Are you taking the Mickey, Phelan?

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After a lifetime in football, Mike Phelan may well have spent more time in the spotlight in the last few weeks than at any other stage of his career.

Phelan has been without work since David Moyes decided not to retain his services after taking over at Old Trafford this summer, yet the name of the former United Assistant Manager has been at the forefront of fan discussion after Phelan claimed he had controlled the United team in all but name during Sir Alex Ferguson’s last five years in charge. To all but the most blinkered observer, it was a thinly-veiled plea for new employment. If reports that he is about to be offered the vacant manager’s position at Wigan Athletic are to be believed, it may well have worked.

Phelan boasts a long association with United, having been signed as a player by Ferguson from Norwich in 1989. After five years and 146 appearances in a red shirt, he returned to Old Trafford in 1999, working in the academy until Steve McLaren’s departure to manage Middlesbrough saw him promoted to first team coach in 2001. In 2008, he became Ferguson’s fifth full-time assistant boss, following in the footsteps of Archie Knox, Brian Kidd, Steve McClaren, and most recently Carlos Queiroz, who left to manage Portugal.

His time as Fergie’s No.2, it is fair to say, passed by relatively unnoticed. History is likely to remember him as Ferguson’s dutiful mouthpiece, the balding lieutenant persistently seen on the BBC churning out platitudes for Match of the Day to compensate for his boss’ spectacular stubbornness against the corporation. That, or as the man who gave the infamous Bebe his debut, during his one game in full control of the first team, a 5-2 League Cup win at Scunthorpe United in September 2010. Others, meanwhile, will remember him as the coach who almost gave the greatest manager in United’s history a highly embarrassing heart attack after dutifully popping an errant balloon in the dugout.

Yet Phelan was a permanent fixture within a management team which led United to three Premier League titles and two European Cup finals. Indeed, if the statements he made in recent interviews are to be believed, he was an integral figure in the day-to-day running of the club during Ferguson’s final years, making major selection and tactical decisions. In the context of United’s recent run of results, United fans have begun to wonder whether Phelan’s role was of more importance than they may have previously realised.

What exactly, then, did Mike Phelan contribute to United’s prolonged silverware assault? The fierce discipline of an Archie Knox? Pioneering and innovative coaching techniques, in the model of McClaren? The foreign flair and European pedigree provided by Quieroz?

Most likely, none of these. Phelan’s value seems to have originated from his sense of duty, his consistency and upmost familiarity with the workings of the Old Trafford club. He was the ultimate right-hand man, privileged to be working under one of the game’s greatest figures and prepared to sacrifice his personal ambitions, even his identity, to help his mentor achieve success.

It was a role that makes his comments in previous weeks all the more surprising. Although certainly exaggerated by the media, his recent interview was peculiar for man who always seemed to enjoy such a rapport with Ferguson and had always given selflessly to the club. Most likely, his statements were designed as little more than a poorly disguised come-and-get-me plea, one that may well have done much to damage his United legacy.

So what now for Phelan? United’s former coaches have typically rarely struggled to find work after leaving Old Trafford, the most recent example being Rene Muelensteen, who Robin Van Persie once described as “truly one of the best coaches in the world” and was recently appointed the new manager of Fulham. McClaren and Queiroz, meanwhile, both went on to manage both major club sides and their respective national teams after leaving United.

Yet the transition from coach to manager has proved notoriously difficult for many. Phelan will undoubtedly be wary of the fates of the likes of McClaren and Quieroz, who largely struggled to adapt to the demands of full time management. Their skills were in coaching; in working with technicalities, tactics and routines, rather than overseeing the entire living, breathing operation of a football club, a machinery constantly influenced by fans, the media and shifting transfer markets. Despite this, West Bromwich Albion’s Steve Clarke has recently capably demonstrated just how beneficial an astute coach occupying the top position can be.

Whether Phelan’s honest, less technical approach to coaching is more adaptable than his predecessors to the demands of fulltime management, only time will tell. Despite his comments in recent weeks, United fans will wish him all the best for the future.

