Nani for sale? Why Manchester United should think again

It looks like this summer, which is already a transitional one at Manchester United, much of the old Trafford faithful may get one of their long held wishes. For a few seasons now, the majority of the Champion’s supporters seem to have been of the opinion that Portuguese winger Nani doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It now seems that the club are ready to let the player go.

The reason for the large contingent of fans that want to see the wide man moved on is that Nani can be an incredibly frustrating player. Admittedly his crossing is inconsistent, his form often patchy and his decision making below the standard of other top wingers. Despite his failings, Nani is, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s own words, a match-winner. The 26 year old has pace, trickery and can shoot with both feet. United fans seem to forget that for stages of the 2011-12 season, the former sporting man virtually carried the side. In several games when United were struggling to break down opposition, it was his individual brilliance and flair that unlocked the door. If Nani does end up leaving United this year it will also be with a few spectacular goals in his scrapbook. Frustrating-yes, a textbook confidence player-yes, but United’s worst winger, no, not by a long shot.


Granted, as an attacking wide man, Nani is a few classes below the Messi’s and Ronaldo’s and Bale’s of this day, but If the club are ready to sell wide players, they should perhaps look at some of their other options first. Antonio Valencia for example had a terrible season. He generally offers a steadier and more consistent option to his team-mate and he applies himself better in his defensive duties. Valencia though, lacks the creative spark offered by Nani. He cannot frighten the full back the way the Portuguese can and the amount of United moves which ground to a halt last season because the Ecuador man put his foot on the ball are countless. Ashley Young is another who failed to deliver last term. Young is more similar to Nani in that he is dangerous in a shooting position and can worry defenders but he has become injury prone, is a year older and failed to net a league goal last term in 17 appearances. Nani scored twice in 10 and Valencia just once in 29.

With Wilfried Zaha arriving and Shinji Kagawa also in the mix for an attacking midfield berth, competition will be fierce but even if Nani doesn’t start he can provide an injection of pace and attacking threat from the bench. New manager David Moyes will of course be forming opinions on which members of his new squad he rates highly and will have his own plans of who to bring in but he would be unwise to dismiss the winger’s effectiveness.

It would appear that Moyes and the club may have already made up their minds with Galatasaray claiming United have set an asking price of £8.5 million. That would surely represent a bargain for any side looking to add some creativity. Nani will never be a Cristiano Ronaldo, but he can be a devastating weapon. United don’t have to keep him but he certainly shouldn’t be the first to leave. His chances were very limited last term and regardless of where he is strutting his stuff come the start of the new campaign fans can expect excitement as long as he gets a chance.

Wayne Rooney’s departure from Manchester United: all media speculation

After Manchester United’s elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid in midweek, much of the focus for the media in the last 24 hours has been on Wayne Rooney’s exclusion. Despite the England international scoring a sensational fourth in the 4-0 win over Norwich at the weekend, he was not included in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in the most important game of the season, leading to questions over his future.

Danny Welbeck, who on the night was one of United’s top performers, was selected as Robin van Persie’s strike partner, and Ryan Giggs was also picked as a wide midfielder instead of Rooney. The media have been stating that Rooney could well leave Old Trafford in the summer after the selection snub, but this seems unlikely.

Wayne Rooney

Rooney may well have been left out of Ferguson’s starting XI for the game against Madrid, but this is not the first time this season or in the forward’s tenure in Manchester that he has been left on the bench. The Scottish manager had a game-plan on the night to face Madrid and selected the players that he felt were best suited to combat the strengths of the Spanish champions.

Shinji Kagawa scored a hat-trick against Norwich at the weekend and also started in the 1-1 draw against Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, yet he too was also not selected for the home leg. The Japan international put in a combative performance in Spain, keeping the ball well in a positive result for United, however not being selected for the Old Trafford game does not mean he has no future at the club.

