Ex-Gunner Robin van Persie fires blanks in Man Utd defeat
What became of football's Olympic spirit? Ferguson moans as Everton beat Man Utd fair and square
TWO DAYS into the new Premier League season and the Spirit of the Olympics is officially dead. There has been much talk in recent days of football wanting to show the same sportsmanship and humility as our Olympians but that was extinguished by Alex Ferguson, who was as ungracious in defeat as Team GB was gracious in victory during the London Games.
After seeing his Manchester United side lose 1-0 to a committed and well-organised Everton, Ferguson turned on the Toffees and their goalscorer, Marouane Fellaini, hissing: "We were the better football team… Fellaini is a handful. He's a big, tall, gangly lad and they just lumped the ball forward to him. That's all they did."
They also managed to score, which is more than United did, despite the presence of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and, in the second half, Robin van Persie.
Poor old Van Persie. He could probably hear the sound of ten thousand Arsenal fans laughing even up on Merseyside, the noise drifting north as Gooners revelled in the sight of their former skipper drawing a blank on his United debut.
Van Persie replaced Welbeck on 67 minutes to partner Rooney in a so-called dream pairing but apart from one deft pass to Shinki Kagawa he contributed little to the game. "We played around him too much," reflected Ferguson later. "We didn't show enough penetration and, with Robin in your team, you know you want to use his ability against centre-backs in situations he is very good at. But we didn't use him enough."
It was the first time United have suffered defeat on the opening day of the season since they lost to Chelsea in 2004 but Everton were good value for their victory. In Fellaini they had the man of the match and he gave the fit-again Nemanja Vidic a torrid evening in his first appearance for United since December.
With Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans out injured, Vidic and Michael Carrick struggled to cope with the aerial threat of Fellaini in the centre of the United defence.
And that's how the towering Belgian scored the all-important goal, rising above Carrick to head home Darron Gibson's corner on 57 minutes. It was hard on United keeper David de Gea, who had kept his side in the match with a string of athletic saves as Everton laid on a show for their home supporters.
De Gea was at his nimble best to twice deny Steven Pienaar, as well as turning away efforts from Leon Osman and Leighton Baines. Osman did beat the Spanish keeper on one occasion but his fierce shot – which was teed up by Fellaini – crashed against the crossbar.
United had their moments. Wayne Rooney produced a couple of sharp saves from Tim Howard and Phil Jagielka cleared Tom Cleverley's effort off the Everton line.
Jagielka later paid tribute to Fellaini, saying: "The big man put his head in where it hurts and we got the reward. He's nigh on impossible to mark. In training we normally pull his hair, but you can't do that in a game."
Normal service should be resumed for United on Saturday when they host Fulham at Old Trafford. It will be a relief for Ferguson to be back on home soil, for as he complained last night of the Goodison Park faithful: "It's difficult here, you have the crowd influencing the referee all the time and it makes it difficult for you."
Home crowds influencing the referee… You've got to admire Fergie - he's got more front than Chris Hoy has gold medals.