A
Sat Mar 13 Fulham H
Sat Mar 20 Liverpool H
Sat Mar 27 Bolton Wanderers A

Sat Apr 3 Chelsea H
Sat Apr 10 Blackburn Rovers A
Sat Apr 17 Manchester City A
Sat Apr 24 Tottenham Hotspur H

Sat May 1 Sunderland A
Sun May 9 Stoke City H

The fixture list could obviously change because of Carling Cup, FA Cup and UCL matches.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Am glad the drama is finally over...thanks a lot for everything Christiano. Hope you have success in La Liga.

Now for the £80 million that we get for him: we need to buy a winger and a striker.

Ronaldo's stats for the last 3 seasons:

1. 23 goals and 20 assists
2. 42 goals and 8 assists
3. 26 goals and 8 assists

So in 3 seasons, he hit 91 goals and gave 36 assists. He accounted for some 27% of the goals we scored in these 3 seasons and was a major factor in winning us some crucial games and trophies. To replace him by one player is impossible. In the EPL, only one player can guarantee around 25 goals every season and that is Torres and he is at Liverpool.

We need atleast two players who together can provide us with 30 goals and 20 assists. I expect more from Berbatov (in terms of goals) and from Nani. Also the midfield will be expected to get more goals. Antonio Valencia is a done deal I guess. He should cost us around £20 million.

We can expect SAF to now go for Ribery or Benzema. Both should together cost around £80-90 million because both Bayern and Lyon are extremely good negotiatiors. I am not quite sure about Tevez being signed as well since he has expressed his desire to leave.

Also, we have to see the economic considerations of Ronaldo's move. Ronaldo was also earning us tremendous revenue in terms of shirt sales and other stuff. Tevez can't get us that much. Benzema as the new face of United would be more suitable to our sponsors.

So we can expect Ribery and Benzema to come. If we are priced out of them, then expect a move for Ashley Young and even Samuel Eto. Both can come for a combined cost of £40 million and then we can splash cash for Tevez as well.

Best of luck Ronaldo...thanks for the memories.

Glory Glory Manchester United!!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Three fish-eaters (two all-seasons and one selective)

One of my very good friends, Amey Athavale, is leaving for Bangalore on the 14th to sell bread, milk, cheese, butter, and whatever else the portfolio of Britannia offers. He has this desire to eat fish. So we decide to meet up. Another dear friend of ours, Anay Dhoraje, fresh from giving the CFA exam, also joins us.

We meet up at college and immediately start our ritual. Whenever we are with Anay, we inevitably pick on him. I and Athav immediately start on him, his hairstyle, on why he chose not to vote, why he thinks Turkey is a better country than India (Anay, that sucked coming from you) and so on.

We walk till Marine Drive and admire the glorious sunset, the healthy ladies out for their evening walks, and talk in general about our future plans. Athavale declares that he is not the kind of guy made out for relationships or commitments. He boldly declares that he will not marry. I second that…I mean not that I don’t want to marry but I can’t see some girl agreeing to waste her life on me.

We all decide to send our children once they turn 18 on world trips to further their carnal education. Boys will be sent to Pataya and Amsterdam, while girls will be sent to Manali or London at best. By the way, all this comes from Amey.

Then, we make the train trip to Bandra during which most of the talk is centered at TCS bashing – an inevitable topic once two TCSites get together.

The hotel chosen for dinner is Highway Gomantak. It is a very well known hotel amongst Maharashtrians for fish. We let Anay choose the dishes for us. The sad part is that he has to eat a Special Veg Thali. Why? Because today is Tuesday and he does not eat non-veg on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.

We question him on his logic and wisely he chooses not to spar with us. He simply does so because his mom told him to do so. We have a hearty dinner and then sit outside on the kattha to do some idle chit-chat.

The parting is symbolic. At the signal outside the hotel, we all go separate ways. The image still lives in my mind…three friends parting, each going their own way to fulfill their own destiny.

But we shall meet again…after all not partings are forever.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Federer does the Grand Slam

I finally saw what I had thought was beyond Roger Federer. I saw him lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy on the Philip Chatrier Court and complete his Grand Slam. He now joins a select group of people who have won all four Slams. Quite an achievement considering the fact that Rafael Nadal was hell bent on denying him that Grand Slam.

There is no doubt he deserved this. For the last 6-7 years he has been the best player in tennis. Some would debate if he is better than Sampras as well. I would reserve judgment on that but now that he has conquered the French Open as well (something which eluded Sampras all through his illustrious career), I think he is better.

