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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Things Fall Apart

I strongly suspected things would go pear-shaped sooner rather than later this season, but the speed and manner in which everything unravelled was extraordinary. Barring 45 minutes versus Leeds and half an hour against Newcastle, United have been uniformly abject since August. The notion we’d reached a new low by conceding 5 at home to Liverpool was quickly scuppered by the most decrepit Derby performance I’ve ever seen in person. For benchmarking purposes, note I was present at both the 5-1 at Maine Road and the 6-1 at Old Trafford. As far as worst ever months go, this is right up there.

Games have resembled car crashes in recent weeks. Ronaldo has managed to pull his teammates from the wreckage on a handful of occasions, but more often than not he’s been a traumatised bystander trying to make sense of the carnage in front of him. Quite what has happened to Shaw and Maguire since the Euros is inexplicable. They’ve not just suffered a drop in form, it’s been more of a plummet from several thousand feet. The level of ineptitude on display from the pair has been staggering at times, rivalling anything witnessed in the post-Ferguson era.

Sadly, Ole is done. There was no coming back from what’s happened over the last couple of months and his departure was inevitable. Functioning football clubs would have cut him loose ahead of the funeral pyre at Watford, but this is Manchester (United) and to borrow the words of Tony Wilson, “we do things differently here”. I said a couple of issues back we would regret that 3 year contract and I take no pleasure in being proved right. If I could foresee that, why couldn’t anyone with any authority at the club? Solskjaer had 12 months left on his deal and flunked his biggest test to date in Gdańsk spectacularly, yet Woodward decided the time was right to offer him a new contract. It’s mind blowing, really.

There’s no ire directed at Ole here. He made some progress in developing the squad and took things as far as he could. At times it looked like his methods were paying dividends but the next setback was always around the corner. Despite numerous encouraging signs and tantalising glimpses of consistency developing, United still resemble a collection of expensively assembled individuals as opposed to a football team. It sounds harsh, but it’s difficult to ascertain precisely what influence the coaching staff has over the players. Solskjaer clearly tried his best but ultimately, that alone was not enough.

The idea of accepting the manager was out of his depth yet still being respectful and supportive of the guy proved beyond some people, unfortunately. As the banner spotted in Bergamo correctly asserted, ‘the rot starts at the top’. Despite being fully aware of this, the risible fancam clowns continued to round on Solskjaer with each defeat leading to a fresh round of insults and oleout hashtags. Monetising the misery and inviting toxicity into what was already an embarrassing state of affairs for everyone connected with the club.

It got so bad that a sizeable proportion of the club’s younger online fanbase declared outright war on the likes of you and I. According to a large minority of twitter gobshites, matchgoers were a major contributor to United’s problems because they were guilty of actively supporting the club. There’s no room for nuance or perspective with these lads. The hardline stance they took was admirably bonkers as even wanting United to win became frowned upon. If you weren’t hurling abuse and hanging effigies of Solskjaer off the Stretford End, you were basically a Glazer collaborator. 

This isn’t a dig at all United’s overseas supporters. Plenty are knowledgeable and dedicated and have followed the club for years. That said, a large number of the idiots spouting utter drivel on social media currently are deluded if they think their opinion counts for shit. Let’s put it this way: I could quite easily declare myself a diehard fan of the Chicago Bulls tomorrow. I could buy loads of merchandise, join online forums and get up at 3am every week to watch their games. I might become quite opinionated and be able to hold my own in conversation after a while.

To be clear, my disdain for the eReds has nothing to do with age, geography or race. Football is a global sport and United are proud to boast a fanbase from all over the world. Everybody is welcome. However, cultural appropriation is a thing too. Even if I dedicated every waking hour to agonising over the fortunes of the Chicago Bulls, would I ever feel emboldened enough to lecture Illinois locals on how to support their team? Not a chance. Because no matter how hard I tried to become an authority on the intricacies of the NBA and US basketball, I’d always be some English dickhead talking out of his arse.

