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MANCHESTER IS THE NEW MILAN: A CITY UNITED AS THE CENTRE OF THE FOOTBALLING UNIVERSE. CAN LIVERPOOL STRIKE BACK?

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A City United by a unique League and Cup double on the same day - but what a disgrace that the Premier League trophy was not presented to the Reds. Were they worried this would eclipse City's FA Cup win

A City United by a unique League and Cup double on the same day – but what a disgrace that the Premier League trophy was not presented to the Reds. Were they worried this would eclipse City’s FA Cup win

BY JOHN GUBBA

Welcome to the dawning of a new era with the City of Manchester now well and truly the centre of the footballing universe. And mark my words this is great news for United because there is nothing like a new challenge to keep you on your toes.

In case you needed a reminder the United are still the top dog, it was sweet irony that once again United eclipsed City on the day Roberto Mancini’s men claimed their first trophy in 35 years.

As City beat Stoke 1-0 at Wembley to win the FA Cup thanks to Yaya Toure’s late strike, United fans were already back in Manchester celebrating another Premier League triumph and a record-breaking 19th League title courtesy of their 1-1 draw at Blackburn secured by Wayne Rooney’s penalty.

Does anyone doubt Rooney's dedication to Man Utd now? After scoring the penalty that clinched the Reds' 19th Premier League title win, Wazza celebrated in bizarre fashion by shaving the number '19' into his chest and posting a photograph of it on Twitter.

Does anyone doubt Rooney’s dedication to Man Utd now? After scoring the penalty that clinched the Reds’ 19th Premier League title win, Wazza celebrated in bizarre fashion by shaving the number ’19′ into his chest and posting a photograph of it on Twitter.

But this was a day for Manchester to be United in celebration. Not just because the City can proudly boast the unique feat of winning two trophies on the same day. It is great for Manchester to be the undisputed Mecca of fooball. Even Milan can no longer match the glamour of England’s hotbed of football. And the odds are that the new intensity is here to stay.

I remember the end of the 60s when United and City last dominated football in this country. It was great for both clubs. And this time that great rivalry can last much longer than it did back in the days of Best, Law, Charlton and Lee, Bell, Summerbee.

With Liverpool getting their act together under the legendary Kenny Dalglish, what are the odds on the North-West giants occupying the top three positions in the Premier League next season and eclipsing the fading stars of Chelsea and Arsenal.

My bet is that Sir Alex Ferguson’s record-breakers will face a rejuvenated challenge from Liverpool next season as the Merseysiders seek to match United’s 19th League title. When Chelsea frivolously handed the Pool £50million for Fernando Torres Dalglish invested the money wisely and now has a good mix of established stars and exciting upcoming youngsters.

But the real fascination will be how much ground can neighbours City make up on Fergie’s champions after ending their 35 year wait for a trophy to add to their qualification for the Champions League.

There is no doubt City must spend another vast fortune if they want to rival the Reds at the top table. But that will be harder said than done despite their untold riches and their Champions League status.

The reason is the introduction of UEFA’s new Financial Fair Play rules.

Michel Platini has warned that the likes of big-spending Manchester City and Chelsea, and some of Europe’s biggest clubs, will have to ‘face the music’ if they do not comply with the new FFP regulations.

UEFA’s latest figures show that financial problems affecting European clubs are getting worse, with spending on player wages up almost 10 per cent – and increasing at a faster rate than income.

Under their new rules, clubs will face possible bans from European competition from the 2014/15 season if they spend more than they earn in the three years before.

Sir Alex Ferguson hugs Ryan Giggs as United celebrate record 19th title - both have won an unprecedented 12 Premier League trophies

Sir Alex Ferguson hugs Ryan Giggs as United celebrate record 19th title – both have won an unprecedented 12 Premier League trophies

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Can Liverpool strike back? Kenny Dalglish with Andy Carroll (left) and Luis Suarez

Can Liverpool strike back? Kenny Dalglish with Andy Carroll (left) and Luis Suarez

KEANO BELIEVES REDS HAVE STRONGER SQUAD THAN BARCA

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BY JOHN GUBBA

Roy Keane
Roy Keane

Roy Keane, who famously missed Manchester United’s 1999 Champions League Final triumph, is backing his old club to upset Barcelona at Wembley.

