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All Things Footie | Monday, March 15 | Jordan

Time up

I know how United fans feel this morning (well, it’s been a long time since we lost 4-1 to Spurs, so only sort-of), and I know that no amount of ribbing from me could make it any worse. Not far off this time last season, Arsenal drew 2-2 at the Reebok Stadium—I was there, and I’ve never left a match feeling more dejected (even the 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford the previous year)—I knew the dream of back-to-back titles was over. I’d be interested to know if there was a moment like that for United fans this year, because it surely must have come before yesterday. For some reason, I was convinced United would stroll the match at the City of Manchester Stadium, after all, the only team that defends worse than United is Kevin Keegan’s city, so it would be a battle of attacking prowess; which United should easily have won. There was something big missing from United’s game though, something, ironically, that Kevin Keegan’s teams over the years have been renowned for—passion. If this United team had finished the 1995/96 season, Alex Ferguson would have one less Premiership Trophy to hisname.

The old Roy Keane is gone, the second heartbeat David Beckham is gone, Rio Ferdinand is off to Chelsea (mark my words), Ruud Van Nistelroy has had a barney with the manager, and the best part of £30m has been spent on players not nearly good enough for title challengers. United are in trouble, how (if?) they get out of it will be very interesting to observe. I’ve thought all along that United were Arsenal’s only real challengers, I thought that their experience and that of the mamneger would, like last season, be enough to see off Chelsea’s money. The poor form of United this year has surprised me as much as anyone else.

Arsenal won again, not playing quite as fluently as they are able to, but a win is a win. Graeme SOURness had a moan for a change, claiming Arsenal’s free kick that Henry won was ‘poxy’ (it actually being nothing of the sort, and an offence that was punished at least five times in other areas of the pitch) and presumably perfectly happy with the decision to disallow Henry’s other perfectly legitimate goal. As Ally McCoist pointed out on Saturday night’s Premiership, an indirect free kick should be awarded if:

  1. The goalkeeper is prevented from releasing the ball.
  2. The attacking player acts in a dangerous manner towards the goalkeeper.

After admitting that henry wan’t behaving dangerously (his studs down, his foot below knee hight and making absolutely no contact with the goalkeeper), the ‘star’ of a Question of Sport told us that—despite the ball being well and truly out of Brad Friedel’s hands—he prevented the goalkeeper from releasing the ball, and as such, the ref was right. The man, ladies and gentlemen, is an idiot.

Silly decisions like that don’t really matter of course, just as they didn’t matter to the great George Best when he did the same thing against England legend Gordon Banks many moons ago. Great players try these cheeky things because they’re great, and because if it doesn’t work, there’s a thousand more things to try.

Watching the Sky Sports Centre on Saturday afternoon, it was nice to hear a few people saying something I’ve been saying for years. ‘Michael Owen can no longer be considered a World Class striker’ said Frank McLintock, ‘every time I see him nowadays he’s running back at his midfield trying to get the ball under control’. Compare Owen with Henry, Van Nistelrooy, Shevchenko, Vieri, Raul, Totti, Trezeguet; and you’ll see no comparison. Blame the team if you will, this is one of the poorest Liverpool sides of the last 20 years, but don’t tell me Owen doesn’t get opportunities. He has chance after chance every game, and he’s not a player like Henry or Totti for instance, that still looks good when he’s not scoring—he looks like a waste of a squad position, and he saps stirking partners of chances. Micheal Owen should not automatically be considered England’s number one striker; Alan Smith shows heart, guts, talent, and an eye for goal; Wayne Rooney offers everything Owen offered at 18, and much more; both could make a huge splash at Euro 2004, but they won’t. The won’t because Sven-Boring Eriksson will play Owen and Rooney, with Heskey coming off in the 60th minute for Owen.

England’s best chance at Euro 2004 is Michael Owen breaking his leg in April, allowing a fit, in form and eager young strike force to take on Europe’s defences. Maybe it’s naïve to think that two such inexperienced (at International level) forwards could lead the line for a country hoping to win the tournament, but maybe it’s our best—read, only—chance.

I have a lot to say about Alan Curbishley’s achievements at Charlton, but I shall leave that until tomorrow.

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