Jan 16, 2012

Ravel Morrison: Risk vs Reward

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” – The words of Winston Churchill, and also a rather succinct analogy for the quandary Newcastle fans find themselves in when deciding whether they want the club to pursue a bid for Manchester United midfielder Ravel Morrison.

You won’t have to conduct an extensive search to find glowing reports on how supremely talented Morrison is, even Brian Marwood (now DOF at Manchester City) discussed his admiration for the youngster, when talking to Henry Winter;

“I signed him at Nike at 15. I know the baggage there. United will work hard to get him back into line. A lot of other clubs give up on that side and indulge him because he’s a talented footballer.’’ (Via thebusbyway.com)

However as Marwood mentions, Morrison comes with a degree of baggage. Charged with two counts of intimidating a witness, to put it bluntly there’s a reason we stand a chance of getting him. Despite brushes with the constabulary and a reported poor attitude, Sir Alex Ferguson still wants to keep Morrison at the club. This week he intimated they had begun contract discussions with the 18 year old, but that his demands (at the present time) were unreasonable.

Of course this isn’t the first time Newcastle have looked to manage a difficult ‘character’. Nile Ranger was the south coast’s answer to Robin Hood while at Southampton. Having had similar introductions with the authorities in Newcastle, some fans have expressed a concern that Morrison’s situation seems all too similar to that of Ranger’s.

There is one notable difference however – Morrison is genuinely talented. Ranger for all his hustle and strength, lacks any real technical ability, and despite a proficiency in the reserves he’s unlikely to ever make it in England’s top tier. By contrast Morrison has been consistently earmarked as the pinnacle of his generation, to compare him to Ranger seems somewhat naive, given the glowing reports and the fact his name is fairly familiar to those with an interest in youth football. He is no overnight sensation.

It should also be remembered, that with any transfer it’s a calculated risk. Many thought that with Ranger, the chance to distance himself from potentially bad influences would settle him down, unfortunately the bright lights of the Bigg market seemed to only enhance the Tony Montana of Morpeth.

With balance an objectivity in mind I introduce an example of a rehabilitated character. Frenchman Hatem Ben Arfa was perceived as something of an ‘enfant terrible’ in France for his fiery temper. Even in his youth at the Clairefontaine Academy he was somewhat disruptive, almost coming to blows with a young Abou Diaby (which can be seen on Youtube). Initially taking him on loan, the video compilations of his undoubted talent were often accompanied with warnings of a poor temperament. The fact Marseille were willing to sell a 12m investment for half that fee typified this.

Yet as we quickly saw, being away from the spotlight of his homeland seemed to address certain issues with professionalism. With similar ties in Manchester, the chance to severe those may provide Morrison with a calming environment in which to flourish, especially given how grounded the majority of our current young players (Ferguson, Abeid, Vuckic etc) seem.

Thursday’s press conference saw a tight lipped response from Alan Pardew as he fielded questions about a reported £500,000 bid for Morrison. With confirmation coming from Sir Alex Ferguson of the first bid, it  now seems obvious that Pardew believes he can manage an unstable if not precocious talent

Given the recent quotes attributed to Davide Santon you can see why. The Italian struggled with a different kind of mentality issue when in Italy. The pressure of being dubbed ‘the new Paolo Maldini’ seemed to weigh  heavy on the youngster, with injuries hampering his chance of a consistent run of games, he moved to Cesena where he appeared as a left back.

With his confidence somewhat diminished, it seems Pardew has played an important role in building him back up. While not always tactically astute, it would be fair to say Pardew’s strength lies in his ability to motivate and man manage. Whether that ability stretches to someone in Morrison’s position remains unclear.

To digress down a slightly more cynical path, there is no guarantee that all of this conjecture and speculation is not a calculated move from the player and his advisors. Now in the final six months of his deal, interest from other suitors (both above and below us) may force Manchester United’s hand in the same way Wayne Rooney did last season.

