Lost and Found

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Amidst the unabashed frivolity of the holiday celebrations, it can also be a time for sober reflection as we contemplate life without those we’ve loved and lost. This Christmas was set to be especially tough as there’s a (semi) popular lad at the club who’d been missing since the end of September. He was making sporadic posts on social media and was spotted in a couple of far-flung locations during his extended absence, but where was he? Thankfully, our prayers were answered as Paul Pogba turned up at last. Not on an exercise bike, a basketball court or dancing the Shaku Shaku… I mean actually in a United shirt.

What joy and relief we felt as he entered the fray at Vicarage Road as his erstwhile teammates cruised to a 0-2 defeat against rock-bottom relegation certs. He looked half-decent during his 20 minute cameo, prompting all manner of excitable musings from the xG virgins on social media. Am I being too cynical? Almost certainly. Maybe I should switch my brain off and pay attention to Raiola when he’s claiming his man wants to stay at OT and “win prizes”. I don’t think so. I expect the reality here is the human slug fears Juve/Barca/Madrid might have focused their attention elsewhere. This was nothing more than a vain attempt to build bridges and secure improved terms from United as a back-up plan.

Or, perhaps not. No sooner did Pogba make a return to first team duties, he promptly disappeared again. His “people” deciding there’s another problem with the ankle that now requires an operation – cue another few months of him flitting round the globe in a desperate rush to find match fitness. Even mild-mannered Ole looked completely exasperated when breaking the news during his post-match interview at the Emirates. I can’t say I’ve had enough of Pogba and his “people” now, because I lost all patience with them 2 years ago. If you’ve still got any faith whatsoever in this clown then I quite honestly feel for you at this point.

Following Haaland Jnr’s decision to move to Dortmund instead of Old Trafford, I suspect we’ve now reached the final stretch of Raiola’s influence on the current squad ecosystem. Fergie certainly wouldn’t entertain him, and it was clear in summer 2016 that Woodward was taking a huge gamble by ignoring past indiscretions and welcoming him and 3 of his players (Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Zlatan) back into the fold. Another of his charges, Lukaku, would arrive a year later.

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In some respects Raiola is no different from any other agent. He nurtures a strong relationship with each of his players when they’re young, he has extensive contacts throughout Europe and he’s focused on earning himself a few quid. He reportedly speaks 7 languages so he’s clearly not thick. That only tells half the story though. A line from Zlatan’s book provides an insight to how Raiola differs from the majority of his peers: “The guy wasn’t actually a mafioso. He just looked and acted like one.

We can therefore conclude that Raiola fancies himself as a bit of a maverick. He wears jeans and sunglasses to meetings and probably quotes The Godfather trilogy like millennials know Harry Potter. He bought Al Capone’s ex-house in Miami, which is just about the most tryhard gangsta flex imaginable. For a self-styled loose cannon who’s unfazed when pitted against adversaries like Moggi, Berlusconi and Ferguson during negotiations, Ed Woodward was always going to be a pushover in comparison. This was never going to end well for United.

Aside from all the posturing, it’s clear that Raiola is singularly dedicated to each of his players and will do anything possible to orchestrate the most lucrative career path open to them – with a large emphasis on the word ‘lucrative’. Despite being involved in high-profile deals like Bergkamp to Inter (from Ajax) as far back as 1993 and Nedved to Juventus (from Lazio) in 2001; it was the hook-up with Zlatan back in 2004 that helped him realise his full potential in plundering the riches of European football’s 21st century transfer market.

Raiola wants his players to adopt the same mindset he himself possesses. Clubs exist to be exploited – until they have outlived their usefulness in terms of gargantuan bonus payments and a platform from which his clients can temporarily project their talents. Quaint notions of loyalty and longevity don’t exist because earnings are best maximised by instigating a move every 2-3 years. It was no exaggeration when I previously surmised that Pogba’s long-anticipated switch to Spain was being planned before he’d even re-signed for United.

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With the club in its current state, it’s extremely doubtful whether de Ligt or Haaland would have chosen to come here regardless of any agent’s influence. We’re a dysfunctional mess and any emerging starlets would be best advised to steer clear of M16 at present. However, I can’t say I’m too despondent about this state of affairs. Even if the club was on a secure footing, I’d prefer to avoid the de-stabilising presence of this fat little man whose sole focus in life is pimping out young footballers so he can eventually bid on another summer house in Florida.

It was still amusing to see Woodward scrambling to brief his regular press mouthpieces after news broke of Haaland’s ‘snub’. Yes, of course United pulled out of the proposed deal as they weren’t prepared to give into Raiola’s excessive demands. I mean, they’ve only paid him an estimated £30-£40 million in commission fees over the last 3 years. However, we’re now supposed to believe the club has suffered a sudden bout of fiscal modesty and no longer wants to risk being exploited.

Do me a favour. The fact is, United are the biggest, the richest and currently run by the daftest. This is why the club has been at the centre of numerous catastrophic transfers in recent times where we’ve repeatedly had our pants pulled down. Whilst Woodward remains in charge, United will continue to be at the mercy of leeches like Raiola and Pogba.