Rooney likewise will still be a key part of Ferguson’s plans. On the night the experience of Giggs and the explosive pace of Welbeck was selected, and up until Nani’s red card Ferguson’s tactics were spot on. If United had progressed would the same media frenzy around Rooney’s future still be flooding the press? Probably not.

Questions over Rooney’s future will probably continue over upcoming weeks and months, however don’t be surprised to see the attacker in the red of United come the start of next season.

Shinji Kagawa and a glimpse of things to come for Manchester United fans

When Shinji Kagawa joined Manchester United for an initial fee of £12million in the summer, many football observers were calling it a masterstroke.

After all, this was the player who ended his last season at Borussia Dortmund with 17 goals, 10 assists and both a Bundesliga and German Cup winner’s medal.

His partnership with Robert Lewandowski had helped turn Dortmund into the top team in German football, while his ball-control, vision and goal-scoring ability pointed to a 23-year-old who was exactly the kind of playmaker United were crying out for.

Fans frustrated at losing out on Eden Hazard and Lucas Moura could calm themselves in the knowledge that a quieter but no less impressive player was heading their way. And yet this season, the Japanese midfielder-cum-forward has shown only flickers of his undoubted ability.

Shinji Kagawa

That was until Saturday, when his hat-trick against Norwich City ended any doubts that he was cut out for the Premier League, or suited to any position besides that of a second striker.

While his first goal could be argued as a lucky one, his positioning was key, as was the confidence to take it on the outside of his right foot. But it was his second and third that should excite United fans the most.

The nonchalant side-foot finish for his second was that of a player whose thoughts are somehow quicker than the game he is caught up in. While his third saw his first touch dissect the Norwich defence and his second touch delicately chip the onrushing ‘keeper.

After each goal he celebrated only with a smile, as if he was used to it, or at least had been, and he was simply relieved it was happening once more.

One game does not make a player. Just ask Andrei Arshavin. But on Saturday, Kagawa showed what he is capable of. And the fans who have seen glimpses of his passing ability and ball-retention over the last six months, have now seen what he can do when he is fit and a little more used to his surroundings.

Ultimately, his best performances may come at Old Trafford, when opponents tire and the attacking intent of his teammates leads to holes for him to exploit. And certainly away against the top sides both domestically and in Europe his ability to keep the ball may prove more important than where he can put it. But for fans crying out for a creative, goal-scoring midfielder, Saturday may have seen him stake his first claim for the job.

The rumours continue that Kagawa’s former teammate Lewandowksi will be joining him at Old Trafford next season. Whether they need him is another matter. But with or without him, Kagawa has found his feet.

They are very special feet indeed. And by next season, they could have the beating of most.

Real Madrid vs Manchester United: The game where anything can happen

According to Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, this is ‘the match the world is waiting for’.  When you consider the talent on display, the numerous subplots and their history, it is hard to disagree. In short, when Manchester United face Real Madrid, anything can happen.

Just look at the sides’ eight previous meetings in Europe’s premier competition; 31 goals have been scored between them, 11 of which came in the epic quarter-final of 2003. Many are predicting a similar total this time round, but the tie could just as easily be a tense affair where goals are at a premium.

Much depends on how United cope with their former player Cristiano Ronaldo.  If they manage to shackle him, they will nullify Madrid’s most potent threat. But if they don’t, they may be torn apart by the Spanish side’s incisive counter-attack. Sir Alex Ferguson will hope his instructions are carried out to perfection, whilst being blessed with a little luck on the side.

Sir Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho

Phil Jones has found fitness and form at precisely the right time and he, along with Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, will bring the regimented energy the Red Devils need to keep the likes of Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Ronaldo at bay.

In defence, Rafael will hope his man-of-the-match performance against Everton can be replicated in a competition where his rashness has proved most costly. While the rarely-spotted partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will have to be at their very best.

At the other end, the likely attacking trio of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa will have chances they must take. It is games like this that Kagawa was bought for, and that van Persie has the ability to win with one movement.

