No Surprises

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After all the usual bluster, transfer deadline day passed by with very little occurring of United-related interest. Not much new there. For all the talk of monster deals and last-minute scrambles, hardly anything of note ever happens. We signed Rooney and Berbatov in previous years, sure – but nothing will ever top the genuine madness of 2013 when after being linked with Kroos, Fabregas and Herrera all summer, Woodward managed to sign only Marouane Fellaini. “Oh I can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible…” etc.

All the lols this year were at Arsenal’s expense, of course – with Arsene Wenger seemingly hellbent on shredding his legacy with each passing week. His attitude now seems to be, “well if I’m going down, I’m taking all of you lot with me.” It’s no wonder all the ArsenalFanTV loons have become minor internet celebrities due to being in a state of permanent apoplexy; I daresay we’d be losing the plot if the same was happening at United.

I’ve always had plenty of time for Wenger, who seems to be a thoroughly decent man despite working in football all his adult life. The fact he’s facing all this hassle at the age of 67 is an unflattering end to what’s been a brilliant career. At this point he should be sat in the director’s box enjoying his retirement rather than struggling with a conundrum that’s had him stumped for over a decade. He clearly doesn’t know or he’s just too stubborn to admit that he’s taken the club as far as he can. I just feel sorry for the bloke now, he deserves far more than the ire of rent-a-gob no-marks who’ve lost sight of the fact they had the time of their lives following the teams he built previously.

I don’t want to come across sounding too pious, however. As stated earlier, if a similar scenario was occurring at United no doubt we’d all be seething. From the fans point of view, they’ve been banging on about Arsenal’s clear failings for the last 6-7 years and the club haven’t done a thing to acknowledge their grievances. Wenger did a great job of keeping them in contention (thereabouts) whilst the Emirates was paid for, but that move from Highbury was 11 years ago now. Meanwhile, the club are plodding along, content with a 4th place finish each year whilst blindingly obvious weaknesses in the team remain unaddressed. I’d be getting pretty irate too, in fairness.

No such dramas at OT where Jose’s invincibles are cruising towards the league title, apparently. Personally I think the pundits might be getting a tad carried away, but the consensus opinion seems to be that last season’s problems are all fixed and we’re going to walk it. Yeah right. Although I’d agree our start has been very encouraging, it’s worth recalling that we also won our first 3 league games last season before going on a run that saw us take just 6 of the next 21 points available. Looking at the games coming up I expect we’ll comfortably avoid a repeat of that, but I still don’t trust half of our players to maintain this improvement for a full season unless they’ve undergone secret brain transplants over the summer.

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Over at Wastelands, I see Guardiola has been in full-on, passive-aggressive oddball mode for the last couple of weeks. I always figured Mourinho was supposed to be the sulky, petulant one but their roles have reversed over the last year or so. Dunno what it is with Josep these days, he previously seemed to be a cool customer but now he looks like he’s about to embark on a Klopp-style spin out at any given minute. I reckon he’s incredibly miffed that the job isn’t proving anything like as easy as he anticipated. I suspect he assumed he’d merely turn up, commence his tiki-taka eulogising and the trophies would flow at the same rate they did at his previous clubs.

This is England though, innit? Or more pertinently, this is Manchester City – where having an unlimited transfer budget proves as much of a distraction as it is a bonus. Guardiola has broken up the established order (binned Zableta, ostracised Hart, clearly doesn’t rate Aguero), but the spine of the team no longer looks as strong as it did under Mancini or Pellegrini. Players like Sterling are signed for £50M then they’re ready to sacrifice him as soon as they get a sniff of Sanchez’s availability. I just don’t get them – for all their talk of ‘the project’ and their long-term commitment to becoming global football superpower, there’s still a strong whiff of short-sighted flippancy about much of the decision making.

For example, take the decision to banish Joe Hart. Now everyone knows Hart is a bit of a bellend, but there’s no denying he did alright for City. It’s not like Guardiola replaced him with a better pedigree keeper or anything, it was more a case of ‘don’t fancy you, see ya.’ I know United have been guilty of a number of similar volte-faces over the last few years, but our chronic inconsistency proves that changing half your team each summer doesn’t pay immediate dividends. If City go on to win the title or the Champions league then I’ll be proven wrong on this, clearly. I just feel that they’d be better served by a more methodical approach as opposed to hoovering up 5 new players every transfer window.

Anyway, enough of everyone else’s business – even Wayne Rooney getting caught in flagrante isn’t our problem anymore. The sun is shining, United are unbeaten and we’ve drawn Burton at home in the League Cup. Not even the international break or the threat of imminent nuclear war can spoil the buzz. What a time to be alive.

