Before the 2012/13 Premier League season kicks off this weekend, I asked some of the best journalists that cover English football a list of questions in regard to Manchester United ahead of the new campaign.
1. Do you think the way City won the league will make United’s youngsters more determined?
2. Thoughts on United’s approach to the transfer market?
3. Ferguson’s ‘real fan’ comment sparked a reaction following his backing of the Glazers. What’s your take on his stance over the ownership?
4. You use Twitter almost as much as I do. Sharing exclusive information on a transfer saga can lead to excitement, abuse and much more. A lot of this comes from people that don’t understand how the press works in these situations. Do you ever feel like holding back and allowing someone else take the blame if something doesn’t work out?
5. What advice do you have for young people that wish to pursue a career in journalism?
6. What do you think the current squad lacks?
7. Do you think United can win the league?
Miguel Delaney – Irish Examiner, Independent, Blizzard, ESPN.
1. Yes, I think it will. Like in 1992… it’s the nature of sport, really. Response. And, of all people, Ferguson has proven himself one of the best at maximising that response. Look at some of his famous lines down the years in terms of man-management… they’ve all honed in such disappointments or potential disappointments and provoked a reaction. After United lost the title in 1992 at Anfield, he put up a photo of the Liverpool crowd called ‘Dante’s Inferno’. After winning the first league in 1993, he played on the players’ hunger with the famous envelope. Most famously of all, at half-time in 1999, he gave the speech about not being able to touch the European Cup. I can imagine there’ll be something similar this summer. He already told the United squad to internalise the Sunderland reaction after the last day.
As to whether that determination is enough for United to win the league is another issue.
2. Perplexing. While they were interested in Modric and Moutinho, I’m surprised that, once they realised neither player was a realistic target, they backed off midfield altogether. It’s been a really surprising summer. Can’t quite go into it now as planning a piece on it for end of transfer window but, there are so many issues. In saying that, as it stands they’ve outspent Manchester City and Kagawa is a very good signing.
3. I think it was a hugely disappointing from a man that, in the past, has proven some socialist credentials by standing alongside striking workers and the like. In that context, he’s sided with the ultra-capitalists who are pillaging a local social institution. And this transcends clubs. In the last two decades, the century-old traditions of Celtic, Rangers and Liverpool have been put under by a few years of bad ownership by rich businessmen. That is depressing and it’s lamentable that the football authorities never put structures in place to prevent this – a la the German model.
As for Ferguson himself: well, the club is ultimately his legacy. As such, you could understand if he just kept quiet on the Glazers. Even words of moderate support, given how he wants to protect his legacy, would be understandable. But to actually go against the fans like that was uncalled for. It was unnecessary.
4. Well, first thing’s first: my main duty is to my job. And that means attempting, in good faith, to reflect and report the reality of situations. So, whatever about Twitter, if I’m confident of information I’ve been given, having tried to stand it up, I would write it in an article. As for something not working out, well I think there’s a slight misconception about, say, transfer stories. First of all, despite perceptions, it is very rare that a paper simply makes something up. The reality is that someone, somewhere that is some way connected to a club or transfer is talking. It might be an agent, it might be an employee, it might be someone well connected. It’s up to the journalist, though, to stand that information up. After all, the media can often be pawns in these negotiations as much as anyone else. However, a very common criticism is of the amount of transfer stories that never come off – most notably, say, Sneijder to United. Again, I think there’s a bit of a misconception here. Just because a transfer doesn’t come off, that doesn’t mean that the club weren’t trying to make it happen or that the transfer wasn’t close to happening.
Again, it is a journalist’s duty to report on these processes and the reality of them. For example, on the night of 4 August, the reality was that United were pretty convinced they had negotiated the right deal for Lucas Moura. Within 36 hours, that had changed drastically.
5. Read and write as much as possible first off. Try get experience – and, eventually, paid – doing sub-editing shifts. It’s a good way to know how desks work, to know what newspapers want and to sharpen yourself. At the same time, offer to do match reports on local matches for papers. Again, it’s a great way to properly appreciate the fundamentals. Essentially, it’s quite difficult to just jump to doing feature pieces on Champions League football. There has to be an in-between that we’ve all done!
