Nemanja Vidic

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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.

Reports: West Ham will sign Evra for remainder of season

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Patrice Evra on one side and Pablo Zabaleta on the other?

What are Nemanja Vidic and Martin Demichelis up to?

That theoretical back four won’t be getting together at the London Stadium for West Ham United, but left back Evra could be joining right back Zabaleta with the Irons as soon as Wednesday.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson’s clever Bremen goal ]

Reports say Evra, who left Marseille earlier this season after kicking a fan in a disgraceful prematch incident, is set to join old boss David Moyes at West Ham for the rest of the season.

West Ham sits 12th, but is just three points out of 18th. Left-sided man Arthur Masuaku has been pretty darn good for the Irons, but was suspended for spitting at Nick Powell during FA Cup play. Aaron Cresswell played in his stead as the left wingback in a 3-5-2.

The 3-5-2 should provide Evra more comfort in building up his game, but will perhaps demand a bit more run-up to match fitness.

Like the move?

Playback: Where do City rank among best-ever PL teams?

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RANKING THE CREME DE LA CREME

It is a question which is dominating the Premier League right now: is this Manchester City team the best in Premier League history?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

There is no doubt that even without winning the Premier League title this season (we are not even halfway in, folks) Pep Guardiola‘s men are set to be up there with the best teams the PL has ever seen after a record-breaking 16 consecutive wins and just generally breaking records like they’re going out of fashion.

They have plenty of competition though to be the best-ever in PL history, though, and they’ll likely need to go the entire PL season unbeaten if they are to be known as the best team ever assembled in England’s top-flight. There are plenty of clubs who have had fine squads (Liverpool, Tottenham, Newcastle) but to be among the PL’s best, you simply have to have won the trophy.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

 

Below we rank the top five teams in PL history, with this City side among them.


1. Arsenal (2003-04)


They won the Premier League title without losing (winning 26 games and drawing 12) “The Invincibles” have gone down in folklore for their incredible achievement. Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Sol Campbell and Patrick Vieira were in their prime and they just didn’t look like losing. Arsene Wenger has the perfect mixture of passion and panache to make history and their incredible 49-game unbeaten run is unlikely to be surpassed, even by Man City. Apart from Arsenal, only Preston North End in the 1888-89 season have gone an entire campaign unbeaten. The only slight disappointment was that Arsenal didn’t win any other domestic trophies and lost in the Champions League last eight. That said, Henry scored 39 goals in all competitions and 30 in the PL to lead the Gunners to a feat that many believe will never be repeated.


2. Manchester City (2017-18)*if they win the title


If (and it’s still a big if despite their early season dominance) City win the title this season, given their 16-game winning run and attacking ability they will go down as the greatest team ever. It all depends on if they can go the entire season unbeaten but Guardiola is bringing soccer perfection to the PL. Yes, they’ve spent big to get there but the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United have also thrown plenty of cash at their squads and are nowhere near where City are right now. With Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus in attack, this City side have so many attacking weapons but adding Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy in defense, plus Ederson in goal, has been a huge reason why they’ve blown the PL away. History is in the making for this City side, in more ways than one. They are totally dominating the Premier League.


3. Manchester United (1998-99)


It took the famous treble winning team until the final day of the Premier League season to win the league title, but their exploits in winning the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League made up for it. Sir Alex Ferguson (just Alex Ferguson back then, actually) rotated his team masterfully in the final months of the season to pull off the greatest achievement in British soccer history. This was vintage United. Peter Schmeichel in goal behind a back four of Neville, Stam, Johnsen and Irwin, while Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs were in midfield and Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole were up top. A perfect blend of youth and experience, skill and determination. This was a true “team first” effort with the likes of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Teddy Sheringham, Nicky Butt, Henning Berg, Phil Neville and Jesper Blomqvist all playing their parts. Fergie was knighted after their famous last-gasp win in Barcelona against Bayern Munich and although they only won the PL title by one point, their exploits in the FA Cup (where they beat second-place Arsenal in heroic fashion in the semifinal) and in Europe played a huge part in them not running away with the title.