Originally published on Red Rants

The mixed fortunes of United’s samba hopefuls

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In the wake of Friday’s World Cup draw, Brazil finds itself well and truly at the centre of the footballing consciousness once again. This is true for Manchester United fans more than most, with the club currently heavily linked with current Brazilian Footballer of the Year Everton Ribeiro, an exciting midfield talent currently playing for Cruzeiro.

The fortunes of the Premier League’s Brazilian cohort have been mixed, but how well have those from the Samba nation fared at Old Trafford in particular? Unfortunately, the following list is largely one of mercurial, injury-plagued talents who have failed to ever reach the potential they hinted at in their youth. There is, however, one baby-faced right-back exception…

Kleberson

Kleberson, United’s first ever Brazilian signing, was acquired for £6.5 million after impressing as part of the Brazil team which won the 2002 World Cup. Intended as a replacement for Juan Sebastián Verón, he made just twenty league appearances in two seasons for United after picking up an injury in his second outing for the club. An attack-minded midfielder who at his best was characterised by energy and fast passing, Kleberson was unable to settle at United and departed in 2005. Following unimpressive spells at Besiktas, Flamengo, Atletico Paranaense and Bahia, he now plays on loan for Philadelphia Union in the MLS.

Anderson

Despite scoring a penalty in the shootout of the Champions League final in 2008, Anderson has failed to fulfil his considerable potential whilst at United, and not for lack of opportunities. Once likened to Ronaldinho, Anderson at his finest is a bustling, skilful box-to-box midfielder, but has suffered repeated injury setbacks and fitness issues, many of which have been self imposed through poor dietary habits and a fondness for a night out. Despite United’s current alarming lack of central midfield options, Anderson has barely featured in his team’s recent games. If rumours are to be believed, his time at Old Trafford may be up as soon as January.

Rodrigo Possebon

Another promising Brazilian central midfielder, Possebon was signed by United after impressing the same Brazilian scout who identified the Da Silva twins. After making his debut in August 2008, Possebon was injured in a challenge by Middlesbrough captain Emanuel Pogatetz in a League Cup game in September 2003. Although fears that he had broken his leg were later dispelled, Possebon failed to respond effectively to his layoff, and left the club in 2010. He currently plays for Brazilian fourth division side Juventude.

The Da Silva twins

Thankfully, not all of United’s Brazilian signings will go down as talented but ultimately wasted prodigies. Indeed, there are few players who possess the same cult hero status amongst United’s current crop than the Da Silva brothers. Fabio’s time at Old Trafford may be drawing to an end, but despite struggling with injury and occasionally missing out to Chris Smalling this term, Rafael remains United’s best right back. Pacy, direct and with ever improving defensive skills, he could dominate the position for the next ten years, and may well go on to succeed where United’s other Brazilian imports have flimsily failed.

Originally published on Red Rants

Top 10: The greatest kit accessories

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Last week’s Mathieu Flamini-inspired ‘sleevegate’ controversy provoked outrage amongst Arsenal’s management team and hilarity amongst pretty much everyone else. But how do the midfielder’s antics compare to other stylistic kit adaptations made by those players with the most blatant disregard for footballing conventions? Here are ten of the best.

1) Tevez’s dummy
Carlos Tevez celebrated scoring a winning goal for Manchester United against Birmingham in 2008 by popping a baby’s dummy into his mouth and grinning manically. According to the man himself, the celebration was intended as a tribute to his daughter in Argentina. Either that, or as a nod to his own persistent tendency to throw his toys out of the pram.

2) Rooney’s Everton love letter
Although the “message-on-a-t-shirt-under-the-shirt” celebration is a tried and tested kit customisation, it is one which can occasionally come back to bite you, as Wayne Rooney can ably testify. After scoring against Aston Villa during Everton’s run to the FA Youth Cup final in 2002, England’s brightest hope revealed a hand-written t-shirt reading “Once a blue, always a blue”. Just a few years later, photos of Rooney kissing the Manchester United crest would be adorning the covers of newspapers and magazines worldwide.

3) Pennant’s prison tag
Sometimes the most hilarious accessories are those over which the player has no control. The finest victim of this affliction was England’s notorious badboy Jermaine Pennant, who was forced to play wearing an electronic tag after being convicted of a drink-driving charge during his time at Birmingham City in 2005.