Press speculation has suggested that we will return with a further bid. There is no indication as to whether this bid will be accepted, but it raises further debate into how far the club should stretch. If Morrison was to achieve his potential, the windfall for the club could be huge given some of the fees bandied around for English midfielders.

As it stands Manchester United would receive around £300,000 from a tribunal were we to poach the player in the summer. Given the tight financial constraints of our January budget, how much we afford to his capture is a difficult question to answer. £2m? £3m? I’d personally struggle to justify parting with more than the former. After all we are far from bereft of young midfield talent. Haris Vuckic & Mehdi Abeid are both good prospects with neither even looking like being an ounce of trouble away from the pitch.

As December highlighted a centre back and a striker are our real requirements, meaning the purchase of Morrison is far from essential, quite the opposite in fact. Should a loan option arise with a future fee agreed, that may suit us far better. One thing does remain clear, Newcastle in the transfer window remains wholly unpredictable.

Jan 14, 2012

Gabriel Obertan: discuss

The game was somehow still balanced at 0-0.  The opposition of the day, Arsenal, had dominated possession and had Newcastle pinned up against their goal for the entirety of the first half.  

With both front men seriously short of match fitness Newcastle lacked any attacking presence or ability to break away – it was surely only a matter of time before the home side cracked under the visitors’ increasing pressure.  At 46 minutes Gabriel Obertan was summoned from the bench and replaced Ba to play behind the remaining striker, Shola Ameobi. All of a sudden NUFC had an outlet, a lighting quick release to the pressure – a whole new dimension.

His purchase only four days earlier had sparked much debate – his reputed potential as a former student of the world famous Clairefontaine academy in France was without question, but a largely unconvincing and uninvolved spell in his previous employment at Manchester United echoed the hallmarks of the archetypical prodigal footballer who simply failed to ‘make it’.

His introduction into the Arsenal game went some way to buoy the mood of those unconvinced and underwhelmed – after a season of predominantly slow moving, set piece based football NUFC now appeared to have blistering pace on the ground to form the kind of white-knuckle counter attacks that had not been seen since the Sir Bobby Robson days.

It’s fair to say it hasn’t been all so positive since.

The exit of Joey Barton along with Ryan Taylor carving out a covering role at left back meant that Obertan was now not only NUFC’s first choice at right midfield, the role was almost exclusively his.  This was the perfect scenario for Gabriel – in two seasons at Manchester United he had been afforded a grand total of 446 minutes first team playing time (less than five games worth), but now he was a fixture in the team without the pressure of rejection upon a patchy performance.

Thrust into the mix without the reassurance of consistency to call upon, his form since has been understandably patchy, although he has managed to show flashes of the kind of attacking prowess that attracted NUFC to him in the first place in an assist wielding performance at Stoke followed by an identical contribution in the boxing day win over Bolton.

However, with Jonas Guiterrez preoccupied covering the vulnerable left back position Newcastle have looked increasingly to Obertan’s right flank to create the much needed width for their predominant 442 formation.  When out of form it showed patently and the frustrations of some came quickly to the surface – a notable low being sarcastically applauded off the field after a fruitless performance against Wigan.  It was his ninth game.

His early season air of optimism has disappeared without trace.

Gabriel, going forward…

“Obertan broke through to the Bordeaux side in ‘06.  He was only used as a sub – but there were signs of definite talent. His ability on the ball and dangerous slalom runs were very eye catching.  

The second season failed to see him progress as everyone had hoped and a loan move to Lorient didn’t seem to benefit either party. The ability he first showed gave reason to be excited, it just never developed”.  Andrew Gibney – French Football weekly.

First and foremost Gabriel needs to continue playing if we are stand a chance of him reaching his potential.  Despite this now being his sixth year in professional football, he has managed just 39 starts in all competitions, at all clubs – 16 of those have been at NUFC.  Furthermore, this is the first time those starts have been in consecutive sequence of any reasonable length of time.  Lack of reasonable competitive playing time will seriously hinder any player’s development.