4. Chelsea (2004-05)

Jose Mourinho won the Premier League title in his first two seasons in charge of Chelsea but his squad in 2004-05, which sealed a first league title in 50 years, was the best. Chelsea simply tore the Premier League apart. Didier Drogba led the line as Frank Lampard charged forward from midfield to be the top scorer, while Arjen Robben was on the wing and Claude Makele protected the back four with Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry leading from the back as a young Petr Cech excelled in goal. Chelsea had everything and lost just one game all season long on their way to reaching 95 points, which is still a record points total for the Premier League champions. Defensively they were incredible as they set PL records for the least goals conceded (15), most shutouts (25) and fewest away goals conceded in a season (9). Mourinho, fresh from his Champions League and treble success at FC Porto, proved he was “The Special One” and also won the League Cup as well as losing in the UCL semifinals to Liverpool. Chelsea have won the title four times since 2004-05 but the squad they had over 12 years ago was the finest the west London club has ever seen.


5. Manchester United (2007-08)

Yep, they had to have at least two teams in the top five. With 13 Premier League titles under their belt, they gained more points in their title wins either side of the 2007-08 campaign, but this was arguably their most impressive PL success. Cristiano Ronaldo led United’s charge as the Portuguese superstar scored 42 goals in all competitions to help them win the Premier League and UEFA Champions League. Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez were Ronaldo’s partners in crime as the trio scored 79 goals between them in all competitions. Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and Michael Carrick were rotated expertly in midfield by Fergie and at the back Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Edwin van der Sar were formidable. After edging past Chelsea and Arsenal to the PL title, Fergie led United to UCL glory in Moscow against Chelsea as they won on penalty kicks. The trio of Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo were appointment viewing and United were top of the table from March and never gave up their perch with Chelsea and Arsenal breathing down their necks.


MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO-ROUND IN FINE FETTLE

With familiar faces returning to the PL in droves over the past few months, most of them are doing rather well with their respective new clubs.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Sam Allardyce has won four from five with Everton who are now dreaming of Europe. Roy Hodgson is unbeaten in seven with Palace and has them out of the bottom three after two wins on the spin. David Moyes has won two of his last three at West Ham United and has turned them into a tough team to beat. Alan Pardew is slowly turning things around at West Brom.

There were plenty of moans and groans when these experienced coaches who have been on the merry-go-round a few more times than they care to mention were appointed, but they’re proving they can get the job done.

Allardyce is on his seventh PL club. Hodgson and Pardew both at their fifth. Moyes on his fourth.

The initial bump of having a new manager has led Everton and West Ham out of trouble, and Hodgson is starting to turn things around at Palace after inheriting a real mess from Frank De Boer.

Pardew, another old hand who is back in the PL, will be hoping it is his time to shine next. His West Brom side drew away at Liverpool and although they still look goal-shy, he has made them more stubborn to break down.

All four newbies have settled in well and you can expect to see plenty more familiar faces arrive if the likes of Stoke City, Southampton and Swansea continue to struggle.


LET THE GAMES CONTINUE

This is it. Primetime has arrived.

The holiday season is here and the Premier League is in full flow with 40 games coming up over 11 days from this Friday. Like March Madness, having NFL games on Thanksgiving and the NBA’s Christmas Day games, PL action dominates the holidays.

Bring. It. On.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]   

Below is the schedule in full for Boxing Day, the New Year’s Day games and more.

At this time of the year we are full of festive cheer but in the Premier League, this deluge of games can make or break a campaign.

Think about that when you’re tucking into your festive feasts while Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard limber up and prepare themselves for yet another game.


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

Dusan Tadic: From Serbia to Southampton, this is my story

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(Dusan Tadic talking to Joe Prince-Wright)

When I was growing up as a kid in Serbia, I had always dreamed of this moment. Last week we did it. We qualified for the World Cup. When you play for your country, everyone remembers you if you play in a World Cup. It is that simple.

I remember the 1998 World Cup when we were Yugoslavia, I had the sticker albums of all the players and I still remember that squad and who was playing.

[ LIVE: Watch Saints v West Brom, Saturday ]

It is very nice to be there, at the World Cup, and we need to try and go step by step and see how far we can get. A lot of people are saying we can provide some surprises and not much is expected of us, but we don’t see it like that.

With Serbia, there will always be pressure.

We are the kind of players and people who do not know how to live without pressure. Even if we play against Brazil or some of the other bigger countries, we think we are better than them. That is the way we are. People expect us to beat the big teams and we have plenty of pressure from within.

It has always been that way, lots of pressure, but at the start it was all much simpler…


HOW IT ALL BEGAN

There were a lot of kids, everywhere, and we were always playing outside in the streets.

I think this is the best way to learn football, to play with your friends, street football, looking back, those are wonderful memories and I look back on that time in my life fondly.

My hometown, Backa Topola, was in the north of the country near the Hungarian border. It is a nice part of Serbia and I am very happy I grew up there.

