Thursday, 30 July 2015

George Best: The Boy from Belfast.


"It was a very simple team talk. All I used to say was 'Whenever possible, give the ball to George'" Sir Matt Busby.

In the final part of my tribute to the 'United Trinity', I have literally left the best till last, George Best. Over the years, thousands of words have filled hundreds of books, magazines and newspaper columns filling both the back and front pages with tales of his on and off field exploits some false but unfortunately the majority mostly true.

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1946 he arrived in Manchester at the age of 15 having been discovered by United scout Bob Bishop who informed manager Matt Busby that he had found a 'genius', but it nearly turned sour as after only a couple of days Best returned home to Belfast feeling homesick. He was eventually convinced to return to Manchester by Busby, the United coaches and his father.

In the 60's a youngster coming to a different city must have been formidable, especially for a teen with a strong Northern Irish accent and being the first time away from his family. However, Best was in safe hands at a club who were well used to looking after and developing young players.

Young George spent the next couple of years as an apprentice at Old Trafford and trained with players much larger than himself, but Busby informed all the coaches to let the slightly built youngster develop in his own way.

Over the next two years the Best had developed enough that Busby didn't want to wait any longer to unleash the boy wonder and in September 1963 Best was named as a reserve for the fixture against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford.

Famously, Best believed that he had only been chosen as an errand boy to carry the first team player's bags and to hand out the half-time tea, but at the pre-match luncheon Busby informed the shocked teenager that he would indeed be playing that day.

While other players in the dressing room were going through their pre-match rituals to ease their nerves Best was the epitome of calm as he sat browsing through the Matchday programme.

The lack of nerves was to become synonymous with George whether it was playing in front of packed grounds at home or abroad or coming up against brutes of defenders, he never showed any nerves and went about embarrassing full-backs up and down the country by twisting and turning his way around the pitch.

Best must have believed that he done enough to warrant a stay in the first team after the 1-0 victory over Albion but it wasn't to be and he had to wait another three months to earn a recall and he grabbed his chance with both hands, and feet, in a home 5-1 victory over Burnley in which he also scored the first of his 179 goals as a Red Devil. From that match, he never looked back and became a regular for almost the next decade.

That debut season he went on to make a total of 26 appearances, scoring 6 goals and there was something fresh about his play in which not only were the opposition mesmerised by his skills, but also the fans who had found a player they could rave about on the way to matches as well as on the way home. A new hero for a new era.

The next season, 1964/65, Best was instrumental in bringing the First Division title back to Old Trafford for the first time since 1957 as United pipped Leeds to the title on goal difference with Best contributing with 10 goals in 41 appearances, but more importantly it propelled United back into the European Cup competition and a chance for Best to display his talents abroad.

Best was enjoying his football playing alongside more experienced players, including Charlton, Foulkes, Law and Crerand not that he needed any help from his teammates as he would generally do his own stuff on the pitch as once he had the ball at his feet it was as if it didn't want to leave him.

George's first taste of European Cup football in the 1965/66 season came in the return leg against HJK Helsinki at home in the preliminary round. United easily won 6-0 with Best netting twice, but his status was catapulted into the stratosphere in the quarter-final 2nd leg against Benfica in Portugal.

United had won the first leg at home 3-2 and the return tie was in the balance that was until Best took the match by the scruff of the neck and turned in a performance of pure brilliance scoring twice in a 5-1 drubbing of the Portuguese champions.

The 19-year-old returned to Manchester on a different level and an instant hero. Having been dubbed the 5th Beatle by the media everybody wanted a piece of this new football genius. Many people have put this sudden rise in his status as the start of his off-field troubles as he seemed to appear more on the front pages than the back.

Unfortunately for both United and Best the season would finish on a downbeat note as it would end empty handed even though he had scored 17 times in 43 games. Best would also suffer a knee injury that kept him out of the crucial European Cup semi-final in which the reds lost out to Partizan Belgrade when they badly needed his goal scoring touch.

In the 1966/67 campaign success returned to United as they once again won the First Division with Best an ever present playing 45 games and contributing with 10 goals in all competitions. More importantly, it meant that United would once again have another chance of lifting the European cup.