The precise timing of Solskjaer’s departure was irrelevant and targeting him for abuse would have served no purpose whatsoever. At some point in the coming months we’ll see Zidane, ten Hag or Rodgers appointed and that’ll signal the whole cycle beginning again. No matter who replaces Ole, he’ll inherit a similar set of problems due to the serial incompetence of key decision makers at boardroom level. Despite the supposed ‘cultural reboot’ that took place a year ago, there still appears to be a jarring disconnect between the football and commercial ambitions of the club.

This brings me back to the time-honoured tradition of slagging off Paul Pogba. I know, I’m bored of talking about him too and I sincerely hope it won’t be for much longer. Why on earth are the club still offering a new contract when he’s no longer even worthy of a starting role? The fact he’s now holed up in Dubai infinitely (again) comes as no surprise whatsoever. Imagine being so deluded that you still believe the clown will actually start delivering at some point. I have no idea what he offers the club other than the fact he’s a walking meme who’s unfathomably popular with the kind of fan who provides app downloads and endless re-tweets.

The Jesse Lingard situation highlights another case of financial negligence. After enjoying a career renaissance during his loan spell at West Ham, the player’s stock was probably at an all-time high. The club resisted a number of offers in the summer yet now face the prospect of losing him for free. Lingard was never going to start games so what was the logic in keeping him another year to sit on the bench? Is anyone accountable for these decisions at any point? Don’t even get me started on the subject of Donny van de Beek.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. With the club on the crest of a slump, there was media CEO Phil Lynch waxing lyrical about United’s use of fan sentiment graphs to gauge player approval rates. We’ve just shipped 7 goals at home to Liverpool and City and they’ve got analysts checking on the feelings of faceless bots and impressionable kids. Rather than racking their brains and frantically composing damage limiting tweets, the people in charge of the club’s social media would be better advised to read the room and maintain a dignified silence for a couple of weeks. Sometimes it’s better just to say nothing.  

It’s beyond them though. A few hours after Ole’s departure was announced, there was one final indignity in store as the club published a farewell interview with him looking tear-stained and utterly bereft. Hanging a club legend out on view like a discarded zoo attraction. Regardless of whether Solskjaer was a willing participant, it was a terrible idea which did nothing other than sate the appetite of any passing sadists looking for a quick thrill. It’s been said many times over the last few years, but one can’t over-emphasise the level of dysfunction that exists within this club at present. Widespread change is desperately required, irrespective of who’s sat in the dugout. 

Copyright Red News – December 2021

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The Second Coming


Even if the return of Ronaldo doesn’t prove to be a resounding success, the day of his re-signing will always be a memorable one. Personally speaking, I’d spent the preceding 72 hours doing my best to convince myself that I wasn’t bothered about his seemingly inevitable move to City. He’s 36, he’s obsessed with winning and he represents the exact opposite of United’s delayed gratification strategy of recruiting young players who’ll hopefully pay dividends in years to come. It made perfect sense for Ronaldo to go to City now, so there was no point getting wound up about it.

Instead, that fateful Thursday was absolutely brilliant. By lunchtime, those of us who keep half an eye on twitter at all times knew exactly what was occurring. It was a classic throwback to stealthy transfer deals of the past as the story quickly accelerated and it became clear he was heading back to OT. The fact City fans had spent the previous few days gleefully trumpeting his imminent arrival made it sweeter still. This was a classic triumvirate of shock, excitement and schadenfreude that rivalled Cantona’s signing in 1992. It all made for a gloriously entertaining afternoon in work as the story unfolded.

As the dust settles on the move, it looks like a masterstroke on face value. Shirt sales have increased, social media engagement numbers are through the roof and there’s no doubt Old Trafford is buzzing. In simple terms, watching Ronaldo patrol opposition penalty areas holds far more appeal than the prospect of Anthony Martial skulking around aimlessly for the next 2 years. Nevertheless, I can’t quite shake the feeling that something is off here. Was this signing motivated by a desire to improve the team or was it an attempt to quash dissent amongst the more fickle elements of the club’s fanbase?

