Zip it, Zlatan and respect the ‘circle of Sir Alex Ferguson’

‘The circle of Ferguson,’ is Ibrahimovic’s name for the former players he claims have too much to say

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs to show some more respect to those he calls the 'Ferguson circle'
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic should show more respect to those in the ‘Ferguson circle’ 
  • They would include Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand — and Ryan Giggs 
  • Ibrahimovic made 53 appearances for United – that’s not exactly 13 league titles

Zlatan Ibrahimovic played 53 games for Manchester United; one more than Michael Owen, three short of Les Sealey and Fabio Da Silva.

Many of those matches were good ones, too. He scored the winning goal in a League Cup final; his efforts helped propel the club through the rounds to their Europa League Evictory.

Not 13 league titles, though, is it? Not two Champions League wins, four FA Cups, three League Cups, the UEFA Super Cup, the Club World Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, either. And not 963 appearances. Fifty-three.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs to show some more respect to those he calls the 'Ferguson circle'

Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs to show some more respect to those he calls the ‘Ferguson circle’ 

Ryan Giggs played 104 games more than that for Manchester United in Europe alone. So it is hardly surprising he took umbrage at being as good as told to shut up by a man who featured in as many games for United as Memphis Depay.

‘The circle of Ferguson,’ is Ibrahimovic’s name for the former players he claims have too much to say. They would include Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand — and Giggs. Between them they have 38 league titles and 2,738 Manchester United appearances.

‘They are not there any more,’ said Ibrahimovic. ‘They are on TV, always complaining and criticising. Yeah, OK, you’ve had your time, we know it.’

Actually, they had a little more than their time. Ibrahimovic’s brief time — the fortune he commanded at the tail-end of his career — was only made possible by the circle of Ferguson and what they achieved.

They elevated United as a financial powerhouse even among the elite, created one of the biggest clubs in the world, and because of this United could afford transfer fees and wages beyond anything it had paid previously.

No circle, no Paul Pogba for £90million. Certainly, no circle no Jose Mourinho, so no Ibrahimovic at Old Trafford, too.

So a little respect is due. A little respect for those who count games not in tens but hundreds. They hold the club back, according to Ibrahimovic. Yet why shouldn’t they have their say? And if their conclusion is that it was better under Ferguson, well, that’s fine — because it was. Nothing wrong with the truth.

Ibrahimovic is mistaken if he thinks these players revel in United’s misfortune since their era. 

It is no surprise Ryan Giggs took issue at criticism from a man who featured 53 times for United

It is no surprise Ryan Giggs took issue at criticism from a man who featured 53 times for United

The idea that Giggs, a player who put the club ahead of his own country on countless occasions, would wish failure on a succession of United managers, is preposterous. 

And while the verdicts of Scholes, Neville or Ferdinand can be brutal, they are rarely unjustified. They were right; Manchester United were under-performing, they were playing a style in conflict with the ideals of the club.

That much has been plain since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

If the results, and the football, had not changed and the former players were still talking up their old team-mate, then the circle of Ferguson jibe might be justified. The fact is, performances have improved, the Mourinho regime has been shown in a poor light and the criticism was vindicated. Those who have represented Manchester United across decades know exactly what it represents.

Whenever Manchester United play we are bombarded with reaction. Those who were at the game, those who were not, those who have never missed a match at Old Trafford, those who have never invested in anything more taxing than a laptop stream.

So why should we be deprived of the views of those who know the game and know the club? Above the clamour, their voices deserve to be heard.

The success under Sir Alex Ferguson propelled United to a level where they could get top stars

The success under Sir Alex Ferguson propelled United to a level where they could get top stars

‘They stayed all their life under Ferguson, they never moved and they didn’t even talk if Ferguson didn’t tell them to open their mouth,’ Ibrahimovic sneered.

He probably sees his own career as more adventurous. It was certainly more lucrative. And maybe that’s another reason why when these players speak, people listen: because for a great many of them, Manchester United was not just another place they passed through en route to the next signing-on fee.

