Lucifer Sam

There’s just no let up is there? I foolishly assumed we’d witnessed the season’s nadir at the Etihad and the team would amble towards the finish line at their consistently inconsistent best. Unfortunately not. You really do have to marvel at the audacity of the players and their collective response to widespread criticism. Instead of trying to salvage something… anything, it appears they’ve downed tools completely. Actually no, scrub that. It seems they’ve put the tools back in the shed, locked it and disappeared off on holiday a month early. Chance of top four and Champions League next season? No? Europa Conference it is then. Fair enough then, lads – see you in August.

Some of the performances recently have been utterly pathetic. I got in early at Everton and witnessed the warm up; seriously, you see a greater level of intensity on Sunday at your local park. I’m pretty immune to results at this stage, they stopped stinging a few years ago when half-arsed mediocrity became the norm. Everyone knows the script by now. As a fanbase we’ve become resigned to the team’s complacency and an almost routine lack of effort. Nobody takes any responsibility and half of them don’t even look bothered. So many of these players… it’s incredible how they’ve got away with it for so long and continue to do so. They’re absolutely shameless.

Given the utter slop being served up on the pitch, the club should be thankful that people are still bothering to turn up in huge numbers. Home games continue to sell out and any dissenting voices remain in the minority. There have been a few instances of players being jeered recently but the OT crowd, buoyed by a noisy singing section and never ending hordes of awestruck day trippers, remains overwhelming positive in spite of the miserable football. I’ve never known so many spares floating about for home games though. Just from my own perspective, plenty of folk seem content to give the game a miss these days as many regulars aren’t there every game like they used to be.

Away games remain the place where the hardcore congregate and day trippers tend to stand out like a sore thumb. The club could suffer successive relegations and these would still be sold out with the same faces there who have been attending games for decades. This situation isn’t unique to United, it’s how all football clubs function for the most part. Some people treat it like a hobby (like the family behind me recently thrilled to have seen “the GOAT” in the flesh) whereas to others it’s their calling in life. My own position on this is I now regard watching United as both a curse and something that still just about motivates me to leave the house on occasion.

Most other football clubs have a healthy respect for their hardcore support. I mean, this is only logical, isn’t it? Businesses tend to engage with their loyal customers, they cherish them and they embrace them. Football supporters demonstrate brand loyalty to extreme levels, regardless of their teams’ fluctuating form or performance level. United’s away loyalty pot is representative of this, a group that’s been around since 2004 when the club announced its existence – members had to have applied for every game in the first half of that season. Initially comprising of around 1,300 people, this group now numbers around 500 so everyone left in is pretty much guaranteed an away ticket these days.

With demand exceeding supply dramatically, access to away tickets is limited for the vast majority of people. This makes United a very attractive proposition for ticket touts. These aren’t the fellas in sheepskin coats and stonewashed jeans stood outside turnstiles back in the 80’s, instead it’s gone digital with faceless accounts offering tickets via DM on social media. Not quite sure who’s buying them as the prices being quoted via screenshots I’ve seen are truly laughable. £400 for Leeds, anyone? Quite rightly, the club has made some noises in recent months about wanting to investigate this practice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their methods in going about this task appear to have an ulterior motive as well as proving wholly ineffective.

It should be a pretty simple process, really. If you want to identify the source of a ticket being offered at inflated prices, it would make sense to pose as a prospective buyer and purchase it. That way you have the ticket in hand meaning you have confirmation of both the re-seller’s identity and the person who supplied it in the first place. Unfortunately, this kind of simple logic appears to be beyond the ticket office. Instead of seeking out touts themselves, it’s being used as an opportunity to inconvenience long-term supporters with ID checks required at away grounds. More specifically, loyalty pot members appear to be the main focus of their investigation.

It’s probably very true that not every loyalty pot member attends every game themselves, I don’t think anyone could seriously claim otherwise. What I would argue though, is that the loyalty pot isn’t the source of any tickets being sold on for profit. United supporters are a close-knit community and the unwritten code of conduct dictates that tickets are passed on to fellow reds at face value. This is why you see the same faces week-in, week-out at away games. The people there aren’t paying over the odds, they are there because they are being sorted out by friends who they’ve known for years.

