Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “The manager is distraught — he is not in a fit state to talk about the decision. We were in control but the game totally changed. It was a crazy decision that ruined the spectacle of a great European night. I’ve left behind a distraught manager and a distraught dressing room. He is annoyed and knows if he stands in front of a camera now he won’t be doing it for many weeks to come. He knows I’m probably more diplomatic than he can be.” – Mike Phelan.
Runner-up: “The best team lost. We didn’t deserve to win. Football is like this but I won’t talk about the [Nani] decision. My feeling is that Manchester United were playing very well, were very compact and aggressive in a good way. I doubt that 11 v 11 we win the match. Today I am frustrated as we played so well against Barcelona and today, I was waiting for more. I know Manchester United are giants, not just physically but mentally. I know they have a manager who can motivate then, but I was waiting for us to play in a different way.” – Jose Mourinho.
What Now For Dropped Rooney?
Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming puts Wayne Rooney firmly in the shade (Barney Ronay, Guardian) Rooney’s omission was neither unprecedented – after all, he missed out against Internazionale at the same stage in 2009 – nor an affront to his recent form. Beyond this it provides confirmation of his plateauing out as a player: left out – never mind the sinuses, this was Real Madrid – of United’s biggest European match since the final of 2011.
Rooney’s United future looks bleak after Ronaldo proves his class (Steven Howard, Sun) The fall-out from Manchester United’s defeat last night will, no doubt, centre on Wayne Rooney and his very future at the club. Alex Ferguson decided to leave his most celebrated player on the bench until the 73rd minute. It was a tactic reminiscent of the evening when United last played Real at Old Trafford in 2003 with David Beckham axed from the side. It was a decision that would eventually lead to Beckham quitting the club a few months later. The consequences of omitting Rooney will reverberate round Old Trafford in the days to come with more speculation about a possible move to Paris Saint-Germain or — whisper it softly — a short trip across Manchester to the Etihad.
He’s off! Fergie handed out biggest red card of the night.. to Wayne Rooney (Ollie Holt, Mirror) David Beckham was left out of another game against Real Madrid here in 2003 and sold at the end of the season. Ruud Van Nistelrooy was left out of the Carling Cup Final in 2006 and was sold at the end of that season. Yes, such conclusions are hasty. They may well prove to be premature. But let’s make one thing clear: Ferguson got his selection absolutely right on the night. United played superbly. Danny Welbeck stood out. Nani, Rooney’s replacement, created United’s goal. If Nani had not been sent off, United probably would have won. Ferguson’s tactics were irreproachable. Ferguson himself played down the decision to leave out Rooney and suggested he was lacking match sharpness. But there have been rumours for some time that the United boss has been falling out of love with Rooney.
Writing on the wall for Wayne Rooney (Jeremy Cross, Star) Life at Manchester United has come full circle for Wayne Rooney as his Old Trafford future looks in danger of spinning out of control… Aren’t these the games Rooney is supposed to win for his team? Aren’t these the games when Fergie needs his most influential players out on the pitch?
For the omitted Wayne Rooney, the writing is on the wall (Ian Herbert, Independent) His contract enters its final two years this summer. There can surely not be five more years of £250,000-a-week for a player not to start on the biggest stage. The fear that Manchester City would lavish £40m on Rooney was such a fear here back in 2010 that fans in balaclavas beat a path to his door – one wielding a banner stating “sign for City and you’re dead”. That City are no longer that kind of threat has nothing to do with them having less to spend. He is just no longer a £40m player. The Nani controversy can obscure it for only so long. The writing is on the wall.
Man United 1 – Real Madrid 2
Ronaldo returns to crush Fergie’s Euro dream (Martin Samuel, Mail) The bottom line is this: just because your fancy-dan winger gets sent off, whether rightly or not, it does not mean you have to concede two goals in the next 12 minutes and lose the tie. Manchester United were not forced to play without a central defender or goalkeeper. Nani has never been considered so vital to any defensive effort that his absence should have sent his team into a loop.
José Mourinho’s quick reactions pay handsome dividend for Real Madrid (Michael Cox, Guardian) Credit must go to Mourinho – he always reacts quickly. After the red card he immediately summoned Luka Modric, removing the right-back, Alvaro Arbeloa. Khedira went to right-back, and Modric was the perfect man to capitalise upon the space Khedira had enjoyed in midfield, prompting good passing sequences and firing in the equaliser. From then, a quartet of Alonso, Modric, Mesut Ozil and Kaká simply played around United’s fatigued midfielders until Ronaldo added a second. United’s only regret can be that the initial tactical battle was not allowed to continue naturally – Ferguson’s surprise starting strategy had seemed another stroke of genius.
Manchester United’s huge resource of spirit undone by referee’s terrible assault on game’s natural order (James Lawton, Independent) Even Jose Mourinho admitted the best team lost… Ferguson had come up with a plan – and a team – and plainly both deserved better. At the very least, they demanded an even test of a quite remarkable spirit. That was almost casually taken away. The night of glory was, irretrievably, lost to a rage that will surely take some time to pass.