It was a club they served and an empire they built, and it is theirs to own, in a way it will never belong to Ibrahimovic — or any player like him.

If Rice is the future, why stick with Henderson? 

It would be very unfair to compare Jordan Henderson to see Declan Rice in terms of shots on target or goals.

Henderson has had neither this season — against Rice’s two goals and five shots — but then that isn’t his job.

Jurgen Klopp’s instructions at Liverpool are very specific and it is plain that Henderson’s duties lie elsewhere. Then again, if Klopp thought Henderson was a midfielder capable of influencing a game in that way, he would surely allow him the freedom. 

Henderson has made eight chances this season, but then so has Rice. And Rice’s interceptions, 39, are close to double those of Henderson with 21. Against that, Rice is in an inferior team, with more defensive work to do.

Passing, 50-50 duels, aerial duels, are all in the same ball park. And Henderson is the captain of a team on top of the league; Rice is a novice.

Declan Rice looks a long-term answer for England, so it is not a given Jordan Henderson plays

Declan Rice looks a long-term answer for England, so it is not a given Jordan Henderson plays

So why the clamour to play Rice against the Czech Republic on Friday? Perhaps because we have seen what England can do with Henderson and it only goes so far. Henderson was outstanding in the biggest matches for Liverpool last season and performed admirably at the World Cup as England reached the last four.

Yet it’s still the last four. There must be the ambition to go beyond, and that means evolution. Henderson is very vocal, a senior squad member and a good team man.

He turned up for England training this week, when many would have cried off with injury. Managers appreciate loyalty and commitment. But is it enough to guarantee a starting place, if better options are available? Rice, long term, looks the answer for England. And if Gareth Southgate thinks so too, why wait? 

Why rivals need City to win Cup

There will be some very big rivals supporting Manchester City against Brighton in the FA Cup on April 6. 

The qualification rules for UEFA competitions could propel the sixth-placed Premier League team into a campaign that begins on July 25 — more than two weeks before the start of the domestic campaign — unless City win the FA Cup.

Here’s how it works. If the winners of the FA Cup have already secured Champions League football, as City no doubt will, the sixth-placed team take the Cup-winners’ spot in the Europa League. 

A win for Brighton, Watford or Wolves, however, would demote that team — shaping up as one of Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea — in the draw, meaning they enter the Europa League’s second qualifying stage in July.

Harsh. But look at it another way. Everyone knew the rules and the potential ramifications before the season started. If a club do not want to risk starting their season 16 days early, the way out remains simple. Don’t finish sixth.

Rivals will be supporting Manchester City in the FA Cup to avoid an early Europa League start

Rivals will be supporting Manchester City in the FA Cup to avoid an early Europa League start

Chelsea are worried that a transfer ban could harm their chances of finding a successor to Maurizio Sarri.

Yes, but think of the severance pay. That is what most of them do, surely.

If FIFA smell cash anything can happen…

First there were two, then three, then four – and now heaven knows how many.

When the South American pitch for the 2030 World Cup was first mooted, the plan was to return the tournament’s centenary edition to where it all began: Uruguay.

Except Uruguay was not considered big enough to handle a modern World Cup so the competition would be shared with their neighbours across River Plate, Argentina. Then Paraguay joined in — and last month, Chile.

At that point, the area covered was roughly 4.12million square kilometres. But it gets better. For now there is talk of a tie-up between South America and the CONCACAF region.

At first look, this would seem unlikely as CONCACAF are already hosting the 2026 tournament in the USA, Canada and Mexico.

Yet don’t forget this is FIFA: the organisation who corruptly voted for a summer World Cup in Qatar with 32 teams, and are now planning to deliver a winter World Cup in Qatar, Oman and Kuwait with 48 teams — while not even offering a new vote. So anything and everything is in play.

Including the first World Cup to take place across confederations and continents, with ever-expanding numbers of hosts and qualifiers.

And if FIFA smell money, that’s exactly what will happen.

