Dimitar Berbatov

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When will Ed Woodward be held accountable for Man United failures?

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Six seasons, five managers, three Champions League qualifications, zero Premier League titles.

That is the Manchester United story since they last trimphed over the English top flight in Sir Alex Ferguson‘s final season as Red Devils boss.

The leadership has been chopped and changed many times over, but there is one constant: Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who ascended to his current role in 2012 and was made top operational executive a year later after the departure of David Gill. Since Woodward took full control of the club, Manchester United has spiraled completely out of control, with the luster of 13 Premier League titles almost fully rusted away.

While Manchester United has collected three trophies under his watch, the two most coveted – the Premier League and Champions League titles – have eluded the storied club, instead settling for an FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League title (plus two Community Shields, as Jose Mourinho would tell you).

Still, Woodward has somehow escaped heavy criticism for his rocky tenure, with the first-team managers – far more publicly accountable figures than club executives – taking the brunt of the flak for losing streaks, negative tactics, mediocre youth development, and shambolic defending. Yet Woodward remains unscathed, free of full-scale scrutiny while everything he touches turns to ash.

Woodward’s history in the transfer market has been downright abysmal. Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Angel Di Maria, Fred, Eric Bailly, and Luke Shaw have all been purchased for enormous sums of money during Woodward’s time in charge, yet none of them have lived up to their financial burdens. It is impossible to truly know what Woodward’s exact role is in the transfer dealings, but as the top operational executive at the club, he is responsible for the consistent failures whether he has taken a hands-on approach or has delegated most of the duties to others. It’s time the buck stops at the top.

Since the start of the 2013 summer transfer window, Manchester United has shelled out a gargantuan $712 million in transfer net spend and the Red Devils are no closer to challenging for the Premier League title than when they began their quest to replace Sir Alex Ferguson. After losing to relegated Cardiff City to close out the 2018/19 Premier League season with little more than a whimper, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said it would take “a long time” for Manchester United to be in a position to compete for the league title. The Notwegian boss even dared to warn supporters to temper their expectations; the Europa League would be a reasonable ambition for the time being. Those words from a Manchester United mouthpiece like Solskjaer are a brutal indictment of Woodward and his leadership of the club over the past few years.

When Sir Alex departed, the team admittedly needed an overhaul. The legendary boss somehow squeezed one last triumph out of an old and dilapidated squad, as if fans needed yet another reason to revere the greatest manager the game has ever seen. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Dimitar Berbatov were all over 30 and on their way out of the club while David De Gea, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Rafael, Fabio, Jesse Lingard, Danny Welbeck, and Adnan Januzaj were all 22 years old or younger and looking for guidance and direction as they continued to develop.

Instead, they were met with chaos and instability, as David Moyes, Giggs, Louis Van Gaal, and Jose Mourinho all tried and failed to restore order to the club. None of the managers were given enough time to establish any sense of consistency, and it’s unclear whether any of them were good enough hires that things would have improved if given that luxury. Instead of embracing the period of transition, the club fell into a form of purgatory, hoping to maintain a steady ship while also understanding that things would not be the same. Woodward, a career accountant, may know what it takes to secure a lucrative sponsorship, but eventually they need the on-field results to match the claim of the world’s most popular club, or the financial leverage will wane.

While many players and managers have come and gone over the past few years, Woodward has remained the only constant figure, and the longer the club continues to rot, the more obvious his role in allowing the club to fester. Now, he wishes to bring on a technical director (see: Director of Football) to help with on-field decisions and player acquisitions, a smart choice in delegating the football responsibilities but also another hire to get right. And yet…he’s reportedly looking to hire Darren Fletcher, who literally retired as a player one week ago and has zero executive or managerial experience, in what feels like more of a PR move than anything of actual significance.

With this year’s sixth place finish – the club’s fourth finish outside the Premier League’s top four over the last six years – it is time fans direct their frustration and unhappiness further up the food chain. Ed Woodward must be held accountable for the failures of the club, or the glory days of (actually not that) long ago will become an even more distant memory with every passing year.