Roger Federer is no doubt the best tennis player ever. His icy calmness and impeccable shot selection, the ease with which he outwits his opponents is just way too amazing. I remember seeing him play Andy Roddick once. Roddick was hammering his serves at over 200 kmph while Federer was simply defending them with ease and then proceeding to outplay him totally. I remember seeing the look of total disbelief on Roddick’s face…he was frankly shocked at being so surgically torn apart. And Roddick has never been the same after that.

But the main question is – would he have won the French Open had Nadal been in the final? Now, this is an intriguing question. Against Soderling, Nadal was totally outplayed. But he looked tired and was probably nursing an ankle injury (which might rule him out of Wimbledon as well). Soderling, like many others, was simply a one-tournament wonder. I can bet with certainty that he won’t make it to another Slam final ever again. Against Federer, he just gave up. First set was a farce and he woke up in the second set but then Federer was in total control.

But had Federer faced a fully fit Nadal, he may have struggled to impose himself on the Spaniard. Quite simply, the result would have been different. Maybe Federer would never have completed the Grand Slam. And I firmly believe that this is Federer’s first and only French Open (provided Nadal does not lose again).
Roger Federer will never beat Rafael Nadal in the French Open…

Tummy Ache

I wake up today early morning clutching my tummy in pain…there is a piercing pain that I just won’t let me sleep.

Now, if one thing that really scares me the most of all ailments is tummy ache. I remember when in school, a tummy ache would mean no school and a trip to the doctor. He would prescribe white pills and pink syrup and lots of rest, which meant skipping homework as well.

Rewind to today, I try to throw back my mind to the last time I had a tummy ache. But my memory fails me…maybe 5-6th standard. I can’t care less…I have more painful matters to attend to right now.

I wake up my mom whose first question is what I had eaten the previous night. I put the answer on hold and wake up my sister. I tell her that my tummy is aching and her answer is quite original.

“Go to the doctor.”

Now that is exactly what I have done. I mean my sister is a doctor. But I guess she knows I must have eaten something wrong and in due course the pain would subside.

I try and sleep but visions of appendicitis enter my mind. I see myself being wheeled into the operating theatre and being cut up by a beautiful doctor (this beautiful doctor part was the best part of the vision). I can see myself being advised complete bed rest for 3 weeks. That would mean missing the football every evening. I tell my mom so and she just pooh poohs my worries.

Finally my sister wakes up. Two glasses of hot water and I am alright.

The culprit was identified as jackfruit. Now, this is my favorite fruit, even above mangoes. And you are not supposed to drink water over this fruit and I had done exactly the same. Hence, the tummy ache.
So now I have to go light on food for the day...sad but better than 3 weeks bed rest.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Football days are here again...

Well, not club football but I get to play daily for an hour or so. There is this Parsi colony that neighbours my building. They have a decent sized ground and the players who turn up are also decent. Some have played national level and a few play for local Parsi clubs.

I am slowly rediscoverng my scoring touch. Since it is not a full ground, we don't play a proper Defence-Midfield-Attack formation. The defence and the midfield are one and the same. Now as for me, long spells of not having played have slowed me down. I had also lost my scoring touch. Normally, I am pretty much reliable in the box but of late even simple tap-ins eluded me. The only thing that remained was my positional and game sense.

Hence, for the last year or so, whenever I took to the field I would play as a sweeper. Taking the ball out of the defense and initiating attacks was what I did. There is a sweetness in seeing your through ball or slide rule pass being matched by the striker's run and the cool finish past the keeper. However, being a sweeper means that I could no longer play up as I had to put in my fair share of defensive work as well. Hence, the goals dried up but the assists kept racking up.

However, for the last few days that I have resumed playing, I have started making direct runs into the box and also trying to get at the end of a move that I start myself. It does leave my team a bit vulnerable at the back but what the hell...

I want to feel that long forgotten joy of sliding the ball past the keeper and wheeling away in celebration.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Manchester United Transfer Season 2009-10

As Sir Alex Ferguson takes his yearly vacation, he already must have asked David Gill to start drawing up a blueprint for what acquisitions to make for the next season. United’s campaign this season has been completely based on a strong squad with quality as well as quantity. SAF would definitely look to strengthen the squad further, weed out certain deadwood, and some loan deals as well.