The 1967/68 season would prove to be Best's most prolific in the red of United as he scored an incredible 32 goals in all competitions which included a massive 28 in the league, however it wasn't enough as local rivals Man City ran out champions by only 2 points.

The disappointment of not retaining the league would soon be tempered by the glory of being crowned the first English club to become European champions.

On the way to the final United had dispatched the mighty Real Madrid 4-3 on aggregate in the semi-final with George securing a 1-0 win at Old Trafford in the first leg. May 29th, 1968 at Wembley stadium Benfica were the team standing in the way of United winning the European Cup a decade after the tragedy of the Munich air disaster.

On an emotional night, Best and his teammates turned in a display that the previous Busby Babes would have been proud of as they beat the Portuguese 4-1 after extra time.

Of course Best scored on the night and the iconic image of him celebrating with his arm raised and socks rolled down will live forever in the memory of all true United fans.

Nobody would have guessed as the team danced along with Busby around the famous turf at Wembley that this would be the last silverware that Best and indeed United would win together. The future looked so bright, but it actually proved to be the pinnacle of success under the legendary manager.

That year George was also awarded the Ballon d'Or as had Law and Charlton earlier in the decade, the 'United Trinity'.

Following the dizzy height of that incredible night in 1968 Best would go on to make a total of 244 appearances, scoring exactly 100 more goals over the next six seasons.

His hair would grow longer, as would his beard, but his skills never waned, and of course, there were reports of his adventures every day in the press, but the fans didn't care as long as come match day his name was on the team sheet.

During those years Best started to spiral out of control off the field with reports of alcohol problems and missed training sessions.

It seemed that as hard as Matt Busby tried to take care of his star player the more outside influences were pulling him away from the safety of the club.

As United's fortunes dipped many speculated that things had to change at the club before it was too late and in 1969 Matt Busby passed on the managerial role to former player Wilf McGuinness.

In McGuinness' short lived time as manager Best did his utmost to turn the club's fortunes around by scoring 23 times, including a record 6 goals in an FA Cup tie against Northampton Town.

However, it all came to nothing and Busby returned as manager in 1970. By that time George was starting to misbehave on a regular basis and was fined by the club after missing a trip to London to take on Chelsea as he was busy elsewhere. Busby seemed to be totally fed up with Best's antics, but as hard as he tried he was powerless to keep him in check.

Frank O'Farrell was given the unenviable task of keeping Best on track in the 1971/72 season, but he was up to his old tricks by missing a whole week of training mid-season. Amid the problems he did score 26 goals in 53 games, it was turning into a conundrum for the club.

After Best again failed to turn up for club commitments, choosing instead to party in London, he was punished with suspension, a fine and transfer-listed.

After O'Farrell was replaced by Scot Tommy Docherty as the manager the situation between Best and United had gone beyond repair and George played his last game for the Reds in a loss to QPR at Loftus Road on New Years Day, 1974 having made 470 appearances and scoring 179 goals. That season United were relegated from the old First Division.

George, of course, played for the Northern Ireland national team representing his country 37 times, scoring only 9 goals, four of which came in one match.

It was a shame that he didn't have the chance to show off his talent on a World Cup stage as it would have made him, without question, the number one player in the history of the game, which is often given to Pele or Maradona.

It would be correct to say that Best fulfilled his early potential in football, however, due to circumstances far beyond anyone's control it didn't last. Upon leaving United in 1974 after 11 years at the top and at the prime age of 28, he became a roving player who plied his skill around the world including England, Scotland, Ireland, America, Australia and even Hong Kong. Wherever he played fans flocked to the stadiums as he still had the pulling power of a superstar.

After he retired from playing It seemed everybody wanted a piece of the United legend for his guaranteed popularity the controversy his fight with alcoholism would produce.

An example of this was the infamous live TV interview hosted by fellow Irishman Terry Wogan where the BBC disgustingly filled his dressing room with drinks and ended up being red-faced as the public sympathised with George's situation.

Towards the end of his life he worked as a football pundit on TV and fans enjoyed listening to his views and insights on his beloved Manchester United, however, he was visibly suffering with his addiction and in the end it got the better of him. He sadly passed away on November 25, 2005 aged only 59.

A minutes silence was adhered to around every ground in the Premier League and the United match at Old Trafford following his death was fittingly against WBA the team who George had made his debut against all those years ago as a skinny teenager.

