Let The Sunshine In

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What a difference a month makes, eh? It now appears very shortsighted of me to have spent almost the entirety of last month‘s column venting about the team’s penchant for conceding late goals before concluding we were heading towards mid-table. Clearly, this current upsurge in form wasn’t something I was anticipating any time soon… that’s what 3 years of spluttering form under Moyes and Van Gaal can do to a man, I guess. Oh me of little faith…

Instead of the regular kick in the balls, we’ve been treated to a month of football that has been a genuine pleasure to witness. Indeed, watching United has probably not been this much fun since the conclusion of the title winning season of 2012/13. For the first time in god knows how long, I’m looking at league tables and fixture lists again. Going to Old Trafford no longer feels like a chore and I’m actually making eye contact with people who want to talk about the game. Yes folks, this is big!

Realistically, and this isn’t some outlandish reverse-curse attempt, we aren’t going to win the league this season. We’re too far behind and even if Chelsea do implode, there are better placed teams than us to take advantage. The thing is though, it doesn’t even matter. Crucially, it just feels like we’ve got something back that’s been missing for ages. Gary Neville suggested it was arrogance which is taking things a bit far I think, it’s more like we’ve regained a bit of belief… the team and the fans.

The Middlesborough game felt absolutely massive (okay, I know it was only Middlesborough but bear with me) given the manner in which we came back to win in the last 5 minutes. If this team does go on to achieve greatness in future, we’ll look back on that day as something of a turning point. For the first time since Fergie left, falling behind with 15 minutes left provided an incentive to do something about it rather than the sight of heads dropping at the sheer injustice of it all.

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There was no seismic groundswell where the whole stadium stood as one and willed the team forward or anything, such atmospheres just don’t happen at Old Trafford these days, sadly. But the sense of resignation that has greeted such scenarios over the last 3 years wasn’t apparent as the fans got behind the team, the team continued to press… and ultimately got their reward. Belief. It felt like a breakthrough moment, evidence that the penny has finally dropped and they’re evolving into a half-decent side. Where Mourinho and the team are at right now, they (and we) needed something like that to happen.

Anyway, I’m not getting carried away or anything but it’s all quite encouraging… and yes, perhaps the outlook isn’t quite as bleak as what I suggested a month ago. It’s still a work in progress (how many times have we said that over the last 3 years), but for now we look to have a settled team that’s gaining in confidence and improving by the week. Keep progressing in the cups, push on towards the top four and continue playing football that resembles something like the United of old. If we can maintain this current momentum and there’s a few more moments comparable with the Boro turnaround, then that’ll do nicely for the foreseeable.

It’s now looking fairly certain that this month will see the departures of Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin, two players who have been here 18 months but leave having abjectly failed to have made any kind of impression whatsoever. Harsh on Memphis perhaps, who at least provided some merriment with his gargantuan ego and spectacularly bad dress sense. Schneiderlin on the other hand, doesn’t even possess a personality to take offence at – he’s probably the beigest player to have ever played for Manchester United. The only thing I can recall him doing is looking like a Next Directory model, as I’m struggling to pinpoint a single, standout moment in any of his 47(!) appearances.

It’s hard to credit now that back in the summer of 2015, Memphis Depay was unanimously hailed as one of the brightest talents in Europe. Arriving as a prolific goalscorer from PSV worked well for Ruud, and Memphis came with a similarly impressive showreel and long list of suitors. His signing felt like a real coup at the time but it just never worked out. He didn’t have great pace, lacked a trick and couldn’t cross a ball to save his life. In other words, he was no improvement on either Ashley Young or Adnan Januzaj. Factor in his King of Rotterdam, Big Pimpin’ schtick and it didn’t take long for the realisation to dawn that he was more international class bellend than international class footballer.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace - Premier League

Anyway, it’s no great loss in either case and a move away looks to suit both Depay and Schneiderlin at this juncture. Thankfully, Everton still seem confident in the abilities of both so we should recoup a sizeable chunk of the fees paid for the pair of them. Fingers crossed they’ll go on to be a great success for the season’s remainder and buoyed by this, the scousers will return in the summer and offer us £25M to take Fellaini back too. Y’see? Done and dusted, everyone’s a winner.