So who will come in and who will go out. Let me highlight the areas where I feel United need to strengthen.

1. Goalkeeper:

Edwin van der sar is 40 now. He had a pretty good season setting records along the way but much of that was down to Vidic and Rio ahead of him. I can’t remember him making any match-saving saves but he was good between the sticks. He still is dicey when it comes to collecting crosses and corners but his distribution has been good and he does have the awareness of a top class keeper.

Ben Foster has been tipped to be the No. 1 for both club and country but his chances have been restricted to Cup and easy games in the league. He has been good whenever called upon but has had a lot of injuries as well.

Thomas Kuszczak will leave this season or maybe get loaned out. He has not featured much this season and is clearly behind the above two.

I feel we need a good world class keeper, someone in the mould of Smeichel. Obviously they don’t make keepers like that nowadays. The only keepers who come close are Iker Casillas and Gigi Buffon. Casillas won’t leave Madrid but Buffon would. However, he would definitely come expensive but he has a good 9-10 seasons ahead of him. Seems a fruitful investment.

Outcome: A world class goalkeeper needed.

2. Defence:

No problems in the centre of the defense. Both Vidic and Rio are perfect and Evans is a good understudy. Wes Brown can chip in as the fourth choice central defender.

There are four right-backs and three left-backs. The problem is with the LB position. If Evra gets injured or suspended, then Oshea gets shifted there or Fabio gets a game. So far, Fabio has shown potential but he has not completed a single game for us. And Oshea is versatile, gets the job done but can’t attack at all. Ritchie De Laet has shown potential and I think he will get more first-team chances next season.

Outcome: No buying required but injuries should be kept in check.

3. Wingers:

At present the wingers that we have are: Ronaldo, Park, Giggs, Nani, and Tosic. This will be the last season for Giggs and even then SAF prefers to use him centrally and not on the wings. And he really is not as fast as he was. Ronaldo is quite often used as a striker. So we have Park and Nani as genuine wingers with Tosic to slowly get blooded into the team.

Park we all know is creative and can run up and down his flank whole day. He puts in a shift equal to two players at times. But he is not a goal-scorer and neither that much of a creator. SAF primarily uses him as a defensive winger. Nani is a waste actually. He has honestly not justified his price tag. He creates very little and can only score some really spectacular goals. He does provide a lot of crosses but otherwise has done little. I think he is out of Old Trafford this season.
Hence, we need a genuine winger, someone who can replace Giggs. Tough ask and very few such wingers around. The first name that springs to my mind is Aaron Lennon but then again he is a right-sided winger and we have Ronaldo there. So we need a genuine left-sided winger. Stewart Downing fits the bill perfectly I think. There is also talk of us signing Antonio Valencia but again he is a right-sided player.

Outcome: Left-sided winger needed. Stewart Downing is the only candidate I think.

4. Central Midfield:

Here is where the major problem lies. We have the following midfielders: Carrick, Fletcher, Hargreaves, Anderson, Scholes, Gibson, and Possebon. Lots of midfielders infact.

However, Scholes, Gibson and Possebon will make very few appearances and Scholes may even leave. Hargreaves seems to be perennially injured and might not be fit before January. So that means we have three fit central midfielders with Giggs used as well.

Now, Carrick and Fletcher are typically the defensive midfielders who shield the back four and have done so superbly this season. Fletcher was solely missed in the Champions League final where Xavi and Iniesta were left totally free to do what they do best. Anderson is the only attacking central midfielder that we have. He has shown glimpses of his talent but is nowhere close to Scholes. True he has age on his side but then Scholes showed what he was capable of at quite a young age itself.

More than someone creative, we need someone who has character in the midfield. Someone like Roy Keane or Bryan Robson, someone who would have tackled into Xavi and Iniesta and showed some direction. United looked out of depth in Rome. Had Keane been there he would have hauled up United by their shoe-laces. Sadly Giggs or Carrick are not in that mould.

Outcome: I was hoping United would go for Kaka. He is the perfect attacking midfielder that we needed but it seems Madrid will have snapped him up by the weekend. I don’t see any signings in this area. SAF will allow for Anderson to be developed as our creative and driving force.

5. Strike force:

Our present strike force is composed of the following: Berbatov, Rooney, Tevez, Welbeck, Macheda, and Manucho.

Tevez is definitely leaving. Rooney is automatically the first choice striker and I sincerely hope that SAF stops playing him in that defensive role of a winger. There is no more creative and with exceptional vision in the United team than Rooney and I hope he is allowed to exercise that to the fullest.