Copyright Red News – September 2017

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Higher Ground

Greetings, fellow football enthusiasts! After a welcome summer off, August rolls round again and it’s time for another 10 months of ill-considered United opinion. All ready to go then? No, not really? Excellent, let’s do this.

Firstly, I’m going to start with a heartfelt apology to the UEFA Europa League, the much derided, slow-witted sibling of its Champions League big brother. I spent the vast majority of last season demonstrating zero enthusiasm for our participation due to being a time-served dickhead, before shamelessly diving onto the hype train just as the final approached. This was clearly a bit snide and I was proven very wrong indeed.

As anyone in attendance will testify, Stockholm was a Euro away classic that will live long in the memory. Not in terms of the game, that was a bit of a stinker in which we bored our way to victory, just in terms of the trip itself. Great people, great city, great result. Flying out of Manchester just hours after the atrocity committed at the Arena felt very odd indeed. Placed in the context of life-changing events like that, football is obviously meaningless. It did however present the opportunity for those present in Sweden to demonstrate solidarity in some small way, proving that life goes on and we won’t be intimidated from doing what we love.

Arriving home after zero sleep in 36 hours, I made the mistake of binge-watching a jumble of media reports from both the match and the aftermath of the bomb… and all of a sudden I was an emotional wreck; proud of the team for completing the set and immensely proud of the city for its immediate response to the attack. I know it’s only football, but you know what it’s like at European finals… you don’t win them very often and when you do it can all come flooding out. I dunno what to say in conclusion, just that winning the Europa unexpectedly proved quite a life-affirming moment. And clearly, that’s not a sentence I ever envisaged writing.

Anyway, onto current matters and how are we looking for the season ahead? The transfer window this summer has proven remarkable based on the sheer number of players we’d apparently agreed personal terms with. At some point in mid-June we were clocking one per day. Morata, Neymar, Perisic, Aurier, Rodriguez, Talisca, Fabinho… it was relentless. Ed Woodward must have been dual-wielding mobile phones like some kind of cocaine-deranged city trader to have had all them lined up.

Away from Fantasy Island, actual real-life completed business has been more steady with only Lukaku, Lindelof and Matic arriving thus far. Solid acquisitions there, nothing too ground breaking but there’s still plenty of time remaining for one or two more. Common sense suggests that prior to further additions, we’ll have to ship a couple out as only Rooney and Januzaj have departed up to now. As things stand it’ll be a surprise if Ashley Young is still here in September and Mourinho managed to break several thousand hearts by quashing rumours of Fellaini heading to Galatasary.

I’m close to giving up on this now. Quite how Fellaini continues to enjoy the confidence of successive United managers remains the great unsolvable puzzle of our times. It’s become a question that gives me sleepless nights. I watch closely, I look for clues, I’ve pored over all available evidence but I still don’t have a clue what he’s doing here. In times of weakness I’ve started to doubt my judgement, but I can’t get beyond what I consistently see with my own eyes. One day the penny might drop and I’ll be able to understand his appeal, but I remain utterly perplexed for now.

As much as Fellaini’s employment continues to baffle, Rooney’s departure wasn’t any surprise at all. As a staunch Rooney advocate over the years, it probably took me longer than most to admit the game was up. But Fergie (as always) had it right when he was trying to edge him out back in 2013, as the last 4 years have been grim viewing for the most part. It certainly won’t take Everton long to realise his performance level is more Stella than stellar these days. However, in years to come the Rooney I’ll recall won’t be the lumbering 2017 vintage, it’ll be the spud-faced nipper that was smashing it up week in-week out from 2004-2012. He leaves as one of United’s greatest ever signings and we should wish him well.

Being brutally honest though, I’m struggling to see how we’ve improved significantly on what we had last year. Lukaku will replace Zlatan, Matic will screen the defence a’la Carrick and Lindelof will probably take a few months to settle based on how nervy he’s looked pre-season. All in all, a serious title challenge appears beyond us unless there’s a spectacular improvement on how the team performed for most of last season.

However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some optimism. It’s highly unlikely that Chelsea will repeat their relentless form of last term, especially minus Costa. Liverpool and Arsenal are still as shit as ever and I think City’s decision to change their entire defence in one fell swoop is going to hurt them despite their plethora of attacking options. So if Lukaka scores goals, Pogba kicks on, United manage a serious upturn in home form… well you never know.