PL Golden Boot: Mane, Salah, Aubameyang all win with 22 goals

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For the first time in nearly a decade, there’s no singular winner of the Premier League’s Golden Boot.

Instead, the honor for most goals in the Premier League this season is shared by last year’s winner, Mohamed Salah, his Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane, and Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The trio of stars finished with 22 goals, as Mane and Aubameyang both hit a brace on Championship Sunday.

[READ: Man City win Premier League title]

The last time the Golden Boot was shared was in 2011, when Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov shared it with 20 goals.

For Arsenal, it’s the club’s first Golden Boot winner since Robin Van Persie scored an incredible 30-goals in the 2011-2012 season, before moving to Manchester United and winning a Premier League title. Aubameyang becomes Arsenal’s third Golden Boot winner, following Thierry Henry and Van Persie. Mane meanwhile becomes Liverpool’s fourth Golden Boot winner, after Salah, Luis Suarez, and Michael Owen.

Dimitar Berbatov says he wants to play in the Premier League again

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Dimitar Berbatov, at 35 years old, says he isn’t done yet.

The former Manchester United striker who won the Premier League twice with the Red Devils told BBC 5 Live that he wants to come back to play in the English top flight.

“When you’ve played in the Premier League you don’t want to play anywhere else,” Berbatov said. “In this stage of my career I know where I am — I would happily play for a team where they use my experience and my knowledge. I can help young players develop and make the team stronger. In the end it’s all about helping the team play.”

Berbatov spent five seasons in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen before moving to England in 2006, first with Tottenham Hotspur for two seasons before a switch to Manchester United that netted 48 goals in 108 league appearances. He spent two more season in the Premier League with Fulham before heading overseas to play for Monaco and Greek side PAOK. He was released from Panathinaikos in June, leaving him without a club since the summer.

The Bulgarian international has made 78 appearances for his country, scoring 48 times, but has been retired from international play since 2010.

Burnley, Middlesbrough, Hull City, Swansea City, and Sunderland have all failed to score double-digit goals thus far in league play. However, some of those clubs, such as Middlesbrough and Swansea, already have new purchases up front and likely would pass on someone of Berbatov’s abilities.

The 35-year-old was known for his unique style of play which featured brilliant flashes of skill and technique that punctuated long stretches of seemingly nonchalant strolls around the pitch. He was often branded as “lazy” although many disputed that negative label.

“Interview with Dimitar Berbatov, conducted by journalist Dimitar Berbatov”

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Oh man. Dimitar Berbatov is ready to add a Pulitzer Prize to his trophy case.

The former Manchester United and Spurs striker sometimes called “The Incredible Sulk” has taken to his Facebook page after picking up a red card for PAOK against rivals AEK Athens over the weekend.

[ VIDEO: USMNT duo Zardes, Parker talk youth-heavy camp ]

Berbatov, 34, was tossed for throwing an elbow in the box, giving him his first red card in 14 years. The big Bulgarian had come on as a substitute, and has drawn much criticism for his brief appearance.

So he granted an exclusive interview to himself in which he lashed out at “stupid” journalism regarding his passion for the game.

Interview with Dimitar Berbatov, conducted by journalist Dimitar Berbatov..JDB: Hi, How are you feeling..DB: Hi. I am…

Posted by Dimitar Berbatov on Tuesday, January 26, 2016

DB vs. JDB. Hard-hitting questions from JDB. Like this one:

JDB: Some media says you don’t want to play for PAOK any more?
DB: This is why i am giving interview to you, and not to people who are coming up with stupid things like this..This is not true, and with this kind of talks some people are trying to harm the team.

Dimitar, lay off Journalist Dimitar. He’s just doing his job, man.