“Our fans need to be patient with him as I and the staff need to be at times because we know what he can do”. Alan Pardew – December ’11.

And surely there is talent there to develop.  Although his flashes of attacking threat have been short lived, he has crucially shown it enough to know he is capable of it – to state his plus points to be merely a fluke would be very disingenuous.  Continuous playing time will undoubtedly provide the best opportunity for this to surface, as will savvy coaching.  But Gabriel himself is not devoid of responsibility and must show an equal desire to develop and succeed.

But are NUFC missing a trick?

“Because he is so quick the crowd think he can just beat the full-back by racing him on the outside all the time but he can’t do that, he’d be too one-dimensional”. Alan Pardew – December ’11.

Whilst appreciating the sentiment of wanting to produce a more rounded player, is it perhaps not in both NUFC’s and Obertan’s best interests that he develops (and also improves his confidence) by concentrating on his ability to create from his wide position by using his near untouchable pace as a huge advantage?  After all, a standard 442 layout will predominantly look for the right sided midfielder to primarily provide an attacking outlet and to create goal scoring chances.

Indeed, are we missing the point entirely and not playing Obertan in the most effective position for his obvious pace and dribbling ability?  Gabriel has, on a number of occasions shown the ‘slalom dribble’, coming in from the right but usually being pressed out when shown onto his left foot.  Instead, imagine him playing on the left side of a 433, even 442, using his pace and cutting inside onto his favoured right with the space opened up from his burst of acceleration… This of course does not mean his instant transformation into Cristiano Ronaldo, but perhaps worth a try at in a low risk fixture.

For now…

“Of course I have a point to prove, If I had stayed with Manchester United, I think I would have made it, but I don’t know how long it would have taken.

I didn’t want to spend another two years learning and fighting for just a few minutes on the pitch here and there…but I needed to play and here at Newcastle it’s a great opportunity”. Gabriel Obertan – August ’11.

In the short term, seeing a literal manifestation on the field of the positive attitude he showed in his press conference upon singing (above) would do Gabriel the world of good.  Although not one for lack of work-rate, his lack of aggression when attacking – even when the situation is tailor made for him – certainly limits his output and lets the opposition full-back grow in confidence when he could easily be a ball of nerves.

Also, for the first time this season his place appears under a very real threat, with both Ryan Taylor and Hatem Ben Arfa excelling in their very short appearances at right midfield – whether Gabriel can up his game quickly to force the competition away, or whether Alan Pardew with continue to consider Obertan as his first choice regardless remains to be seen.

The undoubted physical attributes are there – the technical attributes and mental attributes can be learned.  But only through patience, practice and positivity…


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Jan 13, 2012

Pardew plays the patient and psychological game with Ben Arfa

Stood in front of the Milburn stand with his number 10 held aloft, Hatem Ben Arfa prepared to enter the field of play as a second half substitute against Blackburn; his first Premier League appearance since suffering a double leg break almost a year previous at Manchester City.

His adoring fans rose to their feet to herald the long awaited return of their Gallic favourite; in excitement and in recognition of his undoubted ability and courage to battle back from a potential career threatening injury.

Yet, it’s fair to say that Ben Arfa’s first team progress since has stuttered. Not a slur on the player, but more that his manager, Alan Pardew, appeared to be adopting a safety-first approach regarding his star player’s return from a lengthy injury lay-off. Or so it appeared..

As the saying goes, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and for some Newcastle fans, the longer Ben Arfa remained on the sidelines, when fit for selection, the more they called for his inclusion.

The chants began most audibly during December’s 0-0 draw against Swansea. ‘Hatem-Ben-Arfa’ sang sections of the St James’ Park crowd, but Pardew was unrelenting, he ‘didn’t think the situation was right, and so Newcastle’s number 10 sat the remainder of the game out on the bench.

