During a busy international week much of the focus on the Premier League’s top clubs has surrounded the fallout from FIFA’s decision in the Gael Kakuta case – and Manchester United are no different. The Red Devils have embarked on a war of words with French club Le Havre concerning the signing of Paul Pogba, with both clubs insisting they will fight all the way. Le Havre has not formally contacted FIFA to report United but maintain that an official complaint will be lodged in due course.
Another team which claims to have a strong case against the Old Trafford outfit is Fiorentina. FIFA has confirmed that the Viola has been in contact with them but again is yet to lodge an official complaint regarding the signing of Italian Under-16 captain Michele Fornasier. In the past, United have angered various Italian clubs by taking advantage of the rule which forbids Italian clubs to sign players under 18-years-old to full professional contracts in order to lure such talents as Giuseppe Rossi and Federico Macheda to Old Trafford. They have again used this mismatch between the two jurisdictions to bring Fornasier to Manchester – much to the supposed displeasure of Fiorentina.
If FIFA finds United guilty a similar sanction to that imposed on Chelsea may be forthcoming. United are being painted as the proverbial bad guys in this case, as are Chelsea, but there is argument in Manchester that it is a cunning exploitation of the English rules being more lenient than the Italian ones. FIFA President Sepp Blatter has this week stated it is clearly within FIFA rules that there can be no registration of professional players under the age of 18 and he doesn’t understand why it took the DRC two years to bring the case against Chelsea. What can be drawn from all the recent press reports regarding these cases is that the rule is anything but clear-cut with the English sides maintaining their innocence. What Blatter and FIFA need to do from here on is set in stone what the final rule is and what the appropriate sanctions will be. This will then need be adopted worldwide across all leagues and by all governing bodies if we are to maintain full clarity.
Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson will have been concerning himself with Saturday’s trip to White Hart Lane despite having to publicly defend United’s transfer dealings. There is no doubt Harry Redknapp’s side are one of the top form sides sitting second with maximum points from four games, and in Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon they have two players playing at the top of their game. To come away from the Lane with three points will be an extremely difficult task. United’s last two Premier League trips to this part of north London both ended in draws with the Red Devils leaving it very late in the 2007/08 season.
There will be key battles all over the pitch. If fit, Ledley King will have to be sharp to contain the in-form Wayne Rooney and former Tottenham man Dimitar Berbatov – as will the United back four in order to contain Defoe and Lennon. Lennon was fantastic in England’s win against Croatia and has often had joy against United’s French left-back Patrice Evra. Last season’s Carling Cup final is a key example of this with Lennon giving Evra a torrid time all afternoon. There is no doubting Evra’s quality as one of the top full-backs in world football and he will have to be on top form to contain the England man. If Evra can keep the pacy winger quiet then it will be key to United taking maximum points.
Michael Owen has not played since the 5-0 win at Wigan and so should be feeling fresh – he will be chomping at the bit to be involved. It is unlikely that Owen will be given his second Premier League start but he will surely be called upon at some point, especially if United are chasing the game late on as has often been the case in recent encounters with Spurs. Another player who has not played any competitive football during the international break is Rio Ferdinand following the thigh strain which has kept him out for all of United’s competitive games this season. Sir Alex stated on Thursday that Ferdinand has a chance of playing on Saturday and if that is the case it will be a massive boost for United in the wake of some very tough games.
Ferguson is fortunate that not all his players were involved internationally and thus will have had a two week break from competitive football. This is important with a tough trip to Turkey against Besiktas after the Spurs clash followed by the Manchester derby next weekend. Much of the squad is likely to be rotated across these three difficult games and, although early in the season, it is likely to provide a good indicator as to whether this squad is indeed ready to challenge on all fronts.
Manchester United Club Focus
Welcome to Manchester, Michael – July 29
Goals from midfield the order of the day – August 5
Respect the consistency – August 12
Injury plague piles pressure on forwards – August 18
Usual slow starters living up to their reputation but is there cause for concern? – August 22
Enter the Champions – August 25
Anderson and Vidic pledge their allegiance – August 28
Win fails to hide Rooney’s need for a wingman – September 1
Ferguson sticking to his guns – September 4
Fingers pointed towards Old Trafford – September 8
Legal issues and a tough trip to north London – September 11