Premier League Playback: Brendan Rodgers gone, but not forgotten

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LIVERPOOL RIGHT TO REMOVE RODGERS

Gone, but not forgotten. Those are likely to be the sentiments flowing through the minds of Liverpool fans as they sip on their Monday morning coffee less than 24 hours after Brendan Rodgers was fired as Liverpool’s manager.

[ MORE: Klopp, Ancelotti next for Liverpool? ]

On Sunday following Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Everton in the Merseyside derby, Rodgers, 42, lost his job just eight matches into his fourth season in charge at Anfield. The writing has been on the wall for quite some time. With the likes of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard departing over the past 12 months, plus over $400 million spent on new signings, delivering a sixth place finish last season then overseeing a struggling start to this campaign proved too much for Liverpool’s American owners, the Fenway Sports Group (FSG), to handle.

[ MORE: Timeline of Rodgers’ demise at Anfield ]

When Rodgers’ assistant coaches were fired in the summer alarm bells began to ring. In truth, his player recruitment has been his biggest downfall although FSG must take some of the blame as the transfer committee at Liverpool — which Rodgers is only a part of — has sanctioned deals for the likes of Mario Balotelli, Dejan Lovren and Lazar Markovic, and many more who just haven’t been up to scratch as the Reds paid over the top following the $200 million raised by selling Suarez and Sterling over the past two summers.

Premier League Schedule – Week 8

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 3-0 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Aston Villa 0-1 Stoke Recap, watch here
B’mouth 1-1 Watford Recap, watch here
Chelsea 1-3 Saints Recap, watch here
C. Palace 2-0 WBA Recap, watch here
Everton 1-1 Liverpool Recap, watch here
Man City 6-1 N’castle Recap, watch here
Norwich 1-2 Leicester Recap, watch here
S’land 2-2 West Ham Recap, watch here
Swansea 2-2 Spurs Recap, watch here

Rodgers leaves Liverpool as the only manager in charge for three or more seasons since 1959 to not win a trophy with the Reds. His failure to win silverware despite his much idolized philosophy of cultivating attractive play with young players is what ultimately cost him his job, and yet, he came so close. It is that factor which means that years from now, maybe even decades, Rodgers’ name will still be mentioned on the Kop. The 2013-14 season will always be revered among Liverpool’s fans despite the heartbreak of coming agonizingly close to winning the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Rodgers firing

The Northern Irishman brought belief back to Anfield. True, you can say that any manager in control of a team which possessed Suarez, Sterling and Daniel Sturridge in attack, plus Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho feeding them chances would have done that. The fact of the matter is that Rodgers could not deliver the title with those players and that will be the legacy he leaves behind at Anfield. The defending, throughout his time at Anfield but particularly during that season, was shocking, but the dynamic play up front, led by Suarez, was sublime.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

I was there throughout most of the highs and lows of that title chase. The electricity in the air around the pubs in Liverpool before and after the demolition of Everton in the Merseyside derby in January 2014. The euphoria in the streets around Anfield before and after Coutinho’s late winner against Manchester City in April 2014. The agony of Gerrard’s slip in the defeat to Chelsea in the penultimate home game. And then, the utter disbelief after letting a 3-0 lead slip at Crystal Palace to draw 3-3 in the penultimate game of the season. Those moments, that ride towards the title which ultimately ended in tears and disappointment, should never be forgotten. Rodgers engineered a side which was capable of ripping teams apart and he came within a few goals either way of doing what no Liverpool manager in the last 25 years has managed to do. He came the closest to delivering success in the Premier League and despite the way things have unraveled in the 18 months since that dramatic title race climaxed — the 6-1 defeat at Stoke, the realization that the players who arrived were not good enough — you cannot take that away from him.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Were FSG and owner John W. Henry right to remove Rodgers from his role? Yes. His time was up. He looked dejected and defensive in multiple post-match press conferences over the past six months and he was fighting a losing battle as fans continued to question his decisions and had lost belief in not only his managerial abilities, but the players he selected. Talk of Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti coming in to replace Rodgers is rife (you can read more on the contenders for the vacant position at Anfield, here) but for now, let’s remember the joy Rodgers’ swashbuckling side of the 2013-14 season brought and how Liverpool’s fans were made to feel like, for at least a few months, the glory days were once again returning to Anfield.