I suspect that the club’s failure to target individual touts is down to the fact that such enquiries might uncover some unpalatable truths. A sizeable number of tickets are passed on to players and sponsors every game, are we supposed to accept that there’s no chance whatsoever this isn’t the source of tickets ending up on the black market? From my point of view, anecdotally at least, I would strongly argue that this is indeed the case. There are obviously going to be exceptions, but I don’t know of any season ticket holder successful in a ballot whose first instinct is to sell on for profit. I could however, cite the countless times I’ve seen tickets passed around at face value – a practice that happens at every single game and has done forever.

Under the pretence of eradicating touts, what we’re really seeing is an attempt to break up United’s traditional hardcore by jeopardising their access to tickets. United’s away support remains far removed from the Disneyfied fan experience™ that’s on offer at Old Trafford. It must be intimidating for groups of sponsors clad in matching tracksuits when confronted by groups of feral pisscans blocking the aisles, singing loudly and oblivious to the concept of designated seat numbers. Despite claims to the contrary, that’s the real motivation behind these ticket collections. They want to make things as difficult as possible for the group of supporters who’ll turn up despite the quality of football on offer. As has been noted once or twice already this season, the club is rotten from top to bottom.

Copyright Red News – April 2022

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Tired of Waiting for You

I’ve long since lost all patience with the collection of mercenaries and pretenders who comprise the bulk of the club’s current playing staff. There’s a handful who are still tolerable, but the majority are a complete waste of space who simply don’t merit their exalted status as United players. Fair play then Ralf Rangnick, for seeing through the facades and challenging some of the bullshit emanating from the changing rooms at Carrington. 

If Lingard is requesting extra time off and Martial is declining to play, I’m content that this information is out in the open. Call them all out and remove privileges until they are earned. Ole used the softly, softly approach and that didn’t elicit any response so I’m all in favour of Ralf trying something a little more robust. I strongly doubt it’ll have much effect, but it’s reassuring to see all the same. The last person who employed such a tactic was Mourinho and we all know how that ended up.

The main positive of the January window was the departure of Martial, even if this only proves to be temporary. It didn’t take Seville very long to realise what they were dealing with; indeed it only took 3 games for them to rule out the possibility of a permanent deal in the summer. It’s all so predictable. Guaranteed that he’ll be back for pre-season with all the enthusiasm of a disconsolate Labrador, raring to underperform for his 5th manager at the club. There’s not a hope of a another football club being daft enough to offer this fraudster £250,000 a week so we’re stuck with him for another 2 years at least. 

There are too many players, senior pros included, content to pick up vastly inflated salaries without giving enough back. Pogba is the prime example, the recent Madrid game once again highlighting his innate shortcomings when placed under the slightest pressure. He’s an absolute disaster of a footballer. Showboating against a tactically deranged Leeds team means nothing if you can’t show up days later for a game of genuine significance. I’m not picking on him here, there’s no vendetta. I’m just sick to the back teeth of seeing the same wretched performance each time he faces an opponent unwilling to give him a dozen touches on the ball.

The presence of ponderous Paul has helped to cultivate the myth that Fred is a decent player, whereas in reality he’s at the same level Eric Djemba-Djemba was 15 years ago. There’s no doubt that Fred is a nice lad, always tries his best and never forgets his Mum’s birthday – but worthy of a place in United’s midfield? Give over. He’s even got a burgeoning fan club on twitter now thanks to a few people who have been going long enough to know better. Being Brazilian, a decent human and not being Pogba does not mean he’s good enough for United. I’ve seen enough to know this for a fact. 

