A Minor Turn

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To say the 3-2 turnaround against Newcastle came as something of a relief is quite an understatement. 8 weeks since the last win at OT, utterly devoid of ideas and confidence, 0-2 down and going absolutely nowhere… yet finally something clicked and we were treated to a glimpse, the merest flicker of professional pride in evidence. Finally our beleaguered team showed they do still possess some cojones. 

Yes, it was only Newcastle. But that isn’t the point, is it? If you can’t enjoy a comeback like that, whatever the circumstances, then you may as well give it all up. It may well turn out to just delay the inevitable but where United are currently, a win’s a win and we’ll take it. I’ve thought it for a while but home games have become even more of an ordeal of late. Against a United team with little attacking potency and defensive fragility, every opposition team turns up sensing blood. The huge crowd and the overriding sense of frustration about the place just feeds their confidence; whereas in years past they knew they were facing defeat before they’d even got off the bus.  

So does this result change anything? Will it be a turning point from which everyone chills out a bit and starts to enjoy themselves? I doubt that very much. I strongly suspect that relations between management and certain dressing room ‘personalities’ are now irreparable. There’s too much been said already and the individuals concerned are either too stubborn or too stupid to even consider embarking on a conciliatory path. No, I just can’t see it. That ship has already sailed so we’re heading towards what’ll be full on Armageddon in the not too distant future. 

This season we’ve struggled to display any cohesion whatsoever despite the fixture list throwing out a straightforward run of games throughout August and September. Now faced with Chelsea away, a Juventus double header and City away in the next few weeks, the potential for complete meltdown is staring us in the face. I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic by stating if we lose 3 of them, expect Mourinho to be gone by Christmas. 

I hope I’m wrong. Personally speaking, I’m still (just about) a believer and I want the board keep their nerve and give him more time. But looking at everything that’s happened since the end of last season, I can only see the current uneasy impasse ending sooner rather than later. Mourinho was mortally offended by the club’s failure to sanction his signings in the summer and the breakdown in his relationship with Pogba, the club’s most marketable asset, only makes his position more vulnerable still. 

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As for Pogba, I don’t know any United fan above the age of 12 who still has any time for the guy. I don’t believe he ever wanted to come back here and he’s basically spent the last 3 years phoning in performances each week, biding his time waiting for the call from Spain. When he inevitably departs next summer, what will he be remembered for? He scored the opening goal in Stockholm and starred in the comeback against City last year. And ummm… that’s about it, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve missed anything. 

Other than that, he dyes his hair often, he dances round the dressing room wearing oversized headphones and he posts regular selfies on social media. He certainly generates plenty of clicks, I’ll give him that. As a footballer though, I’m sorry, the lad is just an expensive liability rather than club captain material. I can’t be doing with him anymore. If stating that makes me an embittered, out of touch gammon then fair enough. I’ll take that with chips, peas and a fried egg on top. Cheers. 

Admittedly, part of my reasoning for still clinging to the notion that Mourinho is the right man is that I have no idea who we could realistically turn to next. There’s no way Juventus would release Allegri mid-season or that Levy would allow Pochettino to leave Spurs… not that I’m convinced by either. United will always be United and hold huge appeal but as far as any outsider is concerned, we’re in the middle of a full scale civil war and there are unanswered questions about who exactly is in charge. If Mourinho goes we’ll have become one of those other clubs who changes their manager every 2 years… though we’re probably already in that bracket given what’s occurred since 2013. 

I’ll also admit that José hasn’t helped himself. The fact he’s not bought a house up here is an absolute joke and demonstrates how he’s never considered this a long term appointment. In my head, this is where I saw him settling after 10 years of flitting round Europe, a career defining appointment where he could put down some roots and build himself a legacy. The fact he’s content to live in a hotel speaks volumes and shows that he’s never fully bought into the idea of being manager of Manchester United. Fair enough if his family is settled in London, but you’d at least find yourself an apartment, surely? To me it’s all just a bit weird that he chose not to. Is 24 hour room service really that appealing? I think it would do my head in after a couple of weeks. 

