Inside the Opposition: United (Part 1)

Derby games usually fill me with dread. Memories of the hammerings we took when I was a kid have never quite gone away. Unlike last season, the second derby match of this campaign has little resting on it other than pride. They’re nearly always a great occasion, and with little riding on Monday’s match, both sides will be free to express themselves in a way that wasn’t possible during last season’s match at the Etihad and we could see a cracker. Ahead of the game, I’m delighted to welcome Darren Richman to the blog. Darren is a United fan who writes for the Independent and the Bleacher Report.

Sir Alex Ferguson keeps proving just how good he is. The man is incredible. When do you think he’ll leave and who do you feel would be the ideal replacement?

It’s a strange one. Earlier in the season I was convinced this would be his last year. He’s overcome Liverpool, Blackburn, Arsenal and Chelsea in his time and I had a feeling that after last season if he could just pip City to the title then he’d walk away knowing he overcame every challenge he was presented with. The way he spoke about Newcastle after we’d played them for the second time (the ‘small club’ stuff) was so unlike him that I felt sure he realised they were the first team we’d played both league fixtures against and he wouldn’t face them again in his career so there was no chance of revenge being extracted. Even as recently as the Madrid defeat, when he was ‘too devastated’ to speak to the press, I had a feeling it was because he felt it was his last shot at the European Cup. For whatever reason, in recent weeks I’ve become convinced he’s building another potentially great side and he won’t walk away just yet. Perhaps if the league was an almighty tussle which United won at the death he might consider it but in many ways I think the large points gap might persuade him to keep going. I suspect he hasn’t even decided in his own head, whenever pushed he always just says it’ll be in two or three years’ time. I reckon he’s probably the greatest manager in the history of the game so there’s no ideal replacement. The successor will be taking on arguably the most difficult job the sport has seen. They’ll need large cojones so it’s difficult to look beyond Mourinho, much as I don’t love the man.

The whole Rio Ferdinand/England issue has become farcical. From the outside, it seems like Ferdinand was treated terribly during the summer by Roy Hodgson with his omission from the Euros squad, only to be asked to come back in when it suited the manager, i.e. now Terry isn’t available for selection anymore. What’s your take on that situation?

I agree with that assessment entirely. The whole thing is a complete mess. It’s a shame that Rio is such a patriot actually, I’d have told them where to stick it years ago if I was in his position. He’s probably the most mistreated player I can recall for the national squad and yet he keeps coming back for more. He’s like a moth to a lightbulb. I hope this recent squad withdrawal is the end of it. The most bizarre thing about it all is that, for all the surrounding controversy, he wasn’t taken to Euro 2012 when he’s still probably the best English centre back there is.

Why do so many United players get a hard time from your fans? You’re top of the league, yet there’s a handful of players constantly taking stick, and it baffles many of us.

James sang ‘If I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor’ and that neatly sums up the position of a fair few United fans. I like to think I have never taken any of the success for granted but unfortunately plenty do and seem to find moaning about the team more fun than supporting them. That said, the wingers this season have been so poor that it’s been difficult to turn a blind eye. Certain players are not deemed ‘United players’ because of a combination of their behaviour and their ability (see Ashley Young) whereas fans take to others instantly and won’t hear a bad word said, justified or not (our keeper springs to mind).

Where do United need to spend in the summer? And have you got any ideas of exactly which players you’d like to see arrive?

I’m actually quite excited about Zaha’s arrival but, as is always the case, we need a proper central midfielder. Modric hasn’t been great for Madrid but I still think he’d be good for us and have coveted him since his Tottenham days. Alcantara is supposed to be good and if you’re learning from the likes of Xavi and Iniesta then you can probably pick out a man. Scholes will likely be gone and it would be nice to find a replacement. And one for Roy Keane.

What’s your assessment of Kagawa? To me, I see a great football brain and a lovely player, but one who maybe we won’t see the very best of until next season once he’s really got to grips with the physicality of the Premier League.

I was really pleased when we signed him but it’s panned out pretty much as you say. I’m hoping the old cliché of getting to grips with English football in the first season proves to be the case. He’s shown flashes of greatness and there have been a handful of fabulous performances. I will say it was a privilege to be there for his hat trick against Norwich.

Sum up Carrick’s value to this United side.

It’s been his best season since his first at United. He tends to divide opinion but actually he’s been back to his best in the last couple of years. He takes control of games and has been one of our three best players this season (alongside van Persie and Rafael). His limited number of England caps tells you everything you need to know about the thinking of the national side.

If City had signed van Persie, would we have won the league?

I think so. It’s no coincidence that United have gone out of two competitions in the last month or so, the exact point at which his form has deserted him. He got us out of jams on a regular basis earlier in the season and I can’t see that he wouldn’t have made a massive difference.

In your opinion, why has our title defence been so insipid?

I genuinely can’t work it out. The only theory I have is that it’s similar to when England won the Ashes in 2005. It had been eighteen years without success and the England players were given MBEs and celebrated on an open top bus in London. It was like the hard work was done when in reality they should have been thinking about ways to stay at the top. Eighteen months later and they lost the next series 5-0 in Australia. Ferguson would never allow that level of complacency. It’s the same at QPR – they had ‘The Four Year Plan’ to get into the top flight. The plan shouldn’t have ended there because the job isn’t over. Now, predictably, they’re on the way back down.

Which City player would you most like to take to Old Trafford?

Has to be Silva or Aguero. I’ll say Aguero because, as well as being brilliant, he seems like a great dude. He’s a handsome lad and a Harry Potter fan – what’s not to love?

Prediction?

All the talk beforehand will be about United wanting to gain revenge for the 6-1 and City wanting to lay down a marker for next season. I think we’ll all be a bit disappointed and it’ll end up a draw.

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