6. A bit of stardust and creativity, although Kagawa will likely now provide that. Van Persie will too. I’ve seen a few people say United don’t need him… well, he is a genuinely world-class player that would improve any team, regardless if needed or not. Also, for all United scored last year, it was often in gluts. There were a fair few big games were they were lacking something. Van Persie provided 0.71 points per game through his goals last year. Even if United lack the midfield to properly control some big games, Van Persie is the kind of player to latch onto a rare chance. Of course, that brings up the main element lacking in the current United squad: midfield. But I doubt that’s anything new to your readers!
7. They can definitely win it. They will definitely be in the hunt. Whether they actually do is another issue. It’s always quite dodgy to make predictions now, I think, given that the transfer window is a long way from closed. A signing or two can radically change the complexion of a side. At the moment, unless there have been massive changes in teams, the inclination is always to go with the most previous champions. Of course, at the time of writing, City haven’t enhanced their team while United have. Mancini’s team have brought in no-one. United have brought in Kagawa, Powell and possibly Van Persie. In theory, that should be enough to bridge the gap – goal difference – and especially with absentees like Vidic returning. But, as know, it’s not that simple. By finally winning the title alone, City could be a transformed team. They may kick on thanks to sheer belief. To bring up another Old Trafford example from the past, look at the difference between the 1992-93 team and the 1993-94 side. Sure, United brought in Keane… but there was a notable alteration in attitude across the side that came from the belief derived from winning. We may see the same from City.
At the very least, though, United *can* win the league, yes.
James Ducker – Northern Football Correspondent of The Times
1. I think that goes without saying, not just for the youngsters but everyone associated with United. It will have been galling in the extreme.
2. Ferguson has obviously accepted that the squad needs strengthening but I find it odd that the one area most people would say requires the most urgent attention has again been largely overlooked. Personally, I don’t see how United can go another summer without signing a top class central midfielder given that Scholes and Giggs will be 38 and 39 respectively in November and question marks continue to surround Anderson’s form and fitness and Darren Fletcher’s prospects of making a full recovery from ulcerative colitis. Lucas Moura has obviously ended up agreeing to join Paris Saint Germain (in January) but he was more of a winger, and despite the rumours about Luka Modric and Joao Moutinho, there was no interest in either of those players. Eden Hazard was a leading target but when you think what Chelsea paid for him (£32 million) and compare it to the £12 million United paid down for Shinji Kagawa (with a further £5.6 million payable depending on his success at Old Trafford), I can’t help thinking United have got the better deal there. But I may be wrong. I’d have thought United would have bid for Leighton Baines by now as Ferguson desperately needs competition/cover at left back and then there is the Robin van Persie situation. The prospect of Van Persie and Rooney operating in tandem is a tantalising one. United fans may have got their marquee signing.
3. His comments were misguided because it is the ‘real’ fans who are the ones who are so concerned about the Glazers’ ownership. But then maybe in the Americans’ eyes ‘real’ fans now constitute those who buys lots of shirts and merchandise and subscribe to all the various deals the club offers. The Glazers clearly don’t interfere with how Ferguson runs things and he obviously loves that but I’m surprised he’s quite so protective of them when so much money is pouring out annually to service the debt that could otherwise be invested in the squad and club.
4. No one wants to get a transfer story wrong and writing for a paper like The Times, if I get one wrong people tend never to let you forget it, hence why I’m very careful about what I write without sitting on the fence so the speak. Clubs usually have a list of targets for each position they want to address. So, for example, there may be three targets for the left back position, with a first choice, second choice and a third choice. The aim, naturally, is to get the first choice but in the event that doesn’t happen clubs want to be in a position whereby they’ve kept the second choice deal alive and kicking and can move quickly to secure it. That’s what happened with Kagawa once it became clear to United that the Hazard deal wasn’t going to happen. It’s why you’ll sometimes hear clubs say they’ve got various “plates spinning”. Obviously, there are different situations for different clubs. United have had the same manager for 25 years and that long-term stability has enabled them to work well in advance of each transfer window. The policy may be very different at a club that has just undergone a change of ownership and a change of manager. The dream scenario is to have in place a scouting and recruitment set-up that remains constant even if there are managerial changes etc. I appreciate that’s a slight de-tour from your question but it might help to explain the complexities of transfer reporting.