Another one with a weird fan club is Cavani, based on half a dozen games last season when he appeared to be motivated at the prospect of playing for the club. Considering he’s spent the entirety of the last 15 years based in Europe, it’s no coincidence that he only developed homesickness once he arrived at United. It’s the same nonsense that enables Pogba to spend 3 months pissing about, sorry “rehabilitating” in Dubai whenever he fancies it. Lingard being given time off to get his head together? He’s 29 years old with the personality of a hyperactive infant. He needs a stronger dose of Ritalin, not additional holidays. 

Perhaps the most startling loss of form this season has been Marcus Rashford, a haunted figure now in comparison with the confident young player of 2-3 years ago. It’s not just that his development has stalled, he’s literally gone backwards. The body language speaks volumes and he has the look of someone who’d rather be anywhere else other than slogging away up front for United. My mind keeps going back to his almost meltdown in the Europa League final last year. Desperately looking towards the bench hoping to be substituted whilst Ole dithered, stuck for which cards to play with penalties looming. 

Clearly, something is not right. This was supposed to be the year in which he kicked on after playing for most of last season carrying a variety of ailments. I don’t buy the theory that his off-pitch interests have interfered with his football development either. Anyone can see that he’s got half a dozen people managing the carefully crafted, St Marcus the Role Model thing – he’s certainly not dreamt that up himself. Something will have to change quickly though. His contract runs until the end of next season with the option of an extra year. His PR team might be looking for alternative employment if his career takes him to Watford or Brighton next.  

Last week’s derby perfectly encapsulated the disgraceful state of United at the moment. Misfiring strikers (those who can be arsed to turn up), a midfield incapable of keeping possession and a quartet of Championship-standard defenders. I was giving Ralf credit for sussing out Wan Bissaka as the weakest link a couple of weeks ago following his extended absence. But no, he’s back in the team again for some unfathomable reason. City had an absolute field day against him, targeting him relentlessly with his team mates blissfully ignorant as to what was occurring. 

Watching their effort and industry in comparison to our sorry bunch was incredibly sobering. There’s not just a gap between the sides, there’s a gaping chasm. The cliche goes that derby day is a great leveller, but none of our team seemed in the slightest bit aware of the fact. Christ, half of them turned up wearing sky blue boots, the utter dickheads. We were embarrassed at Old Trafford earlier in the season but there was no intention of settling any scores or seeking revenge. That last half an hour was an embarrassment. 92% possession in the final 15 minutes. At the very least you were hoping for a two footed lunge resulting in a red card and serious injury. Nope, nothing. 

I can handle losing to them. It’s expected because they’re miles better than us at present. What I can’t accept is the inevitability of the complete capitulation that occurs time and again. No presence, no backbone, no leadership. United can swap CEOs and managers all they want but it’s about time someone held this group of players accountable. Fergie once described the aftermath of the 5-1 as one of his lowest points in football, driving home and putting his head under a pillow. How many of this current lot were mourning last Sunday’s result? Roll on the end of the season, it can’t come soon enough. 

Copyright Red News – March 2022

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New Dawn Fades

So new year, new Woodward leaving announcement. Although Ed’s time in charge has been characterised by indecision and incompetence, he saved one of his best until last. After taking an age to pull the plug on Solskjaer’s reign, he then decided to bring in Ralf Rangnick in an interim role. I’m not pouring scorn on Herr Rangnick’s credentials here, it’s just I can’t quite get my head around the decision to appoint an outsider on a temporary basis. Why not just pay any compensation due and bring in the preferred choice now? I don’t see what’s to be gained from recruiting a handful of new coaching staff who’ll likely be surplus to requirements in 6 months’ time. 

I know Rangnick has been promised a consultancy role beyond the end of the season, but we all know that’s just window dressing and his input will be negligible once the next manager is in place. I predict now that he won’t last very long because United don’t accommodate football people amongst the nodding dogs holding true positions of power. “We desperately need an overhaul of ze operating structure at zis club.” “Oh, cheers for that Ralf, very insightful. I’ll tell Joel when he calls in next week. He’s scuba-diving in the Bahamas, currently.”