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As I touched on a couple of months ago, his other fatal flaw has been his unfathomable loyalty to the not quite good enoughs who should by rights have been moved on years ago. Valencia, 10th season. Smalling, 9th season. Young, Jones… 8 seasons. Fellaini, 6 seasons. This is why we’ll continue to struggle for the foreseeable. These players are loyal foot soldiers, yes. No doubt they listen to instructions and don’t cause any him any headaches in the way that Martial and Pogba might. But let’s be honest here, this bunch score 7/10 on a good day and you don’t win major titles when the nucleus of your team are merely half-decent. I wish he’d have been far more ruthless and binned the lot within days of arriving here. 

These gripes aren’t really important in the grand scheme of things, however. The root of our problems, as we should all be aware by now, is a little further up the food chain. By staying put when the takeover took place, perhaps we’re all complicit in this shitshow and what we’re witnessing now is just the natural conclusion of the club being sold to Florida-based carpetbaggers 13 years ago. There’s no end in sight to this mess whilst investment bankers are making footballing decisions and overruling the man tasked with building a winning team. That’s the reality of what we’re faced with regardless of whether Mourinho survives beyond the next few weeks. 

Copyright Red News – October 2018

www.rednews.co.uk

 

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Chain of Fools

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Although pre-season suggested impending doom, the speed at which everything unravelled was still something to behold. Despite Mourinho having a face like a yard of tripe and seemingly doing his best to talk down our prospects, the fixture list actually came out looking pretty kind to United. No really severe tests during the first couple of months, maybe if we got off to a decent start then things might settle down and…

Nope. Not happening. 30 minutes into the Brighton game, the wheels had well and truly come off and any misguided pre-season optimism was extinguished. It was all so predictable. The most blackly comedic aspect was that Mourinho picked exactly the same team most of his internet-based detractors were clambering for. Bailly and Lindelof at centre half, Pereira given another start and Martial picked up front. In short, it failed miserably. 

I’m at a complete loss to explain the unconditional love a loud minority of reds continue to have for Anthony Martial. To me, he’s the absolute personification of the modern day player who takes everything whilst giving virtually nothing back in return. I used to think that insouciant, blank expression fixed to his grid was a sign of self-confidence, but now I’m not convinced. I think it’s more the case that he genuinely doesn’t give a shit what happens. 

I don’t think he’s in the slightest bit concerned if he plays or if he doesn’t, or if he goes to the World Cup with France or stays at home. There doesn’t seem to be any change in his body language or reaction no matter what happens to him. The fact he left pre-season training to attend his child’s birth and support his partner came as a shock as it suggests there is a human being with feelings in there somewhere. So he’s not just an automaton being forced to play football against his will? I see. 

If Martial was a genuine top drawer player then perhaps his unflinching self-regard would make some sense. Instead, he has the air of someone with nothing to prove when in reality he still has everything to prove. I’m not really concerned with the fact he scored the winner in the FA Cup semi during his first season, it’s his constant smacked arse demeanour ever since then that gives you more of an insight to the kind of man we’re dealing with here.  

Presumably, the ultimate source of his dissatisfaction is the fact he isn’t starting week-in, week-out in either his preferred position up front or elsewhere. Rather than taking this on board and endeavouring to develop and improve like any other 22 year old footballer might, instead he appears to have embarked on the kind of career-defining sulk that was pioneered by fellow French dissident Nicolas Anelka back in the late nineties. 

The difference is that when Anelka was agitating to get out of Arsenal, he had Real Madrid waiting in the wings and fluttering their eyelashes at him. With the greatest respect to Martial, the only place he’s going after United is down. He’s not prolific enough as a goalscorer and not a talented enough winger to make the move to one of the best sides in Europe, expecting otherwise would be sheer delusion on his part. 

If Martial’s agent had any sense at all he’d be pleading with his client to get his head down and start working whilst he still has this opportunity. Try cementing a place in what’s a struggling team with numerous starting berths up for grabs. His chief rivals are Rashford and Lukaku, and neither of them could be described as untouchable – yet they’re both justifiably ahead of Martial in the pecking order. 