What George Best gave the watching thousands each match will never be equaled, no matter how hard other players try. He was a one-off, a man blessed with the attributes that other players can only dream of.

If only there had been somebody to put their arm around his shoulder and not a hand in his pocket, maybe, just maybe he would still be with us now instead of succumbing to the dreadful disease that alcoholism brings.

It's a almost a decade since George left us, but one thing is for sure he will be forever remembered by all fans all over the world as simply the Best.

George Best a true footballing genius.

Miles Dunton.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Shot Stopper Sergio joins Man United.


Louis van Gaal has gone back to his managerial past by signing Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero on an initial three year deal.

The two worked together while van Gaal was the coach at AZ in Holland back in 2007 and the question will be whether he has joined United as backup for David De Gea or even a replacement for the Spaniard should he depart for Real Madrid as is expected.

Whatever the scenario, in Romero United have signed themselves a keeper who at the age of 28 has the all important club and international experience which will prove to be vital in the upcoming season with the return of European football to Old Trafford.

Romero is, however, best known for his international career than his club football, having been the No.1 choice for Argentina since Diego Maradona gave him his break back in 2009 and since then Romero has represented his country 62 times which includes two World Cups and two Copa Americas.

In the 2014 World Cup semi-final in Brazil, Romero was awarded man of the match after his heroics in goal derailed Louis van Gaal's dream of lifting the trophy as Argentina beat Holland on penalties. That match probably stuck in Louis van Gaal's mind when considering the purchase of Romero.

Sergio's less publicised club career started in 2006 where he spent a season at Racing Club in his home country before moving to Europe to join van Gaal at AZ in Holland where he stayed for four years making over 90 appearances.

He helped AZ win the Dutch Eredivisie title In 2008–09 and in that season, Romero kept a clean sheet for an incredible 950 minutes which extended from November through to February.

He remained at AZ for a further two years after van Gaal had departed, however in 2011 he joined Italian club Sampdoria. He started as first choice keeper at the start of his Sampdoria spell going on to make over 70 appearances, but towards the end of his time there he was loaned out to French outfit Monaco to provide cover for Subasic.

After a short time and lack of games, he only played 3 times, he returned to Italy as an understudy for regular keeper Viviano.

At 6'3" (1.92m) Romero is an imposing figure between the sticks and is equally as good in the air as he is at shot stopping. A confident keeper who needs club game time, so it will be interesting to see how he settles into life on the bench if De Gea stays at United and basically becomes a replacement for the departing Valdes.

On the other hand, if De Gea does decide to leave for warmer climates Romero will have a huge chance to show his worth as United's forefront keeper a challenge he better be ready for as the season is almost upon us.

Welcome and good luck Sergio.

Miles Dunton.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

From Saint To Red Devil: Morgan Schneiderlin.


A Dutchman, an Italian, a German and now a Frenchman have created their very own European Union by signing for Manchester United. Last season the signings had a South American flair to it, but this summer Louis van Gaal has brought in talent from a lot closer to home.

Morgan Schneiderlin's move to United continues the long line of French talent to have graced the Theatre of Dreams. The midfielder has joined United on a four-year deal with an initial fee of around £24m.

One benefit of his signing is that he has the valuable experience of English football from his seven years playing at Southampton which have included stints not only in the Premier League but also both the Championship and League 1, add to that he is 25 years old, therefore United have signed a player coming into the prime of his career.

Schneiderlin was born in 1989 in Zellwiller, France and began his route to Old Trafford at RC Strasbourg aged only seven years old and progressed through their youth system finally making his debut eleven years later in 2006. After being groomed so long by the club he would only make a handful of appearances before being sold as his team were relegated from Ligue 1 at the end of the 2007-08 season.

His next port of call was Southampton joining them in the summer of 2008 for a fee of £1.2m. At the time, Southampton were in The Championship of the Football League and struggling with finance and fighting relegation. The manager at that time was Jan Poortvliet and he built a young side until he departed in January of Morgan's first season.

Worse was to come for the Saints as they were deducted 10 points as the owning company went into administration which guaranteed relegation to League One. Even with all the vultures surrounding the club Schneiderlin stuck with them.