Ben Arfa vs BoltonJust over a week later and Newcastle traveled to the Reebok Stadium to face Bolton on Boxing Day. With the score at 0-0, and Newcastle appearing devoid of ideas, the Ben Arfa chants began to ring out from the traveling support again just after half time. This time, unlike against Swansea, the Newcastle fans got their wish. Ben Arfa came on, turned the game in Newcastle’s favour and scored in a 2-0 victory for the Magpies.

Surely now he would merit a starting place? Not so, as he was again named on the bench against Liverpool in the following fixture with youngster Haris Vuckic named in Ben Arfa’s designated ‘number 10′ role.

Speculation began to mount that Pardew had fallen out with the enigmatic Frenchman, something which the Newcastle manager was keen to play down, whilst also giving a typically honest assessment of the situation: “I know there have been suggestions, rumours, that he isn’t happy here, but it’s just not true. He’s fine, I think he knows he’s not at his best yet and the stats in the game he has played, I would expect better from him because of what a good player he is. He just needs to come up a level.

Looking for answers, attention turned to Pardew’s tactics, none more so than the often hyperbolic #nufc clan on Twitter, and his apparent inability to find a place for Ben Arfa in his rigid 4-4-2 formation. ‘Why is Best/Shola playing ahead of Ben Arfa?’, How come Obertan is still getting his game?’, ‘James F*&kin Perch!!’, and so on..

All warranted subjects of discussion, perhaps, yet for all the focus on selection and tactics (yes, there was plenty of that from this domain..) little recognition was paid to Pardew’s man-management skills and ability to ‘get inside a player’s head’, as a factor for his non-selection of Ben Arfa.

After all, this was a player who, in going on strike to force his move to Newcastle, had shown himself to be something of an anti disciplinarian. And given that the football world, excluding Alan Shearer, had been keen to talk up his undoubted potential from an early age, it would not be incomprehensible should Ben Arfa have developed an ego that would make Nicklas Bendtner blush.

Pardew was within his rights as manager of Newcastle United football club to have some reservations over Ben Arfa’s character and ability to fit into Newcastle’s fairly new-found team ethos, togetherness and spirit. Not to ‘rock the apple cart’ if you will, which perhaps explains Ben Arfa’s so far sparse appearances.

Not only that, by keeping Ben Arfa out of the side, Pardew has shown that he will not be dictated by name and reputation and Ben Arfa, accustomed to being a guaranteed starter, has had to humbly bide his time on the bench. And, to be fair to him, he has quietly accepted that as the way of things at the club who stuck by and supported him during his recovery from injury; to play in this Newcastle side, he must play for this Newcastle side.

25 minutes here, half an hour there, will have no doubt whet Ben Arfa’s appetite and built up a hunger that may not have been as prevalent had he went straight back into the first team when fit.

FA Cup 3rd round vs Blackburn and that goal

Ben Arfa scores vs BlackburnAgainst the same side that he made his Premier League comeback, Ben Arfa was handed a start in the FA cup third round against Blackburn last weekend. Months of frustration and patience on the sidelines, coupled with a determination to impress, culminated in one of the greatest goals in recent memory as Ben Arfa danced through 5 or 6 Blackburn players, in a Messi-esque fashion, before eventually smashing the ball home from close range – a sensational way to mark his arrival.

In the week since, Pardew has been forthcoming in his praise for Ben Arfa and that goal:

It is technically the greatest goal I have ever seen, you can smash them in from 40 yards but to score a goal like that you have to be a special talent and it was an unbelievable goal and I am really pleased for Hatem.

Hatem has to understand it is about the team and where we think he is best, but his talent was there for everyone to see today. He is doing everything in his power to make himself a success here and that is great for us”.

