Thursday, 4 August 2011

Interview with Mark Ogden of the Telegraph

With the new season rapidly approaching, I caught up with Mark Ogden, the Daily Telegraph's Northern football correspondent to ask a few questions on various topics, ranging from the success of the US tour, the Sneijder saga, United's title rivals and much more.

You have just returned from the American tour, how did you feel it went both from a playing and a commercial point of view? Could the club learn some lessons from the way they interact with fans on tour as opposed to their behaviour in the UK?

In terms of playing, United won every game, including the big one against Barcelona, so it was obviously a success from that point of view. Michael Owen had a good tour, scoring three times, while Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck also stood out.

Commercially, it was obvious that United were pushing hard and paying lots of lip service to the main sponsors, Aon and Nike. I spoke to people from Aon and Nike and both were raving about the success of their tie-up with United, but it doesn’t mean that Aon will simply stump up the cash for another big deal in three years time. Their brand has already had a big lift from association with United, so no guarantee they will need that lift again at renewal time.

Interacting with fans? The twitter response to Fergie letting two Bulgarian fans onto the bus for autographs in Seattle said it all. It’s open house in the US, but much harder for domestic fans to get close.

David De Gea has been signed presumably as Edwin's replacement, how do you see him settling in at United bearing in mind his age and the language barrier? Lindegaard impressed on tour, is he a realistic challenger for the No 1 slot?

De Gea will take time. He looks hesitant when coming off his line, doesn’t have much physical presence and can’t speak English. Lindegaard looked much more impressive, but De Gea cost the big bucks, so he’ll be given time to settle and win his place.

In the coming season, do you feel United will miss the experience of those players that have left this summer?

Not as much as has been suggested. Neville was no more than a fringe player, Scholes admits himself that he wasn’t the player he was five years ago, while Van der Sar’s career was arguably extended two years by playing behind Nemanja Vidic. Time moves on and the younger players have to take their chance.

The midfield is the area of the squad that worries fans the most at the current time. How do you feel the Sneijder saga will conclude and could the likes of Modric and Nasri be viable alternatives or will the club look elsewhere?

My gut feeling is that Sneijder will end up at United before Aug 31. The last few weeks of United distancing themselves from the player has all been part of the game. Fergie really rates Nasri, but he seems destined for City. Same with Modric and Chelsea.

What are your thoughts on the new signings and how they will fit into the squad in the new season?

Jones is the one that has really impressed me. I think he’ll be a huge player for United over the next ten years. Not so sure about Young, but I felt the same about Dwight Yorke and he didn’t do too badly. De Gea is the one that could go either way. I’m still surprised United didn’t make more of a push for Manuel Neuer.

Looking at United's rivals for the Premier League title, do you see City as the main threat this season? How do you assess the summer has gone for Chelsea and Arsenal?

If Tevez leaves City, he will be missed an awful lot, despite all the nonsense that accompanies him. Aguero is a good signing, but he will do well to match Tevez’s contribution. Mancini also looks to be on collision course with the powers that be at Eastlands, so with all that, I think City will fall short of United and Chelsea.

They still have one season at least left in their main players and if Torres starts scoring, they will be a real threat.

Arsenal aren’t even a contender in my opinion. Too flaky and too worried about making 20 passes rather than scoring one goal. The rot has set in at the Emirates and they will do well to finish in the top four.

With Brown and O'Shea departing, do you feel United are a little light in the full back department considering the twins injury woes or can Jones/Smalling deputise adequately?

Phil Jones looked impressive at right-back against the MLS All-Stars, but that can’t be a gauge for the season ahead. Cover for both full-backs looks light, so I’m surprised that John O’Shea was allowed to go. To be honest, though, his injuries have started to catch up with him in recent seasons, so maybe the time was right.

It will be a big season for Hernández considering he will no longer be an unknown quantity, how do you assess his ability to overcome this obstacle?

Providing the concussion episode on tour was an isolated one-off, I don’t see any problem for Hernandez. He reminds me of a cross between Robbie Fowler and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and neither of those had any second-season syndrome problems.

Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley shone during their time on the US tour, do you feel that they will play a significant role in United's first team this season?

I’m not so sure about Cleverley. He’s a prospect, but midfield is quite well stocked, especially on the flanks. Welbeck looks to have developed physically during his year at Sunderland, though, and he looked sharp on tour, so he could be a surprise package.

At the current time, United have an embarrassment of riches up front with seven currently in the squad. Do you see a future at the club for Macheda and Diouf?

I can only see Diouf being the loser in this situation. He hardly set the world alight at Blackburn and did little on tour.

Macheda is still only 19 and I think his loan at Sampdoria made him realise what he has at United and what he could lose. He has a future, but it might be a frustrating one for the next couple of years.

Across the whole of the Premier League, who has been your signing of the summer?

It’s been a strange summer because the big deals haven’t really happened yet, with the exception of Aguero, so it’s early days to make a call on that.

What I will say is that Liverpool seem to have paid over the odds for all of their summer signings, particularly on Jordan Henderson.

The Glazers ownership is a continuing source of worry for Reds fans as we enter the new season. Do you feel they are in it for the long haul or could you see them relinquishing control any time soon?

They will be here for ages yet, but when they do sell, it will happen when nobody expects it.

After his much publicised troubles and poor form for much of last season, Rooney had a storming end to the season and a promising pre-season in America, how important is a fit and firing Rooney to United this season?

United with a fit and firing Rooney are a totally different team than one without, but the Champions League final against Barcelona showed that, even when he has on top form, he can’t carry United on his own.

The most important factor will be ensuring that Vidic and Hernandez avoid injury because they are just as crucial. De Gea needs to settle quickly too.

There are plenty of rumours about a departure for Berbatov with PSG linked this week, how do you assess his future with United?

If anybody offers £10m or more for Berbatov, United will let him go. He doesn’t want to leave, but he might change his mind if he starts the season on the bench.

Finally, Mark, what are your predictions for the finishing order for the top 4 this season?

1 – Man Utd; 2 – Chelsea; 3 – Man City; 4 – Liverpool

A huge thanks to Mark for taking the time to answer my questions bearing in mind he is just back from America and is busily preparing for the new season. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking the link below.

Thanks to TriciaRKG for the photos used in this post.

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  1. Nice post. Rare that I agree with pretty much everything Oggy has said. Think Im going with same top four placings too

  2. Interesting post James, good work :)