It took Southampton three years and four managers to climb back to the Premier League and Schneiderlin was a huge influence on that success and was awarded for his loyalty with a new three-year contract in 2011.

Once back in the Premier League the Frenchman started to blossom as a midfielder and started to make bigger clubs sit up and take notice of his quality, however, he decided to stay at St.Mary's by extending his contract to 2017.

Not known for his goalscoring exploits, in 230 appearances for Southampton he only managed 14 goals, Morgan did manage to score against his future employers in a 3-2 loss to United at the beginning of the 2012-13 season. He performed at such a high, consistent level that season he was honoured as the Saints player of the year by both his colleagues and fans alike.

The following campaign, he made a total of 37 appearances as Southampton finally started to compete well in the Premier League, but they still found it difficult to hold on to their young, talented players and the likes of Luke Shaw departed for a chance of glory at bigger clubs.

In April 2015, Morgan received an injury that would keep him out for the remainder of the season and mean that he had played his last game as a Saint. Many suitors came calling for his services, including Spurs and Liverpool but it was the Red Devils who got their man and as in his own words 'Once I learned that United was interested in signing me, it was a very easy decision to make.'

His signing was announced along with the quality signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the new midfield of United is starting to take on a formidable shape add to that existing reds Carrick, Mata, Herrera, Fellaini & Co. next season promises to be an exciting campaign.

United have captured a player with a high work rate and natural ability a player who relishes a battle in the middle of the park and is not afraid to get stuck into tackles and his skills should aid the other players around him. How van Gaal will juggle the talent he has at his disposal only he knows, but it will certainly offer United positive options to choose from.

On a cautionary note Schneiderlin does seem to have a bad habit of getting his name taken by referees for example, in the last four seasons, he has received a total of 32 yellow cards, but only 1 red, which means he will have to tread carefully at United.

On the international front, Morgan has represented France at all levels and made his debut for the full squad against Jamaica in 2014 and was taken to the World Cup finals after originally being on standby. He made only one appearance in the tournament in Brazil and has to date played nine times for the 'Les Bleus'.

On a side note, before he played for the full international side there were rumours that he could, in fact, represent England as he had earned a British citizenship but it wasn't to be.

Welcome to Manchester Morgan and the best of luck.

Miles Dunton.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Bastian Beefs Up United's Midfield.


Bastian Schweinsteiger will have the great honour of becoming the first German national to play for the Red Devils when he makes his Man United debut. A surprising fact in the modern era of football.

By the time the new season kicks off Bastian will be 31 years old and many people believe United have bought a player coming towards the end of his career, which is true, but when it's considered the ages of the likes of Scholes and Giggs when they were playing and the still active Carrick then his age shouldn't be in question.

What United have bought is a midfielder with great experience and at a fairly cheap £14m, a player who showed commitment to one club and an individual who has won championships galore, including a World Cup. Now that's exactly the type of player that United have needed.

Of course Louis van Gaal knows all about the German from his time as coach of Bayern Munich and that should ease the transition from the Bundesliga to the Premier League as the manager will know exactly where, when and how to use the midfielder to the best effect. His Champions League experience won't go amiss either.

Schweinsteiger had been at the Bavarian giants since a youth player, joining the club in 1998 and progressing through the ranks. Although known as a world class midfielder Bastian started his career as a left-back, but was quickly switched into the middle of the park.

He was given his first-team debut at the age of 18 in 2002 by Ottmar Hitzfeld. It was in the Champions League and he came on as a substitute against the French team Lens and from that moment he didn't look back.

Over the next 13 years, the formidable midfielder would go on to make almost 350 appearances for Bayern scoring 45 goals along the way. He has also played under some of the most respected coaches in Europe. The likes of Hitzfeld, Magath, van Gaal, Heynckes and Guardiola.

It's no surprise to see that Schweinsteiger has won basically all there is to win in the game, including 8 Bundesliga titles, 7 German cups and 1 Champions League as recently as 2013 when Bayern defeated German rivals Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at Wembley stadium.

Man United fans are all too familiar with Bastian from the last time that United played Bayern in the Champions League two seasons ago. The 1st leg of the quarter-final was played at Old Trafford and his goal cancelled out an opener by Vidic, but his joy of scoring was short lived as he received a red card and had a spat with his new United captain Wayne Rooney. The match ended 1-1 and Bayern would see off United in the second leg.