I’d hazard a guess that most people reading this will be a little too invested in anti-Glazer sentiment to be silenced by the re-appearance of Ronaldo. The return of a beloved former player changes little. For many though, it appears the opposite is true. We shouldn’t underestimate how the scenes witnessed at the end of last season will have reverberated around the club’s corporate headquarters and prompted a major re-think. Despite hasty promises to engage with supporters, little has materialised beyond £3 bottles of Carling and some headline-generating player acquisitions. 

I don’t think the club are even attempting to get the likes of you or I onside at this point. The hasty addition of Ronaldo appears to be aimed squarely at the influencer/fancam crowd who for a brief moment put on-field matters to one side and got a little bit political. Instead of debating Martial or Rashford, suddenly they were all adorned in Green and Gold, fully-focused on the cancerous ownership that continues to siphon millions out of the club’s coffers. What better way to banish a growing air of mutiny and revolution than to deliver a smiling Cristiano back to his spiritual home for a victory lap. 

The club know how important it is to keep the influencer crowd onside. The numbers they engage with, particularly overseas, are unfathomably huge. The individuals themselves might lack credibility, they might not even be United supporters in certain cases, but they command a greater audience than most broadsheet journalists could ever dream of. It’s why they get press credentials and access to players, it’s why they’re seen on TV supposedly presenting the view of time-served United fans. They’re idiots, but they’re idiots with a lot of clout. They’re the main reason the club decided to bring Ronnie “home” at this precise point in time. 

I don’t believe for a minute that anyone at the club began the summer with any intention of re-signing Ronaldo. If he’d have been heading for PSG rather than across town, do you think United would have made any overtures towards Mendes? I very much doubt it. Solskjaer appeared to suggest that the club had looked at the prospect of re-signing the player numerous times in the dozen years since he left. Again, this doesn’t really ring true. Why was there no attempt to re-sign him in 2018 when he left Madrid? I guess United were too focused on securing the priority signatures of Fred, Dalot and Lee Grant instead. Of course they were. 

Ignoring Cristiano’s undoubted talents, once the decision was taken to retain Cavani for a further season, the last area of the squad that needed strengthening was up front. I know that Ronaldo offers guaranteed goals compared to the other contenders vying for a starting position, but it still seems frivolous to bring him in at the expense of a much-needed holding midfielder. Since Solskjaer took over, we’ve seen a dramatic improvement in acquisitions and squad development. Don’t get me wrong, of course it’s exciting and it may well turn out to be a roaring success. I’m just extremely sceptical of the rationale behind it; it seems a complete reversal of any long-term strategy the club had in place. 

Predictably, rather than continuing to exert pressure on the Glazers, the focus of the YouTube contingent has shifted wholesale to Ronaldo. The Green & Gold being sported in May has been replaced with brand new replica shirts and any lingering frustrations are being directed towards the manager. The club probably exceeded their summer budget in securing Ronnie for the next 2 years, but given how the deal has extinguished all audible protest, clearly it’s money well spent. United’s legions of impressionable overseas fans have a new idol to post about and everyone is happy again. 

It’s all about the clicks these days and Ronaldo guarantees millions of these. The club’s twitter account announced the deal on at least 5 separate occasions in the space of 3 weeks, to the point it was getting embarrassing. It’s that weird FIFA-inspired phenomenon where certain players have become greater commodities than clubs themselves. This is the audience that the club is attempting to court here, the type of fan who measures success in terms of big name signings and memeable reveals. We see it constantly with Pogba and Martial, it doesn’t matter how execrable the performance, there’s always a legion of online cultists to defend their chosen one and pour scorn on anyone pointing out obvious failings. 

I appreciate that in raising these concerns, I may appear incredibly old and boring. That’s undoubtedly true. Perhaps I should place my brain in a jar and just go with it. Ronnie might go on to enjoy a miraculous Van Persie-style perfect season and inspire an unlikely title charge but I very much doubt it given the paucity of midfield options behind him. More likely, I’d suggest that when the novelty wears off we’ll start to see the deal for what it really is – a crowd-pleasing marketing tool designed to placate a justifiably angry fanbase. Viva Ronaldo, sure – though I suspect we might be the ones getting played here.

Copyright Red News – September 2021

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