I can’t help suspecting that we’ve still got a big one incoming. We’re massively lacking a fancy dan, creative type so it’ll be a surprise if we start another season with (shudder) Young and Valencia as our only specialist wide players. I’ve got a theory in any case. As Neymar has gone to PSG, there’s no way that Madrid will be able to handle not making a splash this summer so they’ll push hard for Mbappe now. Meaning… hello Gareth Bale. It’s happening, people. Imagine the Instagram likes? #baleisared #allhailkingmonkey #pleasemakeitstop

Copyright Red News – August 2017

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19th Nervous Breakdown

image.pngDespite United suffering something of a decline in recent seasons, it’s reassuring to note that rather than merely being derided by our rivals, we’re now back on the receiving end of subtle and not quite so subtle digs once more. Performance-wise, we’re obviously not dining at the top table quite yet, but at least they’re now chucking regular snide bombs in our direction as opposed to simply sniggering at our misfortunes. Delightfully, we still possess the ability to upset the rest of the English football by merely existing and being bigger than everyone else.

There have been some absolute crackers this last few weeks. First we had Ronald “my dream is to one day coach Barca” Koeman warning Romelu Lukaku against moving to Old Trafford, mainly because we’re rubbish and he’ll never get to play in the Champions League here. Clearly it’s fine for Koeman to regularly move clubs in an attempt to further his career, but woe betide any of his players attempting to realise their ambitions on a greater stage.

Then you had Antonio Conte sagely noting, “it’s not always about who spends more money who wins”. And yes, that’s Antonio Conte manager of Chelsea, a club renowned throughout world football for their moderate outlay in the transfer market. I mean they only laid out a paltry £123M last summer, the frugal refusenik mentalists! It’s a minor miracle these plucky underdogs can even compete when you consider they’ve only spent £2 billion since Abramovich took over. First Leicester, now Chelsea… quietly showing the rest of the Premier League fortune spunkers that there is another way.

Next was Jurgen Klopp, who’s been throwing subs all season about United’s defensive-minded approach and willingness to play the long ball. According to the heavy metal maestro, it’s harder for defenders at Liverpool because they play counter attacking football and leave themselves more exposed. I’m not 100% certain, but presumably this is why (combined with the fact half their team is utter dross) they concede more goals and lose more games too.

Listen Jurgen, try winding it in and embrace the fact that both United and Liverpool are pretty crap at present. There’s no shame in admitting it, we just are. If you’re going to persist with instructing your team to hare round like lunatics for 90 minutes just because that was effective at Dortmund for 18 months, then accept they are going to mess up regularly and ultimately leave you disappointed. English players are generally thick and don’t respond well to complex tactical instructions. Ease off on the gegenpressing, get 10 men behind the ball and lump it up to the big feller up front. There’s really no need to come over all passive-aggressive and take your frustrations out on us.

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Now I’ve long-since abandoned the pretence of thinking I was knowledgable enough to make a profit betting on football, but I do know enough still to make the occasional solid prediction. On the afternoon of the Celta semi-final 2nd leg, a work colleague was keen to hear my opinion on how United would fare that evening. My response was something along the lines of, “we’ll get through, but prepare to watch the last 10 minutes through your fingers. It won’t be pretty”.

Okay, so maybe you didn’t need to be Nostradamus to see that coming but it still proved unerringly accurate. I can’t recall a last 10 months minutes like that since the similarly nervy Barca semi in 2008. That night however, United at least retained a semblance of composure as the minutes ticked by. By comparison, this current lot displayed all the poise of a 3 year old tasked with carrying of tray of drinks.

Despite the haphazard nature of our progress, victory in Stockholm will apply a coat of gloss to all that’s gone before and make it a very successful season. Fergie always claimed that the aim every year was to win a trophy, so a 2nd major prize in a couple of months with a squad that’s now down to its bare bones after 60+ games will be quite an achievement. Even though some of the recent performances have been no better than the insipid fayre served up under Van Gaal, at least United are starting to look like a team again. It’s certainly not pretty, but we can battle when required and complete capitulations are certainly less frequent.

So, mission accomplished… sort-of. The regular “Jose’s playing the way that United should” refrains might have quietened over the last few weeks but it’s all been quite entertaining in its own way. European finals certainly don’t happen every year and despite the Europa League being the Europa League, the long slog to the final now looks well worth it now we’re closing the season with a couple of days in Sweden to look forward to. Just make sure you brace yourself for watching the last 10 minutes through your fingers again.

Enjoy the summer and I’ll see you in August.

Copyright Red News – May 2017

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