As an international player Bastian has represented Germany at all levels and he made his full international debut in 2004. Since then he has gone on to make 111 appearances and scored 23 goals. He became a World Cup winner in 2014 when Germany defeated Argentina in the final in Brazil. In the semi- final he, along with Toni Kroos, totally controlled the match and humiliated the hosts 7-1 on their own patch.

The 'midfield mastermind' has many strings to his bow the main one being his stamina then combine that with his excellent reading of the game which allows him to be in the position to score spectacular goals and add assists.

He also has the ability to strike a ball with such power either from open play or from free-kicks and is fierce in the tackle. Basically, all the attributes that United have not seen in midfield since the likes of Paul Scholes and Roy Keane.

Schweinsteiger could be the answer to United's biggest problem in recent seasons by adding that bite into the middle of the park, which should allow the more creative players to strut their stuff confident that they have a player of his quality and experience behind them.

The capture of Bastian is not only a marquee signing, but also a statement of intent by Louis van Gaal.

Willkommen Bastian and good luck over the next three seasons.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Farewell to United's Flying Dutchman.


In 2012 Robin van Persie left the Gunners to fire Manchester United to their record breaking 20th Premier League title and in doing so cemented his status as a hero among the United fans.

However, all good things must come to an end and after three years at Old Trafford Robin van Persie has agreed to sign for Turkish outfit Fenerbahce in Istanbul.

After eight years at Arsenal in which he only won the FA Cup van Persie was brought to United by Alex Ferguson for a fee of around £23m and immediately made an impact with the United faithful by choosing to wear the number 20 on his shirt explaining that if the Red Devils win the Premier league in his first season it would be their 20th.

His debut didn't exactly go according to plan when he came on to replace Welbeck against Everton, but he couldn't stop the Toffees winning 1-0 at Goodison Park, however, five days later he started his first game for United and managed to score in front of the Old Trafford crowd as United beat Fulham 3-2.

At Arsenal van Persie had regularly been sidelined with injuries, but in his first season at United it was a different story as he went on to make a total of 48 appearances scoring 30 goals a brilliant return by any standards.

The majority of goals that he scored proved pivotal in bringing the Premier League trophy to Old Trafford. They included his first hat-trick against Southampton, a late penalty at Anfield to secure a 2-1 win, a goal against his former club Arsenal celebrated with great aplomb, an injury time free kick away to Man City to give United a 3-2 victory and lastly an absolutely fantastic hat-trick versus Aston Villa to secure the league title. Included in his three goals against Villa was a sublime volley.

Everybody could see that van Persie and his manager enjoyed a very good relationship and it was summed up when the Dutchman struck a penalty away at Stoke after which he immediately rushed over to the touchline where he jumped into the grateful arms of Alex Ferguson.

Van Persie had also built a rapport with the fans who voted him their player of the year for that Championship winning season.

Sadly for United and as it turned out van Persie, Alex Ferguson called it a day while he was at the top and was replaced in the summer of 2013 with David Moyes. Things did get off to a promising start as van Persie scored a double against Wigan in the traditional curtain opener, The Community Shield, and he carried his goal scoring form into the first league match of the season scoring another two against Swansea City on the road.

However, the season turned out to be a disaster for the club with the players clearly not enjoying the style of play under Moyes. Over the season van Persie managed 28 appearances and scored 18 goals.

The one bittersweet match for van Persie was in the Champions League last 16 tie against Greek side Olympiakos at Old Trafford. Needing to overturn a 0-2 deficit van Persie really got amongst the visitors scoring another fantastic hat-trick to give the home side a 3-2 aggregate victory.

The celebrations were hampered by the news that United's goal hero had picked up an injury that would mean he would not only miss the quarter-final against Bayern Munich, but also meant that he would not be available for selection by interim manager Ryan Giggs, who had replaced sacked Moyes, until the season was all but over.

After that dreadful season things started to look up for the Dutch striker, not only had Moyes been replaced by his friend and national team manager Louis van Gaal, but he also had the 2014 World Cup tournament to look forward to in Brazil and what a start to the competition as Holland thrashed holders Spain 5-1 with van Persie scoring twice. The one that had everyone talking was the marvellous diving header from distance which earned him the nickname 'The Flying Dutchman.'

