Scooby Dooby Roo(ney), Where Are You?

… It’s been the question on everyone’s minds (maybe not everyone’s) for a week now.

Where is Wayne Rooney going to take his talents?


Manchester City?

Real Madrid?

Arabe Unido?

… and it turns out, at least for now, that the answer is … Manchester United!!!

Why then does it feel like Manchester United just picked what was behind Door #2 and instead of winning the $10,000 cash and a 1982 Ford Fiesta, they instead got a lifesize Shrek doll filled with chocolate covered grasshoppers?

Some want to credit this as Rooney creating a row as a ploy to get a better contract. Can we really believe this one, though? Is Rooney really that smart? Is his agent really that slick? Somehow, I find it hard to believe that’s the case.

I’m tempted to think Rooney was truthful in his worries about the club’s shortcomings. I’m not even sure he was wrong. United haven’t looked the part of a Big 4 contender this season, and the players brought in to carry the torch as players like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Edwin Van der Sar play out their time before transferring to AARP Rovers simply aren’t of the level expected by the club’s fans – and to be truthful, probably by the club itself.

Sir Alex Ferguson was notable and hailed as astonishingly honest in what many perceived to be door-opening comments into the psyche of the club at his press conference earlier this week when discussing RooGate. It certainly seemed like there was no way back for Rooney, who was to go the way of David Beckham and Carlos Tevez and find success elsewhere. And in my mind, if he really wanted to go, United should have shipped him off. No reason to keep a want-away player, no matter who he is.

But now, for better or worse, he’s back – even if he never actually left. In the end, maybe Rooney won, maybe the club won, but it’s really hard to tell. Hell, knowing United this season, it’s probably a draw. Rooney has been a top-class player in the past, but he isn’t right now. And to sign him to a deal through 2015 is a gamble, given that he probably won’t be healthy until at least 2013.

I get where Rooney was coming from. While still young, he’s been a pro now for a long time, and probably shouldn’t have to tolerate a rebuilding year. And surely, England’s abbreviated World Cup was no picnic, either. I understand him feeling there is greener grass in another country, or across the city … then changing his mind. He’s still young enough to be impressionable, and my guess is that SAF mind-tricked the hell out of him, convinced him that Manchester City wasn’t the Jedi he was looking for, and that was that.

But what have United really gotten here? They’ve missed a chance to sell Rooney and bring in funds that they surely must need. They keep a player with world-class potential, who’s been disappointing for some time now, and that’s when he’s actually on the field. Certainly, there’s plenty of time for a return to glory between now and 2015, but will this deal save the current season? I don’t think so.

And if United now cannot do the things required when the transfer window opens again to address some of its issues, then Rooney will find that he was right along, and the voices in his head, which we’re all pretty sure only he can understand, will start all over again.


Ferguson’s Logical Gamble Backfires

It’s open to debate whether Manchester United would have done enough today to beat back Bayern Munich and advance to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League without Wayne Rooney.

The second-best player on the planet (I hope I don’t have to explain who is first) and his well-known injury issues could have been left out of the squad entirely and United probably would have made a good go of it.

Course, we’ll never know. In reality, Rooney not only appeared but started – a move that seemed to me to be a gamble by manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The bet? Put Rooney on the field, try to keep the attack at full RPMs for as long as necessary to build a significant lead, then get Rooney out of there and hold the hell on.

The first part came together fine, as United popped off a 3-0 lead on goals by Darron Gibson and two from Nani. But the second part went haywire thanks in large part to the sending off of Rafael for a second bookable offense. United’s 3-2 win left them level, 4-4, for the tie, but Munich’s 2-1 edge on away goals advances them to the semifinals.

If Rooney is now going to be unavailable for most/all of the Premier League run-in, potentially costing United a fourth straight Premier League crown, then I guess you can question today’s decision.

Even as a United fan, I’m not one of those that believes SAF isn’t capable of making mistakes. But deep down, I can’t fault him for today’s decision. Clearly, Rooney wasn’t 100%. He wasn’t going to pot three goals inside of 42 minutes (yeah, like that ever happens ). But he didn’t need to do that for the strategy to be a sound one. He simply needed to take up space and be a threat, thereby opening lanes and chances for teammates.