The problem is Rooney and Berbatov both are the same. Both like to drop deep, get the ball and create attacks. Neither is in the mould of Andy Cole or Ruud van Nistelrooy that is, neither is a poacher. And we desperately need a poacher. Someone who can score out of nothing. Of the remaining three, I think Manucho fits the bill as a poacher. He is a strong lad and good in the air as well. I expect SAF to give him more first team games. Macheda and Welbeck will also feature prominently.

The biggest lost is that of Tevez. Rooney is susceptible to injury so we need a back up for Berbatov. The immediate name that springs to mind is Karim Benzema but he would come very expensive, upwards of £35 million. But he would be a good acquisition.

Outcome: A striker will definitely come. Benzema seems to be the only option but I would love a shock move for Samuel Eto.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Football transfer season: Part II

Continuing with the transfer sagas. Here goes the next part.

1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Barcelona, Real Madrid:

This is funny one. Ibrahimovic has been touted by his coach (Jose Mourinho, who else) as the world’s best player. Yeah, right. There is no doubting his talent. He is quick, strong in the air, can score outrageous goals but is still a big game bottler. He hardly turns up for Inter’s big European games. Against United, he was simply outclassed by Vidic and Rio.

His club president says he is worth some 60 million euros. Honestly, for someone who has never contributed in Europe, he is not worth that much. But it seems Barcelona and Madrid are both interested in his signature. Madrid I can understand. They are interested in all the big players. I honestly can’t understand Barcelona going for him unless they dispose of Samuel Eto, which I think would be a big mistake. He no doubt would fare well in the La Liga but I think Madrid is where he will land up.

Likely Outcome: Won’t leave

2. Cesc Fabregas and Barcelona, Real Madrid:

I hope Cesc leaves. He is my favorite player in the Arsenal side. And at Arsenal, he is not going to win anything unless Wenger gives up his project and injects some much needed experience into the side.

Cesc is a true delight to watch. He is not physically the biggest but as a passer of the ball, there is only Xavi and Iniesta for company. He reminds me of Paul Scholes in his younger days - someone who would play simple one-touch and then make the run into the box. And he is still young, just 21. He has a long way to go. I have this fantasy of seeing him at United but that will remain a fantasy only.

He is a Barcelona youth product. Wenger poached him from there and turned him into the superb midfielder that he is. But he still remains a cule by birth. Unless Arsenal beef up in the summer, he is potentially staring at another season without anything. Arsenal play really pretty football but there is no end product. Cesc is their captain and driving force but I think he should realize that this current Wenger project won’t take him anywhere. On the other hand he does have age on his side. So he can wait for another season or two.

In case he does move, then it will always be Barcelona. To go to Madrid would be a betrayal and he would never do so.

Likely Outcome: Won’t go, atleast not this season.

3. Xabi Alonso and Real Madrid:

He has been for me Liverpool’s player of the season. He and Mascherano. Without these two playing ahead of the back four, I don’t think Gerrard, Kuyt and Riera would have got so much freedom to move ahead. He has an incredible passing range and a good shot.

Last season he was almost sold to Juventus. But then Aston Villa did not give up on Barry and so Liverpool were stuck with Xabi. But he has put in a wonderful performance this season and now Benitez is saying that he is going nowhere. If he does go, then it is to Madrid. Some reports say a £25 million deal has been sealed but I doubt it.

If he leaves then Liverpool have to find someone to replace him. And at present there is no one like him who is available. Even Gareth Barry can’t replace him (he might sign up for Manchester City).

Likely Outcome: Won’t go.

4. David Villa and Real Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona:

He is an exceptional striker. Not a poacher but he does have his fair share of poached goals as well. He is fast and has an exceptional touch and vision. He has consistently hit the 20 goal mark in La Liga and is pretty good in Europe as well.

The financial crisis at Valencia is very well documented. They are a club who are direly in need of finances to keep them functioning. Hence, it is natural that other clubs will circle around like vultures. Their prize jewels are Villa, Silva, and defender Albiol. Also, Valencia have not qualified for the Champions League.

Villa himself has denied that he wants a move away from the Mestalla. But Valencia may have to cash on him now and I think he should move. He won’t be winning much there. As again, Madrid are interested. Barcelona have shown fleeting interest. Chelsea have courted him for 2 seasons as Abramovich thinks he is the kind of player who will add flair to them. Liverpool are also a shoe-in as Benitez might just try and replicate the Torres and Villa partnership at the club level. But again, Liverpool playing with two strikers is very rare.