Aside from Ronaldo, Madrid’s strike-force is out of form of late, but both Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema possess such natural ability that they can punish the smallest misjudgement. Meanwhile, even Kaka was hailed by Spanish newspaper Marca as being back to his best after a rare start in Saturday’s 4-1 win against Sevilla.

First legs of knockout competitions are too-often cagey affairs.  And don’t bet against the pressure on Madrid to perform – from a home crowd desperate for success in a season that is fast becoming a write-off – to have a bearing on the game. Already 16 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, and with a fight to stay in the Copa del Rey, the Champions League may be Mourinho’s only chance of a trophy this season; a trophy that would go down in history as the fabled Décima – their tenth European title.

Too often, pre-game hype is unjustified; but not this time. It may be the second leg that ultimately proves to be the one the world is waiting for, because it is then that a winner will be decided.  But this week’s match will be both clubs’ biggest challenge so far this season – for United to raise their game in a year when they have hardly needed to, and for Madrid to prevent theirs from ending three months too soon.

Manchester United midfield shuffle: Is Kagawa Nani’s replacement?

One of the criticisms of the Manchester United side that relinquished their Premier League title to cross-town rivals City last term was a lack of energy in their midfield. However, this accusation is predominantly aimed at the centre of the park, rather than out wide, as the likes of Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani are as good a wing trio as there are in the division. Despite Sir Alex Ferguson scouring the market for an engine room playmaker, the signing of Shinji Kagawa, another player likley to start from wide, is the only major addition to the squad this summer as yet. This sparks the questions: Is Nani on his way out of Old Trafford?

With Valencia being widely-recognised as one of the Red Devils’ best and most-improved players last season and Young a pivotal player in the United attacking game, Nani’s role in the first-team is under question if everyone is fit and able to play. Kagawa has been signed to add a link between the side’s midfield and attack in 2012-13, but the Japan international will most likely start from a wide position in a four-man midfield.

Kagawa’s style of play is similar to that of Young, in that he will look to come off the touchline and support the strikers, he’s comfortable with the ball at his feet and will look to take advantage of space. Nani’s preference to hug the touchline is effective, but the dynamic nature of the new signing and the fee shelled out should mean that a starting place for Kagawa on one side, and Young on the other, is Sir Alex’s preference.

This also leaves the impressive Valencia on the sidelines as a more-than-able deputy should things not go to plan. Although Nani is unpredictable and talented, he looks like he could be facing the prospect of being fourth-choice winger in 2012-13.

Nani’s current contract situation is hanging in the balance, with little progress seemingly being made in the objective of an agreeable extension. The Portugal international has two years remaining on his deal with Ferguson’s men, but the legendary Scottish boss will be reluctant to allow the player’s deal to run down and see his potential transfer value drop.

As such, an important period lies ahead in deciding the player’s future. If a contract deal is still not agreed upon in a fortnight’s time, Ferguson and the book-balancers at the club may well feel that the tricky winger’s time in England could be up and look to get a financial boost from a player whose first-team starting jersey is certainly currently in question as it is.

With Juventus long-term admirers of the Portuguese attacker and surely no shortage of suitors in Europe if United decide to sell, Nani could well command a handsome transfer fee that could be used to help fund the acquisition of a new playmaker or left-back, which at the moment seems to be a bigger priority for the club than maintaining four wingers competing for two places.

Published – Old Trafford

Manchester United announce Shinji Kagawa signature

Manchester United today have announced today that they have agreed a transfer fee with Borussia Dortmund to bring Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa to the club. With personal terms already agreed upon also, what should be the formalities of getting a work permit and passing a medical are the only objects to the Old Trafford club adding their first new face of the summer.

Negotiations between Sir Alex Ferguson’s men and the German champions have been ongoing for a number of weeks, and it has always seemed like a matter of when rather than if the playmaker would make the move to the Premier League. Kagawa was offered a new contract at Signal Iduna Park but rejected this as his heart on a switch to big English club.