4) Neymar’s Neymar mask
Current Barcelona forward Neymar went to impressive new lengths to demonstrate his monstrous self-confidence by pulling out a mask of his own face after scoring an incredible solo goal for Santos in 2011. The Brazilian wonderkid was booked for his hilarious celebration, and later received his full marching orders after committing a nasty mistimed tackle.

5) Sava’s Zorro mask
Fulham’s £2 million striker Facundo Sava became infamous in England for the dire zorro mask he pulled out and put on each time he scored. With just 6 goals in 27 appearances for the Cottagers, opportunities to expose his embarrassing celebration to the world were thankfully rather limited.

6) Davids’ goggles
Davids’ protective eyewear has gone down as an enduring memory of the 1990s and early 2000s. Originally worn following surgery on his right eye, the goggles quickly became synonymous with the former Ajax and Juventus midfielder, surely prompting a few hefty marketing returns in the process.

7) Bendtner’s pants
Football’s most inappropriately self-assured striker got himself into all sorts of trouble for revealing a pair of Paddy Power-branded underpants after scoring against Portugal during Euro 2012. The Danish striker was fined a hefty £80,000 for his troubles.

8) Jonás Gutiérrez’s Spiderman mask
Newcastle’s wacky winger acquired the nickname ‘Spiderman’ for his penchant of donning the mask of his favourite superhero every time he scored. “I don’t know how long the mask has been down there, but it did not smell very nice when I put it on,” he revealed after notching his side’s fourth goal in an FA Cup tie with Barnsley.

9) Vieira’s vapour rub
Patrick Vieira led the trend amongst his Arsenal colleagues of lumping a load of vapour rub onto the centre of his shirt before each match. Much like Robbie Fowler’s nasal strip, the technique supposedly enabled players to breathe easier, but it quickly became a rather messy superstition, frequently resembling a particularly clumsy attempt to eat a very greasy dinner.

10) Király’s trackie bottoms
Best known in England for his spells in goal for Crystal Palace, error-prone keeper Gábor Király quickly became renowned for the baggy grey tracksuit bottoms he elected to ruin with grass stains each week between the sticks. Király lasted less than five years in England before he was shipped off (along with his trackie bottoms) back to Germany.

Originally published on Holding Midfielder

The Music Factory’s Christmas list

Christmas is fast approaching, meaning the hunt for overpriced luxuries and irrelevant memorabilia is well and truly on once again. Here, Piers Barber sifts through the junk to compile the Music Factory’s ideal Christmas stocking.

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Merchandise
saintmorrisseyMake up for all those albums you’ve brutally torrented throughout the course of the year by forking out on some overly pricey merchandise – as always, there’s plenty to chose from. Our favourites include these rare Drake-themed Nike socks, Wavves’ weed grinder and rolling papersand that really, really great Wu-Tang Clan Christmas Jumper, which comes complete with Killa Beez on each arm (above). For those who have already triple-read, memorised and transcribed Morrissey’sAutobiography onto parchment, take your devotion to the next level with the Saint Morrissey Prayer Candle. “There is a light that never goes out,” reads the product’s description. Continue reading

5 Things We Learned: Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Manchester United

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1. Jonny Evans is becoming a crucial cog in the United defence

Jonny Evans is quietly becoming a mainstay of United’s starting XI, having partnered Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones at the heart of the team’s defence in recent games. Evans is not the quickest or most spectacular defender, but his reading of the game and willingness to put his body on the line are underrated and essential qualities in a centre back. He is growing into a classy player and a genuine leader of the United back line, demanding the highest standards from his colleagues and not being afraid to let them know if they are failing to meet them. His unflashy playing style and boring haircut will mean he continues to be derided by opposing fans, but the Northern Ireland international is a vital player who could well be a potential captain in the making. Continue reading

Legend Of Solskjaer Continues To Grow As Former Favourite Embraces Management

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In 2012, backdropped by snowy mountains in the Norwegian city of Molde, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer responded to a winning goal by launching onto his knees, fists clenched, suit trousers ruined, smile beaming into the night. For any watching Manchester United fans, it was a heart-warming sight. It is, after all, less than 15 years since the same man joyfully executed an identical celebration after scoring the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final. Continue reading