Ex-Factor

I wrongly assumed that the carry on with Pogba over the last couple of years would never be eclipsed but the situation with Ronaldo this season has been incredible. Honestly, I underestimated the lad. We all knew he was a rampant narcissist with a few screws loose beneath the carefully sculpted public image, but I never realised the true extent of his derangement. I always suspected his return to the club would go pear-shaped but the way everything unravelled from August onwards was spectacular. Fair play to him. Although his best days on the pitch might be behind him, he remains top entertainment off it.

It’s both incredible and depressing that even in the middle of a World Cup there was no bigger story anywhere in sport. Ronaldo is that colossal a public figure that his global appeal transcends that of both his club and his country. Indeed, both him and Messi enjoy a level of fame that has probably outgrown the game of football itself. The only thing comparable is probably Michael Jordan back in the 1990’s. Ronaldo attracts a sizeable fanbase who probably haven’t even watched a single minute of the World Cup. I don’t know why this phenomenon occurs, but it does. People really like famous people, I guess.

I’m not sure how people can become so attached to individual players. I completely understand how you can develop a lifelong bond to your club, or that your country’s national anthem might stir deep feelings of patriotism. But what possesses grown adults to (as the kids say) ‘stan’ certain players with such undying fervour? These cranks are all over social media with thousands upon thousands of followers, posting nonsensical stats and trumpeting their hero’s GOAT status. It explains a lot about why Ronaldo has become the man he is today. A former great propped up on reputation alone, feted by millions yet completely oblivious to his rapidly declining powers. 

I’m aware that plenty of reds were thrilled when he came back, but I can recall writing here how I was sceptical from the start. I didn’t really see the rationale behind it given how we’d persuaded Cavani to stay and Greenwood was progressing nicely. In the end, it sort-of paid off to an extent. Cavani was pissed off at being moved down the pecking order so only contributed on the few occasions he fancied it and Greenwood… well we all know the story there. So Ronaldo got exactly what he thought his status merited. He started up front almost every game and 24 goals from 38 games was a very respectable return on paper. 

The reality though, was somewhat different. There’s no doubt Ronaldo dragged United out of the shit with his goals a handful of times, particularly in the Champions League. In truth though, his legs had gone completely. There’s no shame in the aging process, it happens to all players. The true greats prolong their longevity by modifying their game to make up for a lack of explosive pace and acceleration. Ronaldo managed this feat superbly during his later years with Madrid and then in Serie A. Instead of playing from out wide where he began his ascent to global superstardom, he became the complete centre-forward.

Unfortunately, by the age of 36 his scope of influence was growing narrower by the week. It’s natural he was no longer able to hare it back into midfield to win back possession, but greater deficiencies were becoming all too obvious. Ronaldo routinely failed to press at all. A keeper with the ball at his feet wasn’t worth a look and neither was a defender in possession a few yards away. Increasingly, it took all his effort just to jog back onside in order to re-join play and offer any contribution at all. It’s okay to try and accommodate an out and out striker, but not at the expense of these absolute basic requirements. Aside from his goals, Ronaldo contributed little other than exasperated looks and regular bollockings to his teammates. 

By August this year, the situation had grown even more dire. After missing the entire pre-season whilst angling for a move away, he returned expecting the same treatment he’d been afforded under Solskjaer. Thankfully, Ten Hag saw things differently and Ronaldo was consigned to a place amongst the substitutes. You might have expected an ‘ultimate professional’ to take this dent to his pride on board and enter a period of self-reflection, but Ronnie is incapable of enduring any perceived slight. Instead, he never missed an opportunity to storm off in a sulk and blame everyone else for this great injustice he’d befallen. 

Ronaldo was an incredible footballer, one of the greatest to ever do it. He’s also vain and self-absorbed to the point he cannot accept criticism or advice from anyone he considers less than his equal; and since Ronaldo believes he’s the greatest, that’s a non-existent list of people. He keeps close counsel with his family and entourage, but they’re not exactly neutral when it comes to Christiano and his travails. Whatever Ronaldo thinks is right and whatever Ronaldo wants he gets. It’s been like this for the last 20 years or more. It’s no wonder he isn’t wired right given he’s led such an absurd life. 

If Ronaldo thought joining up with Portugal in Qatar might provide a massage to his bruised ego, he was sadly mistaken. After setting a new record by scoring in his 5th World Cup, there then followed the spectacle of him gesticulating wildly after being ‘robbed’ of Fernandes’ goal against Uruguay a full 10 minutes after the final whistle had sounded. Next came the ignominy of being dropped to the bench for subsequent fixtures, a decision that was greeted with all the stoicism and good grace you would expect of the man. After probably his final World Cup appearance he headed down the tunnel in tears without acknowledging his teammates or opponents. It was an all too predictable conclusion. 

