Tag Archives: doom

Float On

I honestly can’t say I missed football too much during the extended break last season, but the time spent in exile from Old Trafford is really starting to drag at this point. Like many of you, I’ve not seen mates (and family members) for months now – the match was the social hub that brought everyone together. Going without this for a while didn’t feel like too much of a sacrifice at first, but the incoming second wave of COVID suggests it could well be another year or two before things return to normal. You know the outlook is grim when United don’t even bother taking £700 out of your bank for the season ticket renewal.

As always, the feelings of long-term paying customers don’t mean much to football’s governing bodies. There are contractual obligations to meet so the juggernaut has to continue at all costs. That’s how we faced the ridiculous prospect of starting a new season without the benefit of an adequate break following the last one. Unsurprisingly, United lurched out of the blocks like a Sunday League team suffering the after effects of a particularly lively Benidorm stag do. Should we have expected anything different when most players arrived back for training only 2 weeks prior to the Palace game?

Nevertheless, the season’s opener exposed the threadbare make up of the squad once you scratch beneath the starting XL. The fact Solskjaer was forced to start Pogba, freshly recovered from COVID yet miles off match fitness said it all. I’m a little bemused by the fact Pogba is still held in high regard by many. I know people are entitled to have their favourites and look beyond their foibles, but his cheerleaders seem to exist on another planet… the planet of being a bit clueless about what constitutes a great footballer. Pogba is clearly a fantastic player inside his own head, it’s just a pity his unrivalled levels of self-belief are somewhat at odds with his routinely dire on-pitch contributions.

Talking of routine, United’s transfer dealings this summer followed an all too familiar path. The more optimistic amongst us were hoping the club might have built on the positive-ish conclusion to last season and endeavoured to bridge the yawning gap between ourselves and City/Liverpool. I mean, the Bruno Fernandes signing hinted at the positive impact timely reinforcements can bring, right? There are several gaping holes in the squad and the manager reiterated the need to strengthen further when he spoke to the press back in April.

It’s all very predictable. The club teases imminent signings with a series of press briefings that causes a deluge of social media activity as the eReds lose their collective shit in anticipation. Over the course of several weeks, excitement leads to frustration which by the close of the window turns to outright fury. Blame shifts from Solskjaer to Woodward to Matt Judge to the Glazers and then back to Solskjaer again. Every summer plays out like this now, a moronic pissing contest in which gullible twitter idiots compete to see who can become the most upset and outraged.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming I’m immune to the gossip and content with the status quo. I’d like nothing more than the club to demonstrate some real ambition by flexing the financial muscle it loves to boast about, but I’ve learnt not to expect too much from the hapless leadership of this current regime. It’s 15 years since the Glazers took over and we all know the script by now. They aren’t going to sanction a £500M spend and risk finishing 3rd again next season. That was never going to happen. It was especially unlikely given that revenue has dropped off a cliff in recent months. Their priority is staying profitable enough to keep up with loan payments and financing the twice yearly £11M dividends they pay themselves.

Everyone knows what the team requires. We’ve needed a right winger since Nani left and Valencia converted to a right back. As per usual, there’s a reluctance to invest what’s needed to secure the best available. It’s worth noting that several ex-players approached about the vacant DoF role have each gone on record criticising the club’s recruitment in recent weeks. It’s no wonder that role still isn’t filled if potential candidates aren’t convinced they’ll be given the mandate and resources to return the club to the top. Wayne Rooney clearly mapped out what the club should be doing in last week’s Sunday Times. Sadly, United would never test Spurs’ resolve by going after their best players now – as we did repeatedly during the Ferguson era.

So instead of Harry Kane, it’s 33 year old Edinson Cavani on a free transfer. How’s that for a signal of the club’s ambition? I suppose on the plus side we’re not shopping in China for more ex-Watford players, but on the whole I’m getting strong feelings of deja vu here. I’m sure Ole will express his delight and stress how the player’s experience will be vital in aiding the youngsters’ development, but I’m just not buying it. So much for the ‘cultural reboot’ that was supposedly in progress. Cavani, whatever he does this season, is just another big name, stop gap that’s evidence of the club’s ineptitude in the areas of recruitment and squad development.

The lack of pre-season and another poorly executed transfer window shouldn’t excuse what we’ve seen on the pitch thus far. Doubts persist about Solskjaer’s ability as a coach because his players should be doing better, irrespective of our failings in the transfer market. Whenever the team makes any progress it doesn’t take much for things to completely unravel again. We don’t respond well to any kind of setback and seem tactically clueless in comparison with most other teams in the league. If Brighton could finish United would be bottom of the table now.

The Spurs game was a debacle. No leadership, no accountability and an utterly shambolic defensive performance. I was never convinced by Chris Smalling but anyone can see he’s a more reliable centre half than either Lindelof or Ivorian Chaos. We’ve got that pair of clowns competing for a place alongside Maguire whilst Smalling was kept in quarantine waiting for his flight back to Rome. If we weren’t going to sign a quality centre half, perhaps we should have considered keeping one who’s a significant upgrade on the other options at our disposal?

Last season the team probably overachieved by finishing 3rd. Instead of prompting further investment the club’s hierarchy have made it very clear that CL qualification represents the pinnacle of their ambition. It’s all well and good scouring the globe seeking out highly rated youngsters but that isn’t going to improve the fortunes of the first team this season or next. The short to medium term plan appears non-existent other than trusting that Klopp and Guardiola won’t be around forever. 

If press reports are to be believed, Dortmund communicated the asking price for Sancho months ago. So why did United spend the entire window pursuing the deal if they had no intention of meeting their valuation? Instead, we spent deadline day in an unseemly scramble for free transfers, loan deals and weighing up bids for Championship players. Clearly, little has changed since the farcical summer of 2013 that signposted the beginning of Woodward’s tenure. The club remains a dysfunctional mess to this day. 

Copyright Red News – October 2020

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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

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Through The Wire

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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.

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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.

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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

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