Tag Archives: champions league

Gimme Some Truth

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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.

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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

Ball of Confusion

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Firstly, I’d better explain that this was written in the aftermath of Barcelona at home, so in case there was a repeat of the le miracle de Paris during the return leg, I’ll apologise now for not being psychic. As it is, I’m left to comment on what transpired at OT the other night and as you can probably guess, I wasn’t exactly blown away by the performance served up.

The night started with my old man accusing me of being ‘miserable’ because I expressly stated during our journey to the ground that I wasn’t particularly enthused by the prospect of seeing Messi again. My Dad loves football. As well as supporting United for 50+ years he’s got a genuine affinity with Celtic and Barca too. Whereas me on the other hand, I actively dislike any football team that isn’t Manchester United.

Why would I feel excited about seeing Messi again when I’ve already seen him play a handful of times including 2 x European Cup finals when he’s made us look like rank amateurs? I know he’s an all-time great who’s racked up 900+ career goals against Osasuna and Levante, but I would honestly rather he were out injured as I’m completely sick of the sight of him in a ‘versus MUFC’ context.

In the days preceding the game there were numerous clips floating about of the meeting with Barcelona back in 1984, when the 58,000 packed inside Old Trafford witnessed one of the greatest nights in the club’s history. As well as marvelling at the fact this game took place a full 35 years ago, I was left pondering the extent to which genuine big European nights have changed during that period.

We all know the atmosphere is routinely crap these days, but previously I consoled myself that OT could still rouse itself when the occasion demanded it. Sadly, Wednesday night confirmed the fact we just can’t do it anymore – regardless of who the opposition is. I know our current team isn’t the greatest but this was still a European Cup QF at home to Barcelona and the ground should have been rocking.

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Being totally honest now, the atmosphere was pretty dire. I’m not comparing it to that night back in ‘84 alone as that would be a ridiculously unfair comparison. We’ve had so many memorable days and nights during those intervening years, but I’m struggling to recall the last time the ground crackled with excitement and the noise generated meant your ears were still ringing the next day. Sadly, such occasions have gone for good now, they really have. We were privileged to have been around when Old Trafford was something special.

Watching the opposition dominate possession has become routine over the last few years. After taking an early lead, unlike PSG or Juventus, Barca didn’t attempt to rub our noses in it and instead seemed content with stopping us scoring. Not too onerous a task when considering we’d managed just a solitary goal in the 4 previous Champions League home games this season. Watching Barca keep the ball with zero fuss and routine efficiency demonstrated just how far United are from their level. Half of our players are utterly terrified of the ball and we were incapable of stringing 3 passes together for much of the evening.

Pogba, once again, was absolutely appalling and failed to make any impression whatsoever. Despite Solskjaer’s hopes of keeping this prize bellend onside and building a team around him, it would make far more sense to take whatever money is offered for him this summer. Unfortunately, my guess is that there’ll be no firm enquiries from either Madrid or Barca because neither are daft enough to spend £100M+ on a very average midfielder who delivers so little so consistently. If you think I’m being overly harsh then more fool you. Phil Neville was a more consistent big-game, midfield performer than this clown.

‘His excellency’ was merely anonymous, however. The most inept performance award yet again went to Ashley Young, who’s fast using up any goodwill he’s earned with his wholehearted yet typically underwhelming stint at fullback over the last few years. I’m so bored of watching Young toil away, squandering possession week after week after week. He’s now reached that same stage in his career where Gary Neville realised his time was up and promptly retired with credibility still intact. The penny hasn’t dropped with either Young or the United hierarchy, unfortunately. Christ knows why he’s been given a new contract because it’s only going to get even more embarrassing for all concerned from this point.

After 4 defeats in the last 5 games, the one positive bit of news this week was that Ander Herrera could be leaving at the end of the season. We might have worse players on the books but if the club don’t cave and reward a 29 year old with a 4 year, 200K per week deal then that’s a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned. He’s nothing special and he never has been. Shipping him out as well as a few more of the 6/10 crew would make for a very positive summer’s business.

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Still, all the usual gripes aside, we’re still in the game and we go to the Nou Camp with an outside chance of causing an upset. Stranger things have happened already this season as we’ve come away from both Turin and Paris with very unlikely victories having been given the run-around at Old Trafford. Surely it can’t happen again? Probably not, but I’ll be keeping everything crossed hoping for another freakish thunderbolt of divine intervention.

Leeds look like they’re getting promoted, City are set to win a domestic treble at the very least… and if they don’t then Liverpool will win the title. Both Liverpool and City are very well placed to reach the Champions League semi-finals. There’s a head-wrecking set of variables in place here that are pointing towards a testing next few weeks followed by a potentially horrific summer. It’s probably too late but we need to try and stop the unthinkable happening.

Help us, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. You’re our only hope.

Copyright Red News – April 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

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

www.rednews.co.uk