Pairing up with Piers Morgan to broadcast a 90 minute “airing of the grievances” was a fitting way to close the United chapter of his career. The jocular tone and forced bonhomie failing to mask his insecurities and highlighting his complete lack of humour and self-awareness. Morgan isn’t stupid and is well aware of this, he’s playing Ronaldo for clicks and at some point in future he’ll change tack again when he spots another potential headline. Ronaldo might feel vindicated and that he’s won another battle with the non-believers, but sooner or later he’ll have to come to terms with the inevitable. Despite his desperate need to control the narrative and have the final say, he can’t stop the passage of time. 

Copyright Red News – December 2022

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Paint A Vulgar Picture

“This unique documentary tells the incredible story of a revolution which rose up from within the walls and dancefloor of a former warehouse in central Manchester” so trumpeted the blurb issued by the BBC publicising last month’s documentary, The Hacienda: The Club That Shook Britain. Rather than striking a chord, this one struck a nerve. How on earth can any Factory records/Hacienda retrospective described as “unique”? The story has been told and re-told so many times that it’s almost beyond parody now. Documentaries, feature films, exhibitions, books, Hacienda fucking Classical… a never-ending stream of self-mythologising, misty-eyed bollocks. 

Back in the days when the Hacienda existed only as a mere nightclub, Manchester could perhaps justifiably claim to have been a forward-thinking city. Liverpool, with its Beatles tourist industry in full bloom, was mockingly derided for its whoring of past cultural touchstones. Fast forward 30 years and I’d argue that the plunder and pillage of Manchester’s musical history is a far more depressing spectacle than the Cavern club welcoming coach loads of Japanese tourists. 

I find it hard to believe that Tony Wilson, Factory supremo and driving force behind the Hacienda’s creation, would be in any way engaged with the tedious nostalgia-fest that has now become it’s legacy. The Situationist International movement, a key influence on Wilson’s original vision for Factory, aimed to disrupt homogeneity within the arts and popular culture. As a central figure in bringing both punk rock and rave culture to the masses, I can’t imagine he’d be interested in relentlessly mining events played out decades previously to supplement his pension. 

Peter Hook, on the other hand, clearly possesses no such qualms. Having moved on from forging Ian Curtis’ signature and profiteering from gullible record collectors, he’s reduced to performing karaoke versions of Joy Division’s back catalogue (sometimes, I kid you not, with a Stars In Their Eyes-style Curtis impersonator in tow) and flogging, quite literally, any old crap he can lay his hands on adorned with black and yellow chevrons. T-shirts, hoodies, lanyards, mugs, key rings, tote bags… they’re all there on his website

I honestly think it’s time that all concerned moved on. As a nation we are genuinely obsessed with nostalgia. There’s nothing wrong with this in small doses as it can be fun to reminisce and history is there to be learnt from. If a country’s whole identity is based on events from decades previous it risks losing perspective and a sense of direction. Take a simple thing like Remembrance Sunday, once upon a time this used to be the British Legion selling poppies for a week prior to a respectfully observed minute’s silence. These days it’s turned into an event lasting a full fortnight during which all manner of weird behaviour and tasteless paraphernalia is encouraged.

Rather than wallowing in the past, I’d prefer to see more coverage dedicated to Manchester’s present. I don’t want to hear Noel Gallagher pontificating about dance music, I want airtime given to Aitch or Bugzy Malone. I want to see a documentary on the inexorable rise of Sacha Lord from nightclub owner to the fringes of mainstream politics. Let’s see an investigation into Gary Neville’s burgeoning property empire or a deep dive on the regeneration of East Manchester and the deal between Abu Dhabi and Manchester Council. As for the Hacienda, I think we’ve heard enough for this lifetime, thanks.

Copyright Red News – December 2022

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Roll With The Punches

Harry Maguire just cannot catch a break at present. Given his performances in an England shirt over the last few years, one might have expected the international break to provide some welcome respite from his current struggles at club level. Unfortunately not. Another error-strewn display against Germany means that his nightmare year continues. Having become a laughing stock on social media during United’s seasonus horribilis under Solskjaer and Rangnick, he’s now become a pariah of the national team too. 

Quite why Maguire evokes such animosity is a bit of a strange one. Compared to a lot of modern players he seems quite likeable and grounded to me. Unlike many of his peers, Maguire’s route to the top was fairly unconventional. He hasn’t grown up living a life of privilege in the academy system having been spotted as a school-age prodigy, he made it all the way to captain of Manchester United having spent a few years kicking around the lower leagues. It’s not quite the rags to riches career trajectory of Jamie Vardy say, but it’s still a path that’s become increasingly uncommon. 

