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

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Que Sera, Sera

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The recent Champions League QF between Liverpool and City proved to be a bit of a conundrum, didn’t it? Whilst the eventual result spared us the possibility of the idiot neighbours being crowned Europe’s finest for at least another year, it’s left us with the utterly nauseating prospect of the scousers winning it. What a charmed life they lead in that competition. It doesn’t matter that they remain a completely unremarkable side if you discount Salah’s heroics this season; somehow they’re in the semi-finals again drawn against sodding Roma.

I do have to give Liverpool fans some credit though as they routinely treat the Champions League with the reverence it deserves. Although the ‘famous European nights at Anfield’ legend is teeth-grindingly irritating to all of us who’ve been force-fed this mantra over the years, they genuinely believe it to the extent it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s been repeated so often that it’s now accepted as fact and actually bears fruit for them on a regular basis.

Despite being one of the cringiest things I’ve ever seen, you can’t deny that pre-organised ‘coach welcome’ thing they did against City worked an absolute treat. Flares going off, missiles thudding against coach windows, loads of singing… it was nothing like as sinister as was subsequently claimed but it was more than enough to put City off their stroke. Whilst my natural inclination would be to steer well clear of anything so staged and contrived, part of me at least respects the fact the scousers can still rouse themselves for such occasions.

Hypothetically speaking, say if United were ever inclined to put on a similar show, do you reckon we could still manage it? I have my doubts. The days of Roma and Leeds getting legged all over the forecourt seem a world away now. If the Liverpool team coach turned up for a Champions League tie at OT there’d be more chance of them getting ambushed by selfie sticks and autograph hunters than a hail of bottles and cans.

If you think I’m exaggerating here then just cast your mind back to the recent Seville home game and ask yourself, ‘would Anfield have been so deathly quiet?’ Would it bollocks. The uncomfortable truth is they can still do it when required whereas we’re reliant on a couple of hundred J stand barmies clad in garish bobble hats and Adidas Originals to generate any kind of atmosphere.

Due to deadlines and time constraints, I’m writing this pre-match so I’ve got no idea what happened at Wembley against Spurs last weekend. Given you’re reading this a week later, the players have either been revelling in self-congratulatory bullshit on Instagram all week or they’ve been keeping a very low profile having neglected to turn up once again. Quite honestly, I’m struggling to care either way about the bunch of frauds at present. Whatever will be, will be…

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This team do my head in. Just as you manage to convince yourself that they are making some progress and have moved beyond that 4 years and counting spell of looking like a disinterested rabble, they go and turn in that West Brom performance. All the good vibes and positivity generated by that Lazarus-like comeback in the derby obliterated in the space of 90 stupefyingly predictable minutes. It’s just so completely typical of them, the utter bastards.

I dunno. I suppose I’m as guilty as anyone of trying to accentuate the positives under Mourinho but you can’t continue to excuse afternoons like that. It was flashback to what was witnessed week in, week out during Van Gaal’s 2nd season. Quite simply, we should have moved beyond those kind of results by now. It’s all well and good producing a stirring comeback to beat City, but it means nothing if you hand them the title by failing to show against rock bottom relegation certs a week later. It’s just embarrassing.

My hope for the summer is that Mourinho just goes for it. No doubt we’ll spend big yet again but I’d be more encouraged if he concentrated solely on shipping out some of the deadwood. Fuck that, actually just bin ALL of the deadwood. Let’s face it, if we don’t challenge for the title next season (which we evidently won’t, because we’re still capable of losing at home to West fucking Brom) then Jose will end up falling out with absolutely everybody and getting sacked anyway. This is his last season coming up, so he may as well just go all out now rather than continuing with the never-ending re-building job he’s currently embroiled in.

If it were me, I’d start by asking the goalie if he wants to stay. If he doesn’t, then I’d shake his hand, wish him all the best for the future and drive him to the airport. He’s been an absolute star and has already suffered enough. I’d then bin every fullback at the club – the dreamy Dutch one, the rubbish Italian one and both of the failed winger ones. Smalling and Jones will be placed on the transfer list with immediate effect; Eric Bailly gets to stay with the proviso he stops being injured.

Fellaini should get the remaining few weeks of his contract cancelled for having the cheek to turn down a completely unmerited new deal. Seriously, who the fuck does he think he is? Pogba gets to stay on the condition he parts company with his agent and endeavours to become the player we all know he could be. Mata, Herrera and Matic are permitted to remain at the club, mainly due to the fact it would be foolish to get rid of the entire playing staff in the space of a single transfer window.

Jesse Lingard should be congratulated for his remarkable upturn in form but warned about his conduct off the field and tested for undiagnosed ADHD. Lukaku gets to stay on condition he practises basic passing and trapping a ball over the summer. Martial should be binned for looking permanently miserable and having a very irritating fan club on social media. Marcus Rashford to be offered a new deal on the condition he gets himself a girlfriend who’ll make him realise spending 18 hours a day in Lingard’s company is not only mentally exhausting, it’s also affecting his development as a functioning adult.