United’s legendary former skipper says Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are definitely good enough to beat Barcelona in the final on May 28 to become Champions of Europe for the fourth time.

Says Keano: “At Wembley, the United fans will take over the stadium. In a one-off game, with fans behind them, of course they can do it.

“They will have to do really well to beat this Barcelona team and my concern would be not picking up injuries. The Barcelona starting XI is brilliant, outstanding, but their squad is probably not as strong as United’s.”

Suspension ruled Keano out of the historic 1999 triumph over Bayern Munich. But it was his remarkable performance in the 3-2 semi-final win at Juventus  that got United to the Final.

He scored from a header to start United’s comeback in Turin and drove the team forwards at every opportunity in what many believe was his finest hour as a footballer. Sadly, earlier in the match, Keane had received a yellow card for a trip on  Zinedine Zidane that ruled him out of the final.

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NOT ONLY HAS FERGIE "KNOCKED LIVERPOOL OFF THEIR BLOODY PERCH" – HE’S THE GREATEST FOOTBALL MANAGER EVER

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All salute Sir Alex Ferguson - the greatest football manager of all time

All salute Sir Alex Ferguson – the greatest football manager of all time

BY JOHN GUBBA

OK it’s never over until the Fat Lady sings and Manchester United still need one more point to confirm that record-breaking 19th title that will finally achieve Sir Alex Ferguson’s mission of “knocking Liverpool off their bloody perch.”

But the party has already started – and no one will stop The Red Devils now after a pulsating 2-1 win against Chelsea that will deservedly bring the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford.

The really big question now  is can United crown arguably Fergie’s greatest ever season by beating Barcelona at Wembley to win the Champions League? With Ryan Giggs playing the best football of his career, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez an unstoppable force, and the brilliant Edwin Van Der Saar playing behind  the best back four in Europe, United have the ammunition to end the season with the ultimate victory.

And that will make a mockery of the critics who keep telling us this is not a great United team. While other clubs have squandered millions, United’s miracle worker has quietly re-built yet another team capable of winning everything. And it’s the unerring longevity of the Glaswegian that makes him so special.

When Ferguson famously arrived at Old Trafford 25 years ago and said his aim was to emulate Liverpool as the most prolific club in England, this is what he was talking about. Remarkably, when United complete the Premier League formalities, this will be Fergie’s 12th title. United’s previous seven titles came between 1908 and 1967.

Not only has the greatest football manager of all time achieved yet another impossible dream. But once again he has made fools of the Southern-biased media who can’t wait to see him fail.

Seven months ago Chelsea looked odds-on to retain the Premier League title and the prophets of gloom were writing off Manchester United and their manager as a spent force. But then came Fergie’s masterful handing of the Wayne Rooney saga that – as I predicted at the time – re-ignited United’s latest trophy haul.

At a time when the stakes have never been higher and other football clubs have much bigger budgets than the Red half of Manchester, United have proved why they are the greatest football club on the planet. If United can add victory over Barca on May 28 no one will be able to deny that Fergie is simply the best.

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MOURINHO WINNING MIND-GAMES: BUT WILL LIONEL MESSI OR CRISTIANO RONALDO BE TOP DOG AT THE BERNABEU?

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BY JOHN GUBBA

Guardiola v Mourinho

Tonight’s first installment of the Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Barcelona is going to be fascinating. And if it’s half as fierce as the pre-match mind-games it’s going to be another El Classico.

In one corner we have Madrid boss Jose Mourinho insisting: “I am not asking the referee to help my team. If the referee is good everyone will be happy – except Guardiola. He wants them to get it wrong.This is something I have never seen in the world of football.”

While the Barca boss hit back with an uncharacteristic foul-mouthed tirade declaring: “In the press room he is the [expletive] chief. He is the [expletive] man. I try not to play the game off the pitch.” Added Pep Guardiola: “He’s much better than me at it. I represent an institution that believes this is not the best way to do things.”

On the pitch it’s Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo. Can’t wait for the kick-off at the Bernabeu.