United are believed to be ready to part with £12 million to sign the skilful attacker, with this potentially rising to £17 million with add-ons dependant on performances. With Kagawa in the last year of his contract with Dortmund, one feels that it has been the Bundesliga outfit who have been playing hard ball in negotiations, and that they have received a sizeable fee for a player who would leave on a free transfer next summer, and who they only paid €350,000 for two years ago.

So what can we expect from Kagawa? The Japanese attacking midfielder will be charged with reinvigorating a United midfield that has received criticism for being too stagnant and lacking energy in recent times. Kagawa however has energy in abundance, and although he may start from wide areas, likes to cut inside and get thoroughly involved with the play. Off the ball the 23-year-old is a threat also, and his movement and willingness to get into dangerous areas will be a boost for the 2010-11 Premier League champions.

Last term was arguably Kagawa’s most impressive to date, as he continued to impress in the Bundesliga and fleetingly in the Champions League. The Asian superstar also started to add a goal-threat to his game, and the 16 goals he bagged in all competitions were thoroughly important in Jurgen Klopp’s men winning a domestic double. Sir Alex will hope that his new signing can get close to this tally next term and take the goal-scoring burden partly away from Wayne Rooney and his existing attacking counterparts.

Kagawa is an excellent prospect that is more than good enough to step out for Manchester United, and if he had not moved to Old Trafford it would almost be certain that he would represent another big European club next season. Despite this, the more cynical observer will question how important the potential commercial advantages that come part and parcel of signing Asia’s current most famous player were in the deal. It is true that United have reaped the financial benefits of having Ji-Sung Park in their playing squad for the last seven years, with the club’s popularity in South Korea and indeed Asia through the roof.

As the first ever Japanese player to play for Manchester United Kagawa will undoubtedly drive commercial benefits in the Far East, which is an added bonus for the Red Devils. With cross-town rivals Manchester City claiming the Premier League title this term and Chelsea on a superstar recruitment drive, England’s traditional leading light will have an eye on ensuring its global popularity and boosting its fanbase, and the signing of Kagawa will certainly be a victory off the pitch for United.

That said, Ji-Sung Park would not have lasted as long for United if he did not contribute on the pitch; Sir Alex simply would not stand for it. Kagawa’s commercial benefit may well have been taken into consideration before the decision to sign him was made, but the new United hero will be charged with playing a part in a revival on the pitch for the Red Devils and will add impetus and enthusiasm to an ageing midfield contingent.

Published – Soccerlens

Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich: The young and the new of German football meet

With three points separating the top two teams in the Bundesliga, leaders and champions Borussia Dortmund host perennial powerhouses Bayern Munich in a massive game at Signal Iduna Park on Wednesday. A win for the hosts will all but seal back-to-back titles, whilst an away victory will give the biggest club in German football the impetus to go on to win their title back.

Jurgen Klopp has transformed an underperforming and mediocre Dortmund setup into a well-tuned and talented squad of promising stars since taking over at the club in 2008. The team’s Bundesliga crown last season was the first since 2002, and the 44-year-old trainer has continued where he left off last term in 2011/12. Many feared for Die Borussen after the forced sale of key midfielder Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid and a slow start to the season, whilst Champions League elimination in the group stages proved that the young pretenders have a way to go yet to replicate the historic achievements of the European champions team of 1997.

Despite this, a run of ten wins from 13 league games propelled the holders back to the top of the standings, and the crown is now Dortmund’s to lose. With home advantage and their opponents still with European distractions, Klopp’s young superstars will look to strike a decisive blow on Wednesday. The likes of Mats Hummels, Shinji Kagawa, Mario Gotze (although he will not play through injury) and Robert Lewandowski have shone over a fantastic 24-month period for the club.

Off the pitch, Dortmund recently claimed another victory over their traditionally superior rivals. The signing of Borussia Monchengladbach and Germany attacking midfielder Marco Reus, wanted by the Bavarians also, shows that Klopp’s men are serious in their rejuvenation and could be ready for a period of dominance in the country.