Growing up, one of my best memories is getting my first pair of boots. There were Adidas and one of my fathers friends gave them to me. They were a special present and I wore them all the time. When it came to my first shirt, well, this was a little interesting. My father likes Partizan Belgrade and my uncle, well, he likes Red Star Belgrade. They are huge rivals and they would always get me a shirt from each club. Ah man, that was rough.

The shirt I held closest to my heart is one I had when I was 13. It was the shirt from the 1998 World Cup that Yugoslavia wore and had Predrag Mijatovic’s name on the back. You remember that shirt, the one with the big collar?  We did really well in that tournament and I wore that shirt everywhere. I still have it somewhere at home.

Our country has gone through a lot of tough times, especially when I was growing up, but I think playing football gave myself and other kids at the time an escape from everything else that was going on. Those were tough times.

When it is like this, it is important that kids play football or another sport because you are in nicer situations and have positive vibes around you. Because if you don’t play sport at times like that, I don’t know what you would do.

I am very happy I grew up in Serbia. You can have tough times, good times, but you learn a lot. I am incredibly proud of where I am from.

My father, that’s where my love for the game comes from. He watched every single game I played in growing up. He still does now. All of my family and friends, they would come to watch me and their support was incredible.

Every coach I’ve had, even if something was wrong, you still learn something from every single one of them. I am very lucky to have had so many good coaches over the years who I tried to learn from.

My idol growing up was Zinedine Zidane. I tried to learn from him. He did everything to perfection. Everything was easy for him. I loved watching him. He was a genius.

Not just the way he played but I also like his personality, the calmness he has off the pitch and the way he carries himself. After I watched him on TV I would go straight out into the street in Serbia to try and play like him.

I was lucky that I moved to a team like Vojvodina at the age of 14. They are known to have the best academy in Serbia, so there are many similarities to how things are here at Southampton with an emphasis on bringing through young talent.

Vojvodina always gave young players a chance and by the time I was 16 I was in the first team and then we went to the Europa League and it was a great time for me with wonderful coaches who pushed me to my maximum. I’m pleased that the pressure was so high when I started off there. That made me into the player I am today and helped me want to succeed and get better.

When I then moved to Holland, at the beginning I was looking around like “why is everyone so relaxed?” I was confused. After you lost a game, everyone was laughing and everything. If you did that in Serbia, that would be a big problem.

It took me time to adapt to the less intense atmosphere in Holland but I played with, and against, some great players who ended up with me here at Southampton. Graziano Pelle and Jordy Clasie from Feyenoord and then a young Virgil Van Dijk was just coming into the first team in my second year at Groningen.

When I played in the Netherlands, the league was very strong but a lot of players have left the Eredivisie and they are struggling a little with a lot of young players coming through.

But when I look back at my time in Holland with Groningen and FC Twente, this was the most important period of my life. I was at that stage when I had to grow as a player and a person. I am happy I was there. Holland has a philosophy of football which links up with how I like to play.

I learned a lot and it prepared me well for the challenge at Southampton.


SETTING RECORDS IN SUNNY SOUTHAMPTON

It wasn’t always my aim to come to England but everyone thinks about the Premier League because it is one of the strongest leagues in the world.

You want to show yourself in the strongest league and this was the right moment.

I knew back in 2014 that Ronald Koeman really wanted me. Southampton are a nice club with great supporters and I came here with a lot of new players in that summer of 2014 and some people expected a lot from me, but that didn’t bother me because as a player you have to trust in your qualities and show yourself and help your club.

After 2014 we had the two most successful years in Southampton’s history. Everyone was proud of that and I was pleased to be a part of it.

I have so many great memories here at Southampton. I’m in my fourth season and I have a strong connection with the fans who sing my song and support me no matter what.

From the first moment they accepted me very well. I try my best to entertain and make them happy and to give them joy. A lot of people come to watch and support you as a player so you need to try to give them enjoyment. Ii try to entertain.

I live in a marina called Ocean Village in Southampton and it doesn’t feel like you’re in England. When you say to people “oh, I live in England” everyone is like “it is rainy and cold there, why are you doing that?”

But Southampton is not like that. It is not like the rest of England. Here the weather is very good (at least compared to the rest of England!) and every day I am happy for that. Trust me.

So far we’ve had a lot of success but when I sit back and think about all of the good times we’ve had since I arrived, my winning goal at Old Trafford against Manchester United back in 2015 is the best.

We hadn’t beaten United away from home for 28 years and it was my first time playing at Old Trafford. I will never forget that moment. Ever.

Our aim here at Southampton, and my aim, is to get us back to Europe.

