The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Despite a couple of disappointing results in the few weeks, it’s hard not to feel quite enthused about all things United at present. For the first time since the upturn in form at the beginning of Solskjaer’s tenure we’re seeing real progress on the pitch. The contrast with what we witnessed throughout the entirety of last season is stark, with the team looking motivated, players committed and the crowd in full support as opposed to disengaged. What we’ve seen since the resumption after the World Cup has exceeded pretty much all expectations; going to Old Trafford is something to look forward to again and no longer feels like a chore. 

Whilst the players deserve much of the credit, the architect of this has been the manager. The more I hear him speak, the more I like him. No histrionics, no emoting, no fuss – he’s just quietly cracking on with the biggest job in football under unparalleled scrutiny and crucially, getting the big decisions right. Showing faith in Rashford, ruthlessly cutting Maguire and catapulting Ronaldo into the footballing wilderness were each huge calls, but they have quickly paid dividends and results speak for themselves. Both Martinez and Casemiro (much to Graeme Souness’ chagrin no doubt) are proving to be fantastic signings. 

We’re still a way off being the finished article, but all evidence points to the fact that Ten Hag knows what needs to be done and has plans in place to achieve this. If the club wasn’t up for sale we might have been in position to pick up a better option than Wout Weghorst to supplement the attack in the short term. Unfortunately, loan signings from Burnley are indicative of the financial reality facing the club as it seeks new investors or ownership. It’s doubly frustrating as the likelihood is that 80-odd points will win the league this season and we aren’t far off that target. 2 or 3 more key additions and this team could have been genuine title contenders. 

The football world is always a much nicer place when Blues’ heads are falling off and after defeat in the recent derby, there were more fantastic scenes following the release of their lengthy rap sheet at the conclusion of the Premier League’s 4 year investigation into City’s financial affairs. Reactions to this were mixed from those of my acquaintance, some are unmoved and find it all very amusing whereas others are extremely twitchy, aware that the consequences of a guilty verdict could be far-reaching. Vincent Kompany may well roll his eyes and Guardiola can blame everyone else for their predicament, but the evidence available in the public domain looks to be damning. 

Whether or not Manchester City ever actually receive punishment remains a moot point. We live in a country where people with wealth and power routinely evade justice for circumventing financial laws and regulations. Football has functioned within its own peculiar bubble for years and club owners are well versed in acting with financial impunity without sanction. City’s statement claiming they were “surprised” by the charges isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. As far as they’re concerned they’re just playing the lucky hand they’ve been dealt in a game that’s been rigged for decades. 

Irrespective of whether anything comes of these particular charges, whilst football club ownership rules remain anything but “fit and proper” the game is only likely to face similar issues in future. Arab states, Russian oligarchs and US-based venture capitalists should never have been allowed to take control of 100+ year old community assets. City’s alleged transgressions are just the latest consequence of the Premier League and the FA deliberately choosing to look the other way and give tacit approval to unscrupulous foreign investors. The current mess wouldn’t require cleaning up if they’d maintained a semblance of common sense and integrity instead of welcoming these suitors in the first place. 

You would assume that with results improving there might be a drop off in the toxic bile spewed out by certain MUFC-affiliated content providers on social media. You’d be wrong. Harmony and positivity doesn’t tend to drive clicks so instead it’s full speed ahead with the usual attention-seeking knobhead agenda. Having declared war against Harry Maguire last season they’re having to dream up new scapegoats now and the latest, incredibly, is Alejandro Garnacho. A couple of less than stellar performances and he’s deemed “shit” and written off completely. Now I’m aware I’m also guilty of the odd knee-jerk reaction but this is taking the piss when talking about an 18 year old kid who’s made a great impact so far this season. 

I’m aware I’d be better served by not getting wound up by these people and their grift. I’m not their target audience and I could choose to simply ignore them. However, their very existence is a stain on the club and it’s support. I don’t like these people speaking as United fans on a public platform because they aren’t representative of United fans and they know nothing of our history and culture beyond what they’re read on the internet or seen on television. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were left to fester on their own YouTube channel but they’re now permeating the mainstream with the likes of SSN providing an outlet that further legitimises their bullshit. You know what I mean, fam? 

The weirdest sub-section of United online fandom are undoubtedly the twitter users who faithfully kept the Mason Greenwood flying throughout the duration of his absence over the last 12 months. Barely a week went by without seeing his name trending, with huge numbers of predominately overseas-based reds parroting their support and demanding their “starboy” be welcomed back with open arms. News that the CPS has dropped all charges last month sent these lads into overdrive. Apparently with Greenwood back and under Ten Hag’s tutelage, United would soon be “cooking”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. 

The club obviously has a decision to make over the coming months. There’s a lot to consider but it’s difficult to see any conclusion to this sorry episode other than Greenwood leaving at the end of the season. United is a commercial behemoth in thrall to multiple commercial partners, and that’s before you start to consider the opinions of individual stakeholders and how they might feel about implicit support for a player initially charged with attempted rape, controlling and coercive behaviour and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. There’s a decision to be made here, certainly – but it’s very clear what needs to happen.

Copyright Red News – February 2023


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

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