Tag Archives: alexis sanchez

What Comes Around

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All things considered, it’s been quite a month. The remarkable upturn in form since Solskjaer took the wheel reached an almost otherworldly level on that incredible night in Paris. A fortnight later and the giddy thrill of victory still hasn’t fully subsided. It doesn’t matter if we lose the next round 10 nil on aggregate, the fact we unexpectedly made it through to the quarter finals will remain the overriding memory of this season and a fabled moment in the club’s entire history.

Only time will tell if the likes of Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood will play major roles in attempts to return United to the game’s pinnacle in future years, but they will always have that night to look back on whatever happens. Whether they retire as MUFC legends or as mere footnotes with half a dozen appearances each, what an amazing experience for them to have been a part of so early in their careers. Titles and medals are one thing, but those rarefied moments of pure, unadulterated glory that football can deliver are far more precious. Memories, innit? Absolutely priceless.

With all this overachievement and cavorting going on, it’s not surprising that performance levels took a bit of a nosedive post-Paris and we came away from Arsenal and Wolverhampton empty-handed. The players rightly deserved all the plaudits coming their way after a stellar couple of months during which they managed to salvage a season that was looking like a complete write-off, but let’s keep things in perspective here. This whole period since Christmas has been enormously good fun but Solskjaer isn’t actually a real-life, miracle worker.

This is still the same squad containing several players who stunk the place out completely between August and December. Yes, we all know that relations between key dressing room figures and the previous manager had gone toxic, but as convenient as it might be to lay all the blame squarely at Mourinho’s feet, that isn’t a particularly accurate reflection of what was going on and nor does it tell the full story.

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Numerous players were culpable of consistently failing to perform for the previous managerial regime(s), so it figures that they are still likely to post a sudden, unexplained leave of absence now. It’s not all doom and gloom, far from it. It’s just a reminder that we’re still dealing with a couple of larger than life, hugely-revered ‘personalities’ who are eminently capable of going completely awol and failing to reach the most basic level of performance when pitted against bang-average, journeyman opposition.

To put it another way: most of the complaints aired over the last 2-3 years about the make-up of the squad and the need for further upgrades are still completely valid. 3 months of improvement and a renewed sense of optimism about the place doesn’t solve all the problems that need to be addressed. On face value, a pair of full-backs, a central defender and a wide player are what’s required at the very minimum. You could add a deep-lying midfielder and a world class striker to that list if you were going all-out and trying to fix everything at once.

Obviously, any spending spree is fraught with difficulty and doesn’t guarantee much at all. A player like McTominay has grown immeasurably in recent weeks, revealing himself as a genuine contender despite barely anyone rating him as any kind of prospect previously. If he gets a run in the side and continues to progress rapidly it could negate the need for a big money acquisition. That’s just another ‘if’, however. United aren’t in the business of ‘ifs’ and this era of football demands instant results. Solskjaer, regardless of the incredible start he’s enjoyed, won’t be granted the luxury of 12-18 months treading water. Short-termism rules so the current upwards trajectory simply has to continue.

Half the problem comes from the online fanbase United are so desperate to keep entertained. It’s mad to think that the club only opened a twitter account as recently as 2013 given their breathless enthusiasm for pumping out relentlessly banal video-clips and boasting about ‘engagement’ numbers. The Sanchez signing was a classic example of trying to make a huge statement regardless of the player’s suitability. I guess it’s easy to criticise in hindsight but was there ever any kind of plan in place to try and integrate him into the team and play to his strengths? We’ve certainly never seen any evidence of one.

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Only a few years ago, United’s transfer policy wasn’t influenced by attempts to generate memes and create a splash on social-media; everything was focused on making improvements to the team. I know that post-Ronaldo we were often frustrated by the parsimonious budget in place and Fergie’s risible attempts to seek ‘value in the market’. On the whole however, this mindful approach paid far better dividends than the scatterbrained recruitment strategy we’ve witnessed in the years since his retirement.

Given there’s evidence to suggest Ole favours a more level-headed style of management than either Van Gaal or Mourinho, it would be nice to see a more focused, coherent approach to squad-building and recruitment from now on. The twitter hoards might crave blockbuster signings and massage Woodward’s ego whenever he manages to land a big fish, but this calibre of player hasn’t done us any favours in recent times. Falcao, Di Maria, Sanchez, Pogba and Lukaku arguably… I’m struggling to see how any of these have had an entirely positive effect on the team’s progression.

Football remains a very simple game that has been over-analysed and needlessly complicated over the last decade. If the last couple of months have shown us anything, it’s that Manchester United are in a far better position doing what Manchester United have always done. Keep it simple, play attacking football and always trust in youth. If we stick to the path laid out by Sir Matt Busby and followed by Sir Alex Ferguson, history shows us everything should work out just fine. 