Contrary to what a sizeable number of Martial FC fanboys seem to think, that’s not solely down to Mourinho bearing some sort of grudge or purposefully stifling his development. It comes down to having personality, the right attitude and not letting your head drop. It’s exactly the same reason why the extremely limited Olivier Giroud now has a World Cup winners’ medal whereas Martial was left watching it at home on telly. 

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When France won the World Cup, I received a text in the immediate aftermath from fellow Red News scribe Sparky stating “Great, that’s Pogba’s head nowhere near football for the next 6 months.” Didn’t take long for that one to come to fruition, did it? Fair play to Poggers for being so candid in the aftermath of the Brighton defeat. For the team captain to freely admit “my attitude was not right”, that’s some next level honesty that is. It’s not something you ever want to hear from one of your players, of course… in fact it’s absolutely batshit crazy when you think about it. 

I mean, we’d lost on that very same ground only 6 months previously. It wasn’t like Brighton away was a game any casual observer was expecting us to turn up and win convincingly, to me it spelt potential banana skin with a capital P. For all the bullshit uttered by Pogba about the captaincy being a honour… blah, blah, blah… his blithely inept performance and that admission afterwards said it all about his true character. 

Despite being old enough to know better, I still struggle to get my head around the complacency of professional athletes earning vast sums in such exalted, privileged positions. Paul lad, you’re the new captain of Manchester United. Having the right attitude is a pre-requisite for the job. We, as supporters, can predict the fixtures the players won’t show up for yet several still seem to be under the illusion that they’re good enough to coast through games with less than 100% invested. Lads, you aren’t. You really aren’t. 

Copyright Red News – September 2018

www.rednews.co.uk

Surf’s Up

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Well that was unexpected, wasn’t it? I’m still struggling to try and get my head around the fact we’ve actually experienced a summer for once. A genuine, proper summer like you see on telly or that the rest of the world gets to enjoy every single year without fail. The weather proved such a constant distraction that I struggled to watch much football at all. Sat in the garden, enjoying a drink and staring into space/at my phone proved a far more enticing prospect than spending 4 hours on the couch each day glued to the World Cup. At risk of sounding like the toppest of the toppermost reds, I think I only watched about 6 games in total.

Don’t get me wrong, I still followed proceedings via the internets, I just couldn’t be bothered to put a full shift in watching 60-odd games like you’re supposed to. I’ve now come to terms with the fact that I overdosed on football several years ago and these days I’m more of a recreational user. I think I’ve simply seen too much over the years to still give a shit like I used to once upon a time. I can just about muster the enthusiasm for United still, but listening to Alan Shearer share his thoughts on Iran v Morocco holds about as much appeal as gouging my own eyes out with a rusty spoon.

Of course, tradition dictates that I still had to watch the England games. After all, I have a 14 year old son who was taking an interest and thankfully, he’s not as bitter and twisted as I am. These started out as the usual “I wonder how badly they’ll embarrass themselves?” which then became an almost fearful “Christ, they’re not actually going to reach the final are they?” as the tournament progressed. I make no apologies for not wanting England to win it because as any right-thinking person would agree, such an outcome would have been absolutely fucking horrendous.

You don’t agree? Well in that case, why were you singing ‘World Champions Twice’ and ‘Stick Your Fucking England Up Your Arse’ for the last 10 years? I joined in with those two ditties with gusto and meant every word, so I’m not suddenly going to start ballooning around with the Brexit hoards, giddily telling everyone I meet that ‘it’s coming home’. “Football’s coming home”? What utter nonsense. Football never left as far as I’m concerned and any notion that this country somehow ‘owns’ the game is completely ridiculous. The only thing that England and their followers have ownership of is an inflated sense of self-importance and a crushing inferiority complex.

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Defeat in the semi-finals was the perfect result for all concerned. England were able to return home having achieved precisely nothing as all-conquering heroes; with expectation levels now guaranteed to be through the roof when the next tournament rolls around. Harry Maguire becomes the nation’s sweetheart, Raheem Sterling is temporarily forgiven for having a tattoo and Gareth Southgate wins Sports Personality of the Year and receives a knighthood. Meanwhile, everyone else raises a glass and the 4 year cycle of perpetual failure begins once more. Hooray for the 3 lions! What a load of self-congratulatory, pretend-beer spilling, shared national experience bullshit.

