Sweet FA

Alex Ferguson and David O’Leary both have reason to rue their sides’ dismal cup performance

While I’m not an Anyone- But- United man, I really wanted Exeter to beat the club that, more than any other, has devalued the FA Cup as a competition in recent seasons. I can understand Fergie seeing it as a chance to rest his big guns, but by not giving the Conference side the respect they deserve he’s added another game to what’s already a very hectic month of fixtures for Man U.

Weakened team or not, the 14 Manchester United players who figured on Saturday had at least a couple of hundred international caps between them, and should have seen off a team that’s four divisions beneath them. Bearing in mind the thrashing the Arsenal youngsters gave a full-strength Everton in the League Cup, it shows just how threadbare the United squad is at the moment. Compare the likes of Djemba-Djemba, Bellion and Miller to the signings Wenger and Mourinho have made and you have to say that Sir Alex has lost the Midas touch he had in the transfer market.

It was a bad weekend too for David O’Leary who had plenty of excuses for Aston Villa losing to Sheffield United, but none that really stand up to scrutiny. I played with David for the Republic Of Ireland, and he’s the most insincere man I’ve ever met. He’s lucky that the Villa fans hate Doug Ellis so much or he’d be the one getting a barracking from the terraces at the moment. David O’Leary is incapable of holding his hands up and saying, “It’s my fault!” He always manages to shove the blame onto somebody else, like when he brought Brian Kidd in to help with the coaching and then, a couple of weeks later, said that things weren’t being done right on the training ground. In other words, don’t blame me, blame Brian Kidd even though he did an absolutely brilliant job in coaching Manchester United to some of the biggest successes they’ve ever had. He hasn’t had much money at Villa, true, but a side that’s got Sorensen, Solano, Hendrie, Angel and Carlton Cole in it shouldn’t be losing 3-0 at home to their archrivals Birmingham City. It was very telling for me that James Beattie took one look at the Villa Park set-up and said: “Thanks, but I think I’ll go to Everton!” He didn’t want to play for David O’Leary, which makes you wonder just who they are going to get during the transfer window.

As for Birmingham City, the problem they have at the moment with Robbie Savage is down to him having no time at all for Steve Bruce. Add in the fact that there’s no love lost between Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes, and it’s got a little bit personal.

The feeble excuse Savage came up with didn’t do him any favours, but now he’s gone, “Fuck you, I don’t want to play for you”, they’ve no choice but to let him go. While I can understand them proving a point by sticking him in the reserves, all it’s doing is souring the atmosphere at a club that needs to focus on keeping itself out of relegation difficulty. Good result in the Cup against Leeds or not, it’s the sort of bickering that unnerves other players and gets to the fans as well.

It’s been quiet enough so far on the transfer front. I said before Christmas that it wouldn’t surprise me if Chelsea came in with an audacious big money bid for Ruud Van Nistelrooy, but him being injured has put pay to that. The only possible reason for Mourinho getting the chequebook out again is if it was to prevent Manchester United or Arsenal getting their hands on Sean Wright-Phillips or Jermaine Defoe. While a £20 million bid would probably persuade both clubs to sell, the players are better off for the time being staying put, particularly if they want to cement their place in the England set-up. Sven’s made it clear he needs his youngsters to be playing week in, week out rather than coming on for half-an-hour every third or fourth game. Talented lad that he is, I can’t see Sean Wright-Phillips displacing Duff or Robben in a Chelsea side that stepped up yet another gear at Christmas. The only question for me now is, “How many points are they going to win the title by?” There’s no way they’re going to lose two or three games before the end of the season, and even if they do, the chasing pack will have their own slips-ups. No, the Premiership’s as good as theirs.


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