It is very important for us. Just as important is another good run in the cup, just like when we went to Wembley last season and lost to Manchester United. I don’t have any regrets about the League Cup final. None of us do. We did our best and I think we should have beat Manchester United. Anybody watching would have said that. We were unlucky. Sometimes, that’s football.

Someone told me earlier that a year ago today we were getting ready to play against Inter Milan in the Europa League at the San Siro. Wow. Time flies. We have to get back to playing in big games like that.

It will be hard to keep improving every year because there are so many quality teams in the Premier League but that is my main focus.

Well, that and my two kids. People say it a lot, but being a father has changed me as a person and I live a different kind of life. I am very happy with my life and my two children. I enjoy every moment with them.

I know on the pitch I can seem a little on edge. I’m a fierce competitor. Off the pitch I am easy going and I relax more. A lot more. Honest.

On the pitch I’m sharp and I show my emotions a lot more. I’ve always been like that, wearing my heart on my sleeve. On the pitch I want to win. We all do. We give everything for our team. We are all winners and we want to win every single game.

Every training session. Every game. Even when I play cards… I have to win. It is interesting that only this makes me happy. If you want to learn one thing about me from reading this, it is that I do not like to lose. Nobody likes to lose, but especially me. It is difficult to accept.

When some of the players play table tennis or basketball, I have to be the best. I can’t stand losing. I’ll throw things and get upset because I just want to win. It’s simple.

My teammates know that and some of the players I’m closest with, like Cedric Soares, will tell you that.

Sometimes Cedric and I go up to London on our days off and hang out and have dinner but with two young kids, I spend a lot of time with my family. I’m just looking forward to meeting Cedric in the World Cup if Serbia play Portugal. We owe him one. Portugal beat us in the qualifying for the European Championships. I want revenge and on the pitch I’d be in his ear all of the time. I wouldn’t stop.

I’d enjoy that…


WORLD CUP DREAM COMES TRUE

After reaching the World Cup last week, our first time as a nation since 2010, Serbia is fresh in my mind.

Perhaps the thing I’m most proud of in my career is to be the reigning player of the year in Serbia.

When I look at some of the past winners, Nemanja Matic, Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Vidic, Dejan Stankovic and guys like Mijatovic, it makes me very happy to be in that kind of company. It proved to me how much respect people in Serbia had for me after goals and assists for the national team and also what I’ve achieved here at Southampton.

This award motivates me to get better and better.

And the fact that I will hopefully be heading to the 2018 World Cup with Serbia, the first major tournament of my career, it is an incredible feeling. Even now when I look back at photos from the night we sealed qualification in Belgrade against Georgia, it makes me emotional.

When I look at the photo below, I get emotional. I was just so happy. Even though I’m crying.

Going into that final game of qualifying, as a team we were under the biggest amount of pressure I’ve ever felt with the national team.

If we didn’t win that game against Georgia and qualify for the World Cup, I think they would have taken our passports away and told us we could not come back any more! It was like that. Seriously.

Those games like that, where it is so incredibly important, we are not a country that goes to every tournament, so it was a huge success for all of us.

I’m already 28, so for my national team career this is massive because playing at a World Cup is something everyone remembers. To seal the qualification in Belgrade, in front of our own fans, it is something I will always remember. The celebrations that night were quite special…

It is something I will never forget but hopefully there are many memorable moments to come both with Serbia and Southampton.

Carrick named new captain of Manchester United

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Michael Carrick has a one-year extension at Manchester United, and now will take the arm band on top of it.

Wayne Rooney‘s Everton move opened up the captain’s role, and the 35-year-old Newcastle-born midfielder has been handed the strap by Jose Mourinho.

Carrick has served under United captains Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, and Gary Neville, making a remarkable 459 appearances and winning double-digit trophies for the Old Trafford club.

[ MORE: The 5,442-mile away day ]

He began his professional career at West Ham before moving to Spurs for two seasons. Now he’s the captain of one of the biggest clubs in the world. From ManUtd.com:

“It feels great and it is such a huge honour to captain such a great club,” Michael told us. “It is my 12th year now and I came as a 25 year old. I never thought I could be here for so long and achieve so much.

“Now, to lead the boys and look after the young boys, to guide them in some ways, it is a nice thing and a real pleasure. I came to this club as a footballer and I am now a huge fan. I have grown to love the club over the years and to be in this position is very special for me.”

As new players flood into Old Trafford, it’s no mistake that Mourinho has tabbed a man who will be very clear about the traditions and expectations around United.