Another who may find himself back at Everton in the not too distant future is Wayne Rooney, and hearty congratulations to him on equalling Sir Bobby’s record of 249 career goals for United. It’s been a long time coming for Wayne, as he’s finally reached the milestone about 2 years later than one might have anticipated – a once prolific striker nowadays consigned to a mere supporting role.

Mourinho deserves some credit for how he’s skilfully managed to solve the Rooney conundrum with a degree of sensitivity. Both Moyes and Van Gaal found themselves hamstrung by the fact he was club captain and a seemingly automatic first team choice, playing him despite his awful form and terrified of the implications of taking him out of the firing line. Mourinho meanwhile, played Wayne until dropping him became a no brainer – it was the kindest thing to do.

Rooney must know in himself that his career at OT is drawing to a close, yet I read something this weekend about United having an option to extend his contract by a further year. Do me a favour, as things stand it’ll be a major surprise if he’s still here in August given the fact he’s no longer a confirmed starter. Far from kicking off about it, you get the impression that Rooney is fully aware the end is nigh and is now content to be getting any game time at all. Whatever happens over the coming months, 13 years and all-time leading scorer at the club is an incredible achievement. In this red’s opinion at least, the plaudits being thrust his way currently are richly deserved.

Copyright Red News – January 2017

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Mistletoe and Whine

Northampton Town v Manchester United - EFL Cup Third Round

As December arrives, the run of victories needed to signal that progress has been made is still proving maddeningly elusive. Form-wise, it’s exactly the same story as it’s been for much of the last 3 seasons – we win a couple, draw a couple, then there’s a demoralising defeat. Then the cycle starts again. And again. This team never gets as far as turning a corner as it appears destined to go round in circles indefinitely – we’re stuck on a merry-go-round of mediocrity.

One of the curious managerial ticks of Mourinho, besides the booting water bottles and getting himself sent off, is the fact he’s always treated the league cup with an almost unnatural level of respect. Walking away from OT after the West Ham league game last Sunday, the frustration of another draw was compounded by the surety that we’d batter them 3 days later. If only those brief outbreaks of free-flowing football witnessed in the Europa League and EFL Cup could be replicated in the league, eh?

Not a chance. The latest brace of squandered points again came courtesy of the team’s recently acquired habit of conceding within the last 10 minutes, this time directly as a result of Marouane Fellaini’s untimely introduction at Goodison Park. As I’ve stated a number of times previously, and I don’t say this flippantly, the bog-brushed Belgian is football’s version of the Ebola virus. He is a menace and he is dangerous.

Quite why Mourinho, like Moyes and Van Gaal before him, seems to view Fellaini as some sort of trusted lieutenant remains a complete mystery. With his first touch of the ball he passed straight to the opposition, with his second he stuck out a leg and gave away a penalty, then with his third he passed the ball straight out of play. This was the sum total of his contribution having presumably been sent on to add some composure and help see the game out. Composure? I honestly wouldn’t trust him to make a cup of tea without setting himself on fire. I’m not even joking.

If we’re looking for reasons why we continue to struggle, then one needs look no further than the fact that this clown has now racked up 100 appearances for Manchester United. I honestly have no idea how he continues to feature at all. Is he really, really good in training or something? Does his contract stipulate that he has to play a certain number of games? Does he possess incriminating evidence regarding the sexual predilections of an unnamed Glazer family member? Am I missing something? Just… why?

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Since January is fast approaching, it’s fair to assume that we’ll be active in the transfer market again in search of defensive reinforcements – this despite Ed Woodward stating unequivocally at the fans’ forum a couple of months back that there would be no new additions until the summer. Rojo, Jones and Darmian continue to look like disasters waiting to happen, Smalling and Shaw are forever injured… the only one who I’ve any real confidence in is Eric Bailly and of course no sooner is he back from injury, then he’s off to Gabon for the African Cup of Nations.