Van Gaal and his team managed to go all the way to the semi-finals and United fans became excited about the upcoming season, especially with the new talent brought into the squad which would include a potent forward line of van Persie, Rooney, Falcao and Di Maria. To say the fans were licking their lips would have been an understatement.

Van Persie was overlooked by van Gaal for the captaincy of United in favour of Rooney at the start of the 2014-15 season, but as the gentleman he is van Persie never moaned and gave his backing to his new captain.

Over the season van Persie managed to make one more appearance than the previous one, but it was his eye for goal that was the problem managing only 10 which all came in the league. To be fair, he did miss a chunk of the season with an ankle injury and at the age of 31 his stamina must have been sapped by a long run and the heat in the World Cup in Brazil.

His commitment to the cause could never be questioned along with the respect from the fans as was shown when he netted the late equaliser against Chelsea. Old Trafford erupted as he put the ball in the net and his shirt throwing celebration was one of relief and joy.

Even though United qualified for the Champions League by finishing fourth it became clear that van Persie wasn't in van Gaal's plans for the future and a move to Fenerbahce was agreed.

Robin van Persie had nothing to prove when he came to United as he was already a proven striker of pure class, however, in his time at the club he continued to surprise with the quality of his finishing especially in his first season.

If only he had joined at a younger age who knows what more he could have achieved as a Red Devil.

Good luck and thanks for the great memories and goals Robin.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Welcome to Manchester, Matteo.


It wouldn't have been at all surprising if fans were scratching their heads and rushing to football sources online when it was rumoured that United were showing interest in signing a certain Italian full-back from Torino.

It's one of those names that is familiar, but not at the forefront of the minds of fans when considering possible new defensive additions at United. All that is about to change as Matteo Darmian becomes the second purchase of the summer made by Louis van Gaal on a four year contract with the option of a further year.

All talk had been centered on the likes of Coleman, Otamendi and Ramos and while the fans were waiting for news of a big defensive buy this one sneaked under the radar.

So who is the 25-year-old that Louis van Gaal considers perfect for the right-back position.

Born in 1989 in Legnano, Italy. Darmian was trained at a young age by his father who just happened to also be a coach. At the age of 11 he was spotted by A.C. Milan and was invited to join their youth system and progressed well enough to make his debut for the Milan giants in a 'Coppa Italia' match as a substitute at the age of 16 in 2006.

The young Italian had to bide his time for his Serie A debut and that came one year later in the last month of the 2006-07 season again as a substitute this time in a defeat at the hands of Udinese.

Over the next two seasons, he would only go on to make a few more first team appearances for Milan and was eventually loaned out to Padova then in Serie B of the Italian league. He made a total of twenty outings in the 2009-10 season, chipping in with one goal. Darmian helped Padova avoid relegation by winning a relegation play-off.

At the end of his loan season, it was announced that the defender would be allowed to join Palermo therefore returning to Serie A for around €800,000. He had to bide his time to make his debut which eventually came in an Europa League match against Sparta Prague that the Italians lost. His Serie A debut for the club was a happier event as he came on for Pastore in a 3-1 win over Juventus.

His first start for the club was on the 6th February, ironically a significant date for United, 2011, but he picked up an injury and had to be withdrawn. In the 2010-11 season, he only made a total of 16 appearances in all competitions for the club. He needed to get a run going, but would have to look elsewhere to find it. Enter Torino.

Originally the transfer was another loan deal as his contract was owned by both A.C. Milan and Palermo. Once an agreement between those clubs had been reached he became a Torino player for €825,000.

Over the next four years Darmian would prove his value to Torino and go on to make a total of 133 appearances with the majority coming last season in which he made a massive 47 and contributed with 5 goals from his full-back position.

When you consider that he had only scored one goal in his previous three seasons, not a bad return. Finally, it seemed he had found a club where he felt settled and started to garner attention from some top Europen clubs.

It's not only at Torino where he worth has risen Darmian has also earned rave reviews for the Italian national team having made a total of 13 appearances over the last two seasons making his debut for the Azzurri against the Republic of Ireland in May 2014. He followed that up with an inclusion in Italy's World Cup squad and played in the opening match against England which they won 2-1.