Get real and perform, Paul

Well, there’s gratitude. No sooner has Paul Pogba put in half of half a good season, and he’s batting his eyes at Real Madrid. ‘A dream for anyone,’ he called them, ‘one of the biggest clubs in the world.’ 

Actually, he’s at one of the biggest clubs in the world. One that spent £30m more on him than Manchester City have on any midfielder. Maybe repay a bit of that first? It will take longer than three good months. 

Paul Pogba needs to realise he is at one of the biggest clubs in the world at Manchester United

Paul Pogba needs to realise he is at one of the biggest clubs in the world at Manchester United

10 million quid is a game changer…

The beauty of 10 million quid is that it’s finite. You can count it. You can see it. You can spend it.

So the money invested in the Women’s Super League by Barclays is worth a thousand trumped-up stories about 60,000 attendances, when half the crowd gets in for nothing. 

At the weekend 60,739 fans filled the Wanda Metropolitano stadium for a women’s game between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. Yet the real figure — and it is still a good one — is 26,912. That is the number that paid for tickets priced between £4.30 and £8.60. Yet Atletico women’s gates in the five games before that were 442, 467, 346, 1,085 and 216.

So this was a one-off event to watch the best women’s team in Spain play at home in a huge stadium, with free entry for Atletico season ticket holders and kids and heavily promoted so that 56 per cent of tickets were given away.

Barcelona ran out 2-0 winners over Atletico Madrid in front of a record 60,739 supporters

Barcelona ran out 2-0 winners over Atletico Madrid in front of a record 60,739 supporters 

It would be like taking the crowd that lines the Thames to watch the Boat Race as indicative of the weekly interest in the Cambridge University rowing team.

The Barclays money is so much more than that.

It affords proper funding, and incentives, it allows clubs to build, quickly but organically, and raises the potential for a significant broadcast contract, because it is now a league that means business. 

This has the potential to change women’s football in a way free tickets cannot, because letting fans in for nothing suggests your project is not worth paying for; whereas 10 million quid says it is. And then people notice. What can draw enduring crowds to the women’s game is evidence of quality, not charity.

Olivier can switch, but cricket will pay a price in the future

Duanne Olivier has played 10 Tests for South Africa which makes sense, having been born in Groblersdal, Transvaal Province. What does not make sense is that, at the age of 26, he wants to play for England. 

Olivier is not some kid, confused about issues of dual nationality. He has given up on South Africa to play for Yorkshire — his choice, his call, made for financial gain — meaning if he can earn British citizenship by spending 210 days annually in this country for three years, he will be available in 2022. 

And the ECB can take him, too, under their new rules to encourage ringers and suck out what remains of the enthusiasm for cricket in this country. Of course, one might argue that the young Olivier was no great shakes for South Africa, so why should he be any better at 29?  

It makes no sense why at 26, Duanne Olivier wants to play for England and not South Africa

It makes no sense why at 26, Duanne Olivier wants to play for England and not South Africa

Yet it is not Olivier’s talent that is important here, but the way cricket’s nationality rules are allowing the international game to become increasingly irrelevant. We start caring about these issues or this branch of sport dies. 

There has to come a time when your bed is made and you lie in it. 

Remember the 2012 European Championship? How we were all wrong about Ukraine? That their fans did not have a dangerous racist element? That we were the xenophobes for even thinking it? Try telling that to Callum Hudson-Odoi. 

A tacky tickets tit-for-tat spat

Barcelona tried to rip off Manchester United fans, so United gave them a taste of their own medicine.

When away tickets at the Nou Camp for their quarter-final meeting on April 16 were priced at £102, United immediately matched that for Barcelona supporters attending Old Trafford on April 10. They intended to use the extra funds raised to offer their own fans a £27 subsidy for the away leg.

An appreciation of cause and effect created a backlash from Barcelona’s supporters, and now their trip is being subsidised, too.

And so the rounds of childish tit-for-tat continue. It is pathetic. Why didn’t Barcelona just play fair in the first place?

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