And at 3-0, there certainly was no reason to think things were going to go south as they ended up. Rooney came off early in the second half, perhaps even playing a bit too long. But I don’t think you can point to his departure as the reason United gave in. Rafael’s sending off minutes earlier was a far bigger factor, as was the great work of Arjen Robben – who seems to finally have learned what a great player he can be when he doesn’t fall over. As for Rafael, there have been times where he has shown glimpses of being ready for such a primetime stage – but today wasn’t his day.

And in the end, it wasn’t United’s day. A tough few days at Old Trafford have seen United fall to Chelsea in a possible title decider, then be eliminated from the Champions League despite besting Bayern Munich on the evening. I felt for much of the season that SAF was pointing more toward the Champions League this term than domestic honors – especially after his club’s performance in last year’s final vs. deserved champions Barcelona.

That goal now abolished, SAF faces one more test in what seems like a never-ending career exam, which is to get this group refocused on finding some way to catch Chelsea for the Premier League crown. In the driver’s seat a week ago for just that, United now face an uphill battle.

How much of a role Rooney is going to play in that battle remains to be seen. But even if today’s run out ended up doing more than harm than good, it seemed to me to be the right decision. You can only play to win the game you play today – but you can lose more than one by coaching for a game later in the schedule.

In reality, over the two matches, Munich were better at critical times and they deserve to move on. All credit to them.

Only time will tell what today’s gamble will end up costing Ferguson and his club.

UEFA Champions League Prediction Contest – 4/7/10

The quarterfinals wrap up on Wednesday with a pair of matches to determine which sides will join Barcelona and Inter in the UEFA Champions League semifinals.

* Bordeaux vs. Lyon: Bordeaux have a real tough task here, trying to turn around a 3-1 loss away in the first leg. It’s a lot to ask, and I’m going to back Lyon in this spot. 2-1 LYON.

* Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich: Beaten by a late goal in the first leg, United return to Old Trafford down, 2-1, in this tie, and reeling from a loss to Chelsea over the weekend that took them out of the pole position for a fourth straight Premier League title. I don’t buy the hype that Wayne Rooney might play in this one, but I think they still get the job done. 2-0 MANCHESTER UNITED.

40 points for nailing the score, 20 for having the winner and the right margin, 10 for having the winner. Picks are due by 2:45 p.m. Eastern Wednesday as both games will kick off at that time. Good luck!

UEFA Champions League Prediction Thread – 3/30/10

The UEFA Champions League returns Tuesday afternoon with the first leg of a pair of quarterfinal matches.

As usual, with a new round brings a new points structure for the prediction contest. Now, it’s 40 points for the winner and exact final score, 20 points for winner and margin, 10 points for just having the winner. Obviously, no lead is safe.

Here are Tuesday’s matches:

* Bayern Munich vs. Manchester United: Bayern is going to be no easy foe for United, but if they are going to advance, they’d be wise to pile up some goals here. I think Munich is going to find a very tough go of it at Old Trafford in the second leg, as it appears the reigning English champions have almost made European glory their top objective after missing out in last year’s final. I find it hard to predict, though, that Munich is going to romp United in this spot. 2-2 DRAW.

* Lyon vs. Bordeaux: Bordeaux lead a jumbled pack of clubs in France, with Lyon settled in fifth, but just two points out. I’m not sure many people felt either of these sides would still be around at this point – let alone playing each other for a spot in the semifinals. Good for them, however, as their continued involvement and strong play is a bit of a breath of fresh air. I don’t think they’ll be much between them Tuesday, but I can’t pick both games as draws. 2-1 LYON.

Enter picks in the comments section below. Both matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern. There will also be two matches on Wednesday, so stay tuned.

Here are the standings for the season so far.