He played in the remaining two group games, but Italy lost both and were out of the competition. It wasn't all doom and gloom as he was awarded the prestigious 'Pallone Azzurro' award as the best player of the Italian national team for 2014.

What can the United fans expect from the Italian? Darmian has the ability to play at either right or left-back, but it's on the right where he seems the most comfortable. In an emergency, he is also able to fill in as a centre-back.

He certainly doesn't lack pace and his engine has never come into question. At almost 6 feet tall, his height offers an aerial advantage in both defence and attack, and attacking is something that he relishes being involved in.

There is only a handful of Italians that have tried their luck at Old Trafford and Matteo has a great chance to make a success of his career as a Red Devil.

If he's anywhere near as successful as the last player United signed from Torino then his future at Old Trafford is bright, a certain Denis Law who also signed for United 53 years ago almost to the day.

Benvenuto a Manchester, Matteo and Good Luck.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Manchester United Legends: Denis Law.


Spinning away from goal, right arm extended upwards with the cuff of his sleeve tightly gripped in his hand and with one finger pointing to the heavens is a sight that is forever embedded in the memory.

The man in whose goal celebration has been immortalised in statues gracing the Theatre of Dreams is none other than the King of The Stretford End, Denis Law.

July 2015 was the 53rd anniversary of the Scot signing for Manchester United and in doing so cementing his status as a United legend.

Charlton, Law and Best three names that will be forever synonymous with Old Trafford as the United Trinity all played under the guidance of Sir Matt Busby during the heady sixties a decade in which saw the glory days return to Manchester United and breathe fresh life into the club that had suffered from disaster in 1958.

Law joined United on the 12th of July 1962 at the age of 22 signing for the Red Devils from Torino of Italy for a British transfer record fee of £115,000. However, if Bill Shankly had gotten his way three years earlier Law could have been a kop hero instead of the Stretford End King.

In 1959 Shankly, who had been the manager of Law's first professional club Huddersfield, left to take over as manager of Liverpool and the first player he wanted to sign was his fellow countryman, but the problem was that Liverpool simply couldn't afford the transfer fee and the next year Law signed for Manchester City for £55,000 which back then was a British transfer record.

Matt Busby had tried to buy Law when he was a teenager offering £10,000 which at the time was a substantial amount of money for a young player, but Huddersfield rejected the offer. Busby tried once more to acquire the striker before he signed for local rivals City.

He only played for City for a season and helped them avoid relegation by netting a total of 21 goals which doesn't include the six goals he scored against Luton Town at Kenilworth Road in the FA Cup as the match was abandoned with twenty minutes left due to a waterlogged pitch and his goals didn't count. To make matters worse, City lost the replay 1-3.

The following summer the boy from Aberdeen decided to showcase his talents abroad and signed for Torino. His time there seemed to be a mixed bag from the start with Inter claiming that he had agreed to sign for them, a car accident, that almost killed his friend and colleague Joe Baker, from which Law escaped from unhurt and the style of play in Italian football at that time hardly suited British strikers due to the ultra-defensive mentality that limited goalscoring chances. However, Law was voted the best foreign player in Italy during his time there.

The straw that broke the camel's back for Law came in one match against Napoli when he was sent off and after the match discovered that unbelievably the referee had been told to do so by his own Torino manager as he had taken a throw in when instructed not to. Law had had enough and at the third time of asking Matt Busby finally got his man.

His love affair with Manchester United had begun and it was to be an affair which would have incredible highs, including winning and scoring in the FA Cup final against Leicester City in 1963, two first division titles in 1965 and 1967 and being honoured with the prestigious Ballon d'Or in 1964.

In his first season as a Red Devil, he ended up scoring a total of 29 goals which included a strike on his debut against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford.

Over the next decade, he would go on to play just over 400 games and score a total of 237 goals a brilliant return considering he endured knee problems on a regular basis. His most prolific season was 1963/64 in which he scored 46 goals in all competitions.

He was also a target of referees and the FA, following comments he had made concerning a certain referees professionalism, receiving some outrageous suspensions one of which was in the 1963/64 season a 28 day ban after a red card against Aston Villa which severely dented United's chances of winning the league. They finished second behind his old manager Bill Shankly's Liverpool.

