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Published: 21 APR 2005

UNITED WITH OUR RIVALS
by John Ryan

They were a club I could never muster any sort of liking for whatsoever.
When we played them, it often descended into war but not of the sporting
kind - the sort of venomous hatred football doesn't need. We almost cost
them the League in 1991 after the battle of Old Trafford that season and the
League docking them two points. There was the Cup game in the late 80's when
McClair blew the chance to earn us a replay with a sky high penalty that led
to Winterburn taunting him and then there was the descension down that murky
road of Highbury away in 2003 and them at ours in September 2003. We've
fought them at every oppotunity and so far this season we've beaten them.
But they've beaten us too. And now just two short years since Roman
Abramovich took control of Chelsea football club, we might just have a lot
in common with them.

Arsenal in my eyes were like a bully that came to town to beat you
up. Their back four was like a bunch of men possessed willing to do whatever
it took to stop forwards. And when that was our forwards I disliked them
even more. They were a lot different to Liverpool, who even if they beat us,
gave you the impression they'd still go for a drink with you but rob you
blind at the first opportunity. Arsenal seemed to be more sinister though
and the sight of one of their defenders with one arm in the air for a
second, then applauding the linesman's offside decision, was enough to make
me vomit. And by the time they landed Ian Wright they'd got the final piece
in a jigsaw that made their game easier - an out & out goalscorer who would
poach off the scraps this workmanlike side set up.

Then Wenger took charge and set about trying to proverbially pinch,
gouge & goad Fergie at every opportunity. This still goes on of course but
has been somewhat dampened by Chelsea's emergence as title favourites. But
it's still Arsenal, a team I find it hard to think of with any ounce of
affection at all. There have been teams I've liked for different reasons
down the years - Sheffield Wed of 91-94 for their free-flowing football and
great entertainment, Spurs of 80-85 for being great to watch and of course
there was Fergie's Aberdeen who smashed the dominance of Celtic & Rangers
and took on the biggest European club of all and dared to beat them - Real
Madrid. But United can take each of these clubs traits in their good periods
and have displayed these traits throughout our History.

In my eyes Arsenal may well be our arch enemies and for those who
hail from Manchester, Liverpool remain the #1 club they want to see win
nothing ever again. That's quite understandable in my eyes given what my
fellow reds followers had to endure in the 70's & 80's. But the landscape
has changed drastically since the summer & Autumn of 2003 and one wonders
how long this may go on for. Our money men spent ten years building up our
club to put it on a financial footing that was consistent, solid and future
thinking. Hard work builds solid foundations, and just as Fergie worked
around the clock to bring the title to Old Trafford and then the Champions
League, our board took the club from a £20M business in 1989 to being a £1Bn
club in 1998. We might not agree with their methods but they have done a lot
for Manchester United, so much so that our club has attracted the likes of
Murdoch and Glazer to try & take the reins.

In the blink of an eye Abramovich wiped out Chelsea's debt and
opened a door to a world of vast riches that we could probably only dream
about if we sold our souls to a not-so-red devil. When we paid Leeds £31M
for Rio Ferdinand in 2002 we nailed a plaque on Old Trafford that said
"World's biggest club". We had the spending power to bring a top class
defender to our club. But now this is no longer the case. Chelsea currently
have Juan Veron & Hernan Crespo on loan in Milan's two big clubs and are
paying 2/3 of the reputed £100K they earn a week. They bought Adrian Mutu
but when he was found guilty of a crime less serious than Rio Ferdinand's
(in the eyes of the FA at least) they tore up his contract and wrote off an
asset worth millions. When they oh-so-obviously tapped up Ashley Cole I had
little sympathy for Arsenal. Now suddenly I do. The fact their buzzards are
circling Old Trafford has brought it home to me that we, along with
Liverpool and Arsenal are now under siege from a superpower bigger than
ourselves. How Arsenal & Liverpool fight this threat is their business, but
it is something we will have to monitor no doubt.

Even if Chelsea go on to win the Champions League & The Premiership,
Mourinho deserves all the credit he gets. He still has to deliver on all the
qualities that make a team win a title and he has to motivate millionaires.
But the problem is not Mourinho. The problem lies in the fact that for 4
months of the year now he can name a player and get him when he likes. Roman
Abramovich just surveys the opposition and deals out multiple millions to
gazump any deal. He did it with Arjen Robben whose father wanted him to go
to Old Trafford but Chelsea doubled the asking price and but for Wayne
Rooney's burning desire to play at Old Trafford he could have had young
Wayne too. And now it looks like Rio could well be another target for the
money rich blues.

The reason I feel sorry for Arsenal is because to their supporters,
Ashley Cole represents all of their dreams rolled into one player. He's the
local boy who rose through the ranks to win thus far two titles and two FA
cups. Players like him provide that vital link between the fans & the club,
like Gary & Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs do for us. Similarly,
Liverpool may well lose Steven Gerard to Chelsea and we may lose Rio. It's a
fair point other supporters make that for years we've taken other clubs
players. But the one thing in our defence is that we've taken players from
clubs who do not have the same winning potential as us and they've played
for us for years - e.g. Denis Irwin. Sadly, Chelsea's purchases are not the
same. Chelsea can offer a player who has at best ten years at the top, the
chance to earn a huge salary for maybe three of those years. Manchester
United will not compete and for once I agree with our money men. To know
where you are going, it helps to know where you've come from. And I'm sure
our board remember Michael Knighton and Robert Maxwell all showing an
interest when we were a sleeping giant. May we never see those days again.

Gerard, Cole and Rio may all end up at Stamford Bridge and win
trophies and earn, as the Americans call it "top dollar". But where is the
pride in the shirt? Players like Roy Keane, Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce put
their heads where few would put boots, as did Kevin Moran, Norman Whiteside
and Bryan Robson. Five of those players moved when Fergie indicated their
time at Old Trafford was an end and Roy Keane will one day do the same. A
man as big as Norman Whiteside was reduced to tears on being told he was
leaving, but we all know Ferguson was correct in his decisions. Rio going to
Chelsea would be vastly different. He would be leaving after we really
looked after him, when we really need him and before he displayed his true
potential to us. And in truth, right now no one club is diminating the
English scene - even Chelsea will have to defend their title - so the main
motivator in any move would be money. Money, that thing Abmramovich seems to
have in constant supply.

These are strange times for Manchester United. We're under threat
from a Glazer takeover, potential Chelsea dominance and a so called lean
period (one title, and 3 cup finals ain't bad in 4 seasons). Only long term
will it be borne out what effect Abramoch's billions had on England's
beautiful game. And by no means are we just bemoaning the fact that Chelsea
have propelled themselves to the verge of the biggest trophies. As it stood
before the Russian's revival, Arsenal were proving worthy opponents for the
title race. Maybe Amramovich is trying to put a roof on a house that has no
walls. If this is so hopefully we will be there to profit when the house
collapses. But will Rio Ferdinand still be playing for us? If not, he may
very well live to regret chasing the millions that us fans only ever dream
about.

John Ryan
Copyright 2005 Red11. All rights reserved.
Not to be reproduced without permission of the author.

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