Likely Outcome: Will go. Valencia will cash-in. Most likely destination is Chelsea or Madrid.

More to come later. And as I post this, it appears Manchester City have completed the signing of Gareth Barry from Aston Villa for £12 million. Nevertheless, City won’t be burning up the Premier League. Another mid-table finish for the Citizens.

Football transfer season: Part I

The football season is over. I have to wait till August for my weekend dose of football. In the meantime, it is that time of the football season when huge, and sometimes, obscene amounts of money exchange hands. Yes sir…it is the transfer season.

Every year we have these transfer sagas. They stretch on and on. Even after the transfer window shuts they refuse to go away. So let us have a look at some of the sagas that could take place (or are already in place) this year.

1. Christiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid:

Madrid we all know is in dire straits. They lost their last 5 games of the season, were humiliated by Barcelona at the Bernabeu, and were whitewashed by Liverpool in the UCL. They are no longer the power houses that they were in Europe. They still remain Europe and Spain’s most successful team but for the last 5 seasons have looked completely out of sorts.

Now that Florentino Perez is back at the helm, we can expect a new galactico era. He wants big names at the White House. Ronaldo’s desire to play for Real is well-documented. Does he want to go? Does he want to stay at United? Is there an agreement already in place with him and United? No one knows. Honestly, I would want him to go. All this transfer drama is simply not the worth it. Sell him and get the £70 million.

Likely Outcome: Won’t go

2. Carlos Tevez and Manchester City, Liverpool, Totenham, Inter Milan, Real Madrid:

This is a transfer saga that United could have done without. Tevez has been one of the best performers over the last 2 seasons. His dedication and effort for United cannot be debated. But as Sir Alex Ferguson put it, United is dealing with a company and not a club.

Tevez’s economic rights are owned by a company. They are asking United to cough up some £25 million for him, which is an obscene amount. Negotiations are on and so on. But Tevez himself does not want to stay. He has not featured in the big games this season and has mostly warmed the bench. Some of his press conferences must have surely not gone down well with Ferguson.

City lead the chase for his signature. They have all the money in the world but can’t give him Champions League football. Liverpool also look a likely destination but Tevez would be wary of going there. At Liverpool, he will be second to Torres and Benitez never plays with two strikers. Totenham would be a step down. Inter Milan look like an ideal destination as they have a lot of Argentine players. Real Madrid is the last choice I would think. If Madrid fail to get Ronaldo or any other striker, then they could move for Tevez.

Likely Outcome: Will go. Knowing Ferguson, Tevez will definitely go abroad.

3. Kaka and Real Madrid, Chelsea:

One of my favorite players. I still don’t understand what he is doing at AC Milan. It is time he understood that Milan is an ageing behemoth. Their entire squad needs overhauling, from back to front. How long can you depend on Inzhagi (he still does score a lot but he can’t last an entire season) and an ageing defense (now even Maldini is gone)?

Kaka can still light up the Serie A. He can create and score. But he needs to win things as well and should move on. Madrid (again) and Chelsea lead the chase. Madrid because, well, they are Madrid and Chelsea because they can afford his transfer fee and his wages and also, Carlo Ancelotti is now at the Bridge.

In the winter transfer window, Manchester City almost pulled off an audacious move by signing Kaka but better sense prevailed. However, I hope he moves this time round. I would love to see him at United. He is the perfect attacking midfielder that we need right now. But wishful thinking. Unless Ronaldo goes, we won’t have the required funds.

Likely Outcome: Will go. It is 51-49 to Madrid.

4. Ribery and Barcelona, United, Madrid:

Ribery is one of my favorite players today. He is skillful, tricky, has got explosive pace and most of all, he does create a lot. He is a simple player unlike the prima donna called Ronaldo. Sadly he is at a club that won’t do him much good. Bayern Munich did not win the German league this year and were destroyed by Barcelona in the UCL. I can’t see Ribery winning anything in Europe with the Bavarian giants.

Barcelona are the best suited to get him this summer. He will seamlessly fit into their style of play. But then he would also fit into United as well. This is provided Ronaldo goes. Madrid stand a chance as well because Zidane has been appointed as an adviser now. I somehow feel Barcelona would be the best for him.

Likely Outcome: Will go. Barcelona.

More to come later…