But these quotes aren’t merely sound bites, as is often the case nowadays in an over-saturated world of 24/7 football coverage and managers keen to grab more air time than Kerry Katona – looking at you ‘Arry. No, when Pardew speaks, he is always cerebral, open and honest. He is media-savvy, maintains a strong relationship with his players, and his praise for Ben Arfa is not only merited but intended to show his player that he has his backing; to show encouragement while at the same time giving no illusions about the level of performance expected.

Losing Demba Ba to the African Cup of Nations is a blow, but in his place Newcastle now have a fit, firing and full of confidence Frenchman ready to fill the role of Newcastle’s primary goal threat. It would be disingenuous to label this as a coincidence. Pardew has kept Ben Arfa on a leash (not literally, Jamie), like an angry pit bull terrier that’s raring to be let off, as was seen against Blackburn last weekend.

While the debate will rumble on about what Ben Arfa’s best position is – is he better as a number 10 or a winger? – his understanding of his role and what it takes to be a ‘current Newcastle player’ couldn’t be clearer, and for that the credit must lie at Pardew’s door.

While it may have appeared that Pardew has, at times, cut his nose off to spite his face in his none selection of Ben Arfa, I trust his judgement, as I do his management of the much maligned Gabriel Obertan. He has shown himself to be an excellent man manager with his players rarely, if ever, complaining in public, and he knows what makes his players tick.

He has played the patient and psychological game with Ben Arfa, keeping him hungry for a taste of the action, and Newcastle fans should now start to reap the benefits of this approach in the Premier League, starting with this Sunday’s home fixture against Q.P.R.


Finally, a small public service announcement…

Regular eagle-eyed readers of the site and our Twitter followers may have noticed that the Man United report and QPR preview weren’t uploaded to the site. We have made the decision to take a break from match previews and reports as they were becoming more of a chore, almost like homework, which was never the intention when we started the site in 2010. Naturally, we appreciate all the comments and feedback that we’ve had but for it to be enjoyable again, we’ve agreed to write on a more ad-hoc basis and when it feels appropriate, rather than when fixtures dictate. Although we still plan to write regularly; you aren’t getting away from our spiel that easily…Cheers, RD and Smith.

Jan 3, 2012

Newcastle vs Man Utd: Tactical Preview

04.01.2012 – Wednesday 7:45pm

Location:  St James’

Early prospects: Difficult

Newcastle return to St James’ for their first game of 2012, facing the daunting prospect of looking for a win against an opposition we have not beaten for over 10 years – Manchester United.

The beating at Anfield was nothing out of the ordinary given our past there, but it did leave a notable bitter taste in the mouth knowing that we can and have played far better than that recently – looking nervy and panicked for most of the 90minutes.  Going into this game we have to adopt a far better attitude towards the opposition, whilst remaining honest of our prospects against a significantly superior opposition.  Blackburn may have taken three points in their last outing at Old Trafford, but rode their luck substantially against an injury ridden Manchester United side that still amassed a whopping 27 shots and 17 corners.  A result should, of course, be far from expected but not impossible with a little luck and plenty professionalism.

Team Line-ups:

Note: Second guessing Alex Ferguson’s team selection is a thankless task – the veteran manager regularly rotating his team both in personnel and position to meet the demands of competing on all fronts.  This prediction is done with the best intentions, but also an honest acknowledgement that it is at the mercy of Ferguson’s unpredictable selection policy…

Gabriel Obertan was initially ruled out, but has since been declared fit to face his former club and should continue in the RM slot.  Ryan Taylor endured a torrid time against Liverpool after being obviously targeted, resulting in his substitution at half time – it’s expected Alan Pardew will revert back to the Italian with Manchester United’s pace threat from wide areas.  With this likely to be Demba Ba’s last league game before leaving for the ACN, it’s a strong possibility that Leon Best will return to partner him to get game time – although staying with the 4411 formation is equally likely.

