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

www.rednews.co.uk

Keep On Keeping On

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At last! Finally, we’ve done it. The day the naysayers said would never arrive has arrived. Hours upon hours of careful planning, hard work behind the scenes and some inspiring moments of individual brilliance has paid dividends. No, I’m not talking about Red News reaching its 30th anniversary, I’m talking about us no longer being 6th. Win? 6th. 20 games unbeaten? 6th. Draw? 6th. Get beat? 6th. Not any more. Now we’re 5th. Bask in the glory, my friends – this day has been a long time coming.

It’s been a crazy busy last few weeks with games arriving so fast that it’s all passing by in something of a blur. The schedule gets even more congested from here on in with 9 (nine!) games currently scheduled during April. It’s reassuring to note Chris Smalling has allayed concerns about players suffering needless injuries by taking out Phil Jones in England training. At least now there’s less risk of anyone else picking up accidental knocks if Jones is watching from the sidelines on crutches.

Last month also saw us win a trophy and delightfully, cause the ABU nation to suffer a collective seizure by doing so virtue of a wrongly disallowed goal. Although this happened in the first half and Southampton only had an hour to come back from this gargantuan injustice, from that moment on the script was already written. Now I was genuinely perplexed as to why it shouldn’t be offside when there was someone clearly stood 3 yards offside, but apparently they changed the rules about 5 years ago so that you’re only off if the ball is played directly to you. Whaaat? Well I never got that memo, did I? Anyway, suck it up Craig David, Matthew Le Tissier and Jim Bergerac.

Zip up your Fjallraven, jump in the Volvo, slap on some Roxette and head to Ashton IKEA… it looks like we could be going to Sweden! Now Europa League participation normally holds about as much credibility as a David Moyes motivational speech, but it suddenly looks quite appealing now a potential trip to Stockholm is on the horizon. The only problem is I think I’ve only got 1 credit due to being a perpetually skint, semi-retired part-timer. 10,000 tickets is a minuscule allocation for a European final, so the application has gone in for Anderlecht as it will for the semi should we get there. Why oh why didn’t I apply for St Etienne? That’s gonna come back to haunt me, that one.

If we do make it to the final, then it’ll make a fitting finale to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s stint in a United shirt… and may help persuade him to curb his nomadic predisposition and give us another year. Admittedly, I was sceptical upon his arrival but he’s been an absolute godsend in a season where we’ve struggled to score goals. He’s been United’s top player this season, impressing as a leader and instilling a bit of arrogance and swagger back into a squad that was devoid of personalities prior to his arrival. No, Jesse… I’m afraid sticking your tongue out and practising elaborate goal celebrations doesn’t make you a personality, it just makes you look a dickhead.

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If you weren’t an Ibrasceptic previously, then you are probably one of those incredibly smug Zlataphiles who have spent the last 6 months telling everyone, “I told you so.” Congratulations, give yourself a pat on the back. The thing is, when the rest of us were saying, “not good enough” a few years ago, it was with good reason. United had Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo terrorising all of Europe back then, and I’d argue Zlatan wasn’t at their level. He’s only proved himself as a stopgap signing in a vastly inferior set up years later. A harsh assessment given his stellar contribution this season, but we still desperately need to find the player who’ll take us above and beyond where we are at right now.

One hoped that Zlatan’s arrival would curb us of our tendency to struggle at home against packed defences, but it remains this team’s Archilles’ heel. Our overall record this season is decent, with only 3 league defeats all season, but this is pockmarked by rage-inducing home draws when facing utter dross. Stoke, Burnley, West Ham, Hull, Bournemouth recently – each should have been routine home victories. Those 10 dropped points would have had us safely ensconced in the top four now, rather than still sweating on CL qualification.

There was a confirmed departure this month as Bastian Schweinsteiger finally admitted defeat with his saintly charm offensive and packed his bags for the MLS. What a strange character he was. I don’t wish to sound all Brexit but I expect more Teutonic arrogance from my German sporting icons than you ever got with Basti. When Mourinho told him it was over I would have had more respect for him if he’d flounced back to Bavaria rather than forlornly hanging around Carrington helping to put the cones out. I know he was only being professional and he probably is a bloody nice bloke, but I just found it all a bit false.