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WHY JOSE MOURINHO WILL WAIT FOR SIR ALEX FERGUSON TO RETIRE BEFORE HE RETURNS TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE

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Mourinho wants to be Manchester United boss

Mourinho wants to be Manchester United boss

BY JOHN GUBBA

Jose Mourinho’s declaration that he will return to manage in the Premier League one day guarantees the self-appointed “special one” will be linked with every top job until he is “back home”.

The big question is ‘Where will Mourinho end up?’ The truth is you can make a compelling case for the current Real Madrid boss to take the helm at any of the EPL’s Big Six.  But my belief is that the Portuguese maestro will wait for the top job, and the chance to succeed his good friend Sir Alex Ferguson – for the next couple of years at least.

There is no guarantee Mourinho will even get the job. There is a question mark over whether or not he can deliver the swashbuckling football United fans and their history demand. There is no sign of Sir Alex being ready to step aside as he closes in on the possibility of his greatest ever season in his 70th year.

Yet there is an aura and intoxicating self-belief about Mourinho that makes him absolutely perfect for United. And the very doubt about whether or not he could deliver at the world’s biggest and most famous club is precisely why the man at Madrid has his eyes on Old Trafford.

I’m not convinced Mourinho will get the chance to prove himself  any time soon. Fergie has the hunger and desire to go on indefinitely. And how can anyone follow the most successful football manager in the history of the game? But I can’t think of anyone better equipped to take on the hardest job in football.

When Roman Abramovich forced Mourinho out of Chelsea, he made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. And despite his affection for his time at Stamford Bridge, the devil in Mourinho would give him immense satisfaction to come back to the Premier League and rub the Russian’s nose in the billionaire’s miserable failure to understand that some things money just can’t buy.

With Carlo Ancelotti joining the long list of Chelsea managers failing to win the Champions League, the Italian is vulnerable despite winning the Double last year, because this season will end trophy-less.  As I predicted on transfer deadline day – if Chelsea fail to finish in the top four – Ancelotti will pay the price for the crazy 50 million pound signing of Fernando Torres. He may already be a dead man walking.

Either way do not expect Mourinho to rush back to Chelsea. He has already strongly rejected suggestions he will replace Roberto Mancini at Eastlands, whether or not Manchester City fail to end their 35 year wait for a trophy and miss out on a Champions League place.

Spurs will want Mourinho to replace Redknapp

Spurs will want Mourinho to replace Redknapp

Tottenham will undoubtedly make another move for Mourinho – who has previously turned them down on at least one occasion – when Harry Redknapp becomes the next England manager.

He will also be top of the list at Liverpooland Arsenal, should Kenny Dalglish step down or Arsene Wenger finally run out of time.  Arsenal’s last trophy was the 2005 FA Cup and Liverpool have never won the Premier League.

Unless Fergie delivers another Treble next month and decides to bow out in style – and even then I think he will want to carry on – I expect Mourinho to bide his time and remain in Madrid for another season at least.

In the meantime, what are the odds now on my prophecy coming true and Fergie having to conquer Mourinho’s Madrid at Wembley to win the Champions League?

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SIR ALEX FERGUSON THE ULTIMATE ROLE MODEL – AND THE GREATEST FOOTBALL MANAGER THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN

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Whether or not United repeat Treble of 1999 Sir Alex Ferguson is greatest ever manager

Whether or not United repeat Treble of 1999 Sir Alex Ferguson is greatest ever manager

 

BY JOHN GUBBA

LISTENING to Sir Alex Ferguson analyse Manchester United’s comprehensive defeat of Chelsea to march on to the Champions League semi-finals – and inch closer to the dream of another impossible Treble – told you everything you need to know about this incredible human dynamo.

Not only is Sir Alex writing himself into the history books as the greatest football manager the world has ever seen, this unrelenting genious is the ultimate role model for every man woman and child who wants to achieve anything in life.

In the year when Old Trafford’s Red Knight celebrates his 70th birthday, the drive, passion and forsight of the man is incredible. Men half his age can only dream of possessing a fraction of the energy that makes Fergie an unstoppable force.

Even in the euphoria of United’s latest triumph every word and comment was measured with the experience and guile of a man who never stops driving his team forward, his focus already on the challenge ahead in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester rivals City.

“It’s going to be hard to win the Treble and we’re not thinking about that right now,” said Fergie, who wants all his players to focus on the Wembley challenge in four days time. But deep down you know damn well that the challenge of repeating the impossible dream of 1999 is burning bright and the very fuel that drives Manchester United‘s manager.