Copyright Red News – January 2020

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Run! Christian, Run!

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Season’s greetings, readers. It’s only been a couple of weeks since the last mag so it feels a tad premature to be sitting down and commenting on the latest chapter of this mostly-underwhelming season. Never mind, eh? At least after this column there’s a few weeks break until I’m back again with another 1100 words of cutting-edge and thrillingly insightful MUFC opinion. You never know, perhaps over the coming weeks there might be a continuation of this recent upturn in form so I’ll have nothing but positive vibes to share in the new year? We can only dream.

Anyway, all talk of doom and gloom is banished momentarily as we bask in what was a tremendous result in the Manchester derby. Possibly more important than the result was the performance itself, the first time in what feels like years that United have opted to go toe-to-toe with a genuine rival in an attempt to outplay them. It’s no exaggeration to say that first half display was perhaps the best we’ve witnessed since Fergie left. I know City aren’t as strong as they were but it was still great to see and something the players should take huge encouragement from.

The next step now (obviously) is to try and build on this and establish some consistency. We’ve shown we can do okay up against teams who play football, you just fear for these players still when they’re pitted against opponents who are up for a scrap. It’s alright taking points off City and Spurs, it’s the likes of Burnley and Newcastle who’ll continue to cause us major grief whilst the team is still in development mode. Anyway, credit where credit is due – that was a tremendously satisfying win after the wretched football that’s been served up for much of the season so far.

In other news, as a consequence of last Saturday’s heroics, it appears that we’ve accidentally handed Liverpool the title. I’ve made a conscious effort since August to ensure there was no repeat of last season where I spent about 6 months silently willing City to win each week in the hope they’d stop Liverpool winning the league. I’m not proud of this at all. Despite leaving me feeling increasingly grubby throughout the duration of this period, it worked to a point. City won it again to absolutely zero fanfare and crisis was averted for another year.

There’s no point sweating it anymore because this season, it’s definitely happening. It’s as inevitable as something that’s completely fucking inevitable. If you’ve ever fancied the Inca Trail, scaling Kilimanjaro or a short stay at Dignitas, get it booked now for next May. For the non-adventurous, brace yourself for an attempt on the longest and most significant media blackout of your entire football watching career. It’s going to be horrendous.

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I fully expect Sky staffers are already putting in overtime producing the celebratory montages now. It’ll be pretty easy in fairness as they’ve probably got a shitload leftover from last season that never made it to air. King Kenny, Gerry Marsden, Rogan Taylor, Mick Quinn, Steven Gerrard, Margaret Aspinall, Rafa Benitez, Colin Murray, Jimmy Tarbuck… expect the full cast, past and present to be wheeled out in tribute. I’m telling you now, plan ahead and be prepared for this as the eulogies will continue all summer long.

At least it means we’ve been spared the prospect of City wining three in a row, but let’s be honest, their domestic treble barely registered as very few people outside areas of Greater Manchester and Stockport are remotely interested. It’s weird how flat things seem over at Eastlands. The formerly happy-go-lucky, giddy blue hoards seem more focused on hounding journalists and shouting down allegations of human rights abuses in the United Arab Emirates than winning the European Cup.

They’d never admit it, but the time-served blues I know appeared to be having a lot more fun as the self-styled, morally superior, perennial underdogs of yesteryear. These days it’s just gripes about scousers, bent VAR decisions and wild conspiracy theories alleging UEFA corruption. They’re like lottery winners who moved off their old estate into a massive house, sent their kids to private school and now have a Range Rover and a Lamborghini on the driveway. Their old friends are jealous, the new neighbours are snobs with little respect for new money, so they’re left crippled with self-doubt and a nagging inferiority complex. Life is shit like that, sometimes.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, the seasonal ‘managerial merry-go-round’ is in full-swing with Everton and Arsenal both wielding the axe following Spurs’ recent dismissal of Pochettino. We can only hope Duncan Ferguson sticks around as it’ll only be a matter of weeks before he stops swinging ball boys round in celebration and instead starts grabbing them by the throat. Freddie Ljungberg by comparison is a spectacularly boring choice, Arsenal could have easily upped the bantz levels by bringing in Sol Campbell or Tony Adams in a hopelessly misguided attempt to bring about an improvement in form and player morale.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to one and all. My list this year includes a brand new ground development taking the OT capacity over 90 thousand, half a dozen new first team players in January and reduced bar prices for all, not just singing section barmies. In reality, I’m fully anticipating dropped points at Vicarage Road and Turf Moor whilst Liverpool are being crowned world champions. Buckle up, lads and lasses… as I’ve tried to warn you, scousemageddon is finally upon us.

Copyright Red News – December 2019

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Gimme Some Truth

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Typical. Having ended the last column with the doom-laden prediction that Ole might not see out the month of November, right on cue the team lurched out of its 6 month stupor and managed to string together a few wins. Despite decades of practice, I remain an utterly crap football pundit. Thankfully I do recognise this shortcoming in myself so had the good sense to stop gambling on the sport years ago.

