Run! Christian, Run!

4F110989-18DD-427A-9A29-9C4362BD5107

Season’s greetings, readers. It’s only been a couple of weeks since the last mag so it feels a tad premature to be sitting down and commenting on the latest chapter of this mostly-underwhelming season. Never mind, eh? At least after this column there’s a few weeks break until I’m back again with another 1100 words of cutting-edge and thrillingly insightful MUFC opinion. You never know, perhaps over the coming weeks there might be a continuation of this recent upturn in form so I’ll have nothing but positive vibes to share in the new year? We can only dream.

Anyway, all talk of doom and gloom is banished momentarily as we bask in what was a tremendous result in the Manchester derby. Possibly more important than the result was the performance itself, the first time in what feels like years that United have opted to go toe-to-toe with a genuine rival in an attempt to outplay them. It’s no exaggeration to say that first half display was perhaps the best we’ve witnessed since Fergie left. I know City aren’t as strong as they were but it was still great to see and something the players should take huge encouragement from.

The next step now (obviously) is to try and build on this and establish some consistency. We’ve shown we can do okay up against teams who play football, you just fear for these players still when they’re pitted against opponents who are up for a scrap. It’s alright taking points off City and Spurs, it’s the likes of Burnley and Newcastle who’ll continue to cause us major grief whilst the team is still in development mode. Anyway, credit where credit is due – that was a tremendously satisfying win after the wretched football that’s been served up for much of the season so far.

In other news, as a consequence of last Saturday’s heroics, it appears that we’ve accidentally handed Liverpool the title. I’ve made a conscious effort since August to ensure there was no repeat of last season where I spent about 6 months silently willing City to win each week in the hope they’d stop Liverpool winning the league. I’m not proud of this at all. Despite leaving me feeling increasingly grubby throughout the duration of this period, it worked to a point. City won it again to absolutely zero fanfare and crisis was averted for another year.

There’s no point sweating it anymore because this season, it’s definitely happening. It’s as inevitable as something that’s completely fucking inevitable. If you’ve ever fancied the Inca Trail, scaling Kilimanjaro or a short stay at Dignitas, get it booked now for next May. For the non-adventurous, brace yourself for an attempt on the longest and most significant media blackout of your entire football watching career. It’s going to be horrendous.

82324336-9873-4756-B4DB-761B77096098

I fully expect Sky staffers are already putting in overtime producing the celebratory montages now. It’ll be pretty easy in fairness as they’ve probably got a shitload leftover from last season that never made it to air. King Kenny, Gerry Marsden, Rogan Taylor, Mick Quinn, Steven Gerrard, Margaret Aspinall, Rafa Benitez, Colin Murray, Jimmy Tarbuck… expect the full cast, past and present to be wheeled out in tribute. I’m telling you now, plan ahead and be prepared for this as the eulogies will continue all summer long.

At least it means we’ve been spared the prospect of City wining three in a row, but let’s be honest, their domestic treble barely registered as very few people outside areas of Greater Manchester and Stockport are remotely interested. It’s weird how flat things seem over at Eastlands. The formerly happy-go-lucky, giddy blue hoards seem more focused on hounding journalists and shouting down allegations of human rights abuses in the United Arab Emirates than winning the European Cup.

They’d never admit it, but the time-served blues I know appeared to be having a lot more fun as the self-styled, morally superior, perennial underdogs of yesteryear. These days it’s just gripes about scousers, bent VAR decisions and wild conspiracy theories alleging UEFA corruption. They’re like lottery winners who moved off their old estate into a massive house, sent their kids to private school and now have a Range Rover and a Lamborghini on the driveway. Their old friends are jealous, the new neighbours are snobs with little respect for new money, so they’re left crippled with self-doubt and a nagging inferiority complex. Life is shit like that, sometimes.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, the seasonal ‘managerial merry-go-round’ is in full-swing with Everton and Arsenal both wielding the axe following Spurs’ recent dismissal of Pochettino. We can only hope Duncan Ferguson sticks around as it’ll only be a matter of weeks before he stops swinging ball boys round in celebration and instead starts grabbing them by the throat. Freddie Ljungberg by comparison is a spectacularly boring choice, Arsenal could have easily upped the bantz levels by bringing in Sol Campbell or Tony Adams in a hopelessly misguided attempt to bring about an improvement in form and player morale.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to one and all. My list this year includes a brand new ground development taking the OT capacity over 90 thousand, half a dozen new first team players in January and reduced bar prices for all, not just singing section barmies. In reality, I’m fully anticipating dropped points at Vicarage Road and Turf Moor whilst Liverpool are being crowned world champions. Buckle up, lads and lasses… as I’ve tried to warn you, scousemageddon is finally upon us.

Copyright Red News – December 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

 

Gimme Some Truth

761DB5E1-7E76-445D-9933-3ECA01BF402C

Typical. Having ended the last column with the doom-laden prediction that Ole might not see out the month of November, right on cue the team lurched out of its 6 month stupor and managed to string together a few wins. Despite decades of practice, I remain an utterly crap football pundit. Thankfully I do recognise this shortcoming in myself so had the good sense to stop gambling on the sport years ago.

