United We Stand
Well, there was a moderately interesting weekend of football played over the last couple of days, but I rather think that the novelty of friendlies has worn off, and I’m starting to get impatient for the full season to get under way. In the friendlies, Manchester United came a bit of a cropper by going down 2-1 at Preston (although they did field a team largely consisting of reserve team players and youth team players), and Spurs continued their decent warm-up form by beating Inter 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Of course, it doesn’t pay to read too much into this sort of result, although I was somewhat taken aback to see the BBC Website comment that Teemu Tainio’s performance was showing that there is “life after Michael Carrick”. One swallow does not a summer make. Inter may be the Italian champions (surprising, but true nevertheless), but this was only one friendly. Other than that… Fulham 0-0 Real Madrid. Still: at least Fulham got a better result against real than Plymouth did the other week.
You never know – Michael Carrick may just end up regretting a move to Old Trafford. Sure, he’ll get to play in front of 73,000 people every other week and he’ll play in the European Cup, but the cracks are showing at Old Trafford. Giggs and Scholes are ageing rapidly. Van Nistelrooy stomped off to Madrid in a huff, and Cristiano Ronaldo clearly wants to go with him. With Malcolm Glazer clearly in poor health, their long-term prospects aren’t necessarily great. Spurs, though, are on the up, and confidence is still high in that part of North London, in spite of the Damien Duff debacle. Michael Carrick looks like a decent enough midfielder to me, but he’s no Roy Keane, and £18.6m is a lot of money. I’d be expecting one of the best midfielders in Europe for that sort of money, but time shall tell. Considering Alex Ferguson’s criticism of Chelsea for splashing out £30m on Andriy Shevchenko… well, one can only assume that Spurs drive a harder bargain than Milan.
In Scotland on Saturday and Sunday, there were no major surprises. Celtic strolled to a 4-1 win against Kilmarnock (this is the sort of result that suggests that this season will most likely end in another title going to Parkhead), whilst Rangers and Hearts both survived minor scares to win 2-1 away from home, against Motherwell and Dunfermline respectively. It looks as if the real battle north of the border could be, for the second season in a row, for second place. I’m going to tip Rangers to pip Hearts this time round, primarily because they can’t have as wretched start to the season as they had last time around. It could go either way, though.
This Saturday, something approaching normality returns with the start of the Football League season and, true to form, I’ll be largely posting blogs on here this week loosely relating to the world’s oldest club football championship*. Looking down the fixture list, nothing really stands out. Leeds United against Norwich City could prove to be meaningful come the end of the season (though this is open to question, given Leeds United manager Kevin Blackwell’s admission that he can only sign players on loan this season due to the continuing fall-out from their financial imposion). Elsewhere, Birmingham City probably wouldn’t, this time last year, have imagined that they would have been starting this season with a home match against Colchester United. I’m sure that Stu will have something to say on this subject, so I’ll attempt some sort of comforting exercise by pointing out that when Manchester United were relegated to Division 2 in 1974, they had to play against such luminaries as Orient**, Bristol Rovers and York City.
Further down the league, Carlisle United and Doncaster Rovers meet in Division 2 (the same rule applies here as in the “Champions League”, but calling them Divisions Two, Three & Four just seems a little dated now) – the two sides the two sides that went up from the Conference play-offs in 2004 and 2005, and Accrington Stanley kick-off their first league season since either 1962 or ever (depending on whether you think that this Accrington Stanley club is the same one that went bust or not – the jury’s out on that one) kick-off with a “glamourous” trip to Chester City. Ten of the clubs in Division Three are former Conference clubs now. Well, fancy that.
*There are almost certainly older club competitions in the world than the Football League, but you know what I mean
**Yes, “Orient”. They were Orient from 1888 to 1898, then Clapton Orient until 1945, then Leyton Orient until 1966, then Orient again until 1987, before reverting to Leyton Orient again. Confusing stuff.