In the first of a new weekly column every Friday the Cutter looks back on a week in football.
The North-West divide
Down the years the north-west has consistently retained a significant presence in the top flight. Most notably of course there has been the vast quantities of scouse and Lancashire hotpot consumed at the top table as first Liverpool then Manchester United dominated the old first division and Premier League. But aside from those two trophy-gobbling giants the region has also provided an eminent mainstay in Everton along with a whole plethora of other clubs who have made regular, prolonged appearances. With the emergence of Man City as a major force there are now seven leading clubs from the area contending in one of the toughest leagues in the world. That’s just over a third of the whole division, an astoundingly impressive stat that dwarves anywhere else aside from those fancydans from the capital who can still only boast a measly five.
Whilst the north-east pride themselves on their infamous passion and the midlands yo-yo interminably the swathe of land from Blackpool to Bolton, Burnley to Salford has regularly given the highest echelon of our nation’s sport more entertainment, drama, and cracking teams than anywhere else in the country. It is an achievement we don’t celebrate as much as we possibly should. Then again, self glorification is not our way.
All of this however may be sadly about to change. With Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan all presently residing in the bottom three the north-west risks losing half of its contingent this year, weakening its stranglehold more so than at any other time in the Premier Leagues short history. So come on Kean, Martinez and Coyle, you’re not just fighting for your own club’s top flight prestige but for the cast-iron reputation of the towns and cities around you. As Lord Kitchener once nearly said, your region needs you.
Are Ferdinand’s days numbered?
After Alex Ferguson splashed out £16m for Phil Jones in the summer – to add to his earlier recruitment of Chris Smalling – the general consensus was that he was preparing for the future. In Ferdinand and Vidic he had one of the most imposing and established centre-back pairings around with plenty of mileage left to run.
Increasingly however it looks as if the future has already arrived. Not only have the youngsters settled in right from the off – they’re strolling around the Old Trafford turf as if they own the gaff – but both are piling on the pressure on a player who would have been deemed fundamental and irreplaceable only six months back.
Ferdinand’s form has dipped alarmingly of late, not helped by being blighted by injuries at an age when they impact more and niggle. He has looked horrendously out of sorts yet his form is not the reason his United future lies in doubt – Ferguson has been around long enough to witness first-hand a thousand such plunges in confidence from one of his players and has learnt that patience and backing is key – it is his loss of stature. Though Evra was captain during their humiliating 6-1 capitulation to their title rivals City recently it was Ferdinand’s job in the centre to haul back his full-backs when the game was dead and buried and apply damage limitation. The former England skipper’s startling failure to do so – a supposed leader going to pieces in battle – resulted in a massacre and that is something that will not be tolerated by the no-nonsense gaffer. Players have been drummed out of Old Trafford for much less before now and Ferguson himself admits that this is a ‘decisive moment’ for Rio who must adapt his game to suit aging legs which are increasingly feeling the strain. But will the man with the strange camel gob manage to retain his stature?
The transfer rumour mill whirs once again
With less than eight weeks before the January transfer window opens for business the gossip-mongers (the Cutter included) are going into hyper-drive. Amongst the more fanciful, even nonsensical – there is no way Sneijder is moving anywhere until next summer at the earliest and Cavani and Hamsik in a double-deal to City? Forget it – there does appear to be some that are grounded in reality and probability. Next week the Cutter is running a whole run-down of these rumours and rating each one. It’s not to be missed.