Does this sudden improvement change much? Not in the grand scheme of things. 7th in the table is better than 13th and clearly making chances and scoring a few goals is a step in the right direction. Personally speaking, it’s going to take a lot more before I acknowledge this recent run as anything other other than a temporary blip. Since we’re currently stuck with this uneven mix of youngsters, deadwood and permanent crocks… the team could yet finish 5th or 15th this season.

I know I sound like a miserable bleeder but surely it’s better to be realistic in this situation? For all the saturated coverage football enjoys with round-the-clock SSN and the execrable MEN daily blog, perspective has dipped to an all-time low. Rashford smashes in a free kick against Chelsea and 18 months of drilling every effort into Row Z is forgotten in an instant – suddenly he’s on a par with Ronaldo. Fred finally manages a complete handful of passes and he’s the new Makelele. The McSauce and Martial FC cults… I honestly had a better grasp of footballers and their respective talents as a 9 year old than these clowns spouting nonsense on twitter and YouTube fan channels.

You want some real perspective? Let’s try the fact that Spurs have just sacked Pochettino after a miserable run of 25 points from their last 24 league games. Relegation form, that – but it fairness it coincided with a period of upheaval during which they underwent a protracted move into a new stadium. Not to mention they also reached their 1st ever European Cup final in May which might have proven a tad distracting for a club starved of trophies in recent years. Throughout that same time United have collected a grand total of 24 points, also relegation form. So excuse me for not turning cartwheels because we managed to dominate Brighton at home and Rashford did a couple of stepovers whilst playing for England versus Kosovo.

It’s all well and good extolling the virtues of patience and how it served us well in previous generations, but I was around for the 4-5 years in which Fergie struggled to find the right mix and can’t recall anything like the level of mind-numbing tedium we’ve seen a continuation of over the last 12 months. I don’t have any faith in the board, the coaching staff or half of the players we’re invested in. Despite people claiming otherwise, we’re still crap to watch and evidence of genuine progress is hard to see. Just 6 wins from our last 20 league games is pathetic. Faith in youth and the ‘United way’ is great, but they’ve fast-become well-worn tropes that excuse the lack of investment and urgency in addressing continued failings.

1D436D6F-9426-4CF4-B944-BA6C3F65D438

If you look back to where we were at the start of this decade, it’s incredible to consider just how far we’ve sunk. Back then, despite being recently schooled by Barcelona in Rome we were still in an enviable position domestically and in Europe. All it needed was to continue the blueprint Ferguson had created a few years previously. Add 1-2 players a season and accept the fact you need to pay above and beyond the going rate to attract the best available. Instead, we decided to cut corners. Playing Phil Neville, O’Shea and Jones in midfield; Tevez and Ronaldo never replaced; investment in level-par workhorses like Young and Valencia as opposed to seeking-out the best in class. The list of failings could go on – we brought this decline on ourselves from a position of almost total dominance.

It took us 30 years (with the various ups and downs along the way) to reach the summit of European football again. To throw that away in the manner United did, especially with the unfathomable sums of money pouring into the club, wasn’t just careless… it should be seen as criminal. The arrogance of Ferguson telling us how great the Glazers were whilst not signing a central midfielder for 5 years; the arrogance of those owners sucking millions out of the club and allowing the quality of squad to slowly regress and decay; the arrogance of supporters too, endlessly parroting the mind-numbing ‘20 times’ mantra and still banging on about the treble now. The club has sat on its hands whilst City and Liverpool glided past us, fully-focused on writing their next chapters rather than trading on trophies won last century and tolerating mediocrity.

Do you think this would have happened at any other European giant? Would Juventus or Real Madrid or Bayern be content to sit in mid-table experimenting with various permutations of inexperienced kids? Would they bollocks. We’re currently being sold a lie with all this ‘faith in youth’ nonsense that bears little relation to how youngsters have been integrated into the squad in previous generations.

The class of ‘92 are rightly cited as the textbook modern day example of successfully birthing a selection of youth team players as opposed to spending millions. Remember though, that group was married into an already title-winning side alongside the likes of Irwin, Pallister, Bruce, McClair, Keane, Giggs and Cantona… not to mention the signing of Cole who was the most prolific striker in the country at the time. Those players were the established framework which enabled those youngsters to come in and thrive – the foundation of experience and a proven level of consistency was already in place.

How would Beckham, Butt, Scholes and the Nevs have fared with our current group? Shaw, Young, Jones, Lindelof, Lingard, Pereira and Martial doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? I’ll tell you now, Ferguson would never have attempted such a move because he’d have known full well we’d have been left woefully exposed and the latest group of kids would barely have stood a chance. Instead, he’d have been demanding the likes of Kane or Lewandowski be recruited as a matter of urgency. The idea that Williams, Garner, Gomes, Chong and Greenwood might collectively blossom in this current set-up isn’t just wildly optimistic, it’s verging on ridiculous.