The reaction to his firing was mixed, but many believe Rodgers’ time was up at Anfield.

Take a look at the video above to see Thierry Henry and Jamie Carragher reacting to the news, while Major League Baseball’s Brendan Rodgers had to let the world know he was not his namesake, who is now out of a job.

MOURINHO NEXT TO GO?

In the video above Jose Mourinho delivered a crystal clear message — who looks to be feeling the pressure with bags under his eyes, over-analyzing situations and having his back up after being criticized for the way he handled the Eva Carneiro situation — as the Chelsea boss was in a defiant mood following yet another defeat for his side on Saturday. Simply put, his message to Chelsea’s board was the following: stick with me, or sack me.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Chelsea’s defeat ]

Southampton were the latest team to prevail from Mourinho’s misery — it is now five defeats in 11 games in all competitions for the west London club this season — and in truth Ronald Koeman’s side were well worth their 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge as they won at Chelsea for the first time in 13 years with a magnificent comeback orchestrated by Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane.

However, somewhat inevitably and in keeping with the current season, this result was all about one man: Mourinho.

[ MORE: Mourinho goes on incredible post-match rant ]

Having the audacity to call out the referee for not awarding Radamel Falcao a penalty kick when the score was 1-1 early in the second half was just the tip of the iceberg. Mourinho was clutching at straws as he went on an incredible seven minute and nine second rant on Sky Sports in the UK when asked one simple question to start off. It was enthralling viewing. Encapsulating. Entertaining. And, moreover, indicative of the situation he know finds himself in. Eight weeks into the season, Mourinho is pleading with Chelsea’s board not to sack him and is adamant he will not resign.

“When I was contacted to come back, I was told ‘we had so many managers. We know you are the best,’” Mourinho revealed in his post-match press conference. “I think it is time for the club to act in a different way, to mark a position of stability, a position of trust. Three months ago we were all together in the buzz of the cups. It is time for all of us to be together now in the bottom of the league.”

John Terry has jumped to Mourinho’s defense and it is true that the players are not performing anywhere near the level they did when winning the title last season. But we all know that at Chelsea, or at any other club for that matter, when the team stops winning the manager is held accountable. That is why Mourinho is so worried and has called for a change in tact from Roman Abramovich and the board to bring stability and let him turn things around at the Bridge. It is reported that Mourinho has met with the directors after the defeat to Southampton and Chelsea then released the following statement on Monday. The fact that they even had to say anything at all proves just how bad the situation has got at the Bridge.

“The club wants to make it clear that Jose continues to have our full support.

“As Jose has said himself, results have not been good enough and the team’s performances must improve. However, we believe that we have the right manager to turn this season around and that he has the squad with which to do it.”

With a run of six winnable games coming up in the league (Aston Villa, Liverpool, Norwich at home and trips to West Ham, Stoke and Tottenham), it’s now or never for “The Special One” to save Chelsea’s season with the Blues only seven points off the top four despite their disastrous start.

And just in case any of you were wondering, despite his confused and ultra-defensive state, he still hasn’t lost his ego.

“No way I resign. No way,” Mourinho added. “Why? Because Chelsea cannot have a better manager than me. There are many managers in the world that belong to my level, but not better. There is no chance I run away. Why? For two reasons. One: because I have my professional pride and I know that I am very good in my job. Second: I like this club very much and if that’s not the case it could be different. In the accumulation of both situations I want the best for my club and the best for my club is for me to stay. So, I stay.”

OZIL, WALCOTT, SANCHEZ: ARSENAL’S HOLY TRINITY?