United still a force! Fergie’s men can live with Europe’s best, even during their peculiar season (Ian Ladyman, Mail) Jose Mourinho summed things up pretty well. The best team, said the Real Madrid coach, had lost and he was right. Over the course of a dramatic two-legged Champions League tie, Manchester United showed themselves to be much better than many of us thought.
Cristiano Ronaldo comes back to destroy dreams of Old Trafford (Paul Hayward, Telegraph) Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford four years after he left for Spain was straight from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. You create a monster and then he comes back to destroy you.
Nani’s Red Card: The Debate
Manchester United red with rage after referee wrecks Champions League dream with Nani red card against Real (Henry Winter, Telegraph) When Manchester United’s devastated players finally emerged from the dressing room, they would not, probably could not talk. The club had advised them to stay silent over Cuneyt Cakir’s unspeakable decision to send off Nani. Their inner fury, the anger in the eyes said it all.
Nani’s dismissal might have looked harsh, but United were lucky Rafael didn’t see red too (Graham Poll, Mail) The Portuguese winger challenged for the ball with a raised foot and only had eyes for the ball but caught Alvaro Arbeloa. It looked like dangerous play and at worst a yellow card… Cakir was having a superb game. He was almost faultless in the first half and despite the debate of the Nani red card he continued refereeing consistently through the game and would, I expect, be congratulated by UEFA on his performance.
United fury as Nani dismissal sets up Champions League exit (Martin Lipton, Mirror) Yes, Nani’s foot was high as he challenged Alvaro Arbeloa after Patrice Evra hoofed up towards half-way. Yes, too, contact was made under the former Liverpool defender’s heart. But both players only had their eyes on the ball. There was no malice, no intent, indeed no sign of any repercussions as both men lay on the floor to receive treatment.
Alex Ferguson left bemused as treble dream is destroyed by ref justice (Sam Wallace, Independent) His decision to send off Nani just before the hour was one of those moments when a referee, faced with a difficult call, panics and turns it into a disaster. It was arguably, under the guidelines given to referees, a booking for “reckless” play but the collision between Nani’s raised foot and Alvaro Arbeloa did not merit the red card that Cuneyt brandished from his breast pocket.
Welbeck showed electric pace and intelligence… he didn’t deserve to lose (Martin Keown, Mail) On Wednesday night, he was asked to support Robin van Persie and help mark Xabi Alonso and he did both admirably. His movement off the ball was excellent, his pace was electric and his link-up play with Van Persie was intelligent.
Wonderful Welbeck is a thoroughbred (Jamie Redknapp, Mail) Danny Welbeck was electrifying, like a racehorse, when United had 11 on the pitch. Those long, leggy strides, with power. While Robin van Persie was struggling, Welbeck looked at home in this game. I’ve always liked him, but challenge him to score more goals.
Just like Fergie, Mancini deserves time to learn subtleties of life in Champions League (Neil Ashton, Mail) City, in a phrase popularised by Ferguson, are taking baby steps in a competition that can dish out some painful lessons. Mancini will be scarred by some of City’s performances in the Champions League, but winning the FA Cup in 2011 and the Barclays Premier League a year later underlines the progress being made at the Etihad.
Arsenal plan £8m summer move for Swansea captain Ashley Williams (Guardian) Arsène Wenger wants to sign Ashley Williams from Swansea City at the end of the season, having lost faith in his central-defensive partnership of Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker.
Arsenal join Liverpool in race for Swansea captain Williams after defender’s outstanding form (Mail) Williams would cost around £8m if Arsene Wenger wanted to prise him away from the Liberty Stadium… Arsenal are also keen on Real Madrid defender Raul Albiol, 27.
Liverpool take goal-a-game non-League striker Carr on trial (Mail) Liverpool are set to invite non-League sensation Daniel Carr for a week-long trial. The 18-year-old, who plays for south London side Dulwich Hamlet, has scored 23 goals in 23 games for his club this season.
Andy scrap (Sun) West Ham are set to send Andy Carroll back to Liverpool at the end of the season… Boss Sam Allardyce will turn his attention to Southampton striker Rickie Lambert, who would cost around £6m.
Did Chelsea’s chief executive Ron Gourlay reveal contract talks are ‘ongoing’ with Frank Lampard? (Independent) Chelsea’s chief executive was quoted today as saying talks with the 34-year-old are “ongoing”, raising the possibility he will remain at Stamford Bridge beyond the current campaign.
In The England Squad
A Way in for Routledge (Sun) Wayne Routledge is being considered for a shock England call-up. The Swansea wide man is being watched by Three Lions coach Ray Lewington after a string of impressive displays.
Dawson back in England picture after succession of solid displays from Spurs skipper (Mail) Tottenham skipper Michael Dawson is back on the England radar almost two years after his last cap… Hodgson names his squad for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro next week, and with Phil Jagielka and Phil Jones doubts for the double-header, the England boss is analysing his defensive options.