Copyright Red News – December 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

Through The Wire

BF3520F4-2F11-4430-967A-80D131B1AD5C

It wasn’t too long ago that a bad result could send your weekend into a tailspin and cause genuine doom and gloom, but seasoned observers are well past that stage now. These days we simply turn up, expect the worse and everything tends to play out as expected. There’s no point denying it or trying to accentuate the positives. The problem we have is due to being Manchester United, each anticipated bump in the road prompts a tidal wave of wailing and self-pity from the excitable online elements of our fanbase.

Nobody wants to badmouth Ole because clearly, he’s doing his best to succeed in an incredibly pressured environment. Turning around the fortunes of this football club has beaten better managers than him before and it’ll beat better managers than him in future. There’s no shame in that. The titanic is half-sunk and he was given couple of buckets and a box of sticking plasters to try and fix it. Meanwhile his star player has forsaken the mundanities of life at Carrington to instead spend the international break enjoying a panoramic view of Dubai’s skyline. No rush Paul, in your own time.

When Solskjaer was given the job on a temporary basis, his brief was to bring a demoralised squad back together and inject some joy into proceedings. There’s no doubt he achieved this, but unsurprisingly his players soon slipped back into old habits once the initial buzz had dissolved. This time last year, talk was all of ‘parking the bus’ and ‘not playing the United way’ as Mourinho relinquished control and seemed hellbent on driving the club into the sea. In truth, very little has changed over the last 12 months besides Ole’s stoic determination to put a positive spin on successive poor performances.

Looking back a few months, in what other industry would a manager be given a 5 month trial period then dragged in mid-way through this and awarded the gig full-time? I know the feel-good factor was in full bloom at that point but it has proven to be another disastrous decision based on crowd-pleasing sentimentality and short-term results. Be honest now, if Woodward had delayed the appointment for a couple of months, would Solskjaer have been given the nod after 2 wins in final 12 games of last season? Would he bollocks.

99891640-AA0D-4BCA-95C4-F0BDA8B5A412

Even during the honeymoon period, the team’s performance level remained patchy despite the brief upturn in results. The crescendo of this time was that spirited 3-1 win in Paris but let’s be honest about that, we were well and truly humbled over the two legs and were incredibly fortunate to snatch victory via a ridiculous VAR decision. Our season effectively ended that night and there wasn’t a sniff of progress in evidence throughout the remainder of the campaign.

Our position now isn’t down to Solskjaer, regardless of his actual merits as a manager or coach. I don’t think anybody wants to see him sacked, but we’re getting to the stage where it’s becoming something of an inevitability. He’s not here on an ego trip and he genuinely cares about the club, as did Wilf McGuinness 50 years ago. 5 wins in 23 games speaks for itself though, sadly. He never really stood a chance with the group of players he inherited.

The jungle drums are already beating with United ‘sources’ (Hi Ed!) briefing the Beeb that “we just need to get to January.” Excuse my cynicism, but what good is that going to do? We endured a dismal run of form from March to the close of last season and what action did it prompt? Very little. We shipped 6 players out in the summer but only signed 2 defenders and a youth prospect to replace them. Our position now isn’t surprising in the slightest. It didn’t need Coleen Rooney-level powers of deduction to conclude things would quickly unravel.

The best we can expect in January is signing an over-the-hill stop gap like Mandzukic or overpaying for the likes of Dembele at Lyon. Neither are good enough but we‘ll probably do it anyway just because it’ll keep the engagement numbers high and buy the next manager some time before we nosedive into our next crisis. There is little evidence of a plan or strategy to get us out of this, only non-demonstrable claims of having ‘faith in the manager’ and ‘patience’. There was no patience with Moyes, Van Gaal or Mourinho during similarly testing periods so it would be naive to think the OT board are suddenly impervious to below-par results and stilted progress.

0E16D88A-B470-4EA2-AB29-88E9690ADF1B

All indications are that despite claims to the contrary, the club in still in the process of making decisions we will come to regret in future years. Victor Lindelof recently secured a new contract after his agent leaked mentions of Barcelona’s vague interest in the hope of forcing United’s hand. What exactly has Lindelof done to merit an improved, long-term deal after signing a 4 year contract (with the option of an extra year) as recently as 2017? Over the last 2 seasons he has (very) slowly come to terms with the physical demands of the Premier League without ever looking particularly comfortable. As far as I can see, he’s successfully adapted from rabbit in the headlights mode to just about competent.

It’s this blasé acceptance of average performers that kept the likes of Young, Smalling, Jones and Valencia at the club for nearly a decade apiece. Whatever happened to striving for best in class and seeking out excellence? McTominay is another one who’s been talked up way beyond his actual prowess on the pitch. Do the McSauce zealots actually bother watching matches before proclaiming their boy Pirlo incarnate? McTominay is a perfunctory workhorse in a midfield that habitually fails to dominate and impose itself. Lung-bursting effort alone shouldn’t mean he’s considered a long-term solution. He’s in the team due to a chronic lack of options in that area.

The fixture list doesn’t bring any respite over the coming weeks. There’s Liverpool today followed by 4 away games in the space of 10 days including trips to Stamford Bridge and Belgrade. Unless things improve dramatically Ole could well be gone before the end of the month. Matchgoers have shown incredible patience over the last few months, just how long will Woodward exercise similar restraint?

Copyright Red News – October 2019

www.rednews.co.uk