Manchester Utd have had to endure an injury crisis of late – posting a very inexperienced bench for the match against Blackburn along with Michael Carrick in central defence.  Since however, Wayne Rooney has been declared fit for this tie and Sir Alex Ferguson also hoped to have Twitter’s Rio Ferdinand available to bolster his defence.  Michael Owen misses the opportunity for another hero’s welcome at St James’ – shame…

Opposition strengths and notable dangers:
Strengths amongst many…

•    Ball retention and pressing:  Like a number of occasions recently NUFC could have a problem dealing with MUFC’s ball retention – their average 84% pass completion rate and 55% possession being one of the strongest in the league.  Newcastle’s fairly frayed 78% pass completion rate against Liverpool give the home side on the day a march and allowed them to control much of the game – mainly down to the pressing of Liverpool’s midfielders.  The Red Devils adopt a very similar strategy throughout, but do far better at retaining possession when they regain it.

•    Wide play:  A very similar problem as was posed in the Liverpool fixture, the wide play of Man Utd is used as a primary method of attack and supplying the front line.  Their average of 26 crosses per game is 3rd most of all PL clubs and even without the explosive Ashley Young (ruled out through injury) MUFC have skilful and pacey talent available on the flanks.  A particular undoing against Liverpool was our inability to deal with their wide play, being unable to break free of the pressure they built from the flanks – this will again be a primary source of concern.

A final point of note is the unquantifiable problem of the wounded animal that is Manchester United after losing.  Blackburn gave the red half of Manchester a bloody nose with their win at Old Trafford on New Year’s day and they will be particularly determined to lose not ground on neighbours City in the title race after their unlikely slip-up.

Tactical suggestions:

•    More crosses:  Very important when playing a 4411 system, absolutely imperative when playing a 442 – the forward line cannot function effectively unless they have delivery from the wide areas, as well as an attacking threat of their own to give the opposition defence something more to worry about.  NUFC have been notably lacking this in some recent fixtures (only seven crosses were attempted vs Liverpool – only two of those by wingers) and resort to chipping / punting speculative balls straight to the forward line.  This needs correcting as a priority.

•    Pass the ball properly…:  NUFC have bettered a pass completion rate of 78% only once in our last five fixtures – sloppy possession notably creating irreversible periods of pressure against Liverpool.  MUFC are guaranteed to come looking for the ball and to press us consistently – we have to not panic and look for the right pass, as well as work harder to create space and passing opportunities to ensure we do not resort to speculative hits.

Naturally, we should look again to be organised, disciplined and work hard when not in possession – the fear of being rolled over by a team who has won 5-0 in two of their last three PL fixtures should resonate highly.

Final thought and gut feeling:
In theory, it’s a better time to play Man Utd with notable injuries and our home advantage – but they still look a strong outfit and with Dimitar Berbatov in scoring form they are a danger to anyone.  In our current form (particularly defensively) I think a draw would be an excellent result, but can’t see anything more than that.


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Halmstads: ’96

The Halmstads ticket office...

We’d already been to Wembley, where we’d been outplayed by Manchester United and soaked through as we made our way back to the pubs. 

Some of us had travelled on to Anderlecht’s Constant Vanden Stock Stadium two days later, hidden ourselves among Sunderland fans to see Les Ferdinand’s headed winner at a decrepit Roker Park, and seen Newcastle start their UEFA Cup campaign with a 4-0 home victory over Swedish part-timers Halmstads BK.  And now, as a squad containing Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Peter Beardsley, David Ginola and Philippe Albert made their way to the west coast of Scandinavia, a hundred odd of us had just landed at Copenhagen Airport on a late September morning in 1996

We switched to a coach, hung our flags up in the back window and drove north through the capital towards the Helsingor ferry and Sweden, our third country of the day. I sat with a group from Shildon, County Durham who I’d met on the way to Carrow Road the previous season. “Aye, so I took a ball to Seaton sands,” said one, necking the last of an Elephant Beer, “and I chucked it to one of the seals.” “What happened?”  “Nowt, it just bounced away. I thought they’d be able to do tricks and that. I’ve seen them on the telly.” “You’ve never met Aldy, have you?” someone whispered. “It’s best not to ask.”