Anyway, with the World Cup dealt with I suppose it’s time we addressed United’s prospects for the new season. Ahem. I’m afraid there’s no prizes for guessing I’m not exactly brimming with optimism on that score either. Managers set the tone in any workplace and football is no different. Unfortunately, anyone looking for crumbs of comfort from Mourinho needs to seek assurance elsewhere. Far from coming back refreshed and re-invigorated after the summer break, he currently has the air of a man in the grips of a full-on existential crisis.

You can hardly blame him. The clear out we were hoping for simply hasn’t happened and barring any sudden, last-minute movements we’ve (predictably) struggled to add much needed reinforcements in key areas. It’s genuinely, head-wreckingly baffling that we’re set to start the season with Young and Valencia as first choice full-backs yet again. Two uninspiring wingers converted into perfunctory defenders are still the best pairing that Manchester United can muster in 2018. This is Valencia’s 10th season at the club and Young’s 8th now. Yes, kudos to the pair for being loyal servants and solid pros and all that but let’s be honest here, both should have been shipped off to Villa or Stoke 5 years ago.

Unfortunately, we’re still hamstrung by the fact that players signed at huge expense to replace the pair have never delivered. Quite understandably, they’re doggedly refusing to contemplate pastures new as this would also signify a considerable dip in wages. Luke Shaw is still here (with re-tinted highlights and a terrifying new set of veneers) and is giving it the usual positive spiel about “good energy”, but you know full well that he’s going to be out of favour again by the middle of September. Chris Smalling too is blasé about claims the club are trying to sign a new centre back, I suppose I would be too if I was picking up £80,000 a week and still had 2 years left on my contract.

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A sizeable number of MUFC twitter gobshites are absolutely furious with Jose’s miserable demeanour, presumably they’d prefer him laughing hysterically and cracking jokes like Jurgen Klopp. Personally, I’ve got no problem with him looking thoroughly fed up. If he’s pissed off with Woodward and the OT bean counters, then he has every justification to have a public strop about it. I’d rather have a suicidal-sounding Mourinho in charge as opposed to some hooray for everything, yes-man who’s content with the prospect of finishing 20 points behind City again.

You might not appreciate the scowl on his face, you might not enjoy the style of play for the most part, but Jose is a pragmatist who knows his players’ capabilities and limitations. This may be an affront to misty-eyed connoisseurs of the football seen under Tommy Doc and Ron Atkinson, but we live in different times now. If United were to finish 11th like we did in Fergie’s third season, Mourinho would be sacked. The stakes are higher now. That’s why he advocates safety-first, no frills football. Simple truth is his squad isn’t good enough to kick on and progress beyond that.

We’ve spent £80M+ on a player like Pogba who’s under the microscope every week and pilloried for every sub-par performance, yet we play him alongside the likes of McTominay and Herrera. And still people are scratching their heads wondering why he looks better playing for France in the World Cup. If you’re going to sign a player like that and build a team around him, then you have to remember to build the actual team.

How short-sighted does the quibbling over an extra few million Euros for Perisic look now, given how strong he looked for Croatia on the biggest stage this summer? As for how to best maximise Pogba’s effectiveness, it’s almost as if United are content to have an all-dabbing, social media figurehead at the club yet aren’t too concerned whether everything is in place for him to realise his potential as a footballer.

Mourinho always said he should be judged after 3 years in charge and that time is now fast-approaching. As things currently stand though, it wouldn’t come as a shock if he didn’t last the season. He’s too stubborn to tweak his own methods and since the club don’t appear to be backing him 100%, I think he’ll be gone sooner rather than later. Whether he goes down fighting or limps out of the door with an apologetic shrug remains to be seen, but I’m sticking my neck out and predicting things will get very messy over the next few months. Welcome back, everyone!

Copyright Red News – August 2018

www.rednews.co.uk