Whether or not United can make a clean sweep of the biggest prizes on offer remains to be seen. But if any man can repeat that feat that man is undoubtedly Sir Alex Ferguson.

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WHAT A DISGRACE: TOUCHLINE BAN FOR FERGIE IS PUNISHMENT FOR TELLING THE TRUTH – FA HAVE GOT IT WRONG

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BY JOHN GUBBA

THE PUBLIC debate over Sir Alex Ferguson’s five match touchline ban has been fascinating. the anti-Manchester United brigade on one side and the realists on the other. But the fact remains that Fergie was only telling the truth. And his defiance is actually for the good of the game.

Sir Alex has been harshly punished for critcising referee Martin Atkinson over a diabolical performance that cost United defeat by Chelsea in one of the biggest matches of the season. As the Boss says, football is the only industry where you get punished for telling the truth.

“Fergie Fury Ban” The Sun

It is disappointing to hear influential journalists like Henry Winter of the Telegraph declare that Fergie has been ‘let off lightly’. Former Chelsea midfielder turned pundit Andy Townsend  told ITV viewers United’s manager has ‘crossed the line.” And football phone-ins have been full of so-called experts declaring the 5-match ban is fair enough for doubting the referee’s integrity.

But football owes Sir Alex a debt of gratitude for challenging the outdated rule that the referee’s decision must not be questioned. Why on earth not? As I have said before, in this modern age football is a laughing stock when the watching world can instantly see the match officials have made a gross misjudgmenet.

Ferguson swiftly apologised to clarify that he was not questioning the referee’s integrity. Surely Ferguson and any other manager in the game is entitled to state his opinion when he believes the referee has made a mistake – as Arsene Wenger did when Rob Van Persie was disgracefully sent off in Barcelona and Avram Grant did at the weekend after West Ham’s FA Cup defeat at Stoke.

Both Wenger and Grant are now in the dock and facing punishment (which if football’s governing bodies are going to be consistent will be similarly severe, but that is another story!). But Ferguson, Wenger, Grant and the countless other managers who criticize referees are not doing anything unlawful.

This is 21st Century Britain where we pride ourselves on freedom of speech and fair play. What the Football Association should be tackling is how to improve refereeing standards and introduce technology to make the game fairer for all.

Alex Ferguson criticizes referee Martin Atkinson

Rival football fans often ridicule Sir Alex for pointing to his watch and insisting that injury time is added at the end of matches. But they all have  United’s manager to thank because he is largely responsible for the official introduction of injury time being announced at the end of all matches. And that is far better than the old system when no-one knew how much time would be added on.

Hopefully one day the game will find a way of stamping out bad refereeing decisions and not take the easy option of punishing a manager for telling the truth.

As former manager Kevin Blackwell said on BBC Radio this morning: Fergie was right and if he is being honest even Martin Atkinson will admit he made bad decisions in the Chelsea match.

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TREBLE CHANCE A LONG-SHOT: BUT NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WHEN FERGIE SMELLS BLOOD

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BY JOHN GUBBA

WHISPER it quietly around the Southern-biased media, but Manchester United are edging closer to a repeat of their famous Treble of 1999.

While certain sections of the media continue with their mindless obsession of looking for ways to criticise Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s relentless boss just keeps on driving his club forward in the quest for honours.

1999 re-visited: anti-Manchester United media will not stop Fergie's insatiable quest for silverware

1999 re-visited: anti-Manchester United media will not stop Fergie’s insatiable quest for silverware

The Reds will take some stopping now in the FA Cup after condemning Arsenal to their third Cup exit in 13 days. Even the prospect of a pivotal trip to the Emirates in the race for the Premier League is no major concern for the men from Old Trafford.

A bigger test for Fergie is how to avoid a lengthy touchline ban following his remarks about referee Martin Atkinson after last week’s controversial defeat by defending champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

There is no doubt the FA are under pressure from an anti-Manchester United media to dish out a severe punishment for the alleged improper conduct. But United’s boss will rightly fight his corner because he has “not said anything out of place.”