I’m done with them for now. See you in August.

Copyright Red News – April 2018

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Highway To Hell

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Good old Juan Mata. Whilst everyone was losing the plot after the Champions League exit, the nicest man in football™ also proved himself a master of understatement by summing up events as merely, “a complicated week.” That’s one way of putting it, though I can’t help thinking ‘calamitous’ might have been a more fitting adjective.

After Ben Yedder’s 2nd goal prompted the mass exodus from the ground, the mood walking away wasn’t one of resigned disappointment, it felt almost mutinous. I know plenty of people have never really warmed to Mourinho, but I was genuinely surprised at the level of invective being aired. This wasn’t just the usual handful of gobshites sounding off, it was more than that. It felt like a tipping point had been reached.

Jose, true to form, came out swinging. Whilst he was obviously correct in pointing out that our recent Champions League is poor and home exits are nothing new, it was pretty disingenuous of him to ignore the fact that he was brought here to try and change that. Yes, he may well have been in charge of Porto and Real Madrid when they knocked us out, but using that fact to justify failings on his current watch was somewhat spurious reasoning.

As regular readers know, I’ve always defended Mourinho and would have been happy to see him appointed as Fergie’s successor 5 years ago. We needed someone with the same self-belief, drive and winning mentality who would be completely unfazed by the size of the club and level of expectation. Clearly he has his character flaws, but then so did Ferguson. We revelled in his malevolent side and siege mentality for many years, reaping the rewards of his similarly gargantuan personality and monstrous ego.

The major difference between the two was hammered home after the Seville game, however. Whereas you always sensed Ferguson took defeats personally and everything we experienced (good or bad) could be used to impact on his players’ long-term development, there was no evidence of that from Jose’s reaction. He didn’t defend his tactics or his squad, or even seem that chastened by the result – he merely used the opportunity to defend his own reputation.

Needless to say, it wasn’t great timing by Mourinho to remind us of his previous successes over United in the competition. We’re acutely aware of his past pedigree as it’s one of the main reasons he was appointed manager in the first place. His press conference might have been better received if he’d at least sounded contrite rather than brushing criticism away and offering the somewhat lame excuse of, ‘well you’ve seen all this before, haven’t you lads?’

He wasn’t done yet. Jose was back in front of the press prior to the Brighton game, this time armed with a list of Rafa-style facts detailing each of our European exits in recent years. His tone was just as bullish as had been 3 days earlier, although this time he was at pains to stress that the Seville result needed to be viewed in context. His main point being that this United team are still a work in progress lacking experience at the very top level. A fair point I suppose, and at least this time he resisted the temptation to big up his own past achievements.

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At least the defeat took the ongoing beef with Pogba off the back pages briefly, but that one is certain to rear its head again given his ongoing absence from the starting line up . The fact he was left out for the biggest game of the season speaks volumes, and that’s before you consider the minimal impact he had after he eventually came on as sub. Regardless of form, I don’t think any of us would picked Fellaini over Pogba versus Seville, especially as we were starting another 2 holding midfielders in Matic and McTominay. Relations between the pair don’t appear to have improved and as I said last month, it won’t come as much of a surprise if Pogba’s gone in the summer.

Ditto Luke Shaw, another player subject to Jose’s oft-schizophrenic approach to motivational techniques. Now we all know that Shaw needs a regular kick up his sizeable arse and it’s long been a cause for concern that his attitude and approach require constant tuning. Mourinho isn’t the first coach to experience this and I doubt he’ll be the last. However, it was only 6 weeks ago that Shaw was being praised for his consistency and a new contract was being mentioned. Was this just an attempt to alert potential suitors? If so, why the abrupt change of heart within a couple of months?

Another in the firing line is Alexis Sanchez, a player whose descent into utter mediocrity has been impressive even by recent United standards. I mean, at least Di Maria gave us 6 weeks of good form before downing tools and viewing apartments on the Champs-Élysées. It came as no surprise to see him dropped for the Brighton game as he’s been absolutely shocking since he signed. Fingers crossed we’ll start to see the best of Alexis after he’s had a break in the summer and a full pre-season behind him.

The FA Cup, as it has been on a couple of notable occasions in United’s history, could turn out to be Mourinho’s salvation in what has become a very testing 2nd term in charge. That however, remains a very remote possibility considering the state of our record against both Spurs and potential finalists Chelsea in recent years – we haven’t beaten either team away from Old Trafford since 2012.

All things considered, last week’s international break probably came at the right time to give several figures in the dressing room a few days break from each other. Just be thankful for Will Grigg and Wigan Athletic’s recent heroics, otherwise we might have been facing a genuine end of days scenario in the not too distant future. Watching City win the treble would be the most “complicated week” imaginable.

Copyright Red News – March 2018

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