Finally, huge thanks to AS Monaco for knocking City out of the European Cup and ending the possibility of them ever winning it for at least another 12 months. I’m aware that getting past Bayern, Barca and Real was going to be a very tall order indeed, but those recent-ish Liverpool and Chelsea victories have taught us that it’s very possible for the underdog to scrape through and claim an unlikely triumph. Although we can no longer celebrate their trophyless anniversary each 28th February, at least we still have this little nugget to cling onto until the true football order is restored in Manchester.

Bitter? Moi?

Copyright Red News – April 2017

www.rednews.co.uk

In A Different Place

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Oh well. Just as things were progressing quite nicely, a relatively simple-looking triple header against Hull has seen United return to their toothless, autumnal travails. The points salvaged against Liverpool and Stoke were tolerable in the grand scheme of things, but the Hull fixtures saw United start poorly and then get progressively worse over 270 entertainment-starved minutes. How frustrating that the rock bottom, relegation certainties visibly grew in confidence over the course of the 3 games, rather than suffering successive, routine drubbings as one might have hoped.

The away game was one of those nights where you really do question, ‘why do I still bother doing this?’ Okay, so the United end was bouncing and we reached another cup final… but the rest of it? You leave work early and drive to East Yorkshire in January, it’s about -5 degrees, you go in a pub where the locals are shitfaced at 6pm on a school night and there’s a football card going round where the prize is a ‘£10 meat voucher.’ Firstly, what exactly is a meat voucher? Secondly, who were the sick, twisted individuals on the panel who voted this hellhole ‘UK City of Culture 2017‘?

The league game at OT was a similarly grim spectacle. In a week where the top four sides each dropped points, United had the opportunity to gain some ground yet completely failed to take advantage. The team seemed to suffer collective amnesia during the 2nd half and started racking up the Van Gaal-style sideways passes rather than pressing relentlessly for a winner. Most disconcerting, given how we’d absolutely battered Stoke for an hour before getting a richly deserved injury time equaliser.

Hopefully this last couple of weeks is just a blip and we can bounce back at Leicester on Sunday. It still feels like we’ve made huge progress over the last couple of months, so it’ll be disastrous if this ill-timed dip in form becomes another slide. Worryingly though, the team looked knackered during the 2nd half against Hull… which doesn’t bode well at all given that the Europa League, Thursday-Sunday cycle of games is about to resume. Honestly? I’d be content to get knocked out asap if it helped secure a top four finish and a return to the Champions League next season.

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It’s pointless even discussing the state of the atmosphere at OT as it’s just routinely appalling. No debate, it just is… those days are gone. The last singing section venture did nothing whatsoever to improve things overall. All it did was provide a section of the ground where people wearing retro Adidas tracksuit tops and bobble hats could stand up and clap like demented seals whilst singing about Eric Cantona for about 2 minutes every game. No doubt that those involved like to think they’ve made a difference but in reality, the opposite is true. All they did was help displace a couple of thousand time-served J-Standers and snuff out an area of the ground that would still stir itself and make some noise when the occasion demanded it.

It was disappointing then, to learn that neighbouring East Lower and K-Stand reds are being forcibly moved in order to make way for the extended disabled section that’s been announced. Obviously it’s a very good thing that the club are taking positive steps to increase the capacity for disabled fans, that isn’t the issue here. The problem is why this needs to be at the expense of a sizeable proportion of the cheapest tickets available at Old Trafford?

A season ticket in East Lower currently costs £532, decent value in terms of the cost of watching Premier League football these days. It isn’t the greatest view in the ground as you’d expect at that price level, so for the most part the people purchasing those seats do so because they are affordable. If those affected accept the club’s offer to move to seats elsewhere, at the very least they can expect to pay a further £170 on top of that. Quite simply, this development will price many hundreds of fans out of going to the game.

Whilst the club’s email to affected ST Holders trilled about “state-of-the-art reversible platforms”, “accessibility lounges” and “300 new positions for disabled supporters”, all very commendable – the upshot of this is 2000+ supporters having a price increase imposed on them that will ultimately negate the cost of financing the development. Additional disabled spaces, let’s not forget, the club are obliged to provide otherwise they’d likely face legal action from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Far from being a good news story then, or an example of the club doing something positive for a minority of supporters, this is just another example of Glazernomics in practice. Top of the Deloitte money table, £513.3M revenue recorded for 2016, £540M predicted for 2017, yet where is the announcement of increasing the ground capacity by redeveloping the South Stand? How about investing a few hundred million by building something truly world class that could incorporate many hundreds of disabled spaces as well as taking the capacity over 90,000? Yeah right – don’t hold your breath.

Copyright Red News – February 2017

www.rednews.co.uk