5. I get asked this question a lot. I remember people trying to put me off a career in journalism, saying how competitive it was etc, but the industry is going through such change at the moment that it’s even harder to get into. I’d think very carefully before making that jump. I’d also look at the opportunities being presented by social media rather than just the more traditional elements.
6. Two top-class full-backs (Evra used to be, one Rafael isn’t there yet) and a top class, powerful, defensive-minded midfielder.
7. Yes I do, providing Van Persie works out and Nemanja Vidic makes a full recovery and stays fit.
Howard Nurse – BBC Sport Football Editor
1. Yes, it must have hurt them. They were seconds away from being champions for the 20th time and to have that taken away from their near grasp in such dramatic circumstances won’t be forgotten for a long time. The players will say they have put out it out of their minds already and won’t dwell on it further but in reality, they must still be hurting.
2. As I write this, there are three weeks exactly until transfer deadline day. I think Nick Powell is going to be a top signing and that he will quickly challenge – and be given – some first-team action. Shinji Kagawa should also be a shrewd piece of business and help provide (and score) a fair few goals. Beyond that, I think there was mild interest in Leighton Baines but his age was against him. I’d not be surprised to see another arrive after Robin van Persie.
3. I’m not getting into that..!
4. Blimey, yes, I’m constantly “holding back” because it is very important to be responsible for what you are tweeting from an official BBC Sport account. It’s not advisable to tweet false or speculative information. Twitter can be an unforgiving platform. Sending out incorrect information would, of course, be against BBC editorial policy so I only tweet sound information. And if people don’t like what they read then they don’t hold back. It’s common to get a stream of abuse on Twitter even for innocuous comments.
5. You need talent, and a whole lot of commitment to make it nowadays. Newspapers are on the decline and there are fewer entry positions. Work experience and continually hammering on the door is vital. There are a lot media honours degrees and diplomas and I do worry about how many will actually make it into full-time journalism.
6. I think it lacks a bit of flair – and that’s been the case since Ronaldo left. While the likes of Nani and Young are top players they don’t quite have the consistency that United require. Rooney is obviously a huge talent, but again his first touch does let him down too often. United can’t compete in the transfer market with Manchester City or Chelsea so when you bear that in mind, Sir Alex Ferguson hasn’t done a bad job.
7. Yes, I do, but Manchester City and Chelsea will provide stiff challenges. If United suffer from the type of injuries which they were inflicted with last season then the title might then be beyond them.
Henry Winter – Daily Telegraph Football Correspondent
1. United are always determined, young and old. It’s in the club’s DNA. I spoke to Cleverley at the Olympics and then with England and his hunger was obvious. He kept mentioning that he was ’30 seconds away from winning the Premier League title’. It hurt (and so it should). Ferguson’s hunger for victory is the most enduring and ferocious I’ve encountered in 27 years doing this job.
2. In the age of social media, people are impatient. They expect instant movement in the transfer market but it’s difficult with FFP, tensions between clubs/managers, image rights/wages/agents and deals with foreign clubs. I’m no fan of the Glazers because of the debt, the fact they don’t love football and an encounter with their geeky arrogance at Wigan one day. Charmless people. But there is money there, the manager should be trusted and I’m looking forward to seeing Kagawa and RVP.
3. Trust the manager.
4. No. I’m lucky to travel around, reporting on 130+ games a year, interviewing players and managers, and letting rip on the footballing issues of the day. I’d be surprised and worried if people didn’t have opinions on my opinions. The moment football doesn’t stir emotion is the moment I’m off. Anyway, I don’t mind the death threats, it’s the marriage offers from the Far-east that really worry me.
5. You need an ability to survive on 5-6 hours’ sleep, a hunger to go again and again every day, every week, every year and an ability to write against a screaming clock with passion – and perspective.
7. It’ll be a two-horse race with City again – with City to edge it again.