19 minutes into Arsenal’s clash with Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday the game was over. Arsenal scored three times in a blistering 12 minute spell, as the attacking trio of Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez possessed the perfect mixture of pace, trickery and guile to blow away United’s makeshift defense.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Arsenal’s win ]

Arsenal rode that early 3-0 lead to victory, as Arsene Wenger was delighted with the way Walcott led the line in a central role (his fifth-straight start in that position ahead of Olivier Giroud) as his pace in-behind terrified United into forgetting about the mercurial talents of Ozil and Sanchez. The latter scored twice, grabbing the headlines, but Ozil’s ability to find the right ball at the right time, plus calmly slot home Arsenal’s second himself, just seconds after assisting on Sanchez’s opener, is why Wenger paid $62 million for him in 2013. Now, for Ozil and Arsenal, it is all about consistency. When asked in his post-match press conference if this trio is the answer to Arsenal’s attack, the French boss was optimistic.

“I hope and I believe it can,” Wenger said. “I must say, Walcott had a hugely committed performance today and a very convincing one. He didn’t score but I like to praise the strikers when they don’t score but contribute and give assists. He was involved in two goals and he showed that he can fight and commit and protect the ball as well. He is gaining aspects of his game as a center forward and is improving.”

In that blistering 20 minute spell we saw all that is good about the Gunners. The fact that it was coming off the back of a shock 3-2 UEFA Champions League defeat at home to Olympiakos says it all. If Arsenal’s front three can stay fit and in form, with Petr Cech marshaling an improved defensive unit, this title race could become a two-horse affair between Arsenal and Manchester City.

FIVE-STAR AGUERO

Speaking of City, they were losing 1-0 to Newcastle United at home just before half time on Saturday, as things were not looking good for the Citizens. Then, Sergio Aguero happened. The Argentine striker scored once before the break and four times just after it, as the predatory striker score five times in a blistering 20 minute spell which led City to a 6-1 demolition of Newcastle which looked far from believable after a labored first half display. That’s the difference a finisher of Aguero’s caliber possesses, and Manuel Pellegrini will now be praying his star striker can stay fit for the entire season, as David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne look like the perfect creators to set him up for multiple scoring chances week in, week out.

Due to the huge talking points surrounding Rodgers, Chelsea and Arsenal, Aguero’s achievement has gone somewhat unnoticed. So I urge you to click play on the video above to see all five of Aguero’s goals. The PL’s Golden Boot winner from last season joins an elite list of Andy Cole, Jermain Defoe, Dimitar Berbatov and Alan Shearer as the only men to score five times in one game in PL history.

MAGIC MANE

We have already mentioned Mourinho’s Chelsea getting outplayed by Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but a final word must go to the brilliance of Sadio Mane which ignited Saints and inflicted pain on Chelsea’s defense.

[ MORE: How brave Saints battered Chelsea ]

Mane, 23, ran rings around Chelsea’s entire back four. He should have had a penalty kick in the first half (but his theatrical dive probably cost him that) and in the second half he scored Saints’ second and set up Pelle for Saints’ third with a blistering run at the heart of Chelsea’s defense. Teams cannot cope with Mane’s pace and direct running, as the Senegalese international is thriving in a central role which allows him to feed off Pelle’s knockdowns and run at center backs like Terry and Gary Cahill (voted the two best in the PL last season) who do not know what to do.

I spoke to Koeman about Mane’s performance after the game on Saturday, and Southampton’s manager believed Mane was “impossible” to defend.

“He played fantastic but I think the whole team performance was impressive after going 1-0 down we looked comfortable,” Koeman said. “Of course, to win against teams like Chelsea you need your best players on that high level and Sadio was very dangerous in his movements. It was impossible to have a good defending against him. I think the whole team performance was perfect.”

Mane now has four assists and two goals in his last five PL matches and after Manchester United tried to make a late bid to sign him in the summer, Saints will be expecting plenty more bids for the flying attacker in the upcoming transfer windows. If they are truly going to become a team capable of perennially challenging for a spot in the top six, Southampton must keep hold of Mane. But as Chelsea’s defense proved on Saturday, that can prove very difficult.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here