If you think I’m exaggerating, recall what happened last time anyone stepped out of their lane and tried to challenge the power structure at the club. I know Mourinho went quietly bonkers during the autumn of 2018, but there was a time a few months prior to that when he still had all his faculties in place. Mourinho wanted Maguire in and to be rid of both Pogba and Martial that summer, yet the people above him at the club knew better. That turned out well, didn’t it? The pair of them still need bombing out of the place 3 years on and Maguire (rightly or wrongly) was signed 12 months later for a vastly inflated £80M. Do you honestly think the board will do anything other than pay lip service to the recommendations of a consultant? They decided not to listen to a manager who’d won multiple European trophies.  

Excuse my cynicism, but if United genuinely desired an experienced director of football to control budgets and make strategic decisions, they would made such an appointment years ago. Instead, they considered it for a while and then chose not to bother. That’s why we’ve suffered nearly 10 years of abject failure under Woodward’s direction, completely out his depth and haplessly veering from one catastrophic managerial appointment to the next. Consider the club’s global standing when he took charge back in 2013 and consider it now. It’s no exaggeration to say his time in charge has been an unmitigated disaster.

So does Rangnick’s proposed consultancy hint at some recognition of this and are changes likely? Of course not. By promoting Woodward’s long-term understudy and fellow Bristol alumni Richard Arnold, the club have signalled their intention to follow precisely the same path they’ve been on for the last decade. It’s a direct like-for-like replacement that shows exactly where priorities will remain until the Glazer occupation eventually ceases. The pursuit of profit trumps any desire to return United to the pinnacle of football. Millions will be squandered on meme footballers and share dividends whilst midfielders remain unsigned and OT becomes so decrepit it’ll resemble a relic from a previous century.

If Rangnick figured he had a job on his hands when taking over, a month later the full extent of the task he’s facing is quite evident. The response of the players to a more demanding regime has been every bit as underwhelming as you might have anticipated. There’s been no upturn in performance levels and the body language continues to speak volumes about the lack of character in the squad. Fair play to the lads, they gave it all of 3 weeks before the whining commenced and leaks began to appear in the press. One only hopes that the (checks notes) 17 players allegedly seeking a move get their wish over the coming weeks and months. 

The chances of a mass exodus are non-existent, sadly. Previous years have demonstrated how wildly off-kilter United’s salaries are compared to other clubs, so players are content to see out lengthy contracts without seeking a move. The manner in which we’ve accumulated such a bloated, underperforming collection of entitled “George Clooneys” is just another damning indictment of Woodward’s tenure. Failure and mediocrity have been rewarded routinely. Patience is shown when it’s simply not merited. Standards haven’t just slipped, they’ve been retired completely. 

Whether it’s Ralf or the next manger who’s tasked with plotting a course for the club over the next few years, something radically different is required. Signing players in their mid-thirties has to stop for starters. No matter the class of Cavani, I simply don’t see how the overall investment is worth it when the player is pining for warmer climes and constantly injured. Oh so they’ve had a chat and he’s agreed to stay until the end of the season? How very noble of him honouring a contract he only agreed 6 months ago. 

This is a more controversial one, but I still don’t see what Ronaldo has brought us aside from a boatload of hype and several last minute goals. You could justifiably point the finger at his teammates, but being totally honest, the lad himself has been largely anonymous in the majority of games this season. He’s not the biggest problem at the club by any stretch, but he’s certainly not improved the team in any way. There’s no sense in buying expensive cake decorations when you don’t even possess the basic ingredients to bake one. Or some such metaphor, I dunno. 

One thing we do have to thank Ronnie for is a place in the CL knock-outs, because we wouldn’t be anywhere near there if it weren’t for his timely contributions during the group stage. February’s tie in Madrid now represents the single bright spot on the horizon as the team continues to churn out successive execrable performances throughout these dark winter months. Call me deluded, but I’m clinging to the hope the team might possibly replicate what Chelsea and Liverpool have done previously; sniding their way to the final despite being miles off the pace in the Premier League.

I know, I know… deluded as I said. 

Copyright Red News – January 2022

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