1) 271 – writered21
2) 210 – RegularGuy
3) 180 – Aaron Stollar
4) 177 – nica1004
5) 121 – dkstones
6) 97 – FlashMan
7) 95 – tomwilhelm
8) 85 – Lowecifer
9) 20 – Stathmaster
10) 16 – FFCinPCB
11) 15 – BusbyBoy74
t12) 10 – MyManMyNigs
t12) 10 – Forza La Juve
14) 5 – RandyNA
15) 0 – AAMM

Did David Beckham intend to protest the Glazer ownership?

What is this white square? Is it nothing? Is it a symbol of something wonderful yet to fill it? Is it the contents of David Beckham’s brain?

I am including a blank white square above because analyzing that square is like what the press is attempting to do in deciphering what David Beckham meant, if anything, by putting on a green and gold anti-Glazer protest scarf last night after the Milan-Manchester United match at Old Trafford.

I have no idea what David Beckham meant by putting on the scarf. Is it possible that in the wake of the anti-Glazer protests literally ringing in his ears thoughout the match, that he truly meant it when he said, “To be honest, it’s not my business. I’m a United fan and I support the club, I always will. It’s nothing to do with me how it’s run. That’s to do with other people. I support the team. I will always support the team.”

Some people I read think that he knew exactly what he was doing last night. But if he did wear the scarf to make a statement, why come out with more mealy-mouthed nonsense when asked about it? It just makes him look stupid, right?

Is David Beckham really so clever that he’d blow this 8,000 decibel dogwhistle at Manchester United supporters while also playing extraordinarily dumb to placate his corporate supporters?

This brings me back to the white square. We really have no idea what Beckham meant. He’s never given off any indication that he was anything other than a reasonably nice guy and a decent father with a penchant for tattoos and the occasional sarong.

That is because he has presented himself in such away as to be as blank as possible. If, in order to like him, you needed to frame him as a glamorous figure of fashion and flash, you could do that. If, in order to like him, you needed to see him just another Essex lad, you could do that too. If you needed him to be tolerant, that was there. If you needed him to be “hard” or tough, that was there too. You could “draw” on him whatever image you wanted there? I don’t think that could be said of other recent global sporting icons. Even Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan have more of an obvious image than Beckham did. But Beckham isn’t as good at his sport as Woods or Jordan were at their’s – Beckham’s image is something else, it’s something more subtle.

It’s a mirror.

That, believe it or not, is genius of “Brand Beckham.” His image and his personality exist to serve as a mirror of ourselves. If, like me, you already think he’s a bit of an idiot, he’ll surely give you a bit of ammo to confirm that. Just the same, if United fans want to believe that he supports their protests, he’ll help them believe that. Yet, at the same time, if his sponsors need to believe that Beckham would never do something as controversal as supporting the protests, he’ll help them believe that too.

UEFA Champions League Prediction Contest – 3/10/10

After Arsenal and Bayern Munich advanced yesterday in vastly different fashions, today sees two more Round of 16 ties conclude as Manchester United welcomes AC Milan, and Lyon travels to Real Madrid. Both United and Lyon carry 1-goal advantages into today’s matches, though United’s came from a 3-2 away win in the first leg, while Lyon notched a 1-0 home victory in their first match with Real Madrid.

* Manchester United vs. AC Milan: Once again, David Beckham is the storyline, as he returns to Old Trafford to play against United for the first time since leaving the club several years ago. And while the storyline is a deserved one, it would be unwise to overlook others in Milan’s quality cast. Ronaldinho may not be perceived to be the player he once was, he’s almost toiled in the shadows in Milan it seems, but he and the ageless Clarence Seedorf will have more of an impact on this match than does Beckham. Not that United doesn’t have its own issues to worry about. Injuries have followed the club all over the field, and while coming home having pocketed 3 away goals and a win should be enough to see them through to the quarterfinals, it’s not a sure bet by any means. Milan will have to chase the game from the start and put pressure on what has at times been a bewildering United defense. I think United advances, but it’s going to be nervy. 1-1 DRAW.