The following season he helped United to the first division championship by netting 39 times in all competitions. That season he scored 28 league goals which were crucial as United and Leeds ended the campaign on the same amount of points, but United had a superior goal difference of 19 goals.

His style of play and knack of scoring both incredibly athletic and poacher like goals endeared him to the United faithful and it quickly earned him nicknames such as 'The Lawman' and the one that stuck 'The King of the Stretford End'.

There was no better sight than to see Law leaping above the defenders to head the ball in or ghost in between defenders to slot the ball home, but the most famous had to be the overhead kick that had all the children trying to copy in the park. Above all else it was his fearless character that won him the biggest respect among the fans.

In no way hugely built compared to the defenders of that time he was harried and bullied as he led the front line, but his never say die attitude and the experience he received while at Torino stood him in good stead.

His time at United also came with some lows one of those was the incident in 1966 when he asked Matt Busby for a pay rise that made his manager see red leading to this famous Busby quote: "No player will hold this club to ransom, no player".

His second championship medal came in the 1966/67 season when he once again ended up the leading goalscorer for United with 23 in the league.

Busby had built another great team and the world sat up and took notice and with George Best in the side they were also elevated to 'pop star' level. Along with Law's goalscoring skills, they had the likes of Herd, Crerand, Stiles, Foulkes, Dunne, Stepney and of course Bobby Charlton. The side played the United way, entertaining, but at the same time lethal.

The low ebb of his time at United had to be when Law, who had struggled for a while with a knee problem, would miss out on the clubs' biggest night in their illustrious history. It was May 1968 and as his teammates were defeating Benfica at Wembley to become the first English side to lift the European Cup as they were doing so Law was watching the match from his hospital bed following surgery to his knee.

It's difficult to imagine what was going through his mind at that joyous time for the club, but it must have been a bittersweet night for The King. However, you never saw him without a grin on his face and his brilliant sense of humour.

As the decade came to a close, it was time for a change in management and the reigns passed briefly from Matt Busby to former Busby Babe Wilf McGuinness in 1969 a move that didn't sit well with some of the experienced players at the club. Law missed most of that season with an injury and United finished in a miserable eighth spot.

Busby came back for a short time until the appointment of Irishman Frank O'Farrell in 1971 but by then the writing was on the wall for most of the players, including Law, who had been transfer listed, but surprisingly no buyers came calling. When O'Farrell was fired it was Law who put forward the name of fellow Scot Tommy Docherty as his replacement. Docherty had been Law's Scottish national coach.

Law made a scoring debut for Scotland in 1958 against Wales and went on to earn a total of 55 caps and score 30 goals until his last game in 1974. Ironically, it was Matt Busby, who handed Law his first international game while he was the Scottish manager for a short time in the winter of 1958.

Law played his last match for United against Norwich City in 1973 and ended his illustrious eleven-year association with Manchester United by swapping red for blue with a free transfer to Manchester City.

Law only played one season for City and it started with another debut goal, but it's how it ended that would become synonymous with his time there.

Following his infamous back-heeled goal against United at Old Trafford he left the pitch, head down and visibly distraught by the scenario that had been created. The fact is in the end his goal for City that beat his beloved United had no bearing on United's relegation as they were doomed anyway.

Following his retirement from the game in 1974 he made use of his bubbly character and knowledge of the game by joining the media, mainly radio to start with, to share his wisdom on all things United.

He was recently honoured with a special section at the Old Trafford museum commemorating his 50-year association with the Red Devils.

At 75 he still lives in the Manchester area and can be seen regularly at United charitable events and matches. He married his wife Diana in 1962 and has five children. He revealed recently that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer back in 2003. Two years later in 2005 he was at the bedside of fellow legend George Best when he passed away.

Having had the honour of meeting Denis Law he is nothing short of a true gentleman sparing the time to reminisce about his career and thoughts on United past and present. Although the encounter was all too short, he left a lasting impression and his love for the game is contagious.

He has been honoured with the appointment of CBE in this year's New Year's Honours for his services to football and charities.

A legend in the true sense of the word.

Thanks Denis.

Miles Dunton.