The beer ran out soon after Helsingborg and by the time we checked in to the Hotel Tylosand we were all straight on the hunt for more. The Blackpool of Sweden was how someone had described Halmstads, but it looked more like Bamburgh as we dumped our bags in the lobby and looked out at the beach: clean, windswept and completely unexciting.  Ordering a pint in the hotel bar taught us two immediate lessons: that alcohol in Sweden was even more expensive than Denmark and that we were staying in a building owned by the two members of Roxette, guitars and platinum discs laid out around the walls. “What country’s that?” asked Aldy, pointing through the window at a bit of land as wide as a football pitch, the height of a corner flag out of the sea and empty but for a couple of wooden cottages, a flag pole and a lighthouse painted in red. “Country? It’s just a rock, man,” answered an incredulous voice. “It’s about the same size as Jersey, isn’t it?” “Bergerac must have had an easy job, then.”

Dressed for success (sorry), a bendy bus took us to the Örjans Vall stadium and a bar that had apparently been smashed up by supporters of Djurgårdens a few weeks before.  We headed to the ground to collect our tickets, were pointed down the side of a river and ended up cutting across a field towards a small white caravan. “I want the ticket office not a hot dog,” someone muttered before we saw the open flap and a handwritten sign with ‘Tickets’ written on in marker pen.  It was in keeping with the rest of the facilities at the Örjans Vall, which had been built in the early 1920s and used for two of the games in the 1958 World Cup. As we took up our places in the uncovered stand behind the goal, we could see people playing tennis twenty metres from the pitch. This wasn’t exactly Cold Blow Lane.

A crowd of 7,500 people had come to see if Halmstads – who’d beaten Faustino Asprilla’s Parma side 3-0 at home a year earlier – could pull off a miracle. The home side lined up with a young Freddie Ljungberg; Newcastle had Shearer, Ferdinand and Asprilla in attack, and a makeshift back three of Albert, Darren Peacock and Warren Barton. There were always likely to be goals.

The first came  two minutes before the Hungarian referee whistled for half time, Ferdinand controlling a Keith Gillespie pass, spinning his marker and smashing a volley on the turn past Hakan Svensson in the Halmstads goal. For the few hundred travelling fans that would be as good as it got, the team attempting to coast through the second half before falling to two sucker punches in six minutes in the final quarter of the game. First Torbjorn Arvidsson bundled in after Pavel Srnicek parried a Robert Andersson shot, and then Magnus Svensson materialised from midfield to strike home the winner off the underside of the bar.  Keegan was visibly furious, his mood not helped by the Swedish TV crew who unwisely asked “Tell us, Kevin – did you let Halmstads win tonight?”  “If we think we’re the sort of side who can go out, stroll about and win games then we’re kidding ourselves,” he said in his post-match press conference.  Aldy was just as puzzled the following day. “Is this fruit ok to eat, do you reckon?” he asked, staring at the breakfast buffet. “It’s not poisoned, if that’s what you mean,” someone answered. “Nah, man,” he said, shaking his head at the stupidity of the reply, “but it might be that plastic stuff, just for display.”

Which is probably how Manchester United felt three and a bit weeks later.

If you want to see a few more nostalgic photos from the European trips of the mid 90′s, take a look at this page.


Author: Michael Hudson

Website: The Accidental Groundhopper

Dolphin HotelBio: The day I finally accepted I was never going to be even half as talented on the football pitch as Archie Gourlay I decided to do the next best thing and follow Newcastle United wherever they played. After moving abroad, I’ve since followed wildly unsuccessful football teams around South Korea, Japan, Italy, Latvia, Czech Republic and Ukraine. Still to see any of them win a trophy. Beginning to think it might be me.

You can also find Michael and his vast knowledge of football on twitter: @DolphinHotel

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