Tag Archives: qpr

Ninety Minutes From The Sack

Last week, Manchester United unveiled a statue of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Bronze-Fergie’s hands are di matteofolded across bronze-Fergie’s chest, and while bronze-Fergie seems to be missing flesh-Fergie’s legendary watch, the sculptor looks to have done a pretty accurate job. Ferguson has coached United for more than 25 years. In that time, ten Liverpool managers have come and gone. Among the top English clubs (sorry, Everton), only Arsenal has a coach whose longevity rivals Sir Alex’s, and even he trails Fergie by a decade.

Ferguson is the last survivor of a dying era. Last month, Mark Hughes of Queens Park Rangers and Roberto Di Matteo of Chelsea were both fired after less than a year at their respective clubs. Hughes’ sacking came after a disappointing start to QPR’s season, but Chelsea won the Champions League earlier this year, and, at the time of Di Matteo’s dismissal, was only four points off the top of the Premier League. The team was also playing attractive football, which, for Chelsea – a club whose blunt, bullying, borderline-racist players[1] have been intimidating the West Broms of this world for about seven years – is not so much highly unusual as highly suspicious.

At least 90 percent of Di Matteo’s downfall had more to do with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and his bizarre, illogical management than it did with Di Matteo himself. Abramovich is an entertainingly shady Russian billionaire whose penchant for firing managers who probably don’t deserve to be fired has turned him into a bit of a cartoon enemy. There are probably lots of kind, humble Chelsea supporters who are deeply ashamed of their inability to hate Abramovich, and who spend at least a couple of minutes each day pondering this moral failure[2]. Without Ambramovich, Chelsea wouldn’t fire managers on a regular basis: his bizarre egomania forces the sackings, and his billions fund the big severance checks that departing managers take with them as a sort of consolation prize[3]. But remove Ambramovich from the equation, and Chelsea is a mid-table team. The Stamford Bridge faithful is obligated to love him.

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Fallen Star: The Decline of Federico Macheda

Federico Macheda took just 25 minutes to become a legend. His goal against Aston Villa in April 2009 was the cathartic explosion that propelled Manchester United to their 18th league title, equaling Liverpool’s long-standing record and answering what now seems a very ill advised banner. This being Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, the goal came in stoppage time, completed a comeback and obscured what was otherwise a worryingly poor performance.

Conventional wisdom holds that Macheda’s strike – which, if you’re like me, you watch on YouTube about 25 times a day – confirmed that United’s youth system had life after Giggs and Scholes and that Ferguson wasn’t turning into a big-spending, modern football capitalist after all. Although this view is prominent on Manchester United forums, it is more than slightly dubious: Federico Macheda is not in fact a Manchester native. (Yeah, I know: I was fooled, too).

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Goodbye, Ji-Sung Park

Ji-Sung Park isn’t a gifted footballer, but not for want of trying. Manchester United’s first Korean player is also Manchester United’s most endearing try-hard, their most blatant commercial maneuver and their most bizarre success story. When Rafa Benitez bought Dirk Kuyt and then immediately shifted him to an unnatural wing position, he probably had Ji-Sung Park in mind, which – considering that United and Liverpool are about as friendly as Olof Mellberg at the full moon – says a lot, and not just about capitalism.

As you may have heard, the Ji-Sung Park Old Trafford fantasy, packaged and sold to millions of hopeful Seoul teenagers, is about to come screeching back to earth in a burst of super-charged dream-busting so powerful that it will probably blow the roof off Loftus Road, a quaint stadium in the middle of a quiet London neighborhood terrifically unsuited for this type of cosmic event. For legions of gullible Korean teenagers, Park’s transfer to QPR will probably be heartbreaking, maybe life-changing, and certainly soul-destroying. United scarves will burn tonight.

For a man whose right to play football for Manchester United has been questioned constantly by a cohort of cynical newspapermen convinced that he was bought more for his marketability than for his playing ability, seven years at arguably England’s most successful club, but indisputably England’s most successful club over those seven years, represents a fair old career. Compared to the career of United’s other notable “commercial” recruit, Chinese striker Dong Fangzhou, Park’s tenure looks even more impressive.

Park broke into the United first team through sheer persistence. So what if he couldn’t keep up with Nani’s juggling, or was blinded by Ronaldo’s stepovers? No one expected Park to be skillful. Occasionally, he’d score a great goal, and, as one, the entire Stretford End would gasp, gawk and stare suspiciously: He’s not supposed to do that, is he? Park was always so predictable in his mundane effectiveness that every time he did something extraordinary, fans’ initial excitement dissipated in confusion. Watching Park dribble past three players wasn’t just surprising, — it felt wrong, almost as if this particular professional footballer, the captain of his country and a Champions League winner, couldn’t copy his talented peers without breaking some law of footballing physics.

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