Bayern, by their own admittance, were poor last season but a summer of rebuilding, the arrival of Jupp Heynckes and a better start to the campaign has saw Die Roten back to their ominous best at times this campaign. Despite spending spells on top of the pile and thrashing sides on occasion, inconsistency has crept in at times domestically, which Dortmund have taken advantage of.

With Real Madrid lying in wait in what should be a mouth-watering Champions League semi-final, the Allianz Arena outfit have a potentially memorable end of season ahead of them. However, both Los Blancos and Dortmund will put Bayern under pressure, with the side’s defence still to really prove that it has what takes to challenge for honours. The attacking abilities of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez are not in question, however it is whether Bayern can shut out an attacking-minded Dortmund side that will be the difference in the game.

Dortmund won the reverse fixture 1-0 at the Allianz Arena through a solitary Gotze strike, and despite Bayern’s history, players and prestige will go into this game as favourites. The home side could well be on the verge of a new era of success, with 90 minutes for the young Borussen stars to prove their worth and retain their title.

The Champions, Perennial Giants or Underdogs? Bundesliga title to go down to the wire

This season’s Bundesliga campaign has already been as exciting and enthralling as any in the recent memory, especially given the tightly contested title race. At the time of writing champions Borussia Dortmund sit top of the pile, after a great run of form has made up for a sluggish start. Bavarian giants Bayern Munich have an unbelievable amount of talent at their disposal and want their top flight crown back at the Allianz Arena. Meanwhile, last season’s relegation escapees Borussia Monchengladbach have defied theodds by challenging for top spot with a rock solid defence. But where is the Bundesliga title going in 2011/12?

Borussia Dortmund

After an impressive campaign last year where Jurgen Klopp’s young superstars won the German top flight at a canter, a very slow start to this campaign had many questioning the longevity of the relatively inexperienced group. However, after Champions League expulsion, the Signal Iduna Pak outfit have been able to solely focus on domestic matters, and are now top of the Bundesliga by four points.

Die Borussen have won 12 games in a row in all competitions, and their attacking stars such as Shinji Kagawi and Robert Lewandowski are impressing suitors in Germany and further afield. A blow for the holders has been the injury to key playmaker Mario Gotze, but the side have not missed the Germany international too much as others have stepped up to the plate. Most certainly the team to beat, it is Dortmund’s title to lose with 11 games remaining.

Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich are Germany biggest and most successful team, but when things don’t go to plan the Bavarian team and fans gets rather restless. After losing their first game of the season, Jupp Heynckes’ side hit their straps and bulldozed their way to the top of the standings in impressive fashion. With Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer adding defensive steel to the attacking prowess of Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery et al, Bayern looked like a shoe-in for the title.

However, inconsistency and defeats against the other two challengers for the league have seen the Allianz Arena team drop to second. Add to this the fact that they are still in the Champions League, and Die Roten need to up their game, starting with a tricky away fixture against Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena this weekend. The fixture against Dortmund on April 9th could well decide the destination of the crown.

Borussia Monchengladbach

Currently in third place, Borussia Monchengladbach have had a fantastic season to date, and even if they do slip away from title contention must been applauded for going toe-to-toe with the big boys and more than holding their own. Lucien Favre’s side’s success has been largely based around their stellar defensive abilities; the underdogs have only conceded a miserly 14 goals in 23 fixtures this season. Whether or not they can on to finish in the Champions League qualification places or even win the division is in the balance; they are currently in third, five points off the pace.

A downfall to a smaller club’s success is that the inevitable purging of players starts to take effect, and this has been the case at Monchengladbach. Undoubted star Marco Reus is on his way to Dortmund in the summer, Roman Neustadter is heading off to Schalke, whilst Bayern court Brazilian defender Dante. One thing is guaranteed; if Monchengladbach finish first or tenth they should be saluted for their captivating form this season.

Published – Bundesliga Talk

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