There’s no denying that Maguire’s performances were uniformly abject for much of last season. He appeared to suffer a major hangover after the Euros and his form hasn’t recovered since. However, the fact he was playing alongside numerous teammates content to phone it in week after week didn’t exactly help matters. Although he was crap, I didn’t once get the impression that he didn’t care or that he’d given up. Others went missing entirely, but you couldn’t accuse Maguire of hiding or shirking responsibility at any point. Recall that whilst all this was occurring another high-profile, self-proclaimed leader of the team was holed up in Dubai nursing his hamstring for 3 months. 

The clamour to write him off at this point doesn’t make much sense to my mind, especially considering he played very well during his first 2 years at the club. He was overpriced at £80M certainly, but the player doesn’t set the transfer fee. Considering he’s spent most of his time here alongside a fragile keeper, extremely limited defensive colleagues and with a failing midfield in front of him, I honestly believe that he’s done okay. I certainly don’t think he’s in anyway more culpable than the rest of his teammates. Bruno Fernandes has been routinely garbage throughout the same period yet nobody is suggesting that he’s finished.

Maguire isn’t the first player to suffer like this and he shouldn’t lose any sleep about England fans selecting him as their MUFC-affiliated scapegoat in a World Cup year. He’s in good company here and would be wise to just bide his time and take his opportunities when they arise – which they will sooner rather than later given the congested fixture list and Varane’s inability to stay fit for any length of time. Also, he (or his family members) would be best advised to swerve journalists seeking off-the-record comments. Everyone is aware there are mitigating circumstances to his current form so there’s no need to actively brief against his teammates. You’re the captain, just own it and let your football do the talking. 

As he sat at the Etihad watching events unfold, Maguire might have been forgiven for being quietly relieved he was spared the latest indignity to befall United there. Once upon a time conceding 5 or 6 in a derby would have sent me spiralling off into a deep sulk, whereas these days I just shrug it off and crack on. There’s little point in getting down about it, they are simply miles ahead of everyone else currently. As unpalatable as the result was, United remain a team acclimatising to life under a new manager and with several new signings still finding their feet. After a miserable start to the season the last couple of months have provided a number of encouraging signs, so I refuse to abandon all hope yet. 

Nevertheless, the fact remains it was a complete abomination of a performance. The starting midfield was a disaster which left the defence totally exposed. Ten Hag looked on shaking his head but I’d have preferred for him to do something decisive. It was obvious what was occurring within the first 5 minutes as the team were all over the place. The loyalty shown to McTominay was totally misguided, especially considering he’s only a stop gap defensive midfielder and we had one of the world’s best sat on the bench. The funds were released to sign Casemiro after the debacle at Brentford, so why hold him back now given that deficiencies in this position persist?

I wasn’t confident pre-match, but then what sane person is watching this team? Similar to Gary Neville, a couple of misguided souls in the WhatsApp group got all giddy after an unbeaten September and predicted an away win. Instead, it was another of those days that have become commonplace in recent years; United looking utterly bamboozled when confronted by opponents playing with pace and intensity. Having more than matched Liverpool and Arsenal in recent weeks, I was faintly optimistic we might be past having complaints about lacking the fundamentals. Clearly this wasn’t to be the case. 

I think I first decided not to like Erling Haaland a few years ago, the minute I discovered he had signed up with Mino Raiola. As a result of that move I figured he would never join United and was therefore more than likely a bit of a bastard. I didn’t like his agent (RIP btw), I don’t like his dad, I don’t like his City and Leeds supporting childhood and I don’t like his smug-looking, leader-of-the-Hitler-youth-in-a-previous-life face. All completely ridiculous I know, but then that’s me. Consequently, the derby was the first time I’d ever seen him play. Verdict? Yes, I was completely right. Roll on his inevitable move to Spain in 3 or 4 years time. 

Ten Hags explanation as to why Ronaldo didn’t feature did little to suppress the chat around that current predicament. Why on earth wasn’t he encouraged to move on in the summer? Similar to the situation surrounding Pogba that proved a constant distraction over the last couple of seasons, United would be better served by informing Ronaldo he is free to leave the club given he’s no longer a first choice starter. An amicable solution needs to be found here, otherwise the noise surrounding the issue is only going to intensify over the coming months. It’s a sideshow that United could do without. 

One final shoutout this month to United’s ticket office, unwavering in their ability to dream up convoluted ways of making life as difficult as possible for their customers. When you’re thousands of miles from home, queuing to get into a game under the watchful eye of twitchy riot cops and stewards checking the passport of every single ticket holder, you start to question the sanity of everyone involved in such a farcical scene. It’s so over the top and completely unwarranted. Not one to brag or anything, but I’m finishing off this piece propped up on a sun lounger the morning after the night before in Cyprus. Despite the moans and constant hassles involved in following this team of ours, it’s at times like this you realise we’ve still got it better than most. Yamas!

Copyright Red News – October 2022

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