* Even though they were at home, Lyon surprised me greatly with their victory over Real Madrid. Perhaps not so much the result, but I wouldn’t have expected it to be 1-0 if Lyon was going to triumph. Madrid still have all the talent in the world and have gone top in La Liga on goal difference, though level on points with Barcelona. This match shapes up for me much like yesterday’s Arsenal-Porto affair, but Lyon are a stronger side than Porto. I expect them to put up a good fight, but I just can’t see them holding Madrid out once again. 3-1 REAL MADRID.

Join the fun. It’s 20 points for a winner and exact score; 10 points for winner and correct margin; and 5 for having the winner. Calling a draw with the exact score is 20; nailing any other draw is 10.

The standings for the campaign are below. Still plenty of time to move up (or down). Good luck.

1) 261 – writered21
2) 195 – RegularGuy
3) 165 – Aaron Stollar
4) 127 – nica1004
5) 121 – dkstones
6) 97 – FlashMan
7) 95 – tomwilhelm
8) 75 – Lowecifer
9) 20 – Stathmaster
10) 16 – FFCinPCB
t11) 10 – BusbyBoy74
t11) 10 – MyManMyNigs
13) 5 – RandyNA
t14) 0 – AAMM
t14) 0 – Forza La Juve

Final Round of Group Play for UEFA Champions League Prediction Thread!

Back at it today and tomorrow for the final matches of the group stage. There is still some intrigue to be had, and we’ll look at that in each group for the preview and then get to the picks.
In Group A, Bordeaux are free and clear with 13 points and are strolling into the elimination round. What will be decided today is who takes the other transfer spot from that group, as Juventus (8 points) host Bayern Munich (7). I’m honestly surprised that Munich is in this position both in this group and where they stand in the Bundesliga. I just flat out expected more and every time I thought they were going to turn it on, they haven’t.

Group B has Manchester United leading by three over Wolfsburg, and the two sides play today in Germany. Wolfsburg are one better than United on goal difference – after the Red Devils missed their chance for an easy Group title by losing at home to Besiktas last time out. The latter is bottom of the group with four points and -4 goal differential, and play CSKA Moscow (7 points, -1).

There’s still a good race to be had in Group C, where Real Madrid, AC Milan, and Marseille battle it out for two spots. The Spanish and Italian giants are in the best spots heading into today, with Madrid on 10 points and in the lead, while Milan has 8 and stands second. But Marseille sit third on 7 points and host Madrid today. A Marseille win would leave Milan needing a win at Zurich to advance.

Group D has kind of been the forgotten group of this set of four which has played together throughout. Chelsea have taken the competitive fun out of it in some respects, capturing 13 of a possible 15 points, and there’s nothing left to play for today, as FC Porto have locked up second place with 9 points.

So, with that set up, my picks are below. Remember, it’s 10 points for a winner and exact score; 5 points for win and correct margin of victory; and 2 points just to have the winner. You also get 10 for forecasting a draw and nailing the score; and 5 for forecasting a draw but having it come in with a different score. It’s never too late, and point values will increase as we go through the elimination rounds, so it’s still good to jump in now.

* Juventus v. Bayern (I don’t believe anymore … JUV 1-0)
* Maccabi Haifa v. Bordeaux (Why not … HAIFA 2-1)

* Besiktas v. CSKA Moscow (Throwing a dart … BES 2-0)
* Wolfsburg v. Manchester United (Does Sir Alex run out the kids again? … WOLF 2-1)

* FC Zurich v. AC Milan (One final head-scratcher in this group … 1-1 DRAW)
* Marseille v. Real Madrid (I really want to pick Marseille, but I won’t … 3-2 RM)

* Atletico Madrid v. FC Porto (listed here because it’s on the schedule … AM 2-1)
* Chelsea v. Apoel Nicosia (Yawn … CHEL 3-0)

1) 180 – writered21
2) 137 – aaronstollar
3) 128 – RegularGuy
4) 101 – dkstones
5) 89 – nica1004
6) 60 – tomwilhelm
7) 47 – FlashMan
8) 19 – Lowecifer
9) 16 – FFCinPCB
10) 5 – RandyNA

Check back later tonight for results and picks for tomorrow’s matches.