Arsene Wenger – also in the dock after his attack on the referee who disgracefully sent off Robin Van Persie in Barcelona – will never be subjected to the kind of venom directed at Sir Alex.

But Wenger’s underachievers are consistently put on a pedestal by the infatuated Southern media who seem to think the Gunners are the Premier League’s Barcelona.

Unlike Barca, Ars-elona have not won a trophy for six years. And United know they have the beating of their only realistic challenge for the title.

The most difficult leg of the Treble will of course be the Champions League where United are in good shape to overpower Marseille on Tuesday night after a goal-less first leg in France.

Barcelona – currently on a different level from every other team on the planet – are staking their claim to be hailed as the greatest football team in the history of the game.

Real Madrid also look formidable Spanish opposition in a twin threat from La Liga that the bookies are expecting to trump the best of British.

But as we all know, any team is beatable in football. And there is still time for United to find the form to match their latest merciless march towards silverware.

The odds are United are destined to fall short of repeating their remarkable feat of 1999. Manchester rivals City fancy their chances of halting the red machine in the FA Cup.

And yet there is something about Fergie and his insatiable desire to win everything that keeps United fans believing nothing is impossible.

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ANOTHER MILESTONE FOR GIGGS THE ULTIMATE ROLE MODEL

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WHEN IT COMES to picking a role model there has never been any footballer greater than Ryan Giggs – and it is hard to imagine any athlete in the history of sport with more longevity at the top level than the Manchester United legend.

As Sir Alex Ferguson says: “You run out of words to describe Ryan Giggs. He is a marvellous player and a wonderful man. To have the desire and the ability to play at the top level in such a physically demanding position at his age requires a special person. He is still turning in man of the match performances and his experience is so vital for the younger players in the squad.”

Giggs, on course for yet another remarkable milestone, has signed a one year extension to his contract, in a deal that will see him complete his 21st season as a first team player.

And what is so great about the Welsh wizard is that he still has much to contribute to the team. As the great man himself acknowledges: “It is great to know I’m contributing to the team’s success. I feel I’ve still got a lot to offer.

“All I’ve ever wanted to do is play for United and I’ve been lucky enough to do that for 20 years. This is an exciting time to be involved with so many good young players coming through.”

Giggs has made more than 850 appearances for the club and recently played his 600th Premier League game.

Ryan Giggs in action in the mid 90s - he made his debut in March 1991. Photo: Copyright visionsport.TV

Ryan Giggs in action in the mid 90s - he made his debut in March 1991. Photo: Copyright visionsport.TV

He signed professional forms with United in 1990, making his debut in March 1991. In that time he has made a club record 862 appearances, scoring 158 goals. He has won 11 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, two Champions Leagues, one Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and a Club World Cup.  Published by visionsport.TV

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SEB COE ON RIGHT TRACK IN LONDON 2012 FOOTBALL DEBATE

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BY JOHN GUBBA

SEBASTIAN COE is on the right track in his mission to promote the 2012 Olympics as a great opportunity for the next generation of football’s brightest stars.

Forget any thoughts of senior players likeWayne Rooney taking part in London. Not only would it be wrong, the Games clash with the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

But the beauty of the Olympics is that the football tournament is an Under 23 event.

As Coe succinctly put it: “If you remember what the Olympic football tournament is about, I sat in the tournament final in 2004 in Athens and I watched young players like Messi making effectively their international debut. Years later they’re playing in a World Cup.

“So actually an Olympic football tournament, when it’s used as it is in a lot of countries, is a way of seasoning young players to future tournament football.

“It’s a great springboard and a number of young players have understood the nature of the international game through Olympic competition and gone on to play in World Cup finals.

“We will create and deliver a great Olympic football tournament.”

The ECA (European Clubs Association) – which Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are a part of – argue that none of their players should compete in two major tournaments so close to each other, crushing the hopes of many who would have wanted to see the likes of Jack Wilshere strutting their stuff in the biggest sporting event in the world. Unless, of course, England fail to qualify for Euro 2012.

Manchester United chief executive David Gill, also an ECA board member, made the Premier League’s position clear when he said:
“A player who is in the squad for Euro 2012 should not then be in the Olympic squad.”

“Football is a key part of the Olympics and we are very happy to participate as a league and release players and we support it, but I hope that common sense will prevail.”

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