Antonio Valencia appears to be another Mourinho favourite despite being routinely average week-in, week-out. This is another part of the problem. Because his colleagues are so consistently error prone, journeyman trundlers like Tony gain an unmerited significance in the greater scheme of things. It’s a nonsense really, that an unspectacular winger who was initially moved back as emergency cover has now made the right back berth his own. Quite simply, he’s nothing special. He’s a great athlete, he diligently runs up and down, he makes tackles and he attempts crosses. Jesus, we may as well sign Micah Richards if being merely perfunctory is deemed acceptable.

Instead of signing another 2-3 players in January, it would give me more pleasure if we avoided spending altogether and instead binned 4-5 off the wage bill who are going absolutely nowhere at OT. Memphis, Ashley Young, Schweinsteiger, Fellaini… that’s just for starters. Let’s just get rid and start again. We can persevere with the remaining lot, try and drum some sense into them and if cover is required, farm the youth and reserve teams and let’s see who we unearth. It would be a gamble, obviously… but I’d rather see youngsters given a chance as opposed to bang-average senior pros who don’t have any future here beyond the end of their contracts.

Admittedly, there’s an element of ‘cutting your nose off to spite your face’ in this, but why not? For the last 3 years we’ve had a steady influx of new faces each transfer window and it’s got us precisely nowhere. We’ve spent about £300M at the last count and for what return exactly? We’re on our 3rd manager in 4 years, we aren’t playing any better and the squad is still littered with crap players. Enough’s enough.

It doesn’t matter if we finish mid-table because the way things are going, we’re going to finish mid-table anyway. What’s the point in finishing 6th and qualifying for the Europa League again? That’s doing us no favours whatsoever this year, if anything we’re at a disadvantage given how participation affects preparation time for league games. I genuinely think it would work to our advantage if we resisted throwing money at any further stopgaps, and instead focused on clearing out the dross whilst waiting for proper targets to become available in the summer.

Anyway, I think that’s me done for 2016. Fellaini, Brexit, Trump… it’s been an absolute stinker. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Copyright Red News – December 2016

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Kicker Conspiracy

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The whole trainers thing has surely been done to death now, yet it doesn’t stop hundreds of bobble hat-clad, singing section types lining up outside Oi Polloi every 3 months to greet each dubious reissue of a so-called ‘classic’ pair of Adidas. Punters start queuing at 10pm the night before, get their picture snapped waving them above their heads for the MEN live blog and then rush home and stick them on eBay for £300 a pair. In truth, that was me to a certain extent a few years ago until I realised it was a) sad as fuck and b) at 40 I was too old to be wearing trainers.

I’d got to the stage where I was more bothered about owning certain trainers then actually wearing them… which is absolutely mental of course. That and the fact that Adidas became completely ubiquitous in the same way Stone Island did a few years previously. They became part of the uniform for clueless bellends who fancy themselves as football hooligans and who listen to Kasabian and Oasis. It’s not a good look. Nobody in their right mind wants to be wearing what fat lads from Doncaster wear, basically.

Anyway, I’m losing my thread here as this is supposed to be a book review. Golden Kicks – The Shoes That Changed Sport by Jason Coles (Bloomsbury, £16.99) is aimed squarely at the footwear fetishist demographic, and very nice it is too. It comes in hardback, coffee table format and contains lots of nice pictures and a couple of hundred words of historical perspective on all the designs featured. The stories behind each shoe are revealed via insights from both the people who made them and the athletes who wore them.

A nice book then, that would make a good Christmas present for any trainer obsessive in your life. Oh and please note the use of ‘trainers’, ie they aren’t ‘sneakers’ and they certainly aren’t ‘kicks’.

Copyright Red News – December 2016

www.rednews.co.uk