Does this sudden improvement change much? Not in the grand scheme of things. 7th in the table is better than 13th and clearly making chances and scoring a few goals is a step in the right direction. Personally speaking, it’s going to take a lot more before I acknowledge this recent run as anything other other than a temporary blip. Since we’re currently stuck with this uneven mix of youngsters, deadwood and permanent crocks… the team could yet finish 5th or 15th this season.

I know I sound like a miserable bleeder but surely it’s better to be realistic in this situation? For all the saturated coverage football enjoys with round-the-clock SSN and the execrable MEN daily blog, perspective has dipped to an all-time low. Rashford smashes in a free kick against Chelsea and 18 months of drilling every effort into Row Z is forgotten in an instant – suddenly he’s on a par with Ronaldo. Fred finally manages a complete handful of passes and he’s the new Makelele. The McSauce and Martial FC cults… I honestly had a better grasp of footballers and their respective talents as a 9 year old than these clowns spouting nonsense on twitter and YouTube fan channels.

You want some real perspective? Let’s try the fact that Spurs have just sacked Pochettino after a miserable run of 25 points from their last 24 league games. Relegation form, that – but it fairness it coincided with a period of upheaval during which they underwent a protracted move into a new stadium. Not to mention they also reached their 1st ever European Cup final in May which might have proven a tad distracting for a club starved of trophies in recent years. Throughout that same time United have collected a grand total of 24 points, also relegation form. So excuse me for not turning cartwheels because we managed to dominate Brighton at home and Rashford did a couple of stepovers whilst playing for England versus Kosovo.

It’s all well and good extolling the virtues of patience and how it served us well in previous generations, but I was around for the 4-5 years in which Fergie struggled to find the right mix and can’t recall anything like the level of mind-numbing tedium we’ve seen a continuation of over the last 12 months. I don’t have any faith in the board, the coaching staff or half of the players we’re invested in. Despite people claiming otherwise, we’re still crap to watch and evidence of genuine progress is hard to see. Just 6 wins from our last 20 league games is pathetic. Faith in youth and the ‘United way’ is great, but they’ve fast-become well-worn tropes that excuse the lack of investment and urgency in addressing continued failings.

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If you look back to where we were at the start of this decade, it’s incredible to consider just how far we’ve sunk. Back then, despite being recently schooled by Barcelona in Rome we were still in an enviable position domestically and in Europe. All it needed was to continue the blueprint Ferguson had created a few years previously. Add 1-2 players a season and accept the fact you need to pay above and beyond the going rate to attract the best available. Instead, we decided to cut corners. Playing Phil Neville, O’Shea and Jones in midfield; Tevez and Ronaldo never replaced; investment in level-par workhorses like Young and Valencia as opposed to seeking-out the best in class. The list of failings could go on – we brought this decline on ourselves from a position of almost total dominance.

It took us 30 years (with the various ups and downs along the way) to reach the summit of European football again. To throw that away in the manner United did, especially with the unfathomable sums of money pouring into the club, wasn’t just careless… it should be seen as criminal. The arrogance of Ferguson telling us how great the Glazers were whilst not signing a central midfielder for 5 years; the arrogance of those owners sucking millions out of the club and allowing the quality of squad to slowly regress and decay; the arrogance of supporters too, endlessly parroting the mind-numbing ‘20 times’ mantra and still banging on about the treble now. The club has sat on its hands whilst City and Liverpool glided past us, fully-focused on writing their next chapters rather than trading on trophies won last century and tolerating mediocrity.

Do you think this would have happened at any other European giant? Would Juventus or Real Madrid or Bayern be content to sit in mid-table experimenting with various permutations of inexperienced kids? Would they bollocks. We’re currently being sold a lie with all this ‘faith in youth’ nonsense that bears little relation to how youngsters have been integrated into the squad in previous generations.

The class of ‘92 are rightly cited as the textbook modern day example of successfully birthing a selection of youth team players as opposed to spending millions. Remember though, that group was married into an already title-winning side alongside the likes of Irwin, Pallister, Bruce, McClair, Keane, Giggs and Cantona… not to mention the signing of Cole who was the most prolific striker in the country at the time. Those players were the established framework which enabled those youngsters to come in and thrive – the foundation of experience and a proven level of consistency was already in place.

How would Beckham, Butt, Scholes and the Nevs have fared with our current group? Shaw, Young, Jones, Lindelof, Lingard, Pereira and Martial doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? I’ll tell you now, Ferguson would never have attempted such a move because he’d have known full well we’d have been left woefully exposed and the latest group of kids would barely have stood a chance. Instead, he’d have been demanding the likes of Kane or Lewandowski be recruited as a matter of urgency. The idea that Williams, Garner, Gomes, Chong and Greenwood might collectively blossom in this current set-up isn’t just wildly optimistic, it’s verging on ridiculous.

Copyright Red News – December 2019

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