Copyright Red News – March 2019

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Highway To Hell

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Good old Juan Mata. Whilst everyone was losing the plot after the Champions League exit, the nicest man in football™ also proved himself a master of understatement by summing up events as merely, “a complicated week.” That’s one way of putting it, though I can’t help thinking ‘calamitous’ might have been a more fitting adjective.

After Ben Yedder’s 2nd goal prompted the mass exodus from the ground, the mood walking away wasn’t one of resigned disappointment, it felt almost mutinous. I know plenty of people have never really warmed to Mourinho, but I was genuinely surprised at the level of invective being aired. This wasn’t just the usual handful of gobshites sounding off, it was more than that. It felt like a tipping point had been reached.

Jose, true to form, came out swinging. Whilst he was obviously correct in pointing out that our recent Champions League is poor and home exits are nothing new, it was pretty disingenuous of him to ignore the fact that he was brought here to try and change that. Yes, he may well have been in charge of Porto and Real Madrid when they knocked us out, but using that fact to justify failings on his current watch was somewhat spurious reasoning.

As regular readers know, I’ve always defended Mourinho and would have been happy to see him appointed as Fergie’s successor 5 years ago. We needed someone with the same self-belief, drive and winning mentality who would be completely unfazed by the size of the club and level of expectation. Clearly he has his character flaws, but then so did Ferguson. We revelled in his malevolent side and siege mentality for many years, reaping the rewards of his similarly gargantuan personality and monstrous ego.

The major difference between the two was hammered home after the Seville game, however. Whereas you always sensed Ferguson took defeats personally and everything we experienced (good or bad) could be used to impact on his players’ long-term development, there was no evidence of that from Jose’s reaction. He didn’t defend his tactics or his squad, or even seem that chastened by the result – he merely used the opportunity to defend his own reputation.

Needless to say, it wasn’t great timing by Mourinho to remind us of his previous successes over United in the competition. We’re acutely aware of his past pedigree as it’s one of the main reasons he was appointed manager in the first place. His press conference might have been better received if he’d at least sounded contrite rather than brushing criticism away and offering the somewhat lame excuse of, ‘well you’ve seen all this before, haven’t you lads?’

He wasn’t done yet. Jose was back in front of the press prior to the Brighton game, this time armed with a list of Rafa-style facts detailing each of our European exits in recent years. His tone was just as bullish as had been 3 days earlier, although this time he was at pains to stress that the Seville result needed to be viewed in context. His main point being that this United team are still a work in progress lacking experience at the very top level. A fair point I suppose, and at least this time he resisted the temptation to big up his own past achievements.

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At least the defeat took the ongoing beef with Pogba off the back pages briefly, but that one is certain to rear its head again given his ongoing absence from the starting line up . The fact he was left out for the biggest game of the season speaks volumes, and that’s before you consider the minimal impact he had after he eventually came on as sub. Regardless of form, I don’t think any of us would picked Fellaini over Pogba versus Seville, especially as we were starting another 2 holding midfielders in Matic and McTominay. Relations between the pair don’t appear to have improved and as I said last month, it won’t come as much of a surprise if Pogba’s gone in the summer.

Ditto Luke Shaw, another player subject to Jose’s oft-schizophrenic approach to motivational techniques. Now we all know that Shaw needs a regular kick up his sizeable arse and it’s long been a cause for concern that his attitude and approach require constant tuning. Mourinho isn’t the first coach to experience this and I doubt he’ll be the last. However, it was only 6 weeks ago that Shaw was being praised for his consistency and a new contract was being mentioned. Was this just an attempt to alert potential suitors? If so, why the abrupt change of heart within a couple of months?

Another in the firing line is Alexis Sanchez, a player whose descent into utter mediocrity has been impressive even by recent United standards. I mean, at least Di Maria gave us 6 weeks of good form before downing tools and viewing apartments on the Champs-Élysées. It came as no surprise to see him dropped for the Brighton game as he’s been absolutely shocking since he signed. Fingers crossed we’ll start to see the best of Alexis after he’s had a break in the summer and a full pre-season behind him.

The FA Cup, as it has been on a couple of notable occasions in United’s history, could turn out to be Mourinho’s salvation in what has become a very testing 2nd term in charge. That however, remains a very remote possibility considering the state of our record against both Spurs and potential finalists Chelsea in recent years – we haven’t beaten either team away from Old Trafford since 2012.

All things considered, last week’s international break probably came at the right time to give several figures in the dressing room a few days break from each other. Just be thankful for Will Grigg and Wigan Athletic’s recent heroics, otherwise we might have been facing a genuine end of days scenario in the not too distant future. Watching City win the treble would be the most “complicated week” imaginable.

Copyright Red News – March 2018

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Business Time

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In this age of #mufcfamily twitter cranks and rolling 24 hour sports news coverage, you don’t really get many surprise transfers anymore. Those seismic moments where you switch on teletext to find out United have signed Eric Cantona or you bump into a mate in college who tells you Andy Cole has been announced. These days, the minutiae of each deal becomes a deathly dull narrative that often drags on for weeks.

Refreshingly then, the manner in which the Alexis Sanchez transfer came to fruition was something of a modern day novelty, as the entire saga was boxed off and sorted within the space of a few days. Of course, United then did their very best to make the announcement as cringeworthy as possible by making the poor bloke play a wonky version of ‘Glory, Glory Man United’ on the piano dressed in his full kit. Seriously now, whichever social media savant dreams this stuff up on the club’s behalf, just stop it.

Ditto the dog thing. Jesus Christ, just because a few Arsenal divs completely lose the plot and decide to display the saddest banner in football history, it doesn’t mean United fans should feel obliged to do the same. It’s not that I lack a sense of humour about this kind of thing (actually I do), it’s more of a predisposed inclination for us not to advertise the fact our support comprises of a sizeable proportion of complete and utter berks. Smother yourselves in Pedigree Chum and send them birthday cards for all I care, just don’t go putting up banners in the ground welcoming a pair of fucking Labradors.

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The Huddersfield home game saw the 60th anniversary of Munich remembered. Keen to be in place for the minute’s silence taking place prior to kick off, I made a point of forgoing my usual pre-match routine and being in the ground early for once. (Will be disappointed if I don’t receive an email from the club acknowledging this, incidentally.) Firstly, it was a nice gesture by United to present everyone with a programme, book and pin badge marking the occasion, but the build up to the silence left me shaking my head.

In previous years the club have got the tone of these things spot on, but this year’s was very off-key. You don’t pre-empt a minute of respectful contemplation by playing the usual pre-match playlist at ear-splitting volume up until a few seconds before the referee blows his whistle. It all felt a bit crass, a poorly misjudged precursor to what in previous years has been a sombre and reflective moment. I’m not criticising the club for the sake of it here, it’s just the staging of this (likewise the decision to have Fred the Red lining up with the team) needs re-thinking in future.

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Following this weekend’s revelations, I guess we need to talk about Paul. In fairness, the only genuine surprise here is that rumours of his alleged discontent have taken so long to surface. As I said when he signed, he’s a Raiola player and Raiola players never stay anywhere very long. Or as another Red News contributor succinctly put it to me this week, “lie with dogs, get fleas.”

Although he’s been brilliant on occasion, for the most part his form has been as erratic as his haircuts. I’m sure all of us were hoping for far more than what he’s actually delivered over the last 18 months. One suspects much of the goodwill between Raiola and United/Mourinho has evaporated since Mkhitaryan was nominated as the makeweight in the Sanchez deal, so it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if he’s now in Pogba’s ear suggesting it might be time for a change of scenery.

If Raiola has received word that Madrid or Barca are interested then expect this nonsense to continue until United sanction his departure in the summer. I won’t be that despondent to be honest. I think we all suspected Spain was his preferred destination all along and we were just a highly lucrative stepping stone to that outcome. As ever, it’ll all depend on whether they can come up with a commensurate package to what he’s earning at United; and if they’re willing to fulfil any extraneous demands Raiola himself dreams up. On the other hand, it’s also worth acknowledging that Poggers might just be poorly as he claims. If so, sorry about this misunderstanding and get well soon, Paul x

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Aside from the errant Frenchman, the other talking point du jour is VAR. Now until this weekend, I assumed that VAR worked a bit like it does in cricket. If there’s a contentious decision, the referee calls for the VAR man to have a look at it and he clarifies whether or not it’s offside or handball or whatever. No. Of course not. Obviously that’s far too simple a process for football to adopt. Instead the FA has implemented a needlessly convoluted system where you’ve got some weirdo Michael Cox-types in an underground bunker in Bletchley (or something) watching games and then pressing a big red ‘grassing up’ button to alert the referee when they see something they don’t agree with.

So the system they’re using is slow, interrupts the game’s flow and lines used to determine offside decisions are confusingly non-linear. It all appears a bit rushed and unpolished, so it’s no surprise the Premier League are giving it a wide berth at the moment. All a bit embarrassing for the FA – they must know the system they’ve developed is shit but they feel obliged to persevere with it. So what to do? Here’s the perfect solution: ensure the system gifts United a spectacularly unwarranted goal in the next round. Can you imagine the reaction? There will be a public outcry, governmental intervention and laws passed ban VAR’s usage within 48 hours. Problem solved, no need to thank me.

Copyright Red News – February 2018

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